Russian stealth fighter will enhance air force capabilities

In June 2015, I published a short article in the Oxford Analytica Daily Brief discussing the capabilities of new Russian aircraft. Here’s the text, as usual with no edits other than restoring some cuts made for space reasons.

SUBJECT:The Russian T-50 fighter and PAK DA bomber.

SIGNIFICANCE:In early June, a series of high profile crashes involving Russian military planes led to Moscow grounding the Tu-95 ‘Bear’ bomber fleet. Additionally, on June 4, a Su-34 strike fighter crashed near Voronezh and a MiG-29 crashed near the Caspian. Military leadership is hoping that the air force’s reliance on old systems will be solved by two new programmes: the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA and the PAKDA bomber.


  • Russia will continue high frequency of air activity over Baltic and North Sea regions.
  • Increasing numbers of European air forces will look to procure fifth-generation fighters to maintain approximate parity with Russia.
  • Shortage of refueling planes will be a concern for the Russian air force and may prove to be an Achilles’ heal.
  • One of the primary targets of the air force is a stealth fighter, in order to to maintain parity with the United States, a role which is sought for the T-50.


The Russian Air Force has been developing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft since the late 1980s. The PAK FA T-50, has been under development at Sukhoi for about 15 years. The first flight of a prototype aircraft took place in January 2010. A total of five prototype aircraft have been delivered over the last five years. It is expected that the jet will enter service in 2016.

Stealth abilities

This aircraft will be the first operational stealth aircraft operated by Russia. It is expected to be built at least in part out of composite materials, highly manoeuvrable, with supercruise capability and advanced avionics. It will initially use a variant of the Saturn 117 engine currently installed on the Su-35S. A new engine, Product 30, is to be ready for production no earlier than 2017 and will become the standard engine in the 2020s. This engine is supposed to provide 17-18% more thrust, improved fuel efficiency, and higher reliability than the existing engine.

While recently constructed prototypes have been equipped with advanced avionics, reports indicate that the T-50’s electronic components are likely to be upgraded further before serial production begins. The need for continued work on avionic equipment and engines means that the initial production run of the aircraft will retain fourth-generation characteristics and will be comparable to earlier US F-16/18s. The Russian air force will therefore not have a complete fifth-generation fighter until 2020 at the earliest.

F-22 and F-35 comparison

Russia generally compares the T-50 to the F-22, rather than to the F-35. The T-50 has cruising (Mach 1.7) and top (Mach 2.5) speeds that are comparable to the F-22, though it is designed to be significantly faster than the F-35, which has been tested to a top speed of Mach 1.6. The maximum range without refueling is also comparable to the F-22, at 2,000 kilometres, and slightly inferior to the F-35’s 2,200 kilometres. Service ceiling is also relatively comparable, at 20,000 metres for the F-22 and T-50 and over 18,000 metres for the F-35.

There are extensive debates among aviation specialists regarding the relative merits of the three aircraft. These debates are complicated by the lack of reliable information on the characteristics of final versions of various T-50 components, including in such key areas as engines and avionics. At the same time, there is some consensus that the T-50 is more manoeuvrable but less ‘stealthy’ than the F-35 and F-22. Because of this characteristic, the T-50 is expected to be slightly superior to US aircraft in air battles but less successful in attacking ground targets. However, these comparisons are being made based on real data about Western aircraft but only statements regarding the T-50. Given Russian officials’ track record of hiding problems and exaggerating the capabilities of new technology, it is possible, perhaps likely, that the T-50’s performance may not match expectations.

Cooperation with India has stalled

Since 2007, the T-50 project has included a two-seater version designed for the Indian Air Force and commonly known as the FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft). Original plans called for the production of 500 aircraft, with serial production to begin in 2015. Disagreements between the two sides have resulted in serious delays. The Indian side has complained that the aircraft’s engine is underpowered and unreliable, that problems with the airframe reduce the aircraft’s stealth features, that radar and other electronic systems are inadequate, that construction quality is poor, and that as a result of these defects the per unit cost is too high. As a result of these delays, India is expected to receive only three prototypes by 2017.

Procurement plans

Original plans called for the air force to receive 52 T-50 aircraft by 2020 and a total of 250 by 2030. However, officials have announced that due to the deteriorating economy, only twelve of these aircraft will be procured during the next five years. Four planes are expected to be produced during 2015, though these will still be considered prototypes. Therefore, the T-50 will not become a mainstay of the Russian air force in the foreseeable future.

Overall, it is unclear whether the Russian defence industry will be able to produce some of the advanced features on this aircraft, particularly in the areas of stealth technology, avionics and fifth-generation engines. Furthermore, the cost of the aircraft, estimated to be at least 50 million dollars per unit, may make large-scale procurement unaffordable given Russia’s current economic problems.

