They’re pronouncing its doom already in the Russian press. Predicting that the official elimination of the MiG-35 from India’s M-MRCA fighter competition means curtains for the programme, such as it is. If that’s true, the MiG-35 will be the one Fulcrum that nobody ever bought.
The facts are pretty brutal. A victory in the Indian tender was virtually mandatory for MiG to be able to generate the economies of scale that would allow it to sell 72 MiG-35s at an affordable unit price to the Russian Air Force. A Russian government indent for a certain number of MiG-35s was hinged to the platform’s selection by the IAF — not the other way round. With the MiG-35 officially out, the programme could effectively collapse, with structural implications for RAC-MiG Corp too. Chances are that the MiG-35’s reported performance in the MMRCA competition (it was rejected with 14 flaws, most notably pertaining to its engines reports suggest) will likely kill its chances, if any, with other potential customers in Asia and Latin America. At the risk of invoking a touch of sentiment, after half a century of doing business with the Indian Air Force (it started in 1963 with the delivery of the first MiG-21-F13s), this may just have been MiG’s last chance to sell India aircraft. There’s even talk that in the continuing consolidation in the Russian aerospace industry, the Mikoyan-Gurevich identity may be gone forever in a merger. MiG’s fortunes have been rough for years. The MiG-35’s failure in the M-MRCA (I find it hard to believe the Russians really held on to a hope) may just have been like Kano’s fatality in Mortal Kombat.
The ubiquitous No.154 (the visible MiG-35) is more a proof-of-concept platform (previously designated MiG-29M/M2; see photo above-right from Aero India 2005) than a type, and this was raised at various times with the UAC. The company did however field prototypes for the FET phase. There were several things that the MiG-35 had going for it: the IAF already operates MiG-29s (and could therefore appreciate the advancements in the new Fulcrum, not to mention inventory/infrastructure savings), the MiG-35 was competitively priced (~$40-mil a pop) and was closer to the definition of an M-MRCA than at least three of the others. But, as we now know, the aircraft was simply outperformed across the board during field evaluation. The two MiG-35 prototypes (No. 961 and 967) participated in trials in India (Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh) in October 2009 and in Akhtubinsk and Zhukovsky in April last year.
Among the many things that weighed against the MiG-35 — apart from its field performance — was the fact that India would in the next couple of years have a sizeable and growing fleet of souped up MiG-29s — 62 old MiG-29s are being upgraded to the UPG standard, which gives the fleet the Zhuk-M2E radar, the Thales Topsight helmet mounted sight, Sagem navigation system, OLS-UEM infrared search and track sensor, an Indian DARE EW suite and a new glass cockpit featuring colour MFDs.
It will be interesting to see what those 14 flaws were that the IAF found in the MiG-35 — those should be out sooner rather than later.