With a 21% global market share and as many as forty-seven client states, post-Soviet Russia remains one of the biggest arms exporters in the world. Over the past several decades, Russia’s defense industry has produced a raft of advanced military hardware that is being aggressively—and, in many cases, successfully—marketed to high-profile customers across the second and developing world. Here are five of the most notable.
Russia’s flagship missile defense system, the S-400 Triumf has fast proliferated to become one of the most controversial conventional weapons in the world. In the years following its late 2000s introduction, the S-400 was adopted by such arms import giants as China, India, and Turkey. The latter set off a diplomatic firestorm within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), triggering Ankara’s expulsion from the F-35 stealth fighter partner program as well as sanctions against Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The S-400 is not only more capable but markedly more versatile than its S-300 predecessor, being able to operate at ranges from short to very long with its diverse array of compatible missiles.
Easily one of Russia’s most advanced air superiority fighters, the Su-35 brings a slew of compelling features at a cost-effective price point; these include supercruising (the ability to sustain supersonic flight without the use of afterburners), thrust vectoring and a formidable phased radar array. The fighter plane also comes with a versatile weapons suite spread across twelve hardpoints and an offensive electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite that can feasibly jam the F-16’s AIM-120 AMRAAM and similar air-to-air missiles. China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) became the Su-35’s first foreign customer, signing an import contract for two dozen units in 2015.
The AK Family
From the original AK-47 to the contemporary AK-12, no list of top Russian arms exports would be complete without the AK family of assault rifles. Whether through licensed/unlicensed production, close variants, or direct import deals, the original AK-47 and its numerous derivative models remain among the most popular weapons in the world. With their generally low production costs, ease of assembly, and remarkable durability even in the harshest climates, it is hardly surprising that Kalashnikov rifles continue to be such a common sight in battlefields across the world.
Largely an export copy of the cheap, but effective Russian T-90 main battle tank (MBT), the T-90S boasts a 125mm 2A46M smoothbore gun and is powered by a 840-horsepower (hp) V-84MS engine. It, too, is protected by Kontakt-5 explosive-reactive armor (ERA) and the prolific Shtora-1 countermeasures suite. The T-90S eschews the expensive bells and whistles of some of its western counterparts to deliver an affordable blend of firepower, mobility, and durability. Its unrelenting design focus on raw, cost-effective performance has made it an export hit across the second and third world, with the list of current customers including India, Azerbaijan, Libya, and Turkmenistan.
The Su-57 fifth-generation fighter is among Russia’s most ambitious fighter projects, designed to offer best-in-class aerodynamic performance combined with a powerful arsenal of Russia’s latest air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles that may also include hypersonic armaments. Although the fighter is still in its early production stage, the Kremlin is already aggressively marketing the Su-57’s export version, the Su-57E, to a wide range of prospective customers including Turkey, China, and India.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.