The incident was first reported by a Belarusian monitoring group “Belarusian Gayun,” which cited residents of the Molodechne District of the Minsk Region who heard a loud explosion in the sky that shook the windows of houses, both in the Molodechno and in the suburbs.
As per Belarusian Gayun, a MiG-31K with flight number RF-95194 suffered a fire in one of its two engines while flying overhead the Molodechno region. The explosion forced the aircraft to return to the Machulyshchi airfield urgently.
The cause of the explosion, according to Belarusian Gayun, was a phenomenon usually referred to as ‘engine surging,’ which occurs inside the compressor that compresses the air to increase its pressure before entering the combustion chamber.
The surge occurs when the airflow through the compressor stages is disrupted, which can result in a loss of engine thrust or engine failure, mechanical damage to engine components such as gas turbine and compressor blades or adjacent systems, and in some cases, even a fire or destruction of parts of the engine.
This is the second time this particular MiG-31K has caught fire. On December 25, this same MiG-31 with flight number RF-95194 experienced a fire in its engine while trying to take off from the airfield in Machulyshchy.
At the time, Belarusian Gayun reported that the fire may have rendered the aircraft inoperable shortly. The recent explosion in the aircraft mid-flight is suggestive of that.
The MiG-31 Armed With Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile
The MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’ is a long-range, two-seater supersonic interceptor aircraft. The MiG-31K is one of its variants capable of carrying the hypersonic Kh-47 Kinzhal (called ‘Dagger’ in Russian) missiles that Russia used in its attacks on Ukrainian targets early in its invasion.
The Kh-47 Kinzhal missile is said to have a range of 2000 kilometers. It can carry either a fragmentation warhead weighing approximately 499 kilograms or a 500-kiloton nuclear warhead, which is 33 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was used to strike Hiroshima.
The missile can travel at 5-12 times the speed of sound and follows a flatter trajectory than a standard ballistic missile, leaving the air defenses with a short time to react. Also, the missile is difficult to intercept because of its ability to maneuver at all stages of its flight path.
The missile can hit not only stationary targets with precision but also mobile targets with the help of a radar seeker.
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal made headlines last year after Russia announced on March 19 that it had destroyed a weapons storage depot in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine using its Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, marking the first-ever use of a hypersonic weapon in combat.
US President Joe Biden, speaking about the missile at a conference with business leaders, said, “it’s almost impossible to stop it.”
The Kinzhal missile has to be employed using a high-altitude aircraft that can fly at high speeds. Therefore, the MiG-31, a Mach 3-capable air defense interceptor, is perfectly suitable to carry the missile.
As per a previous EurAsian Times report, the Russian Air Force is known to have a total of 252 MiG-31s in its inventory, of which 10 to 20 aircraft have been upgraded to fire Kinzhals.
Russia has also been increasingly deploying MiG-31Ks in the Kaliningrad Region as part of additional strategic deterrence measures against the West.
From Kaliningrad, a MiG-31 armed with a Kinzhal missile can strike most West European capitals like London, Paris, Rome, and many more, in a matter of 7-10 minutes.
Initially, it was the MiG-31BM that was intended to carry Kinzhal hypersonic missile, but MiG-31K was later selected as the carrier, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Notably, the MiG-31BM has proven to be the most successful Russian aircraft in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, as discussed at length previously by EurAsian Times. Currently, Russia has three regiments of the MiG-31BM, comprising around 90 operational units of the fighter type.