Several recent news reports from Russian media outlets indicate that Pakistani interest in the Sukhoi Su-35 multi-role fighter is genuine.
The Pakistani officials quoted were present at Army 2016, an international military and technical forum devoted to showcase defence industry projects from within and outside of Russia.
Speaking to Sputnik News, the deputy director of the Defence Export Promotion Organization (DEPO) Qadir Khan said, “Pakistan is involved in negotiations with Russia on a deal for Su-35 and Su-37. We are in initial stage now.” (Note: The Su-37 is a demonstrator program and it is not available on the market).
Interestingly, the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP)’s Directorate General of Defence Purchases (DGDP), which is responsible for managing the assessment and procurement of arms for the armed forces (from domestic and foreign sources), also sent a delegation to attend Army 2016.
The delegation was led by the Director General of DGDP – Major General Naveed Ahmed.
According to Sputnik News’ Spanish portal, Maj. Gen Ahmed responded to inquiries about the Su-35 by stating that the option was being considered. He reportedly added that Pakistan is waiting for Russia to open negotiations.
Maj. Gen Ahmed also expressed hope that an agreement regarding the RD-93 turbofan (for the JF-17) will also be finalized in the near-term. Pakistan had already secured Russia’s agreement to directly supply the RD-93, so it is unclear if the statement was made in reference to buying additional engines or in other areas, such as establishing a maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility for the RD-93 in Pakistan, which Pakistan had been seeking since November 2015.
In another Sputnik News article, Maj. Gen Ahmed was quoted saying:
“Our army services are [showing] keen interest in different Russian products. We are looking for the air platform, for any sorts of helicopters; for the army, we are looking for tanks, we are looking for anti-tanks weapon system and more importantly we are looking for the air defense system.”
Notes, Comments & Analysis:
If accurate, Major General Ahmed’s statements would indicate that Pakistan is indeed interested in the Su-35. While there have been numerous reports about Pakistani interest in the fighter, this would be the first direct and verifiable statement from a Pakistani official regarding the issue.
This is significant as the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) itself has only set the JF-17, F-16 and next-generation fighter on its modernization roadmap. The Director General of DGDP’s statement would suggest that another fighter could potentially be added and that the Su-35 is an option.
Interestingly, Maj. Gen Ahmed also reportedly added that a proposal of some kind was made to Russia, noting that the step of initiating negotiations would be up to Moscow. While the PAF itself has not voiced intent for procuring a new fighter type, the fact that this information would come from the DGDP is appropriate as it is sanctioned to manage procurement and acquisition issues.
Whether Russia opts to entertain Pakistan’s interest in the Su-35 is another matter entirely. However, the truly important point at this stage is the possibility that the PAF is indeed seeking another fighter platform – i.e. another short or medium-term addition joining the JF-17 and F-16. The requirement does not emerge to cater to the platform; rather, the platform is sought to fulfill a requirement.
On this basis, it will be worth observing if the PAF will study other fighter options, especially considering the reality that the Su-35 is a twin-engine fighter with considerable payload and range.
In regards to Russia itself. It appears that Pakistan is at the stage where it can generally examine and pursue Russian arms. In other words, exceptional clauses or exemptions would not be required in order to clear sales to Islamabad. However, certain political and strategic issues, such as its ties with Delhi, will prompt Moscow to be careful in terms of what it approves for sale, which is why the notion of the Su-35 is still far from a sure bet for Pakistan.