Monday, August 22, 2005

Russia's Bigger Defense Budget, Even Bigger Defense Woes


Defense Industry Daily reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed a 22% increase in Russia's defense budget, to $24 billion:

Russia plans another substantial increase in defense spending next year to pay for across-the-board military upgrades, development of new weapons systems and improved social benefits for defense-sector employees. DID has noted on occasion the procurement difficulties created by Russia's budgetary shortfalls. Russia's land forces have been particularly hard-hit, even as the country attempts to move toward a more professional military.

While the Russian Army, and particularly the infantry, are in desperate need of updated equipment, training, and, even more fundamentally, organization, there are reasons to believe that other services will be getting the lion's share of any increases. Russia has just committed to producing the Sukhoi Su-34 tactical bomber (pictured) with an initial operational capability in 2007. It has also embarked on substantial modernization programs for its fleet of Su-27-class fighter-bombers. The first phase of the modernization, with the aircraft designated the Su-27SM, includes a glass cockpit, improved fire-control systems, and the ability to carry a greater variety of weapons. This program was deemed a great success, and the first Russian units will be receiving their aircraft by the end of 2005. An even more extensive modernization program is under way.

The Navy is a shambles. Air defense systems are being modernized. Somewhere near the bottom of the list is the Army. This is undortunate, because the Army can be expected to be doing the heavy lifting in the "small wars" like Chechnya on Russia's frontier and in her so-called "near abroad." eDefense European Editor Michal Fiszer has noted that there are systematic problems with the Russian armed forces that weigh against any significant improvements in the nation's Army, and particularly in its infantry.

Despite 25 years of real combat experience in low-intensity conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, the Russian MoD focus is on strategic force capabilities, strategic defense, air-force programs, new tanks, new missiles, and the building of a common information network (a Russian version of network-centric warfare). The life of individual soldiers was never valued particularly highly in the Soviet Union, and this has changed little in Russia. One source, tongue planted firmly in cheek, suggests a typical Russian MoD statement would read as follows: "In order to fight international terrorism, being presently a goal of the highest priority, the procurement of six new ICBMs has been authorized."

The other problem is the conscript system on which Russian forces are still based. Only the 42nd Evpatoriyskaya-Krasnoznamennaya Guard Mechanized Division has been experimentally "professionalized," with career officers and all of its soldiers serving multi-year contracts. The unit, belonging to North-Caucasus Military District, is being successfully employed in combating Chechen guerilla forces, although only from early December 2004 as a fully professional unit. The "professionalization" of all of Russia's military forces has not yet been decided on, and there are strong opponents to the idea.

Almost all the soldiers and junior non-commissioned officers...are drafted. Moreover, many recruits are able to avoid military service or obtain for themselves posts in the less arduous internal forces, militia, border guards, and other public institutions. Usually, the best-educated young men living in cities are able to do this, so the military recruits are mostly villagers. Of the pool of recruits left for regular military service, the Strategic Rocket Forces pull out the best men, since the service standards in the nuclear forces are high. From among those left, strategic air defense and the air force take the best men, since maintaining the high technology associated with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), radars, and aircraft demand so. Airborne and special force also make rigorous selections. Then the navy and marines make their selections from the recruit pool. The army has little choice, being the last in the chain.

Even now, although it is extremely difficult, the army has to take the best men from among those left to serve in communications, combat-engineer, anti-tank, SAM, artillery, and tank units. Infantry is the very bottom. So there is no little wonder that when President Vladimir Putin announced Russia's procurement plan for 2005 (which, by the way, is to be doubled from 2004), there are references to new ICBMs, new ships, new missiles and SAM systems, new tanks and APCs, and modernized aircraft and helicopters...The Russian infantryman, alas for him, is likely to tread the battlefields of the 21st century in the boots – and kit – of the 20th century.


It is not unlikely that increases in Russia's defense budget are in part intended to help out an industry that has experienced falling foreign sales. A Forecast International (FI) (Newtown, CT) military-market report says that Russia’s arms-export market is in steady decline due to the poor reputation of its products, and is likely to get worse in the years ahead. “International Military Markets – NATO & Europe” notes that Russian arms exports dropped by nearly 26% from 2003 to 2004: from $5.3 billion to $3.9 billion. This despite the country’s efforts to attract sales using offsets, debt swaps, and creative financing. One of the few bright spots in Russia's arms catelogue is the aforementioned Su-27 line, which is known as Su-30 for export.

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