Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 – The Fastest Soviet Jet Fighter

The MiG-25 AKA the Foxbat remains one of the most intimidating Soviet aircraft ever produced. The huge size of the plane, especially the wings and engines, terrified the Soviet adversaries after its display in 1967.

Adding to the fame of MiG-25, its prototypes and aircraft would go on to set 29 records including the first aircraft to fly higher than 35,000 meters (115,000 ft) and reach 30,000 meters (98,425 ft) in only four minutes and 3.86 seconds.

Identified by the West as Foxbat, the MiG-25P – interceptor version, and the Mig-25R – reconnaissance version proved themselves worthy in numerous engagements with American aircraft, having numerous kills and escaping the hunting and missiles of American planes superior to them.

Tthe MiG-25 is unbelievably fast.
The MiG-25’s strength was incredible high speed.

The Western countries would sleep well only after they took possession of a deflected MiG-25 and examined it in detail, identifying its faults and issues and preparing to use them to their advantage.

Contents

Development

During the 50s and early 60s, the United States had developed numerous bomber aircraft that were able to penetrate the vast Soviet Air Space and posed a threat to the major cities and critical infrastructure of the Soviet Union.

In addition to bombers B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress, and B-58 Hustler, the Soviet Union had observed numerous high-flying reconnaissance aircraft such as the CIA’s U2, which would gather critical information on the Soviet Military and threaten the national security. Soviet Air Defence Force would take measures to counter this threat by requesting the development of high-altitude supersonic interceptor aircraft.

The B-58 Hustler was capable of high speed flight.
The Hustler was capable of dropping nuclear weapons and making out of Soviet territory fast. They needed a counter.

Though some companies including Mikoyan and Sukhoi were developing their experimental interceptor aircraft, the Tupolev Tu-128 would be selected to defend the airspace.

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Nevertheless, the experimental aircraft developed by Mikoyan would become the basis for the development of MiG-25. By mid-1959, Mikoyan would start working on the new aircraft. Mikoyan engineers opted for a similar engine configuration to MiG-19 with engines placed side by side at the back of the plane.

The beast responsible for the MiG-25's performance.
The Tumansky R-15BD-300 engine powered the MiG-25. Photo credit – argaA CC BY-SA 4.0.

Engineers would go on to study the possibility of variable-sweep wing technology for the aircraft, which on one side would improve the maneuverability of the aircraft but would also decrease the capacity of fuel that the aircraft would be able to carry.

The latter was considered more important. The possibility of equipping the aircraft with an additional seating place for the navigator was also an option, which would be ruled out. Furthermore, the designer and engineers would consider equipping the new MiG with two RD36-35 lift jets for vertical take-off.

Shortly after the idea was presented, Mikoyan would decide to not pursue it further since the cost of adding so much weight to the aircraft with these engines, that could only be used for vertical take-off and landing, would outweigh the benefit of not needing long runways. In addition, this extra weight would take the place of the much-needed fuel for the aircraft to operate.

The prototype MiG-25.
The first prototype was the Ye-155-R1.

The first prototype (Ye-155-R1) which was designated to serve as a reconnaissance aircraft conducted its first flight on March 1964. This flight would help Mikoyan engineers identify areas for improvement for the aircraft.

Six months later, on September 1964 the interceptor prototype would conduct its first flight. Nevertheless, considering that this aircraft was intended to meet very high standards and would contain innovative technology, it would take 3 more years for the prototypes to fully develop.

MiG-25 prototypes would make their first public appearance on the Domodedovo air show in 1967, on the 50th anniversary of the October revolution. The airshow would attract the attention of the Western world, which would grow concerned with the capabilities of the aircraft developed in the Soviet Union.

The MiG-25 has a classic fighter jet design.
The interceptor version of the MiG-25. Photo credit – Dmitry A. Mottl CC BY-SA 4.0.

Considering that this aircraft was designed to fly above 2 Mach, Soviet engineers would face major issues with thermal stress. They had to experiment with numerous materials to build the exposed parts of the aircraft.

