Russian Air Force procurement plans

The last month or so has seen a number of good overviews in the Russian press of recent procurement and future plans of the Russian Air Force. The Russian Air Force has been substantially modernized and upgraded as part of the current State Armament Program (SAP-2020). The table below summarizes procurement in tactical aviation over the last ten years, as compiled by Moscow’s CAST think tank.

Type earlier 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Total Contracted
Su-34 15 10 14 18 18 16 16 107 129
Su-35S 2 8 24 12 12 10 68 98
Su-27 SM3 12 12 12
Su-30 SM 2 14 21 27 19 17 100 116
Su-30 M2 4 3 8 3 2 20 20
MiG-29 SMT /UBT 28/6 3/2 11/0 42/8 50
MiG-29 KR /KUBR 2/2 8/2 10/0 24 24
Yak-130 12 15 18 20 14 10 6 95 109
Total 77 29 61 101 89 70 49 476 560

Much of this procurement reflects the need to replace aging Soviet aircraft with new airframes with modern electronics and weapon systems. Nevertheless, many Soviet-era airframes remain in service. These include approximately 100 Su-27 and Su-27SM and approximately 150-170 MiG-29S fighter aircraft, approximately 150 MiG-31 interceptors, and over 200 each of the Su-24 bomber and Su-25 strike aircraft.

Most of these aircraft are expected to be either replaced or modernized over the next 10 years. According to Ilya Kramnik, who recently published a comprehensive summary of Russian aircraft procurement plans, the Russian Air Force is planning to have at least 700 fighter aircraft in active service. The bulk of these (around 450) will be designed by Sukhoi. These will include 66 additional Su-30SM aircraft, with 16 of these to be delivered in 2018 based on an existing contract signed in 2012 and the other 50 by 2022 based on a new contract to be signed in the near future. These aircraft are being built at the Irkutsk aircraft plant. This will bring the total number of Su-30SM and Su-30M2 aircraft to at least 186 by 2027, with approximately 50 of these in naval aviation.

In addition, approximately 130 Su-35S aircraft are to be delivered over the next 10 years, with 30 still remaining on an existing contract from 2015 and another 100 expected to be procured on a new contract to be signed as part of SAP-2027. When added to the 68 aircraft already delivered, the Russian air force should expect to have approximately 200 Su-35S fighters by 2027. The new fifth generation Su-57 fighter aircraft will be procured in limited numbers, with reports indicating that 12 aircraft will be delivered by 2021 and around 50 more by 2027. Delays in deliveries of these planes may be covered by an increase in purchases of Su-35s and perhaps Su-30s.

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the extent to which the Russian Air Force will procure the new MiG-35 multi-role fighter jet. Some sources have stated that 170 MiG-35 aircraft will be purchased over the next 10 years, while Kramnik quotes unnamed experts who believe that the number purchased will be limited to 70-80 units. I expect the lower number to be closer to reality, given the general lack of enthusiasm in the Russian MOD for the MiG-35. In the meantime, the air force is continuing to modernize its existing fleet of Soviet era MiG-31 aircraft, with as many as 150 of the 250 units in inventory expected to be modernized by 2027. Of these, around 30 will remain assigned to naval aviation. The 50 MiG-29SMT and UBT variants procured between 2009 and 2016 will also remain in the force, while older MiG-29 versions are likely to be phased out over the next ten years.

Carrier-based naval aviation will consist of the 17 remaining older Su-33 fighter planes, currently undergoing an expensive modernization, together with 23 MiG-29KR aircraft delivered in the last few years.

Strike aviation will consist of modernized versions of the Soviet-era Su-25, with a total of 120-140 aircraft to be converted to carry precision-guided munitions. The venerable Su-24 bombers, on the other hand, will be entirely replaced by the new Su-34s, which performed quite well in Syria in recent years. In addition to the 114 Su-34s already in service, Kramnik expects the Russian military to sign a contract in the next two years to purchase an additional 90-100 aircraft, with perhaps additional units earmarked for naval aviation to replace its current stock of Su-24s.

Prospects for long range aviation are relatively clear, with serial production of a modernized version of the Tu-160 expected to start in 2021. While exact numbers of aircraft to be procured have not been revealed, some early estimates suggested that as many as 50 new Tu-160s will be procured over the next decade. In the meantime, existing Tu-95 and Tu-160 aircraft are in the process of receiving new engines, avionics, and weapon systems.

