MOSCOW – Recent videos from Russia indicate that the country may be on the verge of introducing significant new air-to-air missile capabilities to its most advanced combat jets. One clip shows a Su-57 Felon advanced combat jet carrying one, or perhaps two, new variants of the R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile family, while another shows a Su-35S fighter jet, the latest variant of the Flanker series, test-firing a very-long-range R-37M long-range air-to-air missile.

The footage of the Su-57 with the K-77s was contained within a recently released official documentary commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the 929th Chkalov State Flight-Test Centre at Akhtubinsk. The video of the Su-35S firing the R-37M emerged in an official Russian Ministry of Defence video marking the same occasion late last week. This centre is responsible for the state evaluation of military aircraft, including determining which air-launched weapons are cleared for frontline service.

The lack of the basic R-77’s characteristic “lattice” fins at the rear of both the missiles indicates that they are different versions of the weapon, but exactly which models the Su-57 is carrying is not entirely clear.

Russia first began the development of the original active-radar-guided R-77, also known as the Izdeliye 170, back in the early 1980s as a counterpart to the U.S. AIM-120 AMRAAM. It did not enter service before the collapse of that Soviet Union, only becoming part of Russia’s arsenal in 1994. 

An improved R-77-1, Izdeliye 170-1, was subsequently introduced on Russian Flanker fighters and has been noted on combat operations during the air force’s operations in Syria. This weapon offers improved resistance to countermeasures, a more sensitive seeker, and aerodynamic refinements — the lattice fins at the rear are retained.

Vympel has claimed the K-77M will be superior to the AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM and equal to subsequent AMRAAM developments — presumably, the AIM-120D. The manufacturer has also claimed the new weapon is capable of engaging anti-aircraft missiles fired at the launch aircraft, even missiles approaching from the rear.

It’s important to note that although the K-77M was designed for the outset to be carried inside the Su-57’s internal weapons bay, Russian doctrine evidently sees a requirement for external stores in at least some situations. In a high-threat environment, fighting against a peer foe, it would be expected that the Felon carries its weapons internally, to reduce its radar cross-section. However, in less-contested environments, or in the latter stages of a conflict, after enemy air defences have been suppressed, additional stores could be carried underwing. These might include external fuel tanks and other stores that might not fit in the weapons bays. 

Russia is developing other air-to-air missiles that the Su-57 could carry internally, as well. This includes the Vympel K-74M2, or Izdeliye 760, intended for deployment from the aircraft’s internal “quick launch” weapons bays. This may, or may not be, the previously unseen compact weapon, pictures of which first emerged in November 2019. You can read more about these developments in these past War Zone stories, respectively.

For external carriage on the Su-57, and offering yet greater range than the K-77M, there is the secretive Izdeliye 180-PD, in which the suffix stands for Priamotochnyi Dvigatel, or ramjet engine in Russian. This is pitched as a Russian counterpart to the pan-European MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile and utilizes a combined rocket-ramjet powerplant. Reportedly developed as a private venture by Vympel, it’s unclear if the weapon has been ordered by the Russian Aerospace Forces.

Deployment of a rocket-ramjet air-to-air missile would be a significant boost for the Russian Aerospace Forces. In contrast to a normal rocket motor, this type of propulsion allows the missile’s engine to be throttled during different phases of flight, ensuring a high-energy state during the terminal attack phase. You can read more about the specific advantages of ramjet missiles in this War Zone article.

Previous images of the ramjet-powered Adder have been limited to mock-ups at arms exhibitions and unofficial artist’s impressions. As such, the available video evidence is insufficient to determine whether the Su-57 is carrying an example of the Izdeliye 180-PD and one K-77M, or two K-77Ms, or potentially other derivatives of the weapon.

Evidence in favour of the Izdeliye 180-PD includes what appears to be a ramjet air intake under the weapon furthest from the camera. However, the quality of the video is such that this could be a distorted view of one of the stabilizing fins on the missile’s centre section.

It is known that the maximum range of the missile is 200 km. It hits targets at a height estimated between 15 meters and 25 kilometres.

The launch weight of the R-37M is approximately 510 kg. The high explosive warhead weighs 60 kg. The missile is 4.06 meters long.

The missile has a dual solid fuel engine and a combined guidance system: inertial with radio correction and active radar with homing in the last stage of the flight. This allows shooting on the “shoot and forget” principle.

The Su-35 is capable of carrying up to four R-37M missiles. It is also assumed that the new version will be included in the MiG-31BM fighter weapons, which can accommodate six missiles.