Armed Forces of Central Asia and the Regional Threat Situation

In the most recent issue of NVO, Aleksandr Khramchikhin has a very useful description of the forces located in Russia’s Central Operational Strategic Command. This is in the context of an article examining the total array of forces located in or near Central Asia, including Kazakh, Uzbek, Pakistani, and Chinese forces in the region. I haven’t seen all this data in a single place before, so it seems worthwhile to reproduce it here, followed by a discussion of the extent to which these forces present a threat to Russia.

Eventually, I’ll update my series on the structure of Russia’s Ground Forces to take into account the new organizational structure, but until I have time to do that, this will have to do.

Russia’s Central Operational Strategic Command

Ground Forces

  • 1 tank brigade
  • 7 motorized rifle brigades
  • 2 special forces brigades (one of which is being demobilized)
  • 2 rocket brigades
  • 1 artillery brigade
  • 1 MLRS brigade
  • 2 missile brigades
  • 5 bases for storage and equipment repair

These forces are equipped with: 400 T-72 tanks, more than 500 BMP infantry fighting vehicles, 200 airborne infantry fighting vehicles, 400 armored personnel carriers, 400 self-propelled guns, 100 other pieces of artillery, 200 mortars, 250 multiple rocket launchers, 300 anti-tank guns, and 270 air defense missiles of various kinds

Air Defense Forces

  • 5 S-300PS regiments
  • 1 S-300 V regiment

Air Forces

  • 6 airbases housing 48 MiG-31 interceptors, 32 Mi-24 helicopter gunships and 80 transport aircraft and helicopters.
  • 2 long-range aviation bases in Saratov oblast, housing 14 Tu-160,  16 Tu-95, and 30 Tu-22M3 long range bombers.
  • Military transport aviation base in Orenburg, housing 27 Il-76MD transport planes.
  • Various reserve bases housing over 500 airplanes and over 150 helicopters, though the majority of these are older types that are unlikely to be operational.

In addition to these forces, the Center OSC also controls the 201st military base located in Tajikistan and the 999th airbase located in Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakhstani armed forces

Ground Forces

  • 10 mechanized infantry brigades
  • 7 artillery brigades
  • 1 MLRS brigade
  • 2 anti-tank brigades
  • 4 airborne brigades
  • 1 missile brigade
  • 1 engineering brigade
  • 1 shore defense brigade
  • 1 peacekeeping brigade

These forces are equipped with 1000 tanks (T-80, T-72, T-62), 2500 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 250 self-propelled guns, 500 towed artillery pieces, and around 200 Uragan and Grad surface-to-air missiles. Air defenses include several S-300 systems.

The Kazakh air force and air defense forces are organized into 10 regiments. They are equipped with:

  • 30 Su-24 bombers
  • 12 Su-24M reconnaissance planes
  • 12 Su-27 fighter planes
  • 40 MiG-29 fighter planes
  • 40+ MiG-31 interceptors
  • 5 MiG-25 interceptors
  • 20 MiG-23 fighter-bombers (being retired)
  • 15 Su-25 close air support planes
  • 40 transport planes
  • 40 Mi-24 helicopter gunships
  • 12 Mi-26 heavy transport helicopters

The Kazakh navy consists of 9 patrol boats, including one Turkish-built boat, 4 1950s vintage German boats, 2 new Saigak boats built in Russia, 1 Dauntless class boat built in the US, and 1 Berkut-class boat built in Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistani armed forces

Ground forces

  • 11 motorized infantry brigades
  • 1 mountain infantry brigade
  • 1 tank brigade
  • 1 airborne brigade
  • 3 air assault brigades
  • 5 engineering brigades

These forces are armed with 340 tanks (half of which are old T-62s), 400 infantry fighting vehicles, more than 500 armored personnel carriers, 140 self-propelled guns, 200 towed artillery pieces, and 80 air defense missiles.