Transport aviation is in much worse shape than combat aviation, with relatively few new aircraft procured in the last ten years.  The Il-76MD is expected to remain the heavy transport workhorse of the Russian Air Force. These aircraft were built in the 1980s and were relatively underused in the post-Soviet period, so that they could serve another 15-20 years in their present form. In 2013, the MOD ordered 39 aircraft of a modernized Il-76MD-90A variant, although only five have been delivered through the end of 2017, including two units that will be developed into the A-100 AWACS aircraft. According to Vladimir Moiseev, the main need for modernized aircraft is as a platform for the A-100 and for the Il-78 refueling aircraft, rather than for new heavy transport aircraft themselves. Moiseev notes that given the issues with organizing timely production of the modernized Il-76, development of a next next generation heavy transport aircraft has been put off into the distant future.

Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force desperately needs a new medium transport aircraft, since the remaining 60 or so An-12 aircraft were built in the 1960s and early 1970s and are rapidly approaching the end of their service lives. The various projects to build a new multi-role transport aircraft that have been under discussion for more than 15 years have been united only by their continued failure to produce an aircraft. The current plan is to have a design finalized this year and test flights to start in 2023. Given that most An-12s will have to be retired by 2024, this gives little margin for error and in fact almost guarantees that the Russian Air Force will either face a gap of at least a few years without a medium transport aircraft or (more likely) will have to do what it can to keep as many An-12s as possible airworthy for as long as it can.

The situation with light transport aircraft is a little better. Although the 40 existing An-26 aircraft will also have to be retired soon, the design of the new Il-112 replacement aircraft is relatively far along, with initial test flights expected in late 2018 and serial production possibly ready to start no later than the early 2020s.

Finally, the Il-114 is expected to become the main platform for special aviation, including variants for maritime patrol (to replace the Il-38), electronic warfare, AWACS, and reconnaisance. About 50 aircraft of this type are expected to be produced for the Russian military over the next ten years.

Based on this overview, we can make a rough estimate of what the Russian Air Force and naval aviation will look like in 2027. I am excluding the various types of specialized aircraft, such as AWACS, tankers, maritime patrol, etc, from this table, just to keep it manageable. The table includes aircraft in both the air force and in naval aviation.

Type Category Number
Su-25 Strike 120-140
Su-27 Fighter 60-70
Su-30 Fighter 190-200
Su-33 Carrier-based fighter 17
Su-34 Bomber 210-230
Su-35 Fighter 200
Su-57 Fighter 50-60
MiG-29 Fighter 60-80
MiG-31 Interceptor 150
MiG-35 Fighter 70-80
  Total Tactical 1100-1200
Yak-130 Trainer 110-130
Yak-152 Trainer 150
  Total Trainers 260-280
Tu-22 Bomber 69
Tu-95 Bomber 60
Tu-160 Bomber 66
Total Long Range Aviation 190-200
Il-76 Heavy transport 100-150
An-12 Medium transport 30-60
Il-112 Light transport 40-50
Other types (mostly Antonov) Transport 40-50
Total Transport 210-300

As can be seen from this overview, Russian military aviation is set to build on its core strengths in combat aviation while improving its strike and long range bomber capabilities. Transport will remain a weakness, with little progress being made over the next decade to address continuing problems in that sphere that have only been exacerbated by the end of defense cooperation with Ukraine and its Antonov design bureau.

Overall, Russian aircraft procurement has followed the path of buying more of what Russian defense industry is good at producing, rather than basing procurement on a programmatic assessment of Russian defense needs. In addition, the MOD has to some extent succumed to pressure to support defense industry and will be procuring aircraft such as the MiG-35 that it is not particularly excited about. As a result, the air force will be faced with a proliferation of combat aircraft types, with the attendant higher maintenance and training costs. In the meantime, the long-term weakness in transport aviation will persist, limiting the improvements in military mobility that have been one of the core aspects of military reform efforts over the last decade.


Russia’s Military Modernization Plans: 2018-2027

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

By the end of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin will approve Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027. This memo summarizes publicly available information regarding the types of armaments that will be procured for the Russian military in the next eight years and assesses the likelihood that the Russian government will be able to meet these commitments. Based on these plans, Russia seems primed to stay ahead of its competitors in some capabilities (anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare, air defenses), narrow the gap in areas such as drones and precision-guided munitions, and continue to lag well behind in a few areas such as surface ships and automated control systems.

