Boom or bust for Russian arms exports?

Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile battery deployed in Crimea
The S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system, here seen during a 2017 air-defense exercise at Feodosiya, Crimea, is one of Russia’s hottest export items (source: dpa)
  • Russian foreign arms sales have peaked near a record high of $15 billion a year
  • New families of high-tech weapons will be needed to sustain this pace
  • Russia’s biggest clients, China and India, are turning into competitors

The Russian weapons business is now facing a critical juncture. Once coequal with the United States as the biggest exporter of arms in the world, Russia must advance technologically or lose ground to more advanced competitors.

Despite Western sanctions, the Kremlin is outwardly confident. At a meeting with defense officials in late March, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that 2016 foreign arms sales reached a record high of over $15 billion. The Russian military campaign in Syria had, he claimed, demonstrated the “remarkable reliability and efficiency” of Russian weapons in combat operations.

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