One of the few light fighters able to exceed speeds of Mach 2, the the MiG-35 is a cutting edge ‘4++’ generation platform developed to fulfil a complementary role to the formidable Su-57 air superiority fighter. Should maintenance requirements, sortie rates and operational and acquisition costs be factors under consideration, the MiG-35 may well be the best light fighter considering its extremely low cost and the significant efforts made to reduce maintenance requirements relative to its predecessor the MiG-29, itself a low maintenance fighter. The MiG-35 is near unmatched in its g force endurance, thrust-weight ratio and rate of climb exceeding even elite European fighters such as the Rafale, and its manoeuvrability is unmatched by any other light fighter as the only platform of its kind to incorporate three dimensional thrust vectoring. The fighter’s lethal 130km range R-27 air to air missiles outmatch those deployed by any other light fighter other than the most capable variants of the F-18E, but there have been indications that the fighter could be equipped with Russia’s K-77 missile in future. The K-77’s 193km range, maneuverability and advanced APAA system make it extremely accurate even at extreme distances, and combined with the fighter’s advanced radar and avionics would make the MiG-35 a lethal platform in beyond visual range combat against even the most capable enemy platforms. While the MiG-35 lacks the massive 14 missile payload of the F-18E Block 3, its eight missile payload is still large by the standards of light fighters and matches the payload of U.S. heavy fighters such as the F-15 and F-22.
While several of the most advanced light fighters have been developed at great expense to bridge the role of light and heavy platforms for those services which lack dedicated heavy air superiority fighters, the British Eurofighter, French Rafale and U.S. Navy F-18E being key examples, the MiG-35 remains a dedicated light fighter tasked with filling a complementary role to Russia’s heavy fighters. This is reflected not only in its relatively small airframe, low cost and low maintenance requirements, but also in its range. While the MiG-35 improves on the MiG-29 and rival platforms such as the F-16 in its range, and is capable of in flight refuelling to enhance this further, it nevertheless remains a disadvantage relative to other elite light fighters such as the F-18E. This does however appear to be the MiG-35’s primary shortcoming, and it remains a match for any rival light fighter and potentially even older heavy platforms such as the F-15C.
Continued in Part Three.