The Scope of the Program

The Russian State Armament Program (SAP) for 2018-2027, which is set to be approved toward the end of this year, will set out Russia’s rearmament priorities for the next ten years. The previous program, which runs through 2020, was the blueprint according to which the Russian military has been modernizing its equipment since 2011. That program had a total budget of 19.3 trillion rubles. SAP-2027 was initially regarded as a kind of lifeline for SAP-2020, whose expensive, long-term programs were to be transferred to the next ten-year plan. The cost of the successor program is expected to total 19 trillion. This suggests that military procurement spending is actually being kept fairly constant because the ruble amount remains about the same and almost all of the purchases are from domestic suppliers, meaning the sales are not impacted by changes in the ruble’s exchange rate.

The size of the program was the subject of an extended tug-of-war between the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry. As early as 2014, the military asked for funding in the range of 30-55 trillion rubles over a ten-year period, while the finance ministry set a target of 14 trillion. As the country’s financial situation began to deteriorate in 2015 and the adoption of the SAP was postponed until 2017, both sides lowered their targets. In 2016, the Defense Ministry asked for 22-24 trillion rubles for eight years, while the finance ministry suggested no more than 12 trillion. After an extended and sometimes tense negotiation, a figure of 17 trillion rubles was agreed last winter. This has now been increased to 19 trillion rubles, with the duration extending to the normal ten years. As a result, a number of the most ambitious and expensive projects, including new designs for aircraft carriers, destroyers, strategic bombers, and fighter-interceptor combat aircraft will all be postponed.

This was not the end of tensions over defense financing, however. Although the total amount has been decided, there is now an internal conflict within the defense ministry over how much procurement financing will go to each branch of the military. The various branches have produced documents defending the importance of what they do. As highlighted by the recently approved naval doctrine, such documents often have little connection to any real assessment of either Russian military needs or the capabilities of the defense industry for producing the requested weapons and platforms. Although the final version of the program will not be adopted until the end of the year, it has become increasingly clear that the Russian Navy is in the process of losing the battle for financing. The highest priority for procurement funding will go to the ground forces and to the modernization of nuclear weapons, while the navy, which had the highest level of funding in SAP-2020, will fall to the bottom of the pecking order.

Nuclear Forces

The development priorities of Russian nuclear forces through 2027 are largely clear. After 2021, the naval component of the nuclear triad will consist of six Delta IV-class and eight Borei-class strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), evenly divided between the Northern and Pacific Fleets. This will allow for 12 submarines to be in service at all times, while two undergo overhauls and modernization. The air component is being upgraded, with modernized versions of both Tupolev Tu-95MS (Bear H) bombers and 11 Tu-160 (Blackjack) bombers receiving new engines and avionics, as well as weapons upgrades. The new long-range cruise missile, labeled Kh-101, is replacing the Kh-55, with a range of up to 4,500 km in the nuclear variant. In addition, the Russian military has announced that it will resume building new Tu-160s, with serial production expected to resume no earlier than 2021. This is a more cost-effective and technologically feasible alternative to bringing a completely new design (known as PAK DA) to the point of serial production in a reasonable time frame.

The future development of the land component of the Russian triad presents the least certainty. There are three projects under way, the Rubezh road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM, and the Sarmat heavy silo-based ICBM. The Rubezh project is closest to fruition, with testing completed in 2015 and deployment expected later in 2017. The RS-26 Rubezh is a further development of the RS-24 Yars, with independently guided warheads designed to break through missile defense shields. The Barguzin is expected to be ready for flight testing in 2019, even though there was a period of several months in 2016 when it appeared that the program was going to be suspended due to budget cuts. The Barguzin is expected to be superior in range and accuracy as compared to the Soviet rail-based system that was decommissioned in 2005. The RS-28 Sarmat is the next-generation silo-based ICBM. It was originally expected to be ready for deployment in 2018, but unspecified snags in its development have pushed ejection testing from the original target date of 2015 to no earlier than June 2017. As a result, the Sarmat is unlikely to be deployed any earlier than 2020, assuming the difficulties have been overcome and the tests proceed as scheduled.

