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Russia Mulls a Larger MiG-35 Contract

 - June 11, 2019, 7:49 AM
President Putin was shown a MiG-35 (in the background) during his recent visit to the GLITs at Akhtubinsk. (Photo: Kremlin official)

Russia’s defense ministry has received its first MiG-35UB two-seat multirole fighter from the August 2018 contract that was signed at ARMY’2018, covering an initial six aircraft. Aircraft side number 11 was spotted in the past month flying from the airfield at RAC MiG’s Lukhovitsy plant in the Moscow region. Upon completion of the manufacturer’s tests, it was ferried to an air force base for participation in state acceptance trials.

The tests began in the fall at the Valery Chkalov State Flight Test Center (GLITs) at Akhtubinsk in southern Russia. When visiting GLITs on May 14, President Putin was shown a MiG-35, among other aircraft. At the time, the center was operating two such aircraft: a MiG-35UB side 712 and MiG-35S single-seater side 702. Completed in late 2016, they had made a public debut at MAKS’2017, billed as “the new MiG-35.” After manufacturer’s tests, they were handed over to the MoD in the middle of 2018. For state acceptance trials to complete as planned in 2020, GLITs requires several more airframes to arrive over the next few months.

The defense ministry expects one more MiG-35UB and four MiG-35S deliveries in 2019 and is preparing a second contract for signing at ARMY’2019, which opens on June 25. Reportedly, the State Armament Program 2018-2027 (GPV-2027) authorizes procurement of between 24 and 36 MiG-35s. In a recent interview, RAC MiG general director Ilya Tarasenko confirmed that the type was included in GPV-2027, but declined to give an exact number due to the classified nature of this document. He gave the MiG-35’s gross weight at 23.5 tonnes, and fuel capacity as twice that of the baseline MiG-29.

MiG-35
The "new MiG-35" was introduced at a special event in January 2017. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Outwardly, the MiG-35S/UB for the Russian Air and Space Force (VKS) looks similar to the customized Egyptian MiG-29M/M2. Cairo ordered 46 such aircraft under a contract worth $2 billion, and deliveries are ongoing. These land-based aircraft are based on the carrier-borne MiG-29K/KUBs, of which production for the Indian and Russian navies was completed in 2015.

Reportedly, the new MiG-35s will feature further improved RD-33MK engines to address reliability issues and KRET/Phazotron Zhuk-A radar with active electronically scanned phased-array (AESA) replacing the older Zhuk-M with mechanical scanning. Other changes include installation of a more modern electro-optics system with distributed apertures, MSP-418KE active jamming pods, and a mysterious “laser weapon,” about which UAC president Yuri Slyusar reported to Putin in January 2017.

Although RAC MiG has a stated annual production capacity of 36 of the “Advanced Fulcrum” family, actual manufacturing rates have been considerably slower due to weak demand. Since 2008, when production commenced, the manufacturer has delivered about 100 airframes including 70 for carrier operations.

The MiG-35 has been on offer since 2005. At AeroIndia in 2007, the manufacturer exhibited side 154, rebuilt from a MiG-29M. Later, this demonstrator received an experimental Zhuk-AE with AESA radar. The company also made use of Side 156: another MiG-29M rebuilt as the MiG-29OVP vectored thrust demonstrator. For customer demonstration purposes two MiG-29K/KUBs were converted into MiG-35s but returned to the original standard after RAC MiG’s removal from the list of Indian MMRCA contenders. The company flew side 747, the first aircraft designed and built as a MiG-35UB in 2012, followed by the side 741 single-seater in 2015.

Comments

It wouldn't make much sense for Russia to equip it's own air force with more 4th generation aircraft. There is a large demand for 4th generation aircraft in developing countries, and Russia will target that in the future. The Mig-35 aren't suitable for a high-end conflict against countries equipped with 5th generation aircraft.

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