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Syrian Campaign Paves Way for Russian Arms into Asia/Pacific

The US arms export industry is in for some competition

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The author is a Pakistani national security & counter-insurgency researcher who blogs for The Huffington Post. He wrote this article specially for RI

The defense Industry is an indispensable strategic sector for countries like the US, Russia, China and Great Britain. America has long been the biggest international weapons exporter, but recently Pentagon officials warned that a dip could take place after 2016.

The recent military campaign executed by Moscow in Syria took the entire region by storm. Moscow not only played a vital role in achieving strategic and tactical objectives, but also displayed sophisticated weaponry. As of 2016, Russia remains the second largest arms exporter in the world after the United States and in the coming years, the two behemoths will collide more frequently in the arms race.

The Asia-Pacific region is one of the largest arms markets in the world and Russia has successfully penetrated that of countries interested in high-end, big ticket defense items. As per the U.S Congressional Research Service (CRS), Russia delivered military equipment to the Asia-Pacific region worth around $30 Billion between 2007-2014. Asia in particular has been Russia’s golden egg for arms export; 65 percent of all Russian made military equipment having gone to Asian states. Sophisticated Russian weaponry includes MiG and Sukhoi Jets, Combat Helicopters, Tanks, Air Defense Systems, APC’s.

As for China, the PLA’s military hardware mostly consists of Russian grade military products. Much of the technology in the People’s Liberation Army is based on imports from Russia, which supplies more than 80 percent of China’s arms imports and is still considered by many as the country’s largest external provider of military equipment.

After the reluctance by Germany, France and United Kingdom to provide conventional weaponry to Taiwan, its arms market is now wholly owned by the United States.  However, ruthless penetration of Russian defense products in the Asian-Pacific region changed the entire politico-military dynamic, and Russian arms sales surged rapidly in recent years.

While the United States also exports a considerable number of military products to the Asia-Pacific, the Asian-Pacific market is indispensable for Russia’s defense products. Recently, Pakistan too shifted its focus from a one-dimensional arms market, after engaging with Russia on the possible purchase of combat helicopters, tanks and other weaponry. Having only accounted for 3% of its arms since 1950, Pakistan is now interested in acquiring Russian high end tickets such as attack helicopters, T-90 tanks, air defense systems and other sophisticated weaponry. The former cold-war rivals signed a contract in 2015 for the sale of four Mi-35 helicopters. A Russian military official recently stated that ‘After Russia’s military campaign in Syria, the demand for attack aircraft and bomber jets such as Su-24s and-34s has doubled.’ Middle Eastern countries in particular were impressed by the effectiveness of Russian weapons during the campaign, showing interest in acquiring high-end products.

Russia is now more focused on manufacturing weapon systems such as Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles, ICBM’s such as RS-24 Yars & RS-28 Sarmat, long-range bombers, nuclear powered submarines, frigates and armada combat platforms. To support its slowing economy, Russia will be looking to the Asia-Pacific region to sell modern weapons. Countries in this region certainly have the right to maintain armed forces with modern capabilities, but the recent arms race triggered within the region could disturb the bilateral military balance, leading to instability. 

As the rising defense budgets reflect much of the Asia-Pacific region’s appetite for arms, Russia will nevertheless continue to lead by supplying advanced weapon systems, and the Asia-Pacific region will soon be the largest buyer of Russian military products.

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