Vympel K-13

Vympel K-13

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The K-13 is an short-range, infrared homing air-to-air missile
Air-to-air missile
An air-to-air missile is a missile fired from an aircraft for the purpose of destroying another aircraft. AAMs are typically powered by one or more rocket motors, usually solid fuelled but sometimes liquid fuelled...

 developed by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. It is similar in appearance and function to the American AIM-9 Sidewinder
AIM-9 Sidewinder
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a heat-seeking, short-range, air-to-air missile carried mostly by fighter aircraft and recently, certain gunship helicopters. The missile entered service with United States Air Force in the early 1950s, and variants and upgrades remain in active service with many air forces...

 from which it was reverse-engineered. Although it since has been replaced by more modern missiles in front line service, it saw widespread service in many nations.

Background - the Sidewinder missile

During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis
Second Taiwan Strait Crisis
The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis, was a conflict that took place between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China governments in which the PRC shelled the islands of Matsu and Quemoy in the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to seize them from...

 in 1958, the Republic of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

's (Taiwan) F-86 Sabre
F-86 Sabre
The North American F-86 Sabre was a transonic jet fighter aircraft. Produced by North American Aviation, the Sabre is best known as America's first swept wing fighter which could counter the similarly-winged Soviet MiG-15 in high speed dogfights over the skies of the Korean War...

s faced the much higher performance PRC
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 MiG-17's. The MiG's had speed, maneuverability and altitude advantages over the Sabres, allowing them to engage only when they desired, normally at advantageous times. In response, the US Navy rushed to modify 100 of the ROC's Sabres to fit the newly introduced AIM-9 Sidewinder
AIM-9 Sidewinder
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a heat-seeking, short-range, air-to-air missile carried mostly by fighter aircraft and recently, certain gunship helicopters. The missile entered service with United States Air Force in the early 1950s, and variants and upgrades remain in active service with many air forces...

 missile, the latest model being the "B" version. These were introduced into combat for the first time on 24 September 1958, when a group of MiG-17's cruised past a flight of Sabres, only to find themselves under attack by missile fire. This was the first instance of guided missiles being used in air-to-air combat.

On the 28th, a similar engagement resulted in one of the missiles becoming lodged in a MiG without exploding, allowing it to be removed. The Soviets later became aware that the Chinese had at least one Sidewinder, and after some wrangling, were able to convince the Chinese to send them one of the captured missiles. Gennadiy Sokolovskiy, later chief engineer at the Vympel team, said that "the Sidewinder missile was to us a university offering a course in missile construction technology which has upgraded our engineering education and updated our approach to production of future missiles."

A subsequent claim was made by Ron Westrum
Ron Westrum
-Education:Born in Chicago in 1945, Westrum earned a B.A. in Social Relations in 1966 from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Sociology in 1972 from the University of Chicago.-Expertise:...

 in his book "Sidewinder" that the Soviets obtained the plans for Sidewinder from Swedish Colonel and convicted spy
SPY is a three-letter acronym that may refer to:* SPY , ticker symbol for Standard & Poor's Depositary Receipts* SPY , a satirical monthly, trademarked all-caps* SPY , airport code for San Pédro, Côte d'Ivoire...

 Stig Wennerström, and rushed their version into service by 1961 copying it so closely that even the part numbers were duplicated. Although Wennerström did leak information of the Sidewinder after negotiating its purchase for Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, none of the known Soviet sources mention this, while all explicitly mention the Chinese example.

Development and early use

The Sidewinder was quickly reverse engineered as the K-13 (also called R-3 or Object 300) and entered limited service only two years later in 1960
1960 in aviation
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1960:-January:* January 1 – Fiji Airways is reconstituted, becoming equally owned by BOAC, Qantas, and Tasman Empire Airways....

. This was followed by the improved K-13A (R-3S, Object 310), which entered service in 1962. The R-3S was the first version to enter widespread production, in spite of a very long seeker settling time on the order of 22 seconds (as opposed to 11 for the original).

The R-3S was seen by the West in 1961
1961 in aviation
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1961:-January:* January 3 – Aero Flight 311, a Douglas DC-3C, crashes near Kvevlax, Finland, killing all 25 people on board. An investigation finds that the captain and first officer both were exhausted for lack of sleep and drunk at the time of...

 and given the NATO reporting name AA-2A 'Atoll'. Minimum engagement range for the R-3S is about one kilometre. All K-13 variants are physically similar to Sidewinder, sharing the 5 inch (127 mm) diameter. Subsequent examination of AA-2 missiles captured by NATO forces showed that parts from an AIM-9 could be interfaced with parts from an AA-2 and either combination would still work.

While the R-3S was being introduced in 1961, work started on a semi-active radar homing
Semi-active radar homing
Semi-active radar homing, or SARH, is a common type of missile guidance system, perhaps the most common type for longer-range air-to-air and surface-to-air missile systems. The name refers to the fact that the missile itself is only a passive detector of a radar signal – provided by an external ...

 (SARH) version for high-altitude use, the K-13R (R-3R or Object 320), similar to the little-used US Navy AIM-9C Sidewinder (carried by the F-8 Crusader
F-8 Crusader
The Vought F-8 Crusader was a single-engine, supersonic, carrier-based air superiority jet aircraft built by Vought for the United States Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, replacing the Vought F7U Cutlass...

). This took longer to develop, and did not enter service until 1966. This version was designated AA-2B by NATO.

