I was on the War on the Rocks podcast, talking to Ryan Evans about Russian military developments, Russia’s military activities in Ukraine and Syria, and how the U.S. should respond.
You can listen to it here.
I was on the War on the Rocks podcast, talking to Ryan Evans about Russian military developments, Russia’s military activities in Ukraine and Syria, and how the U.S. should respond.
You can listen to it here.
I was on Huffington Post Live this afternoon, speaking on a panel about the rapidly expanding Russian military presence in Syria. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video directly on the blog, but it can be found at this link.
Given the amount of attention paid over the last year to the capabilities of the Russian military, it is worth considering how the evolving character of warfare over the next 10-20 years is likely to affect Russia’s military capabilities when compared to leading Western states.
The trend toward greater automation, including the use of remote control weapons and AI-driven autonomous warfare, will increasingly put the Russian military at a disadvantage. Russia does not have the technology to match Western automated systems and lacks the capabilities to develop such systems on its own in the foreseeable future. Russia’s defense industry is well behind Western militaries in automated control systems, strike drones, and advanced electronics of all kinds.
The Russian government has recognized these gaps and, until recently, was attempting to rectify them through cooperation with the Western defense industry. However, the freezing of military cooperation between NATO member states and Russia in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea and the concurrent imposition of sanctions by most Western states will preclude the rapid acquisition of advanced military and dual-use technology by Russian defense firms for the foreseeable future. Financial constraints resulting from the budget crisis that has occurred because of the decline in oil prices will also hinder the development and deployment of weapons using new technologies.
As a result, Russia will have to look for alternative ways to counter Western automated technologies….
Originally published by The National Interest. Click here to read the rest of this article.
A week or so ago, I gave a presentation at the Wilson Center on the current state and future development of the Russian Navy. Michael Kofman of the Kennan Institute was the moderator and Olga Oliker of RAND provided commentary. The audience was very well-informed and asked excellent questions. The Wilson Center has made a video recording of the event available on YouTube. For those interested in what the Russian Navy is up to, it’s worth watching.
This is an Oxford Analytica brief that was originally published on April 14, 2015. I’ve restored a few cuts made for space reasons.
SIGNIFICANCE: Russia’s military is currently undergoing a 700 billion dollar rearmament programme, with Moscow aiming to supply the military with 70% modern equipment by 2020. The reform plan is looking to upgrade Russia’s armoured formations with a new family of vehicles collectively called Armata. The Armata tank variant will be far superior to any tank operating in Russia’s neighbours as well as many NATO armies. However, it is costly and the Defence Ministry is actively trying to force down the price.
Russia has about 16,000 tanks in its inventory, including 4,000 T-64, 8,000 T-72 and T-90 variants, and more than 4,000 T-80s. Of these, only about 2,400 are in service; the rest are in storage. All T-64 tanks are in storage, although some may have been provided to separatist forces fighting in Ukraine. About 1,000 T-80 tanks were in service in 2013, though all are to be withdrawn from service by end-2015.
The majority of the in-service tanks are of the T-72 and T-90 variants, including 564 modernised T-72B3 tanks (according to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu), and 300 T-90 tanks. The modernised T-72B3 tanks are gradually replacing the other varieties, at a rate of 300 tanks per year.
The goal is to unify the types of tanks as much as possible in order to reduce maintenance costs. The modernisation of T-72 tanks costs 50 million rubles (962,000 dollars) each. These new T-72s have a new engine, new control and targeting systems, new armaments, and new active and passive defence systems.
These improvements have made the modernised T-72 less vulnerable to enemy ordnance and improved firing accuracy. However, active defence systems and electronics are still outdated by comparison with the competition.
The Armata is a universal tracked-vehicle platform designed to serve as the basis for a new Russian main battle tank (MBT), a related heavy infantry-fighting vehicle, a combat-engineering vehicle, a heavy armoured personnel-carrier, a tank-support combat vehicle and several types of self-propelled artillery.
Armata tank capabilities
The main armament will consist of a 125-millimetre (mm) smoothbore cannon with 40-48 rounds of ammunition, with an additional 30-mm secondary cannon and a 7.62-mm machine-gun. The main cannon is reported to have a range of 7,000-8,000 metres and the engine has been variously rated at between 1,200 and 2,000 horsepower, with a corresponding top speed in either the 70-75 kilometres per hour (kph) or 80-90 kph range.
The tank is designed so that the engine can be removed in 30-40 minutes in the event of a malfunction. The tank will have a crew of three, but unlike other tanks now deployed the Armata will have an unmanned turret operated by remote control.
