The Russian Air Force has made its first confirmed deployment of MiG-35 ‘4+ generation’ fighter aircraft for combat operations in the Ukrainian theatre, accordingly to a statement by Chief Designer at the state run United Aircraft Corporation Sergei Korotkov. “In light of the current events, especially [the war in Ukraine], the aircraft is already participating in all ongoing operations. Further test flights are yet to be completed, and then the Ministry of Defence will make the final decision,” he stated, highlighting that negotiations were currently underway for possible exports of the aircraft. Only six MiG-35 airframes are currently in service in the Russian Air Force, with the service having focused investments on heavier fighter classes including various derivatives of the Su-27 Flanker as well as new Su-57 Felon stealth fighters. The MiG-35 is a derivative of the Su-27’s lighter counterpart the MiG-29, which carries a much smaller radar and has a much shorter range than aircraft from the Su-27 family which limits their ability to patrol Russia’s vast territory.
The MiG-35’s avionics are among the most modern in the Russian Air Force’s inventory, although the fighter reportedly had plans to integrate the Zhuk-A/AE AESA radar cancelled to reduce costs which limits its situational awareness and electronic warfare capabilities and increases its radar signature. The fighter class is well optimised to carrying out precision strikes on targets across Ukraine at both visual and beyond visual ranges, and very comfortably outmatches anything in the Ukrainian inventory in terms of its air to air capabilities. Without an AESA radar none of the MiG-35’s capabilities are outstanding by the standards of other fighters in the Russian Air Force, however, while the fact that such medium weight fighters are forming a declining portion of the fleet undermines the benefits that could be gained from providing crews with combat experience. A primary benefit is expected to be on export markets, where the fighter will be able to be marketed as one which is combat tested and advertised for the range of air to surface and possibly even air to air missiles which it has used in a war zone. The MiG-35’s primary advantages over heavier fighters like the Su-30SM and Su-35 are its much lower maintenance needs and operational costs, shorter runway requirements and low lifetime costs which it combines with access to similarly advanced weaponry and avionics. The fighter has for years been the only class in the Russian Air Force never to have seen combat.