Russian Air Force capabilities and procurement plans

And here is the last installment of my three Oxford Analytica briefs on Russian military procurement plans. This one was originally published on October 20, 2014. As with the others (on the Navy and Ground Forces), I have not updated the content, though I have restored some material that was cut from the published version due to space constraints.


As part of the State Armament Programme (SAP-2020), the Russian Air Force is set to receive a large number of new aircraft and to modernise at least half of those aircraft that are not being replaced. The service is strongest in combat aircraft, while transport and refuelling aircraft remain a weak point. Russia was relatively late in starting to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), though some progress is now being made in this area. Increases in transport capabilities will increase the mobility of the Russian military, though they will continue to lag well behind those of NATO competitors and will only be sufficient to make part of the Russian military a mobile force capable of rapid response.


  • The next generation of Russian combat aircraft will be broadly comparable to fifth-generation US fighter planes
  • Russian long-range bombers will continue their recently increased deployment patterns, patrolling near the borders of NATO states
  • Greater in-air refuelling capabilities will extend bomber ranges but will be insufficient fully to meet all Russian tactical aviation needs
  • Violations of NATO and other Western airspaces to test response times and radar/intelligence capabilities of host countries will increase

ANALYSIS: Despite the decay of the 1990s and early 2000s, the Russian Air Force remains the second largest in the world. It has approximately 2,500 aircraft in service, 75-80% of which are operational. Since the 2009 reform, the Air Force has been divided among over 60 bases, each of which reports to one of four operational strategic commands. The Russian Army and Navy are undergoing similar rearmament/reform programmes.


Throughout the post-Soviet period, Russia’s air combat forces have consisted primarily of six types of aircraft:

  • The venerable Su-24 strike aircraft was introduced into the Soviet Air Force in 1974. It is gradually being replaced by the Su-34, though approximately 100 remain in service.
  • The Su-25 close air support aircraft was introduced in 1981; about 150 are in service.
  • The fourth-generation Su-27 fighter was introduced in 1984; about 350 are in service.
  • A modernised version of the Su-27, the Su-30 was introduced in 1992; about 45 are in service.
  • The fourth-generation MiG-29 fighter was introduced in 1983; about 250 are in service.
  • The MiG-31 interceptor was introduced in 1982; about 130 are in service and operational.

New aircraft have been received as well, primarily 35 Su-35 ‘fourth-plus-plus-generation’ fighters and 46 Su-34 strike aircraft. These planes will remain the primary combat aircraft in the Russian Air Force for the next decade.


The current inventory of long-range bombers consists of three types:

  • The 16 Tu-160 strategic bombers are supersonic long-range bombers designed in the 1980s that have been in limited service since the 1990s. They have a maximum speed of Mach 2 and a range of over 12,000 kilometres (km). They can be armed with either conventional cruise missiles or nuclear missiles.
  • The 32 operational Tu-95MS strategic bombers are turboprop planes that have been in service since the 1950s, though the version currently in service was built in the 1980s. These have a maximum speed of 920 km/hour and a range of 15,000 km. They are armed with conventional cruise missiles.
  • The 41 operational Tu-22M3 long-range supersonic bombers, built in 1970s and 1980s, have a maximum speed of 2,000 km/hour and a range of 6,800 km.

Bombers’ resurrection 

Russia’s bombers were virtually inactive until 2007, when continuous patrols resumed. Since then, they have averaged 80-100 hours’ flying time per year. Overall, Russia’s existing long-range bombers can be expected to continue to operate for at least the next two decades.

Currently, 4-6 Tu-95s and 2-3 Tu-160s are being modernized each year, primarily including improvements in targeting and navigational systems. Overall, Russia’s existing long range bombers can be expected to continue to operate for at least next two decades, so the air force certainly has time on its side in developing a new design for a next generation long range bomber.

