Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry has revealed that pilots from the country’s Air Force have test flown MiG-35 ‘4++ generation’ fighter jets in Russia, with the announcement coming shortly after the country received permission to purchase new high end Russian fighter jets. Azerbaijan is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), meaning like Armenia and Kazakhstan which recently purchased Russian Su-30SM fighters the country can purchase Russian military hardware at much lower rates to those at which they are marketed to countries outside the commonwealth such as China and Belarus.

The country’s Air Force currently relies on the MiG-29A as its only fighter capable of anti to air combat, and these are armed with ageing Soviet era variants of the R-27 air to air missile. While the MiG-29A was considered sufficient to ensure air superiority in the event of a potential conflict with Armenia, and retained qualitative parity with the Iranian Air Force which also relies on the MiG-29A as one of its most capable fighters, recent acquisitions of the Su-30SM by the former and plans for major purchases of next generation aircraft by the latter once a UN arms embargo expires in October has provided some urgency to Azerbaijan’s fleet modernisation plans.

The MiG-35 is the latest class of fighter to enter service in the Russian Air Force, first commissioned in June 2019, and was designed to provide a lighter and less costly counterpart to the Su-57 while benefitting from several of the same technologies. Due to Russia's strong preference for fielding smaller numbers of heavier fighters since the Cold War's end, the platform was primarily developed with export in mind for countries which rely more heavily on medium weight designs such as India, Egypt and Belarus. The fighter is the first in the world from a medium or light weight range to make use of thrust vectoring engines, and it’s three dimensional thrust vectoring will provide superior manoeuvrability to the two dimensional vectoring engines on Armenian Su-30 fighters. The jets are the first in Russian service to integrate AESA radars, and are compatible with a wide range of next generation munition types including R-37M hypersonic long range air to air missiles and Kh-38 cruise missiles.

The MiG-35 is compatible with much of the same maintenance infrastructure as the MiG-29 and pilots will require minimal training to convert between the two jets. While the fighter has a number of disadvantages relative to other new Russian designs such as the heavier Su-35 and Su-30SM - most notably its endurance and weapons payload and its smaller radar capacity - it is prized for its extremely low maintenance requirements and operational costs allowing it to be fielded in much larger numbers. While Azerbaijan was previously thought to be interested in the cheaper and less capable Chinese JF-17 fighter, and was not considered a likely client for the MiG-35, its interest in the jet could well make it the world’s first client. Russia has in the past offered to purchase MiG-29 fighters from prospective MiG-35 clients to help offset some of the costs of the purchases, although it remains uncertain whether this will be offered to CIS members which already receive the MIG-35 at a heavily discounted price.

Military Watch