With its extensive borders – territorial, maritime and arctic – the Soviet Union had always needed to pay particular attention to its air defence. In the late 1950s a new lightweight turbojet, the R15-300, offered the potential to develop a fundamentally new type of interceptor. The Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) design bureau took up the challenge and the project was designated E-155.
Powered by a combination of jet and rocket engines, the machine aircraft promised dazzling performance. It could intercept targets flying at 2,500mph (4,000km/h) at 18-30 miles (30- 50km) high more than 100 miles away. Armament was to include K-9 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), with plans to replace them with the more advanced K-155s.
By 1960 this hypersonic dream was abandoned and efforts were concentrated on the S-155 weapon system, comprising a rethought E-155P interceptor, armed with two K-9 all-aspect AAMs and Kh-155 rockets.
The E-155`s tactical radius enabled its use beyond the intercept distance of the short-range surface-to-air missile defence barrage. It was planned to utilise K-90 (or Smerch-A) on-board radar, which had a target detection range sufficient to perform a successful missile attack.
Initial sketches of the E-155 were in line with the technology of the late 1950s, including a delta wing, side-mounted inverted-scoop air intakes, single fin and skid undercarriage. This did not last long – in 1960 the designers proposed a new configuration with a trapezoid wing of 40-degree sweep at the leading edge and two vertical fins.
This was the beginning of the MiG-25 dynasty. The pace was rapid: the threat of the North American B-70 Valkyrie bomber had to be addressed. NATO meanwhile allocated the reporting name Foxbat to the programme. MiG set up an experimental design bureau, OKB-155, to tackle the project. One of the most significant challenges facing it was to overcome the `temperature barrier’ – intensive heating of the airframe. After thorough analysis it was decided to use stainless steel as the main structural material.
The thin-profile, high-mounted and medium-sweep wing combined with high fuel efficiency enabled the interceptor to conduct long-duration flights with externally-mounted missiles at airspeeds of up 1,615mph up to 15 miles high and to sustain loadings of up to 4.3g.
Also proposed was a high-flying tactical reconnaissance version, dubbed E-155R, which was to be built first. It would be fitted with optical, infrared and topographic mapping cameras and electronic reconnaissance equipment. To increase the range of the E-155R, 263-gallon (1,200 litre) fixed fuel tanks were mounted on the wingtips.
In May 1968 the Gorky factory completed the E-155R4. In production this was designated MiG-25R in October 1969.
The Middle East `Six-Day War’ in 1967 alerted the Kremlin to the need for a high-performance fighter-bomber and the decision was taken to expand the Foxbat’s capabilities. The first reconnaissance/bombers, MiG-25RBs, could only carry up to 4,400lb (2,000kg) of ordnance on fuselage-mounted hardpoints. But with the development of wing-mounted bomb carriers, the payload doubled.
In 1970 the Air Force Scientific Research Institute began testing a MiG-25RB equipped with the Peleng navigation system. During the trials A G Fastovets dropped two bombs automatically for the first time, while flying at 1,553mph for the first time. Production of the ‘RB continued until 1972.
The MiG-25RB could only carry out basic electronic reconnaissance, until the improved Kub-3 (and later Kub-3M) gear was installed, enabling real-time location and analysis of radio emissions and data transfer to a command post. This configuration was designated MiG-25RBK and the type was built in 1971. It was followed by the MiG-25RBS equipped with Sablya sideways-looking radar.
Other improvements included introduction of the SAU-155R automatic flight control system. The reconnaissance version employed the Siren-1F (and later 2F and 3F) airborne jamming system for self-protection.
The final version was the -25BM, armed with four Kh-58 anti-radiation missiles, intended to `Wild Weasel’ could also carry up to 1,100lb of bombs. MiG-25BMs were in series production from 1982 till 1985.
TEASING TEL AVIV
Service entry for the MiG-25R began in 1969 and the first unit to master the new type was the 10th Detached Reconnaissance Air Regiment. The following year, regiment pilots were already carrying out bombing in automatic mode with MiG-25RBs. If their bombing suppress enemy radars. This Soviet error during did not exceed 2,600ft (800m) pilots received an `excellent’ rating; a `satisfactory’ mark was given for a 7,800ft error. Later, ‘RBs were fitted with the improved Peleng-2 navigation system and the standard was reduced to 1,300ft and 3,900ft respectively.
