From the Osprey book "Loockheed SR-71 operations in Europe and the Middle East" by Paul Crickmore,2009, pages 57 through 67. The same text was the subject of an article on the Air Forces Monthly Magazine, December 2004. I tried to correct all errors, but some of the ones introduced by the OCR may have escaped.
FRONTLINE FIGHTER OPERATIONS
An insight into MiG-25PD operations as conducted by the 787th IAP (Istrebitelniy Aviatsionniy Folk, or Fighter Aviation Regiment) against Det 4 SR-71 s flying over the Baltic Sea is reproduced here courtesy of Lutz Freund, editor of Sowjetische Fliegerkrafte Deutschland 1945-1994;
'Between 14 July 1982 and 10 August 1989, the 787th IAP flew the M1G-25PD. This was more or less the same period of time that the SR-71 operated out of Mildenhall. With the retirement of the SR-71 from the UK, the 787th IAP replaced its MiG-25PDs with MiG-23s and MiG-29s. The regiment operated its MiGs from Finow-Eberswalde air base in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). This airfield had originally been built for the Luftwaffe in 1936, and it was used by Soviet forces from 1945. With the introduction of the MiG-25PU two-seat trainer, Finow-Eberswalde's runway (10/28) was enlarged to 2510 m.
'In 1980, Warsaw Pact PVO units introduced a new alarm call - "Jastreb" (hawk). It meant that an SR-71 was approaching! Later on, it became the standard alarm signal for all high and very fast flying targets. Under normal circumstances the alarm call carne several minutes before a SR-71, with its typical flight parameters at an altitude of 20 to 25 kilometres and flying at some 800-900 metres a second, entered the range of Soviet and GDR radar air surveillance and radar guidance troops. In parallel, this alarm prompted action at Finow-Eberswalde which usually resulted in the in the scrambling of MiG-25PDs from the 787th IAP.
'The interceptors took off and approached the intruder by flying a wide curve on a parallel course, separated by a few kilometres. When performing this manoeuvre, the MiG-25 pilots had to use all the airspace available to them over either the northern or southern GDR. On all military maps the MiG-25's flight path was shown as a big circle.
'When the weather was favourable, SR-71s flew reconnaissance missions once or twice a week along the Warsaw Pact border. During military manoeuvres, flight frequency could increase to two missions per 24 hours. For all of these SR-71 flights, there were two standard routes. The aircraft usually approached GDR airspace from Denmark. Over the West German city of Kiel, the flight path continued either to Atifk-larungsstrecke 2 (reconnaissance route 2), which was along the Baltic sea coast to Leningrad (now St Peterburg) and back, or to AufklÃ nmgsstrecke 5 (reconnaissance route), along the GDR's western border. Such missions usually took 60 minutes to complete. The distance to the border varied due to the aircraft's high velocity â€” it was unable to follow the exact borderline. Sometimes, an SR-71 closed up to within a few kilometres of the GDR's border in the area of Boizenburg, or just slipped over it!
'Had there ever been an order to shoot down the intruder, the MiG-25 crews would have been ready. Fortunately, such an order was never given. After a short time flying next to each other, the MiG-25PDs headed home to Finow-Eberswalde via Polish airspace.
In 1972, the Mikoyan OKB began working on a new interceptor destined to replace the MiG-25. Designed around two powerful Aviadvigatel D-30F6 afterburning turbofans, the aircraft would have both a lower top speed and ceiling than the MiG-25PD. However, this fourth generation fighter was equipped with a weapons control System based on the SB1-16 Zaslon ('Flash Dance') phased-array radar, enabling its two crewmembers to intercept targets in either the front or rear hemisphere, day or night, in any weather conditions, whilst operating in a passive or an active jamming environment at high supersonic speeds. Cleared for construction in late 1979, theMiG-31'sfinalActofAcceptancewassigned in December 1981 and the first examples were delivered to PVO units in 1982. Codenamed the 'Foxhound' by NATO, some 500 examples had been delivered to the WS by the time production ended in 1989.
Like the MiG-25PD before it, the new MiG also had a full IRST capability. Located in a retractable pod beneath the forward fuselage, the Type 8TP IRST enabled the aircraft to execute attacks without recourse to its radar. Typical armament consisted of four R-33 long-range air-to-air missiles carried semi-recessed in the fuselage on AKU-410 ejector racks, or four R-60M missiles if the target was to be engaged using the IRST. Each R-33 weighed 1058 Ibs, including its 103-lb HE/fragmentation warhead, and had a range of 75 miles.
