Changing dynamics of Asian security architecture: Russia-Pakistan bilateral defense ties

By Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed

While Modi was making deals with UAE and Indians gloating over “filling the vacuum,” Pakistan went ahead and bought defense equipment from the traditional Cold War rival of Pakistan and an ally of India, Russia. The strategic realities are changing and decisive shifts occurring to shape the future Asian security architecture.

Pakistan and Russia on Wednesday signed a landmark defence deal that includes the sale of four Mi-35 ‘Hind E’ attack helicopters to Pakistan. In addition, Russian state-owned firm Rostekh Corporation is planning to build a 680 mile gas pipeline in Pakistan in 2017 at an estimated cost of $2.5 billion. Pakistan currently has a number of Mi-17 helicopters delivered by the United States to assist in the fight against militancy.

Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif had also visited Russia in June, after which a draft contract for the delivery of four Mi-35M ‘Hind E’ combat helicopters was sent to Pakistan from Russia. Both countries were negotiating the deal for the past year, signalling a major thaw in relations between the two cold-war rivals.

The Mi-35 helicopter is an exceedingly modernized version of the Mi-24 (Hind) combat helicopter with new onboard equipment and avionics. Avionics play a critical role in modern combat and this is why the electronic core of Mi-35 underwent numbers of fundamental modifications. Wide spectrums of latest avionics were incorporated in the cockpit. The Mi-35M is fitted with improved sensor package as well including a night vision system which has turned this helicopter into a deadly prey during the night missions.

To enhance the operational freedom and combat accuracy, Mi-35M is fitted with electro-optical rangefinder/targeting system with thermal imaging guidance channel, satellite positioning and navigation system, electronic multifunction displays, onboard computer and new generation jam-proof communications equipment. All these modifications have made this system a natural attraction for Pakistan Army in its long pursuit of a reliable and affordable gunship to be used in ongoing counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations all across the country. It also has a more powerful engine and a different tail rotor.

The main feature of this multirole versatile helicopter is that can also carry 8 fully loaded army troops. Four helicopters can drop 32 SSG troops and then can provide them with aerial cover as well.

To test the machine robustly in mountainous regions especially in FATA, initially Pakistan has placed a smaller order of only 4 machines. Pakistan Army is likely to place a larger follow-up order depending upon the outcome of the performance of these machines.

The deal had to be followed by another ‘technical cooperation agreement’ to pave the way for sale of defence equipment to Pakistan. Besides helicopters, Pakistan also appears interested in other Russian hardware as well.

Russia is an alternate source for Western military technology and energy supplier and Pakistan despite its structural problems is a growing economy with young population in need of both energy supplies and defense equipment.

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Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed

Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed works at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. He can be reached at

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