Malaysia ditches MiG-35 in favor of FA-50

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

Russia has offered its MiG-35, also known as MiG-29M2 aircraft, to Malaysian Air Force’s 12 fighter jets requirement, said Dmitry Shugaev, the director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) in an interview with Sputnik news.

The current Malaysian Minister of Defense, Hishammuddin Hussein is less optimistic about a deal with the Russian side. Malaysia recently retired all Russian aircraft due to its high maintenance cost and unavailability of spare parts from Russia. Malaysian pilots call Russian aircraft Smoky bandits due to MiG-29’s smoky engines.

Malaysia would consider a reliable platform based on a good reputation, such as FA-50, Mr Hussein said in an interview with Straits Times.

The MiG-29 is the runt of all the 4th Gen fighters, being nearly always the victim of a shoot down and nearly never the victor in one.

The version the Malaysians had, was not much more than a slightly improved early model, which had pitiful range, no air-to-ground and no BVR capability, no HMD, no modern radar, a small payload capacity, no HOTAS, no MFDs, a generally unergonomic cockpit, incompatibility with modern smart munitions even Russian ones and only a low airframe life.

Mechanically steered Zhuk-ME slotter array radar exported to Egyptian Air Force for MiG-29M2 aircraft.

These MiGs, detailed almost exclusively to air defense, regularly get knocked down by visiting foreign air forces and their RMAF brethren flying more advanced Western types.

While the $50 million MiG-35 is an overall new than the legacy Fulcrum jet, the Malaysians seem to be moving away from buying Russian-made equipment due to cost. Russian jets like their Su-30MKM are cheap to buy but expensive to maintain as well as due to CAATSA sanctions; the US may levy against them should they move ahead with the purchase.

Smoky Bandit: The RMAF’s MiG-29 fighters hot engine fume is an invitation to shot it with IR-guided missiles.

The budget allocated for a MiG-29 replacement is not enough to buy a one for one replacement with an aircraft of a similar class. Rather it would only be barely enough for an equal number of slightly more advanced jet trainers turned light fighters like the Korean FA-50 or the armed M-346FA Master.

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This is the last problem; Russia expects their customers to invest in R&D but don’t want to share the fruits. That is not acceptable terms for many countries.

Either Russia should invest in R&D and offer fighters off the shelf, or if they want investments in R&D from customers, Russia should be ready to transfer technology. Old Russian techniques won’t work or to a desirable level anymore to get funding. Without funding, Russian fighters will be irrelevant.

No country wants a fighter that looks pretty and flies well but ultimately is a white elephant for taxpayers. Russian aircraft are inferior to the US or European designs such as engine reliability, post-sales maintenance, electronics and avionics.

All the excellent flying properties in the air show mean nothing if the aircraft is down for engine overhauls, waiting for parts and the pilot is too heads down because their cockpit and systems design doesn’t allow them to fight effectively.

A MiG-35 often costs more than an F-16 Block 50/52 or even a Block 70/72 based on options and support arrangements. The F-16 has a proven combat record. The MiG-29 has often been an easy target for F-16 in Iraq war.

Malaysian pilots flew Russian and American fighters, and they know Russian aircraft is the most unergonomic in cockpit design with 1970s ping-pong switches all the places.

 Malaysian had experience dealing with unscrupulous tactics of Russia, Rostec is unlikely to be the winner in the Malaysian bid to replace MiG-29.

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