Politics and diplomacy are not my forte (although, I read a lot about them). What interests me more are the military aspects of geopolitics. As they say, the mightier your sword, the further your diplomacy can reach. Being also a patriotic Armenian, I look at military matters concerning our nation. But, as important as the military situation is in our tiny republic, we should not forget about the greater picture; I mean the larger military picture in the Caucasus as whole and the nations that surround it. Since the brief August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, there have been many developments in the military balance in the Caucasus. The most significant changes concern the Russians themselves. By putting together bits and pieces of common military related news, I will describe what the Kremlin’s military has been up to for the last couple of years in the Caucasus region.
But let me begin with a bit of history. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the armed forces of Russia had to live with massive cuts in the military budget. Throughout the nineties and the early years of the 21st century, the descendants of the mighty Red Army received little in new weapons while the existing ones were slowly being degraded or becoming obsolete. Priority was given to the Strategic Nuclear Forces, at the expense of the conventional Army, Navy and Air Force. Later on, and under the leadership of V.V. Putin, Russia and its economy began to rise… and so did its defense spending. Newer equipment began to slowly trickle in, but the units in the South-West (including the volatile Caucasus region) were at the bottom of the pecking order. Russia’s Black Sea fleet received no new ships for well over a decade. The 58th Russian Army that defeated the Georgians did not field first-class weapons and equipment.
The combat aircraft that were bombing Georgian troops and airfields were the same ones that were used to bomb the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the eighties. The almost 40 year old destroyer Smetlyvy was one of the veteran warships covering the amphibious landings in Abkhazia… After that brief war, change was expected….and, oh boy, things have changed. Now it seems that the once neglected South-West based units are at the top of priorities for the Kremlin planners, both civilian and military. Almost every new type of weaponry is going there. I compiled below a number of relevant equipment additions that show the importance the Russians are attaching to the Caucasus (see the following posts). Why are Putin and Medvedev doing this? Is it to prevent another aggressive act from Saakashvili et al? Or, is it much more than that?
After routing Saakashvili’s Western trained troops and wrestling away the Ukraine from the grips of the Western inspired Orange Revolution, Russians lost no time in extending the lease of the Sevastopol Naval base in Ukraine (till 2042)and they did the same for their Gyumri and Erebuni bases in Armenia (until 2044). It also took them no time to establish permanent military bases in the new republics of Abkhazia (49 year free lease) and South Ossetia (99 year free lease). As I mentioned in the beginning, I am not a political expert, but I can put 2 and 2 together. Longer term military presence agreements in Ukraine and Armenia, new military bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, latest weapons systems and aircraft and a whole new series of warships for the Black Sea can mean one thing: The Kremlin is giving top priority to the Caucasus and Black Sea area.
The Russians are there to stay and are getting ready for any possible future armed conflict. They want to keep the region under their control and they don’t want to let Turkey, Iran or the West call the shots there. The message they are sending is loud and clear. The Russians are not only relying on their military might, they are also relying on their allies in the region - the Abkazhians, the Ossetians and the Armenians. The Orthodox Christian Russians know all too well who their long-term allies are and who their foes are. The Russians have fought Turkic nations for centuries and they have always been back-stabbed by various Muslim clans in the Caucasus. Any short-term agreements or business deals at occur between Russians and the Turks, Azeris or Iranians are exactly that - short-term. I believe the same applies to the current relatively speaking “warmer” relationship between the West and Russia. Yes, they publicly say the “reset button” is working. But, in my humble opinion, this is also temporary. Over the long-term, they are all foes or, at the very least, they are serious rivals/competitors.
The struggle for the control of the greater Caucasus between the Russians, the Anglo-American pact, Turkey and Iran continues. The Russian side is currently the strongest contender, and it is still getting stronger. To further my point, the picture you see below sums it all up:
Here they are, in this photo taken in one of the new bases in Abkhazia, one can see the latest Russian tank (T-90), the latest infantry carrier (BMP-3) and the latest self-propelled artillery (MSTA-S). During the 08.08.08 war, the 58th Army based in the Caucasus had nothing better than the older T-72, BMP-2 and Akaccia. Some units were even using hopelessly obsolete T-62 tanks and BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles. Huge difference. The following links are of additional information regarding Russia's military presence in the region and detailed information regarding Georgia's military loses during its war against the Russian Federation:
The following are several recent news articles concerning military developments in the Russian Federation. I have embedded my commentaries within them.
