The Rise of the Russian Army – Preparing for Future Wars - June, 2016

The Rise of the Russian Army – Preparing for Future Wars

The Past

In the 19th century, one of the most respected rulers of the Russian Empire, Czar Alexander 3rd, said: “Russia has only two allies: the Army and the Navy”. Ironically, this Czar from the Romanov dynasty that lasted 300 years was nicknamed Miratvorets (Peacemaker) because he was the only Russian emperor who did not engage his country’s armed forces in a major conflict. Czar Alexander III and his predecessors had witnessed the harsh, difficult and often violent history of their immense country from the day it was created as “Kievian Rus” by south migrating Vikings in the geographic location that is currently known as the capital of present day Ukraine. During the centuries of its existence, Russia had been in bitter wars against the other world powers. From Baltic campaigns to Crimean campaigns and from the Battle of Poltava to the Battle of Borodino, Russian armies permanently sealed the fates of the Tatar-Mongolian empire, the Swedish empire, the Polish empire, the Prussian empire, Napoleon’s empire and others. During the centuries, Russians nurtured their military heritage and developed a fighting culture. These warrior’s traits become embedded in Russian DNA: Courage, tenacity, perseverance, toughness, resilience, victory-seeking spirit, readiness to die etc.
Picture Czar Alexander III

These warrior spirit & genes did not go way when the Russian empire tragically came to end with the advent of Soviet Communism. Unlike, the Russian empire, the Soviet Union was more interested in pushing forward the communist ideology rather than the best interests of Russia as a country or the Russian culture. Nevertheless, the USSR put an end to one more empire: Hitler’s Nazi 3rd Reich. In time, the Soviet Union was dismembered. Russia found itself weakened to the point where it had to fight within its own territories (Chechnya) to preserve its integrity. But all that is history. Russia is now back on its feet, has a powerful army and is increasingly asserting itself on the international arena. Since the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kremlin’s armed forces intervened 3 times outside Russia’s borders in order to protect its allies and hence, its own best interests:
-    The Bear roared and mauled the first time in 2008 when Georgian President Saakashvili’s army attacked South Ossetia.
-    The Bear struck again in the summer of 2014 in Ukraine.  Nicknamed “Northern Wind”, phantom forces swept stealthily on the plains of the Donbass region leaving in their wake a burned out and mutilated Ukrainian army.
-    More recently, in September 2015, the Bear came by air to the rescue of Syria’s legitimate government and rained down havoc on the advancing Islamo-fascist terrorist hordes.
In all the above cases, Russian troops intervened only after the situation was getting critical for their allies: Georgians were entering Tskhinvali (the capital of South Ossetia), Donetsk and Lugansk were getting surrounded by the West-backed Ukrainian army and Assad’s Syrian army was on the verge of collapse. Just like during Czarist times, modern Russia has a shortage of allies that are themselves of limited help to Russia in difficult times. But, in all the above three cases, Russia did step in to save and protect them. Speaking of allies; they happen to be of two types:
-    The incidental type: These are the ones that come and go depending on the situation. Usually, the 2 parties of this type go into an alliance when there is a present or potential threat from a powerful third party. When that threat ceases to exist, the alliance becomes redundant and disappears. For example, the USSR and the USA were allied against Germany and Japan during WWII. But as soon as the latter were defeated, the former allies became mortal enemies and engaged each other in a cold war.
-    The permanent type: These are the alliances forged between two nations whose long-term interests converge and who depend on each other in a variety of manners.
I mentioned above the 3 cases when Russian forces intervened to save their allies from disaster. In all these cases, the Kremlin considered the long-term value of these allies and the intervention decisions were based on that. On the other hand, Russia did not support or save Libya’s Colonel Kaddafi because he was flip-flopping between East and West. Kaddafi hardly qualified as a temporary friend, let alone an incidental ally. Where does that leave Armenia and Artsakh in light of the recent bloody flare up that we witnessed in the early days of April 2016? Let me make this clear: The Nagorno-Karabakh war is not Russia’s war. It is our war and it is us Armenians who are the ones who will have to do the fighting to defend our rights and the well-being of our land and population. As a long-term permanent ally, Russia was, is and will be making sure that we have the necessary means to defend ourselves. Where do you think the SCUD and TOCHKA ballistic missiles in our inventory came from? Who gave us the S-300 and related air defense systems? Do you think our miniscule defense budget paid one Cent or Kopek for the weapons and the training we received (and keep receiving) from Russia?

