The Sukhoi SU-30 MK2 was flying 30-40 km off the coast of Nghe An province next to China’s Hainan island when it went missing and practice flights by the same jet model had since been suspended, said Senior Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, the deputy armed forces chief of staff.

“We haven’t found the jet yet, we are still looking,” he told Reuters. Asked about the possible reason for its disappearance, Tuan said: “We have to find it to know it.”

The incident follows a series of mishaps in the past two years with its ageing helicopters and at a time when Vietnam recalibrates its defence strategy and oversees its biggest military buildup in four decades. The country is seeking to modernise its defence capability, ostensibly as a deterrent against the military rise of Beijing and its growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, over which the two communist neighbours have competing claims.

The missing SU-30 MK2 fighter-bomber was one of 30 in use by Vietnam. Fighter jets are on its shopping list and its options are expected to expand following last month’s lifting of a US lethal arms embargo on a former enemy Washington is eager to turn into its newest Asian ally. Vietnam has been in talks with Western and US arms manufacturers towards boosting its air force with jets, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft, although experts say it is likely Russia will continue to be its main supplier. China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Reuters - June 14, 2016

Vietnamese fighter jet disappears during training__

An aircraft of Vietnam Air Force has disappeared during a training season off the central coast on Tuesday morning.

The latest statement from military officers said the Sukhoi fighter jet Su-30MK2 went off the radar at around 7:30 a.m. with two experienced pilots, Tran Quang Khai and Nguyen Huu Cuong, onboard. Dozens of officers and many fishing boats have been deployed to the area to look for the plane

Officials are also checking information from a fisherman who said he saw a plane crashing into the sea at 8:30 a.m., around four to six sea miles to the east of the Mat Island, which is 20 sea miles offshore. A search and rescue team has been set up on the island.

Su-30MK2 is manufactured by Russia and can be used for training, patrol or attack purposes

The model of 22 meters long with a wingspan of 14.7 meters is also being used in China, Indonesia, Uganda and Venezuela. Vietnam in January 2009 signed a $500 million contract to buy eight Sukhoi jets from Russia, and has ordered another 32. The first four aircraft arrived in Vietnam in June 2011.

Thanh Nien News - June 14, 2016