Key point: The 31BM upgrade of 2010 follows the established Russian trend of preserving original aircraft designs while integrating modern weapons and avionics.
Recently released exercise footage of MiG-31’s intercepting an “intruder” in the stratosphere sheds further light on the capabilities and intended role of its latest incarnation, the MiG-31BM.
The clip, released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, depicts a typical home defense scenario. An older MiG-31 variant played the role of a surveillance aircraft collecting data in Russian airspace. Two 31BM’s were then dispatched to intercept the intruder after being alerted to its presence by ground-based radar systems. The 31BM’s located and successfully targeted the intruder with “mock air-to-air missiles” at a distance of 150 km.
This is standard fare for jet fighter drills, save for one remarkable detail: the exercise took place in the stratosphere, with the intercepting MiG-31BM’s flying at supersonic speeds. “The crews have flown at supersonic speeds of over 2,800 km/h at the altitude of 18,000 meters,” according to Ministry of Defense press statement.
Russian state news outlet TASS reports that the exercise involved ten crews, suggesting multiple, rotating sets of interceptors and intruders. Given that the 31BM is the latest variant in the prolific MiG-31 line, these kinds of exercises are as much intended to test new hardware as they are to train pilots in using it.