Don’t Expect Russia to Arm MiG-35s With Laser Cannons

Experts think official misspoke about beam weapons


Will Russia’s new MiG-35 Fulcrum-F fighter jet really be armed with laser weapons? Experts think a Russian official probably just misspoke when he made that claim.

During his report to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin, Yury Slyusar, director of the United Aircraft Corporation — the parent company of RSK-MiG, which makes the MiG-35 — told officials at the Kremlin that the new fighter could eventually fight with laser weapons.

“We have increased from six to eight the number of suspension points, which will make it possible to use current and future airborne weapons systems, including laser weapons,” Slyusar told Putin.

Above — the MiG-35 prototype in 2009. Dmitry Terekhov photo via Wikimedia. At top — a MiG-35 spotted in 2017. Alex Snow photo via Wikimedia

Even though state-run media channels enthusiastically broadcast the statement, the announcement was immediately met with derision among professional defense analyst community — both in Russia and in the United States.

“The presenter clearly misspoke, intending to say laser-guided weapons, but it resulted in an instant joke among Russia defense watchers,” research scientist Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the CNA Corporation said. Sources in Russia concurred with Kofman’s assessment that Slyusar was not likely intentionally trying to be misleading, but most likely made an error.

Its not clear if the MiG-35 in its present guise would even be able to accommodate such advanced systems.

There has already been some confusion about the current version of the MiG-35, which despite sharing the same designation as an earlier prototype, is not the same aircraft. RSK-MiG designed this latest varaint as a low-cost, lightweight fighter primarily aimed at replacing Russia’s remaining original model MiG-29 fleet and the export market.

The original MiG-35 prototype featured a Zhuk-MA active electronically scanned array radar and thrust-vectoring controls. However, the new simplified aircraft is a simply a slightly upgraded, land-based version of the naval MiG-29KR.

As such, while this new MiG-35 will be considerably more capable than the original MiG-29, the new jet is a far cry from the advanced derivative that the firm proposed for export to India in 2011. Indeed, the plane no longer even has a phased-array radar, now relying instead on the significantly less capable Zhuk-M mechanically scanned set.

Thus, while this case was probably not a deliberate piece of fiction promoted by the Kremlin, laser weapons mounted on the MiG-35 will remain in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future.

This article originally appeared at The National Interest.