The air forces consist of:

  • 30 Su-24 bombers and reconnaissance planes
  • 20 Su-25 close air support planes
  • 30 MiG-29 fighters
  • 25 Su-27 fighters
  • 40 transport aircraft
  • 30-50 Mi-24 helicopter gunships
  • 90 transport and multi-purpose helicopters

Pakistani armed forces

The ground forces are comprised of 19 infantry divisions, 2 tank divisions, and 35 brigades of various types. These forces are armed with 165 tactical ballistic missiles, 2500 tanks (including 320 T-80UD), 1300 armored personnel carriers, 260 self-propelled guns, 1600 towed artillery pieces, 2350 mortars, 50 multiple launch rocket systems, 1200 MANPADS, 1900 anti-aircraft weapons, and 25 AN-1 Cobra helicopter gunships.

The air force operates 400 combat aircraft, including 50 F-16s and more than 100 Chinese JF-17s.

Iranian armed forces

Khramchikhin briefly addresses the armaments of the Iranian armed forces, These include 1700 tanks, 700 infantry fighting vehicles, 600 APCs, 2400 artillery pieces (including 300 self-propelled), 5000 mortars, 900 MLRS, 900 anti-tank guided weapons, 2000 air defense artillery pieces, 300 combat airplanes, 100 combat helicopters, and over 250 air defense missile systems.

Chinese armed forces (Lanzhou Military Region)

Finally, Khramchikhin discusses the Chinese forces focused on Central Asia. These are located in the Lanzhou Military region.

Ground Forces

  • 2 tank divisions
  • 2 motorized infantry divisions
  • 3 infantry divisions
  • 1 mountain infantry division
  • 3 motorized infantry brigades
  • 2 artillery brigades
  • 3 air defense brigades
  • 2 reserve infantry divisions
  • 2 reserve anti-aircraft artillery divisions

The Air Force is organized into 1 bomber division and 2 fighter divisions. There are three regiments of H-6H bombers, 2 regiments of J-11 (Su-27) fighters, 4 regiments of J-7 (MiG-21) fighters. Ground air defenses are comprised of one regiment of HQ-2 missiles.

The Regional Balance of Forces

Khramchikhin engages in this description in order to provide a rough description of the balance of forces in the region. Oddly enough, he does not include the NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan in this assessment. But he does point out a couple of interesting things. First of all, the Chinese forces in just the Lanzhou military region, which is generally a low priority for the Chinese government and receives few modern weapons, are more powerful than all of the other forces in the region put together (once again, excluding the NATO forces).

Second, none of the other countries in the region present realistic military threats to Russia. Neither Iran nor Pakistan are likely to have any reason to engage in conflict with Russia, though Pakistan’s forces are, at least on paper, more powerful than those of Russia’s Center OSC. Pakistan is more concerned with India and its own internal instability. The only possible scenario where it might present a threat to Russia would involve a violent overthrow of its government by the Taliban and its allies, followed by its joining an anti-Russian effort in Central Asia. If the Taliban were to take over in Pakistan, it would have many more pressing concerns than attacking Russia or even Central Asia. This scenario is therefore sufficiently far-fetched as to be not worth considering for the moment.

Despite a recent deterioration in military relations because of Russia’s adherence to UN sanctions, Iran is also not interested in engaging in hostilities with Russia. It has more pressing concerns in every other direction.

Three of the Central Asian states (Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan) have no military forces worth the name. All five states have sufficiently good relations with Russia that they pose no real threat. The only potential threat to Russia from Central Asia comes from the possibility of a mass radical Islamist uprising in the Ferghana Valley, especially in the event of a NATO failure in Afghanistan that results in the Taliban’s return to power there. In that case, Khramchikhin argues for joining forces with Kazakhstan to keep the radicals in the south, while leaving the governments of the other Central Asian to survive as best they can on their own.

The Chinese Threat?

This brings Khramchikhin back to China.  He has previously written some fairly alarmist pieces about the potential Chinese threat to Russia, so this time he focuses on the possibility that China would attack Kazakhstan. This seems to be a sufficiently fantastic scenario that it could be dismissed out of hand, but instead he argues that China would easily win such a conflict while absorbing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with minimal effort. This means that Russia would have to come to Kazakhstan’s assistance or face the prospect of a 12,000km border with China stretching from Astrakhan to Vladivostok. (I’m not sure what happens to Mongolia in this scenario, but I assume it’s nothing good.) And at this point, Khramchikhin argues that Russia might as well capitulate on the spot.

