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Vietnam Buys Russian Warplanes For USD$100million

Vietnam Buys Russian Warplanes For USD$100million

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Vietnam reportedly signed a 100 million U.S. dollar deal to buy four sophisticated Sukhoi warplanes from Russia, its former Cold War ally, after Moscow sold similar Sukhoi fighter-bombers to Indonesia, Malaysia and China.

Vietnam enjoys relatively good relations with its Southeast Asian neighbors, but remains wary of China which it trounced in a brief 1979 border war.

Vietnam's reliance on Russia for weapons is rooted in the U.S.-Vietnam War when Moscow's military support for Hanoi helped enable the communists to be victorious over the Americans.

Today, Russia's interest also includes Vietnam's oil, natural gas, coffee and rice.

"Vietnam on [Dec. 1] agreed to buy four Sukhoi fighter jets for 100 million U.S. dollars, a deal that adds fresh impetus to President Vladimir Putin's drive to increase arms sales to Southeast Asia," the Moscow Times reported the next day.

The "protocol agreement" was inked by the Vietnamese government and Russia's Rosoboronexport -- also known as the Russian Defense Export agency.

"China bought 24 Su-30MK2s in January, Indonesia signed up for four Su-27/30s in April, and Malaysia agreed to buy 18 Su-30MKMs in August," the report said.

The Su-30 can be fitted with a 30-mm cannon, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles and also drop free-fall bombs and cluster bombs.

Su-30s can be adjusted to reach a speed of Mach 2.3 and will bolster Hanoi's dozen Su-27s.

China received 76 Su-30MKKs from Russia and was expected to take delivery of 28 upgraded Su-30MK2s by the end of 2004, according to Chinese Defense Today, a publication which analyzes weapon systems.

"The Su-30MKK is a long-range, multi-role, twin-engine, two-seater, attack fighter-bomber aircraft capable of air superiority, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses, and long-range ground attack," Chinese Defense Today said.

"The aircraft approaches the capability of the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle," it added, a comparison expressed by other weapons analysts -- especially because the Su-30MKK can perform extremely tight turns in mid-air.

"With multiple in-flight refuellings, Su-30MKKs taking-off from airbases on China's mainland conceivably could conduct air strikes as far away as Guam, Australia or the Indian Ocean, or be able to loiter for significant periods over contested areas of the South China Sea," it said.

Vietnam's S-shaped east coast is about 3,200 kilometers in length and opens to the South China Sea.

Vietnam's current naval concern in the South China Sea is a long-running rivalry with China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines over ownership of the Spratly Islands, because the tiny islands' offshore region includes lucrative oil, gas and fishing zones, plus strategic shipping lanes.

In 1997, in a different offshore sector, Vietnam accused China of erecting an illegal, exploratory oil rig in waters claimed by both countries, situated between Hanoi and China's Hainan Island.

Vietnam's version of the sleek, screeching jet will be backed by an S-300PMU1 air defense system which Vietnam reportedly bought from Russia earlier this year for 250 million U.S. dollars.

The Sukhoi offers a combat range of 1,500 kilometers using internal fuel tanks, and up to 3,000 kilometers with in-flight refueling.

NATO refers to the Su-30 as a Flanker. It is flown mostly in Belarus, China, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam.

*****

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/glossograph/

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