News Analysis: What's behind Russia's military show-off

February, 2008

Russia wrapped up its 12-day joint exercise between its Air Force and Navy in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans Saturday, arousing concerns from NATO members and other western countries. This is the first large-scale overseas drill by Russian fleets and aircraft since the end of the Cold War, which shows the country's military strength. The exercise came when Russia has toughened its stance in dealing with the West and the expansion of NATO. The war game involved the Soviet-era aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet the Moskva cruiser, anti-submarine ships and dozens of strategic bombers, fighter jets and airborne warning and control planes. Moscow said there's no need for NATO -- the U.S.-led military bloc that once rivals the Soviet Union -- to enroll new members in Eastern Europe since the Cold War has already ended.

Washington has fueled up Kremlin's worry after it unveiled plans to deploy anti-ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe by deploying interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. Since Moscow's diplomatic efforts, including talks between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice and defense ministers from the two nations last year, failed to haul the U.S. plans, Russian military's voice has grown stronger. Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, said last December that Russia's strategic missiles are capable of passing through any existing and prospective missile defense systems, including the one proposed by the United States for Eastern Europe. Solovtsov made the remark when Russia made several test-fires of inter-continental ballistic missiles and issued the layouts of submarines deployment, missiles and anti-missile systems deployment in the country.

Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Armed Forces, said in mid-January that Russia may use nuclear weapons pre-emptively if under serious threat, underlining the tough stance of the military. Russia also pledged to take anti-satellite missions if necessary amid worries about the development of space weapons and the militarization of the outer space where the United States enjoys a remarkable advantage. Analysts believe that Russia, by flexing its military muscle, intends to show its determination and strength in dealing with the West, so that it can win respect and cooperate with the West on an equal footing, especially in such fields as anti-proliferation and anti-terrorism. Such moves are also believed to meet Russia's domestic political need when First Deputy Minister Dmitry Medvedev is widely expected to succeed the tough-to-west but popular President Vladimir Putin after March 2 election, when the later is to step down due to constitutional bar on a consecutive third term.


Commander: Russian navy to build up presence in Atlantic, Mediterranean

Russia will build up its presence in the strategic areas of the world, including the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, navy commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said on Sunday. "We'll do all we can to build up our presence where Russia has strategic interests," RIA news agency quoted the senior officer assaying at the Northern Fleet's base Severomorsk, in the Arctic Circle. "What is important is that we have appeared (in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean) at a scheduled time and not just that we appeared there," he said while commenting a joint Air Force and Navy exercise in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic. The 12-day war game and two-month maneuver was the first large-scale Russian navy exercise in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in 15 years. Russia's naval task force in the drill comprised the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, the Udaloy-Class destroyers Admiral Levchenko and Admiral Chabanenko, as well as support vessels. The flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva cruiser, joined up with the other warships in the Mediterranean on Jan. 18 to participate in the maneuvers in the Atlantic that ended on Saturday. Russia will carry out similar missions once every six months, Vysotsky said.


Russia sends bombers, fighters to Atlantic, Arctic

Russia sent fighters and long-range bombers to the Arctic and North Atlantic on Friday to take part in manoeuvres demonstrating revival of some of the military power and reach it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin, set to hand the presidency to a chosen successor after an election that will gauge his own popularity, tapped feelings of national humiliation in rebuilding forces left to decay in the 1990s. The navy had lost the global role it had grown to in the 1970s, aircraft and ships lacked fuel. The air force said more than 40 aircraft would take part in the manoeuvres, which follow similar exercises by warships and bombers last month off the Atlantic coast of France and Spain. "Air force pilots will carry out practice in the areas involving reconnaissance, missile-bombing attacks on a navy attack force of a hypothetical enemy, air-to-air combat and refuelling and patrolling," an air force spokesman said. The bomber group included two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers, codenamed "Blackjack" by NATO, two turbo-prop Tu-95 "Bear" strategic bombers, and eight Tu-22 "Blinder" bombers. MiG-31 and Su-27 fighters were also sent to the region. Putin, who plans to draw on his popularity and retain influence after the election, has renewed long-range bomber missions and approved an upgrade of nuclear forces he said was needed after NATO built up forces close to Russia's borders.


But some key economic leaders, including Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have questioned Russia's assertive foreign policy. That has sparked speculation that there is a dispute at the top levels of the Kremlin about Russia's sabre rattling as Putin's chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev, moves towards almost certain electoral victory. Medvedev, a 42-year-old former lawyer who is board chairman at gas giant Gazprom, has made few references to foreign policy and seems more confident dealing with economics and trade. Analysts say Medvedev faces a tough challenge to find compromise with hardliners inside the Kremlin who wanted Putin to back a different candidate for the presidency. Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister, last month called for a revival of the navy to boost international respect for Russia, but he complained that reform of the navy had taken longer than envisaged. Russian military spending in absolute terms is substantially lower than that of China, Britain or France and less than a tenth of the United States.


In related news:

Russia, Military: An Attempt at Stealth


Russian President Vladimir Putin “some time ago” authorized aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi to pursue a new stealth bomber design, according to a Jan. 23 AvioNews report citing sources close to the Kremlin. Unfortunately for Russia, it just is not that simple.


