Syrian MiG-31 Foxhounds

In From the Cold on Russia’s delivery of the first of five M-31E Foxhound fighters to Damascus: No Cause for Alarm


While the Foxhound represents an upgrade for the Syrian Air Force, it’s hardly a world-beater, as implied by the Israeli daily. In terms of overall capabilities, the MiG-31 is roughly equal to the F-14 Tomcat, recently retired by the U.S. Navy. The Foxhound was the first Russian fighter with a true lookdown/shootdown capability, allowing it to find low altitude targets amid ground clutter, and engage them with a long-range missile, the AA-9 “Amos.” It’s cutting edge technology, circa 1982.

Like the older MiG-25, the Foxhound and its missiles are not optimized for dog-fighting. The MiG-31’s powerful radar (nicknamed “Flashdance) and the AA-9 were designed to engage non-maneuvering stand-off targets (like the B-52) and penetrating cruise missiles. Against a maneuvering, fighter-sized target, the AA-9 is much less likely to score a hit, despite its range and large size (the missile weighs over half a ton). In a dogfight against Israeli F-15s and F-16s, the MiG-31 would actually be at a disadvantage, given the “fire and forget” capabilities of the IAF’s AMRAAMs.

No doubt some MO readers will scoff at the idea that the MiG-31 is “roughly equal” to the F-14, but before you blow a gasket, remember that we’re talking about specifications on paper. In real-world performance, Russian-built hardware often (usually?) doesn’t live up to expectations even with skilled crews. It’s safe to say that Syrian flight crews, ground crews, and other assorted support personnel like controllers and mission planners aren’t exactly top-notch.

The ‘E’ model of the MiG-31 is an export variant with some systems downgraded from front-line Russian planes, though I don’t know which systems they are or how much the changes will affect capability. The planes are reworked aircraft from the Russian reserves, not new builds, and are being offered to customers as a replacement for MiG-25s. This is the first MiG-31E sale.

In From the Cold also notes that Syria will have to establish a Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) program because they currently operate single-seaters almost exclusively.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Iranian “advisers” turn up at Syria’s Foxhound base; the Iranians have long experience with two-seat fighters, operating both the F-4 and F-14, and could provide some assistance in such areas as crew coordination, and the tactical “division of labor” between the pilot and WSO. However, the tactical proficiency of Iranian crews has also declined in recent years, so it’s debatable if Syria would gain anything from Iran’s WSO cadre.

What? Syria-Iran cooperation? Say it ain’t so!

Anyway, while Israel is completely justified in being concerned over any Syrian upgrades, MiG-31s aren’t going to have a significant impact on the balance of power, particularly since there will only be five of them.

Go read the whole thing at In From the Cold. (Photo from


  1. Indeed, they are no match for the israeli F-15s, especially now that Israel has the Python 5 missile. By far the best in the world.

  2. I would not worry too much about this. Arabs, for whatever reason, have had limited success with fighting battles the western way. I don’t know if it is a lack of comprehension of strategy, not utilizing the weapon systems correctly or a combination thereof. But they don’t seem to be able to fight western wars. They do seem to have more success in guerilla tactics and they never seem to run low on volunteers to become suicide bombers. But an Arab in an airplane is just a manned version of the QF-4.

  3. The Syrian way of air warfare tends to involve strong control from the ground, with pilots who get very little air time and poor training. So let the Syrians buy these air pigs, every dollar spent there is one less dollar being sent to some nut job.

  4. Spacey, Have a look at Ken Pollack’s ‘Arabs at War’. He explains that there are certain times and places where Arab units have been tactically proficient, particularly those with a specific specialty like engineers. But they lose the operational and strategic fight oftentimes due to social traditions. Only an officer can make a decision, for example. Leaders only coming from connected families. Tribal differences that can erode effectiveness. And I don’t recall if Pollack mentions this, but having near-100% reliance on foreign equipment probably doesn’t help either. And it certainly help when the largest commitment of Arab forces in the last 50 years has been to fight Israel. Taking on the IDF has not showcased their military effectiveness.

  5. Can’t help but think that since Iranian money may be linked to the sale that somehow the final destination won’t be Syria but Iran. Granted, it’s been said that a monkey with a Rolex is still just a monkey with a Rolex, but at some point in planning and executing you have to honor a threat (without obsessing about it)… – SJS

  6. Sorry to be off topic, but can anyone tell me what type of weapon system is in this picture. It appears to be a M-109 type howitzer. But I have no idea what it is connected to.

  7. There are some specific aerodynamic reasons the MiG-31 is considered comperable to the F-14. In my opinion that design is the direct result of the sale of Iranian F-14s to the USSR after the fall of the Shaw. It is a very good airplane and should not be under estimated. Certainly the Indian Air Force has used a combination of a few MiG-31s supported by a swarm of MiG-21s quite effectively against the USAF in joint training maneuvers. The fact of the matter is, a country could still mount a very effective defense against even the latest generation of fighters with a Battle of Britan style information network and relatively inexpensive aircraft. Remember, the F-22’s protection from the IR missile is conventional. That’s a pretty damn amazing Achilles heel if you ask me. The most significant anti-aircraft weapon the terrorists have, the most effective anti-aircraft missile produced, and our latest and greatest fighters have only conventional protection against it. Not to mention the fact they’ve made no attempts at noise suppression and the aerodynamics suck. Your tax dollars at work.

  8. damn …….. I really thought that some ppl could be stupid but not that stupid …. lool … hey by the way syria got the 5 migs for activating the 50 mig-29 becuz the foxhounds radar can lock on up to 20 targets …. its easy the mig-29 locks on and the mig-29 does the rest..