More MiG-35s will roll off the assembly line this year, shoring up prospects of Russian warcraft makers. Photo: Mikoyan

Russian air fleet got another 57 warplanes last year, while China received about 100; but Russian defense suppliers can expect a turnaround this year

The Russian Air Force received a total of 43 war-craft in the past year, according to local papers.

TASS, citing a source close to the Russian Defence Ministry, revealed that the list included:

  • 16 Su-34s, an all-weather supersonic fighter-bomber;
  • 10 Su-35s, a new version of the super-maneuverable Su-27 fighters;
  • 17 Su-30SMs, a variant of the Su-30MKI produced by Irkut Corp with upgrades in radar, communications, friend-or-foe identification, ejection seats, etc.

It also received six Yak-130s advanced jet trainers, which observers say they can be swiftly converted into light-attack and reconnaissance aircraft, plus a number of An-148 transport jets and modernized Il-76 strategic airlifters, according to the Moscow-based research institute Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade.

All up, the Russian Air Force – which maintains a fleet of over 4,000 aircraft, second only to the United States – got a further 57 fighters and jets.

Over the past decade, the Russian Air Force has received more than 500 planes and jets. To put things in perspective, that figure equals to the entire fleet of a medium-sized air force, like that of Spain or Australia.

China and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force never reveal changes to the size of its fleet, but the China-based military website Northern Defence said the force may have received around 100 aircraft in 2017.

But that does not mean the PLAAF is set to surpass its Russian counterpart in fleet size or conventional air combat capabilities.

Chinese experts have urged people to be rational when gauging the gap between the two forces, noting that the PLAAF still procures Su-35s, Su-30SMs, as well as the “fourth++ generation” jet fighter MiG-35s that just rolled off the assembly line by Russian warplane maker Mikoyan.

The Russian defense industry has been scraping by with tepid orders from home and abroad. Mikoyan, Sukhoi and other contractors only manufactured some 80 warplanes – but they have the capacity to build about 130 planes a year.

The good news for Moscow is that domestic and overseas orders for MiG-35s and other new and modernized models are gradually increasing for this year and beyond.

But their Chinese counterparts like Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corp, Shenyang Aircraft Corp and Chengdu Aerospace Corp, maker of the PLA’s fifth-generation super-fighter J-20, have limited capacities and have long been stretched by Beijing, which wants them to churn out more fighters and bombers.

There have been rumors that the Chengdu plant is lagging behind schedule in assembling J-20s since the fighter was officially deployed earlier last year.

More missions and flyovers also mean quicker wear and tear: the maintenance demand for squadrons of fighters, bombers and spy planes following the PLA’s bulked up blue-sea patrolling and stunts such as circumnavigating Taiwan also put pressure on the nation’s defense industry.

While Turkey’s decision to go ahead with canal that will slice through Istanbul continues be met with skepticism, it is just one of many developments that could transform transportation in the region, the Journal of Commerce reports.

The Istanbul Canal, which Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has dubbed his “crazy project,” would connect the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and reportedly render half of Istanbul an island.

The project, first promised by Erdogan in 2011, would substantially reduce transit times of the more than 53,000 ships that sail through the Bosphorus, according to the JOC article, but its commercial viability remains open to doubt. Companies would be forced to pay substantially higher transit fees as they are granted free passage through the Bosphorus Strait.

Another mega-project, the new Istanbul airport, is already nearing completion. The city’s third airport, soon to be one of the world’s largest, is expected to open partially in the first quarter of this year, well ahead of schedule.

The airport’s opening will boost Turkey’s push to become a global logistics hub at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, along with the country’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. As part of the BRI, Turkey launched a rail link between Azerbaijan and Georgia dubbed the “Middle Corridor” in October, connecting Europe with China while bypassing Russia.

Amid all these developments, Turkey’s shipping, logistics and port companies are steadily growing their operations.

Industrial and shipping/shipbuilding conglomerate Yildirim is currently ranked 15th globally, and is projected to jump into the top 10 by 2025.

Ekol Logistics recently opened branches in Paris and Lyon as part of efforts to increase freight traffic between Paris and the Mediterranean. This, as Turkish companies expand into Europe despite fraying political ties between Erdogan’s administration and the European Union.

The country’s presence in the Mediterranean has been further consolidated by UN Ro-Ro’s US$257 million acquisition of domestic rival, adding four ships to the group’s fleet.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera clearly had China on his mind when he hinted during a visit to a US missile test site in Hawaii that his country needs to build a comprehensive system capable of intercepting cruise missiles.

“We would like to develop (the system) into a basic infrastructure that will be helpful in comprehensive missile defense and can (intercept) cruise and other kinds of missiles,” he told reporters after visiting the facility on the island of Kauai,” the Japan Times quoted Onodera as saying on January 10.

Japan is planning to introduce the Aegis Ashore, the land-based version of the missile defense system, to deal with the increasing threat from North Korean ballistic missiles. But Asahi Shimbun and others noted that the minister’s remarks suggest that Japan should expand Aegis Ashore to deal with possible cruise missile attacks.

Outside Russia, the one country near Japan capable of launching such cruise missiles is China. The Chinese military is actively developing anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles with faster speeds and longer ranges.

The defense minister’s remarks on boosting Japan’s missile defense capabilities came after his first visit to the US military’s Aegis Ashore test site on Kauai Island in Hawaii.