MOSCOW --- The Russian Federation may regain T-80U main battle tanks (MBT) and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) supplied to the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the 1990s and in the 2000s, according to a source in the Russian defense industry.
"Moscow is planning to regain the T-80U MBTs and BMP-3 IFVs delivered to Seoul in the 1990s towards state debt payments. The taking of the relevant decision dates back to 2005. We have recently conducted the technical assessment of the vehicles and drafted a proposal to the authorities of the ROK. The proposal was delivered to the South Korean side on September 3.
“Moscow intends to conduct a mutually profitable barter exchange, not to buy back T-80Us and BMP-3s," the source said.
He added that the vehicles are in good technical condition, despite the active usage by the armed forces of ROK. "Hence, we are planning to get the T-80Us and BMP-3s to pieces in order to get spare parts for the organic vehicles of Russia’s Armed Forces. However, they can be overhauled and supplied to the prominent users of the T-80U MBTs and BMP-3 IFVs, for instance, to Cyprus," the source emphasized.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) arms transfers database, Russia delivered to the Republic of Korea 43 T-80U MBTs and 67 BMP-3 IFVs in 1995-2006.
The experts of the Institute said that 30 BMP-3s, 33 T-80Us, about 700 9M131 Metis-M (NATO reporting name: AT-13 Saxhorn-2) anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), 50 Igla-1 (SA-16 Gimlet) man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and 550 9M117 Bastion (AT-10 Stabber) ATGMs for the BMP-3 vehicles had been supplied as a part of the Bul-Gom/Red Bear-1 deal in 1996-1998 to pay the Soviet Union’s state debt to South Korea.
The cost of the aforementioned weapons reached USD209 million, the specialists of SIPRI suppose.
The second Russian-Korean state debt payments program took place in 1999-2006. It was unsurprisingly named Bul-Gom 2/Red Bear-2. Within the prescribed period, Seoul received 15 Kamov Ka-32 search-and rescue (SOR) helicopters, 2,000 9M131 Metis-M ATGMs, 37 BMP-3 IFVs, 23 Ilyushin Il-103 light turboprop training aircraft, 3 Project 12061 Murena-type (Tsaplya-class) assault hovercraft, and 10 T-80U MBTs worth USD534 million. According to the local media, the armed forces of ROK have been actively using the aforementioned Russian-originated military hardware since 1990s.
It should be noted that the Russian Land Forces have a relatively small number of T-80U MBTs. According to the Military Balance 2016 report issued by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the service operates 1,300 T-72B/BA, 600 T-72B3, 450 T-80BV/U [largely T-80BVs -- TASS], and 350 T-90A tanks. Therefore, Russia`s military does not need T-80U tanks. The BMP-3 IFVs delivered to the Republic of Korea in the 1990s are supposed to be ageing. They require an overhaul and a modernization before entering the service with the Russian Armed Forces.
Therefore, the aforementioned T-80Us and BMP-3 are believed to be exported to a foreign nation. In such context, Cyprus seems to be a potential customer for the Russian-originated vehicles. According to the Military Balance 2016 report, the Mediterranean country operates 82 T-80Us and 43 BMP-3s. The experts of the Stockholm Institute point out that Russia supplied to Cyprus 43 BMP-3 IFVs worth USD68 million in 1995-1996.
According to the Institute, 41 T-80U tanks worth USD174 million were delivered to Nicosia in 1995-1996. In 2010-2011, Cyprus received the second batch of 41 T-80U tanks [including 14 T-80K command-and-control MBTs; K stands for Command, Komandirskiy - TASS] worth EUR115 million (USD129.5 million). Therefore, Cyprus might request additional batches of land weaponry in light of the ongoing standoff with Turkey.