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.

Russian air force procurement plans

Not long ago, the Russian Air Force was in really bad shape. Almost all of its planes were 20-25 years old, outdated, and  in poor condition. It’s therefore not at all surprising that the State Armament Program made procurement of new aircraft a priority, with a total investment of 4 trillion rubles in that sector alone. In this week’s VPK, CAST’s Andrei Frolov and Mikhail Barabanov discuss these plans.

Some of the largest investments are in military transport aircraft. Frolov and Barabanov mention contracts in place to purchase 20 An-124 heavy transport aircraft starting in 2015, 39 Il-476 (aka Il-76MD-90A) heavy transport aircraft starting in 2014, 11 An-140 light transport aircraft (2 of which have already been delivered), and up to 30 Czech L-410UVP light transport aircraft (7 of which have already been delivered). In addition, there are plans to purchase up to 50 Il-214 MTA multi-role transportation aircraft, which are expected to be ready for production by 2016, and up to 20 An-148 passenger transport planes. Finally, 41 Il-76s and 20 An-124s will undergo modernization. Frolov and Barabanov mention the possibility of a tender for up to 100 Il-112 light transport planes, though this seems unlikely to me given that the MOD has previously rejected this plane in favor of the Antonov design.

The military is also planning to buy up to 30 refueling planes that will be based on the Il-476. There are also plans to buy an unspecified number of A-100 AWACS planes, which are currently under development, and 4 Tu-204 reconnaissance planes. These will serve in conjunction with 12 modernized A-50 AWACS planes and 10 modernized MiG-25RB reconnaissance planes.

In terms of strike aircraft, the air force is placing a big bet on the T-50 fifth generation strike fighter. Sixty of these planes are expected to be procured starting in 2016 (originally planned for 2014). While four T-50 prototypes are already being tested by the air force, by all indications new engines and advanced electronic systems (and especially its avionics) are not yet ready. This may lead to another round of delays in serial production.

While waiting for the T-50, the air force is receiving new S-35S “generation 4++” strike aircraft, 48 of which were ordered in 2009 for delivery through 2015. Four have been received to date. Barabanov and Frolov believe that an additional 48 or 72 Su-35’s may be ordered once the current order is complete. The air force is also slated to receive 30 Su-30SM fighters by 2015, with an option for an additional 30 planes. The first two of these have already been received. The Russian military has also received 4 Su-30M2s and 12 Su-27SM3s in the last couple of years, but is not planning to acquire any more planes of either type. Older planes are being modernized, including a total of 120 Su-25s (50 already upgraded) and 120 MiG-31s (at least 25 to be completed by the end of 2012).

In addition to the fighters, the air force has ordered 129 Su-34 fighter-bombers to be delivered by 2020, with an option for at least another 18. Fifteen of these planes have already been delivered. In the meantime, the air force is continuing to modernize its existing stock of Su-24s, with 50 already modernized and 50 to be upgraded before 2020.

In terms of training aircraft, 18 Yak-130s have been delivered as of October 2012, with another 49 on order and an option for another 10. The air force is also purchasing 12 Su-25UBM two-seaters that will likely be used for training.

By comparison, long-range aviation will get very little over the next decade. There are no plans to complete the two or three remaining Tu-160 strategic bombers whose production was started back in the Soviet period. Discussions about designs for a new long range bomber are continuing, but it remains uncertain whether the military will decide one is needed any time soon. In any case, production of new long range bombers would not start until after 2020. The only contracts in this sector are for modernization, including 30 Tu-22M3 bombers, 14-16 Tu-160 bombers, and up to 30 Tu-95MS bombers.

In terms of rotary-wing aircraft, there are contracts in place for 167 Mi-28N (45 already delivered),  180 Ka-52, and 49 Mi-35M (10 already delivered) attack helicopters. Transport helicopter orders include 38 Mi-26 heavy lift helos. Six have already been delivered and another 22 may be ordered in the future. Up to 500 Mi-8s of various types will be purchased. These are currently being produced at a rate of 50 per year. There are also contracts in place for 36 Ka-226 (6 already delivered) and 32 Ansat-U (16 delivered) light transport helicopters. Additional contracts for 38 Ansat-U and up to 100 Ka-62 helicopters may be placed in the near term. There is also discussion of the possibility of purchasing 100-200 Eurocopters for training purposes, though I personally find this unlikely.

