Update on Russian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa

In early March, I posted a list of Russian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, more comprehensive information has come out on this topic. Most importantly, Ruslan Pukhov just published a comprehensive overview of Russian arms contracts with North African states in the most recent issue of VPK. Plus the SIPRI databases are back online and can provide some additional information as well. So what follows is a bit of a reprise, but with a significant amount of new information.

Contracts with Libya since 2005 include (prices and year contract concluded listed in parentheses):

  • modernization of Libyan S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs (SA-3 in NATO parlance) to the Pechora-2M level (<$100 million) (2009)
  • purchase of 12 Tor-M2E SAMs (SA-15 in NATO parlance) ($300 million) (2010, though other reports indicate 2008)
  • purchase of an unknown number of Igla-S portable SAMs (SA-24 in NATO parlance) (<$100 million) (2008)
  • modernization of 145 T-72 tanks ($300 million) (2010)
  • purchase of BMP-3M infantry fighting vehicles ($300 million) (not included on latest list)
  • purchase of 6 Yak-130 training aircraft ($120 million) (2010)
  • repair of 12 MiG-23ML fighter jets (<$50 million) (2006)
  • building a factory in Libya to produce AK-103 machine guns under license ($500 million) (2010)
  • purchase of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems (not included on latest list)
  • purchase of 3 Molniya missile boats, with 96 Kh-35 Uran anti-ship missiles ($250 million) (2010)
  • repair and modernization of 2 Koni-class frigates and 3 Nanuchka II-class corvettes ($200 million) (2010)

In addition, various reports indicate that negotiations were fairly advanced on an additional $2 billion deal that was to include:

  • 12-15 Su-35 fighter jets
  • 4 Su-30MK fighter jets
  • Il-76 transport planes
  • Ka-52 helicopters
  • 48 T-90SA tanks
  • Pantsir-S1 self-propelled SAMs
  • 1-2 Kilo submarines

All of these contracts and potential contracts will undoubtedly be canceled now. If Gaddhafi stays in power, UN sanctions will prevent their fulfillment. If he is replaced, the new leaders will most likely seek to review his military procurement strategy — with a likely shift to a more Western-oriented procurement posture.

Known contracts still to be fulfilled with Algeria are even more extensive:

  • purchase of 16 SU-30MKI fighter jets ($1.5 billion)
  • modernization of 250 T-72M tanks (150 already completed) (total value $200 million)
  • purchase of 16 Yak-130 training aircraft (part of $8 billion deal signed in 2006)
  • modernization of one Koni-class frigate and one Nanuchka-class corvette ($100 million)
  • purchase of 3 S-300 air defense systems and 38 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (part of $8 billion deal signed in 2006)

Most of these are leftovers from the big contracts concluded in 2006, with just the fighter jets being a new contract signed in 2010 as a replacement for the canceled deal for MiG-29SMT fighter planes.

Syria is the other major customer for Russia’s military industry. Recent contracts that have yet to be completed include:

  • modernization of 24 MiG-29s to SMT level
  • purchase of 2 MiG-31M interceptors, second-hand from Russian air force
  • purchase of 8 battalions of Buk-M2E missile systems ($1 billion)
  • modernization of S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs to the Pechora-2M level
  • modernization of 200 T-72 tanks to T-72M1M level (part of $500 million contract to modernize 1000 tanks, 800 already completed)
  • purchase of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems (status uncertain)
  • purchase of 36 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (part of 2006 contract, 30 delivered in 2008-10)
  • purchase of 2 K-300 Bastian coastal defense systems

While the recent repression of anti-government protesters in Syria has not yet led to international sanctions or arms embargoes, the political uncertainty that now surrounds the Assad regime must make the Russian suppliers for these contracts very nervous.

Other contracts with potentially vulnerable states in the region include:

  • Yemen: purchase of 100 BTR-80A armored vehicles and 50 120-mm towed mortars ($60 million)
  • Egypt: modernization of 20  S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs to the Pechora-2M level (10 completed)
  • Kuwait: purchase of BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles
  • Kuwait: purchase of 2 Murena assault hovercraft (as payment for Russian debt to Kuwait)
  • Jordan: construction of factory to make Khashim RPGs
  • Lebanon: purchase of 6 Mi-24 helicopters
  • Lebanon: purchase of 31 T-72M1 tanks
  • Lebanon: purchase 36 M-46 130mm towed guns
  • United Arab Emirates: purchase of 50 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (16 delivered) ($800 million). Deal originally made in 2000, first deliveries delayed from 2003 to 2009.

The instability in North Africa and the Middle East is clearly likely to have a potentially quite significant negative impact on Russian arms sales to the region. The leaders of the two largest clients, Libya and Syria, are both currently engaged in fights for their political survival. International sanctions will close the Libyan market to Russian sales for the foreseeable future regardless of the outcome of the ongoing military conflict there. Although chances are that the Assad regime will survive the current wave of protests sweeping through Syria, the use of the army in mass repression may make it more politically difficult for Russia to sell arms to Assad in the future.

Meanwhile, there are few new customers in the region. Algeria has largely turned away from Russian equipment after its bad experience with the MiG-29 purchase. Morocco does not have the money to buy much in the way of advanced equipment. Egypt’s new government is likely to maintain its close relationship with the U.S. military. The Gulf States have traditionally purchased most of their military equipment from the U.S. and Western Europe as well and are unlikely to shift to Russian equipment, since most of them have the money to pay for the most advanced Western items and the political relationships to make such deals happen.

Given this situation, it seems that Russia’s arms exporters will have to focus primarily on Asia and Latin America in the foreseeable future.