How not to do maps of military strength

Der Spiegel produced the following map, comparing Russian and eastern NATO states’ military strength. This is a great example of what NOT to do in producing such maps, unless your main goal is to incite worry or spread misinformation.

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The map vastly exaggerates Russian troop strength, in three different ways. First, the numbers are just wrong. Russia has at most 750,000 men under arms across all services. This includes cadets, trainees, etc. Second, the numbers include all of Russia’s troops, including those located in the Far East, Central Asia, and other parts of the country quite distant from Europe and Ukraine. Third, nothing is said about the quality of troops and equipment. How many of those tanks and airplanes are actually combat-ready? Certainly a higher percentage than a few years ago, but still far from all. Now, it may be that this point also applies to Central European forces. But it would still be good to compare the numbers that could actually be brought to bear in a conflict, rather than some kind of abstract top-line number that has nothing to do with actual force dispositions or capabilities.

Compare, for example, to the following map, produced by Dmitry Tymchuk almost three weeks ago, when concerns about a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine were quite high.

This map shows the relevant number of forces that can be brought to bear against Ukraine. It doesn’t directly address the combat-readiness question regarding individual equipment, except through the use of the “up to X” language for all equipment and personnel. But at least it is clear regarding the maximum number of troops that could be involved. More could of course be brought in from other military districts in a lengthy conflict, but such a conflict would also allow for the reinforcement of central European states from Western Europe and the United States.

Note that the total troop strength of relevant Russian forces is 80,000. Less than 1/10 of the number cited by Der Spiegel. Aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery are also at around 10 percent of the der Spiegel numbers. Russia’s conventional military is much stronger than the Ukrainian army, but it is no match for NATO’s forces in Europe.

 

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 3: defense industrial cooperation and future prospects)

Defense Industrial Cooperation (continued)

Italy: The Russian military has recently completed several deals with Italy. The most significant of these is the establishment of a joint venture to built IVECO’s M65 Lynx light multirole vehicles (LMVs). The deal, estimated to be worth around one billion euros, will allow Russia to assemble these Italian vehicles at the Kamaz plant in Tatarstan. The license will allow the manufacture of 1775 of these LMVs from 2011 to 2016. While initially the plant will simply do the final assembly, the goal is eventually use fifty percent Russian components in the manufacturing process. The Russian military has also expressed an interest in purchasing Freccia armored vehicles and Centauro wheeled tanks. Two of each type of vehicle are likely to be transferred to Russia sometime this year for testing purposes.

The deal to build Italian LMVs in Russia generated significant opposition among segments of the Russian military and also in its defense industry, which argued that it was taking business away from the Russian-designed GAZ Tigr. The military responded that the Tigr did not fully meet its requirements and would have to be significantly upgraded.

Israel: The Russian military has also concluded several deals to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. An initial $53 million deal was signed in 2009. Through this deal, Russia received two Bird Eye 400 systems worth 4 million dollars, eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs worth 37 million dollars, and two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs worth 12 million dollars. In July 2010, the two sides agreed to a deal for an additional 36 Israeli UAVs, worth $100 million. In October 2010, Russia’s Oboronprom and Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to a three-year, $400 million contract that will allow the Russian company to assemble UAVs from Israeli components. As part of the deals, Israel has begun training 50 Russian UAV pilots at an Israeli base. Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Reports published by Wikileaks indicate that Russia had initially sought to purchase more advanced Israeli UAVs, including the Heron 1, in a deal worth a total of $1 billion dollars. Israeli defense officials eventually rejected this deal because of concerns that the technology may end up in Chinese hands.

Russia has focused on acquiring Israeli UAV technology because of the demonstrated inability of its domestic defense industry to overcome problems with domestic UAVs. For example, the Tipchak system is reported to have a low maximum altitude and a distinct acoustic signature that is audible from long distances, which together combine to make it extremely vulnerable to attack from the ground. A new generation system will not be available for at least three years. Furthermore, Russian defense industry has had particular problems producing miniaturized and lightweight components, which are necessary in UAV payloads, and reliable electronics, which are needed for UAV navigation and targeting. After repeated failures of domestic UAVs, the Russian military has decided that foreign assistance was essential for further progress in developing domestic UAV production capabilities.

Sales and joint projects: Until recently, Russian military sales to NATO countries have been largely limited to the maintenance and modernization of armaments owned by former Warsaw Pact states that have become NATO members over the last decade. In addition, some of these countries have received Russian military hardware in exchange for the forgiveness of Soviet-era debt. In this context, Hungary received fighter airplanes and armored personnel carriers, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic received various aircraft and helicopters. Greece is the only NATO state that regularly buys Russian military equipment. In recent years, this has included various types of missiles, guided munitions, and small landing ships, as well as S-300 air defense systems originally intended for Cyprus. Other NATO states have made occasional deals in recent years, including the purchase of 800 Kornet anti-tank missiles by Turkey, Igla portable surface-to-air missiles by Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK, and Mi-17 helicopters by Poland and Latvia. In addition, NATO states have joined together since 2006 to lease up to 6 An-124 transport aircraft on a charter basis. Finally, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years bought a total of 35 Mi-17 transport helicopters for transfer to Afghanistan, including 21 bought by the U.S. in April 2011 for $370 million.

Russia has just begun some joint research and development projects with Western defense industrial companies, including plans for naval cooperation with Thales and general defense cooperation with EADS and DCN. One possibility for cooperation with NATO is the development of a heavy tactical transport helicopter, using the existing Russian Mi-26 helicopter as a base. For the moment, none of these potential cooperative ventures have advanced beyond the discussion stage.