To summarize all this, here’s a table that shows Frolov and Barabanov’s view of what the air forces will look like in 2020:

  New Modernized Old
Strategic and long range bombers none 16 Tu-160

36 Tu-95MS

30 Tu-22M3

20 Tu-95MS

70 Tu-22M3

Military transport and refueling aviation 39 Il-476

30 Il-478 (refueling)

60 An-70

50 MTA (Il-214)

30 L-410

20 An-148

10 An-140-100

100 light transport

3 Tu-154M

20 An-124-100

41 Il-76MDM

4 An-124

60 Il-76MD

20 Il-78 (refueling)

5 An-22

at least 20 An-26/30

at least 10 Tu-154B

at least 10 Tu-134UBL

Special purpose aircraft 2 Tu-204ON

2 Tu-204R

at least 5 A-100

at least 10 Il-20

at least 10 Il-22

12 A-50U

Tactical aviation 60 T-50

120 Su-35S

60 Su-30SM

4 Su-30M2

12 Su-27SM3

34 MiG-29SMT/UBM

140 Su-34

12 Su-25UBM

80 Yak-130

120 MiG-31BM

55 Su-27SM

120 Su-24M/MR

10 MiG-25RB

150 Su-25SM

150 Su-27

100 MiG-29

50 Su-24M/MR

50 Su-25

100 L-39

Army aviation 167 Mi-28N/NM

180 Ka-52

49 Mi-35M

38 Mi-26T/T2

500 Mi-8MTV/AMTSh

100 Ka-62

70 Ansat-U

36 Ka-226

100 light helos

30 Mi-24PN


20 Mi-26T

10 Ka-50

100 Mi-24V/P

300 Mi-8T/MTV

20 Mi-2

For those who read Cyrillic, here’s the (much prettier) Russian language version from their article.

Тысяча боевых самолетов к 2020 году

I would suggest treating this as the upper bound of what the Air Force could potentially have in 2020. Delays in production are almost certain to lead to reductions on the left side of the table, while inability to keep old aircraft in working condition will most likely decrease the numbers on the right side as well.

One final point — the authors of the VPK article argue that the greatest problem facing the air force by the end of the decade will be not a lack aircraft, but a lack of modern armaments for these aircraft. They argue that the air force will continue to lack air-to-air missiles with active radar guidance, smart bombs, and missiles with satellite guidance systems. They also believe that the Russian military will continue to lag well behind in UAV development.

I am actually expecting the Russian military by 2020 to somewhat decrease the gap in both precision guided munitions and UAVs when compared to Western militaries. Its capabilities won’t be anywhere near those of the United States, but they will be closer to it than they are now. This is because Russian defense industry in these two sectors are actually in pretty good shape and have some good designs that could be put into production fairly quickly.

So my takeway from all this is that in eight years the Russian air force will have lots of new planes, though not quite as many as they hope, and that these planes will be somewhat better armed than they are now.


Defense industry news

Every Wednesday, Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier publishes a new issue that includes short news items about the Russian military. I’m going to experiment with providing occasional translations of these news stories, without commentary. Not sure if  it’ll become a permanent feature or not. It will depend on how much time it takes and whether I feel it takes away from my time to write longer analytical pieces here. But I’ll try it for at least the next few weeks.

–Severnaia Verf is planning to build three support vessels for the Russian Navy, capable of being used in northern environments. The first of the ships will be built by 2014, with the last to be handed over in 2016. They will go to the Northern, Pacific, and Black Sea Fleets.

–Admiralteiskie Verfi is building a rescue ship, to be called Igor Belousov, that will be used primarily for rescue operations involving submarines. It is expected to be commissioned in 2014.

–President Putin noted that four trillion rubles, i.e. almost a quarter of all GPV-2020 funding, has been allocated to rebuilding the air force and army aviation.

–The first new Il-476 transport plane will be rolled out on July 5 in Ulyanovsk. Russian military transport aviation hopes to acquire up to 100 of these planes.  There are discussions of selling 36 more, plus four Il-478 tanker planes based on the same fuselage, to China. These would replace the Il-76 and Il-78 planes that were not sent to China because of problems at the previous assembly plant in Tashkent.

