Russia's MiG Developing Drone Wingman Concept for Fighters

Russian Air Force, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 (Anna Zvereva/Wikimedia Commons)
Russian Air Force, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 (Anna Zvereva/Wikimedia Commons)

SALON DU BOURGET, PARIS -- The Russian government has accepted its first two MiG-35 aircraft, the latest multirole fighter made by MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation that straddles fourth-and-fifth generation capability, according to a company spokesperson. But beyond supplying new MiGs to the Russian air force, MiG is currently designing and developing drones to pair up with the new combat-capable aircraft, said spokeswoman Anastasia Kravchenko.

"We are looking for network cooperation of both manned and unmanned aircraft," Kravchenko said through a translator during an interview with Military.com at the Paris Air Show. "And we're going to also use the technologies of artificial intelligence."

When asked if this is similar to what other countries like the U.S. are aiming to develop for manned-unmanned teaming, Kravchenko said, "Of course."

"Because you know, this is the future. We have already started to use these technologies, even on MiG-35 aircraft," she said.

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"MiG-35 can be like a command post and control other aircraft," Kravchenko added. "It's one of the key elements of how the aircraft is going to be used in the future."

This concept of operations mimics how the U.S. is working to boost its fifth-gen aircraft -- and its proposed future tech -- to pair automated systems or artificial intelligence with a human in the cockpit so that the machine can learn how to fly, gather information, or more.

Kravchenko said that "we have drone designs in our company," for the prospective program. But she did not provide more detail because she said "everything depends on the Russian Ministry of Defence" for future development and procurement.

"MiG-35 was designed with open architecture" in mind, Kravchenko added.

Currently, the Pentagon is working on open architecture, or ways to plug more equipment into the common, networked system for battle management and command-and-control.

The MiG-35 itself has been designed to replace its MiG-29s, which entered service in the 1980s.

The new "fourth-plus-plus" gen fighter is the direct follow-on to the MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB and MiG-29M/MiG-29M2 model aircraft, with increased engine and thrust power, according to a provided brochure.

The MiG-35 was designed as an air superiority fighter that has "[made gains] against fourth and fifth-generation fighters," the brochure said.

MiG said it's proposing to incorporate the active electronically scanned phased-array, known as AESA, for all the MiG-35s it produces. The radar, which has extended range, can simultaneously track multiple targets in the air and on the ground.

"At the same time, 10 targets can be attacked" from the fidelity and information the radar gives the aircraft, Kravchenko said. "Out of them, six are aerial targets and four are ground targets."

The MiG-35 has been in development for well over a decade, with the first reported demonstration flight at the Aero India Air Show in Bangalore in 2007. Its public debut was held in January 2017 at MiG's production plant in Lukhovitsy.

"MiG has great experience. We have a lot of design experience," Kravchenko said of the company, which will celebrate its 80th anniversary this year. "And that's why we're completely sure that our new product, MiG 35, will use technologies of fifth-generation."

That includes some stealth capabilities, increased maneuverability, electronic warfare and the ability to operate despite jamming.

"This aircraft can be modified so that it can be upgraded depending on the requirements of our customers," she added. MiG is expected to deliver six MiG-35 fighter jets by 2023, according to Russia's TASS news. Moscow Times reported this week, however, that the remaining four jets could be delivered by the end of the year.

MiG, which is part of the United Aircraft Corporation that includes companies like Sukhoi, among other aerospace defense companies, is separately developing its own fifth-generation fighter.

Meanwhile, Russia is already slated to purchase 76 of Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation aircraft, which the country says rivals the American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"We are currently we are working on this," she said of MiG's own next-gen craft.

MiG has cooperated with Sukhoi, but it is not planning on forming an official partnership for the project, she said.

Kravchenko could not provide additional details for when a new fifth-gen fighter may come online.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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