Ground Forces

After being largely starved of funding in SAP-2020, the ground forces are expected to get the largest share of funding in SAP-2027. Some sources indicate that over a quarter of the total program budget will go to equipping the Ground Forces and Airborne Forces. This is in part due to Russia’s experience in Ukraine leading to an increased perception that ground forces may be needed in future conflicts, but mostly the result of new armored vehicle and tank designs being ready for serial production. T-90 and T-14 Armata tanks, Kurganets-25infantry fighting vehicles and Boomerang armored personnel carriers are all expected to enter the force over the next eight years, though numbers of some items such as Armatatanks may be limited due to their high cost of production.

The production of artillery and ground based missiles has been a bright spot for the ground forces. Deployment of medium-range Iskander missiles is proceeding on schedule, with all units set to be in place by 2019. New Uragan and Tornado-S multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) are also being deployed beginning in 2017, with purchases expected to continue throughout the duration of SAP-2027. Procurement of the Koalitsiya self-propelled gun started in 2016. It is eventually expected to fully replace the Soviet-era Msta system. New short range air defense systems will also be procured.

There are more problems with tactical automated control systems for the ground forces. Originally expected to be deployed to 40 brigades by 2020, these remain in field testing in a single division. Reports indicate that the military has mixed feelings about the system and may decide that it needs improvement before it can be widely adopted. In that case, the development of network-centric warfare capabilities may be delayed beyond 2027. In the meantime, the ground forces will continue to receive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and electronic warfare systems that have been used to good effect in Syria.

Naval Forces

The Russian Navy stands to be the big loser in SAP-2027. After being allocated 4.7 trillion rubles in SAP-2020 and finding itself unable to spend all of that money due to a combination of problems with Russia’s shipbuilding industry and the impact of Western and Ukrainian sanctions, the Russian Navy’s allocation is expected to be cut to 2.6 trillion rubles in SAP-2027. Despite grandiose plans being mooted in documents such as the recently approved naval doctrine, Russia is planning to focus its naval construction on submarines and small ships. In surface ships, the focus will be on new corvettes of several different types that will have greater displacement and better armament than existing classes, as well as the start of serial production of the long-delayed Admiral Gorshkov-class of frigates. Until the problems with the Admiral Gorshkov are resolved, the Navy will continue to build the less advanced Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates.

The only new class of surface ships expected to be built in the next eight years are the so-called Super Gorshkov-class, an 8,000-ton frigate that is increasingly seen as a cheaper and more practical alternative to the 14,000-ton Lider-class destroyers. The key takeaway is that the Russian Navy is looking to increase the size of its smaller ships in order to increase their armament and endurance, while reducing costs by indefinitely postponing the procurement of larger ships such as destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and aircraft carriers.

As for submarines, SAP-2027 will undoubtedly include financing for the completion of six Yasen-M nuclear attack submarines and possibly for a seventh, as well as for the modernization of four to six each of the Soviet-era Oscar– and Akula-class nuclear attack submarines. Construction of fifth-generation nuclear attack submarines (tentatively named the Husky-class) will begin in the mid-2020s. In diesel submarines, the focus will be on developing air independent propulsion systems for the forthcoming Kalina-class, while Lada– and improved Kilo-class boats are built in the meantime.

More important than new ships and submarines, the coming eight years will see the Russian Navy concentrate on developing new weapons systems and improving existing ones. The introduction of Kalibr missiles has provided the Russian Navy with a standoff anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile capability that can be used to make even small ships that have to stay near home ports a potential threat to adversaries, included NATO member states. The Russian military recognizes the advantages that these missiles provide and has put them on a wide range of ship and submarine classes. Over the next eight years, Russia will continue to deploy these missiles on most new surface ships and submarines, retrofit some existing vessels to carry the missiles, and work to improve the accuracy and reliability of the missiles themselves. It is also working to develop a new hypersonic missile that could pose an even greater threat to Russia’s adversaries in the medium to long term.

Air Forces

In the last seven years, the Russian Air Force has begun to receive modern aircraft in significant numbers and has continued to pay for the development of new designs such as the recently christened Sukhoi Su-57 fifth generation fighter jet (formerly known as the T-50or PAK FA). The Su-57 is not expected to enter into serial production until upgraded engines are ready, which is unlikely to happen until 2027. Over the next eight years, Russia will continue to purchase small numbers of these planes for testing. It will also continue to purchase Su-35S fighter jets, with a new contract for 50 additional aircraft signed in late 2016. Purchases of Su-30SM fighter jets and Su-34 strike aircraft will also continue, most likely at rates of 12-18 aircraft per year of each type. Mikoyan MiG-35 fighter aircraft may also be procured, but probably not in large numbers. Overall, with many modern fighter aircraft now in place, rates of procurement will slow in order to allow for the purchase of other types of aircraft. The same goes for military helicopters, since the Russian military has received what it needs in new helicopters during the last seven years. Development of a new high-speed helicopter will not start until after 2027.

