What do the three stripes mean on Russian missiles?

What do the three stripes mean on Russian missiles?
© CC BY 3.0 / KGyST / R-73/AA-11 Archer missile on a Hungarian AF MiG-29

Air-to-air missiles carried by fighter jets sometimes carry different combinations of stripes painted on them. These stripes are not mere decoration since they have a very specific informative function.

This is the case for Russian air-to-air missiles that have three black stripes painted on them, which usually means that the projectile is actually a large scale model. These models are usually used during flight tests of aircraft carrying this type of missile.

At the same time, there may also be missiles that do not even have the empennage. This type of missile is used for the training of pilots in air combat. But why do pilots train with missiles that can’t even be launched?

The answer is at the same time simple and complicated. First and foremost, it has to do with the economy: virtually all guided weapons, apart from being expensive, have a limited lifespan. Its final duration depends on factors such as the number of take-offs of its carrier, the number of times their systems were turned on, or the time they were turned on.

At the end of the useful life of such a missile, the options for its use are limited: it can be discarded, used for exposures, or sent to the manufacturer for inspection and maintenance work.

For this very reason, in order not to wear this resource down and not to waste taxpayer taxes, virtually all Armed Forces have missile imitators and bombs. These are used for the training of aircraft crews.

An example of these imitators are empty missiles that only have the guidance systems and the minimum equipment necessary for their use and so that they can transfer the data on the tracked targets to the pilots. Since these missiles do not have to fly anywhere, they carry neither engines nor explosive charges.

With this, the four aiming methods used in tactical bombers can now be electronically imitated, including laser, TV, radar and inertial launch guidance.

Therefore, empty missiles with guidance systems are used only on a few occasions when some of their aspects cannot be simulated. 

While in Russia three black stripes are used on missiles, in the USA the training shells are painted in red.