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Russia Returns to Paris With Eye on Expansion

Jun. 12, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By AARON MEHTA   |   Comments
They're Back: The Su-35C is among the Russian aircraft that will fly at the Paris Air Show this year.
They're Back: The Su-35C is among the Russian aircraft that will fly at the Paris Air Show this year. (United Aircraft Corporation)
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WASHINGTON — While the early buzz on the Paris Air Show swirls around scaled-back delegations from the US and others, Russia’s military firms have seized the opportunity to make a splash on the global scene.

The Yak-130 light attack jet, Kamov KA-52 attack helicopter and Sukhoi Su-35 fighter will all be flying at the show, marking the first time since 1999 that Russian fighters will be on display at Paris. That show ended in near-tragedy when an Su-30 crashed during maneuvers, with the pilots ejecting just above ground level.

The Su-35 is particularly interesting, as Paris is the fighter’s first public appearance abroad. A heavily modified version of the Su-27 with new engines and advanced avionics, the Su-35 comes with 12 weapon stations and can carry a weapons load of 8,000 kilograms, according to company data.

Reports have compared the Su-35 to the F-35 joint strike fighter. But if Russia expects to compete in the same markets, it may be disappointed, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group.

The Su-35 market is “the same as the Sukhoi market has always been, which is India, China and some other, more marginal countries,” he said. “The idea that it would be an F-35 competitor any more than the Su-30 was is a bit ridiculous.

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good plane,” Aboulafia said. “In terms of being a strategic rival to the F-35, absolutely, but in terms of commercial competitor for the same markets, I can’t imagine any overlap whatsoever.”

The benefit of a Russian appearance is “very understandable,” said Mark Gunzinger, a former Pentagon official and now senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“Foreign military sales are very important to them,” he said. “They have some good technologies, they have some good engines. They have low observability, and they want to sell a lot of equipment. So why shouldn’t they show up to Paris?”

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has revved up promises of defense spending across all Russian industrial sectors,” Rebecca Grant, an analyst with IRIS Research, said. “Russia’s presence in Paris with Su-35 and other advanced aircraft is part of his grand plan to revamp the Russian military and spend on internal defense programs.

“It’s hard to say whether billions of rubles will be enough to modernize Russian forces, but Paris is a flashy and easy move,” she said.

In another flashy move, media outlets reported June 4 that Russia is eyeing 1980s action star Steven Seagal to be the public face of a campaign to expand its weapon industry.

Russia’s visit to Paris comes as the Russian arms industry draws renewed attention around the globe — though not necessarily for positive reasons.

In late May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad indicated that Russia may deliver S-300 air defense missile systems to Syria, providing his embattled regime a high level of protection from Israeli or American airstrikes. The move drew international criticism.

While Putin later said no decision had been made on transferring the systems, the director of Russia’s MiG told media that a Syrian delegation was in talks to purchase more than 10 Russian fighters. ■

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