Future Prospects

NATO-Russia cooperation is gradually returning to a trajectory of broadening and deepening, which it was on prior to the deep freeze brought on by the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Cooperation is accelerating in all three major areas: training, operations, and procurement. Ventures thought impossible just a year ago, such as a joint European missile defense system, joint operations in Afghanistan, and joint development of military hardware, are all on the horizon. As with past efforts at cooperation, the current rapprochement is still fragile and could be easily derailed by changes in the political atmosphere in Russia or the United States. But for now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in almost a decade.

 

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 2: Defense industrial cooperation with France)

Defense Industrial Cooperation

As Russian military leaders have grown frustrated with the failures of their country’s domestic defense industry, they have become increasingly willing to procure military equipment from NATO countries and to engage in joint military industrial projects with them.

France: In recent years, the Russian military has considered a number of purchases from NATO countries. The most extensive cooperation has been with France. The recent deal for the Mistral amphibious assault ship is the most notable Russian military purchase from abroad in recent history. While the final contract has not yet been signed, the rough outlines of the likely deal are well known. Russia is set to purchase two Mistral-class ships, to be built in France at a total cost of approximately 980 million euros. The two sides have not yet agreed on whether Russia would be charged an additional 170 million euros for logistics and crew training expenses, or if those items would be included in the construction price. In addition, Russia would pay 90 million Euros for construction licenses and technical documentation that would allow two more Mistral ships to be built in Russia.

In addition to the ships themselves, Russia is going to receive some of the advanced technology that is used on the French versions of these ships. This will include the SENIT-9 combat information system, but without license rights and without the Link 11 and Link 16 NATO communications systems. The transfer of NATO communications systems would require the unanimous consent of all NATO members. Therefore, even though the request is currently under consideration at NATO HQ, it will be rejected. It is certain to be opposed by the Baltic states, and likely to be opposed by a number of other NATO countries including the United States. It is interesting to note that Russia’s request to receive these systems was justified by its desire to participate in joint missions with NATO navies. The lack of license rights means that Russia will not be able to use the SENIT-9 technology on other ships, nor will it be able to use the knowledge acquired by building such systems to improve its own ability to manufacture advanced combat information systems.

The SENIT-9 systems used on the French Mistral-class ships are derived from the US Navy’s Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) and are based on the tri-dimensional MRR3D-NG multi-role radar, built by Thales, which operates on the C Band and incorporates IFF capabilities. The French version can be connected to Link 11, Link 16, and Link 22 NATO communications systems. The purpose of the system is to centralize all data from the ship’s sensors in the ship’s command center. Russian military officials argue that having these systems on board will allow them to turn their Mistrals into command ships that will be capable of providing fire control for various forces in the open seas, including dividing targets among surface ships, submarines and aviation.

Reports in French newspapers indicate that the Thales MRR-3D-NG radar, as well as a Racal-Decca helicopter control radar, will also be included as part of the deal. It seems very unlikely that the Russian Mistrals will be equipped to use French communications systems, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B. These satellites provide 45% of the Super High Frequency secured communications of NATO. For Russia, it would make much more sense to equip the ships with communications systems that connect with their own satellites. Otherwise, the ships would not be able to communicate with other Russian ships.

While the reason for the Russian purchase of these ships has been the subject of extensive debate in Western and Russian sources, a consensus has recently emerged on this question. The main purpose of the ships will be to serve as command and control vessels. The first two ships will go to the Pacific Fleet as part of a significant upgrade that will turn that fleet into the most capable of Russia’s four fleets. The ships’ second task will be to serve as helicopter carriers. They will be capable of carrying either Ka-52 attack helicopters or Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopters. While the ships are obviously capable of carrying out amphibious landing operations, this will be a lesser task for them.

Finally, the Mistral ships are also being purchased with the goal of revitalizing Russia’s declining shipbuilding industry. The third and fourth ships will be built at shipyards in St. Petersburg, which will be reconstructed for the purpose, most likely with French assistance. The goal is to be able to use the experience of building ships to French standards to improve indigenous military shipbuilding capabilities.

While the Mistral deal has received the most attention, Russian-French military cooperation actually began several years ago. In 2007, Russia bought French aircraft targeting containers from Sagem and thermal imaging equipment from Thales. One hundred units of the latter were installed on Russian T-90M tanks. Subsequently, an agreement was signed in 2010 to manufacture thermal imagers under license at a Russian plant in Vologda. At the same time, Russia bought some French communications equipment to test the possibility of integrating this equipment into its tanks and armored personnel carriers. The total value of the 2010 deal was estimated at 300 million Euros. French companies had been installing this equipment for years on Russian tanks and aircraft sold abroad, including Su-30MKI aircraft sold to India, MiG-29s sold to Algeria, T-80U tanks sold to Cyprus, T-90S tanks sold to India, and BMP-3 armored personnel carriers sold to the United Arab Emirates.

The Russian military is negotiating with French companies for further items, including Sagem’s Sigma 30 artillery navigation equipment and its infantry integrated equipment and communications units (FELIN). The FELIN units include a set of navigation tools, secure radio communications equipment, computer equipment, GPS receivers, helmet sights for individual small arms and integrated electronic targeting devices. A limited number of these may be purchased for Military Intelligence Directorate special forces units. In February, First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin announced that the Russian military would like to have a Russian analog of the FELIN equipment designed in the next decade. The Sigma 30 units would be used to modernize Russian Grad and Smerch multiple rocket launchers. They are already used for this purpose in other countries, such as Poland.

