May 04, 2019 / 15:59

How strong are Vietnam-Russia defense ties?

The Hanoitimes - Defense ties remain the key aspect in the bilateral relations for both historical and commercial factors.

The defense ties between Vietnam and Russia, which have been already robust since the USSR, have been further enhanced over the past years as Hanoi and Moscow vow to advance multifaceted historical relations. 
Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich and Russian counterpart General Sergey Shoigu in Hanoi in January 2018. Photo:
Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich and Russian counterpart General Sergey Shoigu in Hanoi in January 2018. Photo:
Of the multisectoral relationship including energy, defense ties remain the key pillar as Hanoi has been a big weapons customer of Moscow for years. 

Last week, this aspect of the Russia-Vietnam defense ties made headlines again with the official announcement of the opening of a new helicopter engine repair center in Vietnam, following up an agreement inked last October.

The new facility 

Managed by Russian state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec, the center is located in Vietnam’s southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, about 40km from the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. 

The maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility, which is called “integrated logistics support center for repairing helicopter engines,” is in cooperation with Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) and some commercial operators, according to The Diplomat.

The center is equipped with “all necessary equipment, spare parts and assemblies to provide repairs for engines designed by UEC-Klimov”, a subsidiary of Rostec’s United Engine Corporation, Rostec has said in a press release. 

The facility operates on space occupied by Vietnam’s Helicopter Technical Service Company, which provides service maintenance for Russian-made helicopters and acts as a distributor of the TB3-117 and VK-2500 engines that Russia is helping maintain.

The Russian side provides the details and spare parts, and trains the personnel for engine and gearbox maintenance. The Vietnamese side will provide support personnel to accompany the working process.

Repairs on the first helicopter engine had recently been completed at the facility, and that by the end of April, four more engines in use in Vietnam would go through repairs at the center, according to Rostec.

Long-lasting cooperation 

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi in October 2018. Photo: VGP
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc hold a joint press meeting in Hanoi in November 2018. Photo: VGP
The center spotlights some of the ongoing defense collaboration by the two sides and Moscow’s desire to strengthen its security footprint in the wider region.

The development underscored some of the ongoing collaboration between the two sides though Vietnam engages newer partners such as the US. Some advances in this realm of ties have continued as Hanoi keeps modernizing its military and Moscow seeks a stronger defense presence in the broader Asia-Pacific, commented by The Diplomat.

Part of the deepened ties has been evident over the past year with Vietnam’s new orders of Russian equipment, as Moscow traditionally is Vietnam’s biggest partner in this respect, or visits and exchanges that have reinforced the relationship of both sides.

One of the aspects of Russia-Vietnam defense collaboration that has received attention in recent years is the potential for the setting up of new MRO facilities in Vietnam. 

These facilities have been viewed as part of routine maintenance of Russian equipment in Vietnam and a larger effort to utilize initial buys of Russian equipment as stepping stones towards wider defense collaboration.

Vietnam was among the 10 largest arms importers in 2014-2018, accounting for 2.9% of the total global spending on arms imports during the period. The country’s biggest supplier was Russia with US$3.3 billion, a report released in March by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showed. 

Vietnam was Russia’s third largest importer with 10%, behind India with 35% and China with 12%. 

In 2017, Russia handed over the last Kilo-class submarines or Varshavyanka of a fleet of six for Vietnam from a contract worth US$2.1 billion signed in 2009. 

In January 2018, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Hanoi to share viewpoints on defense-security matters of mutual concern and boost coordination in traditional fields, including military technical cooperation, on a long-term and win-win basis.

Defense ties were also a central point in the visit paid in to Vietnam on November 18-19, 2018 by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, his fourth trip to the country since 2010. The visit also focused on cooperation in petroleum.  

Vietnam and Russia established diplomatic relations in 1950 and upgraded it to strategic partnership in 2001, then comprehensive strategic partnership in 2012.

The two sides target the two-way trade of US$10 billion before 2020, with oil and gas remaining key staples.