Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC) MiG is poised to field its latest MiG-35 multi-role fighter jet in the unfolding fray for the Indian skies along with highly-lobbied Western warbirds, officials at the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), the umbrella holding of the country’s aircraft designers and manufacturers, recently declared.
MiG-35, with NATO reporting name Fulcrum-F, was formally unveiled on Jan. 27 at the Lukhovitsy plant of RAC MiG, situated 140 km southeast of Moscow, in the presence of military officials and foreign diplomats from about 30 countries, which included Indian Air Force, Naval and Military attaches. The high-tech 3D multimedia presentation was followed by an impressive flight demonstration of the two-seater trainer/combat MiG-35 jet that was watched by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and the foreign guests.
“Sure, we will offer this fighter to India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India programme,” Rogozin told RIR after the impressive demo flight. “This issue will be on the agenda of Military-Industrial Conference in New Delhi this spring.”
However, it will not be displayed at the Aero India 2017 airshow in Bangalore later this month, because two flying prototypes are involved in intensive systems and weapons trials ahead of the serial production. The Russian Aerospace Force will get its first fighters in 2019, and export to foreign buyers is scheduled to commence around 2020.
MiG-35 had taken part in the Indian tender in 2007 for the acquisition of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), and also had flown at Aero India 2007 in Bangalore.
For the Indian tender two naval versions of MiG-29K/KUB were modified and equipped with Zhuk AE and AME radars and christened as the MiG-35. However, along with the American Lockheed Martin F-16, Boeing F-18, and Swedish SAAB Gripen, the MiG-35 was not shortlisted. Finally in 2011, the French Dassault Rafale was declared the winner defeating the Eurofighter 2000 Typhoon in the Indian MMRCA tender.
As the Rafale deal dragged on and ended with the signing of contract for just 36 aircraft, RAC MiG sees it as a chance for a new sortie in the Indian skies. Aware of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) requirements of upto 400 aircraft in the long run, RAC MiG continued development of the MiG-35 and a technology demonstrator went on public display in 2012 at the centenary celebrations of the Russian Air Force. It later flew at the Moscow airshow MAKS in 2013 and 2015. And finally, the latest MiG-35 in its single and two-seater trainer/combat variants was unveiled to the potential foreign buyers in its full beauty on Jan. 27, 2017.
According to Russian sources RAC MiG can relocate its assembly line to India if the two countries reach an agreement. After meeting the IAF’s requirements, the India-based plant could start the export of MiG-35 fighters to potential buyers abroad.
Russia has a very rich experience of licensed production of a whole range of aircraft at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited plant in Nasik, Maharashtra, starting from MiG-21, MiG-23 , MiG-27 in the past and currently the Sukhoi Su-30MKI.
According to Deputy Director of Moscow-based independent think tank – Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), Dr Konstantin Makienko, in 2019 Su-30MKI production would be completed, and the production of MiG-35 could be easily launched at HAL’s factory in Nasik.
However, Russia is also ready to enter into a partnership with Indian private sector companies identified by the Government of India. There was a time when MiG-21 was the top of the line supersonic fighter in the world, which decisively contributed in Vietnam winning the war against the U.S. and India winning the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation against Pakistan, which was armed by the Americans. The MiG-21 was rightly called the fighter of 20th century.
The MiG-35 fighter could have a similar glorious future with the IAF in 21st century, because finally it is the man behind the machine who matters.
Vinay Shukla is an Indian journalist, who has covered Russia for over four decades. Views expressed in this column are personal. Read more of his articles here.