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Russia's MiG-35 Light Fighter Completes Factory Trials; Indications of Advanced Beyond Visual Range Combat Capabilities for the Next Generation Platform

February 18th - 2018

Alongside the Su-57 fifth generation heavy air superiority fighter, the Russian Air Force is set to induct an all new complementary light fighter into service in 2018 - the MiG-35. While the development of the smaller next generation platform has gained far less attention internationally, the MiG-35 is set to provide a significant enhancements to the Russian Air Force's capabilities and will be one of the most formidable light fighters in service anywhere in the world. 2018 represents the first year since 1985 that Russia or the USSR induct complementary next generation light and heavy fighters into service - with the Su-27 and MiG-29 pairing 33 years prior today being replaced by their next generation equivalents the Su-57 and MiG-35. While the Su-57 is set to be Russia's most costly fighter to both acquire and operate, the elite of the Air Force designed to engage near peer threats, the MiG-35 was designed to minimise costs and maintenance needs while providing a lethal complementary role to its heavier counterparts. Despite its lethal combat capabilities, the fighter will be one of the least expensive to operate - particularly when compared to rival platforms such as the F-35 and SAAB Gripen. Ultimately the modernisation of Russia's Air Force would be incomplete without the MiG-35.

Russia’s MiG Aircraft Corporation has completed the factory trials for MiG-35, During the trials the fighter’s radio electronic equipment, sight and navigation complex, radar, engines and other critical systems were all examined. Test pilots provided by the Russian Defence Ministry also assisted in testing. According to Russia's TASS news agency: "The factory trials of the MiG-35 multirole fighter jet produced in the interests of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation have been completed." According to MiG CEO Ilya Tarasenko, the fighter was a perfect fit for Russia's defence needs, providing the cost effecting short range strike capability critical for a light fighter. Tarasenko stated: "By its combat potential, the scope and the efficiency of its missions and the price/quality ratio, the MiG-35 is today a perfect combat vehicle for operation in high intensity armed conflicts. The aircraft makes it possible to use the entire range of existing and up and coming Russian and foreign armament, including weapons designed for heavy fighter jets."

While the types armaments carried by the MiG-35 are as of yet unconfirmed, Tarasenko's comments indicate that the fighters could be armed with missiles their predecessor the MiG-29 were not. While it is almost certain that the fighters will be armed with the relatively light R-27 air to air missile, a platform with a range of up to 130km exceeds the ranges of all U.S. and Chinese rivals, it is possibly that the corporation's CEO's reference to weapons from heavier platforms was in reference to the K-77 - a 193km range air to air missile designed for the Su-57. The MiG-35's cutting edge Phazotron Zhuk-AE active electronically scanned array radar and its 200km detection range could potentially facilitate the deployment of such advanced missiles. If equipped with the K-77 the MiG-35 could potentially have an advantage in beyond visual range combat not only over rival light fighters such as the U.S. F-35, restricted to a 105km engagement range as it is, but even over the elite heavy platforms such as the U.S. F-15C and Chinese J-11B. Ultimately the MiG-35's low maintenance and cost effectiveness remain its primary attributes over heavier rival Russian platforms such as the Su-35, but this could well be key to its success as an export platform as lead larger orders to replace the MiG-29 in Russia's own Air Force.

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