Russia hit by tank crisis
General of the Army Nikolai Makarov, chief of armaments, looks forward to a breakthrough in tank building soon. In 2009, the Russian Army will get a new tank - the T-95 - far superior to existing models. This is an entirely new battle tank, with new running gear, power plant, armaments, fire control, reconnaissance and target identification facilities. The tank is currently undergoing tests, expected to be completed this year. Its adoption for service will, hopefully, bring the long-awaited unification to this sphere. Russia's is the only army in the world using two types of main battle tank: the gas turbine T-80 (T-80U) and the diesel-powered tank T-90 (T-90S). Both have the same weight, size and identical combat characteristics. Other types in service include the T-62, T-64, T-72 and their versions, and even the T-55.
This range of types creates many problems for providing fuel, lubricants, spare parts, tools, equipment and maintenance. It is also economically wasteful to maintain such diverse models. Large numbers of tanks and their ammunition require annual utilization, the funds for which have never been fully available. In a global perspective, tank building policy has remained unchanged since the 1960s and 1980s when the T-64, T-72 and T-80 were designed. A comparison of tank characteristics (including the T-80M1 Bars and advanced Black Eagle, which never reached the mass production stage) shows the hallmarks of "creeping" modernization. But since tanks have remained the main offensive factor for ground forces, many countries have been proactive in developing and manufacturing cutting edge anti-tank missiles. Equipped with non-contact fuses, they effectively penetrate all types of explosive reactive armor (ERA). Also under development are devices that disable the engine fuel system, rendering tanks immobile. Moreover, despite its high fire power, the modern tank is unable to deal with air attacks.
The fitting of Russian tanks with anti-tank missiles fired through the gun barrel has greatly increased the effectiveness of tank armament. Its kill radius is now over five kilometers. But this advantage is offset by the absence of up-to-date reconnaissance and observation systems (aerial, let alone space-based ones). The line of sight and fire are set so low that it is practically impossible to see and, moreover, aim at a target from the tank. Nor are there high-quality communications available, affecting control over tank units. So we can say that the "tank crisis" that has hit the Russian Army has been largely provoked by the diversity of its tank fleet. According to Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces General of the Army Alexei Maslov, the ultimate solution is only possible in the long-term. He also does not conceal that Russian tanks are behind in using modern electronics. He said, "although work to develop a tank battlefield information management system (BIMS) is already underway, its installation on outdated models is too costly and therefore not recommended. The new equipment is planned to be mounted on newly designed armored vehicles."
The general said that even the T-90 (which is considered a modern unit and with which only the elite Kantemirovskaya and Tamanskaya tank divisions will be equipped by 2010) is outdated and no BIMS will be installed on it. That is to say, in battlefield conditions Russian tanks will still be shooting in the dark. Maybe the adoption of the T-95 will lighten the skies? Rumors of the new tank have been circulating for over 15 years. It was reportedly to have been adopted for service as early as 1994. There is also a hypothetical description of the tank. It is supposed to have an engine of no less than 1,500 hp, most likely multi-fueled and diesel-powered; a cannon 135 mm in caliber; active protection; and a control system that can be incorporated into the "digital battlefield" system. Its hull and turret are made of composite armor. A distinctive feature of the T-95 is its new layout with an uninhabited turret and a crew accommodation in an armored capsule. It is still difficult to judge whether the new battle vehicle will have all these features.
Russian bureaucrats have created many myths and legends about the survival of the nucleus of Russia's defense sector. Actually, its present condition is critical, and the reasons are well known. One is the aging of highly qualified production personnel, many of whom are approaching retirement age. Engineering school graduates are unwilling to take jobs in the defense sector because of low wages. No worker replacements are trained anywhere in the country either. Earlier, it was taboo to draft workers from defense factories into the army. Now this privilege is abandoned, and graduates of the few surviving vocational schools seek employment elsewhere, but not in the defense sector where receiving a foreign travel passport is a problem. Another problem is the aging of the equipment in the defense industry: its production lines and machine tools have long passed the 30-year limit. Many key technologies have been lost as have co-production links. The uncontrolled growth of energy costs is outstripping inflation and is well above the deflators provided by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. It is obvious that the 2006-2015 government defense order will fall short in both the range and quality of products ordered.
Perhaps a factor contributing to the preservation of large-scale mass tank production in Russia will be the establishment of an armor holding, which began last fall. As a first step, it will embrace all incorporated plants headed by the research and production corporation Uralvagonzavod, which is 100% federally-owned. As the second step, the holding will include private enterprises, among them ChTZ-Uraltrak, which develops and manufactures diesel tank engines. But nearly all plants being incorporated into the holding call for massive economic rehabilitation and retooling. A lot here will depend on how active the state will be in this process. And still the situation is unlikely to be radically improved. Too many problems exist in the defense sector and in tank building specifically. There is little confidence, therefore, that plans for the new tank and its mass production will be translated into reality, at least not in the timeline announced.
