Russia-Armenia Jet Deal a Go, But Questions Remain

Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan, on a working visit to the United Arab Emirates, attending the Abu Dhabi International Defense Conference and the IDEX-2019 Defense Exhibition, February 18, 2019 (Photo: Ministry of Defense, ROA)

YEREVAN—Armenia’s Minister of Defense (MOD) Davit Tonoyan has confirmed the Armenian Armed Forces’ intentions of adopting Russian-built SU-30SM multirole fighters. During a press briefing on Monday, he also announced that the Air Force would be seeking to order a dozen aircraft rather than the initial four.

Tonoyan declined to give any additional information on the cost of the deal, or any of the weapons payloads which would accompany the sale. The deal is apparently far from reaching completion. According to the Minister, the negotiating parties are still ironing out technical issues. Russian arms manufacturers have become notorious for long delays in international arms deliveries in recent years. Regardless, the minister hopes to receive the first batch of fighters by the end of this year and complete the order by the end of 2020.

Back in 2015, Armenia received a $200 million loan from the Russian Federation. A second cash injection worth $100 million followed in 2017. Yerevan used some of these funds to procure Russian-manufactured missile-systems, military radios and other combat platforms. The rest may be used to finance the purchase of these advanced jets. Armenia is expected to receive a significant discount on the purchase due to the country’s membership in the Moscow-lead Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The base unit price of the aircraft is estimated at $30 to $35 million.

A pavilion showcasing Armenia-made defense products, IDEX 2019 International Defense Exhibition (Photo: Ministry of Defense, ROA)

Tonoyan, who was in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi this week for the IDEX 2019 International Defense Exhibition, discussed the possibility of a new loan with the Russian state-owned media agency RIA Novosti. The Minister was mum on details, however, only divulging that, “A new loan is possible, but it’s too early to talk about a specific weapons nomenclature.”

The MOD defended the purchase, arguing that these combat aircraft “will give [Armenia] the operational capability to neutralize any risks of resumption of military actions.” He did not respond to concerns that these advanced weapons systems may be overkill given the country’s restrictive aerial combat environment.

Tonoyan also hinted at a potential escalation of Armenia’s role in the Syrian Civil War. At a press conference in Yerevan with his Cypriot counterpart Savvas Angelides, the Minister announced, “Armenia is ready to participate in hostilities as well if the situation demands it.”

Eighty-three Armenian Army medics and de-mining experts have already been deployed in the country in what the government insists is a “strictly humanitarian mission.” The Minister justified their presence as a necessary safety measure for the local Armenian community. Observers have interpreted the move as a concession by the Pashinyan government to Moscow’s ambitions in the region. Russia has been seeking to legitimize its intervention in the country by building its own “international coalition.”

Raffi Elliott

Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. A former correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, his focus is socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia.


  1. “Armenia-Russia Jet Deal a Go, But Questions Remain”

    The only “question” that remains for me is why is this author given so much platform to push his very obvious agenda?

  2. I wouldn’t necessarily put the deal as a concession to Russia. It’s a mutually beneficial deal – cheap jets for international support. I think it may be a really good deal if the discount is deep enough. I do hope though that the Syria deployment will never be escalated and will remain strictly humanitarian.

    • Buying Russian jets could be good for Armenia; I think the concern is on this specific model, which (as the article reminds us) isn’t just about the cost of the planes. Armenian taxpayers will also have to pay for spare parts, maintenance, weapons payloads, pilot training, fuel, etc. The question is whether Armenia needs such a high-performance plane. Put it this way, Armenia+Artsakh is so small that a jet-powered aircraft could fly from one border to the other in about 9 minutes. Plus, fighters like this are probably not very good in the mountainous terrain and foggy weather of Artsakh. I think the problem is a lot of people think that for a military to be powerful, we need to purchase the best weapons money can buy, but in most cases, what you need is the right weapon for the right job. to repeat a comparison I saw someone else make: would Armenia need an aircraft carrier to defend lake Sevan?

