Vympel updates its R-77

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Douglas Barrie/BERLIN

Russian missile manufacturer Vympel is working on what is effectively a mid-life update of its R-77 (AA-12 Adder) active radar-guided medium range air-to-air missile, intended to improve the weapon's overall performance.

The new R-77M weighs 185kg, compared to the 175kg of the basic R-77, with the missile also thought to be noticeably longer. The mass increase is put down to additional solid propellant.

Russian sources close to the programme say that the missile has a dual-stage rocket motor thrust profile. The basic weapon has a single stage profile. Work is believed to be well advanced. The dual-stage motor is aimed at increasing the absolute engagement range and the kinematic performance of the missile in the final stages of an engagement.

The R-77, or the RVV-AE as Vympel calls it publicly, began development in the early 1980s as the Soviet Union's counter to the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile. R-77 is its Russian air force designation.

Limited series production of the basic missile has got under way only relatively recently, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Funding constraints, coupled with the need to move the production line from Kiev in Ukraine to Moscow, have delayed the project.

As well as a greatly upgraded rocket motor, the R-77M has an improved warhead. The missile may also be given certain aerodynamic improvements.

Development of the R-77 was the catalyst for Western efforts to start upgrading their medium range missile inventories. The availability of a further improved weapon will add greater impetus to work under way in Europe, Israel and the USA.

AGAT, the seeker house which developed the basic active-radar seeker for the R-77, also says that it has developed as a follow-on a new, more compact, active radar seeker with a redesigned antenna and digital processors.

Although AGAT does not directly associate the seeker with the R-77, it says that, at 180mm diameter, it is sized to fit into a 200mm-diameter fuselage - the dimension of the R-77 airframe.

The R-77 is likely to make its debut on the export market in 1999, with deliveries scheduled to the Royal Malaysian Air Force for its MAPO MiG-29 Fulcrums.