Modified versions of Russian 4th generation MiG-29 fighter aircraft and the newest 4++ generation MiG-35 were staying in the shadow for a long period of time while their more famous counterparts developed by the “Sukhoi” Design Bureau were thriving. But, the situation has been changing in recent years.
Both land-based MiG-29SMT and deck-based MiG-29K aircraft together with its two-seat MiG-29KUB modification not only were purchased for the Russian armed forces, but also made their combat debut in the real environment, taking part in Russia’s military operation in Syria. This allowed to demonstrate their combat readiness and to gain invaluable experience.
MiG aircraft in action
For export versions of the MiG-29 aircraft and for Russian MiG-29SMT, the top priority was to enhance their combat performance in comparison to the basic Soviet version. All these aircraft were fitted with the advanced “Zhuk” family radars and more efficient engines, including their flight range extended by 50%. The key advantage was a considerably extended range of guided weapons.
Modified MiG-29 aircraft made their combat debut in November 2016. When Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier was cruising to Syria, five MiG-29K/KUB fighter aircraft were included in her air group in addition to standard Su-33 aircraft. Equipped with these aircraft, the 100th North Sea Fleet ship-based fighter aviation regiment had been formed before, in December 2015. In spring 2016, the regiment started its combat training, using deck-based MiG aircraft.
That is why, for new MiG fighter aircraft, it was rather experimental deployment in order to test aircraft capabilities in the real combat environment. As old Su-33 aircraft used only dumb weapons, more advanced deck-based MiG-29K fighters were spotted during this campaign fitted not only with dumb bombs, but also with the KAB-500Kr guided bombs with the weight of 500 kg. This is just one of the types of multiple guided weapons the aircraft are able to carry.
As soon as the modernization of the Russian aircraft carrier is complete in 2021, the MiG-29K will become the core part of her air group and will be able to drastically enhance the capabilities of Russia's ship-based aviation through the capability of guided weapon attacks on not only ground targets, but also sea-surface targets. Equipped with long-range anti-ship Kh-35U missiles, and, in the future, with Russian-Indian supersonic Brahmos missiles, these aircraft will allow the Russian aircraft carrier to become more powerful and multirole operational force in comparison to her current state. The combat experience gained in Syria will also come in handy for Vikramaditya, an Indian aircraft carrier equipped with these aircraft.
Small sizes, good thrust-to-weight ratio and various weapons allow actual and potential owners of considerably small non-nuclear aircraft carriers to offer these fighter aircraft for export.
Soon after testing ship-based MiG aircraft, land-based versions were tested in Syria. In September 2017, three MiG-29SMT were first supplied to Hmeimim airbase operated by Russia. These aircraft took part in the fiercest battles against the ISIS terrorist faction (the terrorist organization prohibited in Russia), and stayed in Syria until ISIS was defeated in December 2017.
Mainly, the aircraft were deployed to test new onboard weapon systems. The aircraft made 140 sorties, using standard dumb bombs, precision-guided bombs, and air-to-ground missiles. Also, the MiG-29SMT were employed for fighter missions. They made sorties to patrol the air space and escort long-range Tu-22M3 bombers. These operations allowed to test onboard radars and electronic warfare systems in real combat missions.
The “Syrian test ground” contributed to aircraft’s worthwhile experience in the real combat environments. At Hmeimim airbase, a large group of the design bureau representatives were working to get direct feedback from pilots and aircraft technicians, to introduce real-time minor modifications and software updates and to plan works on further large-scale modifications.
Probably, that combat experience was what they needed to turn new modifications of the MiG fighter aircraft into attractive export products.
The most perfect MiG
As the MiG-29SMT and MiG-29K versions were developed as in-depth modernization of the Soviet MiG-29, the MiG-35 aircraft featuring its predecessor’s airframe was developed from scratch in order to become a multirole fighter aircraft able to compete against any modern light fighter aircraft in its class. In 2016, its basic design was completed, and at the end of 2017 the aircraft equipped with the pre-production version of the “Zhuk-A” radar version entered a test phase.
The development of the MiG-35 aircraft has been delayed for a long time mostly because its advanced radar system with the active phased array was not ready. The “Eyes-and-ears” system for the new fighter aircraft will be considerably improved in comparison not only with the basic version of MiG-29, but also with its modified versions.
With this radar system, the light fighter aircraft will be turned into a fearsome fighter able to detect enemy aircraft of the same class at a distance of 200 km (practically, catching up with heavy-class fighter aircraft) and to efficiently fight the enemy beyond visual range (BVR). The MiG-35 will inherit excellent and even improved dog-fight maneuverability that the MiG-29 aircraft was famous for due to the installed thrust vector control RD-33MK engines.
New features such as the radar surface mapping function and optional reconnaissance and target sight airborne pods contribute to the performance of the MiG-35 as an attack aircraft. The aircraft will be able to use not only all available air-to-surface weapons, but also future developments.
New MiG combat aircraft to enter large-scale production
In the Soviet era, light MiG-29 fighter aircraft were the best selling aircraft for regular customers interested in the Soviet military equipment. The similar future is likely to await a new generation of these fighter aircraft. Due to a rapid increase in costs and more sophisticated technologies for the development of heavy fighter aircraft, only rich and technologically developed countries can afford such a combat aircraft. Many countries do not need heavy fighter aircraft with a long range and a long loitering time. Customers show a growing interest in light and multirole fighter with low-cost maintenance.
The developed modernization programs successfully tested in Syria allow to turn still multiple but obsolescent fighter aircraft into multirole combat aircraft, such as the MiG-29SMT. It will be much cheaper than purchasing new aircraft. More expensive but unambiguously more efficient MiG-35 aircraft may be the most suitable option for those countries which want to upgrade their fleets of old Soviet fighter aircraft.
The execution of a contact for supplying fifty MiG-29М/М2 to Egypt has been started. The entire fleet of Russian light fighter aircraft will be replaced with the MiG-35. Russia is considering an option to sell this model to Kazakhstan which wants to replace their MiG-29. For this purpose, Russia is ready to permit local production in Kazakhstan. The readiness for local production and transfer of technologies may also get other countries interested, in particular, some countries in South-East Asia, South America and Africa.
New defence order. Strategy | 05 | 2018