MTC of Russia With Middle East and North African Countries: Status And Outlooks

It is not a secret that the Middle East and North Africa region is one of the world's most attractive for arms manufacturers and exporters.

According to data of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), out of 10 largest arms importers in 2014–2018 five countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, UAE, Iraq) were from this region. In these circumstances, in three cases, Russia was among the three largest suppliers for these countries.[i]

As of itself, this market is quite broad in terms of finances and demonstrates a tendency for further growth. According to data of the SIPRI, it grew by 87% through 2014 to 2018 as compared to the previous five-year period. In light of this, it is interesting to take a look at this market in regard to Russian arms exporters and track its dynamics. It should be noted that in connection with relatively low coverage of this topic in Russian media the regional data are incomplete and patchy.

So, the regional structure of order portfolio in 2015 was as follows: Asian-Pacific Region – 42%, Middle East and North Africa – 36%, Latin America and CIS – 9% each, other regions – 4%. In this regard, the largest importer is India and in total the first ten importing countries cover up to 70–80% of supplies.[ii]

According to data of the FSMTC, the geographical composition of exports in 2017 looked as follows: 48% – Middle East and North African countries, 45% – Asian-Pacific Region. Europe accounted for only 1–2% of supplies, it was mainly effective contracts for repair and maintenance of helicopter equipment in Eastern Europe[iii]. However, in November it appeared that Middle East and North African countries account for about 20%, or 8 billion US dollars in JSC “Rosoboronexport” portfolio (in other words, it is possible to conclude that the special export portfolio was 40 billion US dollars at that moment).[iv] As it can be seen, the share of this region grew through 2015 to 2017 for Russian arms and military equipment manufacturers.

There was some information reported for 2018. As of the end of August, 60% of the orders portfolio were from North African countries and APR including India and China. Middle East countries and Arabian Peninsula all together accounted for about 20%, Sub-Saharan Africa – about 10%, CIS countries – 5%[v]. At that time, the whole order portfolio reached 45 billion US dollars, in other words, these values amounted to 27 bln, 9 bln, 4.5 bln, and 2.25 bln US dollars respectively. It is interesting that in the end of September the order portfolio from “African countries” without stating details was reported to be 3 bln US dollars. [vi]

This region from the viewpoint of Russian Defense Industrial Sector is believed to be insistent on high standards of arms and equipment to be purchased. This often results in a situation when local clients become the launch customers for many Russian armament systems. This is what happened, for instance, in case of UAE: The Air Force and Air Defense of this country became the launch customer of Pantsyr-S1 ADMGS, having received 50 combat machines mounted on MAN SX45 (8´8) truck from 2010 to 2013 under a contract signed in 2000 with Russian JSC Instrument Design Bureau. Much earlier, in 1992, the UAE purchased the largest batch of infantry combat vehicles BMP-3, having actually introduced this vehicle to the global market.

Other examples include the first purchase of Yak-130 combat-capable trainer aircraft by Algeria. The same country has become a full-scale export customer for Iskander-E Tactical Ballistic Missile System and MI-28NE assault helicopter. It was also reported that Algeria could become the first customer of SU-32 front-line bomber, however, up to now this information has not been confirmed yet. It is interesting that the second contract (and the last one so far) for MI‑28NE has been concluded by a country from this region – Iraq. Egypt could not stay away from purchasing new products either – it has become the launch customer for Ka-52 attack helicopters and MIG-29M/M2 jet fighters. Jordan has become the first and the only buyer of the extended modification of IL-76 – IL-76MF military transport aircraft. Even Gaddafi's Libya managed to purchase first self-propelled ATGM Khrizantema-S and to receive some of them prior to the beginning of combat activities.

Also it’s worth to note such a factor as series production. Almost all contracts with countries of this region are of large scale. So, in total the UAE purchased 815 BMP-3 and 50 Pantsyr-S1 ADMGS, Egypt – 46 Ka-52 and the same amount of MIG-29M/M2, Algeria – 38 Pantsyr-S1 ADMGS and 42 MI-20NE, Iraq – about 300–500 BMP-3, 200 tanks T-90CA, 28 attack helicopters MI-35M and 15 MI-28NE. It is obvious that this list can be continued. Such great amounts of supply not only bring in hard currency revenues to Russian defense enterprises but are also highly profitable and make it possible to keep up production and build long term plans.

Finally, recently this region has acquired a new meaning for Russia. The outbreak of combat operations in Syria with Russia's involvement (September 30, 2015) became the important factor. To a wide extent, Syria has been used as a “showroom” for Russian arms and weapon systems and many of them have finally become labeled as “combat proved”. Military and political success in the Syrian direction made also possible the fact that some regional states of those previously oriented towards Western suppliers (first of all, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) have taken interest in Russian arms and systems and in some cases even started to purchase them, however, in small amounts so far.

On the other hand, over the last years, armament exhibitions in the Middle East have actually turned out to be the main venues (together with China and India) for showcasing Russian armaments, apart from exhibitions and show rooms in Russia and CIS, – due to no access to the largest Western exhibitions.

The following factors may pose risks for Russia in this market. First of all, this is a global threat in the form of American sanctions. Regional countries have already encountered this: for example, Egypt – in connection with a contract to purchase SU-35 jet fighters. One more risk that can be deemed is the outbreak of “Arabian spring 2.0”, because the internal instability of this region may lead to a reduction in armament purchases. A serious challenge to be dealt with is increased competition on the part of the main Western armament manufacturers and China as well as new players, such as Turkey (which has started to play an active part in this region over the last few years) or South Korea.

Finally, it should be pointed out that there is risk of running into technological inferiority of products offered by Russia in the local market, as they have to compete with most advanced competitors’ offers.


[i] Trends in international arms transfers, 2018. SIPRI Fact Sheet, March 2019.

[ii] Web-page: http://bmpd.livejournal.com/1547499.html

[iii] The FSMTC evaluated Russia’s position in the global arms market // Lenta.Ru, 18.07.2017.

[iv] The order portfolio of Rosoboronexport from Middle East and North African countries is worth of 8 billion US dollars – head of Rosoboronexport Mikheev // Interfax-AVN, 15.11.2017.

[v] Dmitry Shugaev: Russia has found ways to bring in new partners for MTC // RIA “Novosti”, 20.08.2018.

[vi] FSMTC Director: Russian arms get back to Africa // Interfax-AVN, 20.09.2018.

Andrey Frolov

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

Our partners