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Bangladesh Is Buying A Dozen Multirole Fighters From Russia

September 24, 2017

The Su-30MKI flown by the Indian Air Force.

The South Asian country first published a tender in the early months of 2017 for eight aircraft with an additional four to follow. Speculation was rife the Bangladesh Air Force preferred the MiG-35 to augment its existing MiG-29’s. But in May it was revealed the Su-30SME emerged as the winner. It’s a twin engine export model with superb performance characteristics and equipped with Russian avionics.

The Su-30SME isn’t to be confused with the Su-30MKI, which is assembled in India and uses Western European subsystems. Neither is it the same as the Su-35S, a.k.a. the Flanker E, ordered by Indonesia.

The Su-30SME’s biggest draw is its range (3,000 kilometers) and potential firepower. Bangladesh is a country spread over a vast flood plain wedged between India and Myanmar with unrestricted access to the Bay of Bengal. Although not locked in any major territorial dispute, possessing at least one squadron of Su-30SME’s would give its air force the ability to patrol and defend its land and maritime borders.

The induction of Su-30SME’s will also help fulfill the military’s Force Goal 2030 modernization plans and pave the way for replacing the obsolescent Chinese J-7 and Q-5’s still in service. But the Su-30SME deal with United Aircraft Corporation marks a huge investment. The actual cost of a single unit isn’t publicly available, but going by a $50 million estimate that covers imported avionics, Dhaka must pay at least $400 million in tranches with extra costs for operations and maintenance in the long-term.

The Su-30SME is not a budget option given Bangladesh’ current military spending pegged at just $3.2 billion for the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year. A timetable for the production and delivery of these new Su-30SME’s is unavailable at the moment.

The geopolitical risks facing Bangladesh aren’t too severe. After seceding from Pakistan in 1971 it has maintained peaceful relations with its immediate neighbors and managed to avoid entangling alliances. So much so that its armed strength is modest, with just 160,000 men and women in uniform among the different branches of the armed forces.

For more than a quarter century Bangladesh has relied on importing arms and equipment from China and Russia, with the former playing a crucial role in establishing the local arms industry. Its government has never tried to cultivate serious ties with Delhi nor are there warm relations with its former foe, Islamabad. Dhaka is burdened with internal security threats, however, from small rebel groups using its porous borders as a sanctuary to Islamist terrorists.

In August 2017 a humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State forced thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh following a vicious government crackdown described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing. The exodus hasn’t soured ties between Dhaka and Naypyidaw yet but it does highlight the pressures Bangladesh faces from its part of the world.

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