This article talks about the current plans to re-equip the Black Sea Fleet with whole series of freshly built warships and submarines. Construction has already started on a corvette and a submarine with work on the first frigate to start before the end of this year. Since the nineties the BSF was the most neglected fleet with some of the oldest warships still soldiering on. Over the last 20 years, with many warships being decommissioned, the fleet shrank so much in quantity and quality that they could no longer maintain a permanent presence in the Mediterranean. Now, almost with a snap of the fingers, the Sevastopol based Black Sea Fleet has more frigates, corvettes, landing ships and submarines being built than the mightiest and traditionally the most important Russian naval force, the Northern Fleet.Black Sea Fleet (BSF) will receive six Project 22350 frigates, six Project 677 diesel submarines, two Project 11711 large landing ships, four ships of other projects, modernized bombers Su-24M instead of obsolete versions, and ASW aircrafts Il-38 instead of amphibious aircrafts Be-12 till 2020, reports Zerkalo Nedeli referring to Russian Navy Main HQ. Reinforcement of Black Sea Fleet will be conducted under State Arms Program 2011-2020, added the source. Navy Main HQ previously said that most of BSF ships have been in service for over 35 years, so by 2015 when new ships are commissioned into BSF the whole fleet would be in need of replacement. Being in operation for over 40 years, ASW aircrafts will be subject to decommission by that time.
On Oct 20 Russian and Ukrainian defense ministers signed a document providing that Russia will inform Ukraine about manpower, arms, and strength of Black Sea Fleet. Anatoly Serdiukov pointed out that the significant agreement signed is the first step to renewal of Black Sea Fleet. Currently, Russian BSF has less than 40 warships, including the fleet's flagship Guard missile cruiser Moskva; two submarines (only B-871 Alrosa is operable); two large ASW ships; three frigates; small missile, landing, reconnaissance ships; seagoing minesweepers, and salvage vessels. BSF naval aviation numbers about 35 aircrafts (Su-24, Su-24MR, Be-12, An-2, An-12, An-26) and 20 helicopters (Ka-27, Mi-14, Mi-8). Fleet manpower numbers about 25,000.
Black Sea Fleet (BSF) is an operational-strategic formation of Russian Navy; its main objective is ensuring Russia's military security in the Black Sea. It is believed that BSF was established on May 13, 1783 when the group of warships from disbanded Azov Flotilla led by Vice Admiral F.A. Klokachev arrived to Akhtiarskaya Harbor. Through over 200 years of its history, Black Sea Fleet took part in many campaigns, including Russo-Turkish wars, French War, the Great Patriotic War. Black Sea Fleet has written glorious pages in Russian Navy's chronicles; they are Battle of Tendra (1790), Battle of Sinop (1853), defense of Sevastopol (1854-1855, 1941-1942) and etc. During the Great Patriotic War BSF conducted 24 landing operations, scuppered 835 and damaged 539 enemy's ships. The breakup of the USSR made a serious strike upon Black Sea Fleet; according to bilateral agreements between Russia and Ukraine signed in 1995 and 1997 Soviet BSF was divided into Russian Black Sea Fleet and Ukrainian Navy. Nowadays, the greater part of the fleet's infrastructure is located in Ukraine. In 2008 Black Sea Fleet participated in Russian-Georgian conflict. Black Sea Fleet HQ is situated in Sevastopol. Some BSF naval bases are Novorossiysk, Sevastopol; under construction are Novorossiysk and Ochamchira (Abkhazia). Since July 17, 2007 BSF Commander is VADM Alexander Kletskov.
