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.
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.”