Following the decision of the US Congress on 31 Jul 1960 to fund the development of the North American XB-70 Valkyrie, the USSR realised they lacked an interceptor capable attacking an aircraft designed to fly at Mach 3 between 70 - 80,000 ft. The MiG-25 Foxbat was originally designed in response to this future threat with a planned capablility of Mach 3.2 at 80,000ft and the prototype Ye-266 first flew in April 1965. Production of the Foxbat-A fighter began in 1969 and the aircraft eventually entered service in 1973.
It was obvious to MiG that the 40 ton Foxbat would make an excellent reconnaissance platform and a specilised reconnaissance version was developed in tandem with the fighter version. Over 200 reconnaissance version of the Foxbat were built between 1969-77 in a number of varients. The MiG-25RB was a dual role reconnaissance / bomber capable of dropping weapons from high altitude at supersonic speeds and this version was developed into the MiG-25RBS, the MiG-25RBSh and the MiG-25RBV. These varients are generally referred to as Foxbat-B's and are equipped with a SLAR, one vertical and four oblique cameras. The first dedicated radar recce version of the Foxbat was the MiG-25RBK and along with the ELINT version, the MiG-25RBF, these version are generally referred to as Foxbat-D's.
Four Foxbat-B's, along with Soviet pilots and technicians, were 'detached' to a couple of friendly countries - Algeria and Vietnam. The first actual exports occurred in 1982 when eight Foxbat-B's were sold to India, these aircraft are operated by a special flight of 106 Sqn at Uttar Pradesh airbase and are usually targeted against Pakistan. Foxbat-B's have also been supplied to Iraq, Syria, Libya and Syria.
The MiG-25B's were operated from Syria bases from late 1975, initially with Soviet pilots and ground crew. On 13 Feb 81 two Israeli RF-4F’s flew a high-altitude reconnaissance mission over the Lebanon designed to lure the Syrian Foxbat’s into the air. However, as the two Syrian Foxbat’s climbed towards the RF-4F’s, they withdrew at high speed dispensing chaff and jamming the Foxbat’s radar with their ECM pods. As the Syrian pilots attempted to catch the Israeli aircraft, the trap was sprung. Two Israeli F-15A’s were directed onto the Foxbat’s either by ground radar or by a patrolling E-2C Hawkeye and fired AIM-7F Sparrow missiles at the aircraft. One Foxbat was destroyed but one managed to escape. The Israeli’s repeated this ‘entrapment’ on 29 Jul 81 and destroyed another Syrian Foxbat. On 31 Aug 83 another Syrian Foxbat was damaged by a specially modified Israeli Hawk SAM and subsequently dispatched by an F-15A.
Soviet Foxbats overflew Iran from the Caspian Sea at 65,000ft and Mach 2.5 to photograph the Iranian Air base at Khatami near Isfahan where the new Iranian F-14 Tomcats were based. However, this activity ceased once the aircraft became operational as they were quite capable of sucessfully attacking the aircraft with the Hughes Pheonix missile. Iraq used Foxbats on recce sorties during the war with Iran. Libya used Foxbats over Chad and Tunisia, these aircraft operated from the Okba Ben Nafi airfield (formally the US Wheelus airbase)
The semi-mythical status of the Foxbat rather dissolved when Victor Belenko defected with his Foxbat-A to Hakodate airport in Japan. Close examination of the aircraft revealed it to be fairly crudely built by western standards, have a prodigious thirst for fuel and fairly primitive avonics. Although capable of Mach 3, the aircraft could barely manoeuver at high speed and, more significantly, the two Tumanskii R-15BD turbojets needed a major overhaul after such a flight.
It is understood that in May 1997 an Indian Air Force MiG-25RB overflew Pakistan. The aircraft entered Pakinstani airspace sub-sonically at around 65,000ft and was undetected. Then having overflown and photographed strategic installations near the capital, Islamabad, the aircraft turned back towards India. Perhaps to rub Pakistani’s noses in it, the Foxbat pilot decided to accelerate up to Mach 2 and dropped a large sonic boom as he exited Pakistani airspace. A number of Pakistani F-16As were scrambled, but had insufficient time to make an effective intercept. In 1991, India and Pakistan signed the ‘Prevention of Airspace Violations’ agreement, but as is so often the case with international agreements, when it suits one side to ignore them, then that’s exactly what they do.
However, the day of the Foxbat is drawing to a close and only around 15 remain in service with Russia, the majority of these aircraft are the MiG-25RBSh Foxbat-D's, equipped with the Shampol (Ramrod) SLAR. India is also in the process of retiring their Foxbats. The most numerous users are now various Arab countries such as Algeria, Syria and Iraq, although given the very poor standard of aircraft maintenance and spares support that generally occurs in these countries, how many actually remain in service is anyones guess.
In Gulf War II, the Iraqi Air Force decided to hide a number of their aircraft, including MiG-25Rs, by burying them under tons of sand. A number of MiG-25s have already been unearthed at Al-Taqqadum airfield west of Baghdad - a sad end for these magnificent aircraft. I hope an example of this legendary aircraft eventually finds its way into an aviation museum in the USA.