During the last decade, Russia’s industrial-military complex began actively working to enhance its armed forces. The rearmament of many types of troops is proceeding at a high pace, especially the strategic missile forces and the aerospace forces, as well as the Navy to a lesser extent (except the submarine fleet). At the same time, the army’s equipment is but a deep modernisation of Soviet developments. This trend is made possible by the opportunities offered by the "digitisation" of Soviet equipment with the use of modern element base. What are the real prospects for the Russian military-industrial complex?
Military aircraft industry: the Soviet platform of the Su-27 and Mi-8 are the basis for the modern aircraft items
Since the beginning of the Russian military campaign in Syria in September 2015, the use of front-line Su-34 bombers has been constantly broadcasted in both by the world's largest as well as Russian mass media. The multifunctional fighters Su-30SM and Su-35S are widely shown as well. And they are all evolutions of the fourth-generation Su-27 heavy fighter, adopted by the USSR Air F in 1990. This was done, in many ways, at the expense of foreign customers in the initiative, as until the 2010s the state defence order for new combat aircraft was virtually absent. This is especially true of the two-seat multi-purpose Su-30SM fighter, which would have hardly appeared if not for the largest Indian order (272 aircraft are contracted, more than 240 of them are delivered).
Only the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter, which first took to the air on January 29, 2010, can be called a completely "independent" project, and the first work on its creation began in 2002. Although the aircraft was fully created by the Russian Federation, the initial development of fifth-generation fighters began in the USSR in the early 1980s.
A similar situation remains in the helicopter industry as military transport helicopters Mi-8 / Mi-17 in their modern versions, for example, Mi-8AMTSH are the best-sellers for both the international and domestic markets. It is worth noting that the first Mi-8 came into operation back in 1965. However, the craft is still used in the present. Other such popular modern Russian military helicopters, for example, the strike Mi-35M, Mi-28N and Ka-52 are also direct descendants of Soviet design.
The area of military cargo aircraft is still largely composed by Soviet aircrafts. It is necessary to maintain a huge fleet of such aircraft as An-124, An-26, An-22, etc. in flight condition. The Ilyushin plant (production was moved from Tashkent to Ulyanovsk) is the only one that has managed to master the same production in Russia. In recent years, small-scale production of Il-76MD-90A, the most advanced modification of Il-76 Soviet military cargo plane, has started. However, there are some problems here, too, chiefly that the pace of production is very low. The only Russian project of a light transport aircraft Il-112V, created to replace An-26, is only now preparing for its first flight, the delayed timing of which has repeatedly frustrated. According to some sources, the aircraft has some serious design flaws and its budget seriously overstretched. That is why its development will be significantly delayed and will cost more.
Mass-produced Russian land machinery is also a direct legacy of the USSR. At the moment, Russia is the undisputed leader in the number of new tanks supplied to the world market. The battle tanks T-90S guaranteed the machine building company Uralvagonzavod a great market success. The T-90 tank was adopted in 1992, and its development began in the late 1980s on the basis of the T-72 tank, which is the most mass-produced tank of the second generation in the world (its productions is estimated to more than 30,000 units). In 2001, an export modification of the tank, T-90S tank, was created. It was of great demand due to the excellent price-quality ratio: India contracted more than 2,000 tanks, and more than 300 units were purchased by Algeria.
As for innovations in the market of armoured vehicles, the development of a promising new generation tank on the Armata universal heavy tracked platform should be noted. Some T-14 tanks are already in trial operation in the Russian Armed forces. A similar situation exists with armoured combat vehicles: infantry fighting vehicles (BMP) and armoured personnel carriers (BTR). Tests of promising products on the basis of the middle Kurganets-25 track platform and the middle Boomerang wheel platform are just starting their trials, and they have not quite clear prospects; in the meantime, the Russian army is armed with Soviet BMP-2, BMP-3, BTR-80, etc. These machines are undergoing various upgrades, for example, to the BTR-82A or BMP-3M level. However, there is nothing fundamentally new in them.
