The Fights to Come

Up­com­ing re-ar­ma­ment pro­gram will of­fer clues on how Rus­sia sees the future of war

The Moscow Times - - 4 LOOKING FORWARD -

BOp-Ed by Michael Kof­man Rus­sian mil­i­tary expert at the CNA think-tank ehind closed doors, bat­tles are tak­ing place over the future of Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary.

Dur­ing this year’s Vic­tory Day pa­rade on May 9, Rus­sia’s armed forces showed off the lat­est and great­est the Rus­sian de­fense in­dus­try has to of­fer. The next few months will de­ter­mine how much of that equip­ment the armed forces will ac­tu­ally re­ceive.

De­layed for two years ow­ing to eco­nomic and bud­getary volatil­ity, the next phase of the State Ar­ma­ment Pro­gram (GPV), cov­er­ing 2018-2025, is due to be fi­nal­ized and signed by Septem­ber. The com­ing re­view will de­ter­mine not just what Rus­sian armed forces get next year, but the weapons and sys­tems they will fight with into the 2030s.

The first bat­tle—over budget—has al­ready been fought out be­tween the Min­istry of Fi­nance and Min­istry of De­fense. The former sug­gested 12 tril­lion rubles for the eight-year pro­gram; the lat­ter de­manded 22 tril­lion. The num­ber the two have ap­par­ently set­tled on is 17 tril­lion. Clearly, the two min­istries met in the mid­dle, but much of the spend­ing is back­loaded, or pro­vi­sional, and will no doubt be re­viewed sev­eral years in.

Rather than over­all budget size, how­ever, the real ques­tion is how much in­vest­ment the Rus­sian de­fense sec­tor can ac­tu­ally ab­sorb. The pre­vi­ous pro­gram, which al­lo­cated 19 tril­lion over 2011-2020, is un­der­spent. The pro­gram will prob­a­bly spend 50% of al­lo­cated funds by the end of this year, which trans­lates to a rate of 1.35 tril­lion per year.

The sec­ond bat­tle — over what will ac­tu­ally be in­cluded in the new pro­gram — is on­go­ing. How­ever, we un­der­stand there will be clear shifts in pri­or­ity for mil­i­tary branches, re­gions, and equip­ment.

Much of what was done in 2011-2017 was, de facto, mod­ern­iz­ing a Soviet mil­i­tary, which had been left mori­bund by two decades with­out in­vest­ment. There were se­lect new ad­di­tions to de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but even the ‘lat­est and great­est’ ad­vances were based on de­signs the Soviet Union had on the books in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The pre­vi­ous mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram suc­ceeded in up­grad­ing old equip­ment, and de­ploy­ing mod­ern­ized ver­sions of ex­ist­ing de­signs.

Now, the Rus­sian lead­er­ship wants to see a lot more in the way of new sys­tems.

Their new fo­cus is on the tech­nol­ogy of the future: smart weapons, au­to­mated com­mand and con­trol, re­con plat­forms, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and drones of var­i­ous types. All of these are con­sis­tent prob­lems in Rus­sia’s armed forces.

Mil­i­tary as­pects of Rus­sia’s fal­ter­ing space pro­gram will also be ad­dressed.

The strate­gic rocket forces that con­trol Rus­sia’s land-based nu­clear weapons are also due for an up­grade. The new ar­ma­ments plan will in­clude the new heavy Sar­mat in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile, which is in de­vel­op­ment to re­place the ex­pir­ing Voeyvoda R-36M2 (SS-18 Satan) bal­lis­tic missile.

In terms of re­gional fo­cus, Rus­sian armed forces in the South­ern, Western and Arc­tic mil­i­tary dis­tricts are likely to see the great­est in­vest­ments. Mod­ern­iza­tion has fo­cused heav­ily on im­prov­ing forces around Ukraine and the North Cau­ca­sus. It is now spread­ing to the broader Western mil­i­tary district, forces in the Baltic, and those com­manded by the North­ern Fleet.

While the pre­vi­ous pro­gram fa­vored the air force, navy, and strate­gic rocket forces, the war in Ukraine im­posed un­ex­pected re­quire­ments on ground and airborne forces. Per­haps as much as a quar­ter of the new pro­gram will go to the army. They can ex­pect to re­ceive fur­ther up­grades in sol­dier’s kit (Rat­nik grade), air de­fense sys­tems, new ar­mored ve­hi­cles in ev­ery class (from in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cles to new T-15 Ar­mata tanks.)

The other ma­jor win­ner is likely to be avi­a­tion. Rus­sia will con­tinue in­vest­ing in new com­bat he­li­copters, but the main fo­cus will be on fixed-wing air­craft. The air­force will likely con­tinue re­ceiv­ing new Su-30SM, Su-35s, and Su-34M fighter jets.

The big ticket item, how­ever, is the planned re­launch of the Soviet-de­signed Tu-160 strate­gic bombers, which will im­prove long-range strike ca­pa­bil­ity. The mod­ern­iza­tion comes at the same time as de­lays in the de­vel­op­ment of a new strate­gic bomber air­craft, known as the Tupolev PAK DA, and S-500 air de­fense sys­tem.

In bet­ter news, Rus­sia hopes the Sukhoi PAK FA stealth fighter pro­gram will en­ter lim­ited pro­duc­tion within the time­line of the pro­gram.

The Navy has been touted as the chief loser from the re­view, given that it has been de­nied projects like a new car­rier and a large nu­clear-pow­ered de­stroyer. In re­al­ity, both were un­re­al­is­tic and ex­pen­sive pres­tige projects.

In­stead, the Navy will re­ceive the ships and sub­marines Rus­sia can ac­tu­ally build. These in­clude ca­pa­ble smaller ships like frigates and corvettes, as­sum­ing Rus­sia can re­solve ex­ist­ing prob­lems with do­mes­tic en­gine pro­duc­tion. (Up un­til now, cru­cial parts were man­u­fac­tured in Ukraine.) Nu­clear and diesel sub­ma­rine de­vel­op­ment also con­tin­ues to be a bright star in the coun­try’s oth­er­wise fal­ter­ing ship­build­ing in­dus­try. A fifth-gen­er­a­tion sub­ma­rine de­sign is al­ready in the works.

From what we un­der­stand about the next state ar­ma­ment pro­gram, Rus­sia’s lead­er­ship seems to have re­mem­bered that Rus­sia is pre­dom­i­nantly a Eurasian land power. This re­al­iza­tion has at least in part been driven by the cur­rent re­al­ity of con­flict in Ukraine.

But it is through de­tails of the plan that we will be given a glimpse of what Rus­sia be­lieves its future con­flicts will look like.

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