Russia’s armaments on parade

I was in Moscow last week for the Moscow Conference on International Security. Look for my usual writeup on the event later in the week. In the meantime, some photos and videos.

In a case of being in the right place at the right time, the rehearsal for the May 9 military parade was held last week, and I happened to be at a restaurant that was on the route they were using to get to Red Square. So while the rehearsal itself was after dark, I got a lot of daylight video and images.

Videos first (I can’t embed videos here, so please click on the links)

Logistics vehicles: https://goo.gl/photos/PuWWrNvRB3PqZeUg6

Armata tanks and various artillery: https://goo.gl/photos/FVJWE2fwXiXrTbt89

Kornet and BTRs: https://goo.gl/photos/wBnvwBDcRmx5APEi8

Arctic brigade and S-400: https://goo.gl/photos/WCaJxnDCir6Hak789

A little of everything here (Iskander, S-400, tanks, Kornet, etc): https://goo.gl/photos/HHWi3CFdc9FTQX1S7

SA-17: https://goo.gl/photos/ovXKRka7zoqcrhER6

Yars ICBMs: https://goo.gl/photos/bPUpy3FUF8uNyaSU9

And a few photos

20170427_18320420170427_18490220170427_18322020170427_18490820170427_18332020170427_18332520170427_18471020170427_18482320170427_18490820170427_18494820170427_18495420170427_18495920170427_18503220170427_18504120170427_18574520170427_18582920170427_18583220170427_19005420170427_19041720170427_19042820170427_191425

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.

ANALYSIS: Impacts

  • 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.

Ground force missile procurement plans

I’m working on part two of air force procurement plans, but just came across a brief article in NVO on plans for conventional missile system procurement for the ground forces. This is from a statement by General Dmitry Bulgakov, deputy minister of defense. As with all official statements about procurement plans, these should be read as intentions, rather than any kind of statement of what will actually happen, especially in regard to delivery timelines.

  • 9K720  Iskander ballistic missile systems: 6 systems received in 2010. Plans to purchase a total of 120 by 2020.
  • 9M133 Kornet anti-tank missiles: 18 missile systems purchased in 2010. Plans to purchase 180 missile systems by 2020.
  • S-300 medium range missiles: 120 to be purchased by 2020 (not clear if these are to be S-300VM for the ground forces or S-300PMU for the air defense forces).
  • 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzers: 36 purchased in 2010. Total of 574 to be purchased by 2020.

Again, given the history of procurement delays, I would treat these numbers as aspirational, rather than realistic.

Medvedev’s military priorities for 2010

In his recent annual address,  President Medvedev focused on top priorities for the military in the coming year. These priorities can be subdivided into three categories: personnel, education, and procurement.

In the personnel realm, he lauded the government’s success at increasing funding for the construction of housing for officers and soldiers and called for the backlog in this realm to be eliminated over the next three years. He also called for the establishment of a new salary scale for members of the military, asking for a law to this effect to be passed by 2012. Earlier, the defense ministry had stated that salaries would be increased earlier than this, so this time frame may represent the recognition that funds for an earlier increase are not available.

In the area of education, Medvedev noted the establishment of three centers for officer education, which will focus not just on professional training, but also on the inculcation of patriotism. He also mentioned the establishment of seven presidential cadet schools, one for each federal district, and the importance of establishing a corps of professional sergeants.

But perhaps the greatest emphasis was placed on the procurement of new weapons systems and platforms in the context of a fundamental reform of the military’s procurement system. He called for the heads of defense industry facilities to increase the quality of production while decreasing costs. How this might be done was left as an exercise for the managers and for military analysts.

The range of new weapons and platforms that will enter service in 2009 was described with great specificity, however. They included 5 Iskander ballistic missile systems, 300 ballistic missiles, 300 tanks and armored vehicles, 30 helicopters, 28 combat aircraft, 3 nuclear submarines, one corvette, and 11 satellites.

Michael Balabanov provides further details, noting that the tanks and armored vehicles can be subdivided into 63 T-90A tanks, 120 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, and a range of infantry fighting vehicles: 60 BMP-3M,  40 BTR-MD Rakushka, and 40 BMD-4. The helicopters would include 6 Ansat light multi-purpose helicopters, 12 Mi-28H attack helicopters, 3 Ka-52 “Alligator” attack helicopters, and 9-10 Mi-8 transport helicopters. The missiles will be more or less evenly split between 16 Sineva nuclear missiles for Delta-IV SSBNs and Topol-M and RS-24 ICBMs. Given the continuing test failures of the Bulava SLBM, there are currently no plans to purchase any of these for the active military.

The 28 combat aircraft would consist primarily of MIG-29SMT fighter planes, which were built for the Algerian air force but rejected in 2008 due to quality concerns. I guess they’re considered good enough for Russian needs, even if they have too many defects for Algeria. There are also plans to procure 4 SU-34 bombers, 2 Su-27SM fighter planes and 2 Su-25UBM close air support aircraft. Note that there seem to be no plans to purchase more of the newest types of aircraft, such as the Su-34, Su-35 or MIG-35. Or more specifically, there are such plans, but it seems that none will be completed next year.

The focus here is primarily on purchasing tried and true systems for the ground forces and the air force. The Navy will get just one Steregushchii class corvette and three nuclear submarines that represent merely the completion of ships that have been under construction for years. This means that completion of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate will be delayed yet again and that the completion of further Borei-class SSBNs may be suspended pending the outcome of coming tests of the Bulava missile.

But even the army and air force will get few or none brand new systems — the new equipment will still be based on late Soviet designs that have been around in one way or another for the last 10-15 years. In some cases, these designs have been somewhat modernized, but the military will have to continue to wait, and perhaps for a long time, for the new generation of weapons and equipment.