    • These planes are not meant for flying within Armenian borders. They are meant to fly deep into enemy territory and cause some very serious damage.

    • Sassoon. I feel like this has already been covered a number of times here. The enemy territory is not “deep”. The distance between Yerevan and Baku is only about 600 KMs. Even tiny propeller planes (and most jet-fighters in existence) can reach that distance in under an hour. By comparison, the Su-30 has an effective maximum combat range of some 3000KMs (about 5 times the distance between Yerevan and Baku).

      The Sukhoi Su-30’s top speed (Mach 2) is about 1350 KM/H. At that speed, it will take less than 26 minutes. The problem is that combat aircraft do not fly in a straight line during war. They need to manoeuvre and line up for an attack. Given how small both Armenia and Azerbaijan are, it’s very easy to completely overshoot the entire battlespace.

      I hope this clarifies

  3. Questions? Issues? There are many actually…

    Russia LOVES it’s relationship with Turkey, and LOVES it’s relationship with Turkey’s sidekick maybe even a lot MORE – all to the detriment of Armenia of course. Yet for the past century the lazy criminal class of ‘Armenian’ Apparatchiks both in Armenia and now unfortunately the pseudo-diaspora (the ones who escaped Armenia’s problems instead of solving them but kept their Apparatchik mentality) are now popped up among us preaching about how “wonderful” Russia’s “friendship” and “alliance” is to Armenia and how we “western agents” need to be “kicked out of Armenia”. Meanwhile these people didn’t how fast to escape from our homeland when there was work to be done…

    Now as for these planes, I would pose the question as to exactly against WHOM and WHAT they are planning to get used? One thing I am 100 percent sure about: they will NOT BE USED FOR ARMENIA’S BENEFIT!!!!!

    Certainly they are not going to be used against Turkey? Russia and Turkey are involved in the Hokka game together now, where “Mother Russia” will help its friend Turkey get the best anti-aircraft weapons at the best price from either the USA (Patriot system) or “Mother Russia” (S-400 system).

    Certainly they are also not going to be used against Russia’s other Hokka partner Azerbaijan? Azerbaijan already has the Russian anti-aircraft system which can shoot these planes down, compliments of “Mother Russia”.

    So again… against WHOM will these planes be used exactly? CERTAINLY NONE OF ARMENIA’S ENEMIES! But, here is a thought. Perhaps Russia will be able to… what else… make Russia great again and make Armenia PAY FOR IT by protecting Russia’s, not Armenia’s interests if and when the need arises… such as Russia asking, oops, I mean ORDERING Armenia to go on some operations in Central Asia in case some Islamic tribe seeking independence starts making “anti-Russian” moves for independence like the Chechens tried previously.

    Since Russia wants to reclaim all it’s previously held territories in the Soviet bloc through veiled economic methods (such as buying up all of Armenia’s infrastructure), Armenia is pretty much a “done deal”, but other former Soviet-bloc nations might need to be watched more closely or perhaps acted against, so in keeping up with Russia’s tradition against Armenia of “Make Russia Great Again By Making Armenia Pay For It”, why not make Armenia purchase planes with money it does not have and give them a LOAN at the same time? So many benefits here for “Mother Russia”. As the saying goes, at the hands of “Mother Russia” – “Armenia has been had” – “hook, line and sinker”.

    Meanwhile, the incompetent, lazy, self-serving Russamol fools in Armenia’s “leadership” have absolutely NO CLUE what needs to be done for the future of the country: bring back Armenians who left or the traditional diaspora, deal with Russia equitably, effectively deal with Armenia’s immediate enemy to the east in order to secure Armenia’s future security and interests, etc etc.