–Dmitry Rogozin stated that Russia and Israel are discussing developing a joint venture to build UAVs that could be used by both countries, with construction to take place in Russia. In the meantime, Russia may sign new contracts to purchase 48-72 UAVs from Israel, in addition to the ones already purchased in the past.

— Vladimir Putin, in the meantime, noted that Russia is planning to spend 400 billion rubles through 2020 to develop a fully indigenous UAV capability.

–Sevmash is on track to transfer the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier to India on December 5.  The ship has been undergoing sea trials in the Barents Sea since June 8.

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 3: defense industrial cooperation and future prospects)

Defense Industrial Cooperation (continued)

Italy: The Russian military has recently completed several deals with Italy. The most significant of these is the establishment of a joint venture to built IVECO’s M65 Lynx light multirole vehicles (LMVs). The deal, estimated to be worth around one billion euros, will allow Russia to assemble these Italian vehicles at the Kamaz plant in Tatarstan. The license will allow the manufacture of 1775 of these LMVs from 2011 to 2016. While initially the plant will simply do the final assembly, the goal is eventually use fifty percent Russian components in the manufacturing process. The Russian military has also expressed an interest in purchasing Freccia armored vehicles and Centauro wheeled tanks. Two of each type of vehicle are likely to be transferred to Russia sometime this year for testing purposes.

The deal to build Italian LMVs in Russia generated significant opposition among segments of the Russian military and also in its defense industry, which argued that it was taking business away from the Russian-designed GAZ Tigr. The military responded that the Tigr did not fully meet its requirements and would have to be significantly upgraded.

Israel: The Russian military has also concluded several deals to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. An initial $53 million deal was signed in 2009. Through this deal, Russia received two Bird Eye 400 systems worth 4 million dollars, eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs worth 37 million dollars, and two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs worth 12 million dollars. In July 2010, the two sides agreed to a deal for an additional 36 Israeli UAVs, worth $100 million. In October 2010, Russia’s Oboronprom and Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to a three-year, $400 million contract that will allow the Russian company to assemble UAVs from Israeli components. As part of the deals, Israel has begun training 50 Russian UAV pilots at an Israeli base. Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Reports published by Wikileaks indicate that Russia had initially sought to purchase more advanced Israeli UAVs, including the Heron 1, in a deal worth a total of $1 billion dollars. Israeli defense officials eventually rejected this deal because of concerns that the technology may end up in Chinese hands.

Russia has focused on acquiring Israeli UAV technology because of the demonstrated inability of its domestic defense industry to overcome problems with domestic UAVs. For example, the Tipchak system is reported to have a low maximum altitude and a distinct acoustic signature that is audible from long distances, which together combine to make it extremely vulnerable to attack from the ground. A new generation system will not be available for at least three years. Furthermore, Russian defense industry has had particular problems producing miniaturized and lightweight components, which are necessary in UAV payloads, and reliable electronics, which are needed for UAV navigation and targeting. After repeated failures of domestic UAVs, the Russian military has decided that foreign assistance was essential for further progress in developing domestic UAV production capabilities.

Sales and joint projects: Until recently, Russian military sales to NATO countries have been largely limited to the maintenance and modernization of armaments owned by former Warsaw Pact states that have become NATO members over the last decade. In addition, some of these countries have received Russian military hardware in exchange for the forgiveness of Soviet-era debt. In this context, Hungary received fighter airplanes and armored personnel carriers, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic received various aircraft and helicopters. Greece is the only NATO state that regularly buys Russian military equipment. In recent years, this has included various types of missiles, guided munitions, and small landing ships, as well as S-300 air defense systems originally intended for Cyprus. Other NATO states have made occasional deals in recent years, including the purchase of 800 Kornet anti-tank missiles by Turkey, Igla portable surface-to-air missiles by Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK, and Mi-17 helicopters by Poland and Latvia. In addition, NATO states have joined together since 2006 to lease up to 6 An-124 transport aircraft on a charter basis. Finally, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years bought a total of 35 Mi-17 transport helicopters for transfer to Afghanistan, including 21 bought by the U.S. in April 2011 for $370 million.

