from Africa in Transition

Russia Selling Su-30 Fighters to Nigeria

July 05, 2017

Indian Air Force's main fighter Su-30 takes off for a joint air exercise in the central Indian city of Gwalior February 25, 2004. The Su-30 and its variants are popular options for many air forces around the world. Kamal Kishore/Reuters
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According to Russian media, the Nigeria is buying twelve Su-30 fighter jets from Russia, two of which have already been delivered. The aircraft has two seats for long-range missions and is known for its high maneuverability. It is is manufactured by the Sukhoi Aviation Company. There has been no public announcement of the cost or how Nigeria will pay for them, but, according to past transactions, the fighter jet can cost upwards of $30 million each. Su-30’s have be seen in sub-Sahara Africa before: according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Uganda and Angola inked deals to purchase the fighters within the last decade. The Su-30 fighters, and their subsequent iterations, remain a mainstay of the Russian air force and have seen considerable action in Syria.

Among other things, the Su-30 fighter is used in air-to-ground operations. Presumably, the Nigerian government is buying them for use against Boko Haram, the Jihadist terrorist group in the north. They might also be used against Niger delta militants operating in the country’s oil patch.

Details are sparse, but from the Sukhoi Aviation Company’s perspective, this appears to be a straight commercial deal. Nigeria has also sought aircraft from the United States, most recently the A-29 Super Tucano, a light, turbo-prop (propeller-driven) aircraft that specializes in air-to-ground operations. However, there has been opposition among some members of Congress and within the human rights community to the sale because of concern about Nigerian military human rights abuses along with questions about the operational appropriateness of such aircraft. (The Trump administration has since reportedly given the twelve-plane sale the green light, but congressional opposition remains.). With respect to the Su-30 fighters, thereis congressional concern about possible civilian casualties from their use in the fight against Boko Haram. In the past, Nigeria has turned to Russia or China for weapons if its efforts were blocked elsewhere. A lesson for U.S. policy makers from this arms sale might be that there is always a willing seller of arms for a willing buyer—unless the technology is so advanced that only the United States can provide it. That is not the case with the S-30 fighter jet.

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