S-300 in Yerevan

The bulk of the weapons we get from Russia come absolutely free. The rest is at heavily discounted domestic prices with excellent finance terms. As an ally, Russia will also make sure that Armenia and Artsakh are immune from Turkish threats. Turkey will not be allowed to interfere in case of an Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Sadly, there are some die-hard Russophobic Armenian elements among us who want to think that Russia may abandon or even sell us to Turkey/Azerbaijan. Those short-sighted idiots need only to go back to the time of the first Karabakh war when the Bear’s military spokesman openly threatened Turkey against any sort on intervention in the conflict…and that was when Russia was at its weakest point in recent history.

The above mentioned Russophobic morons are unable to see in front of their own eyes: During the April 2016 Nagorno Karabakh conflict flare-up, the sadistic, militarist and adventurous Erdogan promised full support to Azerbaijan but refrained from uttering the remotest word about intervening on behalf of Azerbaijan. What will happen if – God forbid – we start losing in an all-out war against Azerbaijan? Lately, some Armenians are expressing concern and are unsure of Russia intervening in our favor. Again, the answer is very simple: Russia will repeat doing the same thing it did in Georgia, Donbass and Syria. When the Kremlin sees that its ally is in deep trouble…that is when “polite people” will show up. That is why the Armenian leadership should be 100% committed to maintaining and re-enforcing our age old alliance with Moscow. Trying to be too clever by flip-flopping between Russia and the political West and engaging in “complimentary politics” is not a good option for our leadership… unless they want to end up like Kaddafi.
“Polite People”

Let me repeat what I said earlier in this article. Having Russia as a permanent ally covering our back is essential for us Armenians, but it is us who will have to fight and defend our lands, people and interests. Having said that, we should never allow a war-losing situation to develop on the battlefield. It is up to us Armenians to make sure that we have the upper hand in any possible future confrontation with Azerbaijan. Now, let’s go back to topic and examine in detail the Bear’s might.

The Future

Reflecting back on human history, it is a foregone conclusion that there will be wars in the future. Given the world geopolitics and the vastness of Russia, one can say that Russia’s Army will be involved and will be drawing blood in some potential or evolving conflicts. It may be that we are currently in the preliminary stages of a World War III. In front of our own eyes, the political map of post-Soviet Eastern Europe is being altered, the demographic map of Western Europe is being changed and the Middle East is in the process of being redesigned. The major powers (US, EU and Russia) as well as some regional powers (Iran, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia) are clashing more often – sometimes directly and sometimes through proxies. The rest of this article is to examine what the Russian military planners and weapon designers are doing to prepare for the future wars that seem to be inevitable. Nuclear forces will still be the biggest deterrent to an all-out global conflict like in WWI and II. But, there will be a constant race between next generation Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and their counter: the Anti -Ballistic Missile systems (ABM). Things will get complicated with the emergence of hypersonic cruise missiles, stealth technology, unmanned systems, powerful electronics etc. etc. Here is an analysis of what the Russians are preparing:

The Ballistics

The pinnacle of a superpower’s arsenal is its Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear warheads. These are either launched from land (ICBM) or from submarines (SLBM).  In this crucial strategic field, the Russians have taken the lead over the West. The US economy may be the largest in the world and its $600 billion annual military budget dwarfs anybody else’s, yet it has allowed itself to fall behind Russia in this key category of weaponry. The US Republican Party’s now sole contender for the US Presidency (Donald Trump) himself admitted during his recent foreign policy speech in late April that the American strategic arsenal is getting hopelessly obsolete. Despite the collapse of the USSR and the consequent economic hardship, Russia kept on modernizing its inventory constantly. For example, the land mobile TOPOL has been replaced with TOPOL-M which in its turn is now being replaced by the RS-24 YARS which will be followed by the RS-26 RUBEZH. A new heavy-weight ICBM called RS-28 SARMAT is currently being developed, there are plans for a train based BARGUZIN and the submarine launched BULAVA has recently been indicted into service.
BOREI Class Submarine

