Vympel R-27 Alamo

The advancement of modern weaponry has led to the creation of the Vympel R-27 Alamo, a medium-range air-to-air missile jointly manufactured by the Russian firm Vympel and the Ukrainian firm Artem. It Is A Fourth Generation, FOX 1 Missile With An Extraordinary Speed Of Mach 4.5. The R-27 is manufactured in infrared-homing (R-27T, R-27ET), semi-active-radar-homing (R-27R, R-27ER), active-radar-homing (R-27EA), and passive radiation homing (R-27P/EP) versions. The missile is carried by all present Russian fighter jets.

The Vympel R-27 missile is renowned for its exceptional capabilities. Specifically engineered to target aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles, this guided missile remains effective in diverse conditions, including adverse weather, day or night operations, and even when countered with defensive measures, counterfire, or evasive tactics.

Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023 /  Vympel R-27 Alamo
Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023 /  Vympel R-27 Alamo

Development of the Vympel R-27 AAM

While the R-27’s design was first conceptualized in April 1962, actual production didn’t start until 1986. However, after its inception, more than 25 nations around the world presently use the missile in combat.

The R-27 is produced in versions with infrared homing ( R-27T, R-27ET ), semi-active radar homing ( R-27R, R-27ER ), and active radar homing ( R-27EA ). Both Russian and Ukrainian manufacturers build missiles of the R-27 family. The Mikoyan MiG-29, MiG-31 and Sukhoi Su-27 family ( Su-30, Su-33, Su-34, Su-35, Su-37 ) along with Yak-141 of aircraft are equipped with the R-27 missile. The R-27 missile is also licensed-produced in China, though the production license was bought from Ukraine very tactfully instead of Russia.

Open-source illustrative image
Open-source illustrative image

The development of the Vympel R-27 AAM involves the utilization of cruciform and tandem destabilizers, along with canards and wings. This missile series adopts a configuration that combines elements of both canard and tilt-wing designs. What sets them apart is their modular design architecture, which accommodates various seeker options such as passive radar, semi-active radar, or infrared seekers. This flexibility extends to propulsion systems as well, enabling the missiles to achieve extended ranges.

These particular missiles are designed as all-aspect projectiles, showcasing the ability to engage targets located within the seeker’s designated field of view. This includes the successful interception of airborne targets travelling at velocities of a maximum of 3,500 km/h. The increased efficiency of the aircraft systems’ armament setups originates from the strategic utilization of missiles outfitted with diverse seeker types, all integrated within the ammunition load.

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Design Characteristics of the Vympel R-27 Air-to-Air Missile

  • The structure of the R-27 missile comprises a cylindrical body accompanied by axisymmetric surfaces arranged in a crosswise manner, resembling a duck configuration. This design features a modular structure that facilitates the seamless incorporation of different guidance systems and offers two motor options for propulsion.
  • All iterations of the R-27 missile are outfitted with an identical 39kg Rod warhead, initiated through radar proximity and impact fuses. The air-to-air missile showcases a canard aerodynamic setup. These surfaces are responsible for controlling both the missile’s pitch and yaw, simultaneously ensuring roll stabilization. The missile is capable of withstanding a maximum operational g-loading of 8g.
  • The missile’s guidance system can be transitioned from semi-active radar homing to infrared guidance by simply replacing the seeker module. Powering the missile is a solid-propellant rocket motor integrated into its propulsion system.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023

Later Generations of R-27 Alamo Variants

  1. The R-27R semi-active radar homing. The missile can be used at 20 to 25,000 meters altitude. The effective kill range for a target at the same altitude is 2 to 42.5 km head-on and 0.7 to 7.5 km tail-on. Maximum range: 73 km.
  2. The R-27R1 serves as the export version of the R-27R missile. It boasts a considerable maximum range of 75 kilometres, coupled with a warhead weighing 39 kilograms.
  3. The R-27T, designated as AA-10 Alamo-B, incorporates infrared homing capabilities facilitated by the Avtomatika 9B-1032 IR seeker head. This missile system is operational within altitudes ranging from 20 to 25,000 meters. It demonstrates an effective kill range for targets at the same altitude, spanning from 2 to 33 kilometres head-on and 0 to 5.5 kilometres tail-on. The missile’s maximum range extends up to 63 kilometres.
  4. The R-27T1 stands as the export iteration derived from the R-27T missile. Demonstrating an enhanced operational range, this missile boasts a maximum distance capability of 80 kilometres, alongside a warhead weighing 39 kilograms.
  5. The R-27ER, designated as AA-10 Alamo-C, represents an extended-range variant equipped with semi-active radar homing capabilities. This missile system is operational within altitudes spanning from 20 to 27,000 meters. Exhibiting an effective kill range for targets at the same altitude, the distances range from 2 to 65.5 kilometres head-on and 0.7 to 16.5 kilometres tail-on. Notably, firing the missile at a target against the backdrop of the Earth’s surface is not feasible at altitudes below 3 kilometres. The missile attains a remarkable maximum range of 117 kilometres.
  6. The R-27ER1 serves as the export variant derived from the R-27ER missile. This missile configuration excels in range, with a maximum operational distance of 100 kilometres, accompanied by a warhead weighing 39 kilograms.
  7. The R-27ET, designated as AA-10 Alamo-D, represents an extended-range variant equipped with infrared homing capabilities. This missile weighs 348 kilograms and is operational within altitudes ranging from 20 to 27,000 meters. Its effective kill range for targets at the same altitude spans from 2 to 52.5 kilometres in a head-on approach and 0.7 to 12.5 kilometres in a tail-on orientation. The missile’s maximum range reaches an impressive 104 kilometres.
  8. The R-27ET1 serves as the export iteration based on the R-27ET missile. This missile variant offers a maximum operational range of 80 kilometres, paired with a warhead weighing 39 kilograms.
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Photo Credit: United Aircraft Corporation
Photo Credit: United Aircraft Corporation

