An extremely fast interception and reconnaissance aircraft created by Mikoyan Gurevich for the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

This thing was probably a muscle car in another life: rather primitive but incredibly brutish and powerful. It climbs like a rocket, has gone higher than any other air-breathing aircraft and can outrun just about anything with wings. The MiG-25 is the fastest interceptor ever made (unless you count the YF-12A, which never made it to production); as long as the U.S. keeps the SR-71 Blackbird in retirement and Aurora is an unknown quantity, it will remain the world's fastest manned aircraft in use.

This aircraft has often been derided as a faker. The Soviet Union was, for some time, able to successfully maintain the image that this aircraft was a highly manoeuvrable, fearsome interceptor capable of maintaining mach 3+ and flying ranges in excess of 2,000km. Neither of these proved to be the case and numerous other deficiencies made themselves apparent over time, although the illusion may have been maintained for far longer (notwithstanding collapses of one's system of governance) had a defector not handed one to the West.

Criticism aside, it would be a mistake to understate the abilities of this aircraft - or rather it would be if there were any chance greater than 'slim to none' of any combat forces going up against them - some of which are impressive and evidently overlooked by detractors.

Background

In the 1950s the US Strategic Air Command commissioned a design for a high-altitude strategic bomber capable of exceeding mach 3. Called the XB-70 Valkyrie, an example made its first test flight in 1964 and these flights continued until 1969. Presumably as accomplished as their Western counterparts at spotting the new military hardware of their adversaries, the Soviets supposedly got very worried by these developments. The XB-70 did pretty much what it said on the tin, exceeding mach 3 once in testing and regularly exceeding mach 2.5. At the time the fastest Soviet interceptor was the MiG-21 Fishbed, but that could only do mach 1.7 max. The XB-70 was almost twice as fast! Not to mention the already-operational B-58 Hustler which could outrun, um, every single Soviet aircraft too.

What was needed was a high-altitude, high-performance interceptor that could catch these bombers, or at least get close enough to launch missiles at them. Speed was especially important, given not only the potential targets they would have to catch but also the vastness of the Soviet Union, and thus the distance an interceptor might have to travel to reach its target.

There is a suggestion that the MiG-25 was actually intended for interception of Lockheed's A-12, a single-seat surveillance aircraft developed around the same time as the XB-70 and flown by the CIA. The A-12 was later developed into the SR-71 Blackbird: a two-seat, slightly longer and slower A-12. It is certainly possible that the MiG-25 was retargeted at Blackbirds after the XB-70 was scaled back to an experimental programme; allegedly R.A. Belyakov, head of the Mikoyan Design Bureau at time of noding, has stated that this was indeed the case.

Production & Design

The Foxbat production line was split into interceptors and reconnaissance aircraft, with several other minor variants produced throughout the manufacturing run. Two prototypes were produced of both the interceptor and reconnaissance versions, respectively designated Ye-155P ("P" for "Perekhvatchik": "interceptor" in Russian) and Ye-155R ("Razvedchik" - "Reconnaissance"). Both made their first flights in 1964; preproduction versions were manufactured and after years of flight testing and modification, the design was officially accepted by the Soviet Government.

Full production began in 1969, reconnaissance variants entering service with the Soviet Air Force the same year and the interceptor variants with the Soviet National Air Defence Force (PVO) in 1972 after further improvements. It is worth noting that the MiG-25 was the last aircraft to be designed by Mikoyan Gurevich before the retirement in 1964 of co-founder Mikhail Iosifovich Gurevich, so is the last MiG to have the 'Mikoyan Gurevich' title.

Although there are many distinct differences between variants of the Foxbat they are all similar from the outside. Walking round the aircraft (I haven't, but I'm pretending I have), the first thing one is struck by is the gigantic tailpipes for the twin afterburning Tumansky turbojets - each is almost 5' across, which I would say with some confidence are probably the biggest tailpipes on any fighter aircraft.

Next there's the twin outward-canted tailplanes, one of the earliest examples of the configuration. Opposite, on the underneath of each engine fairing is a ventral stabilizer. Between them at the rear of the fuselage are the swept-back, all-moving tailplanes. Each has quite a short mounting just next to the engine tailpipes, and reaches about two metres behind them.

The MiG-25's wings are high-mounted with a 5° anhedral, a sweepback of about 40° and two wing fences along the top of each wing surface; these help stabilize the aircraft and make it less susceptible to stalling at low speed. The fuel-bearing ('wet') wings taper to flat edges pointing straight ahead. Each wing has two hardpoints for missiles.

The fuselage is quite tall and very long for a fighter; at 23.83m it is almost two metres longer than an F-15 Eagle and 40cm taller at the tailplane tips. Viewed from the front it is dominated by the huge twin, variable geometry air intakes. These wedge-shaped orifices are about twice as tall as they are wide, looking much like the F-15's intakes with the top about two metres forward of the bottom. The nose juts out about three metres from between the air intakes with a bubble cockpit perched on top. It opens to the side and meets the spine of the fuselage with a solid back, which has the unfortunate effect of preventing the pilot seeing anything between the four and eight o'clock positions.