On the other side of the fence, the most modern American ICBM is the MINUTEMAN-3 which entered service in 1970 while its most modern SLBM is the TRIDENT-2 that was fielded in 1990…and till now, the US have nothing that is in the pipeline to replace their aging and increasingly obsolete inventory. While Russia is actively building its new generation BOREI class nuclear submarines that are equipped with the BULAVA missile, the USA is still relying on the Cold War era OHIO class submarines. Their newer subs will be ready only sometime during the next decade! Watching recent major American arms procurement scandals (F-35 fighter etc.)  I can imagine the delays and massive cost overruns that the program will go through. What is the meaning of all this? In the most simplistic terms: The older missiles are increasingly getting more vulnerable to a variety of Anti-Ballistic missile (ABM) systems that are expected to enter service in coming years (more about that later). Conclusion: Russia will not only maintain its strategic nuclear deterrent in the future, it will also have a more credible one. No country in the world will dare attack Russia directly. The West will fight Russia by the form of proxies, sanctions, color revolutions etc.

The Sonics

Because the Anti-Missile systems (ABM) may be gradually eroding away the nuclear deterrence potential of the ICBMs and SLBMs, both the USA and Russia have embarked into developing and fielding alternative or complimentary nuclear strike weapon systems; Cruise missiles were the obvious choice. Since 1991, both countries have successfully utilized cruise missiles (with conventional warhead) against targets in the Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, Libya and Syria. Cruise Missile

These cruise missiles are launched from bombers, ships or submarines and can have either a conventional or a nuclear warhead. They are smaller and relatively inexpensive compared to ballistic missiles. They are also hard to detect because they adopt a low altitude flight profile in the final phase of their flight.  Their main drawback is their subsonic speed which means it takes a long time to reach their intended target. For example, the Russian KALIBR (that became famous thanks to its dramatic success in Syria) will need about two and a half hours to reach its maximum range of 2000km, giving the intended target sufficient time to move away from harm’s way (even from a nuclear warhead).  Furthermore, these slow flying subsonic cruise missiles are vulnerable to shoot down from a good air defense system. Decades ago, the Soviets designed the duo of MiG-31 long-range interceptors and S-300 Surface to Air Missile system (SAM) to defeat the cruise missile threat during the eighties. The West lagged behind in SAMs and the gap is still widening. The Russians went a step further with their long range cruise missiles. They created the 5000 km range Kh-101 (conventional warhead) and Kh-102 (nuclear warhead) air launched cruise missiles that have stealth designs. They complicate further the task of the US and NATO air defense networks which are not as elaborate as the much better Russian SAM umbrella. Note that current ABM systems are useless against low flying cruise missiles.
Tu-95 BEAR Bomber with KH-101 Stealth Cruise Missiles

The West does have stealthy cruise missiles as well, but they are all short ranged. During the cold war, the Soviet Union deployed mainly nuclear tipped cruise missiles as a complement to its Ballistic missiles and somewhat neglected to field conventional ones. The USA did pretty much the opposite. Later on, the Pentagon used these missiles to deliver “shock and awe” strikes against smaller countries on multiple occasions. Russia fired its cruise missiles in anger for the first time last year during its military intervention in Syria: Scores of KALIBR, Kh-555 and Kh-101 cruise missiles fired from ships, submarines and bomber aircraft flew long distances to “terrorize the terrorists”. Cruise missiles (both nuclear and conventional) are now a mainstay in the Bear’s arsenal. At this time, virtually every Russian warship or submarine being built is designed to carry them. Even the relatively small (800 ton displacement) KARAKURT class missile boats will carry 8 KALIBRs each. I will discuss about the air launched cruise missiles in another section of this article, in the meanwhile here is a picture showing the coverage of a Kh-101/102 missile when launched from a Russian bomber from within the Far-Eastern part of the Russian airspace.

The cruise missile strike in Syria should be seen as a demonstration of what the Bear can do in case of a major confrontation: It will be volleys of cruise missiles of all sorts coming in consecutive waves to strike anything from ports to airports and from barracks to bridges. The West’s air defense systems are not elaborate enough to deal with such an onslaught. As I mentioned earlier, back in the time, the Soviet Union created the S-300 and MiG-31 specifically for this kind of scenario.

Ballistic and Winged Versions of ISKANDER

I must add that the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty bans the deployment of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. That is why the range of both types of missiles of the ISKANDER system is limited to 500 km. Still, both ballistic and winged versions of the ISKANDER will contribute to the carnage that will fall upon anything that happens to be within range.

