Russia armed Belarus to the teeth: S-400s, Tor-M2s, Su-35s, Mi-35s
In the face of escalating tensions with NATO, Belarus has taken a significant stride toward bolstering its military capabilities. This move, which commenced in 2020, involves a substantial integration with the Russian armed forces. The underlying motivation for this action is the perceived increase in Western security threats along the Belarusian borders.
- Russian strategic A-50 AEW&C is targeted by UAVs in Belarus
- Second S-400 of the Belarusian Air Force was put into service
- Russia sent 15 Tor-M2 SAMs and engineering equipment to Belarus
Belarus has been upgrading its air defense and attack capacities, chiefly using the S-400 long-range air defense systems and the Iskander-M ballistic missile systems from Russia. These were key in the joint drills in May 2022, leading to the activation of another S-400 battalion in late June.
These systems are a strategic countermeasure against the increasing deployment of F-35 fifth-generation fighters by NATO members in Eastern Europe. They are supplemented by a host of other air defense assets, Russian S-400 systems, and Su-35 fighters stationed in Belarus.
S-400s and Iskander SAMs
In the latter half of 2022, Belarus received its first Iskander-M missile systems. These weapons serve as the primary delivery means for nuclear warheads that Belarus has access to, thanks to a nuclear sharing agreement with Russia. In late May, Belarus simulated nuclear strikes with these assets. The Iskanders, with their ability to evade enemy air defenses and strike with high precision, have the potential to decimate key targets such as airfields in the initial stages of a war.
Belarus has strategically reinforced its security by deploying Russia’s two most lethal ground-based asymmetric weapons systems, the S-400 and Iskander-Ms. This bolstering of power is further supported by the placement of Wagner Group paramilitaries within the country, poised to play a significant role in potential counterinsurgency operations. This move is particularly crucial for Belarus, as it faces potential unrest stirred by Poland-based paramilitary groups, intensively backed by Warsaw, aiming to destabilize the Belarusian state and replace it with a Western-aligned government.
It’s been confirmed that the Wagner Group forces will provide valuable insights and experiences to the Belarusian forces, having gained substantial combat experience in Ukraine, most notably in the battle for Bakhmut. Beyond sharing knowledge, these Russian contractors are expected to play a pivotal role in deterring, and if required, neutralizing insurgents, adding another layer of security to Belarus’ defense strategy.
Belarus has taken significant strides in bolstering its security infrastructure, thanks to new mobile missile systems and support from Wagner paramilitaries. The nation has also made a substantial investment in modernizing its conventional forces, sourcing from Russia’s military technology and tapping into its own burgeoning local defense industry. In a recent announcement, Andrey Lukyanovich, the commander of the Belarusian Air and Air Defence Forces, confirmed the receipt of the advanced Tor-M2 short-range air defense systems and an entire squadron of Mi-35M helicopters.
The introduction of the Mi-35M helicopters, with the first four set to be deployed in the initial quarter of the year, marks a significant upgrade to the country’s existing attack helicopter fleet. The current fleet mainly comprises upgraded Mi-24 helicopters, which were initially acquired during the Soviet era. The Mi-35M, a highly enhanced derivative of the Mi-24, has been widely used by the Russian Army Aviation in the 2010s. It has proven its mettle in offensives in Ukraine, despite not being a dedicated attack helicopter like the pricier Mi-28 and Ka-52 platforms.
Interestingly, the Mi-35M also doubles as a troop transport, albeit in a limited capacity. Belarus has always prioritized enhancing its rotary wing aviation capabilities, reportedly maintaining high degrees of combat readiness. This strategy was particularly evident during the heightened tensions with NATO members in late 2020, where it played a vital role in demonstrating the military’s resolve. The Mi-35M shares significant commonality with the Mi-24 fleet, although it remains to be seen whether the older aircraft will be phased out or continue to serve alongside the new additions.
Belarus is reportedly on the brink of placing additional orders for Su-30SM fighter jets from Russia. This strategic move is seen as a step towards phasing out the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters from its air fleet. The Su-30SM, often referred to as a ‘4+ generation’ aircraft, is the most formidable fighter jet deployed by any European nation due to its advanced features and extensive range.
One of the key advantages of the Su-30SM is its impressive 400km air-to-air engagement range, courtesy of R-37M missiles. This gives it a 2-4 times longer range than any NATO aircraft armed with Meteor or AIM-120 missiles. The Su-30SM evolved from the Su-27 Flanker, an air superiority fighter that Belarus inherited from the Soviet Union but had to retire because of exorbitant operational costs.
However, the Su-30SM, with its modern production techniques and materials, is less expensive to operate than the Su-27. Its new avionics, engines, and weaponry provide an overwhelmingly superior performance. The Russian Defense Ministry has ordered over 120 Su-30SMs, and more than 500 fighters from the same Su-30 family are already serving in countries such as India, Algeria, Kazakhstan, and Myanmar.
Belarus, a key player in the local industry, is gearing up to modernize about 400 T-72B tanks inherited from the Soviet Union into the T-72BM2 standard. This upgrade is roughly equivalent to the Russian T-72B3M, encompassing new fire controls, thermal sights, and a third-generation explosive reactive armor that bears a striking resemblance to the Russian Relikt. However, the effectiveness of this upgrade is a topic of debate, as T-72B3s have shown their vulnerability to advanced anti-tank weapons like Javelins in the Ukrainian theater. This has spurred Russia to innovate a more heavily fortified variant speculated to be the T-72B4, boasting armor protection standards that closely match those of the Russian Army’s most formidable tank, the T-90M.
In addition to the S-400 and Tor-M2 systems procured from Russia, there’s also speculation that Belarus aims to acquire a larger quantity of BuK-MB3K medium-range air defense systems. This is seen as a cost-effective alternative to the Russian BuK-M2, utilizing a wheeled launcher instead of a tracked one.
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