Is Jordan about to fall back on Russia's 'Fullback'?

Is Jordan about to fall back on Russia's 'Fullback'?
3 min read
13 Apr, 2016
Jordan could be about to purchase Russian-made Su-34 Fullback warplanes, a surprise move for a country with a US-dominated military hardwre but coincides with warmer relations between Amman and Moscow.
Could Russia's Su-34 be the latest addition to the Royal Jordanian Air Force? [AFP]

Jordan might be perched to move away from a decades' long reliance on US firepower and purchase war planes from Russian manufacturers.

Amman officials are said to be in talks with the makers of the Sukhoi-32 - the export version of the Su-34 Fullback - which could lead to pro-West Jordan adding Russian aircraft to its mostly US-manufactured strike armada.

Russian media reports suggested that Jordanian officials consulting Kremlin's arms suppliers about purchasing a "small number" of Su-32, which is said to be cheaper than similar US strike aircraft such as the F-15.

"We hope that the interest will lead to pre-contract negotiations in the near future," Sputnik news agency reported one Russian official saying.

The pro-Moscow newspaper added that other militaries have been impressed with the aircraft's performance in the Syria war. 

Russian air raids of opposition territories - led by the Su-34 Fullback - have helped Damascus turn back a string of rebel victories and ensured that the Syrian regime survives another day.

US made

Jordan's military is dominated by US hardware, including the F-16 multirole aircraft and the F-5 fighter jet in the country's air force.

Since its beginnings almost all Jordanian weaponry has come from Western suppliers, and the army's earliest foundations and training came from UK military traditions.

If Jordan were to purchase Russian war planes, the move would be highly unusual. However, seeing that Amman continues to suffer from chronic government debt and other financial concerns then the choice of cheaper war planes would be prudent.

While spared the turmoil its neighbours Syria and Iraq have experienced in recent years, Jordan is too vulnerable to growing extremist sentiments.

Its military and intelligence agencies are widely seen as bulwarks against jihadi groups entrenching themselves in Jordan.

However, the country is also a recipient of US aid, while Washington's diplomatic and military support is viewed as crucial to the regime's existence.

Yet signs are emerging that Amman is being wooed by Russia even though relations between Washington and Moscow are at their tensest in years.

In November, Jordan and Russia announced new military cooperation and on a civilian level, Amman had also agreed to allow a Russian company to construct the country's first nuclear power plant.

New concerns

Although Jordan is believed to have provided military support and training to Syrian rebels among tribes in the south Syria, its opposition to Bashar al-Assad appears to have shifted to concerns about anti-regime jihadi units.

This includes al-Nusra Front and Islamic State group who both have a presence in the province bordering Jordan.

Russia has been striking both groups in Syria - along with more moderate Syrian rebel militias - Moscow-Amman military cooperation towards Syria appears to be strong, despite Jordan's membership in the rival US-led anti-IS coalition.

A Jordanian official reportedly told Defence News that it was informed about Russia's surprise partial military pull-out of Syria before President Vladimir Putin announced the move in March.

Amman also appears to moving closer to Gulf states such as the UAE, which are offering the financial cushion tradition traditionally provided by the US.

While it is far too early to ascertain whether Jordan is shifting away - again - from a reliance on the US, Amman appears more willing to give other regional and international powers some scope in military partnership.