PAK DA bomber

Development of what is known as the PAKDA bomber began in 2007. Tupolev won the initial tender to design the new long-range bomber. By 2009, company officials were anticipating that the research and development phase would be complete in 2012, the engineering phase would be finished in 2017 and the Russian air force would have 100 PAK DA aircraft by 2027. Subsequently, there have been debates regarding the need for such a plane and its capabilities. In August 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin stated that any new strategic bomber will need to possess hypersonic technology to avoid falling behind the United States. This idea was later rejected in favor of a subsonic flying wing design with a long range and the ability to carry a heavy payload of weapons.

Long range

Given the lack of a prototype, there is little certainty about the plane’s design features. Experts believe that it is likely to have an initial weight of around 120-130 tons and a range of approximately 12,000 kilometres. Early indications that the two aircraft (T-50 and PAK DA) may also share engines appear to have been rejected in favour of an updated version of the engines found on the Tu-160. Last year, Russian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Viktor Bondarev said that the miltiary would start receiving the PAK DA in 2023. However, there have been indications that the timeline for developing a new bomber could possibly be pushed back, with some air force officials stating a potential in-service date range for the new plane of 2025 to 2030. The project is currently at the prototype design and construction stage.

CONCLUSION: The requirements of the air force will provide further stimulus to Russia’s defence industry import substitution scheme. As a result of Western sanctions and broken defence cooperation with Ukraine, Russia is embarking on an ambitious programme to make its defence industry self-sufficient within three years. However, increasingly the defence industry may be forced to retrench, returning to old designs and recycling components as it is unable to meet this ambitious target. The high cost of the T-50 fighter will eat into the overall budget, sapping chances for full-spectrum reforms.

Russian Naval Shipbuilding: Is It Possible to Fulfill the Kremlin’s Grand Expectations?

PONARS Eurasia has just published my memo on Russian naval shipbuilding from our September policy conference. I’m reposting it here. Lots of other very interesting memos are available on the PONARS website.


Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent reinforcement of the region’s military forces have been combined with a general increase in naval activity—including aggressive activity vis-à-vis NATO countries’ maritime interests beyond the Black Sea. All this has led to increased international interest in Russian naval modernization plans. Although this modernization effort is going slowly, the Russian Navy’s ability to place effective long-range cruise missiles on relatively small ships means that Russia remains a serious regional maritime power with the capability to threaten not only its neighbors but much of Europe in the event of a conflict.

Russian Naval Construction Plans

Strategic nuclear deterrence will remain the number one mission of the Russian Navy in the coming decades. For this reason, the construction of Russian nuclear submarines has received priority financing and has been largely insulated from budget cuts.

The main new submarine projects include the following:

  • Borei-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), which will replace the remaining Delta III and Delta IV submarines over the next 15 years. Three are commissioned, 3 are under construction, and 2 more are contracted.
  • Yasen-class nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs), which are large and expensive. One is currently commissioned and a total of 8 are planned. Only 2 are likely to be completed by 2020 due to financial constraints on construction.
  • New, smaller, and cheaper nuclear submarines. Two versions:  one designed for protecting naval strike groups against attack submarines and the other to be armed with cruise missiles. Construction on these submarines will start in 1-2 years, with a production goal of 16-18 of them in service by 2040.
  • Kalina-class diesel submarine with air independent propulsion (AIP). This will serve as the successor to the Lada-class submarine. Although the head of the Navy has said that an AIP design will be complete by the end of 2016, it is unclear how much progress has actually been made.

As for surface ships, the Navy is primarily building small ones at present, while finalizing designs for larger ships for the future. The main projects include:

  • Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates (FFG). Construction of these ships has been unusually slow even by the glacial pace of recent Russian shipbuilding. Eight are currently under construction, with the first scheduled to be commissioned this year. At the current rate of construction, the Navy can expect to have 5 ships of this class by 2025, and 9 by 2030.
  • Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates (FFG) (updated Soviet design). Six have been ordered to fill the gap left by the slow construction of the Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates. Construction of the last three ships has been suspended due to the end of military cooperation with Ukraine, which produced the gas turbines for these ships.
  • Steregushchiy-class corvette (FFC). Four ships are in active service, 7 are under construction, and 9 more are under contract. Eighteen were originally planned to be built by 2020, although delays associated with Western sanctions are likely to reduce this number to 12-14.
  • Admiral Bykov-class corvette (FFC). Two are under construction, with 4 more under contract and a total of 12 expected to be built over the next 10-15 years. These ships are expected to have greater range and more self-sufficiency than their predecessors.
  • Buyan-M-class missile ships (PFG). These small ships are designed to be used primarily in the Caspian Flotilla and Black Sea Fleet. Three are in service, 2 are in sea trials, and 4 are under construction.
  • Lider-class 15,000-ton nuclear destroyers (DDG). Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018-2019, with a goal of 12 in the fleet by 2035. Some analysts argue that financial limitations mean only 3-4 of these ships will be built.
  • New large amphibious ships (LHD). These would have at least 14,000-ton displacement and be capable of conducting expeditionary missions. Construction of these ships is likely to start before 2020.

