No, Algiers is not buying Russia’s latest fighter-bomber
by TOM COOPER
On Dec. 30, 2015, some Russian media outlets—this one, for example — claimed Algeria had placed an order for powerful, twin-engine Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers. Western observers concluded that the order was a given — and now it’s only a matter of time until the Algerian air force starts operating Su-34s.
No so fast. In fact, the Algerian Su-34 story is mostly rumor and hyperbole.
In the immediate aftermath of the Russian intervention in Syria in late September 2015, world media attention focused on the Russian air force and, in particular, Russia’s photogenic Su-34s.
The reporting had a profound effect on Algerian Vice Minister of Defense Ahmad Gaid Salah.
Salah became so fascinated with the Su-34 that jokes began circulating within Algerian military circles that it was “love at first sight.” Before too long, he asked the Algerian air force to prepare a study of the type and assess the possibility of an acquisition.
Air force officers were quick to prepare a thick file that firmly concluded — the Algerian air force neither needs the $40-million-per-copy Su-34 nor even really wants it. Algiers’ air arm is happy with the Su-30s, MiG-29s and Su-24s it already has.
Undeterred, Salah arranged a conference with Maj. Gen. Abdelkader Lounes, head of the Algerian air force. Salah continued insisting on the Su-34 acquisition even after Lounes reiterated the air force’s opposition to the plane.
Ignoring Lounes and the air force, Salah contacted the Russian air force attaché in Algiers with a request for a single Su-34 “for evaluation purposes.”
Considering Moscow is usually eager to secure lucrative arms orders and that Algeria is generally considered a loyal Russian partner and export customer, it might come as a surprise that, initially, the Russian response was to say no.
But Salah continued insisting, so a delegation from Rosoboronexport eventually visited Algiers in late December 2015 and briefed Salah on the type. This trip is what prompted Russian media to publish sensational reports about the Algerian Su-34.
However, Rosoboronexport’s representatives explained to the Algerians that Moscow is ready to deliver only what they described as an export variant of the Su-34 designated Su-32.
The Algerians’ reaction unequivocal. Having had plenty of negative experiences with various downgraded export versions of Russian arms — and lacking any real interest in the Su-34 anyway — they promptly turned down this offer.
No one from the Algerian or Russian governments was willing to comment this affair, and it remains unclear if the Su-34 variant Moscow offered to Algiers bears any relation to the original Su-32FN, from which the Su-34 was developed.
But one thing is for sure. Algeria never ordered any Su-32s or Su-34s, and probably never will.