Yakkity Yak – Don’t Talk Back! Syria’s Russian Jet Order
Russian media are reporting that Syria has signed a $550-million contract with Russia’s state-owned Rosoboronexport arms export agency, involving 36 Yak-130 trainer and light attack jets. The deal was reportedly struck in December 2011, with the Yakolev Design Bureau as the type owner, Irkut as the builder, and jets to be supplied once Syria makes a pre-payment.
So, where does the order sit right now?
Irkut recently received a full-rate production order from the Russian VVS, and the Yak-130 has also enjoyed export success in Algeria and possibly in Kazakhstan. It has lost other international competitions, most notably in Indonesia, but retains a unique global position as a lead-in fighter trainer that can also serve as a heavily-armed ground attack and counterinsurgency aircraft. That could be very useful to the Assad regime, which is receiving open Russian support against strong domestic unrest – if, and only if, the regime survives long enough to take delivery.
Neighboring Turkey has quietly but firmly placed itself on the other side of that bet, partly as a form of payback for Syria’s long support of Kurdish PKK insurgents.
Russian analyst Ruslan Pukhov is correct that this situation introduces a strong element of risk for Russia, but he is less correct when he says that counterinsurgency (COIN) support is a job for cheaper planes. In terms of sellers willing to deal with Syria, the Yak-130 the low-budget, low-risk fixed-wing COIN alternative, which also patches a potentially serious training hole that could deliver a coup de grace to the existing Syrian Air Force. Many of the Syrian L-39s that the Yaks would replace are no longer flyable.
It’s telling for the Yak’s prospects that despite the L-39s’ key training role, the Albatros fleet has played a leading role in Syria’s civil war.
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 13/13: Anatoly Isaikin, the director of Rosoboronexport, tells Associated Press that no new Russian combat planes or helicopters have been delivered to Syria, though a shipment of refurbished Syrian helicopters that Britain had tried to block did eventually get through.
“He said more deliveries will be conducted under existing contracts, but refused to give specifics. Isaikin said his company has a contract with Syria to deliver Yak-130 combat jets but so far has not shipped any. He didn’t explain why no deliveries have been made, but the reason could be the aircraft’s long production cycle.”
Jan 23/12: $550 million order reported by Russian media. Numbers are not reported, but that amount suggests between 18 – 30. The more work has to be done by Russian technicians and support staff, and the more support elements need to be built anew, the lower the number of jets within this range. RIA Novosti | Saudi Arabia’s Arab News | Israel’s Arutz Sheva | Bloomberg | CNN | Turkey’s Zaman.