Powerplant

The Foxbat is powered by two Tumansky R-15B-300 afterburning turbojets which develop 22,500lbs of 'wet' (afterburning) thrust each. These could propel the Foxbat to a maximum speed of at least mach 3.2 in a clean reconnaissance configuration (i.e. no weapons stores), although pilots were supposedly forbidden to exceed mach 2.5 without permission and the mach gauge for the MiG-25P (Foxbat-A) redlines at mach 2.8.(17) These engines initially had a shockingly bad operational life of 150 hours, since they were derived from single-use engines for drone aircraft; although later improvements increased this to 1000 hours it remains quite poor by contemporary standards.

The engines are fuelled by eight gigantic tanks, which between them occupy 70% of the aircraft's internal volume and have a capacity of over fifteen tonnes. With full tanks the Foxbat's takeoff weight is about 35-36 tonnes, more if the 1,500lb external fuel tank that the MiG-25BM (see 'Variants' section) can carry is used.

Avionics

The interceptor version of the MiG-25 is fitted with the powerful valve-based RP-25 Smerch-A1 (NATO codename Fox Fire) radar, the most powerful ever built at the time (second now only to the 'Zaslon' radar fitted to the MiG-25's successor, the Foxhound). It was derived from the radar of the MiG-25's spiritual predecessor, the Tu-128 Fiddler. This 500-kilowatt monster can detect targets 100km away and track them from 55km; it is so powerful it renders jamming practically useless and supposedly, turning on the radar before takeoff was a capital offence under Soviet Military Law, since it could kill small animals within a mile and humans if they were close enough. Early versions of the radar lacked the 'look-down' ability which would have enabled it to distinguish low-altitude targets from ground clutter but this was rectified in time.

The rest of the avionics suite included one of the first Soviet inertial navigation systems, HF/UHF radios, and a 'Sirena' radar homing and warning system (RHAWS), as well as twin altimeters (one each for high and low altitudes) and a cockpit voice recorder. Amusingly a wind-up clock was also in there too.

Armaments

Armaments for the MiG-25 interceptor were at first limited to the giant AA-6 Acrid missiles, the largest air-to-air missiles ever built. A maximum of four could be carried, usually a mix of two radar homing and two heat seeking variants. The later reconnaissance versions of the Foxbat were able to carry up to 5,000lb (depending on the variant) of gravity bombs under the wings and fuselage, and further air to air or air to ground missiles were available on late variants. No gun of any sort was ever fitted.

Variants

The temptation here is to use the NATO codenames for the different Foxbat variants, but since these codenames only bear tenuous relevance to the chronological ordering of these variants, this is ordered by the Russian designations.

Reconnaissance

  • MiG-25R (Foxbat-B)

    A tactical reconnaissance aircraft, this was the first operational version of the MiG-25, fielded in 1969. The reason for its NATO designation is probably either that the interceptor version was seen first, or that the interceptor was seen by NATO as the primary version. Instead of the interceptor variant's radar, the MiG-25R carries a removable pallet of five downward-pointing cameras in its nose - one pointing straight down, the other four pointing outwards at oblique angles. The reconnaissance Foxbats have noticeably longer, more coned noses than the interceptor variants to accommodate the cameras.

    It was probably a MiG-25R that was tracked at high mach over the middle east during the early 1970s, as four were sent to Egypt in 1971 to give reconnaissance support to the Egyptian Air Force.(2) From there they performed up to 20 surveillance overflights of Israel without being intercepted, though Israeli F-4 Phantoms did try on several occasions. The aforementioned MiG-25 was probably making an emergency dash to escape interception at the time.

    This variant was manufactured in fairly limited numbers, superceded in 1970 or 1971 by the...

  • MiG-25RB (Foxbat-D)

    This was a reconnaissance-bomber variant of the reconnaissance model. It was able to carry bombs under the fuselage (modified to withstand the heat of high-mach flight) and under the wing pylons instead of air-to-air missiles; there is some disagreement between sources about how much the MiG-25RB could carry, ranging from 2,000lb (under-fuselage pylons only) to 5,000lb (under-fuselage and wing pylons).

    This variant carries sighting and navigation system for bombing pre-programmed targets, and more extensive surveillance and electronic warfare abilities; its camera pallet could be replaced with electronic countermeasure (ECM) suites or sideways-looking radar.

    Given the cruising altitude of the Foxbat and the relatively low sophistication of the aircraft's electronics, typical questions are raised about how accurate such high-altitude bombing would be. These 'concerns' are more or less obviated if speculation that the variant could carry a single nuclear bomb in lieu of its conventional explosives is at all well-founded. The system did supposedly provide a precision bombing capability from altitudes exceeding 65,000ft, though as far as sources are concerned this has never been used in conflict.

