Russia’s Defense Spending Spree Set to Continue

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 74

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (Source:

Numerous gloomy forecasts predict that the overall condition of the Russian economy and the challenges stemming from the sanctions regime will set limitations on Russia’s defense spending and negatively impact its military modernization. Nevertheless, it seems the Russian Ministry of Defense expects the good times to continue to roll. As the new State Armaments Program to 2025 (Gosudarstvennaya Programma Vooruzheniya—GPV) is being finalized, the defense ministry seems primed to ensure the continuation of high spending on the ongoing process of modernizing Russia’s Armed Forces. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu cannot conceal his satisfaction with defending the interests of his ministry against claw-back from the Ministry of Finance. Recently, he reported on the intense summer combat training program; much of this is in preparation for the joint exercise with Belarus—Zapad 2017—in September (Krasnaya Zvezda, June 4). The Kremlin, meanwhile, appears satisfied by United States President Donald Trump’s contribution to a somewhat chaotic recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting in Brussels, where he spent more time criticizing member states’ defense budgets than castigating Russia (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, June 2).

It already seems clear that the Russian defense ministry is interested in procuring high-end systems to boost conventional military capability, and this includes high-precision weapons alongside other technologically advanced equipment. For example, after languishing under a communications system that is more than 25 years old, the Navy is set to receive what is being characterized as “sixth-generation” radio stations. The latest generation shipborne radio station R-620 will replace the older communications equipment. The R-620 uses digital signal processing, allowing for simultaneous radio communication in different networks, using GLONAS or GPS receivers. Naval commanders welcome the procurement of such technology but also believe it will need to be improved still further to suit their needs (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, June 2).

Likewise, the Missile and Artillery Troops (Raketnyye Voyska i Artilleriya—RV&A) expect to receive the new Tornado-S multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in more sufficient quantities by 2020; with some systems arriving this year. The Tornado-S can fire unguided rockets and corrected ammunition with a 300-millimeter high-fragmentation or cluster warhead up to a maximum range of 120 kilometers. In the future, an increase in the range of damage to 200 km is planned. Also by 2020, the RV&A expect new 152 mm self-propelled Koalitsiya-SV artillery, which can fire 16 rounds per minute with a range of up to 70 km. Yet, these systems are among those being delayed, while the Ground Forces in the Western Military District are still receiving modernized T-72B3 main battle tanks, in contrast to Western commentaries speculating on the introduction of the advanced T-14 Armata (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, June 2).

Some Russian missile specialists have expressed concern about the tempo of introducing new systems before fully working out other details concerning how these modern weapons and equipment can be integrated into the military. This stems from the rather long run-in period of research and development through to testing and procurement for advanced high-end assets. Advances have been made in procuring different types of supporting systems. But electronic warfare (EW) advances, for example, need to avoid interfering with future Russian systems. In turn, specialists argue that greater attention is needed for examining how the Russian military would conduct operation in the electromagnetic spectrum (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 31).

The present GPV to 2020 is resulting in more modernized systems and equipment reaching the Armed Forces, and the GPV to 2025 is highly likely to perpetuate this trend. However, there are also clearly limits within the military as to how much new or modernized assets can be integrated. This demands a close liaison between the defense industry, military planners and the end user: the military itself. And it seems this process is proving to be the most challenging feature of the modernization process itself. Such complexity will serve as a barrier to modernizing the most high-technology parts of the Armed Forces, especially the Ground Forces, RV&A and the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS) (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 24).

Added to the issues of liaising among the various parties to the military modernization agenda, and the work of vested interest groups and defense industry lobbyists, there is also the persistent issue of inter-service rivalry and the tendency for the defense ministry to experiment with force structure. These complex themes will serve to deflect, shift and cause push back as the modernization continues. That is to say, though the defense ministry can welcome continued high-level spending on modernization, there are both macro and micro issues at play that will restrict the wider impact. Without overhauling the defense procurement planning system, the incremental advances in military modernization are likely to be piecemeal and sporadic. That is the context in which there are concerns in Moscow over such technology-dependent services as the VKS. How will the defense ministry find balance between these service arms and branches and improve the capacity to introduce and integrate new systems? (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 17).

The fact that Western Military District is still receiving T-72B3 tanks indicates a degree of caution on the part of the defense leadership over new prototype systems such as the T-14 Armata. In fact, the spending bubble can shift elsewhere, as the pressures to modernize one part of the military system over another will also cause problems. In this process, given the recent statements by the top brass and the use of high-precision systems in Syria, it seems clear that the GPV to 2025 will see more high-technology assets procured, including hypersonic cruise missiles to promote and strengthen stand-off strike capability (see EDM, May 1, 2). The military will also benefit from introducing more automated command-and-control systems as well as efforts to enhance communications and procurement aimed at aiding strategic and operational mobility. The underlying theme of the long-term modernization may well be “force multipliers,” providing any support possible to high-tech areas that negate the need for wider reform and systemic modernization. But large parts of Russia’s military are likely to appear quite neglected by comparison, raising questions as to whether a two-speed modernization process is at play.