The Foxbat’s combat debut was in Egypt in 1971. Under the command of Colonel Aleksander Bezhevets, the 63rd Detached Air Unit was formed that year. It was overseen by General G Baevskiy and the Mikoyan Design Bureau was represented by deputy chief designer L Shengelaya.
In the autumn, four Antonov An-22 Cock and 56 An-12 Cub transports carried four dismantled MiG-25Rs directly from the factory at Gorky to Cairo West airfield. After assembly the Foxbats, which did not carry any insignia, were flown by MiG test pilot V G Gordienko.
Aleksander Bezhevets recalls: “Reconnaissance flights were carried out in pairs with a 30-second interval [between them]. Initially it was planned to keep one-minute intervals but this was reduced to improve the already low chance of our planes [being] intercepted.
“In 1971/1972 the pilots carried out 13 combat missions. In one mission, myself and Uvarov flew at a distance of just 18 miles from Tel Aviv, while the allowed distance was 25. Permission for such flights was given by Chief Military Advisor Okunev.”
Israeli attempts to intercept MiG- 25Rs with Mirage IIIs and F-4E Phantoms, or to shoot them down with surface-to-air Hawk missiles, were unsuccessful.
Iraq became the first foreign customer for the MiG-25R in 1985, these were upgraded to MiG-25RB status, facilitating the carriage of up to eight FAB-500T-M62 bombs.
MiG-25RB combat experience in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the northern Caucasus proved the unique capabilities of this reconnaissance/ bomber variant, and in 1981 India acquired six ‘RBs and two MiG- 25RU trainers. Other operators included Algeria, Bulgaria, Libya and Syria. The Soviet Air Force used the type for reconnaissance during its Afghan war and in Chechnya.
SELL-OUT AND RETHINK
Developed in parallel with recce version, the E-155P interceptor prototype made its first flight on September 9, 1964 in Fedotov’s hands. Conforming to the original specification, the E-155P could carry only two AAMs, but for the E-155P3 the armament was increased to four K-40 missiles. Six E-155Ps were built and, under the designation MiG-25P, the type entered service in 1972.
Four interceptor prototypes were demonstrated at the Domodedovo air parade on July 9, 1967. They had severe airspeed limitations – and ignoring these parameters had dire consequences. Test pilot I I Lesnikov died on October 30, 1967 when the E-155P1 crashed. It had been banked at transonic speed and the wing failed. Pilots at OKB-155 worked hard to cure the problem but it was not finally resolved until 1971.
The MiG-25P entered service in April 1970 with the Soviet Air Defence Forces at Sevasleyka and Pravdinsk. Its operational debut led to considerable speculation about its performance and potential, but the guesswork all stopped on September 6, 1976 when V I Belenko took off from Chuguevka airfield near Vladivostok and landed at Hakodate airport in Japan in a high-profile defection. The aircraft was quickly inspected by an American engineering team and then returned to the Soviets.
With its air defence secrets undermined, the Soviet leadership reacted rapidly. A decree improving the MiG-25’s combat capabilities, issued in November 1976, led to three MiG-25PD interceptors being fitted with modified armament (R-40TD and RD, and R-60 missiles) before the end of August 1977, with flight testing beginning three months later.
In addition, the Smerch-A2 radar was replaced with a Sapfir-25, which had a different emission frequency, improved jamming protection and better targeting capabilities including, for the first time, at low level. It was housed within a much longer nose section. Modified R15BD-300 turbojets completed the transformation to MiG-25PD. NATO called this the Foxbat-E and its effectiveness was significantly higher than that of its predecessors; earlier MiG-25Ps were eventually converted into this standard.
The MiG-25P’s baptism of fire came on February 13, 1981 when Syrian Foxbats took off to intercept Israeli reconnaissance RF-4Es which had entered Lebanese airspace. It turned out the Phantoms were acting as bait as they quickly turned on their jamming, descended and retreated back to Israel. The Syrian MiG- 25Ps were then waylaid by a pair of F-15A Eagles which had approached from low level – one of which fired two AIM-7P Sparrow AAMs, one hitting a Foxbat.
Other countries that operated the MiG-25P in combat were Iraq during the Gulf War and Azerbaijan in action against Armenia. From 1967 until 1984 a total of 1,112 MiG-25s of all versions were built, 38 of which were exported. In 1983 the Soviets started to phase in the much-improved MiG-31 Foxhound which clearly exhibited its MiG-25 lineage.