    This variant of the MiG-25 produced the most numerous sub-variants of the family. These follow.

    • MiG-25RBV (Foxbat-B)

      A variant of the MiG-25RB with an improved electronic intelligence (ELINT) system and more powerful ECM jammer. Photography equipment could be swapped out for alternative equipment pallets most suitable for particular missions. This variant was in production from 1973-1979.(24)

    • MiG-24RBT (Foxbat-B)

      This was another improvement of the MiG-25RB, but its ELINT systems were improved over the MiG-25RBV systems described above, "with wider bandwidth and the ability to use postflight processing to target emitters".(11) Also fitted were improved IFF and radar homing and warning systems (RHAWS).

    • MiG-25RBK (Foxbat-D)

      A version of the MiG-25RB with improved ELINT capabilities. Rather than the RB's data recorder, the RBK carried a Kub 3M system that could record and relay data to ground stations in realtime. It was intended for monitoring radio installations, and manufactured between 1973 and 1980(24). The cameras on this variant were either improved or removed altogether; sources are conflicting on which is true.

    • MiG-25RBS (Foxbat-D)

      The same as the MiG-25RB but with a large sideways-looking radar replacing the nose-mounted cameras. This gave an all-weather and low-light imaging capability, 'looking' out of two large panels, one on either side of the nose. This variant was manufactured between 1971 and 1972; all surviving examples were later upgraded to the...

    • MiG-25RBSh (Foxbat-D)

      The same as the MiG-25RBs but with a more powerful radar with higher resolution at low altitudes, and the ability to track moving targets amongst clutter(11). This variant was manufactured between 1973 and 1979(24). There were attempts made at fitting an in-flight refuelling probe to this version of the Foxbat but it never came to much because there were few tanker aircraft in the Soviet Union.

    • MiG-25RBF (Foxbat-D)

      An upgraded version of the MiG-25RB, some of which were also converted to this version. The Kub ELINT system is replaced with the more powerful Shar-25 system, and a new ECM system is fitted.(11,24)

Interceptors

  • MiG-25P (Foxbat-A)

    The NATO designation of this aircraft is presumably because it was the first to be seen by the West. On 9 July 1967, two prototypes performed a flypast at the Soviet Aviation Day display at Domodedovo Airport, Moscow.

    The MiG-25P is more or less as described earlier, though it differs from the MiG-25Rs in that it has an extremely powerful radar fitted in the nose instead of surveillance equipment; the nose is shorter due to the lower space requirement. It also carries air-to-air missiles, AA-6s or (on later variants) the AA-8s. These have long range, high speed and can operate at the high altitudes bombers were expected to enter Soviet airspace at.

    The avionics of the Foxbat-A are interesting - despite the powerful radar it appears that the flight controls could be linked to ground control stations. The MiG-25P could be flown to the target area under control of ground stations, with the pilot only taking over for the engagement. This is at least part of the reason there is no navigator crew position (the other probably being weight), since navigation would all be done by the ground controllers. This also fit the Soviet centralized command structure.(11)

    The MiG-25P suffers in performance and endurance compared to the MiG-25R because of the extra weight it must carry: after a MiG-25P in testing suffered a 70mm wing flex when performing a 5G turn at maximum speed and crashed, designers imposed a speed limit of mach 2.83 on the the aircraft, and also maximum flight times within certain speed ranges. Flight time (fuel permitting) up to mach 2.4 was unlimited but speeds of mach 2.4-2.65 were limited to 15 minutes, and speeds of mach 2.65-2.83 to 5 minutes. The MiG-25 Viktor Belenko brought to the West in 1976 was a brand new Foxbat-A. It had a redline speed of mach 2.5 and a maximum range far less than believed, particularly if flying at supersonic speed. As it was, flying low-level with minimal manoeuvres, Belenko was barely able to reach Hakodate airport in Japan from Chuguyevka (on the eastern edge of Russia) without running out of fuel.

  • MiG-25PD/PDS (Foxbat-E)

    This was an upgraded version resulting from Viktor Belenko's defection in 1976, ordered as a fast replacement for the MiG-25P since its systems had been compromised (D = "Dorabottannii", or "Upgraded"). The radar was replaced with a more powerful pulse-Doppler version based on the MiG-23's radar; it had a greater range and could better pick out targets at low altitude. The nose was slightly lengthened to accommodate this radar. Infrared passive tracking facilities were added as were current-generation radios and avionics, including an IFF system. Most usefully the MiG-25PD could now carry short range missiles - four of the AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles as well as two long range AA-6 missiles.

    The MiG-25PDS was simply a MiG-25P with field upgrades applied to bring it in line with the MiG-25PD (DS = "Dorabottannii v Stroyou", or "Field Upgrade") capabilities(11).

