Russian military awaits massive modernization

The Russian government plans to suspend the approval of a new State Armaments Program, designed for the period of 2016-2025, due to a current economic crisis in the country and devaluation of its national currency – the ruble – caused by Western sanctions, according to an official representative of the Russian Presidential Administration.

Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defence

The program, which is valued at RUB 30 trillion (US$20 billion), has been considered an untouchable item of the Russian federal budget, however, due to complex economical situation in the country, its implementation may now be postponed.

Instead, Russia plans to focus on implementing the existing State Armaments Program for the period of 2011-2020, which was approved in 2011. However, both the existing and the suspended armaments programs involve massive purchases of combat equipment.

The total cost of the existing program is estimated at 23 trillion rubles, of which about 19 trillion will be allocated for the purchase of new modern weapons and combat equipment for the Russian army. The remaining 4 trillion is for the introduction of these new weapons in the Russian arm – its tests, military exercises, and so on.

According to Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, the program involves annual purchases of up to 100 fixed wing aircraft, 120 helicopters and 600 armored vehicles. However, last year the Russian army received 38 intercontinental ballistic missiles, more than 250 military aircraft, 280 armored vehicles, and more than 5000 units of motor vehicles.

Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian ­General Staff during the presentation of a new State Armaments Program to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo © Kremlin Press Service)

According to Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defence, implementation of both programs is an acute need that will allow the Russian army to become more mobile and better prepared for quick responses and local conflicts, which will be contrary to heavy-handed Soviet army.

Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are currently used in Russian army will be replaced by the RS-24 Yars MIRV-equipped, thermonuclear intercont­inental ballistic missile. Designed by scientists of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, the RS-24 is heavier than the Topol-M (which can carry up to 10 independently targetable warheads). It is planned that during the 2015-2016 period, up to 150 Yars will be supplied for the needs of Russian army.

Among the other weapons and equipment that will be supplied for the needs of Russian army by 2020 are eight Borei Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines; the new MS-26 rail-mobile Barguzin missile systems; the Sarmatian heavy liquid rocket; a new strategic bomber; two new missile defense systems, and other combat equipment.

The MS-26, an upgraded version of the Molodec missile system, has improved accuracy and range of flight, is a response to American strike power.

One of the new missile defence systems is the S-400 Triumf, a new generation anti-aircraft weapon system developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau as an upgrade of the S-300 family. Details of the second system (currently being tested in Almaz) have not been disclosed.

The RS-26 Rubezh, nicknamed Avangard, is based on the RS-24 Yars. As of early 2015, this ballistic missile with hypersonic warheads is reportedly in advanced stages of development. A check launch carried out in March was leaked to media in advance.

As part of these capitalization plans, particular attention will be paid to further developing the country’s strategic nuclear forces. It is planned that by 2020 the share of new generation guided missile systems in Russia’s nuclear arsenal will reach 80%.

In the case of land forces, probably the biggest hopes of the Russian Ministry of Defence are pinned to its new generation of infantry fighting vehicle, the BMPT-72 Terminator 2. Built on a base of T-72 hull – including drivetrain and running gear – it has been designed to operate alongside MBTs or independently. It is anticipated that up to 150 units will be supplied to the Russian army between 2015 and 2017.

Overall, according to Minister Shoigu, 70% of the weapons, military platforms, and equipment in the Russian armed forces should be new or modernized by 2021.

In addition to production and design of new equipment, the new program involves more active training of military specialists and experts. As part of these plans, Russian military high schools have increased the number of state-funded places this year to a record 13,000.

Air Force
Looking at Russia’s air forces, Minister Shoigu says that despite planned suspensions, both the national air force and naval aviation are currently undergoing modernization, which should be 33% completed by the end of 2015, while the share of operative equipment is expected to reach 67%.

As part of these plans, the Russian Air Force and naval aviation will receive 126 new aircraft and 88 helicopters, including the newest Su-35 fighter, which is currently undergoing testing.

By 2020, according to Air Force Commander Lt.-Gen. Viktor Bondarev, up to 56 S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft weapon systems will be supplied to the Russian Air Force.