I have never understood the extent of Russian paranoia about Chinese intentions. China is certainly a rising power, but it has accomplished its rise by developing its economy while remaining fairly quiet and conservative on the international scene. While there are certainly circumstances under which China would use its military forces offensively, particularly in Taiwan, the only scenario I can imagine where it feels the need to use armed force in Central Asia would involve defending itself against Islamist forces that have come to power in the region and are assisting Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang. In this scenario, Russia, Kazakhstan and China are all allies uniting to stop the Islamist threat, rather than adversaries.

In other words, Russians (and Kazakhs) should continue to sleep safely, knowing that China is not going to attack — either now or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Russian Politics and Law, July 2010 Table of Contents

Volume 48 Number 4 / July-August 2010 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the ME Sharpe web site at Contents after the cut. Continue reading

The Politics of Russian History: Editor’s Introduction

Since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s, the question of how to judge Soviet and communist history has frequently consumed the societies of Eastern and Central Europe. Politicians have frequently been drawn into these debates, which have on occasion spilled over into the realm of international relations. In the next two issues, we explore the issues surrounding the politicization of history in the countries that formerly constituted the Soviet Union. The next issue will examine the politics of history in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Central Asia. This issue concentrates on Russia itself.

Alexei Miller’s “Russia: Power and History” plays a dual role in this collection, serving both as a theoretical introduction to the concept of the politicization of history and as an empirical introduction to the political uses of history in Russia in recent years. The theoretical portion of the article begins with a discussion of the inevitability of the politicization of history. All historians live and work in contemporary society and find that their interpretations are influenced by this context. Similarly, Miller argues that the politics of memory is also an inevitable occurrence, as all societies and governments make decisions about which aspects of their history to commemorate and which to forget. The difference between these kinds of politicization and what Miller calls historical politics (istoricheskaia politika) is that the latter is an explicitly political phenomenon in which the government interferes in the work of professional historians for political reasons, usually to promote particular interpretations of history that match its political goals.

This interference occurs through such mechanisms as the establishment of institutes for historical memory, the creation of museums designed to enshrine a particular version of history, and state sponsorship of school history textbooks that promote certain historical interpretations while dismissing or ignoring other versions that are less favorable to the achievement of state policy objectives. Miller describes the four key concepts of historical policy as follows: (1) history and memory are viewed primarily as an arena of political struggle with foreign and domestic adversaries; (2) policy makers justify their actions by pointing to the universality of historical policy actions around the world; (3) policy makers argue that foreign enemies are working to establish an interpretation of past events that will harm their country if not countered; and (4) historical politics is justified by the poor state of education in the country in question.

All these factors are present in Russia’s recent history. Miller shows that historical politics in Russia has focused on the development of officially approved textbooks, the threat of prosecution of proponents of historical interpretations that conflict with state-approved positions, and selective releases of documents from state archives. All these policies are designed to promote government positions that seek to minimize Soviet crimes against people in those parts of Eastern Europe that were occupied by the Soviet Union in the 1940s and either incorporated into the Soviet Union itself (western Ukraine and Belarus, the Baltic states) or turned into communist satellite states (Poland, Hungary, etc.).

The other articles in this issue flesh out some of the issues raised by Miller. In “Overcoming the Totalitarian Past: Foreign Experience and Russian Problems,” Galina Mikhaleva focuses on how the example of other countries might be used by Russians to help themselves develop new forms of historical memory that are not tied to their country’s totalitarian past. She shows how Russia’s Soviet history is complicated because of the connection of some of its darkest periods, such as the mass repressions of the late 1930s and the deportations of the 1940s, with its greatest triumph, the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. She describes a range of positions on this history taken by various political actors—ranging from the Memorial Society’s efforts to ensure open discussion to the government’s instrumental position that seeks to protect national history from outsiders’ attempts at “falsification.”

