Russia’s MiG-35 “fifth-generation” fighter may be one huge swing and a miss.
In an attempt to keep up with competitors in the aerial arena, Moscow has self-labeled its MiG-35 fighter, indicating it is just as formidable and modern as America’s F-35 Lightning II and China’s Chengdu J-20.
The Russian Air Force deployed the MiG-35 to participate in the 2022 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, where the platform joined three other fighter aircraft- the S-35, Su-34 and Su-57 jets.
However, with only six units believed to have actually entered service with Russia’s Air Force today, this “top-of-the-line” platform may just be another Kremlin propaganda ploy.
The origin story of the MiG-35
Designated by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as the Fulcrum-F, the MiG-35 is marketed as a “4+++ generation fighter” by Russia. Back in 2007, the MiG-35 designation was given to another Russian airframe, the MiG-29. While Russia hoped to sell this platform to India at the Aero India air show in Bangalore that year, the presence of more powerful contenders like the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, Dassault Rafale and Saab JAS 39 Gripen led to the ousting of the Russian jet from the procurement competition a few years later.
The MiG-35 was largely derived from the MiG-29 with several key improvements. More modern avionics and weapons systems, including an AESA radar manufactured by Mikoyan, give the Fulcrum-F an edge over its predecessor.
However, the fighter’s shorter range and lower weapons payload than Flanker derivatives makes it less cost effective for the Russian Air Force. According to Air Force Technology, the Fulcrum-F will be the first Russian fighter to be equipped with active electronically scanned array radar: “The Zhuk-MA’s antenna consists of 160 modules, each with four receive-and-transmit modules. It is believed to offer a 160km (85nm) air target detection radius and 300km for surface ships. Like radar, OLS allows the MiG-35 to detect targets and aim weapon systems. But, unlike radar, OLS has no emissions, meaning it cannot be detected.”
With the OLS, Fulcrum-F pilots would theoretically be better positioned to locate stealth enemy airframes.
Russia claims the MiG-35 will be speedy and armed to the teeth
Russian state-media outlets report that the MiG-35 will be powered by two Klimov RD-33MK after-burning turbofan engines which could allow the fighter to fly at speeds up to Mach 2.25 (times the speed of sound). The “4thgeneration +++” jet will also be fitted with nine hardpoints, enabling the fighter to carry a large payload, including Kh-31A anti-ship missiles, KAB-500Kr TV-guided bombs and KH-31P anti-radiation missiles.
Despite the capabilities that the Kremlin may claim, the MiG-35 is developed around a fourth-generation fighter from forty-something years ago. Russia first revealed the airframe back in 2007, yet, only six MiG-35s are in service today.
Notably, the Fulcrum-F has been totally absent from Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Based on all the verifiable information we have surrounding the MiG-35, it is safe to assume that this fighter is not all that the Kremlin has claimed it to be.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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