The Feasibility of Russian Shipbuilding Plans

Official statements related to naval shipbuilding give the appearance that the Russian Navy is undergoing a rapid revival. However, the reality is that many of these projects have faced lengthy delays and cost overruns. As a result, some of the most prominent naval procurement projects have been scaled back while others have been postponed for years at a time.

The main reasons for these delays and cost overruns involve a) long-term decline in naval research and development; b) an inability to modernize the shipbuilding industry, which is considered to be particularly outdated and poorly structured as compared to other sectors of the Russian defense industry (and has suffered more than other sectors due to Western sanctions); and c) pre-existing budgetary constraints that have been exacerbated in recent years by Russia’s economic downturn.

Russia’s current shipbuilding industry was primarily formed in the 1960-70s, and its ship design capabilities have changed little since the early 1980s. As a result, Russian naval research and development (R&D) has fallen several decades behind Western and Asian capabilities. Russian leaders recognized this problem in the late 2000s and sought to absorb Western knowledge through joint projects, such as the Russian version of the French Mistral amphibious assault ship. In addition, they organized joint projects with foreign designers such as Saipem, Wartsila, and STX in civilian shipbuilding. However, the freezing of military cooperation with NATO states in 2014 as a result of the Ukraine conflict has largely foreclosed the possibility of catching up by borrowing Western know-how. Russian naval R&D is therefore likely to remain significantly behind when compared to the Western state-of-the-art.

Western sanctions have also resulted in major problems with the production of ship components, particularly in navigation and communication equipment. Most of these components are not produced domestically in Russia, and the industry has long been dependent on imports from Europe for high quality components. Efforts to start domestic production are underway, but prices for domestic variants are relatively high while quality is relatively low.

Although it has improved somewhat in recent years, shipbuilding is one of the more poorly performing sectors of Russia’s defense industry. Russian analysts argue that Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation is the least effective of all state corporations in Russia’s defense sector. This results from its excessive size, bloated management structures, and misguided efforts to combine military and civilian shipbuilding under a single corporate roof.

Financial Constraints

The State Armament Program (SAP) for 2011-2020 assigned five trillion rubles—a quarter of its total expenditures—to military shipbuilding. This amount was almost double the amount allocated to the ground forces and airborne forces combined. According to Russian analysts, currently announced naval procurement plans would require the amount of spending on military shipbuilding to increase to six to seven trillion rubles for the next SAP.

That said, funding the existing SAP through 2020 was beyond the means of the Russian government even prior to the budget crisis that began in 2014. While the percentage of Russian GDP devoted to military spending increased from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 3.4 percent in 2014, this higher level of spending was sustainable for the Russian economy at the time. However, 70 percent of the program’s expenditures were scheduled for the second half of the ten-year program. Since Russia’s economic growth was already slowing, fulfilling these plans would have required Russian military spending to increase to unsustainable levels of 6-8 percent of GDP even without the cuts in Russia’s government budget required by the collapse of world oil prices.

Potential Russian Navy Order of Battle, 2020-2030

The following tables are based on the Russian Navy’s announced construction plans, modified by an analysis of the financial and industrial constraints the Navy faces. These show that the Navy will substantially renew its submarines and small ships over the next fifteen years while it will just be starting on construction of a new generation of large surface combat ships.

Table 1. Submarines in the Russian Navy

Class 2020 2025 2030
Delta III 0 0 0
Delta IV 6 5-6 0-2
Borei 6 8-10 10-12
Sierra I & II, Victor III 0 0 0
Oscar 6 6 4-6
Akula 6 6 4-6
Yasen 2-3 6-8 6-8
New class SSGN 0 4-6 6-10
Kilo (project 877) 10-15 5-10 0
Improved Kilo (project 636.3) 6 6 6
Lada (project 677) 3 3 3
Kalina 0 4-6 6-10

The Russian Navy plans to have 12 SSBNs in active service by 2020. The three remaining Delta III SSBNs will be retired by this point, with six Borei-class SSBNs taking their place in the fleet. All six Delta IV SSBNs will most likely be retired in 2025-30. The Navy is planning to overhaul six Oscar-class guided-missile submarines (SSGNs) and six Akula-class SSNs, which will extend their lifespan by 12-15 years. Older classes, such as the Sierra and Victor III, will be retired before 2020. Yasen-class construction will proceed slowly, with no new orders expected after the current set of 6-8 are completed. Instead, the Navy will focus on the new class of nuclear submarines currently being designed. Older Kilo-class diesel submarines will be gradually retired as the Kalina-class begins to enter service in the early 2020s. The recently built improved Kilo-class and Lada-class submarines will serve as a bridge until a sufficient number of the Kalina-class are constructed.

