To mark the beginning of the latest MiG-35 model’s flight tests, Russian President Vladimir Putin and several other top officials (pictured above) held a video conference with Yury Slyusar, the Director of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), on January 26, 2017. The meeting included a flight demonstration of the new MiG-35UB, a two-seat fighter jet.
After pointing out the utility of the aircraft to the Russian Aerospace Force, President Putin highlighted the jet’s “good export potential,” given the fact that over 30 countries operate the MiG-29, which is what the MiG-35 is based on. The MiG-35 reportedly includes a number of improvements on the MiG-29, some of which Slyusar detailed in the meeting, but would likely remain familiar enough to countries that operate the MiG-29, making it easier to accept into service.
Further demonstration of the MiG-35UB occurred in Lukhovitsy on January 27, 2016, with an emphasis on attracting the attention of foreign clients. The aircraft will not go into serial production until 2019, according to Slyusar. He insisted, however, “We already see a lot of interest in it.” According to UAC, dozens of countries attended the premiere of the newest MiG-35. Delegations from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East were reportedly in attendance.Seemingly, both flights were successful (the first may be seen below). Addressing President Putin and the other Russian officials during the video conference, pilot Mikhail Belyayev stated, “The objectives and results of the flight have been fully accomplished.” He added that the on-board systems worked properly.
Russia has been attempting to market the MiG-35 since it made its first appearance at Aero India in 2007, without much luck — despite the wide number of countries operating the MiG-29 or more advanced derivatives.
Tass News Agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on January 27 as saying that Russia is again offering the MiG-35 to India. India has rejected the MiG-35 in the past over criticism of engine and radar performance, choosing instead to purchase Dassault Aviation’s Rafale. The two sides are set to discuss a range of bilateral military topics in the Spring, according to Rogozin, where Russia will raise the prospect of MiG-35 sales.
Apart from India, Egypt has been cited as a customer for the MiG-35. Cairo is reportedly the buyer of 46 (or 50) MiG jets, under a deal worth over $2 billion. The details of the contract, however, are mostly unknown and there is confusion over whether the jets will be MiG-29Ms or MiG-35s.
Even with the lack of sales so far, Russia is moving forward with a new advertising push for the MiG-35. Moscow is hoping that its military campaign in Syria, in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will spur interest in its systems. A range of Russian equipment has been deployed to Syria, with heavy promotion in Russian media. Russia did not utilize any land-based MiG-29s in Syria, but did deploy the MiG-29K, a naval variant, aboard its Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, with mixed results. Admiral Kuznetsovaided in the Syrian government’s capture of Aleppo city in December 2016, but during its deployment mechanical issues caused a MiG-29K (and an Su-33) to crash while attempting to return to the vessel.
Speaking about the MiG-35 to Tass News Agency on January 2017, Russian Aerospace Force Commander Viktor Bondarev made a reference to Syria, saying the jet would be useful in such campaigns. He said, “[the MiG-35] can accomplish missions both on the ground and in the air and can subsequently be used in local Syria-like conflicts.”
Notably, the Russian Aerospace Force ostensibly have big plans for acquiring the jet. Over the life of the program, Russia may buy as many as 170 MiG-35s. Bondarev noted that, in time, Russia aims to replace the entire light fighter fleet with the MiG-35. The aircraft will continue to undergo flight tests into 2019; afterwards, Russia is due to begin purchasing it. The first order, which will not be finalized until after testing is complete, could be for 30 MiG-35s.
Introducing the plane into Russian service, especially in large numbers, would boost confidence for foreign clients, who at present may be cautious about ordering the MiG-35, particularly given the amount of competing aircraft platforms on the international market. Even customers looking to buy specifically Russian may opt instead for the Su-30 or Su-35, perhaps more so after seeing those jets in action over Syria. Potential buyers, then, will be watching the rest of the MiG-35’s flight testing for details about its performance and reliability, as well as the size of the initial Russian order for the jet, which can give a good indicator of how much value Moscow puts in it.