Russia & Algeria Nearing $4+ Bn Arms Deal
The Moscow Times reports that Russia’s state arms trader Rosoboronexport and leading Russian defense industry enterprises have prepared a package of $4 billion package of contracts to sell advanced weapons and military hardware to Algeria. “Work to draw up the package is nearly over. All contracts have been negotiated and some initialed, and they are likely to be signed in February 2006,” a source in the Russian defense industry told Interfax-Military News Agency. This would be post-Soviet Russia’s largest ever single arms deal, and compares to annual weapons exports to all customers of $5-6 billion over the last couple of years.
Weapons rumored to be on this list include 36 upgraded MiG-29SMT multi-role lightweight fighters and 28 two-seat Su-30MK fighters, eight sets of Russia’s advanced S-300MPU2 Favorit (upgraded S-300) air defense missile systems with a 200km range, and T-90 main battle tanks. Interfax’s source noted that the weapons would be paid for in a complicated scheme involving striking off part of Algeria’s Soviet debt. Other contracts are also rumored for the upgrade of Soviet-made arms already in Algeria’s possession, and additional arms are reported to be under consideration. For instance…
Recent reports have included rumors that Algeria may pursue a separate deal for up to 50 Yak-130 advanced trainer and light attack planes to complement/ replace its older L-39 ZA Albatros aircraft from Czechoslovakia. The country is also reportedly shopping for about 30 Tunguska-M1 mobile gun & missile systems for low-level air defense and light fire support. Algeria’s neighbor Morocco signed a December 2004 contract for 12 Tunguska systems.
Algeria’s Appetite for Advanced Arms
This level of advanced equipment is not altogether surprising. Algeria had been a client for Soviet arms throughout the Cold War, and country data notes that they typically received and operated some of Russia’s most advanced export equipment. The ANP was one of the first armies outside Eastern Europe to be equipped with the T-72 tank. Algeria also received the BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, MiG-23 Flogger and MiG-25 Foxbat fighters, Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters, modern rapid-firing artillery, and SA-2 and SA-3 air defense missile systems.
In 1999, Algerian President Abdel Aziz Boutefliqa announced a new military policy aimed at modernizing Algeria’s army and shifting it toward a modernized, professional force. These efforts also fall within the context of an extremely bitter and bloody war against the Wahhabist al-Qaeda affiliate GSPC, along with other Islamist terrorist groups.
Algeria currently flies the lightweight MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter, and UPI notes that Algeria received 18 SU-30MK multi-role fighters in 2005, along with a $120 million deal for 22 of Russia’s SU-24 Fencer tactical bombers that proved so popular in Chechnya.
In many ways, therefore, this purchasing wave is simply a continuation of what Algeria’s military government is used to. Even so, there is one important way in which this proposed deal would represent a break with the recent past.
Moscow Defense Brief magazine editor Ruslan Pukhov noted to The Moscow Times that after the Soviet Union’s breakup, Algeria’s military contracts largely switched to firms in Belarus and the Ukraine. We’d add that rather than dealing with Russian firms, Algeria even worked closely with South Africa’s ATE Aerospace to upgrade its Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters with new avionics, sensors, weapons, and logistics infrastructure. the result was the fully-modernized “Mi-24 Superhind Mk3“.
“This [$4 billion] contract will be Russia’s triumphant return to North Africa,” said Pukhov. “In the coming years, Algeria will account for 20% of Russian’s arms exports, while China and India will plummet from 70% to 50%” as a result of saturated markets and diversification of those countries’ arms sources.