MiG-31BM crash: Cover up uncovered. The Foxhound that crashed in April 2017 was actually shot down in a friendly fire incident. Remember: Friendly fire isn’t! In April 2017, a MiG-31BM was reported as having crashed near Mongolia. It seems this was a cover up for a friendly fire incident: A pair of Foxhounds were taking part in a live fire exercise where they were supposed to detect and engage a flying target. Somehow, one MiG-31 pilot ended up shooting his wingman instead!
The BM variant is a highly modernised version of the 1980’s interceptor which was introduced operationally from 2011 onward. The exact circumstances surrounding the incident are still unknown. But a Russian investigative news outlet has leaked government documents which offer some insights and maybe the beginning of an explanation.The root of the problem seems to be found in the upgrade program of the MiG-31. The “BM” standard saw the original RP-31 N007 Zaslon radar and its associated Argon-15A Fire Control Computer swapped for the upgraded Zaslon-AM radar and Baget-55 FCS. However, It seems the Baget-55 fire control system can’t cope with the amount of information it receives. The MiG-31 FCS receives information from the plane’s radar, its associated IFF (Identification friend or foe) system, its IRST (Infrared Search and Track) sensor as well as information sent by other nearby planes and ground control platforms through the plane’s APD-518 datalink system. This enormous stream of information seems to cause the Baget-55 to lag pretty badly. Additional information might also indicate the Baget-55 is not 100% compatible with all the MiG-31BM sensor suite elements, causing further problems.
The pilot shot his wingman with a R-33 long range missile when he thought he was engaging a practice target/drone. His wingman IFF signal had not been processed by the MiG-31 FCS yet and as such, did not appear as friendly…This explanation on its own is not satisfactory, however… The pilot used a long range missile, indicating he engaged a target at long range… However, MiG-31 flying in pairs are meant to fly in close formation or in line abreast at a distance of 100km apart (To cover large swathe of airspace with their monstrous radars). So for one pilot to shoot down his own wingman, they must also both have completely lost their situational awareness… Thank god the MiG-31 is a robust plane and the crew of the doomed Foxhound managed to eject safely. But the incident cost Russia a priceless platform… The worst part about this information is that the shortcomings of the upgraded MiG-31BM onboard computer were known by pilots and ground crews for several years. It emerged that pilots were trying to make do with the bugs and lag by switching the radar on and off… The main question, then, is why this information wasn’t relayed higher up the chain of command, then back down toward the constructor, so that the problem could be ironed out… This seems to indicate complacency… Which has not been very well tolerated in Russia since 2008… You can bet that heads have rolled as a result of this incident. You can also bet that adequate measures have been taken to solve this problem since that incident occurred, considering how important the MiG-31 is for the VKS.
The MiG-31BM is a complex machine but its capabilities are unmatched within the Russian Air Force. The Foxhound can fly at Mach3 and reach supersonic speeds while climbing. It can climb at a rate of 208 meters per second and once reached an altitude of 35,000 metres (115,000 feet) in 4 minutes 11 seconds. Its absolute maximum altitude is 37,650 metres (123,520 feet). The Foxhound was the first “fighter” to be equipped with a passive electronically scanned array radar. Talking about radar, it is massive! The original Zaslon was 1.1 meters in diameter ! The new Zaslon AM is even larger at 1.4 meters in diameter. It actually consists of two arrays (X-band and L-band) working together. The radar alone weighs one ton! It is capable of detecting targets at a range of 400km, tracking 24 items simultaneously and engage 6 of them at once. The MiG-31 is designed to take on high-flying spy planes, low-flying supersonic jets and bombers and engage low-flying cruise missiles. Thanks to its powerful radar and APD-518 datalink, it is capable of operating without ground radar support and can play the role of AWACS for nearby friendly fighters, acting as a quarterback for them.