What is Russia’s MiG Working On? Space Interceptors, Carrier Based Stealth Fighters, MiG-29 Production and More

The Mikoyan Design Bureau was well known during the Cold War for developing all of the Soviet Union’s most prolific fighters and interceptors, from the MiG-15 used over Korea to the MiG-25 famed for being the world's fastest combat jet, and the sophisticated MiG-31 and MiG-29 which remain in Russian service today. 

MiG's prestige diminished considerably in the post-Cold War years as a contracting economy forced the defense ministry to reduce investment in future MiG designs and focus on a single fighter design from its rival Sukhoi - the Su-27 Flanker and its derivatives. 

The contraction of the defense sector led to both and other design bureaus Yakovlev and Tupolev being absorbed into the United Aircraft Corporation. 

With Sukhoi having developed the Flanker into three separate designs which are in production today, the Su-30, Su-34, and Su-35, it was also responsible for developing the next generation Su-57 as well as its lighter counterpart the Checkmate - the former which entered service in 2020.

MiG’s only product in the post-Cold War years has been the MiG-29 medium weight fighter, although it managed to produce over half a dozen variants with very significant improvements including the very capable MiG-29M which has been a significant export success. 

Indeed, the MiG-29 has seen more units exported than any other Russian fighter since 2015, although the fact that this is a cheaper fighter is not used in large numbers on the frontlines by Russia itself as the Flanker series means the program has gained less attention. 

MiG has also been responsible for the modernization of the MiG-31 Foxhound heavy interceptor, which may well be the most capable and versatile combat jet in Russian service and has been equipped with new avionics, sensors, electronic warfare systems, air to air missiles, anti-satellite missiles, and hypersonic ballistic missiles. 

MiG has also produced the MIG-35 medium-weight fighter in very limited numbers, with less than a full squadron’s worth currently in service, although the aircraft is very similar to a modernized MiG-29M with the two being difficult to distinguish from one another. The MiG-35 is reportedly produced on the same production line as the MiG-29M, with the older design has proven to be more popular.  

While a number of analysts have claimed that MiG’s future may be bleak, it is thought to be developing a least two next-generation fighters for the Russian Military. The first is the MiG-41 interceptor which is expected to be a successor to the MiG-31 Foxhound. 

The aircraft will reportedly be designed to operate in space and fly at hypersonic speeds and will be capable of targeting satellites and hypersonic space aircraft with its own long-ranged hypersonic missiles. 

Like the MiG-31, the new aircraft will be the heaviest and most high-end platform in the Russian fleet which s capable of air to air combat. MiG previously developed a successor to the MiG-31, the very capable MiG-31M, which completed development in the early 1990s and was ready for mass production. Russia’s economic collapse from 1994, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union less than three years prior, led the country to cancel the expensive program and instead integrate some of its technologies onto older MiG-31 airframes. 

Shortly following the MAKS 2021 international aerospace show, which saw Russia unveil among other things both new upgrades for its Su-57 heavyweight fighter and a new lightweight single-engine stealth fighter known as Checkmate, state media outlet Sputnik quoted a source familiar with the industry stating the MiG company was developing a new carrier-based fighter. 

"The company is working on a promising 5th generation carrier-based fighter, which will be made using stealth technologies. The stage of computer modeling is now underway, the first prototypes are planned to be released in the next few years," the source said, adding that this would likely be capable of vertical take-off and landing at least in some variants and would be a medium weight fighter like the MiG-35. 

The development of a fifth-generation carrier-based fighter has been raised multiple times over several years in Russia, with the Su-57 reported by state media to be easy to adapt to carrier operations and speculated to be the country’s next carrier-based fighter. 

In March 2018 the chief designer at the United Aircraft Corporation Sergey Korotkov stated regarding the development of the Su-57 for carrier operations: "If we work only on the aerial components and do not work on the ship components, then things won't match up. 

A whole host of problems involving takeoff, landing, operation, electromagnetic compatibility, and so on – it must be done together." In regards to the benefits of an electromagnetic launch system, particularly relative to the ski jump system used by Russia's existing carrier Admiral Kuznetsov: "If a new carrier is being built, it must-have modern features, such as electromagnetic catapults." 

In February that year official Nikolay Maximov revealed that the Russian Navy planned to commission a new carrier that would likely deploy Su-57 fighters from its deck to replace navalised Su-27 fighters. 

A MiG carrier-based fighter may well be developed either alongside or instead of a navalised Su-57, however, both as a lighter counterpart alongside it on future carriers, and as a vertical landing capable fighter for lighter carriers that cannot accommodate the Su-57. 

Russia was previously the world leader in vertical takeoff and landing technologies particularly with the Yak-41 and Yak-43 programs, although the collapse of the Soviet Union set back efforts by several decades. The country has many of the technologies needed to develop such a fighter, and MiG may well be tasked with developing it both for export and for the navy’s two upcoming assault carriers which were laid down at shipyards in Crimea in 2020. 

There are many potential clients for a vertical landing capable fighter, most notably including China, Egypt, Turkey, and Thailand which all field carriers are potentially capable of accommodating. Carriers deploying such aircraft require less crew and are much cheaper to build and operate than those deploying conventional takeoff fighters, meaning the market for them could grow in the future. 

While MiG’s operations have gained much less attention than Sukhoi, it remains a very major part of the Russian military aviation industry relied on for improvements to the MiG-31 and production of the MiG-29, as well as the development of a carrier-based stealth fighter and the particularly important task fo developing the MiG-41 interceptor. 

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