Cold War MiG-21
Cold War MiG-21

The canopy was built using E2 Plexiglas to resist the high temperature, while for the rest of the body they would use stainless steel. While it would have made more sense to use titanium for the rest of the body, the engineers opted for steel due to lower costs and because it was much easier to weld. Titanium would often crack in the welded areas.

Though, Soviet steel welding would also be highly criticized by Western engineers for being very improper. Overall, the MIG-25 consisted of 80% nickel-steel alloy and 20% aluminum and titanium.

The MiG-25 looks fast when stood still.
The Foxbat has a classic fighte jet design. Photo credit – George Chernilevsky CC BY-SA 3.0.

MiG-25s would go on to be equipped with TL-25 Smerch-A radar, which was also used by the Tu-128. This long-range radar was intended to target the high-flying adversary bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, however, in the mid-60s the United States had begun to change its bombers utilization strategy from using high-flying aircraft to low-flying supersonic bombers which would go undetected by Soviet Air Defence.

It would take almost a decade for an improved radar to substitute the Smerch-A. The version MiG-25PD would be the first to receive the pulse-Doppler radar Sapphire-25.

In addition to the radar, the Foxbat would be armed with 4 R-40 air-to-air missiles. These missiles had either an infrared seeker system or a semi-active radar homing seeker system. R-40 had a range of 35 to 60 Km of range, making the MiG-25 extremely dangerous to other aircraft in the air.

This aircraft could also carry unguided bombs and displayed great bombing skills, being able to drop bombs at an altitude of 20,000 m, surpassing 2 Mach in speed, and having bombs traveling tens of kilometers upon being dropped.

The Sapfir 21 radar set.
The Sapfir 21 was used in the MiG-21 and later developed into the Sapfir 25 for the MiG-25PD. Photo credit – VargaA CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Foxbat would be limited to cruising at a speed of 2.35 Mach with partial afterburner, despite being able to reach a much higher speed.

Through some of its prototypes could reach a cruising speed of 3.2 Mach, the MiG-25 was allowed to have a maximum speed of 2.83 Mach for only 5 minutes, as the plane would immediately be exposed to the threat of overheating.

The aircraft was not praised for its fuel consumption, having 50% higher fuel consumption in cruise than the first generation of engines of F-15. 

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A Soviet MiG-25.
The MiG-25’s speed was dependant on whether it was carrying armament.

It was perfected to perform at high altitudes and speeds during its initial development, challenging and topping many records of that period. Several of these records still stand. MiG Chief Test Pilot Aleksandr Vasilyevich Fedotov was responsible for the majority of those records including speed and high altitude.

In 1969, the MiG-25R would begin to be produced at the Gorki aircraft factory, followed by variant P in 1971 and the improved PD variant in 1978. The production would stop in 1984, with 1186 units produced.   

MiG-25 Operational History

The Foxbat has enjoyed a long operational career in 13 different militaries. The aircraft would occasionally be engaged in combat and prove its worth.

As part of the Soviet Union, the MiG-25R (recce variants) were deployed to Egypt for different periods between 1971 and 1974, including the Yom Kippur War. These MiGs would conduct reconnaissance operations over Egypt and Israel territory at high altitude and supersonic speed. On an occasion, one MiG-25 was recorded flying at 3.2 Mach.

The Foxbat has success on the export market.
The MiG-25 saw success as an export aircraft. This is a Libyan aircraft.

On another occasion, one Soviet MiG-25 would escape a missile launched by an Israeli F-4E. Soviet MiG-25s would also conduct reconnaissance operations over Iran.

However, the MiG-25s would write the most famous part of their combat history under the Iraqi Air Force. During the war with Iran, the MiG-25 interceptors would engage in many air battles with the American-made aircraft used by Iran.

Iraq claims that it shot down more than 15 Iranian aircraft including, numerous Phantoms (F-4E), Northrop F-5 (E and F variants), a Lockheed EC-130, and an F-14 Tomcat. The Iraqi Colonel Mohommed Rayyan is credited with shooting 10 Iranian aircraft with his MiG-25 before getting shot down by an F-14. While Iran claims to have shot 10 MiG-25, of which 9 were reconnaissance variants.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25PU.
The MiG-25PU had a rather unusual nose configuration. Photo credit – Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0.

