Flashpoints

New Russian Air-to-Air Missiles Will Field Almost Perfect Accuracy

The new missiles may never miss their targets by solving a years-old problem in radar technology.

Ankit Panda
New Russian Air-to-Air Missiles Will Field Almost Perfect Accuracy
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Russia’s new T-50-variant Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (PAK FA) may feature the most accurate air-to-air missile system ever devised. The new system specifically targets the ability of skilled fighter pilots to engage in violent maneuvers to break missile locks in older-generation technology, based on a radar system held within the nose of the missile.

The new missile, pegged the K-77M, was described by Russia Today as an “absolute killer.” It notes that what sets the K-77M’s technology apart from its counterparts is the implementation of a “active phased array antenna (APAA)” which essentially solves the lock-on problem by addressing the radar’s “field of view” problem.  Previously, this limitation allowed pilots to swing their jets out of the range of a tailing guided missile when in close proximity, evading the scope of the radar’s view. The K-77M essentially implements a solution similar to the Raytheon’s Patriot surface-to-air (SAM) missile system, according to Russia Today.

Russia Today explains the technology in more detail: “An active phased array antenna consists of a large number of cone-shaped cells installed under a transparent-to-radio-waves cap on the nose of the missile. Each cell receives only a part of the signal, but once digitally processed, the information from all cells is summarized into a ‘full picture,’ enabling the K-77M missile to immediately respond to sharp turns of the target, making interception practically inevitable.”

The development of this air-to-air missile — suspected to be the most accurate missile ever developed in its class — could be a major coup for Russia’s Detal design bureau, the developer. Russia Times notes that the chief engineer of the Detal design bureau hopes to begin manufacturing in 2015 after establishing a production facility. The economics of the missile appear to be favorable, even given the tall price-tag associated with APAA-equipped missile technology. Given the all-but-guaranteed accuracy of the system, Russia is likely to find several buyers. The K-77M could also render the PAK FA a more compelling purchase for buyers. The K-77M is reportedly compatible with previous generation Sukhoi fighters as well.

Russia already has interested buyers in the PAK FA. India is a major financial and research partner in the development of the next-generation fighter, and is expected to order around 200 units. The jointly-developed version is referred to as a the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, a further derivative of the main PAK FA project. Until now, the primary Russian pitch on the Sukhoi PAK FA was its low cost compared to the U.S. F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. The addition of the hyper-accurate missile tech offers a compelling value-add in Russia technology, at least in the short term. The allure of an air-to-air missile that both in theory and practice never misses may be too much for prospective buyers to resist.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

As far as The Diplomat was able to confirm, the United States does not seem to have air-to-air missile technology in existence or in known current development to compete with the K-77M’s accuracy.