Recently, the Russian Center for the Analysis of the World Arms Trade announced that the Russian border troops were negotiating with the French company Panhard for the acquisition of 500 VBL light armored vehicles for $260 million.

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 1: training and operations)

A few months ago, I started writing articles for the English-language version of the French publication DSI: Defense & Securite Internationale. Unfortunately, that publication has now been suspended. I’m going to put a couple of the pieces I did for them here, including some that were never published. They’re kind of long, so I’m going to break them up into parts. The first is on Russian cooperation with NATO and was written about six months ago. Today’s installment will cover joint training and operations, while subsequent parts will deal with defense industrial cooperation. I’ll be traveling over the next week, so it seems like a good time to put this up. I’ll complete the update on Russian naval construction in a week or so, after I return.

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Moscow’s cooperation with NATO and its member states is accelerating, as the Russian government and military adjust their threat assessments to focus more on Russia’s unstable southern neighbors and on China. In recent years, Russia and NATO states have conducted joint anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. They have also reached agreements for extensive intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism. Russia has played a critical role in NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing for the transit of both lethal and non-lethal cargoes to the region by both land and air routes. And Russian procurement of Western military equipment may gradually transition into joint research and development.

Joint Training

Through the mechanism of the NATO-Russia Council, the two sides have established several joint training initiatives and conducted a number of joint exercises. One of the earliest forms of cooperation has involved the establishment in 2002 of the Russia-NATO Center for Social Adaptation, with seven branch offices, which retrained more than 2000 former Russian military officers for civilian life. Currently active training projects include Russian participation in NATO exercises such as Combined Endeavor and Steadfast Joist. The Russian military also participates in multilateral and bilateral exercises with NATO member states, including naval exercises such as FRUKUS and BALTOPS. Russia and Italy are currently planning to hold naval and army exercises sometime in 2011.

Russia and NATO states have also conducted joint exercises on emergency civil response to terrorist acts and natural catastrophes. NATO forces participated in such exercises in Russia in 2002 and 2004, while Russian forces participated in NATO exercises in Italy in 2006 and Norway in 2009. Future joint emergency response exercises are planned.

Cooperation is gradually developing in the area of missile defense, where joint table-top theater missile defense exercises have taken place over the last decade in the United States, the Netherlands, and Russia. Although cooperation in this area was halted in 2008, it will be resumed in early 2012. The goal of these exercises is to develop an integrated approach to European missile defense, with both sides discussing the possibility of a Europe-wide missile defense system. This discussion reached the ministerial level at the April 2011 NATO summit in Berlin.

Finally, NATO and Russia have a long history of conducting joint maritime search and rescue exercises, including Sorbet Royal in 2005 and Bold Monarch in 2008. A Russian Black Sea Fleet submarine may participate in Bold Monarch 2011, which is being billed as the world’s largest submarine escape and rescue training event.

Operational Cooperation

Cooperation between Russia and NATO and its member states has increasingly moved beyond just training. In recent years, Russia has cooperated in a number of joint military and security operations with NATO and its member states. Most significantly, these include naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Russian assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In addition, Russia routinely works with NATO states on counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations in Europe and Eurasia.

Since 2008, the Russian navy has had a nearly constant presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Ships from three of the four major Russian fleets have participated in anti-piracy operations in the region, though in recent years the operation has been assigned to the Pacific Fleet. While the NATO anti-piracy operation in the region was only launched in late 2010, the area has been the site of the most significant international naval cooperation in the world in the last decade. International efforts have been coordinated through Combined Task Force 151 and through the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. While Russian ships have not formally joined any of these operations, they have coordinated their efforts in the region with those of the other participating states. In fact, when NATO froze cooperation with Russia in the aftermath of the Georgia war, cooperation between Russian and NATO member state naval units in the Gulf of Aden remained virtually the only avenue for military communication between Russia and NATO member states. As cooperation through other channels gradually resumed over the next year, anti-piracy operations remained a principal area of joint concern for Russia and NATO member states.

Since the spring of 2009, Russia has allowed the United States and NATO to transport goods across its territory in order to supply their operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Russia has allowed the transport of lethal cargo and military personnel via overflights of Russian territory. While this route was initially designed to serve as an alternative to the previously established route via Pakistan because of that country’s growing instability, it has since become critical to the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Fifty percent of all non-lethal goods destined for Afghanistan are now being transported via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and U.S. military planners hope to increase that ratio to 75 percent over the next year. While not all NDN shipments go through Russia, the majority do. Furthermore, NATO has negotiated an agreement with Russia to allow the shipment of lethal goods and personnel across Russian territory by land.

Russia has also worked with NATO member states’ forces to train Afghan forces, particularly in counter-narcotics operations, and is also helping to rebuild infrastructure in Afghanistan. Russia-NATO cooperation in counter-narcotics is much deeper, with Russian law enforcement officials having now conducted joint operations with personnel from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency not just in Afghanistan, but also in St. Petersburg.

Russia and NATO states cooperate closely in the area of counter-terrorism, mostly through intelligence-sharing agreements. In addition, Russian ships have repeatedly participated in NATO’s Active Endeavor counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean Sea. While Russian participation was suspended after the 2008 war in Georgia, it seems likely that Russian ships will return in the fall of 2011.