Other Variants

  • MiG-25BM (Foxbat-F)

    This is the most recent model of the MiG-25, produced from 1982 to 1985(11). It is Russia's equivalent to the US' Wild Weasel program for suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD). The Foxbat-F is based on the earlier MiG-25RB Foxbat-D reconnaissance aircraft, but has ECM equipment in place of the camera equipment pallet. The nose is longer to house extra equipment and has large plugs on either side for connecting receiving antennae; however the nose is still painted black like the interceptor variants as a deception.

    This was the first Russian fighter to carry anti-radiation missiles. Four AS-11 Kilter missiles can be carried, each with a 48km range. The other difference from the rest of the MiG-25 family is that the BM frequently carries a 1,500lb fuel tank under its fuselage, one of the largest ever fitted to a Soviet aircraft. This gives about 300 miles of additional range.

    The Foxbat-F is one of the only variants of the MiG-25 still in service in Russia, all of the interceptors and most of the reconnaissance variants having been replaced by the newer, more capable MiG-31 Foxhound.

  • MiG-25PU\RU\U (Foxbat-C)

    All Foxbat-Cs are two-seat training versions of the MiG-25, with twin stepped, tandem cockpits. These variants were also used to test ejector seats by fitting the test seat with a mannequin in the rear cockpit, with the pilot in the front seat. The 'U' variant has no radar or reconnaissance capabilities and is solely for basic training on the model. The 'PU' and 'RU' versions are for training on mission-specific equipment present in the interceptor and reconnaissance variants respectively.

    These variants are now used in the various 'Fly to the edge of space' experiences that are available in Russia. After paying about £9,000 for the privilege a hapless punter is shoehorned into a pressure suit, strapped into the front seat of a 'U Foxbat (the pilot flies from the back seat) and lofted up to about 70,000ft at mach 2.6. MiG-31s also fly such tourist expeditions. Sounds like my ideal holiday.

  • MiG-25RBN (Foxbat-D)

    A one-off variant of the MiG-25RBV designed for night surveillance operations. It could carry ten photoflash bombs but these were not very successful in training because of their blowback effects on ground forces.

  • MiG-25RR (Foxbat-D)

    Eight MiG-25RBVs were fitted with air sampling gear in 1969 and used to monitor Chinese nuclear tests (RR = "Radiation Razvedchik", or Radiation Reconnaissance). The high speed of the MiG-25 meant radiation exposure for pilots was limited, but by the time the surveillance missions had finished the aircraft were too irradiated for further use so were scrapped.

  • MiG-25M

    In 1973, one MiG-25P and one MiG-25R were modified to test the new R-15BF2-300 turbojet. These had 30% greater thrust and improved fuel economy; in 1977 a MiG-25M, designated Ye-266M (E-266M in the record books, just to be confusing) was used to set some new altitude and climbing records. However since the MiG-31 development was gathering speed by this point the variant was dropped.

History

Although the Foxbat is operated by over ten countries (mostly middle or far-Eastern) it has not had a great deal of combat experience to speak of - it seems it is/was generally used as a surveillance aircraft and details of bombings or air-to-air kills are few and often sketchy. This is probably down to the low amount of exports - certainly less than 1500 MiG-25s were built in total and it appears not above low double figure amounts were ever exported to any one country. There is no apparent record of it repelling Western intruders from Soviet borders, unlike the many photographs that exist of F-14s shepherding Soviet Tu-95s away from US carrier groups.

An early deployment of MiG-25s, as noted earlier, was reconnaissance variants which were stationed in Egypt from 1971 to 1972, and Syria in 1973. During this time MiG-25s made several provocative overflights of Israel, which attempted interceptions with F-4 Phantom IIs on several occasions. Stripped-down versions came very close to shooting them down on one occasion but never again, since the MiGs flew so high. After they moved to Syria they became a part of the country's defence, even being painted in Syrian colours though still serviced by Soviet personnel.

Israel had nothing that could compete with the MiG-25s until they got some F-15As from the US. Then, they used F-4s in a high-flying reconnaissance mission over Lebanon to lure the Foxbats into the sky. When a pair of MiG-25s took off the F-4s dropped decoys, turned on their ECM systems and booted it. The blind MiG-25s were left ripe for interception by a pair of Israeli F-15s that had been directed into the area. One MiG got destroyed but the other managed to escape.

According to Syrian sources, Syria did a double-bluff of this a few months later. Using a pair of MiG-21s to pose as MiG-25s, Syria intercepted two Israeli F-4s on another fake reconnaissance mission. The F-15 that dutifully arrived to attack the "MiG-25s" was itself attacked by two real MiG-25s which shot it down with two AA-6s.(10) Given the sources one might want to use a bit of salt with that account, however one should also bear in mind that if this did occur, few would be likely to report the shooting down of an aircraft that has supposedly never been shot down (the F-15), except those who shot it down. Just a thought.