The tank will be equipped with a Ka-band active phased-array radar system similar to that being developed for the Sukhoi T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The targeting system is capable of tracking up to 40 targets.
Crew survivability appears to be a priority in the design. In addition to the advantages offered by the unmanned turret, the Armata will use a new type of light-weight armour, developed specifically for the tank by the Steel Scientific Research Institute. The armour will reportedly be able to withstand fire from most types of artillery. Furthermore, the armour is said to be able to maintain its defensive qualities in extremely low temperatures, making the tank potentially useful in the Arctic.
In addition, the Armata is to be equipped with active anti-missile and anti-artillery defenses that will protect the tank from both ground-based and aerial attacks. The ammunition, fuel, and crew are to be separated in order to increase survivability in the event of a successful enemy hit.
Comparison with competition
By comparison with previous Russian tank models, it has a revamped engine, new transmission and improved chassis strength. The Russian media have said that technically it will be four times as capable as the late Soviet T-72B MBT. They also argue that the tank’s capabilities will be superior to those of its main foreign competitors. Its armament and horsepower appear to be comparable to the US Abrams, German Leopard and Israeli Merkava tanks, while the UK Challenger has a less powerful engine.
The Armata‘s armour will probably be thinner than that of the Challenger or Merkava, but thicker than that of the Abrams and Leopard. However, if reports about advances in armour design prove true, it may be that the thinner armour provides comparable or superior protection. Finally, the tank will most probably be lighter than its competitors, all of which weigh in at 62-70 tonnes.
The State Armament Programme calls for the procurement of 2,300 new MBTs by 2020. While some reports have linked this figure with the number of Armata tanks to be procured, the reality is that the Armata is going to enter the Russian military in much smaller numbers, owing to both production limits and high unit cost.
An initial batch of 20-24 tanks is expected to be provided to the military in time for the May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow. After the parade, these tanks will be sent for field testing, which is expected to take at least a year. The testing programme could take up to three years and full serial production may not start until 2018.
Uralvagonzavod, its manufacturer, has stated that it is ready to produce 40 tanks in 2016, 70 in 2017 and up to 120 per year from 2018. So the absolute maximum number of Armata tanks potentially in service by 2020 is about 330.
High costs could impose limits
However, the high cost of the Armata tank is expected to limit procurement. According to unofficial sources, the cost per tank is approximately 400 million rubles, which is more than double that of the German Leopard-2 and about 60-75% higher than that of the French Leclerc and US M-1 Abrams. Yuri Borisov, the deputy defence minister responsible for procurement, has indicated that the cost is about 2.5 times higher than stated in the State Armaments Programme.
As a result, the Defence Ministry is expecting to reduce the number of Armata tanks it will procure, focusing instead on continuing to modernise existing T-72 tanks in the medium term. According to Russian media reports, Uralvagonzavod has agreed to lower some Armata costs, but the programme will still be expensive.
CONCLUSION: The Armata tank promises to be a formidable but expensive machine, limiting its procurement in the short term. Given Russia’s economic problems, it is unlikely to become the ground forces’ sole tank. The Russian military will continue to deploy upgraded T-72B3 tanks in most armoured units, while Armatas will be reserved for elite units. The first serious unveiling of the Armata tank will be at the Moscow Victory Day parade on May 9.
Another Oxford Analytica brief, this one originally published in late February 2015.
SIGNIFICANCE: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are leading other Central Asian governments in increased spending on military and security forces and the procurement of modern equipment. Regional governments have long-standing fears of potential Russian military interference and remain concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. The increase in military expenditures is expanding capabilities, although the degree and pace of improvement varies from country to country, and regional militaries still lag Russian and NATO forces.
Kazakhstan’s military is Central Asia’s most capable, but it is far less capable than NATO or Russian militaries. Special forces will play a larger role as Kazakhstan looks to make a greater contribution to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s counter-terrorism capability.
A Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report estimates Kazakhstan’s armed forces at 30,000-45,000 troops — plus many thousands of other personnel attached to the Interior Ministry. In 2014, Astana said that it would be increasing defence spending by 36% over three years from around 2 billion dollars per annum to 2.7 billion dollars by 2017, according to a report by IHS Janes. However, this increase may have to be reduced slightly to fall in line with expected budget cuts due to low oil prices.
Astana is looking to trim all 2015-17 budgets to match a 50 dollars per barrel oil price, but President Nursultan Nazarbayev could authorise the government to support increased defence expenditure with oil reserves from the National Fund. The World Bank noted that in 2013 Kazakhstan spent the equivalent of 1.2% of GDP on defence.