Transport and refueling aircraft, long an area of weakness for the Russian Air Force, will be one area of focus. Serial production of the long-troubled Ilyushin Il-76-MD90A is expected to start in 2019, and the Russian military is expecting to receive 10-12 such aircraft per year thereafter. A light transport aircraft is under development, with prototypes expected to be completed in 2024. The A-100 airborne warning system (AWACS) aircraft, based on the Il-76MD90A, was expected to be delivered starting in 2016 but has been repeatedly delayed. Nevertheless, procurement of this aircraft will be included in SAP-2027. Finally, Russia is experiencing a boom in domestic production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). By 2020, it will have a strike UAV in production, as well as a new generation of reconnaissance UAVs.

For air defense, Russia will continue to deploy S-400 long-range missiles and Pantsir-Sshort-range missiles. However, it seems increasingly unlikely that the next generation S-500air defense system will be ready for serial production any time soon, though official plans still indicate that a prototype will be built by 2020. Original plans called for serial production of the S-500 to start in 2015. The new standard short-range air defense system has just started development and is not expected to be ready for production until 2030.

Impact on Capabilities and Regional Security

SAP-2020 has been widely described as the first successful armament program of Russia’s post-Soviet history. It was designed to help the Russian military catch up from the extended procurement holiday caused by Russia’s economic collapse in the 1990s. During the last seven years, the Russian military has made great strides in modernizing its weapons and equipment. By and large, these new armaments have been based on updated versions of late Soviet designs. The Russian defense industry now faces the far more formidable challenge of bringing new designs into serial production. It has been successful in this regard in some areas, such as nuclear submarines, missile systems, and UAVs. It has been less successful with combat ships and air defense systems. The verdict is still out on combat aircraft and tanks and armored vehicles.

With the most significant gaps largely filled, SAP-2027 is designed to transition the Russian military to a more regular procurement schedule. Funding will remain relatively constant, though it may be adjusted depending on the economic situation. The previous program has shown that this level of funding is more or less achievable for the government budget and for the Russian defense industry to sustain. The biggest challenge will be in bringing new designs successfully to serial production.

In terms of impact on military capabilities, Russia is already strong enough to defend itself in a conventional war against any adversary and to defeat any neighboring state other than China. It also has a more than sufficient nuclear deterrent capability. New procurement will thus be targeted at keeping pace with technological improvements made by its peer competitors (NATO member states and China). In some areas, such as air defenses, anti-ship missiles, and electronic warfare, Russia will continue to maintain capabilities superior to those of its peers. In other areas, such as UAVs, precision-guided munitions, and tanks and armored vehicles, it appears poised to narrow the gap. Finally, in a few areas, such as surface ships, transport aircraft, and automated control systems, it will remain well behind the United States and may start to lag behind China as well.

Impact of the economic crisis on Russian military modernization

The Cipher Brief asked me to write a short piece on the impact of Russia’s economic downturn on prospects for the Russian military, as part of a series on Russian military modernization.


The drop in Russian state revenues has affected Russian military modernization to some extent, though the Russian government has made an effort to insulate the military from budget cuts. Although the 2015 military budget was cut by five percent mid-year, the total allocation was still 25 percent higher than the previous year’s budget. This allowed the military to continue its modernization process, conduct operations in Syria, and fulfill its training and exercise programs.

With oil prices remaining low, the military is facing a more difficult financial picture in 2016. In November, the Finance Ministry announced that the total 2016 defense budget would be largely the same as in 2015. However, last month, an additional five percent cut was announced, which will result in the first annual net decline in Russian defense spending since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.

As a result of the deteriorating financial outlook, the fulfillment of the 2011-2020 State Armament Program is now in question.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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.

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.

Central Asian Military Capabilities

Another Oxford Analytica brief, this one originally published in late February 2015.


SIGNIFICANCE: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are leading other Central Asian governments in increased spending on military and security forces and the procurement of modern equipment. Regional governments have long-standing fears of potential Russian military interference and remain concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. The increase in military expenditures is expanding capabilities, although the degree and pace of improvement varies from country to country, and regional militaries still lag Russian and NATO forces.