The new Zaslon radar touted a detection range of 180 km (111 miles) and a target tracking range of 120 km (75 miles). The aircraft's avionics suite also included the BAN-75 command link, the SAU-155M automatic flight control System, the APD-518 digitai secure data link System (which enabled a flight of four MiG-31 s to swap data generated by their radars provided that they were within 200 km (124 miles) of one another), the RK-RI.DN secure data link and the SPO-15SL Radar Homing And Warning System. Finally, the jet's superior navigation suite allowed the crew to safely patrol the barren Arctic theatre of operations.
By late 1980 the 'Foxhound's' flight test programme had been successfully completed, and within two years the first MiG-31 production aircraft had been delivered to PVO units. The latter had achieved initial operating capability by mid-1982. The major units to be equipped with the type were the 153rd IAP, stationed at Morshansk, the 786th IAP at Pravdinsk, the 180th IAP at Gromovo, the 174th GvIAP at Monchegorsk, the 72nd IAP at Amderma and the 518th IAP at Talagi.
Now the most interesting part.
Russian writer Valery Romanenko has undertaken detailed research for this book, piecing together a unique insight into MiG-31 operations against Det 4 SR-71s. The fruits of that effort are detailed below;
'Military Ist Class Pilot Guards Maj Mikhail Myagkiy (ret.), was one of the PVO pilots who executed intercepts of the SR-71 near the far northern borders of the USSR. Between 1984 and 1987, he was a MiG-31 "Foxhound" commander with the 174th GvIAP (Gva.rdeiska.ya Istrebitelniy Aviatsionniy Folk, or Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment). During this period Myagkiy conducted 14 successful SR-71 intercepts.
'The PVO's 14th Air Army was required to supply one pilot to the 10th Air Army, to which the 174th GvIAP was assigned. This proved to be Capt Myagkiy. As an acting flight commander, a transfer to the 174th GvIAP meant a reduction in rank for him since the I4th Air Army commander refused to release Myagkiy from his permanent duty position. Indeed, he only allowed his pilots to transfer to temporary positions within other Air Armies. Myagkiyjoined the 174thGvIAP inOctober 1983. The regiment had been equipped with the MiG-31 for 18 months by then, and its crews had frequently flown missions against the SR-71.
'His first mission against the SR-71 carne on 21 August 1984. According to Myagkiy, the procedures followed by the regiment in an attempt to perform a successful intercept were totally inadequate when it carne to negating the threat posed by the SR-71's spy flights. The speed and altitude of the US aircraft simply hypnotised everyone in the WS. Therefore, each attempted SR-71 interception was considered a top priority, not only for fighter aviation but also for the PVO's entire 1Oth Air Army.
'The ground vectoring station on the Rybachiy Peninsula often made the first "sighting". Intercepting jets then took off from bases in the north that were not weather affected. An error at any level â€” by aircrew, groundcrew, those in the command post or by a ground vectoring station controller â€”brought with it the threat of a military tribunal (court martial).
Each fighter regiment executed intercepts in their own sector. For the 174th GvlAP, this was the sector of the Soviet border from Kharlovka to Cape Svyatoy Nos. For the unit's MiG-31 crews, 16 minutes usually elapsed from the moment the alert was sounded to the take-off command being given. Of this time, two minutes were used by the pilot and WSO to don their VKK-3 (vysotnyy kompen-siruyushchiy kostyum, or altitude-compensating suit) flightsuits, followed by two more minutes to run 60 m (66 yards) in the VKK and get strapped into the jet. The remainder of the time was then spent checking out the MiG-31's various systems, starting the engines and taxiing to the runway threshold. After 16 minutes the fighter would be parked at the end of the runway, with its engines running, fully prepared for take-off. 'When the SR-71 alert was first given, the technical personnel would run to the jet and remove its R-60 short-range missiles, as these could not be fired at speeds exceeding Mach 1.75- the standard MiG-31 ordnance load consisted of four R-60s and four long-range R-33s.
'Prior to the aircraft taking off, its inertial navigation System (INS) had to be activated in minimum time. As soon as the green lights carne on in the cockpits confirming that the INS was aligned (after approximately three minutes), the engines could be fired up.
'Sat in their cockpits, the minutes ticking away, the pilots and WSOs of the ready flight had to complete their pre-flight checks in a somewhat tense environment. The MiG-3 Is assigned to the 174th GvlAP were from the first production series, and they were prone to suffering from systems failure â€”particularly during the turning off of ground power once the "Foxhound's" engines had fired up. If the ground power plug was pulled out too abruptly, the INS System malfunctioned. The crew that managed to reach full mission readiness first was the one that launched.
