Russian military hardware being destroyed in Ukraine could appeal to some of Moscow’s best customers.


  • Moscow’s defense customer in Southeast Asia could divert Russia’s poor performance in Ukraine.
  • Buyers could look to India or North Korea as the Ukraine conflict affects Russian supplies.

Image of wrecked and abandoned vehicle – casualties Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — You are questioning the quality and reliability of Russian-made military hardware.

The conflict has damaged Russia’s reputation for defense equipment in Southeast Asia, which was once a significant source of income, according to a recent report by the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Russia has been the largest arms exporter to Southeast Asia for the past two decades, but defense sales values ​​to the region have plummeted since 2014.

According to the report’s author Ian Storey, a senior research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, the war in Ukraine could make it difficult for the defense industry to recover sales and further reduce arms exports to Southeast Asia.

“The poor performance of the Russian army on the battlefield has caused serious reputational damage to Russian-made military hardware,” Storey said.

Buyers who keep an eye on a particular product now say they are skeptical.

On 7 April, a fourth-generation or later SU-35, one of Russia’s most advanced fighters, was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Ukraine. Storey said Vietnam is known to be considering the purchase of the SU-35, but it remains to be seen how far the case will affect procurement decisions.

On April 14, Ukrainian forces used anti-ship cruise missiles in the Black Sea. Russian missile cruiser Moscow sinksIt carries the dubious honor of being the largest naval ship destroyed since World War II.

Equipment known to have been destroyed on the battlefield includes tanks also used in Vietnam and Laos, infantry fighting vehicles and armored vehicles used in Indonesia, and military attack and transport helicopters used in several Southeast Asian countries, Storey said.

Endemic corruption, wrong assumptions

The crashed Sukhoi Russian jet of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

The Russian Sukhoi plane crashed in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Ministry of Defense


There are many reasons for poor performance, and not all are related to production quality. “The modernization fund is being abused due to chronic corruption within the military,” Storey noted.

Zachary Abuza of Washington-based National War College said the real failure wasn’t Russia’s equipment itself, but Russian tactics, incompetent leadership, unmotivated military, and the wrong assumptions behind the decision to go to war.

Russian equipment has always had a reputation for being quite reliable, although it is quite inexpensive. But Abuza said Moscow’s advanced anti-tank missiles and well-armed drones were “turning out to be false” as Ukraine’s “very highly motivated and highly capable military” confronted them.

To make up for its massive losses, Moscow could instruct the defense sector to “reorganize its own army by diverting military equipment manufactured for export.” This will further damage the defense industry’s reputation for reliability as deliveries are delayed and customers can cancel, Storey said.

Negotiations that have stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic are unlikely to resume.

The Ukrainian navy reported Thursday that it had sunk the Russian ship Orsk.

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Ukrainian forces say they have sunk several Russian warships.

AP image


Collin Koh, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said: “Vietnam is the strongest supporter of Russian weapons, but the COVID-19 pandemic has particularly delayed discussions. [about its] We plan to purchase more Sir Gepard frigates.”

Russia is the world’s second largest arms exporter after the United States.

It is number 1 in Southeast Asia. Between 2000 and 2021, Russia’s arms exports to the region amounted to $10.87 billion, followed by the United States ($8.4 billion), France ($4.3 billion) and Germany ($2.94 billion). 1 billion), China ($2.9 billion).

Russia’s most important defense customers in Southeast Asia are Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Russia has offered to sell all its military equipment, from fighters and submarines to tanks and small arms to these countries at lower prices than those made in the United States and Europe.

In addition, Russian defense companies are willing to accept part of the product price to promote joint production, and unlike the US and European countries, they do not take into account the human rights situation of a country when selling weapons.

Sanctions on high-tech parts

Russian Air Force Su-35S fighter jets take off from Kubinka, Russia.

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Russian Air Force Su-35S fighter jets take off from Kubinka, Russia.

Artyom Anikeev/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images


In addition to reduced cognitive value, Russia’s defense industry faces other threats.

If the US, European and Asian countries impose economic sanctions, it will make it more difficult for Russian defense contractors to conduct financial transactions, including receiving payments from foreign customers.

Equally important export controls imposed on Russia will limit the defense sector’s access to advanced technologies important to the manufacture of modern military hardware, which Moscow itself does not produce and cannot easily be purchased from other countries.

This includes semiconductors, microelectronics, machine tools and software.

This will not only affect the production of military equipment for use by the Russian military and overseas buyers, but will also affect the provision of spare parts, munitions and upgrade packages to existing customers.

“As a result, foreign buyers may decide to switch to a more reliable source of military hardware,” Storey said.

Potential disruption of Russian spare parts

Mi-17 helicopter Vietnam

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A Russian-made Mi-171 helicopter in service with the Vietnam Air Force at Ca Mau on March 10, 2014.

HOANG DINH NAM/AFP via Getty Images


Given the war and sanctions, all Southeast Asian countries that currently rely on Russia for key military equipment will be vulnerable to potential disruptions in the supply of spare parts, Koh warned.

With a few exceptions, most Russian buyers of major military equipment rely heavily on Moscow for spare parts as part of after-sales service support.

So he said, “We’re talking about potential disruptions to the operability and availability of high-value assets like fighter jets, except for some countries that may already have enough stockpiles to sustain them for a certain period of time. This new issue causes them to retire. It may not be the solution you want, as it can leave a significant capability gap if you don’t have a ready, appropriate, affordable, and timely replacement.”

Southeast Asian operators of Russian assets are expected to “do their best” to preserve their existing stock of spare parts, and to reduce wear and tear, “as the asset’s operating frequency may also be reduced” so that it can be used longer. said expensive.

“In the meantime, they will try to find alternative sources. But even these alternative sources that rely on Russia are likely to prioritize their own needs in case of chaos.”

He added that India could be a potential supplier of parts for Russian equipment. This is because the Indian defense industry has been trying to manufacture some of these items under license in recent years.

“India has already developed alternative plans for potential disruptions, mainly focusing on ‘made in India’ parts to avoid possible shortages,” said Koh. Smaller customers like Indonesia have also recently expressed concerns about maintenance, repairs and overhauls, he added. Russian equipment, especially Su-30.

Koh said spare parts are an important source of revenue for Moscow, especially given that Russian equipment typically requires a higher level of maintenance compared to Western equipment.

North Korea: A potential arms supplier?

Parade of North Korean soldiers

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The military parade was held in Pyongyang on January 14, 2021.

KCNA through REUTERS


Abuza of National War College said North Korea could potentially try to enter Southeast Asia’s arms market.

Overall, their presence in the region is limited, he added, and buyers of weapons, ammunition and spare parts are likely already favored buyers of Soviet-era weapons.

“I hate to say it, but North Korea is producing Soviet-era weapons and ammunition, so it can aim to enter the regional market,” he said. “There are many UN Security Council resolutions banning trade on the grounds of North Korea’s nuclear proliferation. It must be implemented.”

He pointed out that “the international community should strengthen surveillance and interception, especially in Myanmar,” in a situation where North Korea is already selling weapons, including missile technology, to the Myanmar military.

Koh said it is “unwise” to discount Russia entirely because users find that Russian military equipment is generally cheaper than comparable equipment in the West.

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