Boris Dubin argues that one aspect of this falsification is present in “The Stalin Myth.” He shows how the last decade has seen constant efforts by the government to promote pro-Stalin propaganda in an effort to create an image of Stalin as the builder of a strong Russian state. Dubin shows that as a result of this propaganda, there are now two prevailing images of Stalin at war in Russian society. The first is the image of Stalin as a tyrant, which became dominant in the Gorbachev period and remained uncontested under Yeltsin. This image promotes the view of Russia as a victim. The second is the image of Stalin as the victor in World War II, which promotes the vision of Russia as a great power. Dubin argues that these two images are linked to and support each other. Together, they encourage the population to be passive, because they see themselves as victims who can only be saved by a powerful leader, such as Stalin in the past or Putin in the present.

Few efforts have been made by Russian society to overcome this historical legacy. One of the most public is the Yabloko political party’s resolution on “Overcoming Stalinism and Bolshevism as a Condition for Modernizing Russia in the Twenty-First Century.” This document, translated and reprinted in this issue of Russian Politics and Law, connects the legacy of Stalinism, and especially its promotion by the current government, to the rise in xenophobic violence throughout Russia in recent years. Yabloko calls for Russian society to overcome the Stalinist historical legacy, arguing that without a rejection of this history, there is no way for the country to develop its political system beyond what it calls the current criminal political regime. To overcome this legacy, Yabloko argues that the government must unequivocally condemn the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the repressions that followed it, take measures to eliminate the Stalinist–Bolshevik system of rule—which follows the principle that the end justifies the means—and establish a mass education program dedicated to promoting an objective account of the country’s history in the twentieth century.

The rest of this issue examines the controversy surrounding the establishment of the Commission to Counteract Attempts to Harm Russia’s Interests by Falsifying History. This commission, established by President Medvedev in the spring of 2009, was tasked with locating and opposing any and all cases where Russian history is falsified with the intent of reducing the country’s international prestige. The decree establishing the commission is found in the documents section of this issue.

In “For Whom Did the Tsar Bell Toll?” Pavel Polian has put together a polemical article that argues that the establishment of the commission has created a situation where the potentially vulnerable may be persecuted in order to defend the position of the politically powerful. He points out that, although Russia is already considered to be a safe haven for Holocaust deniers, the commission will not focus on that aspect of the Nuremberg Tribunal’s decisions. Instead, it will seek to counter any efforts by historians to show that East European states were victimized by the Soviet side during World War II by attempting to paint these efforts as supporting the rehabilitation of Nazism.

Polian also examines the origins of the commission, arguing that it is the brainchild of Konstantin Zatulin, the first deputy chair of the State Duma Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Compatriots. He notes that efforts to use history for political ends are present throughout the region and argues that, instead of a set of inevitably biased national commissions along the lines created by President Medvedev, the public would be better served by the creation of an international historical arbitration system that would allow professional historians to pass judgment on various international historical disputes.

One aspect of the commission’s activity that drew significant negative attention was the Russian Academy of Sciences’ directive to its component institutes to “compile annotated lists of historical and cultural falsifications, indicating the ‘persons and organizations creating and disseminating each falsification’ ” (as Miller puts it). This directive is translated in the current issue.

The final article in this issue is a response by Valery Tishkov, the author of the directive, to his critics. In “History, Historians, and State Power,” Tishkov discusses the importance of distinguishing professional history from the efforts of amateurs who publish popular texts that do not meet the standards of the profession but nevertheless wield a great deal of influence over societal views of Russian history. In his discussion of the role of politics in historical interpretation, Tishkov focuses on the role played by East European states in prohibiting positive portrayals of various aspects of their history under communist rule. In effect, he argues that the widespread reaction against the establishment of the Russian commission on historical falsifications is yet another example of double standards at work, with Russia held to a different standard from other former communist states.

In the next issue of Russian Politics and Law, we will examine the extent to which historical politics is at work in these other countries and compare them to the Russian experience.

Russian Politics and Law, September 2010 Table of Contents

Volume 48 Number 5 / September-October 2010 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the web site at Contents after the cut.

