Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 (Foxbat)
Supersonic Interceptor / Reconnaissance Bomber Aircraft
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat was specifically designed to intercept the ultimately-cancelled North American XB-70 Valkyrie Mach 3 bomber.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Like the Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 "Fishbed", the MiG-25 (NATO reporting name of "Foxbat") became symbolic of the Soviet air threat posed to the West (and her respective interests worldwide) throughout the latter half of the Cold War. The high-speed, high-altitude interceptor was a record-setter from the beginning and would serve in some quantity with air forces within the Soviet sphere of influence for decades. Their most notable actions occurred in the Iran-Iraq War with some modest successes and lesser so in the follow-up 1991 Gulf War, where many were destroyed on the ground by coalition forces. Regardless, the MiG-25 was a powerful aircraft in every sense of the word and was a deadly design if used in conjunction with proper facilities and expertly trained personnel. Designed to meet the proposed North American B-70 "Valkyrie" jet-powered bomber series that never was, the MiG-25 nevertheless went down in aviation history as a successful Soviet-era venture - one whose fruits can still be valued today, albeit in limited service numbers. The MiG-25 did well to counter the Lockheed SR-71 spy plane as well as force the pricey development (and ultimate production) of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority series. Some 1,190 MiG-25s of all types were eventually produced covering interception, reconnaissance, ELINT, training and bombing duties.
The MiG-25 would never be confused with a "dedicated" fighter by any regard for her high-operating speed, poor out-of-the-cockpit visibility and rapid use of fuel preclude her from any long-standing aerial engagement. Instead, she became a very specialized thoroughbred designed with the single-minded lethal purpose of interception - led to her targets by way of powerful ground-based radar systems - while fielding a healthy collection of hard-hitting missiles. The MiG-25 utilized some of the largest missiles (19.5 feet in length) ever fitted to an aircraft in the AA-6 "Acrid" series, able to engage targets some 50 miles away. Foxbats were therefore stationed along both sides of the Soviet Empire, protecting its airspace from anything the West could seemingly muster. The arms race was in full swing and every move required a critical counter-move to match.
In the late 1950s, the United States Air Force undertook development of a long-range, supersonic strategic bomber capable of Mach 3+ speeds and achieving altitudes upwards of 70,000 feet under the developmental designation of XB-70 "Valkyrie". The aviation firm of North American - designer and developer of the World War 2-era war-winning P-51 Mustang fighter - was tabbed with its creation. The idea behind such an airframe was in presenting Soviet air defenses with an untouchable target - outclassing the latest interceptors or surface-to-air missile systems then in inventory and those charged with protecting the vast airspace of the Soviet realm. The United States Air Force's Strategic Air Command envisioned a fleet of B-70 bombers in its stable, holding a distinct advantage in capabilities of reconnaissance and delivery of munitions should the Cold War ever go "hot". In response to the XB-70, the Soviets enacted a counter-program to shore up its aged and limited air defense network - a proposed Mach 3-capable manned interceptor to serve directly with the PVO - the Soviet Air Defense Force. Work on the aircraft began in the middle of 1959.
The Valkyrie was a large aircraft design, powered by no less than six afterburning turbojet engines and fielding an impressive streamlined shape. However, missile technology began evolving at such a rapid pace even before the proposed bomber took to the skies and intercontinental ballistic missiles soon took over the role of proposed high-level, fast bombers. Couple these developments with the ballooning costs of the Valkyrie program as a whole and the need for the North American product became less appealing to American warplanners. As such, the Valkyrie program was officially halted and ultimately cancelled in 1961. Despite the cancellation, a pair of prototypes were completed under the experimental designation of XB-70A (a third was under construction but never finished) and first flight was recorded on September 21st, 1964. However, the XB-70A would never serve in an operational military role, instead relegated for use as a supersonic testbed. The series continued as such from 1964 onwards. In 1966, one of the prototypes was lost to accident during a mid-air collision with a trailing observation aircraft during a photoshoot but research flights continued on until 1969. The remaining prototype ended up as a museum showpiece at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio, where it resides today.
While the Americans closed the chapter on their Valkyrie, development of the Soviet "Valkyrie Killer" had progressed far enough that cancellation was not in the stars - and perhaps Soviet authorities understood the impending long-term impact of the upcoming Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" Mach 3-capable strategic reconnaissance jet originating with the company's A-12 of 1962.