'Having received permission to taxi, the aircraft took up its position at the end of the runway. Here, crews sometimes had to "cool their jets" for several minutes if they had reached the runway ahead of the allocated departure time. The SR-71 intercept profile adopted by the PVO had been computed down to the very last second, which in turn meant that the MiG-31s had to launch exactly 16 minutes after the initial alert was sounded. By then the ground vectoring station had determined precisely what route (out route or return route) the SR-71 was following.
'Five minutes after take-off, the MiG-31 was already at an altitude of 16,000 m (52,493 ft). The afterburners would still be lit and the crew experiencing significant G-forces. Additionally, the MiG-31 had a disconcerting idiosyncrasy. At high supersonic speeds (above Mach 2.35), the control column moved all the way forward, pushing up against the instrument panel. The pilot had to fully extend his arm in order to remain in control of the jet. Fatigue would soon set in if the pilot was forced to keep his arm outstretched for more than a few minutes at a time. Despite this peculiar problem, the MiG-31 was far more benign in its flight characteristics at supersonic speeds than the MiG-25. The great weight of the MiG-31's onboard equipment and systems all had an adverse effect on its top end performance in comparison with the "Foxbat", but its avionics were vastly superior to those fitted in the MiG-25.
'During an SR-71 intercept, many commonly accepted practices were broken. For example, take-off was executed in a northerly direction, while normal procedure called for a take-off to the south. A number of limitations were also removed, including the altitude for transition to supersonic flight. Established as 11,000 m (36,089 ft) during a routine flight, when a MiG-31 crew was intercepting an SR-71, Soviet aircraft were permitted to pass through the sound barrier at just 8000 m (26,247 ft). Finally, ground vectoring was usually conducted at an altitude of 16,000 m (52,493 ft), but when going after an SR-71, the MiG-31 could reach altitudes of 18,500-19,500 m (60,696-63,976 ft). In an attempt to establish the best missile launch trajectory, the MiG crews gained as much altitude as they could- often up to a height of 20,000 m (65,617 ft).
'Soviet radio intercept stations usually started receiving Information about an inbound SR-71 when it was three hours out. As the jet departed Mildenhall, conversations between its crew and those manning supporting KC-135Qs were "captured" during in-flight refueling. Highly trained radio intercept operators knew that if the tankers showed up, the PVO needed to be told that an SR-71 was heading for the Barents/Baltic Seas.
'The standard SR-71 route was normally loop shaped. If the jet appeared from the direction of Norway, it tracked toward the White Sea, headed further north toward Novaya Zemlya and then turned around on a reverse course to the west over the Arctic Ocean. This track was called a "straight loop". However, if it initially approached from the direction of the Arctic Ocean toward Novaya Zemlya, then headed south toward the White Sea and west along the coast of the USSR toward Norway, its track was called the "return loop". The tactics employed by the MiG-31 crew were geared toward the type of loop the spyplane was flying.
'The SR-71 was intercepted using only a thermal channel (infra-red, IR), as the massive IR emissions of its engines meant that the jet could be detected at a distance of 100-120 km (62-75 miles). The MiG-31's thermal detection system was called OMB (optical multi-functional apparatus), and was mounted in the lower nose of the aircraft. The device was lowered and turned on by the WSO, whilst the MiG's radar remained inactive throughout the interception. When on a combat alert the radar was set on a combat frequency. However, the WS was keen not to expose this frequency to a "probable enemy" during a routine SR-71 intercept, so the radar was not turned on - all SR-71 flights were supported by RC-135 ELINT/SIGINT platforms attempting to collect frequencies such as this. A passive System such as the OMB fitted to the MiG-31 was more than adequate to ensure that the SR-71 was intercepted.
'After capture of the target by the OMB, a target indicator showing the range to the SR-71 appeared on the SEI (sistema edinoy indikatsii, or unified display System) in the pilot's head-up display (HUD). A female voice (known as "Rita" to the crews) indicator announced "Attack!" The range to the target was calculated by the aircraft's BTsVM (or onboard digitai computer), using a triangulation method that employed other on-board sensors. This System was unique to the MiG-31, for the pilot did not receive range-to-target data in the MiG-25 - he had to rely on data passed from ground vectoring stations instead. Also, the ZDR (missile engagement envelope) was projected onto the HUD.
'After being given the "Attack!" signal, the crew began missile preparation. Targeting instructions were handed off to the GSN (golovka samonavederiiya, or the targer-seeking device of the missileâ€” i.e. its seeker head). Four green triangles appeared on the image of the MiG in (he cockpit display after the missiles had been prepared for launch.