Military transports

The transport aviation branch has been expanded in recent years. In addition to its traditional transport function, it now operates airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes and is responsible for transporting airborne troops. The mainstay of the existing transport fleet is the Il-76, with approximately 100 operational. These still have 2-3 decades of life, so there is no need for wholesale replacement, especially with a planned modernization that will include new engines and improved electronics. Thirty-nine modernized Il76-MD aircraft are on order. Transport aviation also operates a variety of Ukrainian-built Antonov planes, largely left over from the Soviet days. Plans to replace them with more modern variants have been in flux over recent years and are likely to be canceled given the suspension of military cooperation between Russia and Ukraine.

Transport aviation now operates 18 A-50 AWACS aircraft, including three that have been modernized. In the medium term, the military plans to produce a new generation A-100 AWACS plane based on the Il-76MD body.

Refuelling shortage

The big problem is a severe shortage of refuelling planes, with only 20-25 Il-78 tankers available. Most of these planes are committed to serving long-range aviation, which limits their ability to train with combat and transport aircraft. An additional 40 planes are on order, which will help somewhat to reduce this limitation.

Procurement plans

SAP-2020 contains an ambitious agenda for modernising Russia’s military aircraft, allocating over 4 trillion rubles (130 billion dollars) to re-outfitting the Air Force. The investment would result in the acquisition of more than 600 modern aircraft, including fifth-generation fighters, as well as more than 1,000 helicopters and a range of air defence systems.

Over the last four years, Russia’s aircraft industry has been relatively successful in meeting the targets set by SAP-2020 for combat aircraft. In just the last two years, it has built 28 Su-35S and 34 Su-30 fighters, as well as 20 Su-34 strike aircraft. Future plans call for the production of an additional 13 Su-35S and 83 Su-34 aircraft over the next six years, as well as the start of serial production of the T-50 fifth-generation fighter.

If all plans are carried out, by 2020 Russia will have 50 T-50, 90 Su-35 and over 60 Su-30 fighters, as well as 120 Su-34 strike aircraft. This will allow the Russian Air Force to retire all of its old Su-27 and Su-24 aircraft. Russian analysts believe that 50-55 MiG-35 fighter jets may also be ordered, starting the replacement of aging MiG-29s.

Sukhoi’s T-50 fifth-generation fighter

Russian strike aircraft are of fairly high quality, with the main problems revolving around the age of the air frames rather than their capabilities. Although it is a formidable aircraft, some questions have been raised about the feasibility of the development time-lines for the T-50 and how genuine are the capabilities of its fifth-generation technology. Nevertheless, the Russian military will have a fifth-generation strike fighter in serial production sometime in the next decade.

Ending cooperation with Ukraine

More significant is the revitalisation of less glamorous parts of the aviation industry, especially transport and refuelling aircraft. The construction of new production lines for these types of aircraft will go a long way towards the government’s stated goals of making the Russian military more mobile and extending the range of its attack aircraft through aerial refuelling.

However, gaps in both transport and refuelling capacity will remain a problem well into the next decade, due in part to the end of military cooperation with Ukraine.

UAV development

The military is also likely to benefit from relatively rapid growth in UAV capabilities as new designs reach the production stage. However, Russia’s UAV capabilities are likely to remain well behind those of its Western competitors for the rest of the decade.

CONCLUSION: Future development will focus on a new long-range bomber, which may be capable of hypersonic speeds, with production expected to start around 2020. Serial production of the T-50 fighter jet will continue to expand, with expectations that a total of 250 aircraft of this type will be produced over the next 15 years. Finally, Russian aircraft designers are currently developing a strike UAV that they hope will be ready to enter production by 2020.

Should we panic about Russian naval modernization?

The commissioning of the Yuri Dolgoruky Borei-class SSBN this week, which follows closely on the heels of the launching of the Vladimir Monomakh SSBN at the end of December, has made a number of commentators focus on prospects for Russian naval modernization. I’d like to introduce a note of caution about these prospects into the debate.