The air force, which has a primarily air defence role, has between 11,000 and 13,000 personnel, according to SIPRI and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Combat pilots average 100 hours of flight time per year, which is lower than the NATO standard. On February 4, Major General Nurlan Ormanbetov, Commander in Chief of the Kazakhstan Air Defence Forces (KADF), said that Astana plans to acquire the Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM ‘Flanker’ from Russia. As noted by IHS Janes, the KADF currently uses the MiG-27 ‘Flogger’, Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’, Su-27 ‘Flanker’, and MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ aircraft. The SU-30SM has been developed by Russia as a stopgap unitl the MiG-35 and Sukoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth generation fighters become fully operational.
The navy has been significantly expanded and modernised since 2010. It now has 3,000 personnel and has deployed new patrol boats and missile boats. By the end of 2015, it will have gained mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities with the delivery of a Project 1750E inshore MCM vessel from Russia. The navy’s missions focus on territorial defence and protection of offshore oil platforms and tankers. Kazakhstan’s increased naval procurement follows a general trend of greater military activity on the Caspian. On February 16, as reported by IHS Janes, Kazakhstan and France are to work jointly on the development of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Astana will buy 10 UUVs to use in the Caspian.
Uzbekistan’s military is reckoned to be Central Asia’s second most capable with an army currently numbering 40,000 personnel. Total defence spending is approximately 2 billion dollars per annum, according to SIPRI. The military is focused on improving its capabilities to defeat asymmetric challenges to President Islam Karimov’s administration. However, in Uzbekistan, the National Security Service (SNB) has historically been seen as significantly more important than the military. This trend will likely continue. The SNB will be a key powerbroker in any Karimov succession crisis. This highlights Tashkent’s main security priority, which is to maintain internal stability as opposed to undertake foreign operations.
Air force disrepair
Uzbekistan’s air force is reasonably well-equipped, but ill-maintained. Pilots receive around only 10 hours of flight time per year. Uzbekistan’s primary air assets are SU-24, SU-27, SU-25 and MIG-29 fighters, with transport capabilities provided by Illyshin-76 and AN-26s.
Joint Russian training
Uzbekistan’s defence priorities include procuring modern military equipment, improving combat readiness and mobility, and increasing professionalism among the officer corps. In December 2014, defence and military cooperation were discussed during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Uzbekistan. Some 3,000 Uzbekistani military officers will reportedly study at military schools in Russia this year, which will increase Russia-Uzbekistan military interoperability.
Leaner fighting force
Uzbekistan aims to cut the overall size of its military in order to free up resources to create and train more mobile units. Heavy armour formations — using T-72, T-64 and T-62 battle tanks — and high-calibre artillery units are being reduced in favour of lighter infantry units with counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism and mountain warfare capabilities.
In January, the United States announced delivery to Uzbekistan of 328 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) military vehicles to be used for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations, according to Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty (RFE/RL). Washington stressed that this was non-lethal aid.
Ashgabat’s military numbers an estimated 22,000-30,000, according to SIPRI. Despite being willing to spend money on modern weapons, Turkmenistan’s armed forces are considered weak with low operational effectiveness. Ashgabat has been unwilling to allocate spending to training and equipment maintenance. Meanwhile, the modern weapons it has acquired largely remain unused due to a lack of qualified personnel. The 2012 defence budget is estimated to be 210 million dollars, according to SIPRI. The army currently uses a lot of old Soviet era hardware such as T-72 tanks, BTRs and BMP infantry fighting vehicles.
Air Force struggles
Despite having received a large number of aircraft at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has struggled to maintain these, and pilot training has suffered. Currently it has MiG-29 and SU-25 fighters along with a handful of Mi-24s and Mi-8 helicopters. The air force lacks a heavy lift capability and would struggle to support the army on out-of-area operations or on Caspian patrols, which it is officially tasked to do.
Navy new ships
The navy was reformed as an independent force in only the past two years. Previously it was a department in the general staff. The navy’s missions include defending the Caspian coastline and protecting energy assets. Ashgabat has focused on improving naval capabilities through building new bases, procuring new ships and setting up a naval officer training academy.
As reported by Eurasianet in 2011, Turkmenistan bought two 12418 Molniya-class missile corvettes armed with the Uran-E missile system. These vessels are among some of the most powerful ships on the Caspian, although Ashgabat still trails Moscow and Tehran in naval capability. In 2013, Turkmenistan reportedly procured eight naval vessels which will be made at the Turkish shipyard Dearsan.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has made military reform a central aspect of his policy platform. In 2010, the government adopted a five-year military modernisation plan. However, reports indicate that the programme focuses on rearmament objectives, rather than structural reforms. In November, Berdymukhamedov reportedly told his national security council that Turkmenistan must procure the most advanced modern military equipment.