Foxbat-Ds were used by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War for airstrikes on ground targets, and some also saw action against Western aircraft during the 1991 Gulf War. On the first day of the war a MiG-25 downed an F/A-18 Hornet, Iraq's only air-to-air kill of the war. A narrative of that and other supposed incidents by one source makes interesting reading:

"Did you know that a MiG-25PD recorded the only Iraqi air-to-air kill of the Gulf War? It dropped an F-18C on the first night of the war--then went on to fire another missile at an A-6 and buzz an A-7, all while avoiding escorting F-14s and F-15s.

"An isolated incident? How about the single Iraqi Foxbat-E that eluded eight sweeping F-15s then tangled with two EF-111As, firing three missiles at the Ravens and chasing them off station. Unfortunately, the Ravens were supporting an F-15E strike, and the EF-111's retreat led to the loss of one of the Strike Eagles to a SAM. Oh BTW, the Foxbat easily avoided interception and returned safely to base.

"There's more. When F-15 pilots were fighting for the chance to fly sweeps east of Baghdad late in the war, itching for a chance to get a shot at an Iraqi running for Iran, they weren't expecting the fight that a pair of Foxbats put up. Two Foxbats approached a pair of F-15s, fired missiles before the Eagles could get off shots (the missiles were evaded by the Eagles), then outran those two Eagles, four Sparrows and two Sidewinders fired back at them. Two more Eagles maneuvered to cut the Foxbat's off from their base (four more Eagles tried, but were unable to effect an intercept), and four more Sparrows were expended in vain trying to drop the Foxbats."
(15)

No sources are given for the latter two incidents, though it appears the former is widely accepted. Of course the majority of Iraq's MiG-25s and indeed, much of its air force was destroyed on the ground by coalition airstrikes. Some were found after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, including an unclear amount that were dug out of the desert west of Baghdad in August 2003 (amounts reported range from one to two dozen), some curiously sans wings. According to the cited article these MiG-25s are "advanced" variants not seen before; whether this is the Foxbat-F or an even newer variant is unclear, though the latter case is unlikely and going by available photographs at least one is a MiG-25RBT Foxbat-B. Makes you wonder about those WMDs that no-one's found yet, but I digress.

Another operator of the MiG-25 is India, who have a single-figure number of reconnaissance variants and trainers. These are mostly employed against Pakistan, though how often they fly is unknown. Reportedly a MiG-25 crossed Pakistani airspace as recently as 1997, dropping a large sonic boom as it did so, though a mutual agreement between the two nations not to violate one another's airspace should have precluded this.(16)

Performance

There is no dispute that the Foxbat has an extraordinary top speed, rate of climb and maximum altitude, particularly for a fighter-size aircraft. However analyses frequently cite the poor handling of the aircraft at high speed and its relatively primitive construction. The aircraft is heavy, it does have a short range at high speed and it does handle sluggishly compared to contemporary Western designs. However, many commentators omit that most aircraft handle poorly at high mach and that as an interceptor the MiG-25 doesn't have to handle well. It was never intended for intercepting anything but bombers and high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, neither of which are renowned for their agility.

That said, the MiG-25's published 4.5G limit (2.2G with full tanks and weapon loadout) is believed only to exist to satisfy safety regulations; the airframe is widely reported to have a slightly more-respectable 'without deformation' handling limit of 5.0-6.5G. Either way it is considerably less puny when one considers it applies throughout the Foxbat's entire speed range. How many aircraft can pull 4Gs at mach 2.5? On one occasion, during dogfight training a Foxbat was inadvertantly subject to 11.5G stress without breaking up, although the airframe had to be written off due to deformation.

Furthermore, given the strict handling limits of the A-12 and SR-71s at cruising speed (supposedly around 1.5-2.0 gees) there is little chance of either outmanoeuvring a Foxbat (Kelly Johnson, designer of the SR-71 has spoken to this effect), and I have no doubt the larger XB-70's handling limits are stricter still. This is where the higher top speed of the Western aircraft pays off, as they would be able to use it to escape engagement. The MiG-25 can reportedly only maintain high machs (mach 3+) and high altitudes (over 80,000ft) for short periods. The Foxbat's greedy Tumansky turbojets also limit its range and flexibility considerably, in both interceptor and reconnaissance variants.

