MiG-35 Looks Like a Failure - The Russians have been bleeding credibility, becoming the world’s pariahs, following the illegal invasion of Ukraine that began in early 2022.
With respect to diplomatic credibility, Putin’s regime has earned the scorn of the international community, reasserting itself as one of the West’s most relevant antagonists.
But it’s not just diplomatic credibility the Russians have been losing. Concerning military credibility, the Russians have taken a hit, too. The truth is Russia has failed to make meaningful territorial gains against what was considered a weak and immediate neighbor.
For nearly two years, Russian forces have been figuratively and literally stuck in the mud, in a conflict that has descended into a pitched war of attrition – the most savage fighting on the European continent since World War II, featuring fixed positions and artillery use that conjures memories of World War I.
Amidst the intractable conflict, questions have been raised about Russian forces. Russia was, of course, meant to trounce their eastern neighbors. And while Russia can righteously attribute Ukraine’s resistance, in part, to Western arms, funding, and training, the bald facts are that Russia has underperformed – leading many to reevaluate the quality of Russian equipment.
Yet one realm of Russian equipment that still garners respect is Russian aircraft. For decades, Russian aerospace design has spurned the West to keep pace, qualitatively and quantitatively, in the knowledge that Russia would make quality aircraft.
And while the United States has undoubtedly pulled ahead of Russia concerning fifth-generation technology and the ability to mass produce fifth and fourth-generation technology, the Russians are still generally credited with creating respectable aircraft – one example is the Mikoyan MiG-35, which first flew in 2016. And while only 8 MiG-35s are known to have been made, the jet’s mere existence still speaks to the capabilities of Russian jet designers.
Meet the MiG-35
Mikoyan unveiled their new MiG-35 fighter to the Russian government on January 26, 2017. (And the next day, Mikoyan demonstrated their new jet to prospective export customers.)
The new fighter featured a variety of updated technology, including a new fly-by-wire system, an upgraded cockpit, more advanced avionics, and an integrated precision-guided targeting capability for air-to-ground weapons. The MiG-35 was also outfitted with an NPK-SPP OLS-k electro-optical targeting and surveillance system pod, which was mounted to the fuselage.
In all, the MiG-35 offered upgrades over the MiG-29 and MiG-29M, especially with regard to combat efficiency enhancement, universality, and operational characteristics.
While the MiG-35 fighter is considered a fourth-generation-plus aircraft rather than a true fifth-generation fighter, the MiG-35 does have fifth-generation information-sighting systems that can be networked with other Russian weapons systems to form an integrated system offering enhanced situational awareness.
With enhanced situational awareness, the MiG-35 can serve in a multirole function. The MiG-35 was also designed with upgraded avionics, meant to help the MiG-35 serve as an air superiority fighter and perform precision ground strikes, regardless of the weather.
The MiG-35 relies upon two FADEC RD-33MK engines. The RD-33MK is a highly improved variant of the Klimov RD-33 turbofan engine. The new variant has seven percent more power than the baseline model on account of being made with modern materials that keep the blades cool. The new engines were also designed with stealth requirements of the modern battlefield in mind.
While the MiG-35 is not a stealth aircraft, the engine was designed to reduce the aircraft’s infrared and optical visibility. The Russians had hoped to create a variant of the MiG-35 with thrust vectoring engines (similar to those featured on the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II), but the idea was scrapped because of weight-related (and cost-related) issues.
Can the MiG-35 Ever Get Built In Larger Numbers? It Looks Like a No...
So far, only about a half-dozen MiG-35s have been delivered to Russian forces.
Originally, the Russian Defence Ministry had planned to order 37 MiG-35s. But the order number was reduced to 24, and then ultimately to just six – a harbinger of what the Russo-Ukraine War has stunningly confirmed: that the Russians are light on resources.
The Russians also intended to export their MiG-35. Egypt had expressed interest in the MiG-35. But in 2015, Egypt signed a $2 billion contract for the purchase of 46 MiG-29M fighters instead. India, too, had expressed interest in the MiG-35, which was a contender in the Indian MRCA bid (which also featured the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Jas 39 Gripen, Dassault Rafale, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet).
However, the Indians were not pleased with the MiG-35's performance, specifically the jet’s radar and thrust abilities. Argentina, Bangladesh, Malaysia – all have considered the MiG-35 at one point.
Eventually, someone may pull the trigger and buy the MiG-35. But at the moment, the plane is solely in use with the Russians who built the thing in the first place.
Harrison Kass is a prolific defense and national security writer. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.