Mig-25 Foxbat Hunting, Indian Airforce
Foxbat Hunting

One of the sidelights to fighter operations in the Middle East during the 1970s and 80s centered around the repeated Israeli attempts to counter MiG-25 'Foxbat' operations - both the fighter and reconnaissance versions of this high-flying aircraft were operated within this time frame by the IDF Air Force's Arab opponents. The Americans had clocked a Mig-25 over Israel at Mach 3.2 in 1973. Upon landing in Egypt, the engines were totally destroyed.

The first MiG-25 operations in the region were undertaken by a detachment of Soviet Air Force recce MiG-25R 'Foxbat-Bs', deployed to Egypt in October 1971 - their objective was to reconnoitre Israeli positions in the wake of the War of Attrition. Following a number of sorties along the Suez Canal, a MiG-25R made a provocative long-range overflight of Israel on 10th October which the IDFAF were unable to counter. However, when a Soviet 'Foxbat' attempted a repeat overflight on 6th November the Israelis were ready with a flight of stripped-down F-4E's, armed with Sparrow missiles.

The MiG was attacked in a high-altitude snap attack - reportedly the F-4E's fired Sparrow missiles in a high-angle climb from 44,000 ft - head-on at the 'Foxbat', which was cruising at 76,000. What apparently let the attack down was that the proximity fuse delay on the Sparrows(probably late AIM-7E models) could not cope with the Mach 3 speed of the 'Foxbat', and by the time they detonated, the MiG was out of their lethal radius. Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly a sobering experience for the Soviet MiG-25 crews to see missiles tracking them at that height for the very first time.

Only two subsequent missions were flown(in March and May 1972), and these overflew the Sinai rather than Israel itself. It is believed that the photographs taken in these missions were later provided to the Egyptians, who found them invaluable in their planning for the 1973 War.

The Soviet 'Foxbats' were withdrawn in July 1972, only to return in the autumn of the following year after the cessation of the 1973 war. These aircraft would not penetrate Israeli airspace again, however, an as Egyptian relations with Moscow deteriorated, the detachment moved to Syria. There, both fighter and recce 'Foxbats' continued to fly regularly, and whilst originally a purely Soviet deployment, it eventually took on a Syrian component - the aircraft carried Syrian markings. Despite their 'arabification', the MiG-25s remained dependent on Soviet advisors and logistics support throughout - indeed, Syria's remaining ' Foxbat' are still reportedly maintained by Russian engineers today.

The Israelis were unable to counter the Syrian MiG-25 'Foxbat-A' fighters until the introduction of the F-15A into service. They then decided to 'defang' the Syrian 'Foxbat' threat once and for all by drawing them into a peacetime battle with F-15s. On 13th February 1981, two Israeli RF-4E's flew a high-altitude reconnaissance mission over Lebanon to report on renewed Syrian offensive action. The Israelis though that this mission was likely to evoke a Syrian response, and sure enough two MiG-25's were scrambled and climbed after the RF-4s.

However, as they entered firing range on the rapidly fleeing Phantom II's, they found that their targets had started to both dispense chaff and send out jamming signals from their ECM pods - a combination of the two had effectively obliterated the MiG-25's radar picture. Meanwhile, a pair of patrolling F-15A's that had been vectored onto the Syrian fighters by either an E-2C or ground-based radar, popped out of the clouds undetected and fired AIM-7F Sparrow AAM's at the 'blind' 'Foxbat's. One of the MiG-25's was destroyed, but the other escaped to retell the tale.

Despite this loss, another MiG-25 attack was staged against RF-4E's over the Bekkaa Valley on 29th July 1981, and this again resulted in another 'Foxbat' falling victim to escorting F-15A's. According to Syrian sources, an Israeli F-15 was ambushed using two MiG-21's as decoys (the other two F-15's present in the area were sent to another zone using false calls, interfering the Israeli ground control, and the Syrian pretending to be that control to the Israeli pilots). Suddenly the lone F-15 was attacked by two fighter MiG-25 Foxbats of AQAJAS from different directions. Before the Eagle pilot could destroy the MiG in front of him, he was shot down by the MiG-25 Foxbat beside him with two R-40 Acrid(one radar- homing and the second one heat-seeking) missiles. Israel recognized the victory and denied the loss.

Meanwhile, Syrian recce MiG-25s, which were capable of achieving faster speed and flying at higher altitudes than the fighter version, continued to overfly the Lebanon until 31st August 1983, when one was damaged by a modified Israeli HAWK SAM and forced down into the clutches of a waiting F-15A.