Written by Ilya Kramnik; Originally appeared at Izvestia; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront (January 23, 2019)
The 2011-2020 State Armaments Program (SAP) implementation is approaching the end. In some instances, it will be completely or almost completely fulfilled, in some others there is a big gap between the implementation and the plan. Soon the Russian military will start receiving weapons under the newly reapproved 2018-2027 SAP. Izvestia attempts to assess its key provisions.
The strategic component of SAP provokes the fewest questions. Modernization of strategic nuclear forces (SNF) remains a priority irrespective of situation, and the current political situation can only magnify its importance. It is evident that the SNF will continue to acquire Yars ICBMs in a mobile configuration, replacing the aging Soviet-era Topols. The deployment of silo-based Sarmat replacing the Voyevoda is expected in 2021.
2019 will see the deployment of the Avangard gliding hypersonic re-entry vehicle, whose capabilities were demonstrated in late 2018.
Deployments of Avangard and Sarmat will likely be limited in numbers, at least initially (in the case of Avangard, it was plainly announced that 12 ICBMs carrying it will equip two regiments). This is due to both systems being treated as a major bargaining chip during the expected resumption of negotiations on strategic arms control, with their fate being dependent on future US moves in the realm of ABM systems and new-generation offensive weapons.
Among the “mass-produced” strategic systems one may also mention the Bulava SLBM and the Project 955 Borey SSBN. It was announced in 2018 that construction will continue in the Project 955A variant, and the navy ought to receive six more boats of this type, in addition to the eight already produced under the 2006-2015 and 2011-2020 SAPs.
Here, too, a lot depends on the future of negotiations, as the naval deterrent could greatly increase if a decision is made to keep in service not only the Boreys but also the Project 667BDRM Delfin armed with R-29RMU Sineva/Lainer SLBMs.
As far as conventional forces are concerned, the modernization of air defense forces of the Aerospace Forces is proceeding the most smoothly. By the end of 2018, they received 54 S-400 battalions out of 56 ordered under the 2011-2020 SAP.
This system will likely remain in production, given the need to replace many other various S-300 models. The rate of acquisition will likely decrease, since the percentage of modern weapons has increased and there is no need to sustain a high procurement rate.
Moreover, S-400 is now being exported, and the circle of users will increase in the coming years.
The most expected novelty of the Russian frontline air defense should become the S-500 system. It was initially assumed that 10 battalions would be procured under the 2011-2020 SAP, but these plans appear to have shifted. Only 1-2 battalions will be available for testing by the end of 2020.
It is evident the S-500 will be the main “hero” of the air and missile defense procurement over the next decade, but the missile’s complexity and cost mean the deliveries will not be very large.
But the medium-complexity S-350, which should replace the aging S-300PS with 5V55 missiles, should be procured in larger numbers. The first systems will be delivered already in 2019.
Finally, the VKS continue to procure Pantsyrs, the gun/missile air defense systems protecting the larger air defense weapons and airfields as the “last line of defense”.
Aircraft deliveries have been on decline since the first half of 2011-2020 SAP. Last year, VKS and Navy Aviation obtained 50 combat and combat trainer machines, far less than 2014-15 when they received 101 and 89 aircraft, respectively. Moreover, they received five non-combat machines, three passenger An-148 and two Tu-214 aerial command posts. Moreover, modernization of various fleets, from strategic Tu-160 and Tu-95 to attack Su-25, is continuing.
There is a whole range of questions concerning aircraft procurement under the next SAP, including the “suspended animation” of the Su-57 which apparently will be procured in “trace” quantities.
Even considering the huge volume of work that’s to be done on this aircraft, its delayed deliveries are hardly justifiable, since they threaten the air forces to lag behind in terms of their modernity, particularly in view of growing numbers of F-35s being delivered to the US military and US allies. Moreover, procurement of the Su-57 would make its export promotion easier.
Therefore clarifying the future of the Su-57 and a fairly sizable procurement contract are among the most expected parts of the new SAP.
However, deliveries of 4th-generation aircraft will continue, though in smaller numbers. Su-34 has already become the main aircraft of the frontal bomber regiments and will continue replacing the Cold War and local conflict veteran, the Su-24M. There is less clarity concerning fighter deliveries. The orders for Su-30SM and Su-35 have been nearly fulfilled, and in order for these machines to continue in production (or, likely, one of them), new contracts would be needed that ideally should be signed this year.
Izvestia already discussed helicopter procurement, and to prevent repetition, one may note that this year the VKS will receive the first of the new Mi-38 multirole helicopters. This machine still needs further development, and the helicopter program overall does not look entirely healthy, given production of two combat helicopter types. But once the Mi-28 and Ka-52 contracts are finished, here, too, one should expect clarity.
The most serious questions concern the non-combat aircraft. Izvestia already discussed the problem of new aerial tankers and whether the transport aviation can adequately support the Airborne Forces, but there is no plausible solution to these problems even on the horizon.
The Laggards: Army and Navy
Ground Forces’ situation remains difficult, though the latest Armata-family vehicles are already being delivered. The MOD signed a contract for 132 vehicles for troop testing.
The mainstay of the Ground Forces are still Soviet-era vehicles, and this will remain the case for the next 10 years though the MOD is attempting to modernize the old equipment through T-72, BMP-2, self-propelled artillery, and MRL upgrades.
The greatest hope concerning modernization are tied to the deliveries of “intermediate”-generation vehicles, such as the BMP-3 (including updated versions), T-90M tanks, Msta-S SP howitzers.
Naval modernization is also experiencing very serious problems, particularly concerning surface ships where the number of ship construction programs is almost greater than the number of actual ships constructed. Here the responsibility is shared by all the decisionmaking institutions, starting with politicians and ending with the industry, without excluding the Naval High Command, but, unfortunately, there are no indications the crisis will be quickly overcome.
The most interesting chapters of the new SAP will be the least reported-on ones, such as the new command and reconnaissance systems, UAVs, communications, etc. These or other systems sometimes are noticed by the media and experts, but the time to make decisions is already upon us. 2019 ought to see the Armiya exhibition and the MAKS-2019 aviation exhibition, and it is likely answers to many questions about new contracts will be given then.