It is possible to use the R-27R and ER versions in any weather. Less than 5 g of overload and a 50 deg/s rotation rate are permissible for launch. Changing targets while in flight is permitted, as is cooperating with other planes to illuminate targets.

When there is no cloud cover, the sun is at least 15 degrees away and the moon is 4 degrees away, as well as when there are no ground-based heat-contrasting circumstances, the R-27T and ET variants can be used. A missile cannot be launched when launching at maximum head-on range without the use of a lock command. Before launching, the seeker must acquire the objective. This method of operation is specifically advised for head-on usage for passive assaults at targets with a 0-degree approach angle, leaving the target unalerted to the incoming missile, according to the combat operations section of the Su-27 manual.

Open-source illustrative image / Indian Air Force MiG-29 armed with four Vympel R-60 Aphid AAM and two Vympel R-27 Alamo AAM
Open-source illustrative image / Indian Air Force MiG-29 armed with four Vympel R-60 Aphid AAM and two Vympel R-27 Alamo AAM
Indian Procurement and Receipt of Russian R-27 Missiles

In July 2019, India and Russia formalized a significant agreement amounting to Rs 1,500 crore ($218 million), outlining the procurement of the latest variants of R-27 air-to-air missiles, including the R-27R1/ER1 and R-27T1/ET1 types. These advanced missile variants were designated for equipping the Indian Air Force’s MiG-29UPG and Su-30MKI fighter jets, enhancing the aerial capabilities of India’s aircraft fleet.

Photo Credit: Vayu
Photo Credit: Vayu

SAMAR System: An Indian Adaptation of Vympel R-27 Missiles

Out of all air-to-air versions, SAMAR is a Surface-To-Air Missile for Assured Retaliation, a short-range air defence system ( SAM system ) that has been developed by Indian Air Force ( IAF ), Base Repair Depot ( BRD ). In partnership with Simran Flowtech Industries and Yamazaki Denki.

The SAMAR Air Defense system, which has been approved for induction, consists of refurbished Russian-supplied R-27 Alamo infrared-guided air-to-air missiles (AAMs) that have been reprogrammed to be employed as Surface to Air short range Air Defence systems. A unique & distinctive idea to utilise the huge stock of missiles for air defence.

The SAMAR Air Defense system, which was displayed recently at Aero India 2023, has successfully completed all firing trials and can engage low-flying aerial targets from UAVs, helicopters, and fighter jets at a distance of 12 to 20 km.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has a stockpile of hundreds of Vympel R-27 Alamo missiles, which are well-suited for repurposing as a short-range air defence system. However, these missiles have reached the end of their operational shelf life and cannot be safely utilized on fighter jets.

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Open-source illustrative image
Open-source illustrative image

Specifications of the Vympel R-27 Alamo AAM

  • Weight:  253 kg ( 558 lb )
  • Length:  13.4 ft ( 4.8 m )
  • Diameter:  9.1 in ( 230 mm )
  • Warhead:  39kg Rod warhead initiated by blast/fragmentation
  • Detonation:  Radar-proximity and impact fuses
  • Engine: High-performance solid propellant rocket motor
  • Range:  Based on different versions, its range varies from Min 40 km to Max 160 km
  • Speed:  Mach 4.5
  • Guidance:  Infrared homing, Semi-active radar homing, Active radar homing & Passive radar
  • Launch Platform:  The Vympel R-27 missile is compatible with all Russian fighter aircraft, including the Indian-made HAL Tejas, and ongoing efforts are being made to integrate it.

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In conclusion, the Vympel R-27 Alamo air-to-air missile serves as a remarkable testament to the ingenuity and innovation demonstrated by its developers throughout the Cold War era. Originating from the strategic imperatives of the Soviet Union to enhance its fighter aircraft capabilities, the R-27 emerged as a truly versatile and adaptable weapon system. With its distinct variants, each finely tuned for specific engagement scenarios and outfitted with either semi-active radar or infrared homing guidance systems, the missile underscores its remarkable adaptability in effectively countering a wide spectrum of aerial threats.

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