On December 12 a Russian MiG-31 Foxhound from the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet intercepted a Norwegian P-3C Orion reconnaissance plane over the Barents Sea. The development comes as NATO continues to strengthen its military presence near Russia’s northern borders, with Norway increasingly emerging as a focal point for tensions between Moscow and the Western alliance. Russia’s National Defense Operations Center reported regarding the incident: “The Russian fighter’s crew identified the aerial target as a Norwegian Air Force P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and shadowed it over the Barents Sea. No violations of the state border of the Russian Federation were allowed… The Russian fighter’s flight proceeded in strict compliance with international airspace usage requirements over neutral waters without crossing air routes or flying dangerously close to foreign aircraft.”
The MiG-31 Foxhound is widely considered Russia’s most capable combat aircraft for air to air combat, and recently saw its first engagements over Ukraine with both MiG-31K strike variants and MiG-31BM/BSM interceptor variants involved in combat and demonstrating particularly strong performances. The aircraft was the first in the world to deploy a phased array radar for air to air combat – doing so two decades ahead of any Western fighter class – and integrates R-37M air to air missiles with extreme 400km ranges, unmatched Mach 6 speeds and very large 60kg warheads. The Foxhound is by far the largest and fastest operational aircraft in the world built for air to air combat, allowing it to carry an oversized radar and a very high missile payload, and its high suitability for operations from Arctic runways has made it particularly highly prized at a time of growing tensions in the region. The MiG-31 was initially intended to be succeeded by the more capable MiG-31M, which was cancelled despite completing development due to sharp post Soviet budget cuts, as well as by the MiG 701 interceptor which saw work on it terminated for similar reasons. It is currently set to be replaced by the PAK DP interceptor, although the fate of the program and how closely it will be based on the cancelled MiG-31M remain uncertain.