Exports Of Ground Forces Equipment From Russia

Russian export supplies of aviation equipment and AD systems traditionally exceed 50% of the entire product range, however, the importance of ground forces equipment supplies should not be underestimated.

For example, in 2017, the share of aviation equipment was traditionally 50%, after that ground forces equipment followed (there were estimates from 20 to 30% during the year), then up to 20% – AD systems and around 6–7% – navy equipment[1].

The same year it was announced that there was a rising demand for small arms, close combat weapons, sights, and ammunitions. With this, over 2014 to 2017 the order portfolio of JSC “Rosoboronexport” for these products increased by more than five times. A year earlier the share of ground equipment was slightly less (16%), it was at the third position having let aviation and AD systems ahead.[2] Just about the same picture was observed in 2014: the same third position, although with much higher share – 21%, just a little behind the AD equipment with its 25.7%.[3]

Some absolute indicators were announced as well – so, in the beginning of September 2015 the order portfolio for this weapons segment accounted for about 12 bln US dollars, however the total portfolio was about 38–45 bln US dollars during that year.

All this makes it possible to state that exports of ground forces equipment are an important element in the Russian MTC system and generates several billion dollars in hard currency revenues per year. To tell the truth, it is possible to identify very few contracts, in addition, for a number of popular positions it is difficult to say whether it is a new production or the supplies are delivered from inventory of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

It is important to note that exports in the past made it possible to save production for a few critical products. This is what happened with BMP-3, which was literally “saved” by a contract with the UAE in the beginning of the 1990s as well as T-90 tank, contract for which with India significantly improved positions of its manufacturer JSC SPC “Uralvagonzavod”. It is interesting that due to the first large contracts with “launch” customers it was possible to sign new contracts, which allowed production lines to run in years to come. Once again, in the near past it was Iraq with BMP-3 and Algeria with T-90, that has become the second largest buyer of this tank after India (by purchased units). It is also encouraging that there are export supplies of new generation Russian equipment, as it was in the case of Uzbekistan and protected motor vehicles ЗА-53949А, which were delivered to foreign customer one year after they had been put in service in the Russian army.

For a long time, Russia could not boast with large supply contracts for small weapons. Until recently, the peak success was contracts with Venezuela for supply of 100 thousand AK-103 machine guns (2005) and construction of a new factory for manufacturing machine guns and 7.62 × 39 caliber rounds for them (2006). Russian machine guns were supplied quite fast, within one-year time, but the factory is still under construction. Another big contract was the contract with Azerbaijan for licensed manufacture of 120 thousand AK-74M machine guns (Azerbaijan designation Xəzri) in a period of up to 2021, in this case 100 thousand machine guns were manufactured already by the middle of 2019[4].

After that there has been a slack period for almost 10 years which was broken only by unpleasant losses in the traditionally Russian markets, though some separate contracts have still been signed. For example, in Vietnam the Russian offer lost to Israel Galil ACE.

However, everything changed in 2019 when a joint venture for licensed production of 7.62 mm Kalashnikov AK-203 machine guns opened in India. In total, India is planning to manufacture 650 thousand AK-203 machine guns.[5] This joint venture was established by Indian State Defense Industrial Association Ordnance Factory Board (OFB, a share in JV – 50.5%) and Russian JSC “Rosoboronexport” and JSC “Concern “Kalashnikov” (49.5%). This contract has become one of the biggest contracts for small arms supply and it seals Russian positions in the Indian market for many years to come. At this background, a separate contract – also with India – for supply of 50 thousand AK-203 machine guns made in Russia, which was executed in 2019, may be regarded as a “warm-up” before the above-mentioned large production contract.[6] It seems that a contract with Saudi Arabia, formally signed earlier for licensed production of Kalashnikov machine guns, is not being executed yet.

Supplies of ground-based equipment to Syria should be mentioned separately. These supplies go through the Ministry of Defense and are extremely well known due to Turkish ship spotters (who record passages of Russian transport and assault landing ships in the straits) as well as to a great number of photos taken on-the-scene in Syria. Due to these it is possible to monitor quite quickly the arrival of a new batch of Russian equipment in Syria. Russia actively supplies big amounts of armored force vehicles (tanks T-90A, T62/62M, infantry combat vehicles BMP-1, armored cars K-43269, motor vehicles, haulers MT-LB, artillery systems, ammunitions, uniforms etc.). Probably, Syria may be considered as the largest receiver of ground forces equipment from Russia in terms of actual volumes.

In general, it is possible to make a conclusion that Russian exports of ground-based systems have entered a kind of “plateau”, which amounts to about 2–3 bln US dollars annually. Some growth can be expected if new generation platforms enter the market, first of all such ss tanks T-14, heavy armored vehicles BMP T-15, BMP “Kurganets-25” and “Bumerang”, new samples of small arms and individual protection means as well as anti-tank systems.

Table 1. The largest and most important known contracts for supply of ground forces equipment signed by Russia in 20142019

[1] Presidential advisor Kozhin: Over 50% of worldwide demand for military equipment from the Russian Federation is aviation // Rambler News Service, 23.03.2017; Order portfolio for Russian weapons amounts to about 50 bln US dollars // Rambler News Service, 30.08.2017.

[2] The share of armaments in Russian exports is 4.2% // TASS, 03.11.2016.

[3] Russia does not plan to increase arms export in years to come // PRAIM, 12.08.2014.

[4] Over a 100 thousand AK-74M assembled in Azerbaijan // bmpd.livejournal.com, 19.05.2019.

[5] Indian defense industry will be able to meet the national army's needs for small weapons based on advanced Russian technologies – Putin // Interfax-АВН, 03.03.2019

[6] Russia supplied 50 thousand Kalashnikov machine guns AK-203 to India // Interfax-АBН, 03.03.2019.

Andrey Frolov

©New defence order. Strategy  №1 (60) 2020