Like the rest of its defence sector, Russia's airborne weapons industry suffered a lack of investment and a dearth of state orders for the last 20 years. Only export sales kept production lines active but, from the late 1990s and into the last decade, international orders sustained a reasonable workload. Russia's weapon builders - unified under the Tactical Missile Corporation (TMC) - face a less well-defined future. Export sales are dropping off as major customers like China and, to a degree, India find alternative sources of supply. The more recent customers for Russian combat aircraft like Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam or Venezuela are not big enough to fill the gap left by China and India.
At the same time there is a reawakening in Russia's procurement plans, thanks to the Sukhoi Su-35S and next-generation T-50 (PAK-FA) fighter programmes. The 48 advanced Su-35S jets announced in 2009 were the first new-build aircraft to be ordered for the Russian fighter force since the 1990s. More Su-35Ss are likely to follow, bridging the gap until the T-50 is ready for meaningful operations. The expansion of the Su-35S force and the resulting potential for export sales, plus the promise of the T-50 means that for the first time in many years Russia's weapon industry has serious goals.
The two primary air-to-air weapons from the TMC are improved versions of missiles with their design roots in the 1980s. Revealed in 2009, the RVV-SD (Raketa Vozdukh-Vozdukh-Srednaya Dalnost, medium-range AAM) and RVV-MD (Raketa Vozdukh-Vozdukh-Malaya Dalnost, short-range AAM) are the latest developments of the well-known RVV-AE/R-77 (AA-12 'Adder') and R-73 (AA-11 'Archer') missiles respectively. Products of the Vympel Design Bureau, they are staged improvements of the original designs rather than radical enhancements.
Several aerodynamic refinements have been made to the BVR-capable RVV-SD. Its rear section has a tapered 'boat tail' shape and the active radar seeker dome is longer and more pointed. Although its propulsion system is unchanged, the revised airframe configuration and flight control software increases range to at least 110 km. The RVV-SD has an upgraded inertial platform in its guidance and control section and a modernised seeker with improved algorithms. At its 2009 debut the RVV-SD was described by Vympel as a "proposal", so the production status of the missile remains unconfirmed.
The RVV-MD IR-guided dogfight missile introduced several performance improvements but not to the level predicted for most preceding R-73 upgrade concepts. Three main enhancements consist of: a two-colour IR seeker, an expanded seeker field-of-view of ±60° and an extended in-flight standby time of six hours.
Current or future Russian orders are likely to be built to RVV-SD and RVV-MD standards. Vympel designers have also spoken of further AAM developments based on the original RVV-AE/R-77 and R-73 designs. This includes a BVR missile referred to as Izdeliye 180 with a revised airframe design that replaces the lattice rear fins with conventional tail fins. Vympel says the new fins lessen drag and reduce weight by removing the heavy actuators needed for the old control surfaces. The missile will be fitted with an improved, higher-speed datalink and an inertial guidance system for mid-course navigation. The rocket motor is an improved dual-pulse engine with a maximum burn of 100 seconds and the ability to control the frequency of thrust inputs. A dual-mode (active/passive homing) seeker is likely to be fitted.
A successor to the R-73/RVV-MD may come in the shape of Vympel's Izdeliye 760 (a derivative of the earlier K-74/Izdeliye 740 concept). It will have an improved IR seeker, an inertial control system, datalink receiver for target updates and an advanced rocket motor with a longer burn time. To make the missile suitable for internal carriage, its cross-section will be reduced. To maximise the weapon's coverage, it can be fired in lock-on-after-launch mode, starting under inertial control before achieving in-flight lock-on. It will be able to engage targets up to 160º from the aircraft's heading. The Izdeliye 760 may have already completed flight tests.
The follow-on to the Izdeliye 760 is identified as the K-MD (Izdeliye 300), which is intended to outperform the ASRAAM and AIM-9X. Although it will draw on experience from the R-73/R-74 series, it will essentially be an all-new missile. It will use an IR seeker with a focal-plane array and this will have more than twice the lock-on range of the Izdeliye 760 seeker, a high resistance to countermeasures and a target-recognition capability.
In terms of deployed weapons Russia's most notable recent achievement has been the introduction of the very-long-range R-37 missile as part of the MiG-31BM 'Foxhound' upgrade. One of Russia's 'lost projects' from the 1990s, the R-37 was designed to work specifically with the aircraft's improved NIIP Zaslon-M passive electronically scanning array (PESA) radar. The R-37 has an range of up to 230 km. After many years of delayed development the MiG-31BM/R-37 combination is entering Russian service.
A second long-range AAM programme exists in Russia, albeit under many different names. Developed by Novator, the K-100 missile (also known as the Izdeliye 172, KS-172, RVV-BD and AAM-L) is potentially a 200 km+ weapon associated with the Su-35S (and export Su-35BM) programme. Versions of this missile have sporadically appeared in public since the 1990s and in recent years full-sized mock-ups were shown carried by Su-35 aircraft. In March 2004 Indian press reports claimed that Russia and India were about to begin collaborative development of the 172 missile, referred to as the R-172. By 2006 the Izdeliye 172/K-100 was confirmed as a potential weapon for Sukhoi's revised Su-35 design and was exhibited in China that year. A full-size mock-up of a weapon identified only as 'AAM' (a catch-all designation) was shown for the first time in more than a decade at the 2007 Moscow Air Show. The K-100 was absent in any form from the 2009 Moscow Air Show, indicating perhaps that the programme has returned to classified status.