As such, the Soviet design team at Mikoyan-Gurevich - a firm having made a name for itself in World War 2 - looked to tackle several key development hurdles en route to a polished end-product. Chief among these became the "heat barrier" encountered by high-performance aircraft attempting high-speed flight. The team looked through their available options and realized that they would have to incorporate several different construction technologies and a mix of materials to promote a viable sustaining airframe. Titanium, though expensive and difficult to work with, was selected for its strength and high-heat resistance and tabbed to be used along the nose and leading edges - those surfaces most exposed to heat generation at high speed. Instead of riveted aluminum along other facings, welded steel was utilized. In the end, some 80 percent of the new airframe would consist of tempered nickel steel along with 11 percent encompassing aluminum alloy and the final 9 percent made up of the valuable titanium. As with any aircraft contending with high-speed, high-altitude flight, pilots of the new Mikoyan-Gurevich aircraft would be forced to wear full-pressure suits - appearing more as space-bound cosmonauts than conventional pilots - for their own safety. The designation of "Ye-155" was assigned to the proposed interceptor design and final Soviet approval was handed down in February of 1962.
With the design in place, development - and ultimate construction - began on the Ye-155-P1. On September 9th, 1964, the aircraft was sent aloft for the first time with a pair of the large Mikulin-brand R-15B-300 series turbojet engines delivering 22,500lbs of thrust each. Such power came at a price, however, for each engine was rated a service life of just 150 hours. The aircraft received the Smertch-A radar (NATO: "Foxfire") for the intended interception role and armament would be pairings of various air-to-air missiles tied to the powerful radar system. The Foxfire radar maintained the capability of detecting targets out to 62 miles while the aircraft's missile armament would become a mix of both semi-active and infrared-homing R-40R and R-40T series missile systems. The goal of such an aircraft was, naturally, to get aloft as quickly as possible, achieve altitude and race to a threat, detect the incoming enemy and gain initiative and ultimately engage at distance, delivering a lethal payload to the target before triggering a response. The Ye-155-P1 certainly held the qualities of such an interceptor. Subsequent evaluation of the Ye-155-P1 airframe in-flight yielded acceptable results.
While the Ye-155 was always envisioned for its interception qualities, Mikoyan-Gurevich was not lost on its possible use as an untouchable "fast reconnaissance" platform. Even before the interceptor model was made available for its first flight, a reconnaissance prototype - the Ye-155-R1 - recorded its maiden flight on March 6th, 1964, again, proving the airframe held some multi-faceted qualities that could serve Soviet air power interests quite well. The reconnaissance model fitted one vertically-set and four obliquely-set cameras along her forward airframe and could be identified by her antennas further on up the nose assembly.
To further drive the apparent success of Soviet ingenuity when concerning the Ye-155 prototype, the aircraft was assigned a secret designation of "Ye-266" (Ye-266M) and utilized as a record-breaking platform, these records ultimately and formally acknowledged by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) and bringing attention of the Soviet design to Western observers for the first time. The first record breaking act occurred on March 16th, 1965 with Alexander Fedotov at the controls, reaching 2,319.12km/h and a 1,000- and 2,000kg payload. 2,982.5km/h was then achieved without a payload in 1967. Fedotov eventually claimed another record by reaching an altitude of 29,977m while carrying a payload of 1,000kg and later netted 35,230m with a 1,000kg payload - the latter record, however, resulting in an double engine flameout and forcing the pilot to glide his aircraft back down to safety. On August 31st, 1977, a Ye-266M fitted with a pair of R-15-BF2-300 engines set a speed record at 123,523.62 feet. Of the 29 records claimed by the new Soviet design, several were not broken until the early-to-mid 1990s while others remain even today. Lockheed's A-12 was quick to capture several records away from the Mikoyan-Gurevich aircraft by May of 1965. Regardless, for their efforts in the design of the Ye-155/Ye-266 and its counterparts, the design Mikoyan-Gurevich design team were given the "Lenin Prize" achievement. Incidentally, the Ye-266 record-breaking airframe would prove critical in the development and ultimate production of the upcoming MiG-31 "Foxhound" series - a long-range interceptor of 1982 created to overcome the performance limitations of the MiG-25 series once the latter entered service production with Soviet units in the 1970s.
Production of the Soviet interceptor was enacted in 1969 under the military designation of "MiG-25". However, reliability issues pertaining to the complex engines reared up during early use, forcing full front line service to be delayed until 1973. Once in operation, the MiG-25 was the same complicated machine as found during development and her operations were more-or-less curtailed to protect her touchy engine qualities. The engines, though inherently powerful, only allowed for short spurts of top level thrust to reach the perceived maximum Mach 3 interception speed so pilots were told to limit general usage to about Mach 2.8 to help maximize optimal engine service lives and avoid flameouts.