  • Russian forces presence in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will increase.
  • Turkmenistan will place greater emphasis on modern weapons procurement and naval assets.
  • Mobile and counter-terrorism focused forces will be seen as more important than conventional land forces.
  • While Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will drive military reform, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will increasingly rely on Russia.


Kazakhstan’s military is Central Asia’s most capable, but it is far less capable than NATO or Russian militaries. Special forces will play a larger role as Kazakhstan looks to make a greater contribution to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s counter-terrorism capability.

A Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report estimates Kazakhstan’s armed forces at 30,000-45,000 troops — plus many thousands of other personnel attached to the Interior Ministry. In 2014, Astana said that it would be increasing defence spending by 36% over three years from around 2 billion dollars per annum to 2.7 billion dollars by 2017, according to a report by IHS Janes. However, this increase may have to be reduced slightly to fall in line with expected budget cuts due to low oil prices.

Astana is looking to trim all 2015-17 budgets to match a 50 dollars per barrel oil price, but President Nursultan Nazarbayev could authorise the government to support increased defence expenditure with oil reserves from the National Fund. The World Bank noted that in 2013 Kazakhstan spent the equivalent of 1.2% of GDP on defence.

Air force

The air force, which has a primarily air defence role, has between 11,000 and 13,000 personnel, according to SIPRI and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Combat pilots average 100 hours of flight time per year, which is lower than the NATO standard. On February 4, Major General Nurlan Ormanbetov, Commander in Chief of the Kazakhstan Air Defence Forces (KADF), said that Astana plans to acquire the Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM ‘Flanker’ from Russia. As noted by IHS Janes, the KADF currently uses the MiG-27 ‘Flogger’, Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’, Su-27 ‘Flanker’, and MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ aircraft. The SU-30SM has been developed by Russia as a stopgap unitl the MiG-35 and Sukoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth generation fighters become fully operational.

Navy procurement

The navy has been significantly expanded and modernised since 2010. It now has 3,000 personnel and has deployed new patrol boats and missile boats. By the end of 2015, it will have gained mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities with the delivery of a Project 1750E inshore MCM vessel from Russia. The navy’s missions focus on territorial defence and protection of offshore oil platforms and tankers. Kazakhstan’s increased naval procurement follows a general trend of greater military activity on the Caspian. On February 16, as reported by IHS Janes, Kazakhstan and France are to work jointly on the development of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Astana will buy 10 UUVs to use in the Caspian.


Uzbekistan’s military is reckoned to be Central Asia’s second most capable with an army currently numbering 40,000 personnel. Total defence spending is approximately 2 billion dollars per annum, according to SIPRI. The military is focused on improving its capabilities to defeat asymmetric challenges to President Islam Karimov’s administration. However, in Uzbekistan, the National Security Service (SNB) has historically been seen as significantly more important than the military. This trend will likely continue. The SNB will be a key powerbroker in any Karimov succession crisis. This highlights Tashkent’s main security priority, which is to maintain internal stability as opposed to undertake foreign operations.

Air force disrepair

Uzbekistan’s air force is reasonably well-equipped, but ill-maintained. Pilots receive around only 10 hours of flight time per year. Uzbekistan’s primary air assets are SU-24, SU-27, SU-25 and MIG-29 fighters, with transport capabilities provided by Illyshin-76 and AN-26s.

Joint Russian training

Uzbekistan’s defence priorities include procuring modern military equipment, improving combat readiness and mobility, and increasing professionalism among the officer corps. In December 2014, defence and military cooperation were discussed during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Uzbekistan. Some 3,000 Uzbekistani military officers will reportedly study at military schools in Russia this year, which will increase Russia-Uzbekistan military interoperability.

Leaner fighting force

Uzbekistan aims to cut the overall size of its military in order to free up resources to create and train more mobile units. Heavy armour formations — using T-72, T-64 and T-62 battle tanks — and high-calibre artillery units are being reduced in favour of lighter infantry units with counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism and mountain warfare capabilities.

In January, the United States announced delivery to Uzbekistan of 328 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) military vehicles to be used for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations, according to Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty (RFE/RL). Washington stressed that this was non-lethal aid.


