The Vympel R-73 (NATO reporting name AA-11 Archer) is a short-range air-to-air missile developed by Vympel NPO that entered service in 1982. At the time of its introduction, it was the most advanced short range missile in the world.
The R-73 is an infrared-guided (heat-seeking) missile with a sensitive, cryogenic cooled seeker with a substantial “off-boresight” capability: the seeker can “see” targets up to 40° off the missile’s centerline. It can be targeted by a helmet-mounted sight (HMS) allowing pilots to designate targets by looking at them. Minimum engagement range is about 300 meters, with maximum aerodynamic range of nearly 30 km (19 mi) at altitude. The weapon is used by the MiG-29, MiG-31, Su-27, Su-34 and Su-35, and can be carried by newer versions of the MiG-21, MiG-23, Sukhoi Su-24, and Su-25 aircraft. India is looking to use the missile on their HAL Tejas. It can also be carried by Russian attack helicopters, including the Mil Mi-24, Mil Mi-28, and Kamov Ka-50.
The R-73 is a highly maneuverable missile and mock dogfights have indicated that the high degree of “off-bore sight” capability of the R-73 would make a significant difference in combat. The missile also has a mechanically simple but effective system for thrust-vectoring. The R-73 prompted the development of a number of western air-to-air missiles including the AIM-132 ASRAAM, IRIS-T, MICA IR, Python IV and the latest Sidewinder variant, the AIM-9X which entered squadron service in 2003.
From 1994, the R-73 has been upgraded in production to the R-73M standard, which entered CIS service in 1997. The R-73M has greater range and a wider seeker angle (to 60° off-boresight), as well as improved IRCCM (Infrared Counter-Counter-Measures). Further developments include the R-74 (izdeliye 740) and its export variant RVV-MD.
An improved version of the R-74, the K-74M (izdeliye 750) features fully digital and re-programmable systems, and is intended for use on the MiG-35 or MiG-29K/M/M2 and Su-27SM, Su-30MK and Su-35S. A further upgrade, known as the K-74M2 (izdeliye 760), is intended for the fifth-generation Sukhoi PAK FAaircraft. This missile has reduced cross section to fit in internal weapon bays and will match the performance of the AIM-9X and the ASRAAM. A clean sheet design, the K-MD (izdeliye 300), will supersede the K-74M2 in the future.
- R-73 – Standard model with ±45° off-bore sight.
- R-73M – Improved model.
- R-74 (izdeliye 740) – Improved model with ±60° off-bore sight.
- RVV-MD – Export model of the R-74.
- K-74M (izdeliye 750) – Improved model with ±75° off-bore sight.
- K-74M2 (izdeliye 760) – Further improved variant with reduced cross-section for the PAK FA. Intended to match the AIM-9X and ASRAAM.