The Cold War arms race was at a fever pitch in the late 1950s. Soviet defense planners accurately gauged that their current fighters were not up to the task of intercepting the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance plane, the Mach 2+ Convair B-58, and the Mach 3+ North American B-70 Valkyrie. This led to the 1958 requirement for an interceptor capable of reaching 1,800 mph at altitudes in excess of 88,000 ft.
The Mikoyan Design Bureau started work on the new aircraft in mid-1959, and according to some sources, the North American A-5 Vigilante was its inspiration. It was the last plane designed by Mikhail Gurevich before his retirement. The first prototype was designated in-house as the Ye-155-R1 and was, in fact, a reconnaissance variant. The interceptor prototype, the Ye-155-P1, flew in September 1964. It was unveiled to the public in 1967 and the type began to set multiple speed and performance records, including one zoom climb that reached 123,000 feet. The jet was assigned the NATO reporting name “Foxbat.” More than 1,100 airframes were produced into the 1980s across several variants operated primarily by the Soviets, though export versions were sold to Iraq, Libya, India, Bulgaria, Syria, and Algeria.
Foxbats used large proportions of nickel steel in their construction partly because Mikoyan engineers not yet worked out titanium manufacturing to the same degree as seen in the West, and the cost of titanium was prohibitive for such a large production run. Typical armament included four long-range R-40T/TD (NATO reporting name: AA-6 Acrid) air-to-air missiles. The massive Tumansky turbojet engines could push the MiG-25 into a Mach 3.2 dash, but just one such speed run would fatally damage the engines. Thus, the operational maximum airspeed was established at Mach 2.8 with an optimal cruising speed of Mach 2.3. Maximum airframe loading was just 4.5 g, and with external stores, limited to 2.2 g.
The MiG-25 became operational in 1970 and it was a major source of consternation for Western intelligence. Its purported “super-fighter” status shaped a number of design features of the F-15 Eagle in response. The Foxbat remained shrouded in mystery until 1976 when Victor Belenko defected to Japan in his Foxbat. This allowed for systematic study of his airplane before it was returned. The MiG-25 was certainly a dangerous adversary, but was not the extraordinary super-fighter that West had long dreaded.
Operationally, Soviet MiG-25s regularly performed intercepts of SR-71s, with some attempts getting closer to the Blackbird than others. MiG-25s also participated in a host of Middle Eastern wars since the 1970s including the Iran-Iraq war where Iraqi AF jets accumulated upwards of 20 kills. Elsewhere, when faced by F-15s flown either by Israeli or American forces, Foxbats were on the losing end of all air combat engagements. The only exceptions were Iraqi MiG-25s that downed a U. S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet in Operation DESERT STORM and a Predator UAV in 2002. Today, dwindling numbers of MiG-25s remain operational, mostly in Russian service as the sun has yet to set on the Foxbat’s 50+ year-long career.
The MiG-25PU was a trainer. They were all conversions of the single-seat, all-weather interceptor, the Foxbat-A. This version had a new nose section with a unique and very distinctive staggered cockpit for a student pilot and an instructor pilot. They had two separate cockpits, no radar, and lacked all combat capability. NATO designated the MiG-25PU as the Foxbat-C.
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