Russia has just begun some joint research and development projects with Western defense industrial companies, including plans for naval cooperation with Thales and general defense cooperation with EADS and DCN. One possibility for cooperation with NATO is the development of a heavy tactical transport helicopter, using the existing Russian Mi-26 helicopter as a base. For the moment, none of these potential cooperative ventures have advanced beyond the discussion stage.

Future Prospects

NATO-Russia cooperation is gradually returning to a trajectory of broadening and deepening, which it was on prior to the deep freeze brought on by the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Cooperation is accelerating in all three major areas: training, operations, and procurement. Ventures thought impossible just a year ago, such as a joint European missile defense system, joint operations in Afghanistan, and joint development of military hardware, are all on the horizon. As with past efforts at cooperation, the current rapprochement is still fragile and could be easily derailed by changes in the political atmosphere in Russia or the United States. But for now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in almost a decade.


Why was the S-300 canceled?

The recent decree signed by President Medvedev canceling the sale of the S-300 surface to air missiles has raised some questions about decision-making in the Russian government about arms exports. Analysts who spend their time looking for tensions in the Russian “tandemocracy” have suggested that this decision is a sign that President Medvedev was able to get his way on this issue against the wishes of Prime Minister Putin. Other interpretations indicated that Iranian behavior in recent years or months led Putin to change his mind on the sale, which he supported since the initial decision was made several years ago. In this interpretation, in signing the decree Medvedev was simply doing what he was told by his “superior.”

I don’t think these are the only two options. I have always been skeptical of interpretations that depend on finding disagreements between Medvedev and Putin. At the same time, I don’t think Medvedev is Putin’s puppet. My interpretation of the Russian top leadership is that decisions are made largely by consensus among the 4-5 top people, with Putin acting as first among equals and in some ways the arbitrator/final decision-maker. This was true when he was president and hasn’t changed much in the current environment. In this light, Putin doesn’t have to have completely changed his mind, nor did he get rolled by Medvedev. Perhaps his view became less strong and the views of enough other players changed that the consensus moved in a different direction. Obviously I don’t have evidence that this is how decisions are made in the Kremlin right now, but there is some reasonable evidence that this is how it was done back in 2007. I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe that much has changed.

As far as the specifics of the S-300 decision, I don’t think the Russian leaders were ever all that strongly committed to selling the S-300 to Iran. I think that to some extent, it was always partially a bargaining chip that was used against the U.S. in moments when relations were problematic. So from that point of view, it’s possible that Putin didn’t change his mind at all, but the circumstances changed sufficiently that the balance between Russia’s bilateral relationships with the U.S. and Iran changed sufficiently that it became worthwhile to publicly shift positions on this sale. This would mean that U.S. policies toward Russia were bearing fruit.

This interpretation is supported by the breadth of the presidential decree, which prohibits the sale of virtually all military technology to Iran. Russian analysts estimate the total cost to Russian arms exporters of leaving the Iranian market to be around 11-13 billion dollars, of which the S-300 sale was just 800 million. If Russia just wanted to make a gesture toward the U.S., it would have been sufficient to ban the sale of the missiles while leaving other military cooperation intact. The fact that all military sales were banned implies that this is more than a gesture — it implies that Russian leaders have decided that they need to have much better relations with the United States and also with Israel. One possibility is that they hope that this change in policy will remove any remaining roadblocks to the Russian purchase of sensitive military technologies from the West. The Mistral deal is undoubtedly part of this calculus, but so is the purchase of more advanced UAVs from Israel.

Network-centric Warfare?

In military forces of any country, major “showpiece” exercises are designed more to show off the capabilities of the nation’s armed forces than to truly test these capabilities in any focused way. Articles about such exercises, whether they take place in Russia, in the West, or in Mozambique,  follow a common pattern. First, a month or two before the exercise, journalists publish descriptions of the coming exercise based on officially-announced plans. Then, during the exercise, there are slightly breathless accounts of the wonders of modern weaponry and tactics. If an important political dignitary (such as the president or the defense minister) visits to observe the exercise, this is covered in minute detail. Afterward, there are some official pronouncements about how all of the exercise’s goals have been fulfilled and everyone happily goes home.