The Mi-28 Night Hunter is the replacement of the world famous Mi-24 Krokodil (Hind). During 2009, the first operational squadron of these ultramodern and very capable combat helicopters were based not near Moscow or St. Petersburg, not in Russia's Far East, not in central Asia…but at Buddenovsk in the Caucasus.Yesterday Rostov Helicopter Plant (‘Rosvertol’) General Director Boris Slyusar said the Russian Armed Forces are the priority for Mi-28N ‘Night Hunter’ deliveries, despite what he claims are many profitable offers from abroad. According to ITAR-TASS, he said: “We have many requests for the Mi-28N, but the RF Defense Ministry still doesn’t have these systems in sufficient quantity, and we will take its interests into account first.” Slyusar didn’t give the number of Mi-28N helicopters in Russian forces, but he said the North Caucasus Military District (NCMD) has about 20 ‘Night Hunters,’ and there will be more. He added: “Our task is to create in the district’s [NCMD's] troops in 2011 two groupings of Mi-28N.”
Who knows what he means by groupings. Squadrons? A second squadron or two additional squadrons? The information on the number of Mi-28N delivered is unclear and contradictory. In late 2009, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov rather dubiously claimed Russia had already procured 27. In May, a ‘Rosvertol’ marketing official said Russia would receive two squadrons of Mi-28N helicopters before 2011. She said two Mi-28N went to the pilot training center at Torzhok in early 2008, and ten more — apparently for the NCMD’s Budennovsk-based 487th Helicopter Regiment — were delivered in 2009. In mid-2009, ‘Helicopters of Russia’ General Director Andrey Shibitov also told Interfaks-AVN the Russian military had 12 Mi-28N helicopters.
So the question still stands: a second squadron of maybe 10 helicopters, or two additional squadrons? One thing’s certain, this goal’s been pushed from 2010 to 2011. ‘Rosvertol’ General Director Slyusar indicated his company sold 10 billion rubles of products in 2009, and this year sales are more than 15 billion rubles. Receipts from domestic and export sales are about equal. By 2015, the company has an ambitious goal of $1 billion in sales. Slyusar says the company is moving on this plan with modernization, equipment purchases, and people.
In the fall of 2008, Russia integrated the newly independent republics into its own air defense network. It deployed several S-300 battalions in Abkhazia. Do not be fooled, these air defense missiles are not to counter any air threats from Georgia. The Georgian Air Force is in the process of being dismantled and the handful of remaining of Su-25 warplanes are being offered for sale. The Georgian air arm will from now on consist of helicopters only, they will be attached to the army. These S-300 are to provide cover for Russian troops in case of any larger scale conflict with more capable foes.Russia announced Wednesday that it has moved a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system into the republic of Abkhazia, the independence of which Russia recognized in 2008, shortly after the Caucasian war. The deployment of the S-300s drew immediate protest from Georgia. The Foreign Ministry called it an "extremely dangerous and provocative step that presents a threat not only to the Black Sea region but to European security as a whole." The U.S. State Department, however, said the missile deployment was old news, The Associated Press reports. The French Foreign Ministry has said the deployment of Russian S-300 air defense systems in the former Georgian republic of Abkhazia undermines stability in the region. Russian Air Force head Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin said on Wednesday S-300 systems had been placed in Abkhazia to protect the airspace of Abkhazia and the other former Georgian republic of South Ossetia. He did not say how many S-300s had been deployed, RIA Novosti say.
The Su-34 is the latest fighter-bomber that is just now entering squadron service with the Russian Air Force. And guess were they are basing the first squadron? At Voronezh, 500 km south of Moscow. From there, this plane can fly to anywhere in the Caucasus and surrounding areas, drop its heavy load of smart bombs and precision missiles and return to base without having to do a single mid-air refueling. Nice location the Russians have chosen for their first squadron. Again, this ultramodern weapons system is not in Russia's north-west facing the might of NATO, it is not in the East facing possible threats from China or Japan, and it is not southern Siberia to provide cover for the volatile hot-spots of the Central Asian Republics.