Table 2. Large Combat Ships

Class 2020 2025 2030
Kuznetsov CV 1 1 1
Kirov CGN 1 2-3 2-3
Slava CG 2 3 3
Sovremennyi DDG 0 0 0
Udaloy DDG 8 7 4-5
Lider DDG 0 0-1 4-6
Krivak I & II FFG 0-2 0 0
Neustrashimyi FFG 2 2 1-2
Admiral Grigorovich FFG 3-5 3-6 3-6
Admiral Gorshkov FFG 2-4 4-6 8-10

The Navy is currently refurbishing its cruisers. The program should be complete by 2025, although it is not yet clear whether the Admiral Lazarev Kirov-class cruiser will be modernized or decommissioned. All Sovremennyi-class destroyers will be decommissioned before 2020, while six Udaloy-class destroyers will be modernized to extend their lifespan through the early 2030s. The total number of Admiral Grigorovich frigates to be constructed will depend on the state of defense cooperation with Ukraine. If no agreement can be reached on purchasing gas turbines for these ships, only three will be commissioned.

Table 3. Small combat ships

Class 2020 2025 2030
Grisha  FFC 18-20 8-10 0
Parchim FFC 7 5-7 0-3
Steregushchii FFC 12-14 20-24 20-24
Admiral Bykov FFC 4-6 6-12 12-15
Gepard FFL 2 2 2
Tarantul PFG 13-15 8-10 0-3
Nanuchka PFG 8-10 0-4 0
Bora PFG 2 2 2
Buyan PG 3 3 3
Buyan-M/Sarsar PFG 12-14 20-24 30-32

The overall number of small combat ships is expected to remain fairly steady over the next fifteen years. The older classes of corvettes and missile ships will be gradually retired as new corvettes and missile ships are commissioned. The new Sarsar-class of missile ships that has been announced recently will be a further modification of the Buyan-M-class and will be built in the 2020s.

Table 4. Amphibious ships

Class 2020 2025 2030
Ropucha LST 12-15 8-10 0
Alligator LST 2-4 0 0
Ivan Gren LST 2 2 2
New class LST 0-1 2-3 6-8
New class LHD 0 0 2-3

The overall number of amphibious ships is likely to decrease over the next fifteen years due to the retirement of Ropucha-class tank landing ships (LST). The overall amphibious capability of the Navy will nonetheless increase as the replacement LSTs will be larger and more capable than the ships they are replacing, while the helicopter landing ships (LHD) will add a capability that the Navy has not previously possessed.


Regardless of what long-term development path the  Russian Navy chooses to pursue, in the near to medium term it will remain almost exclusively a coastal defense and deterrence force. For the foreseeable future, the strength of the Navy will be in its submarines. Under any development scenario, Russian SSBNs will retain an adequate strategic deterrence capability. Meanwhile, Russian SSGNs will be sufficient to protect the SSBNs and deter enemy naval forces from attacks on Russian territory. These forces will be supported by a new generation of small- and medium-sized combat ships, most of which will be equipped with anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles. These naval forces will be fully sufficient to ensure Russian dominance in neighboring waters.

They will not, however, provide Russia with the forces to make it even a near-peer competitor to the U.S. Navy. Even under the most optimistic projections, the  Russian Navy will not have a serious expeditionary capability for at least 15 years. Planning for large amphibious ships and aircraft carriers is still very much in the early stages.  Whether the Navy should build either type of ship is still highly disputed among both the expert community and military planners. If they are built in the numbers currently being discussed and in the most likely timelines, then the United States may have to be prepared to deal with expeditionary Russian forces in the mid-to-late 2030s. It is far more likely, however, that financial and industrial limitations will lead to the cancellation or significant reduction of plans to develop a naval expeditionary capability.