The first of these articles, by Brian Slattery of the Heritage Foundation, is just the usual panic-mongering about how the US Navy is not what it used to be in the good old Reagan days. The information about a coming 14-year period during which the US Navy will fall below the 12 sub legal requirement for SSBN numbers doesn’t make sense to me. We currently have 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, which is the limit under existing arms control treaties. The first of the Ohio-class subs is expected to retire by 2029. Construction of the replacement submarine was scheduled to begin in 2019 for commissioning in 2029, but  is reportedly two years behind schedule has been pushed back by two years. But the US Navy can retire two SSBNs without replacement and still meet the 12 sub requirement. Even if there are further delays in construction, there could be a 2-3 year period in the 2030s where we are down to 10 or 11 SSBNs, rather than 12. Given that Russia plans to have 8 SSBNs going forward, this does not seem like a grave threat to US national security.

Slattery also does not make clear why the United States needs a 600-ship navy given that the Russian navy has no more than 25 major surface combat ships and less than 50 submarines of all types. We can add the 15-20 landing ships and throw in a few tugboats and oilers and come up with a rough estimate of no more than 100 ocean-going ships and submarines in the Russian navy, of which 10-20 are either still on the books but not actually seaworthy or are in the midst of being overhauled at any given time. Of course, if we wanted to sow panic among the uninformed, we could include the 70+ corvettes, 30+ minesweepers, and assorted other ships to come up with 200+ combat ships of all kinds. We could even add the various auxiliary ships. That would get us to almost 500 ships currently listed as serving in the Russian navy. Clearly a formidable force, especially the 30-odd degaussing vessels and 50 or so hydrographic ships. But if we want to be serious, we have to recognize that the Russian navy as currently constituted has a very small number of ships that are actually able to deploy out of area for any length of time.

And this is not likely to change substantially in the short term. The shipbuilding program currently in place is significant. Galrahn is right to note that the Russian government has allocated $132 billion for shipbuilding through 2020. This is not quite the $16.5 billion per year that he mentions, simply because the total amount is for the naval component of the full 10-year State Armament Program for 2011-2020 (SAP-2020). So we should divide by 10 rather than 8, getting $13.2 billion. That’s still a lot of money. But the vast bulk of that funding will be going to build new SSBNs and attack submarines, with not that much left over for surface combatants. Other than the two Mistrals being purchased from France, ocean-going surface ships will be limited to 8 Admiral Gorshkov class and 6 Krivak class frigates. These are nice ships, but not the kind of ship that would indicate a massive Russian naval revival is underway. Plus, the first Admiral Gorshkov-class ship has been repeatedly delayed. This is quite common in the construction of a new ship class in any country, but it does lead to some serious questions about whether the navy will get all eight by the 2020 target date.  Plans for new destroyers are still on the drawing board and discussion of building an aircraft carrier is likely to remain purely theoretical for at least the rest of this decade.

Furthermore, much of the funding is very much uncertain. There have been various reports about reductions in military procurement spending and even potentially a three-year delay in fulfilling the armaments program. The most recent information I have is that $22.5 billion has been cut from total military procurement for the 2013-15 period, though it’s not clear how much of that affects naval procurement. Funding for the SAP is very much backloaded, with 69 percent of the funding allocated for the 2016-2020 period. By that point, of course, there will be a new State Armaments Program and, if necessary, the inflated figures from the current one can be quietly forgotten.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is all smoke and mirrors. The Russian military is clearly focused on modernization and the navy in particular will be getting new ships and submarines over the next few years. Its ability to protect its shores will be greatly enhanced by the new ships coming online during this period. However, it will be at least another decade (i.e. 2030 or later) before it will get the kinds of large combat ships that it will need to have any kind of global presence or significant expeditionary capability.

The problems facing Russia’s defense industry

A couple of weeks ago, Ilya Kramnik had Viktor Murakhovsky on his show on the radio station Govorit Moskva. Murakhovsky and Kramnik are both relatively well known experts on the Russian military and the discussion turned out to be highly informative. The whole 45 minute conversation is available here in audio form, while a Russian language transcript of the first 10 minutes can be found here.