With the country having a long, porous border with Afghanistan, Ashgabat will increasingly look to procure unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance. However, despite buying modern arms, absent reforms and greater training of personnel, Turkmenistan’s military will remain an impressive military on paper but will lack the capabilities to defend the state.
In 2013, according to World Bank data, Kyrgyzstan allocated the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP to defence spending. This represents a gradual decline over the last four years from 2010 (3.8%) and 2011 (3.4%). The Kyrgyzstani armed forces are weak overall with gaps in command and control. Total spending on military and security services is estimated by SIPRI at 234 million dollars per annum.
Morale is assessed to be low. Declining funding means that Kyrgyzstan is increasingly dependent on external assistance for equipment and training. Bishkek’s main goal is to improve readiness and mobility in order to let the military respond to both border and internal events.
The army’s total strength is 8,500 personnel, according to SIPRI. The army is looking to become a more agile force focused on mountain warfare. Mirroring a common theme across the region, the army is equipped with T-72 tanks, BMPs and BTR armoured vehicles.
Poor pilot and personnel training hinder Kyrgyzstan’s air force which is considered to be one of Central Asia’s weakest. Given limited resources, the country’s leadership has chosen not to upgrade the air force’s capabilities. Instead, Bishkek relies on assistance from Russian air forces based at Kant, where Moscow has rights until 2032 ( see CIS: Unstable Central Asia will drive Russian ties – January 23, 2015). In February, Russia announced intentions to reinforce the combat capabilities at Kant.
With its 1,300 kilometre border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan’s military would be pressed to halt any incursions from militant groups. To boost security, Tajikistan is planning a new military base on the Afghan border.
Total spending on military and security services is estimated at 164 million dollars per annum, according to SIPRI. Dushanbe’s military forces developed out of irregulars that operated during the 1992-97 civil war. In recent years, the military has sought to increase mobility by establishing airborne and mountain infantry units. Tajikistan is dependent on Moscow for its security. Russia has 7,000 troops in Tajikistan that are set to remain in the country until 2042 ( see CIS: Unstable Central Asia will drive Russian ties – January 23, 2015).
Tajikistan’s army has only 7,000 personnel, and uses a variety of Soviet era equipment. Air forces are divided among various ministries, and have only a handful of Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters. With GDP of 8.5 billion dollars (World Bank 2013), Tajikistan’s military and security forces are likely to remain constrained for the foreseeable future. Dushanbe lacks the spending power to boost the military significantly.
CONCLUSION: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan appear to be building reasonably capable military forces. In Uzbekistan, the security service (SNB) will likely remain pre-eminent and enjoy the best access to the president. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are struggling to maintain even small rapid reaction forces; Bishkek and Dushanbe would likely need Russian military support in the event of a security crisis. Turkmenistan has the wealth to formulate a major military force, but Ashgabat has been unwilling to spend on training and maintenance.
I’ve fallen behind on reprinting my Oxford Analytica briefs. Here’s one from late January, on US-Russian competition in arms sales. This version is slightly different from the originally published version, in that I have restored some material cut due to space constraints.
SIGNIFICANCE: India is the world’s largest arms importer and its primary suppliers are Russia and the United States. Although the two suppliers largely sell their weapons to different customers globally, Russian efforts to expand to new markets to compensate for declining sales to traditional partners will lead to increased competition with the United States in many parts of the world.
Shifting markets for Russia
The main targets of Russian weapon sales have been shifting:
Sales to China have declined as Beijing pursues a programme of domestic manufacturing of advanced weaponry. Many Chinese designs appear to be based on reverse-engineered Russian imports, particularly in fighter aircraft.
Europe and the Middle East
Russia has already lost other markets in Europe where many former Warsaw Pact countries are shifting to NATO equipment. Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have halted major sales to Libya and Syria.
Russian military industry is also worried about potential declines in purchases by India, its leading customer. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has reported that between 2009 and 2013 Russia supplied 75% of weapons imported by India. However, serious delays and cost overruns on major contracts, such as aircraft carrier Vikramaditya to India and Il-76 transport aircraft to China, have dented Russia’s reputation as a reliable partner for India.
