The continued and entrenched inter-governmental conflict in Moscow over the size of funding for the new State Armaments Program to 2025 (Gosudarstvennaya Programma Vooruzheniya—GPV) has pit the defense and finance ministries against one another. Nevertheless, it appears that the military will procure more high-technology assets once the process is finalized. The existing GPV to 2020 provoked controversy due to its large levels of state funding as well as its target to reach 70 percent modern or new weapons and materiel in the table of organization and equipment (TOE) by 2020. It equally resulted in concerns among Western governments about Moscow’s sharp increases in defense spending and what the military modernization might mean for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its members (Interfax, March 14).
Public statements from leading defense officials, however, appear to suggest that the new GPV to 2025 will set targets to boost the quantity of high-technology assets in the TOE. Though this faces challenges stemming from the loss of access to the Ukrainian defense industry and the impact of the sanctions regime against Russia, which mitigates opportunities to purchase advanced components abroad. While the various arms and branches of service are busy lobbying their interests in the GPV to 2025, it is certain that the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS) will be in pole position to benefit from a renewed drive to strengthen the advanced technology side of Russia’s Armed Forces (Novosti VPK, March 14).
The GPV to 2025 was in its final planning stages in 2014–2015, but the process was interrupted due to the downturn in the Russian economy and Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis; it is now scheduled for adoption in the first half of 2017. Arguments between the finance and defense ministries over the size of the GPV are by no means novel. According to Aleksey Nikolski, security correspondent for Vedomosti, the defense ministry is likely to only receive around 50 percent of the requested funds for the period. By contrast, in late 2010, the GPV to 2020 was adopted with a promised 19.1 trillion rubles ($630 billion), a figure that reportedly “frightened” the then–prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Nikolski states that, by early 2017, only 40 percent of this total had been spent. Although the final figure for the GPV to 2025 has not been agreed, it is unlikely to equal the figure for the GPV to 2020. It is worth noting, therefore, that the total figure is not what the defense ministry requests, and the compromise between the ministries does not necessarily envisage the entire size of the funds being used by the military; there is plenty of scope for adjustment. But the trend established in recent years bends toward greater success in military modernization. And even though the military continues to face numerous challenges, less money is being absorbed by corruption among officials or in the domestic defense industry (Vedomosti, January 11).
As already noted, all this spells good news for procurement plans for the VKS, buoyed by its high-profile performance in Syria. More advanced assets are thus likely to enter service and continue this trend in the years ahead. Defense officials confirmed that this will involve final procurement of the T-50 fighter (PAK FA) as well as the S-500 Prometheus air defense system (Novosti VPK, March 14).
The Syria theme features large in comments by Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Yury Borisov, who notes the performance of the Su-34 strike fighter and plans to modernize the platform as part of the GPV to 2025. The Su-34 was based on a revised T-10 V platform—also the basis for the Su-27, Su-30, Su-33, Su-35 and their modifications—and is judged to have performed well in combat missions in Syria. The aircraft has a large radius of action (up to 1,130 km, depending on its load and flight profile); and it is equipped with an armored cabin and a modern sighting and navigation complex (Lenta.ru, March 10).
This appears to confirm another factor in the delays to finalizing the GPV to 2025: allowing time for analysis of the lessons learned by the performance of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine and Syria. Regarding the former theater, the defense industry has undoubtedly pushed for the procurement of advanced hardware such as the Armata tank and the Kurganets infantry fighting vehicle. The Ground Forces will reportedly begin receiving these enhanced armor assets as part of the new armaments program (Lenta.ru, March 10). State tests for these new-generation tanks and armored platforms are due to for completion this year (Rg.ru, March 10).
While the branches and arms of service press their specific interests to maximize their potential in the armaments program, with reports highlighting the advances in procurement planned for the GPV to 2025, the underlying theme of high-technology assets is underscored by Deputy Defense Minister Borisov. He stresses the importance of research and design of new advanced weapons systems focused on “non-traditional” areas, such as precision targeting, lasers, radio frequency, kinetic kills, hypersonic flight, robotics and information, rooted in developments largely determined by the availability of a holistic scientific and technical reserve. According to Borisov, the GPV to 2025, will thus ensure the development and delivery to the Armed Forces of new hypersonic weapon systems, robotic complexes, weapons based on new physical principles, as well as next-generation platforms, including the T-50, Armata, Kurganets and MiG-35, among others (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 7).
Borisov believes this involves scientific and technical cooperation to overcome numerous challenges, among them: technologies to ensure long-term performance of hypersonic aircraft in dense layers of the atmosphere using a plasma cocoon, creating fourth-generation heat-resistant alloys, improving electronic equipment, intellectualizing weapons, especially unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and robotic systems, as well as further developing laser technologies (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 7).
It seems certain, therefore, that the new State Armaments Program to 2025 will be less well funded on the whole than its earlier version, but will continue to support the modernization of the force structure with a special emphasis on high-technology assets. This will draw upon experience in Donbas (eastern Ukraine), with improvements and corrections to the weaknesses of Russian armor. Furthermore, it will reflect the operational lessons and experiments in Syria, establishing a long-term state interest in force multipliers. This will permit Russia’s military to further close the technology gap with NATO, mainly on an asymmetric basis, and exponentially enhance its pre-eminence over other militaries in the former Soviet space.