Continue reading

The Politics of History in the Former Soviet Union: Editor’s Introduction

This issue of Russian Politics and Law continues the discussion of historical politics that was begun in the previous issue. The articles presented here show how processes similar to those that have occurred in Russia are taking place in other former Soviet states—including Estonia, Ukraine, and the countries of Central Asia.

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Russia’s State Armaments Program 2020: Is the Third Time the Charm for Military Modernization?

The following post is being published as a PONARS Eurasia policy memo and will be presented at its annual policy conference, which will be held in Washington D.C. on Friday, October 22. For more information, click here.


For the first two years of the Russian military reform program that began in October 2008, the top priority of the Ministry of Defense was reorganization. This involved the transformation of the military’s division-based structure into one based on brigades, as well as a shift in the ratio of officers to enlisted soldiers in favor of the latter. The last step of this reorganization was the replacement of military districts with four operational strategic commands, modeled on the U.S. military’s regional commands. These are joint commands that control all of the forces on their territory, including naval and air force units.

As this organizational transformation was being completed, top defense officials increasingly focused on the need to rearm the newly streamlined Russian military. In several speeches last winter and spring, President Dmitry Medvedev called for large-scale rearmament. More specifically, in a March 5 speech to the Defense Ministry Collegium, he called for renewing arms and equipment at a rate of 9 to 11 percent per year for the next decade, in order to reach a target of modernizing 70 percent of military equipment by 2020.

This will be a difficult target to achieve. The current rate is less than two percent; even the Soviet military of the 1980s averaged only a 5-7 percent renewal rate. In order to achieve this plan, the Russian government is putting together a new State Armaments Program for 2011-2020 (SAP-2020). This program will replace two earlier programs enacted since Vladimir Putin came to power, the most recent for the period from 2007 to 2015. What the previous programs have all had in common is that in each case the government failed to achieve the program’s stated goals.

SAP-2020: What We Know So Far

The SAP will not be announced until later this fall, but some information about its parameters has already begun to appear in the Russian press. The total size of the program is still under negotiation. Back in May, President Medvedev announced that total spending on armaments over the next ten years will be 13 trillion rubles, or approximately $425 billion at current exchange rates. This would be a significant increase from the previous armaments program, which allotted five trillion rubles over a nine-year period. However, Defense Ministry officials argued that this amount would not be sufficient to modernize the entire military. General Oleg Frolov, the acting chief of armaments, noted that for 13 trillion rubles the ministry would be able to modernize only the strategic nuclear forces, the air force, and air defenses. To modernize the ground forces, an additional 15 trillion would be necessary, while the modernization of the entire military (including the navy and the space forces, which operate Russia’s military satellites) would cost a total of 36 trillion rubles ($1.2 trillion).

The definitive program budget will not be announced for several more months, though it seems impossible for the Ministry of Defense to obtain anywhere near the full amount it seeks. In late September, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced that total spending for the armaments program would equal 22 trillion rubles, of which 19 trillion would be allocated to the Ministry of Defense and 3 trillion to other power ministries. This would increase Russian defense spending to around 3.5-4 percent of GDP, up from the current 2.9 percent.

The Air Force

The full parameters of which armaments the Russian military will procure with this money have also not been announced, though some specifics are now available. The air force will be one of the main beneficiaries, while the navy and ground forces are considered a lesser priority. The Ministry of Defense believes it can modernize all of the country’s military aircraft over the next ten years. The goal is to purchase 350 new fighter airplanes, 1,000 new helicopters, and a number of new transport aircraft. This is a high priority as most of the existing aircraft have reached or exceeded their original lifespan. Specific air force procurement plans include:

  • T-50 fifth generation fighter aircraft (PAK FA). 10 to be purchased in 2013-2015. An additional 50-60 to be procured in 2016-2020.
  • Next generation long-range bomber (PAK DA). Design began in 2010. Prototype to be built by 2015. First units scheduled to enter air force in 2020.
  • Su-35BM fourth generation fighter aircraft. 48 to be purchased in 2010-2015.
  • Su-34 fighter-bomber. 32 to be purchased in 2010-2015.
  • MiG-35 fighter. Currently in development. First units expected to enter air force in 2013.
  • Yak-130 training aircraft. 150 to be delivered in 2010-2015. An additional 50 to be procured in 2016-2020.
  • An-124 transport aircraft. 20 to be purchased in 2015-2020. 10 to be modernized in 2011-2020.
  • An-70 transport aircraft. 60 to be purchased in 2011-2020.
  • Mi-26 transport helicopters. Exact number unknown. Main focus of helicopter renewal program.

