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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

Russia’s Su-57 May Not Be Entering Mass Production in 2018, But its Lighter Counterpart Just Might; MiG-35 Incoming

August 09th - 2018

Russia’s armed forces have temporarily postponed putting the Su-57 next generation air superiority fighter into mass production, inducting the platform into service in small numbers while continuing to test next generation technologies to on the airframe in the interim until full production is deemed necessary - likely in the late 2020s. A second much less prolific next generation fighter design is however likely to enter mass production this year, with the first orders being placed alongside those for initial production variants of the Su-57. The MIG-35 '4++ generation' medium weight twin engine fighter completed factory trials in December 2017, and has undergone extensive flight testing throughout 2018 - the final phase of which began in May. An initial order for 30 of the aircraft has been made by the Russian Air Force. Followup orders totalling 140 fighters, bringing the total fleet size up to 170 aircraft, are currently planned.

As a lighter complement to the Su-57, much as the American F-35 is to the F-22 and the MiG-29 of the previous generation was to the Su-27, the MiG-35 is an unspecialised multirole jet which other than the Su-57 is set to become the most sophisticated fighter in the Russian Air Force. Its lack of a stealth airframe aside, an asset Russian doctrine has never placed much value on, the MiG-35 can be considered far ahead of fourth generation competitors in Russia, Europe and the United States - including the ‘4++ generation’ Su-35 air superiority fighter which entered service in 2014. Carrying twice the air to air missile payload, flying 44% faster and 4.5 kilometres higher than the U.S. Air Force's F-35A, the platform is a worthy competitor to the American Joint Strike Fighter. Indeed, much as the MiG-29 was designed with the goal surpassing the capabilities of the F-16 in mind, and the Su-57 is reportedly being developed to surpass the capabilities of America’s upcoming Air Dominance Fighter, a sixth generation air superiority jet expected to replace the F-22 Raptor, so too has the MiG-35 reportedly been designed to ensure a continued advantage over the F-35 - its direct competitor.

The MiG-35’s designers have emphasised extreme ease of maintenance, and while the F-35 is considerably more difficult to maintain than its predecessor the F-16 the MiG-35 has by far the lowest maintenance requirements in the Russian fighter fleet. The fighter makes use of a number of next generation technologies, including a Phazotron Zhuk-A/AE active electronically scanned array, three dimensional thrust vectoring for supermanoeuvrability and potentially even K-77 air to air missiles - munitions designed for the Su-57 and striking with an unparalleled degree of precision at extreme ranges of up to 197km. The Kh-36, a Mach 2.2 tactical cruise missile designed especially for the new fighter, is capable of striking targets at standoff ranges of up to 260km, allows the multirole platform to further serve as a highly formidable strike fighter from well beyond the retaliation range of enemy air defences. The jet may well make use of these capabilities when serving as a lighter complement to the Su-34 Hellduck heavy strike platform. Anti ship variants of the Kh-31 are also available, and up to four can be deployed by the aircraft at any one time - enough to disable even the largest of warships. Further enhancing its capabilities, and heavily compensating for its lack of stealth, the MiG-35 is set to deploy Russia’s most formidable electronic warfare suites - reportedly giving it the ability to disappear altogether from enemy radars. The Su-35 has already combat tested less sophisticated variants of such systems over Syria with much success, and these are set to be a key asset for the new fighter jet.

Until the Su-57 enters full production, the MiG-35 will provide an effective means for Russia’s armed forces to better acquaint themselves with next generation technologies - while also serving as an effective next generation complement to the older Su-35 and Su-30 heavy fighters. The fighters are also being heavily marketed for export, and are likely to become the prime aerial combat platform of the Iraqi Air Force which according to Russian media has already placed an order for the jets. Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Belarus and a number of Soviet successor states in Central Asia are leading potential export clients for the new jets - slated to become by far the cheapest next generation fighters in the world both to acquire and to operate. Should its indigenous Tejas fighter program fail to meet required specifications, India too may well become a major client for the jets. Development of a carrier based variant to replace the MiG-29K, which will be designed for compatibility with next generation electromagnetic launch systems for Russia’s new warships alongside navalised Su-57 variants, is reportedly also underway.

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