Watching news reports of Western leaders censuring Russia actions during the conflict in south-eastern regions of Ukraine, it seemed a safe bet that sanctions and global condemnation would restrict the Kremlin’s ability to sell arms around the world.
However, not only has this yet to materialise but Russia’s state-owned defence equipment export company Rosoboronexport seemingly has had a record year, reporting exports of almost $39 billion in 2013-14.
Our intrepid land warfare editor Tim Fish was at a press conference in Pretoria during the AAD exhibition this week when the director general of Rosoboronexport, Anatoly Isaykin, revealed that although they had ‘experienced some one-sided sanctions declared by one country, the USA’, the period under sanctions had actually seen exports increase.
The sale of $38.7 billion worth of military equipment in 2013-14 was not only the ‘the highest figures in recent years’, the organisation does not expect this to decrease during the remainder of 2014.
Rosoboronexport is making a big drive into Africa, and Isaykin said the organisation is currently considering 16 proposals from countries across the region.
On the helicopter front, Nigeria has placed a large order for Russian military rotorcraft, including Mi-171Sh and Mi-35M helicopters.
A contract was signed in August for the delivery of a large batch of Mi-171Sh tactical transport helicopters and a few Mi-35M attack helicopters (Rosoboronexport has declined to disclose the exact numbers of both orders). The Mi-171Sh is the latest military derivative of the Mi-8, while the Mi-35M is the latest version of the Mi-24 attack helicopter with day/night targeting systems and anti-tank guided missiles.
Mozambique has also expressed interest in the Mi-171Sh and negotiations with that country were expected to be carried out during AAD.
With a number of countries, such as Angola and Mozambique, still using military equipment procured from the Soviet Union, the Kremlin clearly sees the continent as rich in sales opportunities, and their plan is to use South Africa as a base from where this equipment can be serviced and maintained.
As well as the joint production in South Africa of ‘light helicopters, missiles, and the development of wireless communications technology and radar equipment’, Russia is looking to establish a maintenance centre in the republic to service this equipment.
The manufacture of Russian military helicopters could yet be stalled due to the Ukraine crisis given that the ubiquitous TV3-117 turboshaft (and its newer derivative VK-2500) engine is built by Motor-Sich company of Zaporozhia, Ukraine.
Our correspondent Alex Mladenov looks at Russia’s dependence on Motor Sich in the current issue of Defence Helicopter and how the crisis has affected the delivery of TV3-117/VK-2500 engines to Russia.
The embargo on the rotorcraft engine exports to Russia will not have a negative impact on one significant contract – the delivery of 63 Mi-17V-5 tactical transport helicopters for the Afghan armed forces ordered by the US for some $1.33 billion.
The remaining 12 helicopters from the second contract for 30 Mi-17V-5s, signed in 2013 have already been assembled, with the last three examples slated for delivery to Kabul this month or in early October.
The use of US taxpayer dollars to purchase Russian helicopters for the Afghans has always been controversial, despite the Mi-17 being undoubtedly the best choice for the country, given how well it handles the environment and how well known it is to Afghan pilots, air crews and maintainers.
The Pentagon now finds itself in a bind – in order to reduce the size of the US force in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of this year, the Afghans will need the operational reach of the Mi-17s to provide adequate security for the remaining coalition forces.
However, this will require some kind of deal with Rosoboronexport to safeguard the supply of spare parts needed to maintain the aircraft and keep them operational.
Speaking in July, Marine General Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was quoted by Reuters as saying he had not been able to find any way to maintain the helicopters without dealing with Rosoboronexport.
‘My assessment is that that would not be possible,’ he said.