Air Defense and Strategic Rocket Forces

The armaments program also promises significant improvements in air defense and strategic rocket forces. For the former, Russia will continue to procure the S-400 air defense system. Two air defense regiments were armed with this system prior to 2010. An additional five were to be procured during this year. The goal is to have as many as 23 regiments (of 8 to 12 missiles each) by 2015. It will then be augmented by the more advanced S-500 system, currently under development and expected to be ready for production by 2013. Both the S-400 and S-500 systems are superior to the US Patriot PAC-3 in maximum speed, range, and accuracy. Russia will also continue to procure the Pantsir-S1 short-range surface-to-air missile, with at least 200 units expected to be added by 2016 to the 10 already in service in 2010.

The strategic rocket forces will continue to receive Topol-M (SS-27) and the new RS-24 ICBMs. The latter is a Topol-M variant with three or four multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVed) that began to be deployed this year. These will gradually completely replace the older SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs, as the service life of these missiles is scheduled to expire over the next ten years.

The Navy

The procurement plans for the navy seem quite extensive, but are likely to be carried out in full only if the Ministry of Defense succeeds in its effort to increase the government’s total financial commitment to the State Armament Program. The strategic submarine force remains a priority for the military and will be funded no matter what. Financing for other projects, especially the larger and more expensive ships, is more uncertain, though the commander of the navy recently announced that the construction of a total of 15 ships and diesel submarines for the Black Sea Fleet will be part of the armament program. Specific plans include the following:


  • Borei-class ballistic missile submarine. First currently in sea trials. Five to seven more to be commissioned in 2010-2017. Three of these are already under construction. The project’s success will depend on the military’s ability in getting the Bulava SLBM to fly successfully.
  • Yasen-class multi-purpose attack submarine. First launched in June 2010. Two to five more to be commissioned by 2020.
  • Lada-class diesel submarines. First commissioned in April 2010. Two to seven more to be commissioned by 2020.
  • Improved Kilo-class submarines. If problems with Lada class continue, could build as many as eight of these instead, with at least three going to the Black Sea Fleet. There is also the possibility that a smaller number of these would be built to be used in conjunction with a small number of Ladas.

Surface Combat Ships

  • Aircraft carrier. This summer, the navy announced that designs for a new aircraft carrier would be finished this year. It is likely that the construction of one or two carriers will be included in the State Armaments Program. Their actual construction is likely to take many years in the best of circumstances, and it is highly unlikely that the Russian Navy will have a functioning aircraft carrier by 2020.
  • Mistral amphibious assault ships. Two will be purchased from France, with another two to be built in Russia under license. Negotiations over the purchase are still ongoing, but they are likely to conclude successfully in the next few months.
  • Ivan Gren-class landing ships. Three to five to be commissioned in 2012-2020.
  • New destroyers. Press reports indicate that design of a new 10,000-ton destroyer is under way, with construction of the first ship to begin in 2013. The hope is to build 10 to 12 of these ships over the next 20 years, though it is unlikely that more than two or three could be completed by 2020 in the best of circumstances.
  • Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates. Two currently under construction. Plans call for a total of 20 to be built over the next 20 years. Of these, three to six are likely to be built by 2020.
  • Krivak IV-class frigates. Given the slow pace of construction for the Admiral Gorshkov frigate, the Russian navy is likely to build three or four of these frigates for the Black Sea Fleet. Previously, these ships have been built for the Indian Navy.
  • Steregushchii-class corvettes. First commissioned in 2007. Second launched in March 2010. Three more are currently under construction, to be commissioned by 2013. In total, 20 are expected to built, with 10 likely to be completed by 2020.