 

Why NATO won’t recognize the CSTO

RIA-Novosti’s asked me for a comment on the likelihood of NATO establishing relations with CSTO. The following comment was published today on the Valdai Club website.

We should keep in mind that NATO isn’t really an organization in the way that we think about organizations. It’s primarily a collection of countries, each with its own foreign policy. And because it has a consensus principle in its decision-making, NATO can only take an action if none of the member countries object to a proposal. NATO operates by the silence procedure, whereby if no country objects to the wording of what the Secretary General offers as the consensus as he has heard it, they are deemed to have consented. If they object to wording, the discussion is reopened until they are satisfied.

In terms of setting up relations with another collective security organization such as CSTO, as far as I know NATO has pretty much never had relations with another such organization. Even back in the Cold War days, when CENTO and SEATO (the Southeast Asian and Central Treaty Organizations) existed, NATO didn’t really interact with them on an organization to organization basis.

So there are some inherent structural limitations on what NATO can do in terms of working with CSTO. NATO is focused on interaction with individual countries rather than with organizations. That’s the first and most important factor in limiting the possibilities for NATO-CSTO cooperation. There may be a greater chance of having individual NATO member countries working with CSTO, perhaps by participating in CSTO exercises, rather than having NATO as a body doing it. That’s not really the way NATO works in general. Many events that are seen in Russia as NATO events aren’t necessarily NATO events at all. For example, western reports on the recent Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea are very careful to describe it as either a U.S.-Ukraine exercise in which other countries participated or as a Partnership for Peace exercise. But it’s never described as a NATO exercise. Whereas reporting in Russia or China describes it as a NATO exercise, even though that is not the way the NATO member countries themselves see it.

A second reason is that NATO right now is mostly focused on internal issues. Since the end of the Cold War twenty years ago, NATO has been looking for a new purpose. One path that has been considered is to protect people in neighboring states against mass killings of civilians in internal conflict. This was its role in Kosovo in 1999 and more recently in Libya. The NATO countries have also added a counter-terrorism mission that has brought tens of thousands of its member countries’ soldiers to Afghanistan over the last decade. But there is still a lot of internal debate among NATO members about what its long term focus should be.  So I think rather than trying to focus on relations with other such organizations, the NATO countries are mostly focused on working out how its members will continue to make use of the existing NATO structure and procedures. So that’s a second limitation.

The third limitation may be relevant just for the United States, but because of the consensus principle NATO could not establish formal ties with CSTO without the U.S. being part of that consensus. There are still some parts of the U.S. security establishment, not so much in the current administration, but still important people in Washington who see CSTO as a potential way for Russia to extend its dominance over other former Soviet republics. And they don’t want to do anything to legitimize that. Again, I don’t see this as a policy of the current administration at all, but it’s something it has to take into account when it deals with Congress and with public perceptions of U.S. foreign policy. And since NATO-CSTO relations aren’t a high priority, the administration is not going to expend much political capital on this issue. They’d rather pick their battles with Congress on relations with Russia somewhere else, such as missile defense or last year’s New START treaty ratification.

So, those are the three key reasons why the establishment of a formal NATO-CSTO relationship is very unlikely. However, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that some NATO member countries could work with CSTO on particular issues. It is less likely that the United States would do this than some of the European counties given the political constraints discussed above, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It’s certainly more likely than some kind of NATO-CSTO partnership.

Hi-tech imports could revive defence sector

The following piece was written in August for Oxford Analytica. I haven’t updated it, but it’s probably still useful as a summary of Russian plans for foreign procurement as of a few months ago. I’ll follow up in a few days with a second post with more details on cooperation with NATO.

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SUBJECT: Shifts in the military’s procurement strategy from purely domestic to a mix of domestic production and purchases from abroad.

SIGNIFICANCE: The government is accelerating efforts to procure major military platforms from abroad, including from NATO countries. These acquisition plans show that the government has finally realised that the domestic defence industry is incapable of producing complex platforms in a timely manner, forcing it to turn to foreign sources to re-equip its ageing military.

ANALYSIS: The Russian military’s procurement strategy has recently undergone a fundamental revision. Whereas in the past, government policy called for the military to procure virtually all equipment domestically, there has recently been a well-publicised effort to purchase some major equipment from abroad.

Slow pace Much of the disappointment with the defence industry stems from the slow pace of construction for major platforms:

Air Force This has been particularly evident in the Air Force (VVS):

    • The VVS received no new aircraft between 1994 and 2003, and only three since then.
    • Planners staked the future on the acquisition of the T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which was first proposed in the late 1980s, with design finally beginning in 2002. The goal was to procure 150-200 T-50s by 2030, with India procuring at least another 200-250.
    • It took five years for the first prototype to be built. At the time, the VVS commander indicated that three such planes would be ready by 2009. Instead, the original prototype’s maiden flight did not take place until January 2010 because of various technical problems, the most serious of which concerned engine design.

    Current plans call for the plane to enter serial production in the next three to five years, with the VVS receiving the first planes in 2015. However, given the history of manufacturing delays, it is more likely to enter active service no earlier than 2018.   If this is the case, it will mean that Russia will be about 12-15 years behind the United States in fighter aircraft design, and about on par with China.

    Ground Forces and Navy Similar problems have plagued the Ground Forces and the Navy (VMF). The military recently cancelled procurement of the T-95 battle tank, which had been in development for over 20 years, because it was already obsolete before it had even entered production.