Furthermore, out-of-area deployment capability is likely to deteriorate in the medium term as legacy Soviet-era large combat ships age and become less reliable. This trajectory will depend to some extent on the ability of the Russian Navy to successfully modernize its existing cruisers and Udaloy-class destroyers. If these programs are all carried out as currently planned, then the Navy will be able to continue to deploy large combat ships in numbers and frequency comparable to present-day rates until the next generation of destroyers are ready in the late 2020s. If these programs are fulfilled only partially or not at all, however, by 2025 the Navy will have few if any large combat ships capable of deploying regularly outside the immediate vicinity of their bases.

Overall, in the next 10-15 years the Russian Navy will most likely be good enough to defend the Russian coastline and ports. It will also be capable of posing a threat to its smaller neighbors and potentially to European NATO member states. The main source of the threat will be Russian ships’ ability to launch land attack cruise missiles from a distance of up to 2500 kilometers away from the target. The launch of cruise missile strikes against targets in Syria from small ships in the Caspian Sea in October 2015 was a demonstration of this capability that was not lost on NATO planners or neighboring states. Ships capable of carrying out similar strikes could be based in the Black or Baltic Sea, where they would be well protected by ship-based and coastal air defenses. The construction of a fairly sizeable fleet of small missile ships and corvettes equipped with land attack cruise missiles, combined with a strong layered coastal air defense capability, obviates to a large extent the need to build a sizeable fleet of large combat ships. Russian missile ships will be able to target most of its smaller neighbors and a large part of Europe without leaving the relative safety of enclosed seas where Russian forces are dominant.

In summary, although the Russian Navy will continue to have problems with its platforms, its offensive capabilities will increasingly not be dependent on the size and range of its ships. The new generation of ships will allow the Navy to mount new generations of long-range cruise missiles in a modular fashion on a variety of platforms. While the Navy will not be able to project power globally or reach the levels of the U.S. Navy, it will be able to target U.S. allies in Europe and states it wants to influence on its borders. Since these countries are likely to be its primary targets in any case, Russia’s naval capabilities will be good enough to achieve Russia’s main maritime military goals in the short to medium term.

Armata- Russia’s Future Main Battle Tank

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.


  • Defence spending has been largely protected from 10% spending cuts but budgetary pressures will remain.
  • It will take time to bring defence and procurement spending in many NATO members up from current low levels below 2% of GDP.
  • The Ukraine crisis will force Russia’s defence industry to produce weaponry domestically with less reliance on foreign supplies.

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.

Tank standardisation

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.

Armata platform

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.

Radar system

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 

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.

Procurement plans

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.

Capabilities of the Russian ground forces

Here’s the first of a series of Oxford Analytica briefs I wrote last fall analyzing the modernization prospects of the Russian military. This one was originally published on September 29, 2014. I’ll post similar updates on the Navy and Air Force over the next few weeks.


SIGNIFICANCE:The military is undergoing a process of equipment modernisation and tactical innovation. These changes will not solve all its problems, particularly regarding manpower, but will make it a much more effective fighting force in the next 5-10 years. As the Ukraine crisis has shown, the Russian military has improved significantly from the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, and is significantly stronger than its Ukrainian counterpart.


  • A new generation of tanks and armoured vehicles will provide greater protection and mobility for ground forces units.
  • Improvements in targeting will provide artillery and rocket forces with the ability to carry out precision strikes.
  • Military planners are now developing strategies predicated on rapid response to small regional and local conflicts.
  • These changes will increase the potential threat to hostile neighbouring states.
  • Military effectiveness in fighting Islamist extremist forces in the event of state collapse on Russia’s southern border will grow.

The ground forces are the largest element in the Russian military, including infantry, tanks, artillery and rocket troops, as well as such specialised units as engineers, signals, reconnaissance, air defence and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) protection.

There are currently just under 300,000 personnel serving in ground forces units, the vast majority of whom are conscripted soldiers. As of 2013, the ground forces consisted of about 80 brigades. Until recently, they represented a fairly low priority for Russian military procurement.

This led the army to institute a five-year moratorium on procurement of new tanks and armoured vehicles, while pushing its suppliers to produce qualitatively new designs that will be more reliable, better armoured and more mobile than the previous generation equipment. In 2012, military leaders announced that they would no longer accept modified versions of Soviet-era designs and instead invest in research and development to produce fully modern types of equipment within five years.

Elite forces — and below-par conscripts

Meanwhile, Moscow has invested heavily in creating an elite force comprised of rapid reaction units that are highly professional and well trained. While they are not at the level of the most elite Western forces, they are far superior to the best Russian forces available before the current military reforms began in 2009 — or the vast majority of foreign forces in countries bordering Russia.

These forces have been on display in recent action in Ukraine, where they showed their ability to avoid provocations in Crimea and their capacity quickly to defeat Ukrainian forces in Donbas. However, they comprise no more than 25% of total Russian ground forces.

