Cairo and Moscow are in agreement on the sale to Egypt of “more than twenty” Sukhoi Su-35 heavyweight multirole fighters, Moscow news outlet Kommersant reported on Monday, March 18. The deal is yet to be confirmed by official sources. Reportedly, a firm contract worth $2 billion was signed late last year but remained undisclosed until this week. Shipments are expected to commence in 2020-2021.
If concluded, the deal will result in Egypt becoming the fourth customer for the type, which has the NATO codename “Flanker-E.” The Russian MoD has placed orders for a total of 98 aircraft, the last of which are due for delivery later this year. Entering service in 2014, the type proved its worth in Syria where it has been flying combat missions against the Islamic State and anti-government rebels. Russia’s Air and Space Force (VKS) has praised the aircraft for its N-035 radar, with a maximum detection range of 400 km (248 miles) and its ability to guide advanced RVV-SD and R-37 medium- and long-range air-to-air missiles.
Beijing became the second customer in November 2015, with an order worth $2.5 billion for 24 aircraft. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) took deliveries in 2016-2018. Indonesia then finalized a long-awaited contract a year ago, signing for 11 aircraft worth $1.1 billion.
Both deals have been strongly opposed by the Trump Administration. In September 2018, the White House made a first move with practical application of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) by putting a number of Chinese officials and government structures on the blacklist. More recently, it began issuing threats to Jakarta if it goes forward with making payments for advanced Russian weaponry.
Today, the materialization of the Indonesian order remains in question. While admitting difficulties with arranging payments to the manufacturer, officials in Jakarta insist they will continue with the deal regardless of Washington’s actions. According to an optimistic outlook, deliveries to Indonesia may commence in late 2019/early 2020.
It remains to be seen whether Egypt will also be sanctioned for the Su-35 purchase. So far, Cairo has gone unpunished for being a major customer for Russian weapons. Following a military coup in 2013 in which Abdel Fattah el-Sisi emerged as a new national leader, Egypt began placing large contracts with Russian arms manufacturers. A first tranche worth $3.5 billion covered the S-300VM4 “Antei 2500” and Buk-M2E anti-aircraft missiles, with shipments in 2015-2017. Later on, Cairo added a contract worth $2 billion for 46 MiG-29M/M2 (MiG-35) fighters and one in excess of $1 billion for 46 Kamov Ka-52 helicopters. Two years ago, Moscow emerged the winner in an Egyptian navy tender for 32 ship-borne helicopters, with an offer of the Ka-52K Katran.
About that time, local media outlets began reporting about talks on the Su-35, giving varying estimates regarding numbers and delivery terms. Because Cairo’s own financial resources are limited, purchases of expensive military equipment for the Egyptian armed forces are often facilitated by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies that want the largest Arab country to remain allied with them. Therefore, the practical realization of the Su-35 deal is likely to be dependent on whether it wins support in Riyadh.
In the meantime, the Egyptian air force is seeking to replace its stocks of Soviet-era aircraft, such as the MiG-21 and its Chinese J-7 clone, with modern equipment. Four years ago, the service ordered 24 Dassault Rafale fighters, followed by MiG-29Ms, of which deliveries are ongoing. Now, with the Su-35 order, the Egyptian air force is going to have three new types of fourth-generation fighters in service, in addition to having received 240 Lockheed Martin F-16s between 1982 and 2013.