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MiG-31K aircraft with ‘Killjoy’ missile — the hardware Russia has parked near Ukraine in Belarus

AS-24 Killjoy, believed to be deployed in Belarus, is a hypersonic air-to-surface ballistic missile faster than US-supplied HIMARS, which has been integral to Ukraine's war effort.

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New Delhi: In a possible sign of escalating tensions in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the latest UK Defence intelligence update on the situation using satellite imagery showed that the Kremlin parked two Russian MiG-31K Foxhound interceptor aircraft at Belarus’s Machulishchi Airfield on 17 October. The airfield is approximately 520 kilometres from Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv.

The aircraft is supposed to be equipped with hypersonic AS-24 ‘Killjoy’ — known as Kinzhal or ‘dagger’ in Russian — ballistic missiles, which Russia has fielded since 2018, having adapted the MiG-31K, to carry this munition. 

The satellite imagery showed the two-seat supersonic interceptor aircraft with a large canister stored within a protective earth beam nearby. This canister has led to the assumption that the Killjoy ballistic missiles have also been taken to Belarus, as the canister is usually linked to the Killjoy.

ThePrint explains the specs of both the MiG-31K aircraft and the Killjoy ballistic missile.

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AS-24 Killjoy ballistic missile

The AS-24 Killjoy or Kinzhal ballistic missiles, which are supposed to be in the canisters next to the MiG-31Ks in Belarus, are essentially hypersonic air-to-surface missiles. Reports suggest that the missiles are capable of carrying nuclear payloads.

According to the British intelligence update, Killjoys have been deployed “occasionally” through the Ukraine war.

Further, as the missiles have a range of 2000 km, placing them in Belarus gives Russia little added advantage in striking additional targets in Ukraine, added the update.

Though unconfirmed, reports also suggest that the Killjoys can operate at a maximum speed of Mach 12, or 12 times the speed of sound.

This makes them faster than the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) supplied by the US to Ukraine. With the HIMARS having been integral to Ukraine’s defence and counterattack through the summer and autumn, the speed of the Kinzhals could give Russia an advantage.

This has led to speculation that Ukraine’s air defence systems would only be able to shoot down 20 per cent of the Kinzhal missiles.

However, British intelligence adds that stocks of the Kinzhal are “likely very limited”. They conclude that Russia “has likely carried out the deployment mainly to message to the West and to portray Belarus as increasingly complicit in the war.”

Also Read: Winter is coming—the most dangerous phase of Russia-Ukraine conflict

MiG-31 built as variant of MiG-25

Developed as a variant of the MiG-25 Foxbat, the first prototype of the MiG-31 Foxhound flew in September 1975. Both were designed by the Soviet Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau. By 1982, the MiG-31s were operational with the Soviet Air Defence Forces.

The reasons to build an offshoot of the Foxbat were centred around the latter’s poor agility and limited altitude operability. While it was a fast aircraft, it could only operate at high altitudes, lacked control at low altitudes, and required ground-based radars for intercepts.

The MiG-31 was then developed to overcome these deficiencies. Though its exterior is similar to the MiG-25, it’s essentially a completely different aircraft — more powerful and capable of striking at lower altitudes.

A long-range, two-seat supersonic interceptor, the MiG-31 is equipped with state-of-the-art digital avionics. It’s also an air-to-air combat fighter. Currently, it’s in service with both the Russian and Kazakh air forces.

The MiG-31K is a variant of the MiG-31 tailored to carry the Kinzhal missile.

1st Soviet fighter with look-down & shoot-down capability

The MiG-31’s reported length is 74.5 feet, height is 20.2 feet, and it has a maximum speed of 3,000 kmph, thus falling in the supersonic category. The aircraft has a range of 3,000 km.

Significantly, the MiG-31 was the first Soviet fighter to have both look-down and shoot-down capability. This refers to the ability of a radar system to detect, track, and guide a munition towards an aerial mobile target that’s moving below its horizon — which enhances a fighter’s attack capability  

According to a report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit global security organization, the MiG-31K can carry one load of Kinzhal missiles at a time.

In 2021, reports suggested that Russia was upgrading its fleet of MiG-31s to enhance its combat response capabilities. This would include additions of fly-by-wire semi-automatic and computer-generated control systems. On-board radios were also planned to be upgraded with more advanced technology.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: What are the new western missile systems Ukraine plans to use to destroy Russia’s deadly Iskanders


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