Saturday, March 2, 2013

Arms for Asia: Russia aims to make a killing

RUSSIA'S No 2 arms chief Konstantin Biryulin wore a broad smile when asked in Melbourne this week about the performance of his products.
He had just spent a long day at the Avalon airshow. There, he said, "we heard that Indonesia, with its Sukhoi SU-30 fighter jets, won a recent exercise with the Australians and Americans".
Asia, with its rapidly rising wealth, is gearing itself for war, buying more than a third of the arms that are sold globally, and comprises the fastest-growing military market, Mr Biryulin said.
And Russia, the world's third-largest weapons exporter after the US and Germany - selling $15 billion worth of arms last year, rising almost 50 per cent in two years - is targeting Asia-Pacific defence ministries as its natural clientele.
It supplies Malaysia and India, its biggest customer, with Sukhoi fighter jets, for instance. Over the past year, it added Afghanistan, Ghana, Oman and Tanzania to its client list.
Our Defence Department has a different perspective on Exercise Pitch Black, held in the Northern Territory last August, in which Australia deployed its Super Hornets.
A Defence spokesman said: "There are no winners or losers" in such an exercise, "which uses scripted activity to meet predetermined training objectives for each of the participant nations".
"Indonesia's participation was an important development in the bilateral relationship," he said. "It participated with four SU-30 and SU-27 fighter jet aircraft. These formed part of the coalition 'Blue' force alongside the Australians and the US."
Mr Biryulin is the deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Co-operation, the government agency co-ordinating Russia's arms sales and manages such relations with 79 countries.
He warned that "the security situation in East Asia is difficult", with the recent North Korean nuclear test "aggravating tension" in the region, which has also been ratcheted up by sovereignty rivalry over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands between China and Japan, and between several countries in the South China Sea.
But he would not predict whether Russia anticipated armed conflict. Both terrorism and "rising nationalism" were posing security threats, he said.
"Russian diplomacy is deeply convinced that in the modern world, it is only dialogue and negotiations" that can settle conflicts. "Development of all-round relations, including military and technical co-operation, can promote stronger security in the region."
Issues between countries "shouldn't be resolved by military force in which the one which is the most powerful wins".
Russia, he said, was building relations in the region on a "good neighbour, win/win" approach.
"For sure, our primary strategic partners in the region are China and India, though we also have strong relations in Southeast Asia, with countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam."
He said that "we should concentrate on country-to-country relations, and forget about so-called regional bloc thinking".
The Asia-Pacific market for weaponry had emerged rapidly, he said, and was now "dynamic". Naturally, as a result "we are witnessing strong competition among suppliers".
Upgrading armed forces with cutting-edge arms and military vehicles, he said, was "a natural process and will develop further". India, Pakistan and South Korea were especially big buyers in Asia, he said. He stressed that "Russia builds equal-partner relations without exceptions, and does not consider importer states as its home territory".
China's military products, he said, "are a competitor for the US as well as for any other countries in the market, but not really a major competitor".
He said FSMTC was focusing on improving its after-sales service. It suffers from the current volatility of exchange rates, "but we do not work in a vacuum. All potential suppliers work in similar conditions in the world arms market".
Copying technology is a big threat to his industry. He said: "We fight very hard to prevent our equipment being copied without a licence."
He acknowledged that questions about quality had in the past damaged Russia's reputation. "But in recent years we have drastically changed this situation for the better," he said.
He pointed to the Kalashnikov assault rifle as a hallmark of Russian success and "still without a real competitor".
Mr Biryulin said multi-role aircraft and Active Denial System equipment - directing non-lethal beams - were today's best-sellers, accounting for 62 per cent of Russian military exports.
He claimed Russian T90 tanks tested in joint exercises with European and US competitors in Saudi Arabia "proved their absolute superiority".
He acknowledged "countries compete fiercely for each export contract, especially large ones, and resort to all available political, economic and informational means to win".
Australia, he said, was "lucky because you don't have any land borders. But that doesn't mean you are totally immune from such dangers as terrorism or social unrest".

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