As the first Su-57 series models begin to roll out, the Russian defense industry is stepping up efforts to export its fifth-generation air superiority fighter. “We are negotiating with several countries. We see demand and interest. Southeast Asia, four or five countries [show their interest]CEO of state arms dealer Rosoboronexport, Aleksandr Mikheyev, told Russian reporters.
Rosoboronexport apparently does not want to reveal which Southeast Asian states they are currently in talks with, as public exposure could complicate ongoing negotiations. Yet recent precedent may offer insight into many of these “four or five” countries. Vietnam is said to have started showing interest in the Su-57 as early as 2017. The Vietnamese Air Force is made up entirely of Soviet and Russian fighters, with the service looking to replace its aging Su-27 fighters. Russian defense media reported in 2019 that Hanoi was in talks with Moscow to procure a regiment worth twelve Su-57 units in a potential contract worth $ 2 billion. . Also in 2019, Myanmar’s ambassador to Russia announced his openness to signing a Su-57 import contract. Such a deal could mark Myanmar’s transition from its vast but increasingly outdated MiG-29 and Chengdu J-7 combatant roster to a lighter, modernized combat force.
Myanmar ordered six Su-30SME multirole fighters from Russia in 2018, although these have yet to be delivered. The Su-30SME and Su-57 are destined for somewhat different roles, but the capabilities overlap sufficiently between the two that Myanmar is not entirely unjustified to forgo its Su-30SME contract in favor of an offer. import of Su-57. As Charlie Gao noted, a purchase of the Su-57 would put the Burmese Air Force in a better position to compete with its Thai counterpart.
Russia has wooed Malaysia’s patronage with some sort of exchange program, recently offering to take the aging and increasingly troubled MiG-29 and Su-30MKM fighters from the Royal Malaysian Air Force as part of a purchase program to acquire Su-35, MiG-35, or Su-57 units. The specific terms of Russia’s exchange program remain unclear; Malaysian leaders have said they are considering the proposal. “We are currently studying their proposal to take over the old MiGs and provide us with the new version, the MiG-35, I think. But, of course, even then we would have to pay quite a large sum of money. And Malaysia is not a country that spends too much money on defense ”, mentionned Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Russia’s first forays into Southeast Asia are just a small part of a larger campaign to woo foreign customers for the Su-57 as it enters mass production. Other potential customers include India, Turkey, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Russian defense industry insiders predicting that market interest in the Su-57 will increase after that the hunter will enter service in the Russian armed forces. “It is unlikely that there will be a large demand until we ship enough machines to our own army,” industrial director of the Rostec air complex, Anatoly Serdyukov, told the Russian state press. “In the meantime, we are offering this machine to foreigners, we are running our advertising campaign.”
Despite the Kremlin’s relentless efforts to reduce fighter costs, the Su-57 will continue to occupy a significant portion of Russia’s defense spending at around $ 40 million per model; with up to seventy-six serial Su-57 units expected to be purchased by 2028, the Kremlin is keen to offset these costs as much as possible by establishing a solid export base over the next decades.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for National interest.