A debate has unfolded in Russia over whether to invest further in the MiG-31 series or to concentrate funding on the Sukhoi Su-35. United Aircraft’s Sokol factory in Nizhny Novgorod continues to deliver MiG-31BM multirole aircraft modified from MiG-31 interceptors built earlier. The plant’s general director, Alexander Karezin, reported that the company handed over 15 last year, and the plant “holds a firm order for about sixty MiG-31BMs due for delivery in 2011-2018.” He added, “This is a considerable contribution to the national defense of the country.”
But Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev said the MiG-31 development potential is “almost exhausted” and the basic platform is “already outdated,” making it better to focus the funds available to national defense projects on development of newer Sukhoi jets.
The Russian parliament held hearings last month on whether to resume production of the MiG-31. Most speakers were in favor. They said that the current Russian space and air defense system (VKO)–mainly MiG-31s and Su-35s and S-300/S-400 surface-to-air missile systems–is believed capable of intercepting only 60- to 65 percent of the weapons that NATO might use in an imaginary strike on the country. Deeming this to be “insufficient,” the parliamentarians are urging the government to provide extra funds to increase the fleet of interceptors and improve radar coverage, which currently covers only 31 percent of the vast Russian territory at low altitude and 51 percent at high altitude, they said. They called for a mix of new-build Su-35Ss and MiG-31BMs. Parliamentary research into the issue revealed that “quite a few” stored MiG-31s (from an original production run of 500) can be restored to flying condition, while new production could be restarted at Sokol at a cost of Rouble 25 billion ($800 million). No new MiG-31s have been produced in the last 10 years, but several partially built airframes were completed for Kazakhstan. Eight more were destined for Syria but remain incomplete after cancelation of the order.
The MiG-31 first flew in 1976. The MiG-31M, with improved maneuverability through use of a reworked flight control system, followed in 1985. The MiG-31D appeared in 1987 and demonstrated its ability to fly at Mach 2.83 with a load of six to ten R-37 missiles and to have a typical intercept mission lasting for 3.5 hours. During a trial in 1994 a developmental MiG-31 destroyed a low-flying target at a distance of 300 km (186 miles). The current MiG-31BM version is a multirole aircraft able to defeat aerial and low-orbit space targets, and strike ground and sea-going targets with precision guided munitions.