Airborne Forces

The Airborne Forces play a particularly important role in these elite units. In August, a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force was organised on the basis of the 31st Airborne Brigade, coupled with a battalion in each of another five airborne divisions and brigades. These units are to be composed entirely of professional contract soldiers and are expected to be able to serve abroad in both UN- and CIS-sponsored peacekeeping missions.

Poorly trained units

However, the rest of the force consists of relatively poorly trained forces, composed primarily of conscripts serving one-year terms. These regular units still lack discipline and are often commanded by low-quality officers. Many positions remain unfilled owing to a lack of conscripts and the unwillingness of sufficient numbers of men to sign contracts for professional military service.

Rearmament plans

From 2016, the army plans large-scale purchases of tanks and armoured vehicles, with the goal of replacing 70% of infantry and tank brigades’ equipment by 2020. The goal is to produce universal combat platforms based on a single chassis that can be modified to serve as tanks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and self-propelled artillery.

New designs are expected to have better armour and to be based on this modular concept that will make them easy to modify for different uses — and to upgrade further in the future. However, ending defence cooperation with Ukrainian suppliers will cause problems and delays for some elements of the rearmament programme.

Armata platform

The Armata platform will serve as the basis for heavy fighting vehicles: it has a revamped engine, new transmission and improved chassis strength. Plans call for the procurement of 2,300 Armata battle tanks by 2020. The tank will be closely compatible with the Kurganets tracked IFV.

The Boomerang family of wheeled APCs is scheduled for production from 2015, with approximately 2,000 to be procured by 2020. The new design will also serve as a platform for other types of vehicles that could be used as air defence missile launchers, mortar carriers or fire support vehicles, and for reconnaissance.

Artillery and missile systems

Russian artillery and missile systems are also being modernised.

The Tornado multiple rocket launcher is replacing relatively inaccurate Smerch systems. In addition to possessing greater accuracy as a result of better positioning systems, its lightweight nature makes it more mobile than Smerch.

The Iskander mobile theatre ballistic-missile system has proved highly effective in exercises and in combat operations in Georgia. Its range of 400 kilometres has made it particularly threatening to East European NATO members, which are concerned about possible deployment in Kaliningrad.

Overall, the new generation of Russian missile systems compares favourably with similar NATO systems.

New tactics

In addition to new armaments, the Russian military is also developing new tactics to function in a limited-war environment. The long-held Russian insistence on being prepared to fight a large-scale frontal war is now being downplayed. Russian military planners have responded to recent experience in fighting in Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the types of threats seen as most likely to develop in Central Asia.

As a result, the role of rapid reaction forces — especially the Airborne Forces — will grow. Additionally, the role of military intelligence in supporting elite units will become increasingly important.

Airborne units are better suited for the types of conflicts that the Russian military is most likely to face in the foreseeable future, as they can be deployed quickly and have the capability to engage opposing forces immediately upon arrival in theatre.

CONCLUSION: The military will continue to focus on developing new armaments for its ground forces. The capabilities of its defence industry will vary widely from sector to sector. In general, Russian procurement timelines are over-optimistic, but the industry is able to achieve 70-80% of the announced targets by the stated deadlines. However, the manpower shortage will further widen the capability gap between fully professional, elite rapid response units, and regular ground forces staffed primarily by conscripts.

Russia admits manufacturing weaknesses

The Russian government promulgated an interesting decree recently. It prohibits the import of foreign goods or work by foreigners for the Russian defense and security sectors, except in cases where the goods or labor is not available domestically. The accompanying list of goods that are exempt from the restriction because they are not produced in Russia nicely demonstrates the areas where Russian defense industry is weak.

Here’s a rough translation of the list:

  • Casting machines used in metallurgy
  • Machines that remove material by laser or other light or photon beam, ultrasonic, electric discharge, electrochemical , electronic beam, ionic – beam or plasma arc processes
  • Waterjet cutting machines
  • Machining centers and unit construction machines used for metal processing
  • Metal lathes
  • Machine tools for drilling, boring, milling, tapping, threading by metal removal
  • Machines for deburring, sharpening, grinding, honing, lapping, polishing or other finishing of metal or ceramic metal using grinding stones, abrasives or polishing products
  • Machines for planing, cross- planing, grooving , broaching, gear cutting , gear grinding or gear finishing , sawing, cutting- off and other machine tools for working metal or ceramic metals by removing material
  • Machine tools ( including presses) for working metal by volume stamping, forging or stamping
  • Metal working machines (including presses) for bending, folding, straightening, cutting,  punching or notching; presses for working metal or carbide metals
  • Other machine tools for working metal or ceramic metals without removing material
  • Machine tools ( including machines for assembly using nails, staples , glue or other means ) for working wood, cork , bone, hard rubber , hard plastics or similar hard materials
  • Measuring or checking instruments, including appliances and machines for measuring or checking geometrical quantities

I don’t know much about machine tools, so someone else will have to address the question of what fraction of machine tools commonly used in defense industry is found on this list. Even someone with little knowledge of the intricacies of industrial production can see that the list shows that there are significant weaknesses in Russian industry’s ability to produce high-tech tools for modern construction methods.