In addition to these procurement plans, the Navy has declared its intention to restore and modernize the various mothballed Kirov- and Slava-class cruisers owned by the Russian Navy. The Kirov-class Admiral Nakhimov (originally Kalinin) cruiser will be the first to undergo modernization. If this effort is successful, the Admiral Lazarev (originally Frunze) may also be modernized prior to 2020. The Admiral Ushakov (originally Kirov) could theoretically be modernized as well, though most sources believe it to be a pile of radioactive rusted metal, due to a combination of a 1990 reactor accident and subsequent lack of repair or maintenance. The Navy may also work with Ukrainian shipbuilders to finish the almost completed Admiral Lobov Slava-class cruiser. If this project goes through, the three active Slava-class cruisers in the Russian navy may also be modernized over the next ten years.

Ground Forces and Other Equipment

Much less is known about procurement plans for the ground forces, in part because they are likely to receive the least amount of new equipment in the next decade. We do know that the military has canceled plans to procure the T-95 battle tank and will instead continue to purchase T-90 tanks for the foreseeable future. The ground forces will also receive Italian light armored vehicles, probably instead of the BTR-90 armored vehicles that they had previously planned to purchase. They will also continue to purchase Iskander tactical ballistic missiles for its missile brigades, replacing existing Tochka (SS-21 Scarab) missiles in seven more brigades, in addition to the two that have already been rearmed with Iskanders in 2010. It is likely that sometime during the next decade, the design of a new generation of multiple rocket launcher systems will be completed, with some likely to enter service prior to 2020 in place of the currently used BM-30 Smerch systems.

In addition to platforms and weapons, the Russian military will focus on improving its communications capabilities by upgrading its GLONASS satellite system and procuring new digital communications and command and control systems, as well as other high tech items such as night vision equipment and better IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) systems. Many of these items are likely to be procured abroad or developed with foreign assistance.


Whatever the actual details of SAP-2020 turn out to be, if the Russian government carries all of them out, it will be the first time such a program is actually carried out in full. Past programs foundered due to three reasons: lack of financing, corruption, and the poor state of the Russian defense industry. All these factors are likely to play a role in limiting the Russian military’s ability to modernize its weapons and equipment over the next decade.

The large increase in funding promised for SAP-2020 may not be sustainable, as it depends on a stable or rising price of oil and natural gas in coming years, which itself depends on the continuation of the current global economic recovery. If government revenues should falter, financing for the military will undoubtedly suffer as well. And even if revenue projections are met, the increase in financing being discussed right now will require a significant shift in government expenditures toward the military despite ever more pressing needs in the civilian sector.

Whether the government will be able to maintain such a plan if its popularity starts to erode in coming years is very much an open question, especially as it becomes more and more obvious to the population that much of the procurement money instead goes to line the pockets of senior military officials. Various press reports estimate that as much as half of all procurement money is spent on bribes and other forms of corruption. Last spring, the Audit Chamber announced that one billion rubles of military procurement money was lost to corruption in 2009. Analysts argue that without corruption, 19 trillion rubles would be more than enough to finance the entire defense procurement wish list, rather than the 36 trillion that was asked for by the Ministry of Defense.

However, the real question facing the armaments program is whether the Russian defense industry can actually build the weapons they are being asked to produce. The ability of the Russian defense industry to design and produce new weapons has been declining for 20 years. The best workers—those left over from Soviet times when the industry was well funded and a highly prestigious place to work—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 modernization, the industrial plant began to deteriorate. By the start of the Putin presidency, even the allocation of additional financing was not enough to counteract the decline in the defense industry’s ability to produce high quality products. This decline will have to be reversed if the Russian military is to be successful in producing new high-tech military equipment.

Bulava launch successful

Pavel Podvig reports that today’s launch of the Bulava SLBM was successful. RIA-Novosti reports that the missile reached the target area in the Kura test range.  This is the first successful launch since November 2008, which was followed by three consecutive failures. The defense minister had indicated that in the event of a failure, the missile’s construction process would have to be completely revamped. Two more test launches are scheduled for this year, one from the Dmitry Donskoi and one from the Yuri Dolgorukii.