MiG-31 Foxhound - recce varient
In Since the MiG-31 Foxhound first entered in service in 1979, many people have wondered why a reconnaissance version has never been developed. The MiG-31 Foxhound was based on the MiG-25 Foxbat, a fairly crude aircraft constructed mainly from nickel steel, with limited avionics and powerful, but inefficient turbojet engines. However, the two-seat MiG-31 was virtually a new design, with better avionics, more reliable and efficient turbofan engines and made greater use of light alloy and titanium. The performance of the MiG-31 is very similar to the MiG-25, but the handling and endurance have been improved considerably. A reconnaissance version of the MiG-31 has never been developed because of a lack of funding.
Although initially planned as to interceptor to counter the planned XB-70 Valkyrie Mach 3 bomber, the MiG-25 was also developed into a dedicated reconnaissance version, the MiG-25R. However, it was soon decided that, rather than being simply a dedicated reconnaissance aircraft, the MiG-25 would be more useful if it had some additional capability. Consequently, further reconnaissance versions such as the MiG-25RB, MiG-25RBS, MiG-25BSh, and MiG-25RBV all had a variety of additional capabilities in addition to reconnaissance. Versions of the MiG-25 were sold to Algeria, India, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Apart from Russia, only Algeria, India, Libya and Syria still operate MiG-25s and most if not all of the aircraft operated by India are believed to have ceased flying in late 2005. However, it has recently been announced that RSK MiG have invited Algeria and India to exchange their small fleets of MiG-25s for new MiG-31s. This buy back deal would then allow RSK MiG to dissemble the aircraft and use the spare part recovered to sustain the MiG-25s operated by Libya and Syria, most of which have been grounded due to a lack of spare parts.
However, attractive this offer might seem on the surface, I wonder if either country will take the bait. Although the MiG-31 Foxhound could easily be adapted into an effective reconnaissance aircraft, by removing the internal GSh-6 six-barrelled 23-mm cannon and replacing it and other avionics with internal cameras and a SLAR, the aircraft would still be very expensive to operate. A fairly small, reasonably stealthy UAV could easily achieve a similar reconnaissance capability, albeit much slower, and have considerably greater loiter time at a fraction of the cost. I suspect that behind this offer is RSK MiG’s desire to develop a reconnaissance or multi-role version of the MiG-31 Foxhound that might attract other export orders and a purchase by the Russian Air Force. However, I suspect both countries will look to replace the reconnaissance capability offered by their MiG-25 with UAVs and will seek to strike a hard bargain with RSK MiG for cash on the nail for their Foxbats, rather than acquire new Foxhounds.