By A.I. Fedotchenko
The late sixties:
The Cuban missile crisis is already history, however, the Vietnam war keeps
raging on - a major war characterised by the wide use of aviation. The
memories are still fresh of downing the American U-2 Blackbird
reconnaissance plane travelling at Mach 3 over the Urals mountains - the
heartland of Russia. The Soviet Union had to find an adequate answer to the
threat posed by the US and NATO and, first of all, cover its northern border
from air attacks including cruise missile strikes. The situation caused the
development of a most efficient interceptor.
The thousand-odd kilometre border could not be effectively defended by the
then air defences and MiG-21 fighters. A new interceptor had to have long
legs to push the intercept range off as far as possible. It also had to
develop maximal airspeed and be able to win in aerial combat both against
single and multiple 'bandits'.
Even this brief outline of the situation in the second half of the sixties
indicates the Soviet Union had to design a radically new interceptor
Such an aircraft was designed and fielded in 1981 with the Aviation of the
Air Defence Forces.
The development of the S-155M interceptor aircraft was assigned to the
Mikoyan Aircraft Design Bureau, while the Tikhomirov Instrument-making
Research Institute (then known as Radio Industry Design Bureau) was tasked
with designing its guided weaponry.
In 1968, the programme was given green light by the resolution of the
Council of Ministers and Communist Party's Central Committee of 24 May, 1968
While Mikoyan had built the MiG-25 with its performances closely matching
those of the prospect interceptor, the Tikhomirov NIIP had no such an edge.
And the task was formidable -the NIIP had to develop its first long-range
radar capable of detecting enemy aircraft against the ground with the
targets flying on the head-on or pursuit courses. None of the then radars
was that capable. To cap it all, the radar had to be able to track the
targets acquired (i.e. to update their coordinates and position regularly)
within the maximal wide coverage area.
The NIIP christened the weapons control suite as Zaslon - Russian for the
'barrier', 'obstacle' - the barrier at the Russian border.
Nearly all technological solutions were innovations. For the very first
time, there was the high-repetition pulse radiation (so-called
quasi-continuous radiation) employed, as was digital signal processing,
integral computer. For the first time, the navigator was provided with both
detection indicator and tactical situation display. For the first time, the
discrete target illumination and missile semiactive guidance through the use
of discrete signals were developed as was the multiple target tracking and
engagement capability. For the first time: well, one could carry on and on
with it but let us dwell on the most important things.
The Zaslon radar pioneered the phased array. To date, there have been no
interceptor across the globe that could boast a phased array. Almost all
combat capability of the new interceptor emerged due to the phased array
The radars of the time operated a mechanical drive to scan the aerospace.
When the antenna's ray hit a target, the drive would begin tracking the
target, while the pilot would be completely unable to keep abreast of the
situation and see any other targets.
The track-while-scan technique is only a partial solution to the problem,
since it can provide neither wide coverage areas, nor high precision of the
The emergence of the PAR solves the problem radically. Reorienting the ray
in any direction within the cone of 120њ - 140њ takes the radar mere 0.001
The peak of the whole MiG-31/Zaslon FCS programme was the flight test of 15
February, 1978. On that day, the MiG-31 took off to detect, lock on and
track 10 targets simultaneously.
The targets travelled towards the interceptor in two groups at both higher
and lower altitudes than that of the MiG-31. The targets were detected and
locked on at a range of 140-180 km. Tracking was stable. The experiment was
crucial for the interceptor's designers. It became obvious that their work
had come to the fruition. Even though nearly two years of further tests
loomed ahead, they were sure they would succeed. The second landmark
experiment was the interceptor's simultaneous destruction of four led
As a result, the following MiG-31 characteristics were confirmed:
- programmed aerospace coverage; detection, lock-on and simultaneous
tracking of up to 10 targets within the 50-2,800 m altitude brackets in both
good and adverse weather conditions with the enemy electronic
countermeasures (ECM) (scan area of -/+ 60deg-70 deg;
- detection range for the SR-71 and F-16-like targets against the ground
makes up 200 km and 120 km respectively;
- 4-target simultaneous engagement with guided missiles in parallel with
calculation of launch parameters;
- control of the interceptor while cueing it in on the targets, discrete
- cannon fire;
- passive infrared (IR) target search capability;
- semiautonomous operations of 2-4 MiG-31 teams - a 4-aircraft team could
swap data on the 800-km frontage at a distance of up to 2,000 km from the
ground command post;
- cueing MiG-23s, MiG-25s, MiG-29s and Su-27s in on targets.
Twenty years later. July 1998. Four Su-30s and two MiG-31s took off the
Savasleika AFB (Nizhny Novgorod region) to be joined later by an A-50
airborne early warning and control aircraft and two Il-78 tanker planes. The
formation passed along the following route: Savasleika - Astrakhan - Moscow
region - Novaya Zemlya archipelago - Savasleika. The crews were not ferrying
their aircraft back and forth, rather, they maintained communications among
themselves and with the A-50 airborne command post, as well as accomplished
a variety of missions en route.
They would assume various group formations - a MiG-31 would lead the Su-30
strike aircraft and enable them attack ground targets, then the Sukhois
would protect the MiG-31s from surface-to-air missiles to enable the
interceptors to stalk a faraway aerial target and shoot it out of the sky.
The MiG-31 Zaslon is still in the inventory and "can destroy the aggressor's
strategic bombers even over the North Pole before they approach close enough
to fire their air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM)," says Chief of Russian
Air Force's Main Staff V. Sinitsyn.
For all of us, designers of the MiG-31 Zaslon interceptor, the song rings
true: "There's only 'MiG' between the past and the future:".
It is people who create everything in this world. What great designer teams
and beautiful personalities used to develop the MiG-31 Zaslon interceptor!
Even most prominent of them are too numerous to be mentioned here. However,
the three men whose incredible efforts resulted in the Zaslon should be
named - they are Boris Iosifovich Sapsovich, developer of the phased array
radar design and technology; Victor Konstantinovich Grishin who created the
MiG-31's general configuration - excellent manager and experimentator;
Yevgeny Yakovlevich Savitsky, chairman of the State Flight Testing
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