Article source (in Russian): http://newsru.com/world/06dec2010/smer4.htmlInfographics about this weapon system: http://www15.rian.ru/img/75846232_free.html
Title says it all. The SMERCH is considered to be the most potent Multiple Launch Rocket System in the world. It can fire different types of rockets each weighing up to 800 kg. The 300 kg warhead may consist of high explosive, anti-personnel cluster munitions, bunker penetration munition, sub-munitions with a special guidance system that homes on tanks, multiple mines, etc. One type of rocket can even carry a disposable UAV for aerial spotting of ground targets. The latest rockets have a range of 90 kilometers. The 300mm SMERCH was not used against the Georgians. During the August, 2008 war, the Russians relied on the smaller 122mm GRAD and 220mm URAGAN rockets. The SMERCH is for large-scale warfare. It is not normally deployed for lower intensity conflicts. It's recent deployment in South Ossetia indicates the level of military seriousness Moscow is attaching to the Caucasus.
The following are related developments in Russia's resurgent military:
The Mistral sale, whose financial terms were not disclosed, also signaled a triumph for French President Nicolas Sarkozy's relentless salesmanship and a boost for France's sagging defense industry and 10 percent unemployment rate. It will, the Elysee declaration noted, provide the equivalent of 5 million hours of work over four years for 1,000 qualified French employes at the STX shipyards at Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic Coast. And it might lead to the purchase of two more vessels. "Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy hail the concretization of this unprecedented cooperation, which will benefit industry and employment in our two countries, and which illustrates the will and capacity in France and Russia to develop large-scale partnerships in all areas, including defense and security," the Elysee said.
The sale was strongly opposed in Georgia, whose leaders said it would be interpreted as a benediction of Russia's role there during a brief war in the summer of 2008 and the stationing of Russian troops on territory still considered part of Georgia by NATO nations, including France. Six Republican U.S. senators objected to the proposed sale a year ago, arguing it would suggest that France approved of Russian actions in Georgia, which they said are aggressive and illegal and violate a cease-fire negotiated by Sarkozy himself. But the Obama administration has been publicly silent on the sale so far. At the Lisbon summit, President Obama went out of his way to say Russia was no longer NATO's enemy but its partner, despite the differences over Georgia.
In any case, the news, in a Christmas Eve telephone call from Medvedev to Sarkozy, was particularly welcome here in light of an embarrassing setback recently in France's efforts to sell its Rafale multirole warplane. So far, only the French military has purchased the delta-winged jet, despite aggressive marketing by Sarkozy in Europe and the Middle East. The lack of buyers raises questions about whether the country can continue a nationally based military aviation industry. During a visit to Brazil last year, Sarkozy declared confidently that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had made the political decision to buy the Rafale as soon as technical and financial details were ironed out among military specialists. But the approval never came. Lula, who leaves office next week, said recently that he was turning the file over to his successor, in effect reopening the competition for what promises to be a lucrative multiplane contract.
The 600-foot ship - a boxy helicopter carrier, command center and hospital - was designed for power projection and landing operations, which Russian naval officers said would have made it perfect for the Georgia operation in 2008. In public discussion of the talks with Russia, the 23,700-ton vessel has been estimated to cost $750 million a copy. But French officials have said the ship's most advanced electronic equipment will not be included in the package negotiated with Moscow. In addition, Russian defense officials insisted on having large parts of the construction done in Russian shipyards. The division of labor ultimately agreed upon was not disclosed.
Russia to develop new heavy ICBM by 2020
Russia's state arms procurement program through 2020 provides for the development of a new heavy ballistic missile, a leading missile designer said on Monday. The final decision should be made in 2012-13 by the expert community, not solely the Defense Ministry, said Yury Solomonov of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), the developer of the troubled Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile. "This matter is beyond the Defense Ministry's competence. It is a matter of state importance," he said. "Heavy ICBM" refers to a class of missiles with a heavy throw weight between five and nine metric tons and a length of over 35 meters, capable of delivering a large number of warheads in a single MIRV missile. Russia's Strategic Missile Forces are still armed with Soviet-era SS-18 Satan and SS-20 Saber ICBMs with an extended service life and are expected to remain in service until 2026. The SS-18 Satan is deployed with up to 10 warheads with a yield of 550 to 750 kilotons each and an operational range of up to 11,000 km (6,800 miles).
