Russia’s New R-37M Air-to-Air Missile: Unique and Unmatched

Andrei Akulov — Strategic Culture Oct 15, 2018

R-37M. Click to enlarge

R-37M. Click to enlarge

It has been reported recently that the Su-57 fifth-generation aircraft will be integrated with the Vympel R-37M (RVV-BD, Izdelie 610M) hypersonic anti-aircraft missile. Boris Obnosov, director of the Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV), has confirmed this information. The Russian Defense Ministry reported in July that the R-37M was undergoing its final tests and would soon be operational.

The R-37M is the only one of its class to boast a range exceeding 300 km. For comparison, the US AMRAAM AIM-120D has a maximum range of over 180 km. Compared to its predecessors, the R-37M version boasts a new guidance system and reduced weight, enabling it to be installed on smaller platforms. It was initially designed to equip the upgraded MiG-31BM Foxhound interceptors. The missile is also expected to become the primary weapon of the fourth-generation Su-30s and Su-35s. If this proves true, the R-37M will be used against almost any US military aircraft in various theaters of operation worldwide.

The system’s prime mission is to take down such assets as AWACS, JTARS, other C4ISTAR, and electronic attack and aerial-refueling aircraft while keeping its launch platform out of range of any fighters that might be protecting the target. Weighing 60 kg, its high explosive fragmentation warhead is powerful enough to critically damage the largest aircraft.

The missile’s maximum speed of Mach 6 (compared to the AMRAAM’s and Meteor’s Mach 4) — more than 4,500 mph — and active-seeker homing system to guide it during its terminal phase make it a threat to all fighter jets. The seeker has 2 channels — X and Ku.

As one can see, this missile gives Russian warplanes an advantage over any NATO combat aircraft in both speed and reach. No other missile in the bloc’s current inventory can match it. Once the R-37M enters service, this will open a vulnerability gap that will remain until the US and other leading NATO members are able to put into operation the MBDA’s Meteor air-to-air missile that is currently being introduced in the Swedish Air Force.

The R-37M can attack targets at altitudes of between 15 and 25,000 m. It can hit stealth targets, such as the F-35, at a range of 190 km. The F-35 cannot accelerate to a speed that would allow it to escape a collision with the incoming missile.

Tracking its targets with both semi-active and active radar homing, the missile can also utilize a fire-and-forget mode, making it completely independent of its launch platform. It can destroy air targets head-on. Inertial guidance renders it invisible to radar during its midcourse flight. When active homing is activated, the pilot has only fractions of a second to take countermeasures. The R-37M’s warhead is resistant to electronic warfare and it has an off-boresight capability of 120.

According to the Russian media, in September 2018, the missile was launched from a MiG-31BM and it intercepted an RM-75 Armavir target missile during an exercise held in the Trans-Baikal region. The Armavir was imitating a high-velocity ballistic target. Its effective radar cross section measured 0.1-0.4 sq. m. The Armavir’s speed ranged from 2,500—3,500 kmh. It took the R-37M only 5-7 seconds to intercept the target from a distance of 30 km at an altitude of roughly 9 km.

The newest F-35 that the US military is so proud of is far from invulnerable to Russia’s latest, sophisticated surface-to-air systems. The R-37M that is integrated with at least four platforms is another threat to that stealth super aircraft. AWACS and other large planes are not stealth, and they are all relatively easy targets for a platform armed with the R-37M. At present, there is no superweapon the US can rely on in its inventory that will ensure its dominance in the air if the enemy is Russia. Air-to-air warfare is where the US has lost its lead, as the R-37M’s performance is currently unmatched. Russia’s air-to-air missiles outperform any US analogs in terms of both range and speed.