US lifting a 50 year old arms embargo against Vietnam should have Russia worried as Moscow currently meets over 80% of Hanoi’s defence imports in value terms.
Russia recent despatched the last of six Kilo-class submarines as part of a procurement contract worth US$2 billion signed in 2009.
Other major Russian arms transfers to Vietnam include 32 Su-30MK jetfighters, two Gepard-3 frigates (with two more to be delivered between 2014-2016), and two K-300P Bastion-P coastal defence missile systems. During President Putin’s visit in 2013, the two countries also concluded a military cooperation pact to formalise bilateral defence cooperation.
In addition to expanding defence ties, the two countries are also promoting cooperation in other important fields, such as oil and gas exploitation and nuclear energy. Russia is providing loans and technological assistance to help Vietnam to build its first nuclear power plant.
Vietnam is trying to rapidly modernize its military, funds permitting, to meet the challenge from a belligerent China which is claiming sovereignty over several South China Sea islands. On its shopping are maritime surveillance aircraft, drones, helicopters and armoured vehicles. It is too early to say if Vietnam will interest US arms companies, given its reputation as a bargain arms buyers. However Hanoi could be a candidate for US arms aid and Pentagon surplus buys.
The US and Japan have emerged as a formidable ally, given the situation in South China Sea and growing concenrs about China’s assertiveness and freedom of navigation in the region.
The US in 2013 had announced $18 million maritime security assistance package for Hanoi and also transfer of five coast guard cutters to Vietnam annually over the next five years. The US also has been training Vietnam’s coast guard personnel. Vietnam has asked Japan to provide vessels to strengthen its coast guard according to media reports early this month.
Many defense officials in Washington are waiting for Vietnam to expand its coast guard cooperation, forge closer naval ties, and establish a defense procurement relationship with the United States.