This Gun for Hire: 5 Russian Weapons of War for Sale
American arms reach a wide range of customers across the globe. However, there are some countries the United States will not sell weapons to for a variety of political and strategic concerns.
For these nations, Russia offers a reliable alternative to U.S. products. Although many Russian arms are of a lower caliber than American systems, Russia often sells more weapons for less money than Washington. Purchasing Russian weapons also provides a cheaper alternative for developing powers or smaller states who might otherwise be forced to establish their own domestic arms industries.
Moreover, many of Russia’s arms customers do not need weapons capable of knocking out advanced American systems. Countries like Ukraine and Georgia along with a range of non-state actors across Asia and the Middle East have aging or depleted arsenals. Their opponents need only acquire weapons that are better—not the best.
China is an obvious customer for many Russian weapons. Other rising powers like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Iran continue to turn to Moscow to fill their arsenals. Even Western-aligned states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea have considered Russian arms in the past. Of course, the rapid proliferation of Russian weapons can be problematic, as many find their way into the hands of militant non-state actors and rogue regimes.
All that being said, here are the five best weapons Russia may sell around the world.
Although the Su-27’s modernized variant, the Su-35, surpasses the original Flanker in many categories, this Cold War classic remains a reliable model in Russian service and with a variety of other countries.
Entering service with the Soviet Air Force in 1985, the Flanker can achieve speeds above 2,500 km/h, outracing the F/A-18 and F-16. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan inherited the U.S.S.R.’s Su-27 fleet. India and China both acquired rights to build Su-27s domestically, while Indonesia and Vietnam field the Flanker as well.
The Su-27 is notable for its versatility. In addition to the generation 4++ Su-35, the Su-27 can be adapted for a range of specialized roles. A navalized variant, the Su-33, can land on aircraft carriers while the Su-34 performs fighter-bomber missions.
With a variety of combat roles and years of service, the Su-27 promises to remain a staple in many air forces for years to come, even as newer, more expensive designs emerge.
Sukhoi’s Su-35 is easily the most formidable fighter in active Russian service and will retain that status until Moscow is able to field the T-50 PAK FA. An upgraded version of the late Cold War-era Su-27 “Flanker”, the “Super Flanker” can hold its own against most fourth generation American models. Some United States Air Force officials even suspect the Su-35 could pose a threat to the stealthy fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
A 1,600 km combat radius makes the Su-35 an effective tool for any military to project power at considerable distance. The Super Flanker’s surface is coated with Radar Absorbent Material (RAM), giving the plane some fifth generation stealth qualities on a reliable fourth generation platform. A range of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons can be fitted to the Su-35, making the aircraft useful for a variety of missions.
All of these qualities make Sukhoi’s upgraded 4++ generation plane desirable to a host of potential customers, China chief among them. The ability to match American fighters in battle could be particularly useful for Beijing should conflict ever erupt with the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the Su-35’s range would allow China to patrol more of the distant waters in the South China Sea.
Although no sales have officially occurred as of yet, Moscow is eager to find buyers for the Super Flanker. Outside of China, Russia has targeted South Korea, Indonesia, India, and Brazil as potential customers.
The T-90 tank is a UVZ design with years of combat experience with the U.S.S.R., Russian military, as well as armies across the post-Soviet space and around the world.
A modernized version of the Soviet T-72, the T-90 is a reliable model. Although it is smaller than the American M1A1 Abrams Tank and beginning to show its age, the T-90 remains useful in most theaters Russia will have to fight in: the Ukrainian and Georgian armies field even older designs. For many potential importers, the T-90 offers a more affordable option to newer Russian and Western models.
UVZ’s T-90 is equipped with a 125mm smoothbore cannon that can fire anti-tank rounds and guided missiles. The T-90 is lighter than many of its Western counterparts, but its armor is still thick enough to destroy anti-tank rockets on contact. These attributes make the T-90 appealing to many potential customers. In addition to Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, which inherited the Soviet T-90 fleet, the Indian Army also uses this tank. In fact, Delhi has plans to acquire some 1,657 tanks, roughly a thousand of which will be built domestically.
Other countries, such as Cyprus, Peru, Venezuela, and Vietnam, have all considered in the past or are presently considering T-90 purchases.