Russia Struggles to Modernize its Military

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 112

Russia’s attempts to rearm and modernize its military have run out of money as its defense industry is ailing. Last month President, Dmitry Medvedev, announced plans to spend 13 trillion Rubles ($420 billion) in ten years (from 2011 to 2020) to rearm the armed forces. Russia’s state armament programs are approved every 5 years for the following decade, overlapping each other. The previous state armament program was adopted for the period 2006 to 2015 with a planned cost of 5 trillion Rubles ($155 billion). The state armament program expenditure covers the procurement of new weapons, modernization and maintenance of the existing inventory, defense research and development of the defense ministry and other militarized forces, such as the interior ministry troops and the Federal Security Service (FSB). The overlapping of state armament programs incrementally increases defense spending in accordance with the country’s economic growth (Vedomosti, May 25).

The announced increase seems to be generous, but the defense ministry differs on the issue. Last week, during parliamentary hearings in the Duma, the acting defense ministry Chief of Armaments, Lieutenant-General Oleg Frolov, announced that 13 trillion Rubles over ten years will only modernize the strategic nuclear forces, the air force and air defenses, while the army and navy will be underfinanced. According to Frolov, only an increase of the state armament program to 28 trillion Rubles ($900 billon) will permit the army to rearm, while spending 36 trillion Rubles ($1,161 billion) is sufficient to modernize the entire armed forces (RIA Novosti, June 3).

Spending more than a trillion dollars in ten years only on rearmament in addition to regular defense spending would put Russia in the same league as the US. Russia can hardly afford such a waste. During the same Duma hearings, Deputy Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, reported that defense spending will grow from 2.6 percent of GDP this year to 2.9 percent in 2011, 3 percent in 2012 and eventually reaching 3.2 percent at an unspecified point. Siluanov acknowledged that at present a special interdepartmental commission created “on the basis of the Military Industrial Commission” is examining the request by the defense ministry to increase defense spending to 28 or 36 trillion Rubles and by June 16 must present its findings. According to Siluanov, the Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, has expressed doubts that all rearmament programs will be realized if the present 13 trillion limit remains unchanged (RIA Novosti, June 3).

Russia is currently attempting to create a modern and highly capable conventional force, designed to guarantee its dominance of the post-Soviet space, while at the same time maintaining a credible strategic nuclear deterrent to keep other world powers out of its self-proclaimed sphere of privileged influence. Russia is engaged in a major modernization of its strategic arsenal. New Topol-M SS27 and RS-24 land based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) are being produced and deployed. New strategic sea-based Bulava SS-NX-30 ballistic missiles and Borey class nuclear submarines to carry them are being built. Yet, the Bulava has failed one test launch after another –the latest occurring last December. Serdyukov has announced that the next test launch will be in November, at the earliest, and that “three identical missiles will be launched one after another.” It has been claimed that the failures of the Bulava tests was caused by the degradation of the Russian defense industry which cannot produce quality missile components. Serdyukov expressed the hope that a simultaneous launch of “three identical missiles” may help pinpoint the exact cause of the continued failure (Kommersant, May 22).

The price tag for the ill-fated Bulava project is staggering. Russia is building four Borey-class strategic missile submarines, and one of them is nearing completion. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister, Sergey Ivanov (in charge of the defense industry), disclosed that “more than 40 percent of the defense budget” –hundreds of billions of Rubles– is being spent building the Borey-class submarines and developing the Bulava (RIA Novosti, June 3, 2009). The army is receiving very little, and its level of modern equipment is appalling. Last week, the chief of the elite airborne forces, Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov, told journalists that in August 2008 he was concentrating his paratroopers in Abkhazia to invade Georgia and all his movements were monitored by an Israeli-made Georgian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that constantly hovered overhead. The Russians tried to shoot it down, but failed. According to Shamanov heat-seeking Igla antiaircraft missiles failed to pick up the UAV because of its low heat emitting engine. The 30 mm gun in a BMD-2 airborne combat vehicle, designed to hit aircraft flying at up to 2 kilometers high, failed to reach the UAV (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, June 4).

The Georgians were not ready to resist massive Russian simultaneous invasions both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The UAV intelligence gave the Georgian leadership prior information about what was coming and when Shamanov, who was unsure about the exact location of enemy forces (since he lacked UAV’s), crossed the ceasefire line, there was no armed resistance: the Georgian forces faded away, successfully hiding their more modern heavy weapons and waiting for Western diplomatic efforts to stop the invasion. Shamanov was more or less in the position of some Pashtun tribesman hopelessly brandishing a gun at the sleek high-tech threat hovering above.

If Russia wants modern conventional forces and a modernized nuclear triad of land, sea and air based strategic nuclear weapons, it most likely needs a procurement budget comparable to the US and must spend 6 to 9 percent of its GDP on defense. Nevertheless, such a strain would surely lead to social instability and maybe political or territorial disintegration. An uneasy choice awaits the Russian leadership. Meanwhile, Serdyukov has told the Federation Council that the forces in Sevastopol will be cut in size and there will be no new Russian military bases abroad because it is too costly (Interfax, June 9). in the Caucasus could positively influence Russia’s behavior and shield Georgia from Moscow’s wrath. And lastly, the United States should consider significant security measures, including a presence on Georgian soil, to avert the situation spiraling out of control into a new conflagration in the Caucasus.