The MiG-41, Russia's long awaited update to its ageing MiG-31 fighter jets, will reportedly be capable of flying at hypersonic speeds and reach space.
The fighter plane is also said to be equipped with missiles that can go hypersonic as well as have the ability to be operated as a drone, reports Russian news outlet RIA Novosti.
Although Russia is moving toward autonomous weapons, including cruise missiles that can think, it is not clear if the MiG-41 will be part of their AI-powered class of war machines even if it does get a drone mode.
The MiG-41 will also be able to reach high altitudes, claims the report, with the manufacturers looking for a fighter jet that can launch small satellites into orbit. The report mentions that there are a few versions of the MiG-31 that can already do this.
The report claims that the MiG-41 is a hypersonic fighter that can reach speeds of over mach 3.5 – over 4,300 km per hour.
The report cites Ilya Tarasenko, director general of the MiG Corporation, as saying that the aircraft they are working on will "be able to work in outer space", but did not provide any details as to operating altitude or what they intend to do with a fighter in space. He added that the MiG-41 will be invisible to enemy radars.
Anatoly Kvochur, "Honoured Test Pilot of the USSR", in a statement to Novosti, said high altitude flights can be used for peaceful purposes like clearing space debris in low orbit and added that high altitude interceptors are focussed on speed and altitude, not manoeuvrability.
"Interceptors are not designed to manoeuvre around the tail," said Kvochur. Rather, their main purpose is the search and destruction of ballistic cruise missiles – missiles that leave the atmosphere and re-enter to strike targets and are assisted by gravity – from within the airspace they are protecting.
Interceptors are also tasked with eliminating reconnaissance aircraft and enemy bombers, says the report.
It mentions an instance where a MiG-31 shot down a missile that was flying at an altitude of 12 km at mach 3 this year.
While the MiG-41 is touted to be a replacement for the MiG-31, it will apparently be a whole new fighter and not be a product of a "modernisation" of the existing platform, says the report. Production of the MiG-31 was discontinued in 1994 and the current MiG-31 BM interceptors that the Russian armed forces use are upgraded versions of the aircraft.
MiG is expected to begin deliveries of the aircraft in the early to mid-2020s.