Three training versions were also developed. The R-3U ("uchebnaya", training) was an empty missile body with a homing set, allowing pilots to get used to the aiming of the system. The R-3P ("prakticheskaya", practice) was a complete missile without an explosive warhead. The RM-3V ("raketa-mishen", target-missile) served as an aerial target.

Later versions

The Vympel team started working on a more ambitious upgrade in the late 1960s, emerging as the K-13M (R-13M, Object 380) for the IRH and K-13R (R-3R) for the SARH variant, were developed in the late 1960s. These were dubbed Advanced Atoll (AA-2C and AA-2D, respectively) in the west. The R-13M was roughly equivalent to the improved USAF AIM-9G Sidewinder, with a new proximity fuse, more propellant for longer range, better maneuverability, and a more sensitive nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

-cooled seeker head. None, however, was an all-aspect
An all-aspect missile is one which is able to track a target no matter which way the target faces relative to the missile. In other words, an all-aspect missile can be launched against a target in a tail-chase engagement, in a head-on engagement, in a side-on engagement, from above, from below,...

 missile. The same electronics upgrades were also applied to the Kaliningrad K-5
Kaliningrad K-5
The Kaliningrad K-5 , also known as RS-1U or product ShM, was an early Soviet air-to-air missile.-History:...

 (AA-1) to arm fighters that did not carry the K-13.

The 'Atoll' was widely exported to the Warsaw Pact
Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance , or more commonly referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was a mutual defense treaty subscribed to by eight communist states in Eastern Europe...

 and other air forces, and remains in service with a few smaller nations. A license-built version called A-91 was built in Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, and the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 copied the K-13 as the PL-2
PL-2 and its derivatives are members of a series of Chinese air-to-air missiles originated from the former-Soviet Vympel K-13 AAM, with PL short for Pili , meaning thunderbolt...

. Updated Chinese versions were the PL-3 and PL-5
The PL-5 air-to-air missile is a short-range, infra-red guided missile use by Chinese fighters...

. Soviet Union provided China K-13 missile technology as a part of Mig-21 fighter jet deal in 1962. In 1967, China successfully completed locally produced K-13 (PL-2) missile tests, and start to deploy this missile to combat units. It was first used to intercept USAF UAVs flown from Vietnam and other south east Asian countries to mainland China.


Operational history

The AA-2 Atoll was used by North Vietnamese MiG-21 pilots. Due to the NVAF's very limited number of MiG-21's, their common tactic was to approach an American formation at maximum reasonable speed, fire their missiles in volleys, and extend (exit area) at maximum speed to avoid engagement.

AA-2s were also used by Arab air forces against Israel during the Six-Day War, War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War, and the 1982 Lebanon War, often with limited if not disappointing results. It's worth noting that since War of Attrition it faced the AIM-9 Sidewinder supplied to Israel by the United States, used on F-4 Phantom IIs, Mirages and Neshers (they also uses Shafrir 2 missile produced locally, whose performance was roughly on par with AIM-9D supplied to Israel), Kfirs (also uses Shafrir 2), F-15 and F-16 (also uses Python 3,4, and 5, whose performance is on par with AIM-9L/M and AIM-9X, respectively). There have also been unconfirmed reports of usage of captured stocks by Israel during the Six-Day War as replacement for the locally produced Shafrir 1, whose performance was as disappointing as were the AA-2 with the Arabs. The failure of the AA-2 with the Arab air forces generally came from inadequate or poor training of Arab pilots by Soviet advisors. With the AA-2's minimum engagement range of one kilometer and the tendency for engagement to end with close range melee within gun range, the AA-2s fielded by the Arabs were generally useless, especially with some MiG-21 versions that weren't equipped with a gun.

Specifications (R-13M / R-3R)

  • Length: (R-13M) 2830 mm (9 ft 3.4 in); (R-3R) 3420 mm (11 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan: 530 mm (21 in)
  • Diameter: 127 mm (5 in)
  • Launch weight: (R-13M) 75 kg (166 lb); (R-3R) 93 kg (205 lb)
  • Speed: Mach 2.5
    Mach number
    Mach number is the speed of an object moving through air, or any other fluid substance, divided by the speed of sound as it is in that substance for its particular physical conditions, including those of temperature and pressure...

  • Range: 8 km (5 mi)
  • Guidance: (R-13M) infrared homing
    Infrared homing
    Infrared homing refers to a passive missile guidance system which uses the emission from a target of electromagnetic radiation in the infrared part of the spectrum to track and follow it. Missiles which use infrared seeking are often referred to as "heat-seekers", since infrared is just below the...

    ; (R-3R) SARH
    Sarh is the third largest city in Chad, after N'Djamena and Moundou. It is the capital of Moyen-Chari region and the department of Barh Köh. It lies 350 miles south-east of the capital Ndjamena on the Chari River...

  • Warhead: 11.3 kg (24.9 lb) blast-fragmentation
    Fragmentation (weaponry)
    Fragmentation is the process by which the casing of an artillery shell, bomb, grenade, etc. is shattered by the detonating high explosive filling. The correct technical terminology for these casing pieces is fragments , although shards or splinters can be used for non-preformed fragments...

     with proximity fuze
    Proximity fuze
    A proximity fuze is a fuze that is designed to detonate an explosive device automatically when the distance to target becomes smaller than a predetermined value or when the target passes through a given plane...


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