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Russia Equips MIG-31I Aircraft With In-flight Refueling System.

| Defense News Army 2024

Russia has reportedly equipped its MiG-31I fighter jets with an air refueling system to increase their range, according to a defense industry source cited by TASS on April 18, 2024. This enhancement allows these aircraft, which are part of Russia's long-range aviation, to refuel mid-air, significantly extending their operational range.
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A Russian Air Force MiG-31 interceptor aircraft ( Illustrative image). (Picture source: Russian Media)

The source noted that the MiG-31I variant differs from the older MiG-K models in terms of engines, avionics, and missiles. However, these upgrades have not been officially confirmed by the relevant authorities.

Air refueling is a technique that enables an aircraft to receive fuel in-flight from another specially equipped aircraft, known as a tanker aircraft. This delicate operation requires precise coordination between the two aircraft to connect a refueling hose, often through a retractable boom or a hose and drogue system. This process is crucial for long-duration missions as it allows combat aircraft, such as the MiG-31I, to extend their range without returning to base for refueling.

The MiG-31I, also known as Ishim, is a modified version of the renowned Russian MiG-31 fighter jet. This variant has been specifically adapted for a particular mission: launching small satellites into orbit. Unlike its conventional configuration as a fighter jet, the MiG-31I has been equipped and optimized for this specific task.

Its main feature lies in its ability to launch payloads into Earth's orbit. Specifically, the MiG-31I is designed to carry small satellites, with a weight of up to 160 kg for an orbit at 300 km altitude, or up to 120 kg for a higher orbit at 600 km altitude.

This orbital launch capability represents a significant extension of the traditional functions of a fighter jet. Instead of solely focusing on aerial missions, the MiG-31I offers additional versatility as a launch platform for small-scale space missions.

The integration of an air refueling system on MiG-31I jets constitutes a major strategic advantage. Firstly, it extends the duration of missions these aircraft can undertake, making them more flexible and capable of responding to evolving situations over long distances. Additionally, it allows for continuous presence in strategic areas, thereby enhancing the surveillance and deterrence capabilities of an air force. In practice, this means that the MiG-31I can maintain extended aerial presence during patrols or border surveillance, or remain engaged for longer periods in combat operations, without the constraint of having to quickly return to base for refueling.

However, one might wonder why improve a satellite-launching aircraft amid the conflict with Ukraine. Presumably, Russia is now using its aircraft for more conventional tasks than what they were designed for, a kind of return to basics if you will, to focus its efforts on the conflict with Ukraine.

Previously, the newspaper Izvestia had also reported that the MiG-31I could perform aerial refuelings. Several sources converge on this assertion, but it is noted that it has not yet been officially confirmed by the Russian state or a third-party service.

Defense News April 2024

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