Russia Quietly Dumped AESA Radar and TVC In MiG-35 Fighters

A MiG-35 panel blows out from its wing during a airshow in Moscow, Russia. Photo by Popular Mechanics.

The first batch of six RAC (Russian Aircraft Corporation) “MiG” MiG-35 multi-role combat aircrafts have been delivered to the VKS (Russian aerospace forces), according to Ilya Tarasenko, director-general of RAC MiG, in an announcement made at the production plant at Lukhovitsky on November 28. He also said that an active phased-array radar would be offered and stated that a prototype equipped with such a radar had already been completed.

Colonel-General Viktor Bondarev, who represented the Defence and Security Committee of the Russian Federation Council, said the Zhuk radar could detect 5sqm RCS of fighter aircraft at a detection range of 160 km.

The contract for producing this initial batch of six MiG-35s was signed during the 2018 Army Forum on August 22. Delivery of these aircraft will allow completion of all planned tests in early 2019, after which serial production will begin at the Sokol Nizhnii Novgorod Aircraft Plant. In 2013, Novosti reported that 37 MiG-35s would be purchased, but 170 aircraft are now planned for the Russian air forces.

The MiG-35 is part of what RAC MiG calls a unified family of multi-role fighters, consisting of the carrier-borne MiG-29K/KUB for India and MiG-29KR/KUBR for the Russian Navy, the MiG-29M/M2 for Egypt, and the MiG-35 for the Russian air forces. All use the same basic airframe, with tandem cockpits (the single-seaters have extra fuel in place of the rear cockpit but still employ a two-seat canopy) and a bigger wing compared to the MiG-29, with bigger flaps and horizontal tails. Carrier versions have an arrester hook and folding wingtips, while land-based variants have a braking parachute and no wing fold.

The MiG-35 designation was originally applied to an earlier attempt to produce an advanced version of the MiG-29. Six MiG-29M prototypes were produced between 1986 and 1991, and the MiG-29M was briefly re-branded as the MiG-35 before being abandoned.

Some years later the fourth MiG-29M prototype (Side number 154) was converted to two-seat configuration, becoming the MiG-29MRCA in 2005/06 for the Indian Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition, and was subsequently re-designated the MiG-29M2. In January 2007 it became the MiG-35 demonstrator. Soon afterwards, the fifth MiG-29M prototype was rebuilt to become the MiG-29KUB (Product 9-47) prototype, while the sixth MiG-29M was modified as the thrust-vectoring MiG-29OVT testbed.

The MiG-35 was originally conceived as having a range of advanced systems and capabilities, and the MiG-35 demonstrator was fitted with a NIIP Zhuk-AE AESA radar in MAKS 2021. Two further MiG-35 demonstrators flew in the autumn of 2009, converted from MiG-29K/KUB airframes originally intended for India. The single-seater was known as the Product 9-61 (MiG-35) and the two-seater as the Product 9-67 (MiG-35D). They were delivered to the VKS for flight testing in November 2016.

In 2011/2012 two further aircraft were built to meet a Syrian order, which was subsequently canceled. The Syrian version featured a basic Zhuk-ME radar (as used by the MiG-29K/KUB) and was designated the MiG-29M in single-seat form and as the MiG-29M2 in two-seat form. In April 2015, Egypt decided to buy 46 MiG-29M/M2 with N010M Zhuk-M radar. They were delivered from September 2017. Russia will only export MiG-35 with an N010M Zhuk-M radar.

Russia also quietly “dumbed down” the specification of its planned MiG-35, and when RSK MiG unveiled the first MiG-35S and MiG-35SD series production prototypes at Lukhovitsky on January 27, 2017, they lacked the once-planned thrust-vectoring and AESA radar. The MiG-35S/SD is now closely comparable to the export MiG-29M/M2 except few additional advanced weapon integrations. State trials began in January 2018.

Quizzed by Defence IQ whether MiG-35 is the last hope for Mikoyan to remain in business? The MiG-35 was built to attract potential foreign buyers, given that more than 30 countries actively operate the earlier MiG-29. The Russian military had made a tentative decision to buy a few MiG-35 in 2025, said Anastasia Kravchenko, the MiG’s communications director.

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