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White House worries about Kremlin’s military growth

This post was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The Research Group of the United States Congress (CRS) has published a couple of information notes about the Armed Forces of our country, signed by Andrew Bowen, an analyst for Russia and Europe. Document IF11589, dated June 30, is about the general state of affairs, and IF11603, dated July 20, is about military development and reforms.

Such memos are written to help Congressmen formulate US policy. The informative text of the documents is formatted to fit on one A4 sheet in duplex mode. According to the authors, this allows, without going into details, to provide American lawmakers with correct information about the state of the army of America’s main geopolitical enemy.

Bowen’s notes are strikingly different from many other papers circulated on Capitol Hill and dedicated to “America’s main enemies” – China, Russia and Iran. Here the reader will not find empty accusations of all conceivable sins, as well as the wildly popular phrase highly likely. And this tunes in to a kind of constructivism and sobriety of assessments.

Number

The research conducted by the author reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian army.

Bowen notes that since the five-day war over South Ossetia in the summer of 2008, Russia’s top political leaders have increasingly used military forces outside the country.

The number of personnel is estimated at about 1 million people, including: ground forces – 280 thousand, Aerospace Forces – 165 thousand, Navy – from 150 to 160 thousand, Strategic Missile Forces – 50 thousand, Airborne Forces – 45 thousand, special forces – from 17 to 20 thousand military personnel (data with reference to IISS Military Balance, 2020).

Progress is noted in the transition from a conscript army to a professional army, and at the same time, difficulties in attracting and retaining high-level specialists, without whom it is difficult to provide high-quality service for modern weapons and military equipment, not to mention its combat use.

Financing

Defense spending in the United States and Russia is about 4% of the gross national product. However, due to the difference in the size of national economies, the absolute figures are strikingly different: the Pentagon’s budget exceeds $ 700 billion, and ours is the equivalent of $ 60-65 billion. True, relatively low purchase prices in Russia make it possible to buy more commercial products per dollar spent.

The implementation of the State Arms Program for the period 2018-2027 (GPV-2027) will require $ 330 billion. It will be difficult for the government to find such an amount, given the negative economic outlook and the fall in energy prices, which are the main source of the Russian treasury.

Defense spending is expected to fall by 1% over a ten-year period. In short, the Kremlin’s ability to finance the military-industrial complex is diminishing.

“Economic pressures could diminish the level of ambition for GPV 2027,” Bowen writes. “The ability of the Russian defense industry to produce new weapons is limited, and financial constraints are expected to push for cheaper and more reliable purchases.” It turns out that more attention will be paid to upgraded versions of serial systems.

Priorities

The main priority of GPV-2027 is the procurement of high-precision missile weapons, including the Kalibr, Iskander-M, Dagger, Zircon, Avangard and others complexes, in the creation of which large investments have been made. “High material costs and technical risks make one wonder whether Russia will be able to move to the full-scale production and deployment of such weapons,” says Bowen.

According to the types of armed forces, an increase is noted in the funds allocated by GPV-2027 for equipping the ground forces and the military “elite” – special forces, marines and airborne troops. The focus is on increasing their mobility and controllability, and, in line with the lessons of the armed conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, improving intelligence and heavy artillery. Work will continue on the modernization of “tanks of the Soviet era” (apparently, we are talking about the T-72B3 and T-80BVM). They demonstrate high reliability and low operating costs compared to new designs.

The airborne forces and marines will be replenished with their own aviation and tank battalions, which will increase the capabilities of the rapid reaction forces to independently conduct operations. This is important in case of local conflicts.

For greater adaptability to them, ground forces have partially switched from understaffed divisions to fully formed brigades, Bowen writes. Today, the ground forces include both divisions built from regiments (which is better for the conditions of a full-scale war) and “modular” brigades (preferable for local conflicts).

The “integrated air defense system” was highly praised and given the epithet “great”. It is saturated with the advanced S-400 and Pantsir-S1 systems, the S-350 and Pantsir-SM were recently completed, and will become even stronger in the future with the adoption of the S-500. The note contains a remark: “However, some experts consider its declared possibilities to be exaggerated.”

Aviation

The basis of the fleet of Russian aircraft is composed of aircraft complexes, developed in Soviet times, but modernized with the introduction of the latest technologies, expanding functionality and arsenal. Over the past decade, the Aerospace Force has significantly upgraded its arsenal of high-precision weapons, and crews have increased flight hours and simulator training time. At the same time, there is a delay in the implementation of the PAKFA program and a general lag behind the United States in the field of guided weapons.

When placing orders for new fighters and bombers, the focus is gradually shifting to the fifth generation, but the pace of production will be determined by available funding. It is noted that individual decisions to purchase new aircraft for the Aerospace Forces (obviously we are talking about Su-57 and Mi-28NM) were made with the expectation of expanding export prospects and maintaining the competitiveness of the domestic aviation industry in the global arms market.

The Americans give low assessments of the quality and quantity of our military transport aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft and air tankers. Difficulties in implementing Ilyushin’s programs are among the reasons. “The composition of the military aviation fleet in terms of long-range and payload aircraft remains limited, which reduces the mobility of the Air Force and Army Rapid Deployment Forces.” is limited by the small number of landing ships in the Navy.

Deceived sailors

In general, according to the Americans, GPV 2027 is less ambitious than the previous GPV 2020. Mostly sailors are deprived of it. “Due to the reduction in funding for shipbuilding programs in GPV-2027, the Russian navy has been forced, along with the construction of ships on new projects, to modernize the old Soviet period, including submarines, to increase their service life.”

In order to maintain the number and strength of fire, preference is given to small displacement ships with universal launchers, modular in design and multifunctional in terms of application.

“Most ships with a large displacement are over 30 years old, they remain in operation thanks to various improvements and by upgrading with an extension of service life. Meanwhile, the shipbuilding industry is experiencing difficulties in launching new ships with a displacement of more than 7,000 tons,” the note said.

Hence the conclusion: “The projects of ships with large displacement are paused, and the fleet is concentrating on new classes of frigates and corvettes that are at sea.”

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