Once known to NATO - they believing the new Soviet aircraft to be an agile, dedicated fighter design - assigned the MiG-25 the codename of "Foxbat" to coincide with NATO practice of designating Soviet fighters with "F" names and bombers with "B" names. For much of the remaining Cold War, there stood little in the way of information or imagery concerning the elusive MiG-25. A bit stroke of luck finally formulated on September 6th, 1976, when Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko defected from the Soviet Union and landed his MiG-25P at Hakodate Airport in north Japan. His journey began at Sakharovka Air Base and, upon landing, US intelligence personnel were on hand to take ownership of his MiG-25. It was soon under evaluation to which its ultimate strengths and inherent weaknesses became well known to the American intelligence community. The MiG-25 was by no means an agile fighter but, by then, production of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter - developed to contend with the MiG-25 - was well underway, the new American mount having already entered service in January of 1976. Belenko also brought word with him of the soon-to-arrive MiG-31 series - an interceptor now capable of engaging targets - aircraft and cruise missiles - at low altitudes.
Outward design of the MiG-25 "Foxbat" was highly conventional by any standard, fitting a long slab-sided fuselage against a square-shaped airframe. The airframe design was necessitated by the installation of the large pair of engines buried deep within the design. Intakes were set to either side of the cockpit and sported sharp angles to accept airflow from the sides of the nose assembly. The nose protruded a great length ahead of the cockpit, eliminating any natural "look-down" capability for the pilot. The pilot's vantage point was further hindered by setting the cockpit between the two intake openings with the fuselage spine beginning aft of the canopy. The canopy was a simple two piece system but heat resistant. Wings were of a monoplane arrangement, high-set along the intake sides and swept sharply along their leading edges, less so along the trailing. To counter airflow from these assemblies, the horizontal stabilizers were set well below the main wings and featured similar sweep back, though increased moreso in comparison along their trailing edges. The engine exhaust rings promoted a smoother shape to the fuselage aft section, derailing the true boxy shape of the MiG-25 design to an extent. The engines were set close to one another in a side-by-side seating. As such, twin vertical tail fins were affixed outboard of each engine placement, though both maintained a rather straight - albeit rearward-swept - standing profile. In all, the MiG-25 was consistent with Soviet aircraft design of the time, particularly where speed was involved - utilitarian to the core. The MiG-25 would never win any beauty contests to be sure but its single-minded nature ensured that it was designed to win the aerial confrontations at hand. Its silver exterior was also consistent with many aircraft of this time period, particularly those originating in the 1950s and 1960s.
The MiG-25P ("Foxbat-A") was the initial single-seat, all-weather interceptor to see service. Power was supplied by a pair of Tumansky R-15B-300 afterburning turbojet engines delivering 16,524lbf thrust each and 22,494lbg thrust each with afterburner. Maximum speed was listed at Mach 3.2 (2,170mph) at high altitude and about 740mph at low altitudes. Range was limited to 1,075 miles discounting any use of external fuel stores. Ferry range was up to 2,575km. This MiG-25 model could reach 80,000+ feet with a four missile payload and obtain a rate-of-climb equal to 40,950 feet per minute. Typical armament load was a pair of radar-guided R-40R (AA-6 "Acrid") air-to-air missiles and a pair of infrared-guided R-40T infra-red/semi-active air-to-air missiles. Alternative loads could include the AA-7 "Apex" medium-range, radar-guided and AA-8 "Aphid" short-range, infra-red homing air-to-air missiles.
The MiG-25R ("Foxbat-B") became the single-seat reconnaissance aircraft fielding cameras, ECCM equipment and sensor suites suitable for the role. The reconnaissance model was cleared for acceptance into service as the MiG-25R in April of 1969 - despite flying as a prototype before the interceptor model, the interceptor was first to achieve full-scale production.
In 1968, the MiG-25PU ("Foxbat-C") was delivered to serve as a conversion trainer for MiG-25 pilots. The MiG-25PU was stripped of all of its critical war-making capacity (including radar) and a second cockpit for the instructor was fitted ahead and below the primary cockpit position as found on the original MiG-25 design. The trainer model seated each pilot in a "stepped" arrangement allowing for unfettered views and redundant controls access for both instructor and trainer alike. While being utilized to train MiG-25 pilots in the ways of the Foxbat, the MiG-25PU model went on to prove itself as a valuable weather reconnaissance platform as well. Eventually, the MiG-25PU model would be cleared to fly more hours than her single-seat sisters ever would.
