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Russia & Pakistan to hold bilateral military exercises
September 18, 2019
A dramatic representation of Pakistani SOF operators (SSG/SSW) coordinating with various PAF airborne combat and ISR assets.

Russia & Pakistan to hold bilateral military exercises

Russia and Pakistan will be holding their first bilateral military exercise – designated Friendship-2016 – in the coming months (likely before the end of 2016).

An announcement was made by Pakistan’s new Ambassador to Russia Qazi Khalilullah, who had recently spoken to The Express Tribune about the initiative.

Russia had announced that it would engage in bilateral exercises with Pakistan in the beginning of 2016. The exercises were scheduled as part of a series of bilateral drills, which had also included China, Vietnam, Mongolia, and India.

According to Russian News Agency TASS (in January), the Russian-Pakistani exercise will be a series of drills in mountainous areas. The Express Tribune was able to learn that 200 personnel from both sides would be taking part in Friendship-2016.

Notes, Comments & Analysis:

The growth in Russian and Pakistani defence ties has been framed – especially in the media – as a strategic shift in security dynamics of South Asia. However, unlike the U.S., which has designated distant regions (e.g. Afghanistan) as areas of interest for its long-term security objectives, Russia generally focuses on the security of its immediate frontiers. If there is a strategic component to Moscow’s closer proximity to Islamabad, it would likely be in reference to specific security risks in Central Asia. Exercises pertaining to counterinsurgency (COIN) and programs aimed at understanding Pakistan’s approach to COIN would be a principal objective.

At this time, the envisioned economic and trade growth from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative is not a factor for Moscow to consider, at least in terms of the short and medium-term. That said, Moscow does evidently see a viable market for its defence hardware in Pakistan, and – whilst also managing India’s sensitivities and concerns – will opt to pursue potential opportunities. Hardware that is closely related to COIN, e.g. light armoured vehicles, transport helicopters, attack helicopters, small arms, etc, would be areas that Russia will likely push to Pakistan if it has not done so already.

Pakistan is actively engaged in COIN operations and it is not short of options in this department. Should it choose Russian weaponry over analogous Chinese or Western options, it would amount to a meaningful boost of credibility for the Russian defence industry in this sphere. Hence, the incentive is much stronger for Moscow and the Russian defence industry in COIN than it is in conventional inter-state security issues.

That said, it would be erroneous to suggest that Russia would not emerge as one of Pakistan’s key vendors in conventional security matters. For example, the JF-17 – i.e. the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s backbone multi-role fighter platform – utilizes the RD-93 turbofan engine. The PAF has sought to build a strong relationship with Klimov, the engine-maker, in order to better optimize the turbofan for use in the PAF as well as procure the RD-93’s maintenance, repair and overhaul infrastructure. Should Russia agree to release updated iterations of the RD-93 (e.g. RD-33MK), Klimov will continue maintaining its essential position in the JF-17 program into the long and very long-term.

Regarding the prospect of the Su-35, the statements reportedly made by the Director General of Defence Purchases (DGDP) would suggest that Pakistani interest in the fighter is genuine. However, if accurate, the process is – at best – still in its relatively early stages, and that to Moscow still yet to decide on whether to move ahead with substantive negotiations.