      The VMF began construction of its new Admiral Gorshkov frigate in 2006, with the goal of completing the first ship in 2009 and procuring 20 by 2015. Since then, construction of the Gorshkov has bogged down so that the first ship will not be ready until 2011 at the earliest.  It will be impossible for the VMF to get more than four or five of these ships by its 2015 target date, and this more modest goal is contingent on no further slippage in the schedule.

      Workmanship defects The poor state of Russia’s defence industry is the main reason behind the delays. The best workers — those left over from the Soviet years, when the industry was well funded and highly prestigious — have retired or are about to do so. Few good people went into the field in the 1990s, when there was virtually no financing and the industry came close to collapse. At the same time, because there was no money for equipment modernisation, industrial plants began to deteriorate. By the start of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, even the allocation of additional financing was not enough to counteract the decline in the defence industry’s ability to produce high-quality products.

      Defects in workmanship have had a major impact on the military’s ability to develop new systems and platforms:

      • In addition to problems with the T-50 engines, there have been significant difficulties with the new Lada-class diesel submarine. The St Petersburg, the first submarine of this class, spent six years in sea trials (after seven years of construction) while the builder sought to resolve defects in its power plant.
      • The Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile has suffered multiple test failures, with each failure coming because of construction flaws (not design flaws) in various parts of the missile.

      Workmanship problems are very difficult to resolve compared to design flaws, because of their tendency to pop up in different places on each unit and because they quite often occur on parts built by sub-contractors.

      Hi-tech deficiencies The defence industry’s problems extend beyond poor workmanship. While design bureaus and major builders at least have experience building major platforms such as fighter aircraft, tanks and submarines, they are hopelessly behind European and US manufacturers in their ability to produce modern electronics and advanced equipment. Russian arms suppliers are still able, at least to some extent, to manufacture equipment that they built in the Soviet era. However, such technologically advanced items as digital communications equipment, identification friend-or-foe systems and night vision technology require fundamentally new designs that the defence industry is simply not capable of producing on its own.

      Domestic procurement Nonetheless, the Russian military will continue to procure most major weapons and platforms domestically. This includes items such as:

      • missiles;
      • tanks;
      • aircraft; and
      • most ships.

      Some of these items, such as ballistic missiles, cannot be purchased from abroad because of the sensitive nature of the equipment.  In any case, the SS-26 (Iskander) theatre ballistic missile is considered effective.  For tanks, aircraft, and ships, slightly modernised late-Soviet designs will serve quite well now that the Russian government has decided that its military should be configured to fight in smaller regional conflicts, rather than a major frontal war against NATO or China.  Furthermore, some of these modernised Soviet designs, such as the S-400 air defence systems and the An-124 transport aircraft, are of excellent quality and utility.

      Given the amount of money now being invested into military modernisation, it is likely that many construction problems will be at least partially resolved in the next few years. If this is the case, it is likely that Russia will see increased domestic procurement of:

      • new aircraft (both the T-50 and Su-35BM);
      • new ships (Gorshkov frigates, various submarines);
      • T-90 tanks; and
      • various types of artillery.

      There is already some evidence of this trend: Russian officials have rolled back announced plans to procure armoured combat vehicles abroad, and will instead use Italian armor on vehicles built domestically.

      Purchases from abroad However, for certain types of equipment, the Russian military will have no choice but to go abroad. Russia would like to procure advanced electronic equipment and platforms where such equipment is integral.  Digital communications devices, guided munitions, and unmanned aerial vehicles are especially important in this regard, as the domestic defence industry largely lacks the capability to produce such equipment. True guided munitions are hindered by the archaic nature of GLONASS, the Russian equivalent to the US-designed GPS system.  Negotiations to purchase Mistral ships have largely focused on persuading France to include the electronics package that essentially runs the ship.  Russian officials would like to license production of two of the four ships in order to use the construction of the last two Mistral ships in Russia to revitalise Russian shipbuilding.

      CONCLUSION: The authorities hope that foreign procurement, especially if it includes licenses to produce the equipment in Russia, will help revive the domestic defence industry. The idea is that foreign purchases are a temporary measure designed to maintain Russia’s military capabilities while the defence industry is restored over the next 10-15 years. However, they are likely to run into difficulties receiving permission to purchase the most advanced technologies from NATO states.

      Russian foreign arms purchases are good for regional stability

      A great deal of ink has been spilled recently about how terrible it is that a number of European NATO members are considering selling arms and military equipment to Russia. Many commentators vehemently argue against such arms sales. The reasons for the opposition are rarely stated openly, but when they are they tend to focus on the fear that such deals would tie West European states more closely to Russia, preventing them from standing firm against Russian policies that the commentators oppose. A secondary reason is that these deals would improve Russian military capabilities.

      Both of these reasons are fundamentally misguided. First of all, countless studies have shown that greater ties between states reduce the likelihood of conflict between them. If France or Germany sell military equipment to Russia, they not only establish closer ties between their militaries, but they also make the Russian military more dependent on NATO military equipment. Cold warriors seem to think that the dependency argument only runs in one direction — Western states who sell to Russia wouldn’t want to lose sales, so they’ll do whatever Russia wants. But the road of mutual dependence is a two way street. If Russia starts buying certain categories of military equipment from abroad, its domestic defense industry will likely lose whatever capability it still has to produce that category of equipment. Russia will then depend on NATO states for the procurement (and perhaps maintenance) of its military equipment. In that situation, Russian leaders will have to think twice before undertaking any actions towards NATO that are sufficiently hostile as to result in it being cut off from access to such equipment.  This form of dependence is much more serious. After all, if Russia gets upset with France and stops buying its military equipment, French arms manufacturers will lose some money and perhaps some French people will lose their jobs. But if France cuts off military sales to Russia in a situation where Russia is dependent on France for certain types of equipment, Russian security will suffer.