In 1970, the MiG-25RB/RBS ("Reconnaissance Bomber") (also "Foxbat-B") was delivered to replace the MiG-25R reconnaissance types. While still retaining the needed camera suite for reconnaissance sorties, the MiG-25RB was fitted with a Soviet aircraft "first" - an operational inertial navigation system. Additionally, a Peeling automatic bombing system was installed and effectively doubled the potent value of the MiG-25 series as a whole. Not only could the aircraft now scout targets, target areas and engage aerial foes, it could also now engage ground targets with some level of accuracy. The MiG-25RB/RBS model proved quite valuable within the Soviet ranks, enough to see quantitative production up until 1982. MiG-25RBSh was used to signify MiG-25RBS models fitting newer, improved equipment. The MIG-25RBV designation was also used to mark reconnaissance bomber variants with new equipment.
In an unusual production move on the part of the Soviets, a specially designed two-seat trainer - the MiG-25RU - was specifically developed and built in numbers to train future generations of Soviet MiG-25 reconnaissance pilots for their distinct high-speed, high-flying "spy" duties.
Building upon the reconnaissance-minded Foxbat, Mikoyan-Gurevich delivered the MiG-25RBK ("Foxbat-D") into the fray, coupling the camera fittings with passive and active receivers/"Kub" Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) and Sabla radio location systems for ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) sorties. These models could be identified by the installation of dielectric panels to either side of the forward nose facings, replacing the reconnaissance antennas of previous. Operational status of this new Foxbat type was achieved in 1972 and production would run until 1980. An improved - and final - reconnaissance model appeared with the delivery of the MiG-25RBF featuring an improved jamming suite. Aircraft of this type were either brought up to standard from their MiG-25RB origins or appeared as all-new products to replace the older MiG-25RBK types. MiG-25RBT was another designation reserved for ELINT variants.
In 1972, a SAM (Surface-Air-Missile) suppression Foxbat was unveiled. Soviet authorities were not blind to developments during the Vietnam War, particularly as the United States was involved, and evaluated the changing technological battlefield conditions with great interest. There grew an important role of the "Wild Weasel" to American activities in the skies over Vietnam. These aircraft were modified forms of existing fighter and fighter-bomber types but outfitted for the very special role of suppressing ground-based SAM systems. Mikoyan-Gurevich, therefore, made available the MiG-25BM ("Foxbat-F") series to contend with such suppression. The MiG-25BM was fitted with 4 x Kh-85 (AS-11 "Kilter") anti-radiation missiles that could ride the energy emitted from SAM installations down until impact. To maintain the role, the Synch-M ("Little Owl") radar facility was installed into MiG-25BM airframes. It is believed that less than 100 of the MiG-25BM models were produced during a period ranging from 1982 to 1985. Of these models, all were operational from bases in Poland and East Germany during the latter stages of the Cold War and never offered to export clients - such was the secrecy of their internal make-up and outward capabilities.
The MiG-25PD ("Foxbat-E") eventually became the definitive Foxbat, entering production in 1978. The MiG-25PD was fitted with modernized RP-25 series radar system allowing for "look-down, shoot-down" capability. Additionally, the aircraft received more powerful revised engines as well as Infra-Red, Search and Track (IRST) installed in a mount under the nose assembly. Armament was now a pair of R-40 (AA-6 "Acrid") missiles with 4 x R-60 (AA-8 "Aphid") missiles destined to counter any marauding enemy aircraft. With the unveiling of the Foxbat-E, remaining Foxbat-A model series were brought up to the newer potent standard beginning in 1979 under the in-house designation of MiG-29PDS. The upgrade program served to ensure potency of the MiG-25 worldwide, at least in the short term. Incidentally, the AA-6 "Acrid" missile was specifically designed to target the failed Valkyrie bomber venture of the Americans. The MiG-25BM ("Foxbat-F") was similar in scope and armed with Kh-58 or Kh-31 series air-to-surface missiles.
In 1971, at least four Soviet Foxbats (2 x MiG-25R and 2 x MiG-25RB types) were stationed in ally Egypt to monitor actions over Israeli-held territory in Sinai. The Israeli Air Force could only field the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in response, though their American-built aircraft lacked the operating altitude of the impressive MiG-25, essentially allowing the Foxbats to operate with some impunity. Later, an Egyptian MiG-25 was engaged by Israeli F-4Es though all failed to hit their target with the MiG-25 simply outrunning the missiles. Soviet MiG-25s returned to Egypt for a time in 1973 to undertake reconnaissance sorties during the Yom Kipper War until late in 1974.
