You probably know how military and aviation industry works, MiG lineup was modernized and new airplanes got higher numbers in the name. One of the biggest changes came with MiG 29 that is still used by many countries and has been upgraded numerous times. As a result of this naming policy, you would expect for the MiG 35 to be far better warplane than the 29 version, but is that the case here?
MiG 29 is one of the most iconic Soviet fighter jets and has been serving in many countries around the globe. More than 1,600 of those have been built since 1982 when it entered production. Although its combat history, especially against Western planes, isn’t something you want to write home about, its flaws can mainly be attributed to the lack of training and inadequate use.
Fortunately for NATO and US, this is mostly a marketing related name change. MiG 35 does not come as the highly advanced machine, and one of the proofs of that is the fact that India decided to buy French Dassault Rafale in 2011 instead of these. The MiG 35 comes as an “upgraded” version of MiG 29KR that was used on carriers. What is strange is that Russia decided not to include thrust vectoring and active electronically scanned array radar, something that they developed for their other warplanes.
Here is what source from Russia stated: “The current plane is essentially an upgrade of the MiG-29KR. There is no thrust vectoring. And the lack of an AESA radar is of a more cost problem from a procurement standpoint rather than a technical problem.” After realizing this, NATO and its allies were quite happy with this fact.
Russians have a fully functional AESA radar, PhazotronZhukA/AE active electronically scanned array. The radar is intended for MiG35 and the latest Sukhoi fighters, but the implementation has been delayed on several occasions. The new radar, unveiled in 2016, can simultaneously track 30 and engage six targets. It has a range of 250 km, which is a vast improvement over the older versions and with a weight of just 100 kg, it is an ideal candidate for MiG35.
Zhuk-A/AE has come a long way since its predecessor ZhukMA/MAE, the first Russian radar employing AESA technology. It had excellent characteristics, even surpassing A/AE version is some aspects, with a range and being able to track 30 targets and engage 8 of them. MA/MAE was intended for MiG29 and Su27 fighters, but at 450 kg, it was deemed to heavy for this role.
Paired with OLS-UEM and OLS-K electro-optical targeting system, A/AE can transform MiG35 into a highly capable multirole fighter, well worthy of its generation 4++ designation. The aircraft is capable of carrying 7,000 kg of ammunition on its nine hardpoints. The possible combinations of armament include air-to-air, air-to-surface, and air-to-ship missiles, in addition to anti-radar ones and a variety of TV, laser, and GLONASS (Russian version of GPS) guided bombs. MiG35 can carry both R73 short-range and R77 long-range air-to-air missiles, allowing it some BVR capabilities. BVR stands for beyond visual range and is defined as an ability to engage targets at 20 nmi (37 km) or further.
The manufacturer also plans to add the ability for carrying Kh36 Grom-1 air-to-surface cruise missile, which would allow MiG35 to engage ground targets from a 40 km distance.
In one of the video conferences that Russian President Vladimir Putin had he talked a lot about this airplane, and it was mostly done as a marketing ploy so the RSK-MiG would stay in business. This is not the first time we see moves like this from Moscow as they kept Sukhoi Su-30M2 project just so that KnAAPO who manufactured airframes could continue its operations.
The source from Russia continued: “The entire MiG-35 project exists only in order to maintain the production line of RSK-MiG as well as for export. Technical specifications were a secondary factor. The MoD [Ministry of Defense] wants an AESA radar, but wants it [the MiG-35] as cheaply as possible. Foreign customers, who can buy MiGs, are still buying the jet without an AESA due to cost factors.”
There were some comparisons of latest AESA system with Zhuk radar, and it is clear that the more modern and newer AESA has a grave advantage. The main reason for MiG 35 development is to offer it to other countries while Russia might implement these airplanes in limited numbers. At the moment it is clear that Sukhoi has a wast advantage in this segment and that most sophisticated Russia’s warplanes will be delivered by this company.
Despite all these limitations, MiG has managed to produce a capable aircraft that seems to perform its role adequately. Considering its cost, which is estimated at $40 million per plane and considerably lower than its Western counterparts, MiG 35 represents a cost-effective solution for countries that can’t afford new Eurofighters, Rafales, and F 35s. There is also a political aspect to consider, as Western nations have placed several countries under sanctions, prohibiting their companies from selling them weapons. Russians usually don’t have such qualms.
Here is the statement from Sergei Korotkov that is a current general designer and vice president for innovations at United Aircraft Corporation: “We have created a multi-spectrum system that was integrated into the armament system and additionally installed aboard the MiG-35, and along with other systems, we have developed the Generation 4++ complex. We hope that after the trials, the Defense Ministry will buy this machine and that foreign customers will also come to sign contracts with us.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has indeed opted to purchase 170 MiG35, but the economic crisis in the country triggered by the international sanctions has dampened their enthusiasm, and so far, only 30 aircraft have been delivered to the Russian Air Force. Six of those will go to the legendary Russian acrobatic team Swifts, who traditionally fly MiG airplanes, while their counterparts in Russian Knights fly Sukhoi birds.
Without a doubt, this sounds more like a plea, and MiG 35 represents one of the last chances for the company to survive. It will be interesting to see if their effort will attract Russia and other countries.
According to Ilya Tarasenko, Director General of Russian Aircraft Corp. MiG, the Russian government is in negotiations with more than 30 countries that showed interest in purchasing MiG35.
So far, the results have been modest, with only two foreign customers placing orders. Egyptian Air Force has, after a lengthy debate, ordered 46 one and two-seater versions. By the end of 2017, 15 MiG29M (M2 for two-seaters), as Cairo designated them, have been delivered. Egypt requested that their aircraft carry MSP418K active jammer, intended to protect them from radar seeking missiles. MSP418K has been unveiled at MAKS Air Shows, but still hasn’t entered Russian Air Force. Egyptian Air Force has 24 pods on order. The entire order is to be completed by 2020 and MiG-35 should be in Egyptian service until 2060.
The second foreign customer is new Iraqi Air Force. According to Iraq News, Baghdad has placed an order for 50 MiG35, as a part of a massive $7 billion deal that includes an entire armored brigade and anti-air missile systems. The exact configuration and the eventual Iraqi requests haven’t been made public. MiG 35 in Iraq will serve alongside the U.S. F16 fighters previously acquired by the Iraqi Air Force.