F-35’s competitor, the MiG-35, is more prototype than proven

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Quite often, Russia asserts that its weapon systems are incredibly effective and formidable responses to their Western counterparts. Yet, just as frequently, these boasts don’t match reality. Take, for instance, the deployment of new weapon systems in the Ukraine conflict. The Russian 4th generation Mikoyan MiG-35 Fulcrum-F fighter is a case in point. 

Photo credit: Reddit

It’s challenging to identify a direct American rival to the MiG-35. Some military experts suggest it’s Moscow’s counter to the US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. However, they argue that the only similarity is the “35” in their names. Otherwise, the comparison doesn’t hold water. Consequently, many believe this is merely a marketing ploy designed to draw easier parallels between the two aircraft. 

Russian media has, for months, claimed that several MiG-35s have been deployed in the Ukraine war, participating in airstrikes on Ukrainian targets. However, these assertions are impossible to substantiate. The Ukraine conflict is closely watched by civilians, analysts, military experts, strategists, personnel, ministries, and governments. Remarkably, none of these “observers” have ever provided evidence that the MiG-35 has been active in Ukraine.

Photo credit: USAF

The Aerospace Forces [VKS or RuAF] reportedly possess around a dozen MiG-35s. In the absence of any proof of the aircraft’s involvement, without concrete evidence that MiG-35 numbers are growing, or any indication of customer interest, the MiG-35 remains more of a prototype rather than a proven, serially-produced fighter. 

What is the MiG-35? It is known that the MiG-35 is not a new fighter, but an upgraded version. The predecessor of the MiG-35 is the well-known MiG-29K/MiG-29M/M2. We should not miss the fact that the MiG-35 is built around a fourth-generation airframe developed in the late 1980s. The MiG-35 is a multirole fighter aircraft developed by the Russian aerospace company Mikoyan, a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation. It is designed to perform a variety of combat missions, including air superiority, ground attack, and reconnaissance. 

The dimensions of the MiG-35 include a length of approximately 17.3 meters [56.8 feet], a wingspan of around 12 meters [39.4 feet], and a height of about 4.73 meters [15.5 feet]. These dimensions contribute to its agility and versatility in various combat scenarios.

Photo credit: Pan.bg

It is said that the propulsion system of the MiG-35 consists of two Klimov RD-33MK afterburning turbofan engines. These engines provide the aircraft with a maximum thrust of 9,000 kg [88.3 kN] each, enabling it to achieve high speeds and maneuverability. 

In terms of technical characteristics, according to Russian sources, the MiG-35 boasts advanced aerodynamics, a reinforced airframe, and a digital fly-by-wire control system. It is equipped with a multi-mode radar, an optical locator system, and an electronic countermeasures suite, enhancing its combat effectiveness and survivability. 

It is said that the avionics suite of the MiG-35 includes a Zhuk-AE active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, an infrared search-and-track [IRST] system, and a helmet-mounted display system [HMDS]. These avionics provide the pilot with enhanced situational awareness and targeting capabilities.

Photo credit: Creative Commons

The MiG-35 is equipped with a variety of systems, including an advanced navigation system, a communication suite, and a self-protection system. These systems ensure the aircraft’s operational effectiveness in diverse combat environments. 

The armament of the MiG-35 includes a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs, and unguided rockets. The operational range of the MiG-35 is approximately 2,000 kilometers [1,243 miles] with external fuel tanks, and its ferry range can extend up to 3,100 kilometers [1,926 miles]. The cruise speed of the MiG-35 is around Mach 0.85, with a maximum speed of Mach 2.25. 

At present, only the MiG-35’s tests—conducted both in Russia and Syria—have confirmed its capabilities. There is a possibility that this fighter was involved in some operational missions over Syria, but no solid evidence supports this claim.

Photo credit: UK MoD Crown

Understanding the operational capabilities of the MiG-35 remains challenging. It’s tough to compare it to Western counterparts like the F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon, or even the stealthy F-35. Unlike the MiG-35, the F-35 boasts proven features, including true stealth capabilities, active participation in the Gaza conflict through the Israeli Air Force, extensive mass production, and participation in numerous military exercises over the years. There is even evidence suggesting that F-35s played an indirect role in the Ukraine conflict, flying over NATO territories to leverage radar capabilities and monitor Russian anti-aircraft system movements. 

Last year, Sergey Korotkov, chief designer at the United Aircraft Corporation [UAC], claimed that the MiG-35 was deployed in Ukraine. However, some sources report that this claim is currently unsubstantiated by anything other than Russian media statements. 

Russia continues to promote its “advanced” weaponry, asserting successful deployments without providing concrete evidence. Consequently, it’s hard to see the MiG-35 as anything more than an evolved prototype of the MiG-29K.

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