      Some analysts fear that Russia could use equipment purchased from NATO, such as the Mistral ships, to attack its neighbors. The 2008 Georgia war showed that even without NATO equipment the Russian military is plenty strong enough to defeat a small and weak army of the kind that just about all of its immediate neighbors possess. Western arms sales are not necessary for Russia to be able to successfully undertake hostile action against a country like Georgia. But again, if NATO arms sales to Russia become ubiquitous, Russia may well become more hesitant to undertake actions that could potentially result in the cut-off of such arms sales. In other words, Western leverage over Russian actions will actually increase.

      Second, if Russia starts using NATO equipment, this will improve interoperability between Russian and NATO military forces, making their efforts at military cooperation more effective. Since the two sides are much more likely to work together on potential issues such piracy, smuggling and counter-terrorism than they are to actually fight each other, it seems to me that selling NATO equipment to Russia can only lead to improvements in security for NATO states.

      Russian leaders have recently contemplated a large number of potential arms purchases from abroad, including both basic equipment, such as uniforms, weaponry,  such as sniper rifles, and major platforms, such as amphibious assault ships and armored vehicles. This shows that these leaders no longer trust the capabilities of Russia’s domestic defense industry to rebuild the Russian army, which is equipped almost entirely with aging Soviet-era technology. They have come to understand that foreign ties are only way to rebuild their military capabilities in a reasonable time frame.

      Western leaders should encourage this trend, because it will only enhance regional and global security. Rather than “eroding the effectiveness of NATO policies toward Russia and in NATO’s own eastern neighborhood,” extensive arms sales by NATO states to Russia will increase Russian dependence on the West, decreasing the likelihood that Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests, while enhancing regional security by improving the ability of Russian forces to cooperate with NATO forces against threats to their mutual security.

      The Mistral sale: No reason to panic

      The recent news that the French government has agreed to sell one or more of its Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia has led to virtual panic in some quarters. The cold warriors who have never quite gotten over the view that the Soviet Union Russia is hell-bent on threatening the rest of the world seem to believe that Russia will use these ships to attack (or at least threaten to attack) any neighboring states that dare to oppose it.  Here’s a typical statement (from Vlad Socor):

      NATO is being tested, with “its future at stake,” not so much in Afghanistan as the line recently went, but rather in Brussels itself and in the Alliance’s most influential capitals. The latest among these tests –one that the Alliance seems only determined to side-step– is over the proposed French naval modernization program for Russia. The program envisages selling one French Mistral-class warship –a state-of-the art, offensive power-projection capability– to Russia and licensing the construction of three or four ships of the same class in Russia, potentially usable in the Baltic and Black Sea.

      And a little later in the same article:

      Georgia remains a prime target of opportunity for Russia in the Black Sea basin at present. A Mistral-class ship would enable Russia to threaten amphibious and helicopter landings on Georgia’s sea coast, with far greater speed and effectiveness than those of Russia’s existing capabilities. Russia’s naval command publicly alluded to the Mistral’s potential use against Georgia when starting the talks with France for the sale. Paris has ignored Georgian officials’ appeals (EDM, September 18, November 2, December 2, 2009). Meanwhile, Georgia is an all-but disarmed country and (as a thwarted NATO aspirant) is not covered by any external security guarantees.

      There is a widespread assumption that these ships would be used in either the Black or Baltic Seas. This allows the writer to claim that the ships will increase the threat Russia poses to Georgia or the Baltic States. Most of this speculation is based on a single comment by Admiral Vysotsky, the Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy, about Russia being able to win the 2008 war with Georgia more quickly if it had the Mistral. He most likely said this in order to increase the navy’s chances of getting more procurement funding. The Russian navy would play a minor role in any conflict in the region (except with Turkey, god forbid). A future conflict with Georgia, just like the previous one, would primarily involve ground forces, with air force cover to the extent it’s still capable of that. The Navy would have a small role, with or without the Mistral — just enough to justify continued funding.

      Furthermore, I very much doubt that the Mistral ship(s) will be based in the Black Sea or the Baltic. All of the Russian reports I’ve seen on this assume that these ships will go to the two big fleets (Northern and Pacific). I share this belief, in part because of prestige factors — the Black Sea Fleet is a bit of a backwater, despite all the politics that swirl around it. The Baltic Fleet even more so. The Russian navy is not going to put its most modern (and one of its largest) ships in a backwater. Second, basing in the Black Sea will be tricky. The agreement with Ukraine prevents Russia from placing new ships in Sevastopol. It’s possible, of course, that Yanukovich will agree to allow this to happen, but I think he will seek to avoid needlessly antagonizing the anti-Russian part of the Ukrainian population and will not do this. This means that a Mistral-class ship would have to be based at Novorossiisk. This presents various logistical challenges — there isn’t very much space there now and the base expansion is not ready yet and won’t be for several more years. So even if Russia wanted to place a new Mistral-class ship in the Black Sea, it would be difficult for it to do so in the short term. And more than one is simply out of the question.