    Also regarding the Armenian “medics” sent to Syria. Another idiotic move by Armenia’s traitorous CLOWN leadership. Armenians in Syria do not need medics when Syria has already effectively won the war. Armenians needed help five years ago when they were under daily assault and their town devastated and occupied, and when Armenian VOLUNTEERS wanted to go help, the TRAITORS in Armenia’s government stopped it!!!!! Oh I get it, at that time “Mother Russia” did not order Armenia to send troops, so there was no need for Armenia to help Armenians. At that time, the TRAITOR CLOWNS in Armenia claimed they will not allow Armenians to help in Syria because they didn’t want to “step on the wrong toes” – oh yeah, so what happened now when the USA did not approve of Armenia sending “medics”? The USA are the ‘right’ toes to step on? Armenia’s “leaders” are just a bunch of yes-men for Russia, nothing more.

    The biggest joke is of course on us Armenians at the hands of “Mother Russia”. Armenian “leaders” and military can’t even protect Armenian villagers from Azeri fire back home. (Orders from “Mother Russia” or simple lazy self-serving incompetentce?) A few years ago Armenia didn’t even want to retake lost territories of Artsakh. Armenia does not have a real government, just a make-believe one just like in the Soviet Union. This move of sending “medics” by Armenia was not even debated in Armenia’s pseudo-government to make it believable at least. Can the lack of Armenian leadership be highlighted more clearly than this?

    • Zatir Lao,
      What do you suggest for our motherland security! We are in a volatile region of the Caucasus, surrounded by corrupted countries, including Russia! We are not in the heart of the European continent, like Switzerland!

  4. GB, the problem is, in order to become a secure and safe nation, a country first needs to set standards for itself. Armenia’s is extremely low and unsustainable. Would a western nation tolerate a bordering state to shoot at its citizens without recourse? Would a western nation tolerate a bordering state to launch a full scale military invasion of their people who are working towards a peaceful resolution, again without recourse? The answer is no, therefore if Armenia accepts these conditions it means that Armenia is on the same level as a third-world banana republic. That’s the first step for Armenia as a real nation which will be working towards achieving a safe future, to set the bar high and stop acting like a timid slave to every one of Russia’s instructions, and instead start making demands of Russia. In military terms, war is profitable for the winner every time, except of course for who else? Armenia. This is in a nutshell what is wrong with the Armenian mentality. That’s also the reason why we have a ridiculous checkerboard map of Armenia today.

  5. The Armenian air force needs a boost. The nation is currently sitting on a small inventory of SU-25 ground attack/close air support aircraft and rotary-wing aircraft. If Armenia were to be attacked by any of its neighbors we would be completely unable to defend ourselves in terms of air superiority. Is it preferred Armenia depends solely on the Russia air force or on itself? I prefer the latter. Also, this purchase would mean Armenia having a more advanced air force than that of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran. The Azeri’s most advanced aircraft is the MiG-29, Turkey’s is the F-16, F-4, and F-5 Terminator 2020 (outside of the F-16 the others are horribly inept), Georgia has only rotary-winged aircraft and SU-25s, and Iran is dependent on MiG-29s and a few domestically produced fighters based on the F-5 (again, horribly inept).

    In the case of Artsakh, yes, rotary-wing aircraft are far more suitable, but, Artsakh is not the only concern of the nation.

    I am not happy with having to further add to Armenia’s debt, but it seems to be the best defense option at this point in time.

    • Finally a comment which actually makes sense. I truly believe that this is the best purchase Armenia could do. I can’t believe it that our air force has been in such miserable condition for so many years. I don’t necessarily agree that this will make Armenia Air Force the most advanced in the region. Turks have a formidable Air Force, even Iranians still have some 40 US F14, they are old but Iranians have learned how to maintain and even upgrade them. But it is undoubtedly an extremely important addition.

    • No one disagrees that the Armenian Airforce needs a boost. It definitely needs new equipment, new training, new standards and so on.

      But how do you know that this particular aircraft is “the best defence option at this point in time”? – Why do you think the Su-30SM is the best weapon to fulfil the mission and not, I dunno, the Su-30 MKI or really any other totally capable (yet much-less-expensive) options like the Yakovlev Yak-130 (which can replicate the characteristics and payloads of the Su-30 for less than half the price tag), Mig-29, etc.

      What about mission-specific weapons payloads? What areal combat doctrine is the Armenian Airforce preparing to use this aircraft for? There are no answers to any of this.