Coverage of the recent spate of major Russian military exercises (Kavkaz-2009, Zapad-2009, Ladoga-2009) followed this model perfectly right up until the end. But over the last month, a number of critical articles have appeared, and not just in the independent press. This culminated in open discussion in the press of discontent among top generals with the state of military procurement and Russia’s defense industry in general that resulted in a widely publicized meeting between President Medvedev, top government officials, and defense industry chiefs.

One of the main topics that has emerged in criticism of the exercises is the gap between public statements and reality on the topic of advances in precision weapons and command and control (C2) systems. General Makarov, the chief of the general staff, was widely quoted as having stated that the main goal of the exercise was to “examine the transition to a new control system for the armed forces, based first of all on the transition to a system of network-centric warfare.” Given the list of key weaknesses of the Russian military that was published recently, this focus makes sense.

(This list includes weak intelligence and communications capabilities, low level of “automatization” in control of troops and weapons, lack of an adequate system for providing information to troops in the field, and low levels of defensibility for some types of platforms and weapons.)

One of the main goals of the Ladoga-2009 exercise, conducted in the northwestern part of Russia in September, was to test a new command system. The effectiveness of this system apparently left much to be desired. The Russian military still lacks modern electronic communications equipment. One report noted that a new personal communications system (R-169P-2) that was demonstrated at Ladoga was just coming out of testing and was not used by the actual troops participating in the exercise. (Moskovskii Komsomolets, 10/9/2009)

In many cases, soldiers did not have any kind of radios, much less advanced electronic ones. Currently, the Russian military provides one radio for each section (i.e. 10-12 soldiers). General Meichik, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Communications, recently promised that each Russian soldier would have his own personal communications device by 2011. In the meantime, many Russian soldiers continue to use mobile phones for transmitting information. According to General Meichik, these phones have special encryption equipment, but it is far more likely that they are actually just the soldiers’ personal mobile phones.

One indicator of just how far behind Western militaries the Russian military is on the communications front is that General Meichik announced that the military is about to begin developing its own internet. This announcement took place more or less on the 40th anniversary of the first message sent on Arpanet, the US military communication system that led to the development of the internet.

There is a similar lag in electronic targeting systems. The newly modernized Su-24M and Tu-22M3 bombers, which participated in the Zapad-2009 exercise, are equipped with a “specialized computer subsystem, automated targeting system, and satellite navigation.” However, this system merely doubles the targeting accuracy of regular unguided bombs. No provision for guided munitions was made in this modernization. Furthermore, this modernization has taken a very long time, as it was first introduced in 2001.

Even more interesting is the description provided by Olga Bozh’eva of an encounter at Ladoga-2009 between General Boldyrev, the head of Russia’s surface troops, and the head engineer of Izhmash — Unpiloted Systems. Looking over the engineer’s shoulder as the latter received information from a UAV on a computer, Boldyrev asked for the coordinates of a group of people visible on the screen. The response: “The program does not allow for the analysis of information while [the UAV] is in flight. Once it lands…” In other words, the latest in Russian UAV technology still does not allow for the instant transmission of  targeting information to commanders on the ground — a tactic whose effectiveness was demonstrated by US forces in Afghanistan back in 2001. (Moskovskii Komsomolets, 10/9/2009)

Despite the stated focus on network-centric warfare, UAVs were not integrated into the exercise in either an intelligence or targeting capacity. In other words, they were just there for show. The newest mobile C2 systems, such as the KShM-149MA, which provides real-time information for commanders and allows for tactical control of troops and weaponry, also seem to have not been used in either Zapad-2009 or Ladoga-2009, though one was shown to President Medvedev in Kaliningrad. At the Kavkaz-2009 exercises last summer, brigade level control systems supposedly broke down.

The fact that all of these problems were described openly in the Russian press, and that President Medvedev has responded by publicly chastising the Russian defense industry as a whole, is a sign that the issues that have prevented the revival of that industry (despite an increase in orders in recent years) have finally come to the forefront. It is possible that Medvedev’s criticism is a signal and the next year will be devoted to reforming the Russian defense industry, much like the past year has been devoted to reforming the structure of the military. This may turn out to be a harder task, as private and semi-private companies will undoubtedly prove less willing to follow orders and even a revitalized industry will find it difficult to find the expertise to build new high-tech weapons as quickly as it may be desired by top leaders.