|By Vinay Shukla||Published: February 2017|
Lukhovitsy. Russia is to offer the latest variant of its MiG-35 Medium Multi Role Aircraft (MMRCA) for production in India.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin told India Strategic during the unveiling ceremony of this aircraft January 27 that the aircraft should meet the Indian Air Force’s technical specifications for its large requirement, and that the aircraft was now undergoing pre-production “rigourous weapon trials” but it should be available for export by 2020.
Russia is keen for joint production in India. “Yes, sure, we will offer the Mig 35 to India under Prime Minister Modi’s make in India programme” and that will be on the agenda of the newly setup Joint Military-Industrial Conference to be held in New Delhi in the coming weeks.
Russia displayed the fighter to representatives from some 30 countries, including India, at the airfield of Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC) MiG at Lukhovitsy, 140 km south-east of Moscow. Positioned as 4++ generation fighter the new MiG-35 has a speed of 2.23 Mach.
(Notably, Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Moscow end-January to work out the bilateral defence and diplomatic cooperation. India has already agreed to manufacture Kamov 35 helicopters at HAL’s facility in Bangalore, and most of the equipment with the Indian forces, Land, Navy and Air, is of Soviet/ Russian origin).
As Kremlin’s India point-man, Mr Rogozin is scheduled to co-chair the maiden session of the new body with Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. The joint Indo-Russian Military-Industrial Conference was set up by the leaders of the two countries at their Goa summit in October for discussing the whole range of issues covering defence R&D, joint production of military spares, maintenance and servicing of the Soviet/ Russian origin hardware.
The Deputy Prime Minister pointed out that as the new Mig 35 was still under trials, it would not take part in the Aero India 2017.
UAC resident Yuri Slyusar disclosed that two prototypes of the aircraft are under trials. Russia is known to ramp up the production quite fast, and he was sure the aircraft would be available for exports to countries wanting it.
Unveiling the latest war-bird developed by Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau, Mr Rogozin said earlier that the Russian government was focused on the development of heavier Su-30MKI (for India and its derivatives for export to some other countries) along with a whole range of Sukhoi aircraft including Su-34 and Su-35. But now, the focus is back on the development of MiG fighters.
He underscored that MiG-35 is a very cost- effective fighter for the modern combat duties. At the recent meeting of the Kremlin’s Military-Industrial Commission, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Defence Ministry will place the initial order for 30 MiG-35 fighters and up to 140 will be acquired to gradually phase out the earlier MiG-29. Mig 35 though is a further development of the Mid 29 aircraft, variants of which are used both by the IAF and Indian Navy.
Chief of the Russian Aerospace Force, Col Gen Viktor Bondorev said the Sukhois have displayed excellent capabilities in the initial phase of Syria campaign, “but as war moves into an extended phase, which could last months and years” light and cheaper fighters like MiG-35 are the best suited.”
He said the Force is expected to start receiving its first MiG-35s from 2019 to gradually phase out the older models of MiG-29.
According to RAC Mig, the new MiG-35 is an advanced version of MiG-29K ship borne fighter initially developed for the Indian Navy, but with an improved RD-33MK engine with 12 percent higher resource of 4000 hours. It has the capability of striking at highly protected stationary and mobile land, sea and air assets of a potential enemy. Its airframe has been strengthened for rough landings on damaged frontline airstrips with full weapon and fuel load.
The aircraft also has an advanced radar that can track up to 30 aerial targets in 160 km range and simultaneously attack up to 6 air and 4 surface targets.
Mr Slyusar told reporters covering the event, “We have increased the number of hard and bay points from six to eight, which allows use of both current and prospective types of weapons, including laser weapons.”
All the systems of the MiG-35 aircraft have been developed and produced domestically in Russia, including helmet-mounted target designation systems.
Thanks to larger internal fuel tanks, its range has been increased by 50 percent,. Then there is provision for both buddy refuelling, and by mid-air tankers. An extra fuel tank module can be fitted in the rear pilot’s cabin.
Depending upon customer requirements, the new fighter can be fitted with thrust vectoring engines as well as the Zhuk AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. Of course, the cost goes up substantially.
IAF and Indian naval MMRCA requirements however mandate this capability to enable attacks on hostile targets well beyond the visual range in fast-moving wartime scenario. At present, neither the IAF’s Mig 29s or Su 30 MKIs, or the Navy’s Mig 29Ks, have this capability.
MiG-35’s was part of IAF’s MRCA 2017 campaign, scrapped later, although the French Rafale was finally selected under a Government to Government contract for a limited number of aircraft, only 36, as against the requirement of 126 plus 63 options.
IAF now has a requirement of 400 Medium combat jets, although the outgoing Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha observed, IAF was asking only for 200-250 combat jets “but in the Medium category.”
Russians sources said if India opted for the Mig 35, the entire assembly line for the aircraft could be moved to India, as HAL has sufficient experience in handling Russian origin aircraft. The Mig 29s have been produced in central Moscow, where the real estate value is very high now, and in any case, the production units have to be moved from there.
The author attended the unveiling ceremony at the invitation of United Aircraft Corporation, the umbrella organisation of the Russian aircraft industry.