The R-73 was developed by Vympel NPO (Russian:Вымпел) to succeed the aging R-60 AAM. Development of the missile began in the late 1970s. First R-73 missiles were delivered in the year 1982 to the Soviet Air Force. Within the next years, the missile was exported to over 20 countries.
The missile was designed to be able to take out very manoeuvrable targets and it has a range of up to 40 km. To boost the R-73’s manoeuvrability significantly, it was equipped with three-dimensional thrust vector control and it was designed to sustain G-forces of up to 50g, while a fighter aircraft can sustain a maximum of 9-10g, because of human limitation.
The R-73 has a seeker field of vision of up to 75 degrees and in combination with the Shchel-4UM helmet mounted sight, the R-73M is able to lock on to targets 60 degrees off-boresight.
It is being said that the R-73 is superior to most of its Western counterparts (like the AIM-9L Sidewinder, the AIM-132 ASRAAM, the Matura Mica and the Matura Magic 2), in terms of manoeuvrability, range and accuracy. The R-73 was considered as the best short-range air-to-air missile, until the introduction of the AIM-9X and the AIM-2000 IRIS-T, which are considered superior.