Ashgabat’s military numbers an estimated 22,000-30,000, according to SIPRI. Despite being willing to spend money on modern weapons, Turkmenistan’s armed forces are considered weak with low operational effectiveness. Ashgabat has been unwilling to allocate spending to training and equipment maintenance. Meanwhile, the modern weapons it has acquired largely remain unused due to a lack of qualified personnel. The 2012 defence budget is estimated to be 210 million dollars, according to SIPRI. The army currently uses a lot of old Soviet era hardware such as T-72 tanks, BTRs and BMP infantry fighting vehicles.

Air Force struggles

Despite having received a large number of aircraft at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has struggled to maintain these, and pilot training has suffered. Currently it has MiG-29 and SU-25 fighters along with a handful of Mi-24s and Mi-8 helicopters. The air force lacks a heavy lift capability and would struggle to support the army on out-of-area operations or on Caspian patrols, which it is officially tasked to do.

Navy new ships

The navy was reformed as an independent force in only the past two years. Previously it was a department in the general staff. The navy’s missions include defending the Caspian coastline and protecting energy assets. Ashgabat has focused on improving naval capabilities through building new bases, procuring new ships and setting up a naval officer training academy.

As reported by Eurasianet in 2011, Turkmenistan bought two 12418 Molniya-class missile corvettes armed with the Uran-E missile system. These vessels are among some of the most powerful ships on the Caspian, although Ashgabat still trails Moscow and Tehran in naval capability. In 2013, Turkmenistan reportedly procured eight naval vessels which will be made at the Turkish shipyard Dearsan.

Military reform

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has made military reform a central aspect of his policy platform. In 2010, the government adopted a five-year military modernisation plan. However, reports indicate that the programme focuses on rearmament objectives, rather than structural reforms. In November, Berdymukhamedov reportedly told his national security council that Turkmenistan must procure the most advanced modern military equipment.

With the country having a long, porous border with Afghanistan, Ashgabat will increasingly look to procure unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance. However, despite buying modern arms, absent reforms and greater training of personnel, Turkmenistan’s military will remain an impressive military on paper but will lack the capabilities to defend the state.


In 2013, according to World Bank data, Kyrgyzstan allocated the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP to defence spending. This represents a gradual decline over the last four years from 2010 (3.8%) and 2011 (3.4%). The Kyrgyzstani armed forces are weak overall with gaps in command and control. Total spending on military and security services is estimated by SIPRI at 234 million dollars per annum.

Morale is assessed to be low. Declining funding means that Kyrgyzstan is increasingly dependent on external assistance for equipment and training. Bishkek’s main goal is to improve readiness and mobility in order to let the military respond to both border and internal events.


The army’s total strength is 8,500 personnel, according to SIPRI. The army is looking to become a more agile force focused on mountain warfare. Mirroring a common theme across the region, the army is equipped with T-72 tanks, BMPs and BTR armoured vehicles.

Air force

Poor pilot and personnel training hinder Kyrgyzstan’s air force which is considered to be one of Central Asia’s weakest. Given limited resources, the country’s leadership has chosen not to upgrade the air force’s capabilities. Instead, Bishkek relies on assistance from Russian air forces based at Kant, where Moscow has rights until 2032 ( see CIS: Unstable Central Asia will drive Russian ties – January 23, 2015). In February, Russia announced intentions to reinforce the combat capabilities at Kant.


With its 1,300 kilometre border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan’s military would be pressed to halt any incursions from militant groups. To boost security, Tajikistan is planning a new military base on the Afghan border.

Total spending on military and security services is estimated at 164 million dollars per annum, according to SIPRI. Dushanbe’s military forces developed out of irregulars that operated during the 1992-97 civil war. In recent years, the military has sought to increase mobility by establishing airborne and mountain infantry units. Tajikistan is dependent on Moscow for its security. Russia has 7,000 troops in Tajikistan that are set to remain in the country until 2042 ( see CIS: Unstable Central Asia will drive Russian ties – January 23, 2015).

Tajikistan’s army has only 7,000 personnel, and uses a variety of Soviet era equipment. Air forces are divided among various ministries, and have only a handful of Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters. With GDP of 8.5 billion dollars (World Bank 2013), Tajikistan’s military and security forces are likely to remain constrained for the foreseeable future. Dushanbe lacks the spending power to boost the military significantly.