As a result, Delhi has sought to diversify its arms purchases. India chose French Rafale fighters in its multi-billion dollar Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) fighter tender and purchased helicopters and transport aircraft, as well as ASW aircraft, from the United States. India chose the American C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft over Russia’s Il-76 plane. Moreover, India is looking to be 75% self-reliant in defence production by 2020-25, which is likely to result in declines in foreign arms purchases from both Russia and the United States.
Russia is actively seeking to expand its arms sales in South-east Asia, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam. Both are looking towards naval expansion and have in recent years bought aircraft, combat ships and infantry fighting vehicles from Russia. It is also seeking to sell diesel submarines to Thailand and has signed a deal to supply transport helicopters to Pakistan.
Besides Asia, Russia has been actively looking for new customers for its arms in the Middle East. Russia has recently concluded significant contracts with Iraq for helicopters and air defence systems worth 4 billion dollars and Egypt for air defence systems worth 2 billion dollars. Negotiations are also under way for coastal defence systems, attack helicopters and MiG-35 fighter aircraft. Ten years after being forced out of the Iraq market by the US invasion, Russia has once again become a major supplier of air defence systems and helicopters to that country.
It has also signed an agreement expanding military cooperation with Iran, with officials discussing the possibility of restoring the agreement to sell S-300 air defence systems with a possible upgrade to the more advanced S-400 system. Such sales would not violate the existing international sanctions regime.
In Latin America, Russia has long had a reliable customer in Venezuela, which has in recent years bought missiles, tanks and armored vehicles from Russia. Russia is looking for new markets in the region and is hopeful of selling fighter aircraft to Brazil and Argentina. Russia has sold air defence systems to Brazil and hopes to develop a defence industrial partnership that might parallel its military cooperation with India.
Russian competition with the United States
Russia mostly seeks to sell arms to countries that are not able or interested in buying US weapons, either because the customer states are not partners of the United States or because the products are too expensive. Iran, Venezuela and China are not likely to become areas for competition in US-Russian arms sales. Egypt has turned to Russia in recent years because of a deterioration in relations with the United States in the aftermath of the 2013 military coup. Many African and South-east Asian countries choose Russian arms when they cannot afford US-made versions.
India, a large unaligned country with a high level of military expenditures, is an attractive target for defense companies from both countries. Russia is also hoping to make inroads into Brazil and Argentina, two countries that have traditionally bought the majority of their weapons from the United States and its NATO allies.
The sectors in which Russian weapons systems are considered equal or superior to Western equivalents include: air defence, fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and cruise missiles. These are the sectors in which Russia’s defence industry can compete with the most advanced Western suppliers, with weapons such as the S-300 air defence system, the Su-35 fighter jets and the Kilo class submarine being noteworthy. In other sectors, such as transport aircraft, drones, surface ships, tanks and armoured vehicles, the quality of Russian products is significantly inferior to that of the United States, and Russian exporters compete primarily on price.
International arms sales can offset reductions in US defence spending, helping to keep the US defence industrial base healthy. Arms sales also fit with the Obama administration’s goal of strengthening allies and partners so they can provide more security for themselves without relying on US support. The US government has revised its export control system and is trying to streamline the Arms Export Control Act to make arms transfers simpler.
The combination of high-level policymaker attention, steady reforms and a volatile international security environment has resulted in an increase in US arms sales, thereby accelerating the competition with Russia.
In fiscal year 2014, US arms sales worldwide totaled 34 billion dollars, up 4 billion dollars from the previous year and about three times greater than the pre-2006 average. By contrast, President Vladimir Putin yesterday announced that in 2014 Russia sold more than 15 billion dollars-worth of arms and that new signed orders stood at around 14 billion dollars.
The United States continues to dominate the defence trade with its traditional partners such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Japan. Yet it remains committed to maintaining or expanding ties to countries that Russia is also courting, such as Brazil, Argentina, India, Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan.
In 2014, the United States and India agreed to identify co-development and co-production opportunities as part of the US-India Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). Industry sources report that surveillance UAVs may be the first batch of products sold.
Since these products would be of particular use to India, especially in patrolling disputed areas with Pakistan, the United States may expect to see greater competition with Israel, a major drone manufacturer, shifting the Indian market towards higher-end products, and perhaps leaving fewer areas in which the main competition is with Russia.
CONCLUSION: The Russian and US defence sectors will push for greater exports to offset constraints in the defence budgets of their own governments. India, with growing expenditures and skepticism about Russia’s reliability, appears to be opening further to the United States. Competition between the two manufacturers will also be seen in Latin America and South-east Asia, where the US ‘Asia pivot’ may help Washington win new customers.