In related news:
Russia to deliver 24 Pantsir-S1 SAM systems in 2008
Russia to double production of conventional weapons by 2015
Russia will more than double production of conventional weaponry by 2015, a first deputy prime minister said on Monday. "By 2010, we are planning to increase production [of conventional weapons] by 30%, and by 2015, we expect it to increase 120%," Sergei Ivanov said at a government meeting attended by President Vladimir Putin. The Russian government's Military-Industrial Commission will discuss on Tuesday a strategy for the development of defense enterprises manufacturing conventional weapons and government defense contracts for 2009. Russia is pursuing a government armament program for the period up to 2015, which envisions the procurement of weaponry for all branches of the Armed Forces. For instance, the Russian Air Force is supposed to receive 116 new and 408 upgraded aircraft for forward-deployed units, and 156 new and 372 modernized helicopters over the next eight years. Ivanov also said the share of civilian products manufactured by defense companies must reach 59% by 2015.
MiG-31 interceptors to hold live firing exercises in Siberia
Up to 20 long-range interceptors will conduct launches of guided missiles during a tactical exercise in Siberia on Wednesday, a Russian Air Force spokesman said. The live firing drills, involving MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors from an air regiment based in the Chita Region, will be held at the Telemba firing range. "During the exercise, MiG-31 interceptors will fire missiles at airborne and ground targets at night and during the day," Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky said. "About 20 combat jets will participate in the drills." The MiG-31 Foxhound is a two-seat supersonic interceptor aircraft developed to replace the MiG-25 Foxbat. It is equipped with two D-30F6 turbofan two-shaft engines with a common afterburner and a variable supersonic nozzle, which allow the aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds of up to Mach 2.83. The interceptor also features unique air-to-air missiles capable of hitting targets at ranges exceeding 200 kilometers (125 miles), including aircraft with stealth capabilities, cruise missiles, and supersonic aircraft. According to various sources, about 500 MiG-31s have been produced since production began in 1978, approximately 370 of which remain in service with the Russian Air Force. Russia plans to modernize its whole fleet of MiG-31interceptors, which have been in service for 25 years, and extend their service life with the air force until 2015. Drobyshevsky also said more than 10 units from the 5th Air Army based in the Urals Military District will participate in large-scale combined-arms exercises at the Kapustin Yar and Ashuluk training grounds, both in south Russia's Astrakhan region near the Caspian Sea. The exercises will be held on April 1-10, and will involve MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors, Su-24 Fencer fighter-bombers, Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters and transport planes.
NATO fighters accompany Russian bombers near Alaska
NATO fighters accompanied Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers on a regular strategic patrol flight on Wednesday, a Russian Air Force spokesman said. Two Bear bombers and two Il-78 aerial tankers conducted a 16-hour patrol mission on Wednesday over the Arctic and the Pacific Ocean and performed aerial refueling. "During the flight over neutral waters near Alaska, the Russian planes were accompanied by NATO fighters," Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky said. Interceptions of Russian combat aircraft by NATO fighters have been a common occurrence since Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans last August, following an order signed by President Vladimir Putin. Drobyshevsky reiterated on Wednesday that regular patrols of Russian strategic bombers do not pose a threat to other countries, and Russia always issues prior warnings of their patrols. He said that the main purpose of these missions was to train pilots in instrument flight and aerial refueling.
Russia's military says no further personnel cuts
Russia will not scale down its Armed Forces in the near future through ongoing organizational reform, a senior military official said on Thursday. "We are optimizing the organizational structure of the Russian Armed Forces, but we are not planning any reductions either in the number of troops or the number of staff at the Defense Ministry's central offices," said Colonel General Vasily Smirnov, deputy chief of the General Staff. Russia has downsized its Armed Forces to about 1.1 million personnel, while the staff at central offices has been reduced to 10,500 personnel. "All further restructuring will be implemented within these numbers," Smirnov said, adding that the reforms would primarily affect support structures, where civilians could replace military officers. The scale and the context of military reforms is believed to be a major source of a long-running conflict between the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense, which intensified after the appointment of Anatoly Serdyukov as defense minister. Russian media have recently circulated reports claiming the country may soon see new faces among its top military commanders as a result of a major military leadership reshuffle. According to various sources, one of the most high-profile figures in the shake-up will be Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen.Yury Baluyevsky, who could leave his post as early as May. He is likely to be replaced by one of his deputies. Baluyevsky, 61, traditionally thought of as a commanding officer with good strategic planning skills, has recently expressed strong criticism over some controversial issues in Russia's military policy, including the relocation of the Navy Headquarters from Moscow to St. Petersburg and the role and place of the General Staff in the management of the Russian military. Unconfirmed rumors in the Russian media say Baluyevsky has submitted his resignation several times in the past six months and is ready to leave the post shortly after Dmitry Medvedev's inauguration as Russia's new president.