Russia’s First Attempt To Build Its Own ‘F-35’ Was A Total Disaster

Russia’s First Attempt To Build Its Own ‘F-35’ Was A Total Disaster

Mark Episkopos

Security, Europe

Meet the MiG-1.44.

Key point: As with many ambitious Soviet military projects of the 1980’s, the Soviet collapse imposed an unacceptable degree of strain on Mikoyan’s already tight budget.

Over the prior decade, Russia’s foray into fifth-generation jet fighter development has become synonymous with the upcoming Su-57. But the Su-57 was only Russia’s second attempt at developing a fifth-generation aircraft, preceded by several decades with an altogether different project.

This is the story of the ill-fated MiG 1.44.

In 1979, Soviet high command determined that a new generation of fighter aircraft was needed to ensure the competitiveness of the Soviet Air Force (VVS) into the 1990’s and beyond. The timing could not have been more apt; it was only several years later that the US air force began researching and developing what would become the highly capable F-22 fighter.

The project, which became known as MFI or “Multifunctional Frontline Fighter,” established a set of core design criteria roughly corresponding with the Soviet and early Russian understanding of what makes a fifth-generation fighter: supermaneuverability, supercruise capability (sustained supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners), low radar cross-section, integrated avionics system, and substantially improved landing/takeoff capability.

The procurement order went to Soviet aircraft manufacturer Mikoyan in 1983. After prolonged experimentation with several aerodynamic schemes,  Mikoyan eventually settled on a duck-like delta wing design to distinguish their fighter from the forward-swept wing schemes of rival aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi. The Mikoyan-Sukhoi rivalry was among the reasons for MiG 1.44’s eventual failure, as Sukhoi continued to insist that their ongoing Su-37 project could deliver a better result at a lower cost.

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