The top speed of the MiG-25 is an area of contention; setting aside the maximum allowed speed of mach 2.5, a Foxbat was definitely clocked exceeding mach 3 over a middle-eastern country (possibly Israel, Iran or Egypt) and MiG-25s have reportedly outrun Western aircraft and missiles during the 1991 Gulf War (see previous section). However many sources report that the engines have quite primitive throttle control (they are derived from cruise missile engines) and are prone to instability at high machs, with a tendency to keep accelerating until they burn out:

"The problem is that the engine begins to act like a ramjet at speeds in excess of Mach 2.5 or so, and the turbine's speed is increasingly dictated by the flow through the propulsion duct rather than by fuel control."(15)

Backing this up are several reports (including by a fellow noder) that the engines of a Foxbat were destroyed by exceeding mach 3 and had to be replaced on landing:

"In terms of speed, MiG-25 can fly at mach 3.2 but after that flight - and it will be short one, I don't know how long but it will be short one - but after that flight you must change its engines."
-Viktor Belenko
"Above Mach 2.8 the engines would overheat and burn up. The Americans had clocked a Mig-25 over Israel at Mach 3.2 in 1973. Upon landing in Egypt, the engines were totally destroyed."(10)
"...at speeds of Mach 2.8 or more the engines tended to run out of control and burn up. There were tales in the West that Foxbats that did fly at Mach 3+ for an extended period needed an engine swap when they came back down. "(11)
"When I was in Europe training on the MiG 21 and 23 I spoke with a few pilots who had flown the '25 and they without exception stated that in order to go Mach-3 the engines were subsequently scrap. Serious overtemps." (15)

One can't help but wonder why an aircraft capable of such high speed would be designed with metaphorically clipped wings, or rather engines:
"...it would be totally absurd to design a highly sophisticated a/c, employ 11 pounds of pure silver(!!) to insulate its engine compartments and not employ a relatively inexpensive device to avoid overspeeding the engines."(10)

...although the above viewpoint is not expressed elsewhere, suggesting that the MiG-25's performance is indeed crippled in this way. The fact that this aircraft was developed on quite a tight schedule also seems to back this up, as does the use of steel in the airframe rather than the development of improved titanium manufacturing processes first. Sources frequently mention a supposed Soviet propensity to go with what is available when designing equipment, rather than developing suitable technical advancements first.

This brings us to another point of criticism about the Foxbat: its construction. It was mostly hand-welded, had rivet heads that weren't countersunk and it was made from nickel steel, something that was unheard of in a time of aluminium fighter jets and the all-titanium A-12 and SR-71. The MiG-25 does have titanium protection for areas where heat builds up at high speed (i.e. leading edges of wings and fuselage), but Russia's ability to manufacture titanium in quantity was fairly limited when the MiG-25 was designed. Aluminium - the most common metal used in aircraft construction - is not suitable for high-mach applications, as air friction at that speed can produce heat in excess of 300°C and aluminium gets too soft at that temperature.

The Foxbat's electronics were also frequently viewed as inferior to Western aircraft. The book 'MiG Pilot', which documents Viktor Belenko's defection to the West with a MiG-25, notes derision of extensive use of vacuum tubes in the aircraft circuitry instead of semiconductors. However it is worth noting that vacuum tubes are arguably more resistant, perhaps by a factor of thousands, to electromagnetic interference than transistors. Whether this design was a result of technology decades behind the West or was a deliberate attempt to harden the aircraft against a nuclear blast is open to debate, as it is speculated that the Soviet Union knew about EMP effects of nuclear blasts long before Western governments did.

A final note against the aircraft was not exactly its fault. It required a high amount of maintenance after each flight, and since the Foxbat replaced many Soviet aircraft it was often operating out of existing bases. Unfortunately no corresponding increase in maintenance personnel was forthcoming, so some aircraft maintenance was neglected by the overworked crews. Further, the MiG-25 famously used a considerable amount of pure alcohol (500 litres) for cooling, hydraulic and de-icing systems, for its heat-resistant qualities. It wasn't called the "Flying Restaurant" for nothing. Since there were few entertainments permitted to enlisted men on base they frequently got drunk with it. Hardly ideal maintenance conditions for your nuclear bomber-interceptors.

As noted elsewhere on E2 the MiG-25, or at least its spectral Western avatar, was supposedly the inspiration for Craig Thomas' mythical MiG-31 Firefox aircraft in his book of the same title, early prints of which had a Foxbat on the cover. Ironically enough the sequel, 'Firefox Down', had the Firefox pursued by MiG-25s! It is interesting to read the early sections of the book as evidence of the West's exaggerated view of the Foxbat's capabilities, with them intercepting the Firefox at over 130,000ft, firing their cannons at it (no Foxbat ever carried a projectile weapon), matching manoeuvres with and engaging in dogfights with an aircraft so sophisticated the West are trying to steal it. Riight.

Records

Variants of the MiG-25 have held or still hold various aircraft performance records, from time-to-altitude records to absolute altitude or average speed records. The MiG-25 also still holds several aircraft performance records for women, presumably either because nobody knew there was a separate category for women (I didn't), or because nobody else could be bothered to break records with pilots of both sexes.

All of the records that the MiG-25 does not still hold are now held by either the SR-71 Blackbird, the YF-12A (the proposed interceptor variant of the SR-71) or the Sukhoi P-42, a stripped-down version of the Su-27 Flanker (which has such a short takeoff run it is classed as a short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft!). For a short time the F-15 Streak Eagle (a stripped-down F-15) also wrested several time-to-altitude records from the MiG-25 before the P-42 beat them both, and the MiG-25 regained the time-to-altitude records for altitudes above 15,000ft.

