For years, Beijing has been the biggest arms supplier to Islamabad, with defense purchases as a key element of their close ties. Now, Russia is looking to make inroads into the Pakistani weapons market.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on April 15 that Pakistan has expressed interest in making a huge purchase of Russian military hardware, citing comments from Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Moscow-based defense think tank Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
The total invoice could top $9 billion, according to Makienko, who added that Pakistan would likely purchase Russian heavy and medium fighter jets, medium and short-range air defense systems, combat helicopters, tanks, and warships.
Makienko named two types of Russian military hardware that would likely be on Islamabad’s shopping list: the new Russian fighter jet MiG-35 and the heavy transport helicopter Mi-26T2.
Pakistani authorities haven’t confirmed this planned purchase, nor have Pakistani media reported on it thus far.
But Makienko noted that given the low-competitive nature of the military market in Pakistan, which is dominated by China, Russia would likely receive extremely favorable terms on the purchase contracts.
He added that Pakistan has not made requests such as technology transfer or localization of production as terms for any purchases.
China supplied weapons worth over $6.4 billion to Pakistan from 2008 to 2018, making it Pakistan’s biggest supplier, according to data from the independent arms research institute SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), followed by the United States with $2.5 billion, and Italy with $471 million worth of weapons.
Currently, Chinese-made jets make up the bulk of Pakistan’s fleet of fighter jets: the Chengdu J-7, and JF-17 Thunder. The former was modeled after the Russian jet MiG-21, while the latter was developed jointly by the Pakistani state-owned aerospace company Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and China’s state-owned Chengdu Aircraft Corp.
In 2016, one of the biggest arms deals between China and Pakistan was signed, with the sale of eight Chinese diesel-electric attack submarines manufactured by state-run China Shipbuilding Trading Corporation, to be delivered to the Pakistan Navy by 2028, according to Pakistan’s English-language newspaper The Express Tribune.
Aside from arms sales, there have been other recent signs that Russia and Pakistan plan to enhance their military ties.
On March 24, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN) reported comments by Pakistani Major General Asif Ghafoor about expanding defense cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad. Ghafoor said that there could be more military contracts between the two countries, as Pakistan had just received its orders of Russian attack helicopters Mi-35, a purchase made in 2015.
A week later, on March 30, unnamed senior officials at Pakistan’s foreign ministry told local English-language daily newspaper The Nation that Islamabad and Moscow had agreed to exchange high-level visits more frequently, with defense being the main component of growing ties between the two countries.
Russia and China are competing for customers for their military equipment worldwide. Russian news agency TASS, in an editorial published on March 29, noted that China was a market competitor in the sale of submarines, citing the case of Thailand’s navy choosing to buy submarines from China over shipbuilders in Russia, South Korea, and Germany.
Thailand’s English-language daily The Nation, reported in March 2017 that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha confirmed the purchase of three submarines from China—but that the country only paid for two, since the third one would be a “free gift.”
In September 2018, South China Morning Post reported that Thailand dropped the number of submarines purchased to one, after local politicians opposed the deal for its high financial burden.
TASS stated that China’s state-run China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. (CSIC) recently announced that at least eight countries were interested in buying its submarines, including Algeria, Cuba, and Venezuela—news that “is unlikely to be joyful for Russian shipbuilders.”