This week the Russian Air Force accepted delivery of two new state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-34 fighter jets, the first of an order of 200. Russia will not export the Su-34 until its own Air Force is modernized According to Flight International:
The multi-role fighter-bombers will initially be based in Lipetsk at the air force’s combat training centre, where Su-34 tactics and weapons delivery techniques will be developed. Together with six more Su-34s due to be delivered in 2007 and 10 in 2008, the aircraft will join Russia’s front-line bomber force and be declared operational in 2010. The Russian air force plans to operate 57 aircraft by 2015 and eventually a total of 200, says commander-in-chief Gen Vladimir Mikhailov.
As many people have noted, the Russians arms industry of is of extraordinary importance to the economy. Here Robert T. McLean of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy shares some of his views on Russian defense issues in a 2006 article in The American Spectator:
The Russian economy remains largely dependent on weapons sales. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s vital defense industry faced an enormous crisis. Not only would domestic spending be decreased, but exports to friendly regimes would no longer be necessary in many cases. As a result, even after enormous downsizing in the Russian defense industry — an estimated 2.5 to 6.1 million lost their jobs between 1991 and 1995 — by 1996, the sector was working at a capacity of only about 10 percent of its potential. Thus, to maintain the country’s military industrial complex the Kremlin has taken on the role of the world’s weapons supplier. From Algeria and Venezuela to Syria and Iran, Moscow displays few reservations to arming any regime that can help fuel its defense industry. … Equally disturbing have been the further reports of additional Iranian weapons purchases from Russia. According to the Indian national daily the Hindu, “Russian sources said talks were under way to sell Iran long range air-defence systems codenamed S-300PMU1, radar stations, and T-90S tanks.” This, however, may turn out to be one area where the Russians decide to use their leverage for a constructive manner. Agence France Presse reports that Moscow has used the potential sale of the S-300 long-range air defense missile system as a means to convince Tehran to suspend the enrichment of uranium. This has largely been ineffective as Iran appears determined to continue its uranium enrichment process. … While arms sales are an essential element in the Russian economy, does this indicate that strategic calculations are absent from Moscow’s decisions? The evidence does not indicate that this is so. In February 2005 Israel backed out of an arms deal with Georgia due to Russian concerns that the weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists on their way to Chechnya. Similar apprehension has eluded Moscow with respect to state purchasers that are not considered to be unfriendly. To the strong rejection of the United States and Israel, Russia agreed to sell Syria the SA-18 short-range anti-aircraft system. … Russia is using the export of arms to its benefit both domestically and internationally. Unfortunately, this revitalized influence from Moscow has produced few benefits for the rest of the world. Many of the world’s rogue regimes must be pleased with this development, but international security is being severely undermined. Russia now finds itself at a crossroads where it will continue to drift east towards China and towards Cold War strategic competition with the United States, or it will continue to democratize and become a responsible world actor engaged in genuine cooperation with the West.