Three MiG-31 heavy interceptors, adapted for carrying Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, were deployed in Russia’s Kaliningrad region, according to the country’s Defense Ministry.
The aircraft landed at Chkalovsk air base on August 18, 2022, and will be placed on round-the-clock combat duty.
They have been relocated as a part of “additional strategic deterrence”, a spokesperson for Russia’s Defense Ministry explained, as reported by the country’s state news agency TASS.
Kaliningrad region is the westernmost part of the Russian Federation and an exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
Since the Cold War, the region has seen a heavy military presence. It has become the focal point of tensions between Russia and NATO following the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Even before that, there have been frequent cases of military aircraft flying between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad without a flight plan, prompting interceptions by nearby-stationed NATO aircraft.
On the same day that the arrival of the new MiG-31s was reported, Finland stated its suspicion that three aircraft of this type had violated Finnish airspace near Porvoo, east of Helsinki. It is not known if the suspected violation was performed by the same three aircraft which later flew to Kaliningrad.
TASS also published a short video which shows MiG-31s landing at Chkalovsk. The aircraft shown in the footage appear to be unarmed.
Both TASS and the Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson refer to the aircraft as MiG-31I, a modification introduced in 2021 and said to be capable of launching the Kinzhal hypersonic missile.
In contrast to the MiG-31K, a special modification intended to launch the Kinzhal, the MiG-31I is supposedly capable of performing air launches of small payloads to low Earth orbit, making it one of just several anti-satellite fighter jets in existence.
According to Russian military, a regiment of MiG-31Is have already been used in Ukraine, possibly referencing a reported strike in March 2022.
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is an air-launched short-range ballistic missile, reportedly developed from the 9K720 Iskander. According to official Russian sources, it has the top speed of either Mach 10 or March 12 – 10 or 12 times the speed of sound.
Same sources claim it can carry up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of payload, delivering either conventional or nuclear warheads to up to 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) when launched by the MiG-31.
The Kinzhal was one of several new weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018. Numerous reports indicate that Russia possesses an extremely small amount of these missiles, with just a handful of regular MiG-31s converted to carry them.