The R-27R1/ER1 missile carries a semi-active radar seeker and a single-mode (for the R-27R1 variant) or dual-mode (for the R-27ER1) motor.
By Anthony Bell
Russia’s largest air-launched armament manufacturer, Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV), has started upgrading its Vympel R-27 (NATO reporting name: AA-10 Alamo) family of air-to-air missiles (AAMs). The latest variants of the Alamo were unveiled at the recent MAKS 2021 aerospace show held in Zhukovsky near Moscow between 20-25 July.
“First and foremost, the latest variants of the R-27 missiles feature modular structure that increases their tactical flexibility. They are compatible with almost all Russian-designed multirole combat aircraft, both existing and advanced ones,” a source from the Russian aerospace industry has said.
He added that further modernisation of the R-27-family AAMs is underway. “The missiles will be capable of neutralizing new types of aerial threats, including cutting-edge combat aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles.”
The Russian defence industry has upgraded the Alamo to three new standards – R-27R1/ER1, R-27P1/EP1, and R-27T1/ET1, with seeker and propulsion systems being the main differences. All members of the upgraded R-27 family feature a multimode actuator with a radar fuze and an impact fuze, a 39-kg rod-type warhead, and a single-mode/dual-mode motor. The ALWs are intended for both Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) and Sukhoi (Su) multirole combat aircraft.
The R-27R1/ER1 missile carries a semi-active radar seeker and a single-mode (for the R-27R1 variant) or dual-mode (for the R-27ER1) motor. The missiles are capable of engaging fighters at ranges of up to 60/62.5 km and have maximum launch ranges of 75/90-100 km. The weapons weigh 253 kg or 350 kg, respectively.
Another variant of the Alamo, the R-27P1/EP1, has been fitted with a passive radar seeker. This missile has also been integrated with Mikoyan-Gurevich and Sukhoi air platforms. The ALW is powered by a single-mode (for the R-27P1) or dual-mode (for the R-27EP1) motor. The R-27P1 engages aerial targets at distances of up to 72 km, while the R-27EP1 – at distances of up to 110 km. The modifications of the missile have a weight of 248 kg or 346 kg.
The R-27T1/ET1 missile has received a heat seeker. Like the other members of the upgraded R-27 family, it has been fitted to Su- and MiG-family combat aircraft. The weapon is capable of engaging aerial targets at distances of up to 65 km (for the R-27T1) or 80 km (for the R-27ET1). The missiles weigh 245.5 kg and 343 kg, respectively.
It should be mentioned that all upgraded R-27-family can be integrated with foreign-made multirole combat aircraft under a technology developed by the designer of the missiles, JSC GosMKB Vympel named after I IToropov, a subsidiary of KTRV. The R-27s also feature modular structure, which allows customizing and modernization and improves maintenance. These ALWs are designed to engage both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.
India is among the main foreign operators of the R-27-family AAMs, if not the largest one. On 29 July 2019, a section of the Indian media reported signing of a deal worth approximately Rs 1,500 crore (USD200 million) for R-27 missiles. The next day, the press department of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) confirmed the deal for about 1,000 various ALWs (however, FSMTC detailed neither agreement nor weapons to be delivered to India).
The Indian Air Force (IAF) intensively operates the Alamo: according to the military air service’s official catalogue, these weapons have been integrated with, for instance, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 (Fulcrum) multirole combat aircraft. The backbone of the IAF’s fighter squadrons, Sukhoi Su-30MKI (Flanker-H) fighter jet, is also capable of carrying the R-27-family missiles.
The R-27 has confirmed its high performance and outstanding reliability in wet climate and under high temperatures and high humidity conditions. “Moreover, the R-27-family AAMs feature a high cost-effectiveness ratio: they provide sufficient firepower for acceptable costs. Any modern conflict sees massive uses of guided weapons, including air-launched missiles. The side, which keeps the balance between reliability, effectiveness, and procurement costs in a proper way, typically wins, especially when it comes to a war in the air,” according to a Russian source.
However, the R-27-family missiles sometimes are illegally copied or maintained by enterprises that do not have valid licenses to perform such operations.The most notorious case of illegal copying of the R-27 is the manufacturing of the missiles by the Ukrainian state joint stock holding company Artem. The Kiev-based enterprise produces several variants of the R-27; however, the company is not the developer of the Alamo and therefore has no licenses and patents for the weapon.
A source form the Ukrainian defence industry has said that the state concern Ukroboronrpom had replaced foreign-made components with Ukrainian-made ones; however, this had not increased the effectiveness of the weapon. “Yes, the missile is now produced from Ukrainian-made components only. However, neither effectiveness nor reliability of the air-launched weapon has increased. It has become more profitable for Ukroboronprom.”
The integration of previously used components with brand new weapon systems during the manufacturing processes of the latter is another problem related to the Ukrainian defence industry. In the mid-2010s, the East European country upgraded seven Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (Fishbed) fighter jets of the Croatian Air Force. Several years later, the Croatian military discovered that the enterprises of Ukroboronprom had used previously owned components of MiG-21s from Bulgaria and some African countries to modernise the aircraft. One cannot rule out the possibility of integrating used components with Artem’s brand new R-27 missiles. Moreover, Ukraine does not produce new warheads, so they are imported or brought from existing Soviet-age ALW stocks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
In late July, Artem reported a contract worth approximately USD200 million for delivery of a batch of R-27 AAMs to an unknown Asian country. However, considering the above-mentioned problems related to the Ukrainian defence industry in whole, these weapons may fail during combat use.
(The author is an Independent Military Analyst. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)