So, the stage is all set for yet another round of gruelling selection trials to fix upon the next major aircraft for the Guardians of the Skies. The MMRCA 2.0, as it’s fondly called, is another take on the MMRCA competition held a few years back to procure new fighter aircraft to strengthen the squadrons of Indian Air Force. MMRCA 1.0 saw two European machines at the final stage and the Dassault Aviation’s Rafale jet was finalized as the winner.
Unfortunately, the deal couldn’t be finalized between the Indian government and Dassault over ToT and was finally scrapped by the new government. As an interim effort, a deal for direct purchase of 36 Rafale jets was inked. Since the squadron numbers have been dwindling due to the retirement of obsolete equipment, MMRCA 2.0 was inevitable.
In this series, we will elucidate the six sure contenders for the MMRCA 2.0. So, first up we take up the Monster from Russian, the MiG-35.
Contender #1 – The MiG-35 ‘Fulcrum-F’
The Russians offered the same jet for MMRCA 1.0 and they are again pitching the same aircraft for MMRCA 2.0 also. No major changes have taken place to the aircraft, other than the fact that the Russian Air Force and the Egyptian Air Force has placed an order for it. Some reports suggest that the Iraqis have also ordered the same.
The MiG-35 is essentially a MiG-29 on steroids. It’s a very refined and heavily re-engineered version of the MiG-29M, which in fact is an advanced variant of the MiG-29K. It was initially named the MiG-33 and later paved way for the MiG-35.
- Length: 17.3 m (56 ft 9 in)
- Wingspan: 12 m (39 ft 4 in)
- Height: 4.73 m (15 ft 6 in)
- Wing area: 38 m² (409 ft²)
- Empty weight: 11,000 kg (24,250 lb)
- Loaded weight: 17,500 kg (38,600 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 29,700 kg (65,500 lb)
- Power-plant: It is powered by 2x RD-33MKBs, each generating 53kN of thrust and 88.3kN with afterburners. The most interesting aspect of MiG-35 which sets it apart from the other contenders is that it’s the only fighter in MMRCA 2.0 with Thrust Vectoring Nozzles. This will enable the fighter to attain flight even at very low speeds and without angle-of-attack limitations.
This feature could really set apart the fighter in terms of high angle of turn rate, the critical angle of attack and overall manoeuvrability. These are critical when the fighter finds itself in a dogfight scenario. The modular construction of engines helps in easy maintenance and increases the availability rate of squadrons.
Max Speed: Mach 1.17 (At sea level) / Mach 2.20 (At cruising altitude)
Range/Combat Radius: ~2000km/~1000km
Ferry Range: ~3100km (with 3x external fuel tanks) / ~6000km (with in-flight refueling)
Service ceiling: 19,000 m (62,340 ft)
Rate of climb: 330 m/s (65,000 ft/min)
Maximum g-load: +10 g
- Airframe modifications: The airframe is heavily modified from the existing MiG-29K. The weapon load points are now increased to 9x (MiG-29K had 8x hardpoints). Fuel capacity is increased and can even don the role of a tanker by fitting 3x external fuel tanks. The airframe is made corrosion resistant which is in line with its role to completely take over the naval role MiG-29 currently dons.
- Radar: MiG-35, when inducted into service, would be the first active Russian aircraft to be fitted with an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array). It would be fitted with the Zhuk-MAE(export variant of AE) radar, which has the ability to detect targets at ~250km for a 3m^2 RCS target. The figure is for the FGA-35 radar, whether Russia will allow its export is still in doubt. In that case, the base radar can detect targets at ~160km for air targets (~130km for 5m^2 RCS) and about ~300km for surface targets.
The radar has the ability to work over a wide range of frequencies enabling it to be better defended against Electronic Counter Measures like jamming. It can track up to 30 targets at a time and can engage up to 6x air targets and 4x ground targets.
Another key piece of targeting equipment is the OLS-35 IRST(InfraRed Search&Track). These are electro-optical targeting system capable of detecting the heat signature of fighters. Any machinery gives out heat and this system can track the aircraft using this heat signature irrespective of the RCS, size or weather. The OLS-35 IRST can detect targets at ~30km in tail-chase and ~15km in the head-on scenario. For afterburning targets, detection could happen above the said values. These are so essential in modern jets as these can easily detect stealth targets where a radar can’t. These systems can act as a range finder and also lase ground targets (OLS-KE).
The MIG-35 is designed with the thought of interdependence of modern nations in mind. The open architecture of flight avionics enables it very easy to integrate foreign equipment into the aircraft without having to make major changes. This comes as a big boon to India who is heavily reliant on Israeli flight tech.
The fighter is loaded with sensors to counter the biggest threat in modern day aerial combat- Electronic Weapons. It comes loaded with SOAR infrared missile-approach warning system, SOLO laser warning receivers and ELT/568(V)2 Self-protection jammer to neutralize radar based air defense systems.
- Weapons: The aircraft comes loaded with the standard GSh-301 auto-cannon. With 9x hardpoints available, the aircraft can carry a maximum of 7000kg of weapons.
Air-to-Air: R-73, R-77
Missiles: Kh-25MAE, Kh-29LTE, Kh-38ME, Kh-36 Grom-E1 (Kh-36 is a AGM with about 150km-300km range, which couldn’t be delivered aboard the MiG-29)
Bombs: KAB-500 (Laser guided/TV guided/Glonass guided)
Rockets: S-8, S-13, S-25L (LD) laser guided variant, S-25-O with fragmentation warhead and radio proximity fuse, S-24
A configuration of 4x Kh-31 PD (Anti-Radiation) or 4x Kh-31 AD (Anti-Ship) is also possible.
In short, the Russians present to us a very capable 4++ generation fighter that the Indian Air Force would be very comfortable operating. The Russians would also feel comfortable in complete ToT realizing the past experience with SU-30Mki. However, there are still more parameters that we can’t work out sitting here, but requires very advanced evaluation criterion, that I believe the IAF is doing well.