From Russia, with love?

Russian arms dealers with missile systems, tanks and jets pitched an enormous national pavilion three times larger than their last one at the massive South American defense and security show LAAD 2013, which runs April 9 – 12 in Rio de Janeiro.

State-owned defense firm Rosoboronexport announced that it alone would bring 200 samples of Russian armaments and military hardware for army, navy and air power.

Estimates put the Russian arms industry at over $15 billion in global exports -- a record high. The buzz from potential buyers on the floor is that Russian equipment costs less and is easier to maintain than equipment from other nations. Even the U.S. Department of Defense said last week it needs to get around a Congressional ban to purchase more than half a billion in Russian defense equipment.

Anti-tank firepower and more
On display at LAAD 2013, the Kornet-EM anti-tank guided missile systems are designed to defeat battle tanks like the American Abrams.

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Easily portable at about 60 pounds, the modern Kornet has a greater range than older models, can engage air targets and can be easily carried and operated by one or two soldiers.

Kornet is attractive to those looking to defeat advanced tanks like those in the U.S. inventory because it can defeat explosive armor with shaped-charge dual warheads. Explosive armor protects personnel inside a tank by exploding its own charges to force heat away from those inside. Kornet first attacks and disables the explosive armor layer to then allow a second warhead to penetrate the tank.

A massive Russian space-focused pavilion – as in outer space – was truly enormous and two floors high. From a giant floating globe through to beautiful fresh flower arrangements, the Russians succeeded in setting themselves apart. With heaps of space innovation showcased, the message is clear that Russia is committed to being a major player in the space race.

Air defense weapons were also prominently on display.

KBP Instrument Design Bureau’s Pantsyr-S1 is designed to engage light-armored ground targets as well as a wide range of air threats such as helicopters, UAVs and ballistic and cruise missiles.

Almaz-Antey’s Tor-M2E is designed to defeat helicopters, UAVs, fixed wing aircraft and guided missiles. Advances include better fire control radar coverage and twice as many targets can now be engaged at the same time. The modernized 17 ton vehicle can travel at 50 miles an hour.

At sea, on the ground, and in the air
Russian companies also made a big push on sales to maritime. Patrol ships, frigates and diesel-electric submarines are all getting the hard sell.

Rosoboronexport said Latin America is one of their most promising markets, representing 18 percent of total exports last year, a 4 percent growth from 2011.

Russian armored vehicles like the always-popular, multi-purpose Tigr made by MIC further established Russia’s big presence. Tigr carries up to nine soldiers and travels over 90 miles an hour.

The Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet has also been creating buzz. These fighter jets have been participating in Brazilian and Korean tenders for several years. The modern version of a Russian classic, Su-35 is the export version of the Su-27. The updated fighter jet has an improved airframe and significantly longer service life.

Brazil bought twelve Mi-35M attack helicopters in 2008 and put one on display here at the LAAD 2013 show. A big crowd pleaser, the helicopter has been a hot spot for attendees to have photos of themselves taken with the equipment.

Russian helicopters have been increasingly popular in Latin America and even in the United States.

US to Buy Russian Helicopters
The Russian strong showing in Latin America is on the heels of last week’s announcement by the DoD that it planned to purchase Russian equipment.

Last year, Congress approved the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The act includes an amendment prohibiting financial contracts between the United States and Rosoboronexport.  An exception can only be made when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel takes the view it is in the interest of national security.

To support the Afghanistan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing, the plan is to purchase 30 additional Mi-17 rotary-wing from the banned Russian company, a contract worth about $690 million.

With U.S. troops reduction in Afghanistan, Afghan forces will be taking on increasing responsibility. The local forces have already been trained to operate the Russian aircraft and training them for a different helicopter could cause delays of at least three years.

Opposition against this acquisition has been strong and included allegations that the Russian company supported atrocities committed against Syrian civilians by equipping the Syrian government with tools like sniper rifles and refurbished attack helicopters. A bipartisan Congressional group wrote in protest to Hagel.

Russia has insisted that the deliveries are legal under international law and that it is not supplying Syria with offensive weapons.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.