India learnt lessons dealing with Russian mafia of Sukhoi and Mikoyan

MiG-29K crashed in Goa, India. Photo by Indian Navy.

India has a long history of dealing with Russia’s mafia styled arms exports to India. Till to date, India is the milk-cow for Russian arms dealers mainly Rosoboronexport and Rostec. Kickbacks, bribery and grafts are common tactics that always worked in India, if that doesn’t work then Russian hands in knife to Pakistani and Chinese military so that they can stab India. Russia is not a friend nor an ally of India, they are just arms dealers to India.

Multi-billion dollars Su-30, Mi-17 and S-400 are few examples of coercing cases toward India by supplying similar weapons to China first then intimidate India to buy same weapons platforms.

Here Comes the Soviet-era MiGs

The MiG-35 is a far cry from the basic and strictly limited capability MiG-29. The cockpit is furnished with three color liquid-crystal displays as well as a monochrome head-up display (HUD).

The fighter’s Phazotron-NIIR FGM-129 Zhuk-M radar — inherited from the carrier-based MiG-29KR/KUBR — features a mechanically scanned slotted-array antenna rather than an active electronically scanned array (AESA).

Additionally, when it comes to the price tag, the difference between “lightweight” products from Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG and the “heavyweight” offerings from the Sukhoi shelter can be overstated. Even in its original form, the cost of a basic MiG-29 was 80% that of the Su-27 Flanker.

Although the MiG-35 has had its problems and does not make a great addition to the Indian Air Force (IAF). A MiG-35 is priced at $50 million, but a Su-30SME priced as $34 million a piece.

A troublesome history regarding MiG-29 has created a sense of negativeness amongst many Indian newspapers and former air force officers who won’t really be happy getting what they always stupidly describe “ another Russian junk “.

Mig-29A which was first acquired by India for India air force in mid 80’s suffered from low operational availability for a long time due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and also due several issues with Klimov RD-33MK afterburning turbofans used on the jets.

When Mig-29K Carrier variant was offered to Indian Navy with much more advanced avionics and weapons, it was expected that History will not repeat its self and India will get an aircraft which will be able to meet high standards required to fly from aircraft carriers, but recent CAG report again has exposed poor serviceability of the jets and frequent breakdowns of parts way before their service interval.

The Indian Navy procured MiG-29K for the requirement of Indian Navy and shoddy deals involved 31.8 million euros kickbacks to the Indian officials.

However, the Indian Air Force was never interested in Mig35 for many reasons.

The MiG-29Ks have very poor serviceability with Navy. They had engine problems also. The MiG-29UPG with the IAF also had similar problems. That is why they are doubting the MiG-35. Also, it has been difficult to get a reliable supply of spares for MiG-29UPG in the past.

India had enough bad experience dealing unscrupulous Russian arms dealer and are looking for some western platform now.

A lot of people think that MiG-35 is not a new aircraft just the same as the IAF MiG-29UPG which IAF already has.

The MiG-35 Fourth Gen Fighter

Indian Air Force desired for an ultra-modern fighter aircraft for its MMRCA Competition and hence Russia sent its MiG-29M2 which was re-designated as Mig-35 for Aero India 2007. Russia wanted it to be the base upon which the future Fulcrum would be developed. However, MiG-35 had a very slim chance to be ever considered by the Indian Air Force.

MiG-35 AKA MiG-29KR AKA MIG-29M2

A large shock came to Russian side when two of its MiG-29 crashed resulting in the grounding of the entire Fulcrum fleet. The MiG-35 performance was deemed average by IAF and MoD since it failed in trials and also showed poor ground attack capabilities. Moreover, MiG-35 at that time was still in the development period and there were bleak chances that even Russian Air Force would induct it in its fleet.

India at that time also got their Mig-29 upgraded to UPG standards and also ordered Mig-29K for its new aircraft carrier. Coming onto technicality, MiG-35 looks good on paper, carrying on the MiG-29 legacy but lacks a modern AESA radar and good optronics but it severely lacked in comparison to other comparable Western aircraft.

MiG-35 was originally built for export purposes and is not that very advanced compared to the likes of Rafale or Typhoon and also does not give any sort of political leverage or ecosystem to India, which we wanted in MMRCA deal and got with Rafales.