Russia's Black Sea Fleet - Top of the agenda again
Construction of the latest Project 22350 (Admiral Sergei Gorshkov class) frigates was launched. However, this innovation project had dual implications. On the one hand, these warships boast impressive specifications. On the other hand, construction is slow going at a time when the navy needs new ships soon. Large-scale construction of Project 22350 frigates cannot be launched before 2014-2015 because substantial experience of operating one or two lead ships, which are due to be commissioned in 2011 and 2012-2013 respectively, is required before construction of a large frigate series can begin. Consequently, while many naval ships need to be replaced today, warships are only set to be commissioned in the late 2010s.
The situation is particularly acute for the Black Sea Fleet. It mainly comprises frigates and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ships dating back to the 1970s. The service life of the fleet's flagship, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser, can certainly be extended thanks to its considerable modernization potential. Although built in the early 1980s, there is every chance the vessel will be redeployed away from Sevastopol, to the Pacific theater. The Black Sea Fleet is expected to become one of Russia's most active fleets, projecting its naval power out into the Mediterranean Sea and across the Indian Ocean. Given these circumstances, the immediate renovation of the Black Sea Fleet is no longer merely desirable, it is essential.
Against that backdrop, the "Indian" project, based on the Soviet-era Project 1135 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel)/Krivak class frigates, has proved a real godsend. The shipbuilding industry has proved that it can produce a desirable, versatile vessel that performs excellently, in under three years. This would seem to be a perfect solution to the problem. However, the new frigate's operating systems no longer match the Russian Navy's requirements. Notably, the 3S-90 Uragan (SA-N-7 Gadfly) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system has a single-channel deck launcher that lacks sufficient air-defense density by today's standards, and there are issues with its radio-electronic equipment and combat-control systems.
Upgraded Project 11356 frigates will feature new-generation equipment, including 3R-14-UKSK-X* (UKSK) multi-purpose ship-borne firing systems and the Sigma combat-control system. Consequently, the modified Project 11356 frigate will be somewhat smaller than her sister ship, displacing only 4,000 (rather than 4,500) metric tons. She will also have a 100-mm multipurpose artillery system, while her sister ship is fitted with a 130-mm gun. Unlike the Project 11356 frigate, the Project 22350 stealth frigate's design features a greater range of components that work to reduce its radar visibility.
Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, Commander of the Russian Navy, said the Black Sea Fleet is to receive five new frigates by 2015. This will make it possible to replace all operational frigates that have outlived their service life, in addition to the Kerch ASW ship. A great deal depends on the successful implementation of this program, including replacements for other Russian fleets, currently operating rapidly aging warships. Other shipyards may be involved in the construction program, if the Yantar shipyard delivers on this order successfully. The success of the "Indian contract" proves the Yantar shipyard's ability to build top-quality ships quickly, suggesting that this project has every chance of success. The only problem is making sure the project has regular funding.
Russia and India have agreed the estimated cost of a design contract for their joint fifth-generation fighter project at $295 million, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman Ashok Nayak said in an interview with RIA Novosti. "The cost of preliminary design is estimated at $295 million. The work is expected to be complete within 18 months," Nayak said. Russia's Sukhoi holding and India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) agreed in early 2010 to jointly develop a fifth-generation fighter jet based on the prototype T-50 design. India confirmed that it had finalized a draft contract at a meeting with Russia in early October. Nayak said the contract could be signed by the representatives of India's HAL and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) during a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to India on December 20-22. The two sides agreed to develop both a single-seat and a two-seat version of the aircraft by 2016, focusing on the single-seat version in the initial stages of development. The costs will be shared equally between Russia and India. The first Russian prototype T-50 made its maiden flight in January 2010. The new fighter aircraft is expected to enter service with the Indian Air Force by 2020.
Russian army reform after the Vostok-2010 military exercises
The large-scale Vostok-2010 military exercises which were conducted over a vast area between the Altai Territory in Western Siberia and Vladivostok in Russia's Far East were the largest war games in post-Soviet Russia. The exercises involved over 20,000 officers and men, 75 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, as well as 40 warships and support ships, all working to assess the three-level troop-control organization comprising strategic commands, tactical commands and brigades, other new elements of the troop-control and logistics-support system and to expose any shortfalls. Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), said the latest military exercises had completely refuted widespread allegations that the Defense Ministry was destroying the armed forces with its reform measures.