The Iraqi Air Force purchased the MiG-25 in quantity and fielded the type in the bloody Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. However, it is unknown as to what capacity or level of success these aircraft held against the Iranian Air Force. It is believed that losses for the MiG-25 were relatively high for the Iraqis as more than a dozen may have been shot down in the war. Conversely, Iraqi Air Force pilot Colonel Mohommed Rayyan earned 8 air kills of his 10 total while flying his MiG-25P model between 1981 and 1986. His "ace" status (5 air kills or more) earned him the nickname of "Sky Falcon" and he remains the most decorated MiG-25 pilot in history.
Saddam Hussein's invasion of oil-rich neighbor Kuwait prompted a gathering of forces under a united coalition banner in 1990. During the ensuing 1991 Gulf War, there was only one confirmed air-to-air victory for a Foxbat pilot. A sole Iraqi Air Force MiG-25PDS successfully engaged and downed a United States Navy F/A-18 Hornet. The Navy pilot - 33-year old Lt Cdr Scott Speicher - became the first American combat casualty of the war on January 17th, 1991. The kill was reportedly accomplished with an R-40TD (AA-6 "Acrid") missile, proving the effectiveness of the Soviet application against even the latest American equipment and training.
Another Iraqi Air Force MiG-25PD avoided engagement with American Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles and opened up against a General Dynamics EF-111 Raven aircraft that had been providing electronic warfare (EW) support. Three missiles were fired at the Raven crew but all three missed their mark. However, the attack drove the Raven aircraft from the fight and the allied aircraft lost critical support as a result.
A pair of American F-15 Eagles later squared off against a pair of Iraqi MiG-25s. The MiGs launched missiles though the Eagles were able to evade. The Foxbats then proceeded to outrun the Eagles at speed. With the Eagles in chase, another pair of F-15s joined the fray and all launched some 10 missiles total against the Foxbats - again, none hitting their mark. Ultimately, three MiG-25s were finally downed by American USAF F-15 crews - two during actions in the Gulf War proper and a further downed by an F-16 Fighting Falcon during patrol of the post-war "No-Fly Zone" over Southern Iraq.
On December 23rd, 2002, an Iraqi Air Force MiG-25 downed an armed MQ-1 Predator drone undertaking a reconnaissance sortie over Iraq. This went down in history as the first downing of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) by aircraft. The Predator did manage to fire off one of its AIM-92 Stinger short-range, anti-aircraft missiles but without success in achieving a hit.
While the MiG-25 Foxbat has seen the pinnacle of its operating life, there are several current operators of the system including its originator - Russia. Russia maintains a stable of some 42 examples currently in active service. Other current operators include Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Syria and Turkmenistan. Algeria received 48 MiG-25s from Ukraine though less than a dozen are believed operational today. Of the others in circulation, data is lesser known as to their level of operational readiness.
Former operators of the MiG-25 include Bulgaria, Belarus, India, Iraq, Georgia, Libya, the Soviet Union and Ukraine. At one point, Bulgaria traded several MiG-25s for MiG-23 "Flogger" interceptors. Belarus has since retired their rather large fleet of 50 MiG-25s. India received the MiG-25 in 1981 but these were inevitably retired in 2006 as satellites overtook their intended high-level spying role. Iraq held at least 35 MiG-25s before January of 1991 - most of these were destroyed while still on the ground. In the later 2003 American invasion of Iraq, any remaining MiG-25s were found buried in the sand to avoid destruction. It is unknown exactly how many MiG-25s were operated by oil-rich Libya though 60 is the presumed number. As with other MiG-25 operators, their fate is largely unknown. Ukraine absorbed some 79 MiG-25 Foxbats (among other aircraft) after the collapse of the Soviet Union - these have either been retired, scrapped or sold off to countries in need of such an aged, expensive mount.
Without a doubt, the Soviet Union remained the largest operator of their own MiG-25. The type served with the Soviet Air Force as well as Soviet Anti-Air Defense elements and played a critical role in the latter stages of the Cold War. Despite the failure of the North American Valkyrie design, the Mi-25 still served as a deterrent to SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 spy plane over flights regularly conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency and still proved a threat to more modern strategic offerings including the Rockwell B-1 swing-wing strategic bomber.
A recovered, though wingless, MiG-25 aircraft from Operation Iraqi Freedom is currently undergoing restoration for display at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio - soon to join the XB-70A Valkyrie on display there. The example was found in 2003 and given to the museum in 2006.