They attribute these kills mainly to Iranian F-14s. However, only 3 of them have been confirmed by Iraq. Iraq would use its MiG-25 during the Persian Gulf War as well. The Foxbat would add F/A-18 to the list of aircraft it shot down on the first night of the war.

While the superior F-15 Eagles would shoot down a couple of MiG-25 during the Gulf war, it is worth noting that MiG-25 would engage in combat with superior aircraft and leave unscathed. Such is the case of 2 MiG-25, which would fire on F-15s and escape their chase, and 10 air-to-air missiles fired by those F-15s.

In 1991, a MiG-25 managed to damage an F-15C with a missile, which the Iraqis claim that the damaged aircraft went down. Furthermore, in 2002, a Foxbat shot down a US MQ-1 Predator drone, marking the first case of combat between an aircraft and a UAV. 

Even a modern F/A-18 fell fowl to the  MiG-25.
Even modern combat aircraft were downed by the MiG-25 which worried the US.

During their service in the Syrian Air Force, MiG-25s were outperformed in combat by Israeli F-15s, with two cases of MiG-25s getting shot down. Their most recent engagement in combat was against the Turkish F-16 in 2014.

In India, the MiG-25s served as reconnaissance planes and were named Garuda. They were used for reconnaissance missions over Pakistan. However, with the acquisition of UAV-s and satellite imagery, they would retire in 2006.

Libya was one of the biggest importers of MiG-25s from the Soviet Union, having these aircraft participate against U.S. Forces in the Gulf of Sidra incident. Eventually, the aircraft would become passivized due to the lack of maintenance services.

However, the most notable event during the operational history of MiG-25s was when Soviet Pilot Victor Belenko defected to the US allies with his MiG-25P. He landed the plane at Hakodate Airport, in Japan.

The MiG-25's belly.
In a clean configuration, the MiG-25 could achieve its top speed.

The plane was then held by US intelligence authorities for examinations. Western experts would identify many faults in the aircraft, including the bad welding, which they often assumed was repair welding rather than factory-made welding.

After 67 days the plane was returned to the Soviets, who initiated work to improve their missile system and radar as that version’s systems were already exposed to the US. This resulted in the MiG-25PD variant being developed.

Retirement

Since the plane was part of many countries’ Air Force fleets, its retirement process differed from country to country.

Nevertheless, during the 90s the majority of these planes retired from service. Some countries like Syria would have them in service long into the 2000s, as can be observed in the incident of Syrian Foxbats with the Turkish F-16 in 2014.

The remains of a Foxbat.
The remains of a MiG-25 from Operation Desert Storm. Photo credit – Lietmotiv CC BY-SA 2.0.

Libya in extreme circumstances might have drawn them back to service, as their flights were reported in 2015.

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Nevertheless, upon retirement, some counties exposed this aircraft in their National museums. Aircraft enthusiasts can find the plane a MiG-25 PD exposed in Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow, Russia.

The MiG-25RB can be found in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton Ohio after it was brought to the US by the US Air Force following Operation Iraqi Freedom.

India keeps the Aircraft exposed in three locations. One MiG-25R is currently on display at Indian Air Force Museum in Delhi.

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Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 23.82 m (78 ft 2 in)
  • Wingspan: 14.01 m (46 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in)
  • Empty weight: 20,000 kg (44,092 lb)
  • Gross weight: 36,720 kg (80,954 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Tumansky R-15B-300 afterburning turbojets engines, 73.5 kN (16,500 lbf) thrust each dry, 100.1 kN (22,500 lbf) with afterburner
  • Maximum speed: 3,000 km/h (1,900 mph, 1,600 kn) / Mach 2.83 at high altitude
  • Range: 1,860 km (1,160 mi, 1,000 nmi) at Mach 0.9
  • Service ceiling: 20,700 m (67,900 ft) with four missiles
  • Rate of climb: 208 m/s (40,900 ft/min)