Air Weapons: Russian Phoenix Gets Promiscuous


September 1, 2011: Russia has introduced a new version of their R-33 (AA-9 or Amos) long range air-to-air missile. For the last three decades, the R-33 was only used on the MiG-31 interceptor. But the new version (the RVV-BD, which some are calling the R-33F) can be used on any fighter that can carry a half-ton missile. The RVV-BD has a range of 200 kilometers. The earlier versions had a range of 120 kilometers and a sensor that could only home on radar signals reflected from the target. RVV-BD has its own radar, and numerous other technical improvements.

The R-33 is similar to the (retired in 2004) U.S. AIM-54 Phoenix. The American missile entered service in 1974, and the R-33 did so in 1981. The Phoenix could hit a target up to 200 kilometers distant. The Phoenix was designed solely for use on the F-14 fighter, which contained the powerful radar and fire control system required to make the Phoenix work. The F-14 could track 24 targets at once, and fire six missiles, in rapid succession, at six different targets. In the first full test, four out of six targets, all over 80 kilometers distant, were shot down. The half-ton missile traveled at a speed of over 1,300 meters a second and had a 61.4 kg (135 pound} warhead. It was an expensive missile, costing over a million dollars each (in current dollars). The missile underwent upgrades, mainly in its electronics, in the 1980s. Over 5,000 were built, but the Phoenix never shot down anything in combat. There are unconfirmed reports of Iranian F-14s using Phoenix missiles to down Iraqi aircraft during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, and in several other incidents. Iran was the only foreign nation to receive the Phoenix, and it was rumored that American technicians disabled Iran’s 285 Phoenix missiles before leaving the country (when Islamic rebels overthrew the monarchy in 1979.)

The Phoenix was designed to take down Russian bombers trying to get close enough to American aircraft carriers to launch their anti-ship missiles. This it did very well in numerous tests. That scenario became moot when the Cold War ended in 1991. So Phoenix died a virgin. Other countries still pose the same kind of threat Phoenix was designed to handle, but they can be dealt with using the more modern air-to-air missiles like the AMRAAM.

There have been instances where advanced American fighters have found their way to unfriendly countries the most notable being the defection of an Iranian F-14 crew to Russia, although some rumors persist that the Iranians provided information on the Tomcat to Russia. This assisted the Soviets in developing the R-33. Maybe, maybe not.



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