There’s a lot of interesting material here, mostly on the state of Russian defense industry and specifically on the State Armaments Program. The key point for me comes near the end, though. Murakhovsky spells out the four top priorities of SAP 2020 as follows: 1) Strategic Rocket Forces, 2) Space Forces, 3) Air Defense and 4) Command and Control. Murakhovsky argues that these are derived directly from the military doctrine, which lists NATO and its enlargement as the most significant threat facing Russia. However, since these threats have nothing to do with the actual conflicts that Russia might be engaged in in the coming years, the army is in essence spending money on armaments that it will never use (new missiles, air defense, advanced fighter planes, etc).

The Russian military’s real needs relate to the types of war in which the Russian military HAS fought in the last 20 years — local and regional wars. For this, Russia needs to procure new tanks, armored vehicles, machine guns, better personal armor, modern artillery, PGMs, etc. But the modernization of the ground forces is last on the list of priorities for the SAP. No new tanks are to be procured until 2015 or 2016. Modern ammunition will only be procured starting in 2014. Until then, 1980s era tanks will get by with 1980s era ammunition.  This is not to say that the ground forces are not getting new tanks or other armaments. They are. But what they’re getting is new equipment based on old designs, which are not truly modern weapons by any means.

A second point made by Murakhovsky is that when MOD officials talk about goals for procuring modernized weaponry over the next 10 years, they never define their terms. There’s no denominator for the percentages. In other words, 30% modern weaponry could be achieved just by scrapping a lot of old equipment, without actually producing all that much new equipment. More seriously, there’s no list of what types of armaments are considered modern. Some officials describe systems that are based on 20-50 year old designs (Msta, Akatsiia, Gvozdika) as modern. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the MOD is implicitly defining modern equipment as any equipment that was procured in last few years, rather than equipment actually based on new designs.

Third, Murakhovsky addresses the likelihood that the SAP will actually be carried out. The problems revolve around simple arithmetic. If the total amount to be spent on rearmament over the next 10 years is about 20 trillion rubles, it is fairly simple to figure out that the MOD should be spending approximately 2 trillion rubles a year. However, the total amount spent in 2011 was 721 billion. In 2012, procurement spending may reach 1.1 trillion. And of this, only 60-65 percent goes to actual procurement of new equipment, while the rest goes to R&D and modernization of existing equipment. These are obviously quite significant sums, but the difference between the plan and actual spending is clear to see. If this persists, then the current SAP is likely to fail in much the same way as the last three SAPs failed.

In addition to the discussion of the armaments program, Kramnik and Murakhovsky also discussed the state of the Russian defense industry. A lot of the discussion focused on the successes and failures of specific companies, but several general points were made as well.

First of all, the companies that are currently in the best shape are those that were able to adjust to the post-Cold War conditions by focusing on exports. They developed modern marketing and information departments, were able to produce new designs, and were able to retain a large part of their workforce. Some examples include Russian Helicopters, Irkut, and Sukhoi, as well as several lesser known companies. On the other hand, even these companies are dependent on sub-contractors for their supply chains, and these subcontractors are often in much worse shape.

Many companies are continuing to lose skilled workers because the civilian sector can pay higher salaries. This is in addition to the disappearance of an entire age cohort (ages 30-50) who didn’t go into the field because of its lack of financing from the late eighties until the mid 2000s.

The modernization of the industry has not really begun, because the three-year federal program dedicated to this task has yet to be adopted. It is difficult to understand how the State Armaments Program can be fulfilled without the modernization of the defense industry. Until this program is adopted, it will be difficult to recruit workers with the necessary qualifications, or to modernize the equipment of many defense sector companies.

One topic that was not addressed was the extent to which the defense industry’s problems are caused by government’s refusal to allow some defense sector companies to fail. The creation of vertical sectoral holding companies has been described by some analysts as an effort to make the better-performing units support other units that are effectively bankrupt. This may be a reasonable solution if the goal is to minimize social disruption to the companies’ remaining employees, but it inevitably drags down the more successful units and makes the production of needed technology more expensive. I would have been curious to hear Murakhovsky’s take on this problem.