      A second concern for the cold warriors is that the Mistral would significantly increase the Russian Navy’s force projection capability. This is also based on the Vysotsky comment — the part about how with this ship, Russian troops could have gotten to Georgia more quickly. But Russia has plenty of domestically built amphibs — some of which were used in August 2008. The main constraint then (as Vysotsky noted) was the speed of the ships vs the distance from their bases in Sevastopol and Novorossiisk to the conflict area. By the time they got to Georgia, all that was left to do was to mop up. Is the Mistral that much faster than their existing ships? Its top speed is 18.8 knots. Ropuchas and Alligators can go 16-18 knots. So the talk about Russian troops being able to get to Georgia faster on the Mistral is just talk. They just don’t need the Mistral for the purpose of troop transport.

      There are three potential reasons for the purchase: 1) As a helo platform, 2) as a command ship (if they get some advanced electronics as part of the deal), 3) as means of rebuilding the domestic shipbuilding industry (if they get to build the other 3 under license). These are obviously not mutually exclusive. I have discussed reasons 2 and 3 before (here and here). Galrahn has an excellent discussion of reason 1. Basically, he argues, helicopters are a key part of Russian naval doctrine. They need new helicopter carriers and may be concerned that their domestic shipbuilding industry is not currently capable of building such a ship on its own. So they buy one from the French to improve this core capability and hope to also get a license to build more domestically so they can revive their shipbuilding industry.

      The last thing they want is to be dependent on foreign purchases for the long term. The Russian military’s culture is based on self-sufficiency. The admission that they have to buy a major ship from abroad, and from a NATO member no less, is deeply traumatic for top commanders and therefore something they hope to avoid having to do in the future. To say that this deal will open the floodgates to future NATO arms sales to Russia fundamentally misunderstands this point. Though from my point of view, the more NATO sells arms to Russia the better. Ideally, NATO would also buy certain kinds of arms from Russia. They still make really good machine guns, for example. If NATO states and Russia develop a relationship where they sell equipment to each other, they are much less likely to view each other with hostility and distrust. And this can only help increase stability in Europe.

      So, to summarize, the Mistral is likely to be based in the Pacific and/or Northern Fleets, where it is very unlikely to be a threat to Georgia or the Baltic States. Its purpose will not be to transport troops for amphibious landings, but to carry helicopters and/or to serve as a command center for naval task forces. And Russian leaders hope to use the newly established relationship with the French to revive their domestic shipbuilding, so they don’t have to buy ships from abroad in the future.

      Russia’s new military doctrine: An exercise in public relations

      Last Friday, the Kremlin finally published the long-awaited text of Russia’s new military doctrine. All in all, it’s a fairly innocuous document largely filled with empty generalities. Aleksandr Golts is probably right in arguing that this is the best that can be expected in a situation where clans of military bureaucrats are engaged in an ongoing conflict. He describes the document as fifteen pages “filled with breaking news that the Volga empties into the Caspian Sea.”

      Nevertheless, there are some important points to be made regarding this document. The item that has received the most publicity, though, is something that did not make it into the final document. Despite Nikolai Patrushev’s prediction of several months ago, the doctrine does not include any statement about the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. The text reads “Russia retains the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use against it or (and) its allies of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation using conventional weapons, if [such an attack] threatens the very existence of the state.” This is more or less taken verbatim from the previous edition of the military doctrine, which was adopted in 2000. Nikolai Sokov points out that if anything, the criteria for use of nuclear weapons are actually somewhat narrower, as the final clause  in the previous edition read “in situations critical for the national security of Russia.” The only other innovation in this regard is that the new text makes clear that all decisions on the use of nuclear weapons are made by the President of the Russian Federation.

      Commentators inclined to treat anything done or said by Russian officials with suspicion argue that such a statement was excluded from the military doctrine to avoid increasing tension with the international community but is undoubtedly included in the unpublished and classified “Basic principles of state policy in the area of nuclear deterrence to 2020″ document, which was approved at the same time as the military doctrine and supposedly spells out the situations in which Russia would use nuclear weapons. Given that planners in both Russia and the United States still by and large subscribe to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, there is little point to secret plans to use nuclear weapons — the whole point is to publicize a relatively explicit set of situations in which your side would use nuclear weapons in order to make sure that the other side does not cross those lines.

      More believable commentators speculate that the absence of the clause on preemptive use of nuclear weapons is a sign that negotiations with the United States on a new START treaty are going well.

      For me, the most striking passages in the  doctrine have to do with the listing of external threats facing Russia. Eleven such threats are listed, including some fairly generic ones such as the spread of international terrorism and the spread of ethnic and religious extremist groups in regions near Russian borders. But the first threat listed refers explicitly to NATO and its efforts both to extend its reach globally and to bring its military infrastructure close to Russia’s borders. The second threat listed refers to “efforts to destabilize the situation in specific countries and regions so as to undermine strategic stability,” clearly a veiled reference to Russian elites’ belief that the US was behind popular efforts to remove autocratic rulers in various former Soviet states in the last decade.

      Because of these two sentences, the new doctrine is much more explicit than any previous official policy document in declaring that Russia considers NATO and its member states to be the most significant source of military danger to Russia. This makes for good domestic politics, but does little to address the real security issues facing Russia. Nor does it provide for a realistic set of guidelines for how to structure the Russian military in coming years. Clearly, Russian military planners are not planning  a military buildup on Russia’s western border. The actual threats will continue to emanate from the south in the near term, with a growing potential for tension with China sometime down the road.

