Syria is buying 36 Yak-130 combat trainers from Russia at a cost of US$550 million, and will take delivery once a pre-payment is made, according to Russian media reports.
The Kommersant business daily yesterday quoted a source close to Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport as saying that the deal was signed in late December.
“The creation of 36 new fighters for a foreign consumer is fully within the power of (manufacturing facilities),” the source was quoted as saying. “As soon as Syria sends Russia the down payment, the factory can get started on assembly.”
RIA Novosti contacted both Rosoboronexport and Irkut, which makes the Yak-130, but both declined to comment on the deal, which comes at a time of political crisis for Syria.
According to the United Nations, 5 400 people have been killed in the ten month crackdown against protestors calling for an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. According to the Syrian government, 2 000 security personnel have been killed by armed insurgents, which are mostly made up of army defectors.
Moscow is one of Assad’s few remaining allies, still serving top arms customer Syria while joining China in an October veto of a Western-crafted UN Security Council resolution that threatened an arms embargo.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that Russia was not going to justify its actions before the West because it was not violating “any international agreements or any [UN] Security Council resolutions.” He told RIA Novosti that, “we are only trading items with Syria that are not banned by international law.” Russia has sold S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria, which also ordered MiG-29s from Russia in 2007.
Syria made up US$700 million of arms sales in 2010, some 7% of Russia’s total of US$10 billion in arms deliveries abroad, according to the Russian defense think tank CAST.
CAST director Ruslan Pukhov said he had previously been aware of the deal, but said the contract might be annulled by the Syrian side if Damascus suspected any international military action against his rule was in the works.
It is not clear if the deal will ever go ahead as Assad’s regime faces mounting political pressure. A similar situation in Libya cost Russia a deal for six Yak-130s, which were never delivered due to the outbreak of civil war there.
Russia has made strong gestures to reaffirm support for Assad recently, including sending its Navy flagship to a Russian base on the Mediterranean coast of Syria near Tartus.
Earlier this month a ship full of ammunition from Russia was detained in Cyprus. The ship was released the next day and sailed on to Tartus.
The United States said it had raised concerns about the ship with Russia, but Moscow has said it needs no justification for its defense trade with Syria without an internationally binding arms embargo in place.
The Yak-130 was designed to provide basic and advanced pilot training for Russian and foreign-made combat aircraft, including 4th+ and 5th generation fighters. The aircraft is fitted with an advanced glass cockpit and can carry 3 000 kg of weaponry.
The Yak-130 was chosen as the main aircraft for basic and advanced training of Russian Air Force pilots. Deliveries to the Russian Air Force, which expects to order an initial 72 aircraft, began in February 2010. In December last year the Russian defence ministry signed a contract with Irkut for 55 Yak-130s, which will be supplied to the Russian Air Force by 2015.
In 2006 Irkut signed a contract for 16 Yak-130s for the Algerian Air Force. Deliveries were scheduled to take place at the end of last year.
Irkut estimates the market capacity for the Yak-130 is 250 aircraft between now and 2015.