Of course, no one can address all the problems that face Russian defense procurement in one 45 minute radio show. The topics that were addressed make clear the depth of the problems facing Russia’s defense industry and reinforce the sense that concrete procurement targets should continue to be taken with a grain of salt.


Russian navy shifts strategic focus with China in mind

I’m off to Russia again this week, for a conference on the Russian military. I’ll blog about the conference next week, but in the meantime, here’s an Oxford Analytica brief I wrote on Russian naval missions. This is from February 2011.

SUBJECT: Navy rearmament and the implications for its missions and strategy.

SIGNIFICANCE: Recent announcements about shipbuilding plans strongly suggest that the navy no longer views the United States and NATO as its primary potential opponents. Over the coming decade, a revised strategy is likely to focus on attempting to counter China’s military rise, while also combating piracy and instability along Russia’s southern flank.

ANALYSIS: The shipbuilding plans outlined in the State Armaments Program (SAP) for 2011-20 show the likely direction of Russian naval strategy for the next decade. The key development is a shift in focus from countering US and NATO naval forces and towards the protection of Russian economic activity, accompanied by a shift in geographic balance towards the south and east.

Maritime Threats. According to official policy, the main maritime threats to Russia include:

  • the rise of naval activity by foreign powers, both near Russian borders and in the open seas;
  • the development by foreign states of naval forces more powerful than its own;
  • illegal economic activity (e.g. poaching) in territorial waters; and
  • the unclear legal status of the Caspian and Azov Seas and the Arctic Ocean – especially the existence of territorial claims in the Arctic.

Based on these threats, maritime policymakers have formulated three general goals for naval activity. They are:

  • defending national interests and security in the open seas;
  • maintaining Russia’s status as a ‘global naval power’; and
  • developing and effectively using naval potential.

These stated threats and goals are nebulous at best, and say little about how the navy will actually evolve over the coming decade.

Shipbuilding plans. However, shipbuilding plans provide useful signposts for determining the missions the navy will undertake. The main focus of Russian shipbuilding over the next decade, according to the SAP, will be on relatively small multi-purpose frigates and corvettes, as well as submarines and amphibious ships.

  • Frigates. The primary surface ships will include Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, twelve of which are to be built by 2020. These ships will be capable of long distance voyages, with an expected range of 5,000-10,000 kilometers (km).
  • Corvettes. Coastal defense will be provided by up to 20 Steregushchii-class corvettes, with a range of 2,000-5,000 km. Russia will also build ten amphibious-assault ships, including four Mistral-class ships to be built jointly with France and six Ivan Gren-class ships of domestic design.
  • Submarines. Submarine construction will consist of up to eleven Lada and Kilo diesel submarines, as well as up to three Severodvinsk-class nuclear attack submarines. Despite serious design challenges, strategic submarine construction will continue, with six to eight Borei-class submarines expected in the fleet by 2020.

Strategic Intentions. Notably, there are no plans to develop large surface combatants – though until quite recently, planners were talking about building aircraft carriers and destroyers, and renovating three old Kirov-class cruisers. All of these plans have been scaled back. Design work on new aircraft carriers and destroyers is proceeding, but none will be built in the next ten years. Only one cruiser is likely to be renovated, as the other two are not in good enough condition to make refurbishment worthwhile.

The shift in focus away from large surface combatants and nuclear attack submarines towards frigates, corvettes, and diesel submarines shows that Russia no longer sees NATO and the United States as realistic potential maritime opponents. Whereas the Soviet navy was focused on building ships designed to take on aircraft carrier groups, the ‘new’ Russian navy will be primarily focused on defending against smaller adversaries closer to home.

