Improvements in Russia’s air defense and naval capabilities, long overdue in the areas of technology and manpower, are serving to boost the overall image of the Russian military. Senior officers, disgruntled by the slow progress of military reform, point to the introduction or current use of advanced technology as a measurement of military development. Russian participation in naval interoperability exercises with Turkey also serves to deflect domestic public attention from years of negative publicity surrounding the Navy.
Army General Vladimir Mikhailov, commander of the Russian air force and air defense force, has emphasized the growing role of air defense in Russian security thinking in the-post 9/11 security environment. He explained that the air defense forces received more than 10 modernized Su-27 SM fighters in 2004; with an additional 20 expected this year. Mikhailov also hopes that the existing S-300 air defense missile system will soon be accompanied by the S-400, though commanders continue to stress the efficiency of the S-300.
Indeed, the upgraded S-300 PM is reported to be capable of hitting a warhead in space and already provides adequate protection to Russia’s major cities. In seven to ten seconds a target can be located, fixed, and an interception missile launched. Around 10,000 troops are placed on permanent, around the clock, combat duty with apparently a great deal of work to suggest possible overstretches. “On average, the air defense troops detect and track over 250,000 aircraft, including more than 100,000 foreign aircraft and 1,000-1,500 foreign reconnaissance aircraft every year,” commented Mikhailov.
New unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with day and night TV equipment are scheduled to come into service in the Russian armed forces in 2005, after an official order was placed following successful tests of the Stroy II UAV in 2004. Initially between six to ten UAVs will be deployed, with mass production at the Smolensk aircraft plant and follow-on maintenance being supplied by the Yakovlev Design Bureau. These advances, as well as the reliance of commanders upon technological assets, readily provide an impression of enhanced capabilities against perceived security threats. Despite recent controversy emanating from reports that the Russian air force could be tasked with shooting down a civilian airliner in the event of a terrorist incident, Russia already possesses sufficient air defense options to intercept and neutralize such threats. However, these capabilities are subject to the existence of clear political guidelines, which appear in some doubt.
Naval exercises are equally receiving attention within the Russian military press, ranging from the Black Sea to Northern Fleets. On April 11 the Black Sea naval interoperability group arrived in Istanbul after the end of the Black Sea Partnership-2005 exercise. The group included naval elements from the Russian and Turkish Navies as well as Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.
Colonel Vladimir Grigoriyev, the Russian defense attaché in Istanbul, stressed the importance of such joint exercises and the significant role played by the Black Sea Fleet in strengthening bilateral ties with Turkey.
The Black Sea Fleet has also completed an anti-submarine exercise under the control of its commander, Vice-Admiral Alexander Tatarinov. During three days the strike force — including the Pytlivy and Smetlivy patrol ships accompanied by anti-submarine aircraft — rehearsed artillery, missile, and torpedo strikes against enemy submarines. Vice-Admiral Mikhail Abramov, commander of the Northern Fleet, confirmed that on completion of the winter training period the Northern Fleet would carry out exercises in the Barents Sea.
Though the exercises will involve standard rehearsal of combat capabilities, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, Commander of the Russian Navy, will lead them.
Advances in naval cooperation with NATO member states means that Russia’s Navy can claim success in achieving progress towards interoperability targets. Although in practical terms these exercises only affect a small proportion of the Russian Navy, the publicity generated by holding joint training classes with Turkish naval officers and participating in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) activities, yields a political dividend at home and abroad. Critics of the present course of the Navy, however, are hardly convinced by such displays.
Colonel-General Vladimir Pronichev, first deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and chief of the FSB Border Guard Service, has publicly lamented the difficulty of mounting naval search-and-rescue missions. “Most often, the Border Guard Service forces and means do not have access to the global system of communication designed to help ships in distress and ensure people’s safety, as envisaged by the international convention on the protection of human life at sea,” Pronichev explained. While the top brass naval commanders seek to promulgate a positive image of Russia’s failing sea power, other security officials are admitting to an entirely contrary picture of Russian capabilities.
High-technology equipment and its procurement are not necessarily the answer to many of the challenges facing the Russian military. Lack of basic equipment and at times a complete disregard for the well being of military and security personnel continue to represent a more accurate impression of life in the Russian armed forces.
(Channel One TV, April 10; Itar-Tass, April 9, 10; Interfax, April 11).