Secondly, the promulgation of the decree in the first place shows that protectionist impulses continue to dominate in the Russian government. To the extent possible, the government is seeking to produce domestically whatever equipment it can.


The modernization of Russia’s nuclear submarine forces

Yet another Oxford Analytica brief. This one from January. Planning to resume new posts in June, though there will be a couple more OA briefs posted in May.


The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Yury Dolgoruky officially became part of the Russian navy on January 10, more than a decade after it was initially contracted. It is the lead vessel of the Borey class, equipped with the new marine-launched ballistic missile system (SLBM) Bulava, which has a maximum range of over 8,000 kilometres. The Yury Dolgoruky was commissioned soon after the launch of SSBN Vladimir Monomakh, the third submarine in the series, in late December. These developments have led to conjectures that Russia may again pose a serious security threat to the United States and its NATO allies.


  • Work on the Borey and Bulava projects will help Russia assess quality control issues and improve production in other areas.
  • The Russian defence budget will continue to prioritise nuclear weapons, limiting Moscow’s ability to modernise its conventional military.
  • Moscow’s defence upgrades will not have a major impact on US-Russian relations, which are increasingly focused on other issues.

ANALYSIS: In February 2011, Russia’s former deputy minister of defence announced the launch of the State Armament Programme 2020, stressing that the modernisation of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons would be a top priority.

Motivating factors

Moscow’s decision to focus on nuclear modernisation is motivated by several practical and strategic considerations:

  • Outdated nuclear arsenal: The bulk of the arsenal is approaching the end of its service life.
  • Insufficient conventional forces: Russia’s non-nuclear forces cannot, on their own, deter potential conflicts with major powers.
  • Protection: A solid nuclear arsenal would help protect Russia’s interests, including its economic stakes in the Arctic.
  • ‘Superpower’ status: Nuclear forces are one of Russia’s few remaining claims to a prominent position in the international system.

Critically, modernisation efforts should not be misinterpreted as a serious new threat to NATO.

Strategic naval forces

The Russian navy currently operates a fleet of six Delta IV and three Delta III SSBNs.

Outdated fleet

The older Delta IIIs, based in the Pacific Fleet, are armed with 16 SS-N-18 missiles per boat, carrying three warheads each. These submarines first entered service in the late 1970s and are now approaching the end of their lifespan. The Delta IV SSBNs, which are based in the Northern Fleet, are each armed with 16 SS-N-23 Sineva missiles carrying four warheads per missile. They entered service in the mid-1980s and are gradually being overhauled in order to extend their lifespan by an additional ten years. The oldest submarines will be decommissioned in 2019 and the last of the class is expected to be retired by 2025. Because of the overhaul schedule, in recent years, between six and seven strategic submarines were on active duty at any one time.


The Delta IIIs are slated to be replaced by three Borey-class submarines, which are expected to be commissioned over the next two years. Following the commissioning of Yury Dolgoruky, the first of these SSBNs, earlier this month, the navy will be commissioning the Aleksandr Nevsky later in 2013 and the Vladimir Monomakh in 2014. Each of the nuclear-powered submarines will contain 16 launch tubes for the Bulava missile. Subsequent hulls — known as Project 955A — will be modified to carry 20 Bulava missiles.

According to the State Armament Programme, another five modified Borey submarines will be commissioned by 2020, bringing the total number of next generation SSBNs to eight. Since the six Delta IV submarines are slated to retire between 2019 and 2025, the construction schedule for the new submarines can be extended by up to five years without forcing the Russian military to reduce its current active fleet of eight SSBNs, which it perceives as the necessary minimum for maintaining Russia’s strategic deterrent capability.


In the longer term, there is a chance that Russia will increase its SSBN fleet from eight to ten units either through the procurement of two additional modified Borey submarines or the construction of a new class of SSBNs. The ultimate decision to expand will depend on the availability of funding as well as the successful completion of the Bulava missile tests.

Missile problems

The Bulava is the sea-based version of the SS-27 and RS-24 missiles. In contrast to its land-based prototypes, its development ran into serious obstacles during the initial testing phases. In eight of the first twelve flight tests, the Bulava suffered critical failures.

Bulava problems rectified?

