The Vietnam People’s Air Force is allegedly interested in procuring a squadron of Sukhoi Su-35S multirole fighter jets, a source within Russia’s Federal Service of Military Technology Cooperation told the Russian daily Kommersant.
The potential new arms contract between Russia and Vietnam is estimated to be worth around $1 billion and could include the transfer of up to 12 of the 4++ generation aircraft, the source revealed. Vietnam’s military is seeking to slowly phase our more than 100 ageing Russian-made MiG-21 fighters over the next years and has embarked upon an ambitious replacement program.
According to Vietnamese media reports, some Russian experts cautioned that Vietnam may not have the budgetary means to procure additional fighter jets at this juncture given the country’s financial commitments to other projects.
Among other things, the Vietnam People’s Air Force currently operates 32 Su-30MK2 fighter aircraft and is expecting delivery of four more jets by the end of 2016. The Su-30 MK2 is an all-weather, long-range strike fighter incorporating Su-35s technology and can be used as a maritime strike aircraft. It is roughly comparable to the U.S.-made F-15E Strike Eagle fighter.
Vietnam first signed a contract for the procurement of four Su-30MK2 fighter aircraft in 2003. This was followed up by two other defense deals with Sukhoi in 2009 and 2010 for the purchase of eight and 12 additional fighter jets respectively. The last contract between Moscow and Hanoi was signed in 2013 and involved a last batch of 12 aircraft for an estimated $600 million.
Russian airpower, in particular the Su-35S, remains popular in Asia. In November 2015, China and Russia signed a $2 billion contract for the purchase of 24 Su-35S aircraft. Indonesia is another Asian country that will likely acquire the Su-35s (See: “Confirmed: Indonesia Will Buy 10 Russian S-35 Fighter Jets”). Pakistan has purportedly also expressed interest in the Russian-made fighter jet.
The source interviewed by Kommersant traces back the growing interest in the Su-35 fighter aircraft to Russia’s military involvement in Syria. “In Syria, we achieved two goals. On the one hand, we demonstrated the combat capabilities of our military technology and attracted the attention of customers. On the other hand we tested more than half of our fleet in combat conditions,” the source said.
The Su-35S is a single-seat, twin-engine upgraded fourth-generation super-maneuverable multirole fighter powered by two AL-117S turbofan engines, and featuring fifth-generation aircraft technology.
According to the Sukhoi company website, the aircraft can be armed with various types of air-to-air and air-to-surface guided missiles (including long-range missiles) and carry a payload of up to 8,000 kilograms (17,636 pounds).
Furthermore the Su-35 is equipped with “a sophisticated avionics suite based on a digital information management system, a cutting-edge radar with a long-range aerial target acquisition, and increased multiple-target tracking/engagement capabilities, and enhanced thrust-vectoring engines,” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly explains.
Interestingly, the Vietnam People’s Air Force is purportedly also considering the acquisition of Western aircraft, including the F-16, Gripen, Rafale, and Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft. “We had indications they want to reduce their dependence on Russia. Their growing friendship with America and Europe will help them to do that,” said a Western defense contractor interviewed by Reuters last year.