R-23 (missile)

The Vympel R-23 (NATO reporting name AA-7 Apex) is a medium-range air-to-air missile developed by Vympel in the Soviet Union for fighter aircraft. An updated version with greater range, the R-24, replaced it in service. It is comparable to the American AIM-7 Sparrow, both in terms of overall performance as well as role.

R-23 / R-24
AA-7 Apex
R-23T on Polish MiG-23
TypeMedium air-to-air missile
Place of originSoviet Union
Service history
In service1974–present
Used bySoviet Air Forces, others
Wars1982 Lebanon War
Iran–Iraq War
Operation Modular
Yemeni Civil War (2015–present)
Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen
Production history
DesignerV. A. Pustyakov
ManufacturerVympel NPO
Specifications (R-23R)
Mass222 kg (489 lb)
Length4.50 m (14 ft 9 in)
Diameter223 mm (8.8 in)
Warheadexpanding-rod high explosive
Warhead weight25 kg (55 lb)

Enginesolid fuel rocket
Propellant1.04 m (3 ft 5 in)
35 kilometres (22 mi)
SpeedMach 3
semi-active radar homing (R-23R/R-24R)
infrared homing (R-23T/R-24T)


Design of a new missile to arm the MiG-23 fighter started in the mid-1960s under the direction of V.A. Pustyakov's design team. Known as the K-23 during its design, the new weapon was intended for use against bomber-sized targets, with "snap-up" capability to attack targets at higher altitude than the launch aircraft. It originally was intended to have a dual-mode seeker using both semi-active radar homing and infrared guidance, but this proved unfeasible, and separate SARH and IR models (Izdeliye (Product) 340 and 360, respectively) were developed instead. Test firings were carried out in 1967, although the SARH missile's seeker head proved to be extremely problematic.

In 1968 the Soviets acquired an AIM-7 and a Vympel team started copying it as the K-25. A comparison of the two led to the K-23 entering production, based largely on its better range and countermeasures resistance. The K-25 work ended in 1971. Nevertheless, several features of the Sparrow were later used in the Vympel R-27 design.

The missile, designated R-23, entered service in January 1974, the SARH version as the R-23R, the IR version R-23T. Both versions used the same motor and warhead, which had a lethal radius of 8 m (26 ft). In the west these were known as the AA-7A and AA-7B, respectively. An inert training round, the R-23UT, was also developed.

The airframe featured four delta wings arranged cruciform just behind the midpoint of the fuselage, and cropped-delta control surfaces at the extreme rear in-line with the wings. Smaller cropped-triangular surfaces are mounted in-line near the nose : known as "destabilizers", they serve to improve the rudders' efficiency at high angles of attack (the R-60 missile uses the same feature). The only external difference between the two versions was the nose cone, which was an ogive for the SARH seeker, and shorter (by 30 cm) and more rounded for the IR version.

Maximum range for the R-23R is 35 km, and for the infrared version R-23T is 15 km.[1]

Large numbers of R-23s were built., both by Molniya (ex OKB-4) as well as Vympel (ex OKB-134).

Starting in 1975 an improved version of the weapon was developed to arm the MiG-23ML/MLD. The resultant SARH R-24R had lock-on after launch capability and expanded range (up to 50 km) and altitude capability (up to 25,000 m/82,000 ft), while the IR R-24T had a much improved seeker with greater sensitivity. Both versions had a larger motor, a heavier warhead, and a greatly reduced minimum range of 500 m (1,600 ft) for a rear-quarter engagement. They also could be used by or against aircraft maneuvering at up to 7g. The missiles were known officially as izdeliye (Product) 140 and 160 in the USSR, and AA-7C and AA-7D in the west. The R-23/24 was also produced under license in Romania as the A-911/A901.

The R-24 remained in at least limited Russian service until the withdrawal of the last Russian MiG-23s in 1997.

Combat record


The R-23 was used in the Beqaa Valley in June 1982, during the 1982 Lebanon War. However, it is hard to judge its success. Soviet and Syrian sources claim that it achieved a few kills while the Israelis deny this. According to Austrian researcher Tom Cooper, Syrian claims include using the R-23/24 against six F-16As and one E-2C, however, the only confirmed kill is against a BQM-34 drone.[2]


Many R-23 kills are reported in the war between Iran and Iraq when Iraqi MiG-23s fired them at Iranian F-14A, F-4D/Es and F-5Es.[3]


On 27 September 1987, during Operation Moduler, an attempt was mounted to intercept two Cuban FAR MiG-23MLs. Captain Arthur Piercy's F1CZ was damaged by either an R-24 or R-60 AAM fired head-on by Major Alberto Ley Rivas. The explosion destroyed the aircraft's drag chute and damaged the hydraulics. Piercy was able to recover to AFB Rundu, but the aircraft overshot the runway. The impact with the rough terrain caused Piercy's ejection seat to fire, but he failed to separate from the seat and suffered major spinal injuries.[4][5]

Soviet Union

On 28 September 1988, two Soviet MiG-23MLDs piloted by Vladmir Astakhov and Boris Gavrilov shot down two Iranian AH-1J Cobras that had trespassed into Afghan airspace using R-24s.[6]


  • Length: (R-23R, R-24R) 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in); (R-23T, R-24T) 4.2 m (13 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 1 m (3 ft 5 in)
  • Diameter: 223 mm (8.8 in)
  • Launch weight: (R-23R, R-24R) 222 kg (489 lb), 243 kg (536 lb); (R-23T, R-24T) 215 kg (474 lb), 235 kg (518 lb)
  • Speed: Mach 3
  • Range: (R-23R) 35 km (22 mi); (R-24R) 50 km (31 mi); (R-23T, R-24T) 15 km (9.4 mi)
  • Guidance: (R-23R, R-24R) SARH; (R-23T, R-24T), infrared-homing
  • Warhead: expanding-rod high explosive with proximity fuze, 25 kg (55 lb) (R-23) or 35 kg (77 lb) (R-24)


 Soviet Union
Cuban Air Force; on MiG-23ML/MF/BN/UB in service
 North Korea


  1. "AA-7 APEX R-23 / R-24". Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  2. Sander Peeters. "Syrian Air-to-Air Victories since 1948 - www.acig.org". Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  3. Boring, War Is (22 March 2017). "Iraq Did All It Could to Kill Hashem All-e-Agha, Iran's Top F-14 Pilot". medium.com. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  4. Lord, Dick (2000). Vlamgat: The Story of the Mirage F1 in the South African Air Force. Covos-Day. ISBN 0-620-24116-0.
  5. "Piloto SAAF derribado por MiG-23 cubano". Archived from the original on September 7, 2014. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  6. "Aircraft Downed During the Cold War and Thereafter". Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  7. "Trade Registers". armstrade.sipri.org. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  • Gordon, Yefim (2004). Soviet/Russian Aircraft Weapons Since World War Two. Hinckley, England: Midland Publishing. ISBN 1-85780-188-1.

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