Russian aircraft designer and manufacturer Sukhoi received authorization from Russian President Vladimir Putin “some time ago” to pursue a new stealth bomber design, AvioNews reported Jan. 23. Citing sources close to the Kremlin, the report suggests the new design has a variable-geometry wing configuration and is called the T-60S. While this development is certainly noteworthy, Russia has several challenges to meet in pursuit of stealth technology.

The Soviet Perspective

The Soviets never believed in stealth. Moscow always worked from a position of quantitative superiority, a geopolitical reality that shaped its weapons development. Thus, the Kremlin has never shared the Pentagon’s faith in small numbers of complex, advanced systems — systems informed by the West’s quantitative disadvantage in central Europe during the Cold War. Russia also has strong geopolitical ties to air defense, and this inclination has led to the belief that improvements in radar technology would consistently outpace improvements in stealth technology, leaving the very expensive and resource-intensive pursuit of stealth not only unattractive but apparently wasteful. It was only as the Soviet Union was collapsing that the world witnessed the possibilities of stealth: U.S. Air Force (USAF) F-117A Nighthawks successfully penetrated the second most heavily defended airspace in the world — the skies above Baghdad— without suffering a single loss. (The most heavily defended airspace was over Moscow.) Of no small significance was the fact that both Baghdad and Moscow’s airspaces were heavily defended by Russian-designed and -built air-defense equipment. Since the Soviet collapse, Russia has carefully observed the technological pre-eminence of the U.S. military. While far more fundamental issues continue to trouble the Russian military, the Kremlin has leveraged the height of late Soviet defense technology as a stepping stone to get back on its feet. Though almost painfully slow at times, Russia has begun to field updated variants of those designs — everything from the BMD-4 airborne infantry fighting vehicle to the Su-34 “Fullback” fighter-bomber. Fundamentally new designs have yet to mature fully, much less prove themselves. But Russia’s progress toward new, modern weapon systems is already under way. This includes Mikoyan’s (MiG’s) work on the Skat unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

The Challenges of Stealth

But the degree of success in these pursuits is another question entirely. Nuclear submarine propulsion — an endeavor where quality workmanship is especially crucial — took the Soviets far longer to master than it did the United States. Only with the late Akula attack sub did they really begin to demonstrate the quality necessary even to attempt to close the acoustic signature gap with U.S. subs. Stealth is the same way. Imprecision in design and production alike can severely undermine the acoustic signature of a submarine or the radar cross-section (RCS) of an airframe. Early B-2s especially required delicate care and maintenance (something in which the Russians have decidedly not made a name for themselves) to maximize their stealth characteristics. The latest F-22 Raptor stealth fighters now represent the third generation of U.S. stealth design. Billions upon billions of dollars have gone into these designs dating back to the 1960s and the SR-71 Blackbird; stealth has benefited from nearly half a century of concerted effort by the Pentagon. This is not a developmental trajectory Russia can just sidestep into. The Kremlin did reportedly obtain the wreckage of the USAF F-117 downed over Kosovo in 1999. (While the Serbian SA-3 battery commander who shot it down certainly deserves credit for his skills, the F-117s flying out of Aviano, Italy, were also following the same transit route for the fourth night in a row, making their flight path extremely predictable). But while there are certainly lessons to be learned from such tangible evidence, the F-117 was ultimately a primitive design. Simple maneuvers reportedly could increase its RCS dramatically, if momentarily. Its unconventional design also was tricky to fly.

Russia’s Pursuit of Stealth

Nevertheless, in addition to design work on the T-60S, concurrent development is already under way at Sukhoi on the Advanced Tactical Frontline Fighter (abbreviated from the Russian to PAK FA), in cooperation with India. Combined with the stealth characteristics apparent in MiG’s Skat mock-up, the Kremlin has clearly had a change of heart about stealth. But while the Russians understand a great deal about the science of radar, two aspects of this development are still emerging. First, there is the question of priority. Though Putin’s Russia is a Russia no longer categorically short of money, funds are still limited. The Russian military has massive problems to confront, and it is not yet clear that the Kremlin is willing to (or ought to) devote anywhere near the amount of resources necessary to develop and produce a truly stealth anything. (Meanwhile, Russia’s navy could yet see its best chances at revival through smaller, more realistic and obtainable designs.) Understanding of the science of radar and gleaning clues from well-publicized successful U.S. designs hardly translate into the ability to design and manufacture stealth platforms.

DIAGRAM - Russian Stealth Sukhoi T-60S

Second is the apparent intention to incorporate variable-geometry wings into the T-60S design. Variable-geometry wings were a feature favored heavily by the Tupolev design bureau in the late Soviet years. They found their way back into the production designs of both the Tu-22M “Backfire” and the Tu-160 “Blackjack”. Although their use is now well understood by Russian engineers, the juncture of the wing with the fixed root in the fuselage could prove a particularly challenging surface for reducing RCS. While the PAK FA and Skat appear to mimic widely publicized U.S. designs more closely, their ultimate degree of success as stealth platforms remains an open question. But while very serious challenges will confront Russia in its pursuit of stealth, perhaps the takeaway point is that the Kremlin is now concurrently beginning to field — if very slowly — new late fourth-generation airframes while looking forward at least a decade. Whether or not the Russians can adequately balance these dual objectives, the Russian air force now appears not only to be revitalizing its equipment, but also moving to sustain that revitalization into the future.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

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