Why did India buy the Dassault Rafale instead of the Sukhoi Su-35 or the Mikoyan MiG-35?
Indian Air Force desired for an ultra-modern fighter aircraft for its MMRCA Competition and hence Russia sent its MiG-29M2 which was re-designated as Mig-35 for Aero India 2007. Russia wanted it to be the base upon which the future Fulcrum would be developed. However Mig-35 had a very slim chances to be ever considered by Indian Air Force.
A large shock came to Russian side when two of its Mig-29 crashed resulting in grounding of entire Fulcrum fleet. The Mig-35 performance was deemed average by IAF and MoD since it failed in Leh trials and also showed poor ground attack capabilities. Moreover Mig-35 at that time was still in development period and there were bleak chances that even Russian Air Force would induct it in its fleet.
India at that time also got their Mig-29 upgraded to UPG standards and also ordered Mig-29K for its new aircraft carrier. Coming onto technicality , Mig-35 looks good on paper , carrying on the Mig-29 legacy with it along with an AESA radar and good optronics but it severly lacked in comparison to other comparable Western aircrafts. Mig-35 was originally built for export purposes and is not that very advanced compared to the likes of Rafale or Typhoon and also does not give any sort of political leverage or ecosystem to India , which we wanted in MMRCA deal and got with Rafales. Even RuAF is more bent towards much more versatile Flanker aircrafts. Mig-35 is neither stealthy , nor can it take on 5th Generation Aircrafts like Rafale or Typhoon. It has good maneuverability , more advanced Fly-by-Wire systems and Thrust Vectors but severly lacks in range and can be just used for area defense.
Moreover , India had quite a sour experience with the Mikoyan , after many of its Mig-29 faced severe maintainability issues and there was a lack of proper after-sales support also from Russian side. All these factors made IAF reject Mig-35.
Now this is an interesting fighter since many think that after the success of Su-30MKI , India should have went for Su-35. First of all we need to understand that Su-30MKI filled in the niche for air superiority fighters which was more than satisfactory for IAF. Even though some 60 Su-35 ( with 40 further one ) were offered by Russia , India turned down the proposal as it was strengthened quite enough in Air Superiority aspect. What it wanted next was an Omnirole Medium-Combat Aircraft which can take on Strike roles as well in which Su-30MKI or Su-35 was severly lacking.
Indian Air Force also realized that it can bring on its Flankers to the level of Su-35 with the help of a Super Sukhoi upgrade which will add an AESA Radar , more advanced avionics and better weapons to it. The need for additional flankers when one type filled in all requirements , was effectively nullified. Also PAK FA/FGFA was on cards then , hence India did not pay much attention on ordering further Flankers of another type.
IAF was keen on getting Rafales due to much needed political leverage it was offered from France ( which supported India in 1998 Pokhran Tests ) and the advanced ecosystem for aircrafts which will be developed in India by Dassault which includes off-sets clauses. Rafale was a completely new platform unlike Su-35 or Mig-35 which were based on 1970s-era airframe , with ultra-modern avionics , weapons suite , sensors and strike capabilities. India had operated Dassault aircrafts earlier too and well knew how they performed. Rafale had a a very low RCS making it semi-stealthy , had an AESA radar , much better after-slaes support and maintainability keeping most of the fleet operational at any given period of time. Neither Mig-35 nor Su-35 would have added anything significant to IAF purposes and needs and hence we went for Rafales which would give us a technological edge over our adversaries.
Hope my answer serves the purpose =)
Harsh B Mishra is a writer on Defence Update, he also loves to write on Quora. You can follow him on Quora for more interesting knowledge on special forces.
Source: Harsh Mishra Quora