      Judging by the comments, it looks like a lot of people are conflating the debate over the purchase of this particular aeroplane with the general notion that we need new planes.

      Too many people make the mistake of assuming that military upgrades mean buying the most-advanced /most-expensive equipment on the market. In reality, it’s about getting the equipment best-suited for the operational environment, national military doctrine and realistic capabilities. -> To use the car analogy again: You don’t always need to purchase a 2019 Lamborgini on credit. Some times, a 2015 Honda Accord is a sufficient replacement for your beat-up 1971 Ford Pinto for your daily commute.

    • Raffi
      I am not an expert in this field but you don’t really have to be an expert to understand some basics, the same way you don’t have to be an expert in cars to understand some basics about cars. All you need to do is to be interested and spend some time on the subject and you will realize that Armenia has done the right thing.
      First, we need to understand that the market for military aircraft is not that diversified. Few countries manufacture them and few of these fighters have ever been used in real combat situations. This limits your choice to a few countries, many of them not even ready to sell them to you for political reasons. So it perfectly makes sense that Armenia has decided to buy Russian fighters.
      If you write down a list of Russian fighters you will see that SU30 is probably the best that Russia would offer now. Naturally, we can not analyze every single Russian fighter here and I am not even going to claim that I know every thing about every single one. But I know enough to say that the most important thing when buying this kind of aircraft is the purpose of the purchase, not the price. What are you going to use your car for? Commute or camping? You need to purchase a fighter that can accomplish the intended missions and give you air superiority against adversary fighters. This is a decision based on speed, avionics, maneuverability, payload, range, combat history, mechanisms to dodge enemy missiles and many other factors. Let’s say Armenia was going to use these fighters against some guerrilla fighters with little or no anti-aircraft capabilities, in that case buying Yak130 would have been an excellent choice. Yak130 is light, relatively slow and cheap, good for easy targets but useless against an enemy who has Mig29s and all kind of Russian and Israeli anti-aircraft batteries.
      Now, let me make it clear that no one is saying that these fighters are going to make Armenia invincible. Without proper tools to neutralize enemy air defenses, these fighters are pretty much useless. It is important to understand that modern anti-aircraft systems make fighters much more vulnerable. Nevertheless this doesn’t mean they are useless. If that was the case, no country would have spent money buying or manufacturing fighters anymore.

    • The MiG-29 is far outdated compared to the Su-30, and payloads are pointless if the delivery system cannot fulfill its intended missions. The YAK-130 is a trainer and light fighter – the two are not even close nor on the same platform. For the price tag and battlefield needs, the SU-30 is the best option.

  6. These planes which Armenia can’t afford at this time WOULD have been a welcomed upgrade if certain conditions and realities were present. But those conditions and realities are not. And that is that if Armenia was running its own foreign policy and acting for its own interests. Instead, Armenia runs Russia’s foreign policy and acts for Russia’s interests. What does this mean? Well when Russia orders Armenia to not retaliate on Azerbaijan (because Russia and Turkey are involved in an intimate Hokka game together), Armenia obeys that command, despite getting attacked and Armenia suffering losses (with absolutely no recourse). That’s what that means. The other possibility is that Armenia’s “leaders” are a bunch of incompetent buffoons. In my view both of these possibilities are true, with a further emphasis on the second one. So my conclusion is Armenia is purchasing these planes to help Russia, in more ways than one. 1. Moving Russia’s overstock. 2. Getting loans from Russia to move Russia’s overstock. 3. Stirring interest from Russia’s other Soviet province Azerbaijan to put in plane orders of their own. 4. Making Armenia enter an “Indentured Servitude” status to “Mother Russia”, etc. Many scenarios here for Russia’s benefit. Also, the formula is a very simple one: Russia sells planes to destitute Armenia, and sells rockets that can shoot these planes down to its enemies who have more money. And those bozos of Armenia calling themselves the “government”: nothing but the sound of *crickets*. Brilliant, isn’t it? For “Mother Russia” that is.

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