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Azeri military pilots test-fly MiG-35 fighter jet

Azeri military pilots practiced flying Russian-made Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 (NATO reporting name: Fulcrum-F), according to the press department of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD).

Azeri military pilots test fly MiG 35 fighter jet MiG-35 aircraft (Picture source: Marina Lystseva/TASS)

“Under the program of military-technical cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation, a group of specialists from the Azeri Air Force [AAF] visited several enterprises of the Russian defense industry. The Azeri pilots flew MiG-35 [multirole combat] aircraft at Russian military airbases,” the MoD reported on April 7.

According to the press department, the Azeri delegation visited the plants that produce Sukhoi Su-35 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 multirole combat aircraft. “During the meetings with the representatives of Russia’s company Rosoboronexport [a subsidiary of state corporation Rostec] and the top executives of the plants, Azerbaijan’s interest in the acquisition of the most sophisticated Russian-made combat aircraft was revealed,” said the MoD.

Azerbaijan is reported to be choosing a new combat workhorse for the AAF. According to the Military Balance 2019 report released by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the Azeri military service has fielded 14 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 (Fulcrum) multirole combat aircraft, two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UB (Fulcrum-B) operational trainers, 16 Sukhoi Su-25 (Frogfoot-A) single-seat close air support (CAS) aircraft, and three Sukhoi Su-25UB (Frogfoot-B) twin-seat CAS operational trainers. This fleet dates back to the mid-2000s and should pass through both incremental and comprehensive upgrades in years to come.

It should be mentioned that Baku has strongly indicated its intention to conduct a large modernization of its combat aircraft inventory. On February 20, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Defense Zakir Gasanov and CEO of Italy’s Leonardo Group Alessandro Profumo signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the acquisition of several Italian-made M-346 Master operational trainers. However, the MoU does not stipulate any procurement; a firm contract should signed to this end.

There are also rumors that Baku is set to receive the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (CAC/PAC) FC-1/JF-17 Thunder multirole combat aircraft that has been jointly developed by the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan. On August 15, 2019, Pakistani Ambassador to Azerbaijan Said Khan Mohammad announced the procurement of 10 CAC/PAC JF-17s by Baku. Despite thrusting the acquisition into the spotlight, the official provided no additional details; nor did he mention the cost of the combat aircraft. Baku did not report any deliveries of the Thunder; therefore, one may treat the ambassador’s speech as an exaggeration.

Within this context, a potential procurement of the MiG-35 by Azerbaijan seems to be logical. This aircraft is the latest iteration of the renowned MiG-29: the AAF will not spend much time to master it, considering the ongoing deployment of the upgraded Fulcrum. The rebuilding (or modernization) of the existing AAF’s infrastructure will not carry a hefty price tag. The MiG-35 features relatively high cost-effectiveness ratio as it is capable of carrying modern air-launched weapons. Having a well-balanced flight hour cost and extended service life (compared to that of the legacy MiG-29 variants), the aircraft is capable of replacing ageing Fulcrums. Compared to the single-engine JF-17/FC-1, the MiG-35 produces a heavier thrust due to the integration of a powerpack with two jet engines.

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