CONCLUSION: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan appear to be building reasonably capable military forces. In Uzbekistan, the security service (SNB) will likely remain pre-eminent and enjoy the best access to the president. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are struggling to maintain even small rapid reaction forces; Bishkek and Dushanbe would likely need Russian military support in the event of a security crisis. Turkmenistan has the wealth to formulate a major military force, but Ashgabat has been unwilling to spend on training and maintenance.

Is Shoigu reversing Serdyukov’s military reform?

In recent weeks, some analysts have started to argue that the military reform promulgated by Anatoly Serdiukov over the last four years is being systematically rolled back by his successor. Given the unremittingly hostile coverage of Serdyukov and the decisions he made during his tenure, this is not surprising. This perception is further strengthened by the rhetoric and stream of decisions emanating from the Russian Ministry of Defense itself. As one analyst recently noted, “[Defense Minister] Shoigu’s three-month tenure consists of little more than examining and questioning every decision made by Serdiukov.” If you listen to the statements coming out of the MOD and the vast majority of the commentary in the Russian press, you would certainly have the impression that every change that Serdiukov enacted during his years in office has either already been overturned or will be reversed in the near future.

I want to correct this impression. What we have right now is a situation with a number of potentially negative developments, but no real indications that the key aspects of the reform are about to be reversed. It is true enough that Shoigu has reversed a number of Serdyukov’s decisions. But (with the exception of defense procurement, which I’ll address separately) these changes have largely focused on relatively peripheral issues such as military education and medicine. In the education sphere, Shoigu has restored the old training system that has top officers in school for a total of eight years during their careers instead of Serdiukov’s Western-style system of one stint in a military academy followed by short courses to gain skills needed for specific positions. This is certainly a blow to modernization, and may well lead to an excessive number of graduates coming out of the military academies without positions available for them. This outcome could lead to pressure to increase the number of officers in active service, which would be a big blow to the reform effort. So it may be worth watching the number of students being admitted to the newly reformed academies in the next year or two. Similarly, the shift in control over military training from the military branches to the recently reformed Main Combat Training Directorate will leave the branch headquarters with little to do. Aleksandr Golts is concerned that they will start getting involved in commanding the troops, which used to be their bailiwick but is now under the Unified Strategic Commands. Again, a potentially negative development, but not one that has happened yet.

The one critical area where bad things have already happened is in military procurement. I’m of the school of thought that believes that one of the main reasons that Serdiukov was removed is that his policies were threatening the income streams of key players in the defense industry. It is therefore not at all surprising that one of the Shoigu-led MOD’s early acts was to essentially take imports of military technology from foreign sources off the table. As I’ve already written, this will ease pressure on domestic defense industry to improve quality of production while keeping prices from spiraling out of control. As a result, the procurement of a new generation of military equipment in the quantities needed for the military is likely to be imperiled.

Other than in procurement policy, the key structural elements of the reform remain untouched. These include the shift to a three-tiered organizational structure for the military with the brigade as the key unit, the establishment of unified strategic commands that are designed to enhance inter-service cooperation, the reduction in the number of officers, and the goal of shifting away from conscription to a primarily contract-based manning structure over time. As long as they remain in place, the Russian military will remain on track to be transformed away from the Soviet mobilization army to a more modern, more mobile, and more unified military force. According to Golts, all of these elements have recently been affirmed by the country’s top political leadership and by top officials at the MOD. Golts further argues that the new defense plan recently presented to the president by Shoigu and new Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov, if it’s as comprehensive and thorough as described in the media, could only have been prepared under the direction of Serdiukov and Makarov. There simply has not been enough time to prepare anything serious in the three months since Serdiukov was fired.

It’s certainly possible, as Golts and other commentators have indicated, that Shoigu will come under increasing pressure from the old-school career generals to repeal those aspects of the reform that are, to me anyway, the core of transforming the military into a 21st century fighting force. Golts argues that because Shoigu has been made an army general, he will not be able to withstand the pressure to do whatever the generals want. An alternative (and not contradictory) argument, also made recently by Golts, is that Shoigu is likely to accede to the generals’ desires because he does not expect to the stay at the MOD for long and will therefore do whatever the generals ask of him. These are both possibilities. And the indications for the future of military reform, given Shoigu’s initial actions, are certainly not positive. But I have not yet seen anything definitive that would cause me to assume that Shoigu is going to reverse the structural aspects of the reform. I would therefore urge caution in reading any analyses that argue that Russian military reform is dead.