The MiG-25 Foxbat was the Soviet Union’s response to the North American XB-70 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie, an awesome, super-sized, six-engined beauty, was designed as a high-altitude Mach-3 bomber that could carry a large payload deep into enemy territory. Unfortunately, North American’s masterpiece also came with a super-sized price tag, one that the U.S. military was unwilling to pay, and the Valkyrie never entered production.
But the potential of the XB-70 was enough to make the Foxbat a reality. It was a high-flying, high-speed interceptor, capable of speeds well over twice the speed of sound. It’s job was to make sure that the XB-70 didn’t reach its target, and it didn’t return home to come back another day.
When the U.S. military first saw the MiG-25 in the late 1960’s (at a Russian air show), they were stunned. The Foxbat appeared to be a fighter of awesome performance, beyond anything in the U.S. inventory. If there was any good news out of the “reveal”, it was that the Air Force set immediately to work and, with the help of McDonnell-Douglas, created the F-15 Eagle, the West’s finest air superiority fighter.
The Soviets continued building Foxbats, and nearly 1,200 entered service. But during the Cold War era, only one of them really mattered to NATO, and that was the one flown by Soviet Air Force Lt. Viktor Belenko on September 6, 1976. It was his aircraft that landed at a Japanese airfield (on the island of Hokkaido) when the officer defected from the Soviet Union.
Air Force engineers pounced on the aircraft like flies on your picnic goodies. And like years before, they came away from the Foxbat stunned…but for entirely different reasons. As it turned out, the Foxbat had no fighter capability to speak of. It was massively heavy, weighing in at more than 30 tons unarmed. It couldn’t pull more than 4.5g’s in a turn (Eagles were capable of 9g’s). And its electronics were very outdated. The Foxbat was a fairly poor-quality airframe built around two massively powerful engines. It was a drag racer, not a fighter.
It reminds me of that commercial that’s currently playing on TV with the snake that tries to frighten the rabbit by attaching a baby rattle to its tail…this commercial. It sounds all threatening and everything, but in reality, it’s a big joke. And that was kind of the MiG-25’s story.
Truth be told, there were some things the Foxbat could do very well, like reconnaissance and spy work. And with electronics upgrades to carry the more advanced Soviet missiles, it was a pretty good interceptor. But as the U.S. could already attest, the interceptor role was a theoretical mission that didn’t play out well in real life. Interceptors still needed to be able to fight other airplanes in close combat…they needed to be fighters.
Lt. Belenko was granted asylum, (I believe) given U.S. citizenship, and received a nice pension from the U.S. government. The MiG-25 was studied (and kind of snickered at) by the U.S. and then sent back to the Soviet Union…in a bunch of crates.