Naval missions. The navy is likely to carry out several missions:

  • Coastal Defense. The coastal protection mission will focus on offshore energy platforms and undersea pipelines, as well as the protection of Russian fishing fleets in areas where maritime borders are still disputed. This mission will be carried out primarily by the new corvettes and by older ships such as the Udaloy-class destroyers.
  • Multinational operations. While the navy’s global missions have been and will be sharply reduced compared to the Soviet period, it will continue to pursue some objectives around the globe. Most significantly, this will include participation in multinational counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean. Russian ships have maintained an almost constant presence off the coast of Somalia for several years; these deployments are likely to continue.
  • ‘Showing the flag’. In addition, the navy will send ships to visit states that are existing or potential arms industry customers. This was done two years ago in Venezuela and India, and is seen as having helped Russia secure several new contracts. Future trips may include states such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, and Syria. These visits do not reflect a desire to build up a truly global naval presence, but rather represent the defense industry’s commercial priorities.

South and eastern shift. Going forward, the Baltic Fleet and Caspian Flotilla will both focus on coastal defense missions, including protecting offshore energy infrastructure; the Caspian Flotilla will also be used against poachers and smugglers. It is likely that the Baltic Fleet’s large ships, which are unnecessary for these missions, will be transferred to the Black Sea Fleet (BSF). The BSF, along with the Pacific Fleet, is also expected to receive most new vessels. These trends reflect an ongoing shift away from the Northern Fleet, which was traditionally the mainstay of the navy. The emerging consensus that NATO is no longer Russia’s primary potential adversary will result in a drawdown of Northern Fleet capabilities, and a shift towards eastern and southern threats:

Northern Fleet decline. The Northern Fleet is now largely unnecessary as a major war-fighting force. However, it will remain the primary home of Russia’s strategic submarines, including all the Delta IVs. Conventional forces will focus on:

    • protecting Arctic fisheries;
    • maintaining the security of facilities built to extract Arctic undersea hydrocarbon deposits;
    • ensuring control of northern sea lanes, which will eventually see a significant increase in merchant traffic as a result of global warming; and
    • sending larger ships on long cruises to promote political and military partnerships abroad, including trips to Latin America and the Mediterranean.

    Pacific Fleet power. Over time, the Pacific Fleet will become the most important in Russia. It will receive most (if not all) of the newest Borei-class strategic submarines, to replace its aging Delta III fleet. It will also receive the first of the Mistrals. The fleet’s missions will include:

    • countering the rapidly modernizing Chinese navy;
    • ensuring Russian sovereignty over the disputed Kuril Islands;
    • protecting offshore energy infrastructure off the Sakhalin coast; and
    • showing the flag in South and South-east Asia.

    Black Sea rearmament. Because of its poor condition, the BSF will receive the largest number of new ships, including six frigates, six diesel submarines, and at least two amphibious ships. It will have three primary missions:

    • controlling maritime access to Georgia in the event of a new conflict there or elsewhere in the Caucasus;
    • protecting shipping in the Black Sea; and
    • deploying for anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.

    CONCLUSION: Despite occasional hostile rhetoric, Russian leaders recognize that a conflict with NATO is extremely unlikely. Military planners clearly regard China as the most important potential threat to national security – even though great efforts are under way to enhance diplomatic and trade ties with Beijing.

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

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


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

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

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

    SAP-2020: What We Know So Far

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

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

    The Air Force

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

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

    Air Defense and Strategic Rocket Forces

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

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

    The Navy

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


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

    Surface Combat Ships

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

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

    Ground Forces and Other Equipment

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

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


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

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

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

    However, the real question facing the armaments program is whether the Russian defense industry can actually build the weapons they are being asked to produce. The ability of the Russian defense industry to design and produce new weapons has been declining for 20 years. The best workers—those left over from Soviet times when the industry was well funded and a highly prestigious place to work—have retired or are about to do so. Few good people went into the field in the 1990s, when there was virtually no financing and the industry came close to collapse. At the same time, because there was no money for equipment modernization, the industrial plant began to deteriorate. By the start of the Putin presidency, even the allocation of additional financing was not enough to counteract the decline in the defense industry’s ability to produce high quality products. This decline will have to be reversed if the Russian military is to be successful in producing new high-tech military equipment.