The Russian AD system of Russia is still a legacy of the Soviet Union. One of the most famous Russian weapon systems is the long-range anti-aircraft missile system (SAM) S-400, which came into service in the Russian Armed Forces in 2007. However, the development of this SAM began in 1987, by its predecessor – S-300PM. Other means of AD coming into service of the Russian Aerospace Forces, such as Tor-M2 short-range SAM, Buk-M3 medium-range SAM, are upgrades of Soviet systems. The use of new technologies has allowed for improvements in their functionality both in terms of range and probability of damage as well as the number of simultaneously accompanied and fired targets.
Nuclear deterrence is provided by weapons, which are an upgraded version of the Soviet products and ideas. Perhaps the most important component of the Russian army is the Strategic Nuclear Forces. They include Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), Strategic Submarine Forces and Strategic Aviation. As for the RVSN, represented by the pit and ground-based mobile Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), all standing in service samples have a direct connection with the Soviet military-industrial sector. Heavy liquid-propellant Voevoda R-36M2 missiles, capable of carrying ten heavy nuclear individually guided warheads (capacity equal 800 kilotons of TNT), were developed in the period from 1988 to 1992 at the Yuzhmash enterprise in Dnepropetrovsk. This important component of the RVSN should be replaced by the Sarmat RS-28 ICBM, which is a direct branch of the evolution of the Voivoda missile.
Another priority project, an Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, also has Soviet roots. Its predecessor, the Albatros project, was developed in the late 1980s, but due to underfunding as well as other problems, the program was stopped. According to the Russian President, the serial production of Avangard is bound to start in a few months, making Russia a pioneer in the field of such weapons.
Turning to the marine component of Russia's nuclear triad. The first point to mention is Project 955, fourth-generation Borey submarines as well as the R-30 Bulava (known as SS-N-32) ballistic missiles, which they are equipped with. While the development of the Borey in its present form began in 1989, the missile for the submarine has been developed in modern Russia, since 1998. And it has turned out to be a very unsuccessful one, as from 31 starts 10 were emergency, which is as much as 32.3%. Moreover, Bulava does not have any outstanding characteristics: e.g. American Trident II missile, adopted in 1990, throws twice the weight; and its warheads are aimed at the target more accurately.
As a result, the basis of the marine component of the Russian nuclear triad remains the nuclear submarines of the Dolphin 667BDRM project with the modernised in Russia liquid-propellant Sineva R-29RMU2 and Lainer R-29RMU2.1 ballistic missiles.
There are also more exotic prototypes of weapons: for example, an underwater unmanned Poseidon torpedo, carrying a powerful nuclear charge at a range of up to 10,000 km, or a cruise missile with a nuclear Burevestnik power plant, capable of flying at unlimited range. Both concepts emerged during the Cold war.
Navy — is it time to go to China?
The most problematic industry for Russia is the military shipbuilding, especially in the surface ships construction. The most difficult ships, designed by Russian manufacturers, are the frigates of 11356 and 22350 projects. As the supplies of Ukrainian power plants were stopped, it made the production of these ships more complicated. Funding for the fleet is very limited, especially in the state arms program for the period from 2018 to 2027.
In this case, an interesting idea may be the purchase or joint production of first-class ships in China. Beijing has mastered the production of aircraft carriers and cruisers, and by 2030 it is likely to have four carrier strike groups. Of course, in Russia, many people will be very critical about prospect; however, there is no other way to get a replacement for obsolete and dilapidated Soviet-built ships quickly and relatively cheaply.
While the entirety of the Russian military-industrial was not mentioned here, the examples provided are enough to illustrate the current trends.
1. The former Soviet enterprises and Soviet infrastructure and design remain the basis for the current Russian military-industrial sector. Most of the new equipment is the modernisation of the samples designed in the USSR or upgraded to the level of serial products of projects developed by the Soviet designers.
2. The equipment which was completely developed by the modern Russia state is an early one. The majority of these products are at the trials stage and have not been accepted in the Russian Army as of yet.
3. Despite its effectiveness and popularity, the equipment designed in the USSR in 1970-1980s still has to be replaced. The existing modernisation potential for many items, though initially huge, is coming to an end.
4. The change of generations requires serious financial investment. However, the economic crisis, the fall of the ruble and the decline in oil and gas revenues has resulted in a precipitous drop in the pace of work performed.