Currently, the MiG-25 holds the following records:

  • Altitude with no payload: 37,650m or 123,523ft, set on August 31, 1977.
  • Altitude with a 1000kg payload: 37,650m or 123,523ft,set on July 25, 1973.
  • Altitude with a 2000kg payload: 37,650m or 123,523ft, set on July 25, 1973.
  • Absolute altitude: 37,650m or 123,523ft, set on July 25, 1973. Bear in mind that these are not flying heights: the pilot executed a precisely-calculated zoom climb until the engines flamed out, coasted up to the maximum altitude then relit the engines after the aircraft had fallen back sufficient distance.
  • Time to climb to 30,000m or 99,000ft: 3 minutes 10 seconds, set on May 17, 1975. As a comparison, the Streak Eagle reached 29,825m or 98,425ft in 3 minutes 27.8 seconds. Pretty close.
  • Average speed over a 100km closed circuit with no payload: 2,605.10km/h or 1,628.19mph, set on April 8, 1975.

Records from Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

The MiG-25 also used to hold a speed record of 2,319.12km/h or 1,449.45mph over a 1000km closed circuit with 1000kg and 2000kg payloads, set on March 16, 1965. These records were both beaten by a considerable margin by the SR-71 and the YF-12A respectively on July 27, 1976 and May 1, 1965. Presumably the USAF didn't see fit to bother trying for the 100km closed circuit record, which the SR-71 would have undoubtedly shattered.

If the SR-71 and A-12 aircraft didn't have such stringent manoeuvring envelopes they could probably easily beat the MiG-25's time-to-altitude record. Things being as they are, such an attempt would probably cause the aircraft to break up.(15) Operating within limits, it takes an SR-71 about 14 minutes to reach 80,000ft and mach 3 in full afterburner. Go figure.

Note that the MiG-25 performance records were all set by prototypes. The prototypes all had designators beginning Ye-155 or Ye-266 and for the record attempts were designated either E-266 or E-266M, should you wish to look these records up. The difference between the E-266 and E-266M is improved engines in the E-266M, as noted earlier.

One of the prototypes that set these records can be seen here.

Celebrity Deathmatch: Foxbat vs. Blackbird

Okay, I'll say right off the bat that this is really a foregone conclusion, but somehow this doesn't make the proposition any less compelling. Despite its age and relatively low sophistication, the MiG-25 and its younger brother the MiG-31 Foxhound would still be the main potential opponents for the SR-71 if it were still operational. All three aircraft have exceptional top speeds and service ceilings, and although the CIA/USAF have never acknowledged SR-71 overflights of Russia took place there is little doubt that they did.

It is actually very unlikely the two aircraft would ever get close enough for there to be any kind of interception to speak of, given the Blackbird's cruising speed and altitude. After his defection, MiG-25 pilot Viktor Belenko stated that the SR-71 flew too high and fast for the MiG-25 to intercept it, suggesting that the SR-71's altitude capabilities are not only in excess of its published cruising altitude of circa 75,000ft, but of the service ceiling of the Foxbats as well. Although the AA-6 missiles the Foxbat carries are fast enough to catch an SR-71, the MiG-25's maximum altitude is severely retarded when carrying missiles, meaning it cannot get close enough to fire them.

Actually this deathmatch probably wouldn't end in any deaths at all, unless pride counts. The Foxbat would probably make a good initial stab at pursuit and in a dogfight (not that one could take place by any definition, at that speed) could easily outmanoeuvre it but if it were detected, the Blackbird pilot could simply nudge the throttles on his J-58s and outrun the Foxbat and any missile it fired. In a head to head engagement, even if the MiG-25 were flying at low speed, the SR-71 could in all likelihood fly right through its engagement envelope (the 50km range of its radar) and past it before the radar had time to lock on!

Still, in the light of all the derision directed at the Soviet military I find it strangely heart-warming to think a machine generally regarded as antiquated and primitive, if acknowledged at all, is still the closest rival to the Blackbird and is able, at any altitude, to outrun every other fighter that has been in service. Ever.



<<MiG-23 Flogger|MiG-27 Flogger>>


A quote from one of my principal sources is particularly appropriate here:
I thought that writing up the MiG-25...would be a straightforward exercise. I wasn't thinking. It turned out to be much more work than I expected. As with most Soviet-Russian aircraft, different sources on the MiG-25 tend to give frustratingly different stories, particularly in terms of variant descriptions and designations.

Sources are fragmentary and not always consistent. Not to mention that some information that would have been useful is still classified. Do not use this information to plan a war, and please forgive the unavoidable overuse of presumptive adjectives.