Even RuAF is more bent towards much more versatile Flanker aircraft. MiG-35 is neither stealthy nor can it take on 4.5 Generation Aircraft like Rafale or Typhoon. The MiG-35 severely lacks in range and can be just used for area defense.


Moreover, India had quite a sour experience with the Mikoyan, after many of its Mig-29 faced severe maintainability issues and there was a lack of proper after-sales support also from the Russian side. All these factors made IAF reject MiG-35.

The MiG-35 was eliminated in round 1 of the MMRCA selection process, way back in 2011–12. The reasons were that it did not adequately meet the performance parameters set by the IAF.

Note that cost was not a consideration at this round, because the winners, namely Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, which advanced to the round two were significantly more expensive than the MiG-35.

The MiG-35 was also a contender with the Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in the Indian Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCA) competition for 126 multirole combat aircraft to be procured by the IAF.

During the competition, however, India’s Ministry of Defense was frustrated with the problems of the aircraft’s avionics with the radar not able to achieve the maximum targeting distance during tests. Also, the RD-33MK engines were not shown to reach sufficient thrust. As a result, the MiG-35 was ousted from the contest in April 2011.

The Su-35 Flanker

The Sukhoi Su-35 was never in contention at any point of time by IAF. The IAF already possess a derivative of Su-27 aircraft known as Su-30MKI. The Su-30MKI is based on legacy Su-27 airframe with a new engine, French Avionics and Israeli electronics. The Su-30MKI does not come cheap, $121 million apiece with a transfer of technology.

Post-Pokhran, the IAF has emerged out of the wilderness of sanctions. It has tested western jets and realized that Russian aerospace technology clearly lags behind western technologies. This is also evident by their sagging sales in the past few years in newer markets. Even Sweden’s Gripen has found new markets, despite the fact that Sweden does not have much political heft.

Besides, post-1991 Russia is not the friendly Soviet Union. Like the famed Russian mafia, they’re very intractable on maintenance contracts and extract heavy prices for fixing minor glitches or executing scheduled upgrades.

Now, this is an interesting fighter since many think that after the acquisition of Su-30MKI, India should have gone for Su-35. First of all, India understands that Su-30MKI was fielded against Pakistani Air Force several times and come second every time against 20 years old F-16C fighters.

Even though some 60 Su-35 ( with 40 further one ) were offered by Russia, India turned down the proposal as it was strengthened quite enough in Air Superiority aspect. What it wanted next was an Omnirole Rafale Medium-Combat Aircraft which can take on Strike roles as well in which Su-30MKI or Su-35 was severely lacking.


Indian Air Force also realized that it can bring on its Flankers to the level of Su-35 with the help of a Super Sukhoi upgrade which will add a new Radar, more advanced avionics and better weapons to it.

Su-30 Crashed

IAF was keen on getting Rafale due to much needed political leverage it was offered from France ( which supported India on 1998 Pokhran Tests ) and the advanced ecosystem for aircraft which will be developed in India by Dassault which includes off-sets clauses.

Rafale was a completely new platform, unlike Su-35 or MiG-35 which were based on the 1970s-era airframe, with new avionics, weapons suite, sensors and strike capabilities.

India lost 18 Su-30MKI due to engine failures during peace time training mission.

India had operated Dassault aircraft earlier too and well knew how they performed. Rafale had a very low RCS making it semi-stealthy, had an AESA radar, much better after-sales support and maintainability keeping most of the fleet operational at any given period of time. Neither MiG-35 nor Su-35 would have added anything significant to IAF purposes and needs and hence we went for Rafales which would give us a technological edge over our adversaries.

The Su-35 is merely another refurbished variant of the Su-27. Russian themselves calls Su-35 as the Su-27M. The designation was simply to attract export orders. It can be safely concluded that the IAF’s Su-30 is very similar in performance to this jet. The IAF has already committed itself to induct over 272 Su-30MKIs.

Russian hardware is cheap to buy but very expensive to maintain (western fighters are the opposite). The Su-30s in service since the past two decades have been very expensive to maintain. Their turnaround time is high, and fleet availability is lower than desirable.

India is not the same 1970s poor country where India only had an option for Russian junk. With the U.S. standing by with India against Chinese aggression India could potentially buy iconic F-15EX or highly EW capable Super Hornet. Buying yet another Flanker variant would not make much sense for Indian Air Force.

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