According to the weapon’s lead designer, the problems were due to lack of necessary equipment and insufficient oversight. Moreover, the Russian industry was unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with the necessary components in a timely manner. The production team has recently increased control over the production process, which appears to have paid off: since October 2010, there have been seven consecutive launches of the Bulava, all of them successful.

Further production issues

In July 2011, the Ministry of Defence announced its plans for the serial production of the Bulava. The next launch was expected to take place in October 2012. However, it was postponed until July 2013 because of unresolved problems with automated control systems for the launch mechanism. As a result, the Yury Dolgoruky submarine was commissioned with 16 empty missile containers. Without the missiles, the submarine has little practical value, which places a great deal of pressure on the defence industry to solve the outstanding problems as quickly as possible.


Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear arms have become largely peripheral to US-Russian relations. Instead, issues such as energy security, international terrorism and the future of newly independent states on Russia’s periphery have taken centre stage. The ongoing dispute with NATO concerning plans to erect a missile defence shield over the alliance’s territory appears to be primarily due to Russia’s perception of having been excluded from the European security infrastructure, rather than to fears of a nuclear attack by the United States or its allies.

CONCLUSION: The defence industry will endeavour to resolve the remaining technical problems with the Bulava, indispensable to the new generation of strategic submarines, which were designed simultaneously with the missile system. The missile will likely be fully operational by the end of 2013. Given that the new submarines are primarily intended to replace existing SSBNs that are nearing the end of their lifespan and that the role of nuclear arms has become less prominent in the US-Russian security relationship over the past decades, SSBN modernisation should not be misinterpreted as a new threat to NATO.


No more imports?

It seems that the new leadership team at the MOD has decided to stop using the threat of importing armaments from abroad to get Russian defense industry to improve the quality of its products. For a couple of years, this seemed to be a favorite tool for former Defense Minister Serdyukov, especially in his bid to improve the quality of Russian tanks and armored vehicles. I covered the topic on several occasions, in particular here and here. A recent report to the Military Industrial Commission’s Public Chamber also took up the question.

But just in the last week, there have been two indications that the MOD has turned away from imports and will return to the autarkic model of military procurement that has been more traditional for the country’s armed services. First, the commander of Russia’s Ground Forces announced that there will be no further orders of the Italian IVECO LMV65 armored vehicle, known in Russia as the Lynx. Under the previous regime at the MOD, an Oboronservis-owned plant in Voronezh was to produce these vehicles under license while undertaking an effort to use as many Russian components as possible. Just last July, the ministry had asked the government for permission to increase the order from 727 to 3000 vehicles. Now it appears that while existing contracts will be fulfilled, no more orders will be forthcoming and the ground forces will instead be equipped with the Russian-made Tigr vehicle, which is better armed but less well armored than the Lynx.

Just yesterday, Military-Industrial Commission Deputy Head Ivan Kharchenko called the Mistral deal absurd and argued that it has caused significant damage to the state and the Russian shipbuilding industry. Last month, the MOD announced that it is deferring plans to build the third and fourth Mistral ships in Russia, while continuing on with construction of the first two hulls in France. It seems that the only reason Russia has not canceled the contract altogether is that it would then be required to pay huge financial penalties to the French contractor.

All of this indicates that domestic defense industry has won its battle with the MOD over procurement policy. The conflict all along was between the real needs of the military for new equipment and the desire of defense industry to keep the money coming in regardless of whether or not it was able to provide the military with the equipment it needed in a timely manner. Instead, we may be returning to the old ways where the military is given little choice but to buy the equipment that the defense industry is producing, regardless of whether it fits the military’s needs. In some sectors, defense industry is well-positioned to fulfill the military’s needs. In others, imports seem to be the only solution, at least in the short to medium term. In a recent conversation, my colleague Ilya Kramnik noted that the An-26 light transport aircraft is soon to be retired, with no domestic replacements yet available. Neither the An-140T or the Il-112V are currently available, nor are they likely to be ready for serial production by 2016-17. In that case, Kramnik argues that the only possible replacements would be foreign planes such as the Alenia C-27J Spartan or the EADS CASA C-295. So the Russian military will have to consider the question of imports soon enough.

In the meantime, however, the defense industry’s defeat of Serdyukov reduces the likelihood that the military will get the equipment it needs. It will take time for the MOD to amass the political capital to fight back against the industry and its allies. The result will be that the industry will get its money, while the military will be promised new equipment that in many cases will not arrive on schedule. In a few years, the military’s situation will get even worse, while the MOD will have rebuilt some of its lost political capital. At that point the fight over imports versus domestic manufacture will resume  — but that won’t come for 3-4 years.