Sources/Further reading:
  1. Federation of American Scientists;
    • "MiG-25 FOXBAT (MIKOYAN-GUREVICH)"; <http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/airdef/mig-25.htm>
    • "MiG-25RB FOXBAT (MIKOYAN GUREVICH)"; <http://www.fas.org/irp/world/russia/program/mig-25.htm>
  2. (Author not specified); "MIKOYAN-GUREVICH MiG-25"; <http://www.warmachines.50g.com/planes/mig-25/mig-25_info.htm>
  3. Antill, Peter; Dugdale-Pointon, Tristan; Rickard, John; "MIG-25 Foxbat"; <http://www.rickard.karoo.net/weaponsmain2.html>
  4. SPG Media (Author not stated); "MIG-25P FOXBAT INTERCEPTOR AIRCRAFT, RUSSIA"; <http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/mig25/>
  5. Green, Daniel H;
    • "Mig-25 Foxbat"; <http://www.danshistory.com/foxbat.html>
    • "SR-71 Blackbird; Project Senior Crown"; <http://www.danshistory.com/sr71.shtml>
  6. Aerospaceweb.org (Author not specified); "Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-25"; <http://www.aerospaceweb.org/aircraft/fighter/mig25/>
  7. Federation of American Scientists (Author not specified); "MiG-21 FISHBED"; <http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/row/mig-21.htm>
  8. "Gulf War Chronology; 1993 Operations after the war"; <http://www.sci.fi/~fta/1993-ops.htm>
  9. nestofdragons@hotmail.com; "Parasites"; <http://www.nurflugel.com/Nurflugel/n_o_d/weird_05.htm>
  10. wingman@senet.com.au (Author(s) not stated); "Foxbat Hunting"; <http://www.geocities.com/siafdu/foxbat2.html>
  11. Goebel, Greg;
    • "MiG-25 Foxbat"; <http://www.vectorsite.net/avmig25_1.html>
    • "MiG-31 Foxhound"; <http://www.vectorsite.net/avmig25_2.html>
  12. Kucher, Paul R (original author not stated); "SR-71 Flight Manual" Section V; <http://www.sr-71.org/blackbird/manual/5/5-10.htm>
  13. Haynes, Leland R (MSgt USAF, Ret);
    • "SR-71 Blackbird Speed and Altitude Records"; <http://www.wvi.com/~lelandh/srrcd~1.htm>
    • "Mig-25 "FoxBat Vs The SR-71 "Blackbird"; <http://www.wvi.com/~lelandh/mig25.html>
  14. Venik's Aviation; "Mikoyan MiG-25"; <http://www.aeronautics.ru/archive/vvs/mig25-01.htm>
  15. Various authors; "Mikoyan MiG-25 Foxbat"; <http://aeroweb.lucia.it/~agretch/RAFAQ/MiG-25.html>
  16. Aldrich, Gary/Henry, Stephen; "FLIGHT TEST REPORT - MiG-25UP"; <http://www.eaa1000.av.org/fltrpts/mig25/mig25.htm>
  17. phardy@ixicorp.com (Author not stated); "Bushcat's MiG-25"; <http://www.bushcat.com/mpics/m24.html>
  18. Bergendahl, Timothy J; "Tale of the Foxbat"; <http://members.aol.com/TBergendah/foxbat2.html>
  19. (Author not specified);
    • "MiG-25RB (product 02B; «FoxBat - B»)"; <http://www.sergib.agava.ru/russia/mikoyan/mig/25/rb/mig25rb_e.htm>
    • "MiG-25R (E-155R; product 02; «FoxBat-B»)"; <http://www.sergib.agava.ru/russia/mikoyan/mig/25/r/mig25r_e.htm>
  20. SA Flyer (Author not stated); "Invulnerable high speed interceptor - The MiG-25 "Foxbat""; <http://www.saflyermag.co.za/Military/military_oct_2003.htm>
  21. Fédération Aéronautique Internationale; world record information; various pages at <http://www.fai.org>
  22. (Author not specified); "E-155 (E-155P and E-155R) by A.I.Mikoyan, M.I.Gurevich"; <http://www.ctrl-c.liu.se/misc/ram/e-155.html>
  23. (Author not specified); MiG-25PDS "Foxbat-E" High Speed Interceptor"; <http://e.1asphost.com/migalley/mig25.html>
  24. (Author not specified); Various pages (according to variant codes) at <http://www.testpilot.ru/russia/mikoyan/mig/25>
  25. heimdall@spyflight.co.uk (Author not stated); "MiG-25 Foxbat"; <http://www.spyflight.co.uk/FOXB.HTM>
  26. Smith, Charles R; "Iraqi 'Mach 3' MiG Buried in Sand"; <http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2003/8/6/105528.shtml>
  27. Gordon, Yefim: "MiG-25 Foxbat, MiG-31 Foxhound: Russia's Defensive Front Line"; published by Aerofax, ISBN - 1-85780-064-8
  28. Various authors; "MiG-25 Foxbat"; <:http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/MiG-25%20Foxbat>

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