Russia is dusting off the ‘neglected MiG-35’ and preparing a deal

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It was only a year ago when numerous experts prognosticated the demise of the MiG-35 multipurpose light fighter of the 4++ generation. Cost-effectively priced lower than the Su-35S, the MiG-35 nonetheless is equipped to manage identical combat missions. 

Photo credit: UAC

Yet, there was a time when the Moscow region displayed a preference for the Sukhoi vehicles. The prevailing sentiment held that Russia did not require two fighters simultaneously.

Why does Russia need the MiG-35?

As we ushered in 2023, the global dynamic took a dramatic turn. Now, there’s an urgent call for Russia to escalate its combat aviation production. The reason? Its potential adversary boasts an extensive fleet of F-16s, F-15s, F-35s, and F-22s. Even with the Su-35 and more notably, the Su-57, Russia still faces a significant gap in its aviation sector. 

What Russia needs now are fighters that are both cost-effective and lighter. Enter the MiG-35 – a perfect fit to meet Russia’s needs. Comparable to the F-16, the US continues production of this modern aircraft type. Similarly, the Russian Ministry of Defense is giving thought to restarting production of the MiG-35. 

Offering his insight, Sergey Korotkov, the general designer of the UAC explained, “Today, due to current developments, the MiG-35 is seeing increased deployment in the Air Force. Several test flights are on the horizon, and following these the Ministry of Defense will make the final call on the mass production of the MiG-35.”

Photo credit: Reddit

Brand new plane

The MiG-35, a completely new aircraft, made its maiden flight in 2016. At present, the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) boasts six MiG-35 fighters. Interestingly enough, multiple unidentified countries have sparked interest in potentially acquiring a fleet of MiG-35s, revealing the aircraft’s export potential. According to Korotkov, talks for international distribution of the aircraft kicked off in 2023. 

In terms of comparison between Russian and North American aircraft, the MiG-35 parallels the most recent versions of the F-16, while the Su-35 mirrors the F-15. Significantly, the US military possesses double the amount of F-16s to F-15s. 

Observing the US Air Force, it becomes apparent that the Russian Air Force should ideally have more of the lighter MiG fighters over the heavier Su-35s. As of now, this seems more of a dream than a reality for Russia. Nonetheless, there is optimism that the landscape might shift throughout the twenties, making the MiG-35 series accessible for the Russians. The question now is – what’s holding them back?

Why is there no production?

Previously, the MiG-35 was sidelined for a couple of reasons. Until 2022, it was perceived that Russia didn’t require two simultaneous fighters, both light and heavy (Su and MiG). Additionally, the Sukhoi company secured victory amidst corporate politics. They monopolized the financing, leaving MiG without resources. 

These reasons, however, were based on circumstances that no longer exist. The landscape was reshaped significantly in 2022. Consequently, there’s now a clear pathway in sight for the production of a modest yet significant series of MiG-35s.

One serious drawback

Many have questioned the need for the MiG-35, expressing concerns about its comparability to the heftier, more robust Su-35 and its Western equivalents. However, it’s noteworthy that the United States and various other Western countries are rapidly developing lightweight fighters. It’s a trend that includes the likes of the F-16, Gripen, Eurofighter, Rafale, and more. 

Photo credit: Creative Commons

It’s reasonable to question the MiG-35’s lightweight claim, though. Unlike the Gripen and F-16 light fighters, the MiG-35 boasts two engines, which invariably make it heavier and more costly. It’s challenging to argue that it’s either lighter or more inexpensive than the Su-35. 

Although the difference might only be 1.5 times, is this really sufficient to merit supporting both fighter types simultaneously? Uncertain. There’s a marked 2-3 times difference between the F-16 and F-15. It’s possible my data is incorrect and the gap between the Su and MiG is actually doubled. 

Some critics espouse waiting for the Su-75 single-engine fighter. However, the timeline for this aircraft’s debut is unclear; in fact, it hasn’t even taken its inaugural flight! Therefore, it’s not a practical suggestion at this point. Before the Su-75’s arrival, developing between 200 and 300 MiG-35s could be a viable option.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Russia’s capabilities

With the pros and cons of the fighter jet at hand and criticism in sight, let’s delve into the potential obstacles that could obstruct the aircraft’s production if the Ministry of Defense gives the green light. The pressing concern is whether the MiG company, after many years spent playing secondary roles, might have lost its skilled workforce and crucial competencies. 

However, this is not the case. The MiG-35 is primed and ready for large-scale production at this very moment. There’s a suitable production site that is not currently engaged in the manufacturing of Su aircraft. With the MiG-35, it becomes feasible to quickly assemble new regiments without impacting other plans of beefing up the aerospace forces. The only need the company has for now is financial backing.

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