Russia and Vietnam have maintained solid, long-running military-technical ties since the Second Indochina War when the Democratic Republic of Vietnam received full Soviet military assistance. Russian-Vietnamese military technical cooperation continued virtually unabated after the breakup of the Soviet Union; supplies resumed almost immediately under commercial agreements. In 1994, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam ordered a small number of Su-27SK/UBK fighters; a second contract for these aircraft was signed in 1995. Consequently, the Vietnamese Air Force deployed its first squadron with fourth-generation fighters.
Sustained Vietnamese economic growth, as well as China’s expanding air force and naval potential, resulted in a buildup of Russian-Vietnamese cooperation in the early 2000s. In 2003, the Vietnamese Air Force purchased the first four Su-34MKV fighters. Vietnam continued to buy these fighters later, and its air force currently boasts the largest Su-30 formation in Southeast Asia. Only India, Russia and China operate more of these aircraft today.
In 2003, Vietnam also ordered S-300PMU-1 long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. Purchases of naval weaponry and equipment expanded in the late 2000s, with the Vietnamese Navy receiving six large Project 06361 diesel-electric submarines. The purchase of these new weapons systems was a landmark event in the history of the country’s navy. Vietnam received its own submarine force, and its navy, which mostly operated speedboats in the past, joined the ranks of modern navies.
Vietnam also buys weaponry for its ground forces, primarily new T-90S tanks.
Bilateral cooperation aims to deliver a wide range of weapons and military equipment for all of the country’s Armed Forces. Although Vietnam remains hard pressed for resources, its purchases continue to expand, as proved by the number of platforms being ordered by Hanoi and the value of the contracts. Initially, Vietnam purchased just four Su-30MK2V fighters, eventually receiving eight and then 12 of these aircraft. Average contract values increased from $100 million in the early 2000s to $300 million in the mid-2000s and to $1 billion as purchases hit an all-time high during the delivery of the above submarines.
Russian-Vietnamese military-technical cooperation hinges on traditional longtime military ties between both countries and is implemented in conditions of mutually complementary foreign-policy and military-political interests between Vietnam and Russia. In addition, there is the non-material distinguishing feature of the psychological compatibility of the Vietnamese-Russian partnership. Possibly, this compatibility stems from their mutual sympathies that emerged in the 1960s and the 1970s in the process of bilateral cooperation during the war against the United States. Or perhaps, both nations have a certain cultural compatibility. This almost intangible factor plays an important and sometimes decisive role in the development of military-technical ties. Russian industrialists and weapons exporters note that relations with their Vietnamese partners are very comfortable.
At the same time, it would be inaccurate to claim that Russian-Vietnamese military- technical cooperation is perfect. Vietnam’s growing financial and economic potential allows it to diversify weapons deliveries and to acquire more Israeli and European defensive systems. Hanoi is also studying the possibility of buying US weaponry and equipment. Therefore Russia is gradually losing its quasi-monopolist status on the Vietnamese arms market. At this point, the possibility of imposing secondary sanctions against Vietnam (for importing Russian weaponry) under the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) will remain a serious potential concern.
In this situation Russia needs to offer a more flexible pricing policy in the Vietnamese market, improve the quality of warranty and post-warranty support and launch co-production arrangements with this fledgling Vietnamese industry. The delivery of counter-terrorism and crime-prevention, law enforcement and cybersecurity systems makes it possible to expand bilateral cooperation still further. On the whole, a solid tradition of bilateral ties, a positive political context and Vietnam’s objective need to upgrade its military create favorable conditions for continuing and even expanding Russian-Vietnamese military-technical cooperation.