In addition, about 454 storage units for missiles, ammunition and explosives (which will be combined into 13 arsenals), will be established in Russia this year.

Finally, more than new 140 cantonments will be built throughout Russia, the largest of which will be located in the city of Gadzhiyevo (Murmansk region) and will be a base for the Borei Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

As for fighter capability, Russia’s T-50 fifth-generation fighter, designed by Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi, is a stealthy, single-seat, twin-engine jet fighter. It will be the first operational aircraft in Russian service to use stealth technology. This multirole combat aircraft is designed for air superiority and ground attack functions. Up to 55 T-50s will be supplied to the Russian Air Force.

According to state plans, its submarine fleet will remain the basis of Russian naval power for the next several years at least.

Attention is expected to focus on the purchases of Borei Class submarines, which are built in Severodvinsk by local JSC PO Sevmash, the largest shipbuilding enterprise in Russia and the country’s only nuclear submarine producer.

This nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine is intended to replace the Delta III, Delta IV and Typhoon classes now in Russian Navy service.

In addition to supplies, the existing State Armaments Program involves more active design and production of new weapons and combat equipment that is expected to propel Russian defence enterprises to capacity production levels.

The majority of future Russian combat vehicles will be built on the basis of the recently designed Armata Universal Combat Platform – a prototype for an advanced next-generation heavy military tracked vehicle. The new platform will provide the basis for a main battle tank, a heavy infantry fighting vehicle, a combat engineering vehicle, an armoured recovery vehicle, a heavy armoured personnel carrier, a tank support combat vehicle, and several types of self-propelled artillery.

For example, the new platform will accommodate the Buratino, a Soviet 220mm 30-barrel multiple rocket launcher and thermobaric weapon and its Solntzepek analogue, which can shoot thermobaric missiles that are comparable with nuclear, in terms of power.

Some leading Russian defence analysts have already welcomed the supply of the new Armata platform for the needs of the national army. Igor Korotchenko, Director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade and one of Russia’s leading analysts in the field of defence, says: “Russia is the world’s first country that will get a tank of the 5th generation. This is very important because tanks still remain the main striking force of the ground forces of each country. The conflict in the Donbass revealed that armored vehicles and tanks are widely used even in low-intensity conflicts.”

Korotchenko has also added that the new Russian tank will have a special crew cell, equipped with comfortable conditions (in contrast to conventional tanks, where core temperature is very high). Its ammunition will be located in a separate compartment, and it will include automation of many functions, including surveillance, reconnaissance and communications.

A new Russian tracked vehicle platform based on the Kurganets platform will become the basis of at least three medium-weight (25 tonne) combat vehicles, such as new Russian infantry combat vehicles, airborne combat vehicles, lightweight self-propelled artillery systems and possibly air defense systems.

Implementation of the state program may be significantly complicated by sanctions imposed on Russia, particularly for its military and defence companies.

Among the Russian defense enterprises that were included in the EU and U.S. sanctions list are such leading Russian producers of weapons and combat equipment as Izhmash, Uralvagonzavod, and Almaz-Antey. Their presence in the list means these companies no longer have access to some Western technologies that are used in their production processes. In addition, they have lost access to cheap Western loans, which were needed for further expansion of production.

According to Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s first Deputy Prime Minister, successful implementation of the State Armaments Programs will make Russia’s armed forces one of the world’s most modern and well-equipped by 2020-2025, which is one of the most important goals of the Russian government for the next several years.

This is the second program of modernization of Armed Forces in the history of modern Russia. The first program, for the period of 1996-2005, was financially unrealistic and its implementation ultimately failed. It involved not only the 80% modernization of the national armed forces, but also massive purchases of new weapons and equipment which were not produced by Russian defence enterprises at that period of time. However, the annual funding of the program covered only 23% to 25% of the overall needs, and the government of the day, headed by Boris Yeltsin, was forced to suspend its implementation for an indefinite period.

Prime Minister Putin, on the other hand, seems intent on making the financial commitment work and see this large modernization completed.
Eugene Gerden, a former deputy director in the Russian Ministry of Defence, was responsible for fighting cyber crimes (2008-09).
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