ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Russia defense heavyweight Rostec will partner with the UAE Ministry of Defence to co-develop a fifth-generation light combat fighter, company CEO Sergey Chemezov said at IDEX in Abu Dhabi Monday.
Development, which is based upon its MiG-29 twin-engine fighter aircraft, will kick off in 2018, and will take an estimated seven to eight years, Chemezov said during a media briefing with journalists. He elaborated in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Defense News.
"That's not fast, because it takes quite a long period of time to develop," he said speaking through a translator. "We anticipate local production here in the Arab Emirates, for the needs of Emirates. And of course [we expect development to support the needs of] the neighboring countries."
Details about how the partnership would be structured have not been finalized, though Chemezov said it could potentially function as a joint venture between the company and UAE or UAE's domestic suppliers.
The announcement comes soon after confirmation by the company that it would support development of India's fifth-generation advanced medium combat aircraft. Though Chemezov wouldn't comment on deals still under negotiations, the company is expected to sign a contract for Su-35 aircraft for Indonesia any day. Egypt is another country that reportedly is in talks with Rostec for fighters – MiG-29 aircraft specifically. The two companies signed a $3.5 billion arms package in 2014 covering aircraft, missiles, and coastal defenses.
Russia stands firmly in second place on the defense export market, behind only the U.S., with annual turnovers in excess of $14.5 billion. About 70 percent of Russia's defense industrial base is under the Rostec umbrella. Defense makes up 70 percent of the company's total revenue, with commercial making up the remainder. Looking ahead, the company hopes to grow the latter to land at a roughly 50/50 breakdown.
"We don’t own the whole of the defense industry. Rostec is incapable to cover it all," Chemezov said when asked whether there was room for other players in the domestic industrial base.
He noted confidence in Russia’s ability to overtake the U.S. in certain markets, calling its own offerings "highly competitive in price and quality." He also pointed to the potential for more sales to Iran for defensive weapons, even now that the $1 billion deal to deliver the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system is complete.
"I’m sure you’re aware of the sanctions [that] forbid the supply of offensive weapons" to Iran, Chemezov said during the briefing. But any potential buy for defensive arms "we’ll be ready to review."
When asked whether he expects more cooperation between the U.S. and Russia under the Trump administration, particularly in defense, Chemezov expressed cautious optimism – pointing to President Donald Trump’s business savvy and stating that ‘business reason would prevail."
"President Trump represents big business, and business means economic interests; and economic interests will always prevail over political," he told Defense News. "By the end of the day this will positively impact the political relations between the two countries. I hope our relations between Russia and U.S. will improve. And this will naturally impact the global political climate."
Enhanced cooperation could extend to defense development, Chemezov added, specifically pointing to Boeing and Airbus, which are dependent upon Rostec for the titanium used in manufacturing of aircraft.
"Why not? We’ve been cooperating and still cooperating with Boeing. Though to be quite candid, we are mostly providing and manufacturing spare parts for civilian aircraft. But the alloys we’ve jointly created...will be used for military purposes too."
As for President Donald Trump’s own support of cooperation with the Russian defense industry, "I don’t know how friendly he is – he hasn’t come to Russia yet," Chemezov said.
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.