'The BRLS (bortovaya radiolokatsionnaya stantsiya, or on-board radar) was turned on only in the event that the vectoring station issued an order to destroy the target. In this case, the WSO would activate the radar. Information regarding the target would then be instantly transferred from the OMB to the radar. After this the pilot had only to push the firing button and the missiles would be launched.
'If the SR-71 had violated Soviet airspace, a live missile launch would have been carried out â€” there was practically no chance that the aircraft could avoid an R-33. But in the early 1980s the SR-71 did not violate the border, although they sometimes "tickled" it (carne right up to it). Indeed, local counter-intelligence officers dreamt of finding pieces of an SR-71, if not on land then in the territorial waters of the USSR.'
Of all the intercept missions flown by Mikhail Myagkiy in the MiG-31, his eighth one stands out the most, as he managed to gain visual contact with an SR-71 - and not just in the form of a dot on his windscreen. As a keepsake, he preserved the printout of the recording from the 'black box' through which all the intercept data was processed. Here is how Myagkiy described the flight;
'I went on combat alert on 31 January 1986 as normal. I drew my personal weapon in the morning and then headed for the on-duty crew hut.
'They alerted us about an inbound SR-71 at 1100 hrs. They sounded the alarm with a shrill bell and then confirmed it with a loudspeaker. To this day I have been averse even to ordinary school bells, because a bell was the first signal for a burst of adrenaline. The appearance of an SR-71 was always accompanied by nervousness. Everyone began to talk in frenzied voices, to scurrv about and react to the situation with excessive emotion.
'I ran to put on my VKK and GSh-6 (germoshlem, or flight helmet), and over that a fur-lined flight jacket with IPS (individualnayapod vesnaya systema, or parachute harness), then ran 60 m to the aircraft. I was not flying with my own WSO, but with Aleksey Parshin, our flight WSO. I sat down in the cockpit, and as I was being strapped in - it was both simple and convenient to be strapped in wearing a jacket and IPS, which is why we flew in them-the readiness lamps for the lNS were lit. I pressed the engine start button, reported to the command post and immediately received the order to taxi to the runway. We sat on the runway for five minutes, my WSO loudly "reading the prayer" (pre-take-off checklist).
'After receiving the take-off order from the command post, we lit the afterburners and took off. Our take-off speed was approximately 360 kmh (224 mph). Remaining in afterburners, we went for altitude with a 60-degree right bank, followed by a turn onto a course of 100Â°. We attained 8000 m (26,247 ft) and reached the horizontal area (for acceleration), at which point we passed through the sound barrier. Vectoring station "Gremikha" had by then assumed responsibility for guiding us to the SR-71. Our indicated speed at this lime was 1190 kmh (739 mph). We went for altitude again, up to 16,000 m (52,493 ft).
'Once at 16,000 m we were flying at Mach 2.3, and I made a left turn onto a combat course of 360Â°. The WSO lowered and turned on the OMB, and within five seconds he had captured the target. A feminine voice in the earphones announced, "Attack!", and a symbol was illuminated on the SEI. The SR-71 was proceeding on the"return loop", from east to west, so we began the intercept immediately.
'As usual, we executed an "aiming run" from 16,000 m, gaining altitude to 18,900 m (62,008 ft). After closing to within 60 km (37 miles) of the target, I spotted the contrail of the SR-71 on an intersecting course. I reported the heading to my WSO over the SPU (samoletnoye peregovomoye ustroystvo, or intercom), then told him "I have visual!" A contrail at 22,000-23,000 m (69,000-72,000 ft) is very rare, but on this day the weather was excellent and the air was transparent, making the contrail clearly visible. I passed under the spyplane, which was 3000-4000 m (8843-13,123 ft) above us, and I even managed to make out its black silhouette. The SR-71 was flying over the ocean ever so carefully on a track 60 km (37 miles) out from, and parallel to, the coast. I reported "We're breaking off to the command post and carne off afterburners. We had been airborne for just 15 minutes and 40 seconds.
'The SR-71 was flying its normal route over neutral waters, and it made no sense to follow it. Therefore, the vectoring station gave us the command to turn onto a course for our airfield.
'This was the only occasion in my 14 intercepts that I saw the SR-71 with my own eyes. It was obvious that a combination of circumstances facilitated this event-good weather, which was rare in the north, clear air and unusual atmospheric conditions, which meant that the jet's contrail was clearly visible at an altitude of 23,000 m (75,459 ft).'
Mikhail Myagkiy retired from the WS in 1992 with the tank of Guards Major at the age of 36.