      Russian military planners know full well that NATO is not a threat and this was made clear today when French and Russian officials announced that they were going forward with the sale of France’s Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia. It seems fairly unlikely that Russian officials would buy military technology from an enemy state, nor that such an enemy would agree to sell it.

      It seems to me that the prominent mention of NATO in the list of threats is a sop to the military’s old guard, who have been defeated in the battle over the future direction of the Russian military through the elimination of the mass mobilization army and the forced retirement of most of the old guard generals. Listing NATO as a threat is seen as a relatively harmless way to keep them quiet while the current leadership presses ahead with both structural reforms and closer ties with foreign defense industry.

      Thus, we can see that Russia’s new military doctrine is simply a public relations document both in terms of its statement on nuclear policy and its listing of the key foreign threats facing Russia. In this context, it is not surprising that the content of the rest of the document is so generic, as the only politically relevant parts of the document are those that serve a PR purpose. As far as Russia’s military and civilian leadership is concerned, the rest could be filled with complete gibberish.

      Russian Military Reform and Russia’s Regional Dominance

      In recent months, Roger McDermott has written some of the most incisive analyses of the Russian military. His analysis of the significance of the reorganization of the Russian General Staff was one of the first indicators that the military reform started by the Defense Ministry last October was something more than the usual empty talk we had come to expect. Subsequent analyses detailed the problems bedeviling Russia’s air force, the potential impact of last winter’s financial crisis on prospects for reform implementation, and the manpower crisis facing the military as a consequence of the reduction in the length of service for conscripts. In recent articles, McDermott has with great precision described the weakness of the Russian military, arguing that this weakness was one of the main factors that made Russia’s leaders finally realize that reform was absolutely necessary.

      Given these analyses, I found McDermott’s most recent analysis somewhat surprising. Once again, he is right on in criticizing most analysts’ penchant for underestimating the objectives and progress of the reform program or dismissing it entirely. As he quite accurately states, “this is no public-relations campaign…. The Russian military is changing fast; few are able to perceive the sheer breathtaking scale of these changes…” And finally, the goal of the reform “is to produce mobile, permanent-readiness formations capable of intervention within a readily short period,” which will “enhance [Russia’s] capability to project power within its near abroad.”

      At the same time, McDermott spells out the challenges facing the reformed Russian military in the near future, including an “ailing defense industry” that is having immense trouble producing the new weapons the Russian military will need to replace its aged Soviet relics, difficulties in establishing a reformed military education system, and the length of time needed to create the “culture of promoting individual initiative embodied in the NCO concept.” I could add some other difficulties, including most critically the manpower crisis inherent in a plunging population of young adults, especially when combined with inadequate pay for the professional soldiers slated to replace the existing conscript force.

      Given the excellent analysis throughout the piece and in McDermott’s previous work, I find his conclusions rather puzzling. The key paragraph in full states:

      While any comment on the policy implications is premature, it is likely that the Russian conventional armed forces will emerge in the next few years as an unrivaled dominant force within the former Soviet space; capable of sudden, decisive intervention, with minimal damage to the country’s international credibility.

      I’m not sure how this is possible, given all the problems he has spelled out above. The current transformation will certainly create a military that is more effective than the current one. But it will still lack modern communications equipment and other basic items such as night vision equipment both for tanks and for individual soldiers. It will take at least a decade to restore the air force to a fully functioning state. Without effective air cover, future interventions in the region may have some of the same problems that plagued the 58th army in the early stages of last summer’s war in Georgia. And as McDermott notes, it will take time for personnel to get used to the new command structure.

      Now it may be that the Russian military will emerge as “an unrivaled dominant force” in its region, but if so, this will mostly be because of the weakness of its neighbors, not because of its own strength. What’s more, this is a position it already held before any reforms began, as shown by the ease with which it defeated the Georgian military last year. But other neighboring countries with relatively weak military forces may prove much harder to invade successfully, if the country is large enough or its forces choose to fight a guerrilla campaign. This is why Russia will not find it easy to invade countries such as Ukraine or Kazakhstan, even if its leaders may want to do so. As for Central Asia, China may have something to say about Russia becoming an unrivaled dominant force in that region.

      I read the doctrine behind the Russian military reform as focused not on increasing Russia’s ability to invade other countries, but on make it more capable of rushing ready forces to potential areas of instability in the North Caucasus or elsewhere along its long land border.  Some may see this view as naive, especially in light of the new Russian law on military missions abroad. However, that law seems to me to be more of a prevenative warning to Georgia and Ukraine, rather than a signal that new military actions aimed at neighboring states are forthcoming.

      I am also confused by McDermott’s statement that the military reform “will not contribute to improving interoperability with NATO forces for future peace support operations. ” It seems to me that an increase in mobility and readiness for the bulk of Russia’s military forces can only help interoperability. Furthermore, Russian forces haven’t done so badly working together with NATO and EU forces in recent years in the former Yugoslavia and in naval anti-piracy operations off the Somalian coast. The lack of political will (on both sides, to some extent) to engage in further cooperative operations of this type seems to be much more of a block to cooperation than a lack of military interoperability.

      Finally, there is the question of international credibility. Even if McDermott is right in that Russia will soon be able to militarily dominate its neighbors, there is no way that it will be able to do so without grave repercussions to its standing in the international community. The international reaction to Russia’s response to last year’s Georgian attack on South Ossetia was quick and severe. One might say that there were few lasting consequences for Russia, but things might be very different if attacks on neighbors were a) unprovoked and/or b) came to be seen as part of pattern of belligerent action on Russia’s part.