MiG is reportedly working on the development of a stealthy 5th generation carrier-based fighter jet, according to an industry source quoted by the Russian agency RIA Novosti. The manufacturer should come up with a prototype of the aircraft “in the next few years.”
Currently, the Russian Navy has only one single aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. The warship, which came into service in 1990, has had a difficult couple of years since it went into renovation in 2017. In October 2018, an incident put Admiral Kuznetsov in jeopardy. Its floating deck, unique in the world, suddenly sank and a crane that fell on the bridge caused extensive damages. A year later, in December 2019, welding operations on one of the aircraft carrier power units sparked a fire. In March 2021, the director of a contractor involved in the repair was arrested for embezzling $589 million.
In January 2021, the Nevskoye Planning and Design Bureau, which previously designed the Admiral Kuznetsov, presented a concept for its successor, a new aircraft carrier called the UMK Varan. However, the project could never come to fruition as the new doctrine of the Russian Navy refocuses on submarines, much cheaper to build and operate.
But this uncertain future apparently does not stop MiG from imagining the future of Russia’s naval aviation. The carrier-borne fighter jet currently being studied by the manufacturer could be a VSTOL (Vertical or Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft, meaning that it could operate from a ship smaller than a conventional aircraft carrier. The aircraft would also be similar in size to the MiG-35, which is slightly smaller than the Su-33 employed by the Kuznetsov.
That strategy is somehow similar to the approach of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. After commissioning two Izumo-class helicopter carriers in the 2010s, the Japanese Ministry of Defense launched their conversion into de-facto aircraft carriers in 2018 by allowing them to support the operation of F-35B VSTOL fighter jets. However, since the order for two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships was canceled by France in the aftermath of the Crimea annexation, the Russian Navy has yet to commission a helicopter carrier.
MiG struggling to find its place?
In recent years, the duopoly of MiG and Sukhoi over the Russian fighter jet market slowly tilted in favor of the latter, with orders for the Su-34, Su-35, and the successful development of the 5th-generation Su-57 fighter jet. In March 2021, it was announced that Sukhoi and MiG would be regrouped into a single legal entity, along with the United Aircraft Corporation that comprises the aircraft brands Ilyushin, Irkut, Tupolev, and Yakovlev.
In 2015, shortly after the Su-57 was chosen as the new multirole fighter of the Russian Air Force, MiG started developing a light fighter jet, the LMFS, based on its canceled Project 1.44. The role of that aircraft was to support the Su-57 in combat, replacing the MiG-29 and MiG-35. But during the MAKS 2021 air show, Sukhoi visibly stole the spotlight once again by unveiling its own 5th-generation light fighter jet, the Checkmate.
Read more: Russia unveils Sukhoi Checkmate, new light fighter jet