"Obviously, the army is alive and continues to develop. Units involved in the exercises proved quite battle-worthy, although they arrived from second-line military districts and didn't have the most advanced equipment," Makiyenko said. High officer morale should be singled out. Most officers want the current army reform to succeed and are hoping for success, Makiyenko told RIA Novosti.While agreeing with this viewpoint, it should be noted that the situation with junior personnel is somewhat different. Much depends on specific branches and basic training levels. Officers from motorized-rifle units, including battalion commanders, say a reduction in the number of contract soldiers has negatively affected platoon-and-company training programs.
While trying to find out whether current top Defense Ministry officials are up to the mark, it should be noted that Russia currently has the most competent military leaders since the break-up of the Soviet Union. At the same time, it is obvious that the radical military reform, its tough deadlines, the inevitable resistance of military personnel and a difficult economic situation make it impossible to avoid mistakes. Major setbacks include the government's failure to facilitate 100% contract service, the social tensions caused by the rapid discharge of officers, a hasty and ill-conceived military-education reform and lots more. And, finally, Russia's armed forces, doubtless, lag behind the industrial world in terms of technical-equipment levels. All these mistakes affecting the army's basic combat capability must be corrected.
What type of wars should the Russian army prepare for? Obviously, protracted wars between the great powers are now history because nuclear weapons completely rule out such scenarios. The most realistic scenario is the Russian army becoming involved in a local conflict on the border between Russia and another post-Soviet republic and would have to repel regular enemy forces or large insurgent or terrorist units. Makiyenko said Russia was primarily concerned about Central Asia in the context of a hypothetical low-intensity or medium-intensity conflict involving Russia.
"The United States and NATO are obviously losing control over the situation in Afghanistan and will probably have to leave that country in the foreseeable future. The return of the Taliban movement to power seems to be the most plausible scenario, if this happens. The radical Islamic comeback in Afghanistan will inevitably trigger contention in the conflict-ridden regional post-Soviet republics. The weak authoritarian regimes in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, not to mention Kyrgyzstan which has almost become a 'failed state' may fall prey to the Taliban. Consequently, Russia will have to face the prospect of a huge Asian conflagration and will have to prevent such developments. If Russia fails to do this, then it will have to put out that conflagration in order to preserve its own domestic stability. Hopefully, this reform can yield results before this situation becomes reality," Makiyenko said.
The current military reform has to succeed because Russia will face problems in the next few decades.
Russia to reform its armed forces by 2020
Russia's Armed Forces will undergo three stages of transformation before their reform is over by 2020, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Sunday. The minister said the first stage involved organic staff measures. "We have actually completed these measures. We have cut the strength of personnel to 1 million who will comprise 150,000 officers, 100,000-120,000 professional sergeants while the rest will be conscripts," Serdyukov said in an interview with Vesti Nedeli TV program. Serdyukov said the second stage involved social issues and the third phase dealt with the issues of armament. "Armament supplies are quite a long process. We have divided it into two parts. At the first stage, which will last until 2015, modern armaments in our army must comprise no less than 30% while this figure must increase to 70% by 2020," Serdyukov said. The defense minister said the year 2020 was expected to see the end of military reform in Russia.
Defense ministry submits $640 billion arms buy plan to government
Russia's Defense Ministry has submitted a 20 trillion ruble ($640.7 billion) arms procurement spending plan for 2011-2020 to the government, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Wednesday. That sum is treble the amount for the existing 2007-2015 program, Ivanov said during a meeting of Russia's military and industry commission in Moscow. The program will be presented to President Dmitry Medvedev for approval before the end of the month. Funding for Russia's 2011 state arms procurement contract will total 1.5 trillion rubles ($48 billion), up 33% from the current level, Ivanov said. The 2011-2020 program includes the upgrade of up to 11% of military equipment annually and will allow Russia to increase the proportion of weaponry in its inventory classed as modern to 70% by 2020.