Hypersonic Strike From Syria: Russian MiG-31Ks Simulate Mach 10 Missile Attacks Over Mediterranean

On February 19 Russian Air Force MiG-31K strike fighters based at Khmeimim Airbase in eastern Syria reportedly carried out simulated strikes using hypersonic ballistic missiles over the Mediterranean Sea. This took place amid high tensions between Russian and NATO, and a day after the outbreak of hostilities between the Western-backed Ukrainian armed forces and Russian backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. It also occurred at a time when several NATO naval strike groups were deployed in the Mediterranean, which were presumed to be the targets of the simulated attacks that MiG-31s flew out over the sea to make. The MiG-31K was first deployed to Syria in May 2021, with additional strike fighters and Tu-22M3 bombers deployed in the third week of February 2022. The aircraft are considered Russia’s most capable for long range anti shipping roles, and are both equipped with Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles.

The Kinzhal missile is extremely manoeuvrable, impacts targets at Mach 10 speeds, and has a very long 2000km range - with variants carried by the Tu-22M3 reportedly able to engage targets at 3000km ranges. The missiles are considered effectively impossible to intercept, and provide an important means for the Russian Air Force to effectively close off the Mediterranean to enemy surface ships without needing to engage Western navies with its own surface warships. These kinds of asymmetric assets have been a strong emphasis of Russia’s military modernisation to compensate for NATO’s much greater numbers and larger collective defence budget. MiG-31K strike fighters were deployed for the first time to airbases in the Kaliningrad - Russia’s westernmost territory - just days before their deployment to Syria, with this forward position placing all of Europe comfortably within their Kinzhal missiles' engagement range. The MiG-31 entered service in the Soviet Air Defence Forces in the Cold War's final decade, and is the heaviest, highest flying and fastest aircraft of its generation prized for its ability to carry extremely heavy payloads over long distances as well as the very large sensor suite it can accomodate. Although originally designed an a dedicated interceptor, the aircraft has been adapted for strike and anti shipping roles as the MiG-31K, which entered service in late 2017, as well as for anti satellite warfare. 

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