The return of Iran to EU oil and gas markets may not be so welcome for Russia's bottom line, but the end of United Nations sanctions on conventional arms sales to the Islamic Republic is unquestionably a boon to Moscow's military industrial complex. As Russian supplied Syrian Arab Army T90s head into battle alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Hezbollah north of Aleppo, it's no coincidence that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is seizing the opportunity to promote one of the Russian arms industry's best exports of the decade to Iran. Rogozin tweeted out this week that the T90's manufacturer JSC corporation Uralvagonzavod is prepared to set up a joint production line for the T90 inside Iran. This seems to contradict the reports that Iran will not be importing T90s, but it's possible the Persians are driving a hard bargain for joint production and will only agree to buy T90s on that basis. At any rate it's too early and oil prices are too low for the moment to say 'never' to Iran building its new tank fleet around the T90:
Southfront report on the progress of Russia's tank fleet modernization program including the T-72B3 upgraded model seen in Syrian combat
The Iranians of course, are likely to scale back their ambitious plans for a massive arms shopping spree to modernize the Islamic Republic's forces, now that oil prices have tanked (pun intended). According to Southfront analysis, Russians themselves will not be able to replace their older upgraded T-72 main battle tanks as quickly as they would like, nor roll out the advanced multi-role armored combat system the T-14 Armata quite as rapidly as hoped.
India, which is expected to be the main export/joint manufacture customer for the Armata, is also experiencing its own economic difficulties. The Modi government's 'made in India' push, while not a problem in the near term, poses the long term risk for Moscow of reverse engineering and more competition from Indian knock offs of Russian weaponry. In 2014 the Chinese unveiled their new VT4/MBT 3000 design that could compete with the Armata or T-90 series in export markets like Thailand. Whether the Chinese have reverse engineered or can match the best of both Russian and Western tank designs remains to be seen, but the competition in particular for southeast Asian tank orders will be fierce, with political considerations for Vietnam possibly tilting Hanoi's orders back to its old ally in Moscow.
What should give Nizhny Tagil-based Russian tank maker Uralvagonzavod some confidence that Iran will eventually come around to ordering T90s is three things:
A video on Russian active protection systems of the type that may prove demoralizing to CIA-supplied TOW jihadis in Syria
1) Iranian advisers will likely observe the T90's active protection systems in real time, especially as desperate Syrian jihadists and encircled foreign fighters try to hurl all the TOW missiles they have left at the SAA in the coming battles for the Turkish border crossings
2) Iran has hundreds of older T72s that may be upgraded to the T-72B3 standard used by the Russian and Syrian Arab Armies, but if the Persians want to be prepared for ground combat with the next generation of Turkish or other potential adversaries' MBTs they will need the T90, including as a bridge to the Armata. Although Iran's indigenous arms industry has marked some impressive achievements, including in the areas of drone technology and hacking U.S. drones, it will need Russian, Franco-German or Chinese assistance to fully modernize its production facilities for building MBTs.
3) Unlike China, Russia shares a Caspian Sea border with Iran, and has a certain 'home field' advantage over its Chinese competitor given the proximity between the two countries. This may hold despite Russia's history of withholding the S300 air defense system which Iran paid for and litigation between the two allies settled out of court, following the lifting of UN sanctions and the delivery of S300s.
Modernizing Iran's T72s using some of the same production facilities that could be set up for the T90 would go a long way toward promoting greater inter-operability between the Iranians and their Shanghai Cooperation Organization allies. As would integrating the Russian advised S300 systems Iran will be setting up to defend its key military bases with Russia's overall air defense structure and China's own network of reverse engineered S300 copies and new Russian-delivered S400s.
APTN video from Iran's IRINN (in Farsi) shows footage taken from an Iranian reconaissance drone buzzing U.S. carrier the Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)
With Chinese President Xi Jinpeng recently announcing that Iranian membership in the SCO uniting Moscow and Beijing is a done deal, and with Pakistan and India also waiting in the wings to join, Washington is now facing an increasingly modern, united Eurasian military bloc. Beijing's New Silk Road initiative which is bringing China, Russia, India, Iran and Pakistan together is emerging despite attempts at sabotage by what Asia Times columnist Pepe Escobar calls 'the Empire of Chaos'. But Xi like Putin and Rouhani understand that in order for the New Silk Road to peacefully rise, it must be ringed by a wall of steel. In other words, Zbigniew Brzezinski and other American proponents of the flawed Mackinder 'Heartland' theory of offshore balancing's worst nightmare -- of which Washington's defeat by proxy in northern Syria is one harbinger.