A Russian official has mentioned the United Arab Emirates as a potential buyer of Russia’s problematic Su-57 fighter.
It is unclear whether the United Arab Emirates government has expressed a firm interest in the plane. But there are clear reasons why the United Arab Emirates would at least explore the possibility of an acquisition.
Sergei Chemezov, general director of the Russian technology company Rostec, which included the manufacturer of fighter jets Sukhoi, told reporters at the Dubai Air Show on November 18, 2019 that India and the United Arab Emirates were interested in the Su-57
“Su-57: India, most likely Emirates,” Chemezov said, according to Russian state media. “They have been considering and discussing it for a long time, although no decision has yet been made.”
Chemezov said Rostec has offered Indians and Emiratis “location.” In other words, the option to customize the Su-57 for your own needs and the possibility of building part or all of the aircraft in your own factories.
Sukhoi has a long history of location agreements. India, China and other countries operate and even manufacture their own versions of the Su-30 fighter.
To be clear, it is possible – even likely – that nothing comes out of the supposed interest of the United Arab Emirates in the Su-57.
It should be noted that India for years partnered with Russia to develop an Indian version of the Su-57.
In 2018, New Delhi canceled the association, claiming problems with the design and manufacture of the Su-57.
Chemezov’s mention of India in relation to the Su-57 probably amounts to a commercial attitude or mere illusions. The Indian air force is actively seeking a new fighter, and the Su-57 is not on the short list of contenders.
Two dynamics could explain the conversation about an Emirati Su-57. One, Russia is desperate for foreign investment in its poaching program.
The Su-57 first flew in prototype form in 2010. Since then, Sukhoi has managed to build only a dozen Su-57.
They are expensive and lack key combat systems. A brief deployment in Syria of a pair of Su-57 apparently was pure propaganda.
In mid-2019, Russia had no plans to acquire more Su-57. Russian President Vladimir Putin reversed the decision in May 2019. The Russian air force would buy 76 additional twin-engine aircraft, Putin promised.
But Moscow is struggling to pay for the planes, which could easily cost 100 million dollars or more each. “Chemezov’s comments make it clear that Russia is still very eager to find foreign partners to help distribute the cost burden of the Su-57 program,” Joe Trevithick explained in The War Zone.
The Emirati are potentially an easy mark for Russians. For years, the United Arab Emirates have tried, and have failed, to obtain approval from the United States Department of State to buy poaching F-35 fighters.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, but that could have something to do with Israel’s own acquisition of F-35, Washington has refused to authorize the United Arab Emirates to buy American poachers.
Israel has a long history of predicting its own purchases of first-class US weapons on the condition that the United States does not sell the same weapons to Israel’s Arab neighbors. It is not for nothing that neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia have F-35.
The Emirates are not the only country that could buy the Su-57 because it cannot buy F-35. In July 2019, the U.S. government expelled Turkey from the F-35 consortium and canceled the purchase by Ankara of up to 100 of the planes that evade the radar.
Turkey had also insisted on buying Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, which could collect sensitive data on the F-35, data that could end up in Russian hands.