The Hypersonics

We are about to enter the era of hypersonic missiles. These are high speed cruise missiles that can travel 6 or 7 times faster than the speed of sound. They will reach their intended targets in a relatively short period of time and are very difficult to shoot down. Theses missiles are even faster than most SAM missiles in service today.
Hypersonic Cruise Missile

Both the USA and Russia are currently conducting tests with test-bed prototypes of hypersonic missiles. Recently, the Russians have announced that they started testing an actual anti-ship hypersonic missile called ZIRCON that will equip the cruiser Peter the Great  and its sister ship the Admiral Nakhimov (which is currently in modernization) as well the future 5th generation submarines that will enter service during the next decade. It seems that the Russians are taking the lead in these hypersonic weapons. Cruiser Admiral Nakhimov under Modernization at the Shipyard

Since hypersonic cruise missiles do not use a ballistic path, they are mostly immune from current ABM systems. Of course, there is no such thing as an invincible weapon. Just like ABM systems are mitigating the danger posed by ballistic missiles, future SAM and ABM systems will be able to at least partly neutralize this new type of threat. Thus, hypersonic cruise missiles will complement rather than replace the ballistic missiles in the strategic arsenals of the two superpowers.

The AeroCosmos

The Russian Aerospace Forces or Vozdushno Kosmicheskiye Sil (VKS) was established as a new armed force on the 1 August 2015 with the merging of the Russian Air Force (VVS) and the Space Defense Forces (VKO) under the recommendations of the Ministry of Defense. Several reasons were announced for the merger, including greater efficiency and logistical support. The Russians now look at air and space as one environment that must be defended by one entity: the VKS. This new entity will have to defeat ballistic missiles, subsonic cruise missiles, hypersonic cruise missiles, manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft, orbiting satellites and anything else that flies within the atmosphere or beyond.

The main assets of the VKS currently consist of aircraft of various types and a comprehensive network of Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems coupled to a maze of search radars and other electronic surveillance systems. Let’s first talk about bombers: Bomber aircraft are far more versatile than strategic missiles. They can be used for both strategic (nuclear) strikes as well as tactical (conventional) missions. Bombers can use anything from dumb free-fall bombs to hypersonic cruise missiles. They can be used against land targets, sea targets, for reconnaissance as well as electronics suppression.

The VKS currently have in service more than a hundred bombers that are distributed between 8 squadrons (4 x Tu-22M3 Backfire, 3 x Tu-95MS Bear and 1 x Tu-160 Blackjack). The Bears and Blackjack currently carry Kh-555 cruise missiles (3000 km range). They are all being modernized to carry the stealthy Kh-101 and 102 series of cruise missiles that have a 5000 km range. The Backfires carry the supersonic Kh-22 anti-ship missiles that have a speed of 4 times the speed of sound and a range of 600 km; their main task is to strike the American aircraft carrier task forces. Against land targets, the Backfires will use free fall bombs of various sizes (both conventional and nuclear).
Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack Bomber

All of the above aircraft are now aging and require modernizations and upgrades to keep them effective. To replace them, the Russians are using a 2-tier approach. First, they are organizing a production restart of a modernized version of the Tu-160. The factory will first complete building 3 airframes that were left over unfinished from Soviet times and then build a minimum of 50 brand new Tu-160M2 aircraft to replace or complement the existing bombers. Next, around the year 2025, a completely new bomber that is dubbed PAK-DA will appear and will eventually become the backbone of the bomber force. Not much detail is available on this future stealth bomber. Here is a discreet report showing the Tupolev factory in Kazan where all the new bombers will be produced.

The 3 unfinished Tu-160 Blackjack bombers are seen there:

To support the bomber fleet (as well as fighter aircraft), the large Aviastar factory in Ulyanovsk is now producing the in-flight refueling tanker version of a well-known Ilyushin transport plane whose manufacture was moved away from Tashkent (Uzbekistan) to Russia a few years ago. The VKS placed a large order for both the cargo (Il-76) and tanker (Il-78) versions of the plane as well as a new Airborne Early Warning (AWACS) derivative.

The current USA bomber fleet consisting of B-1, B-2 and B-52 planes is a bit larger than Russia’s but with an average aircraft age that is even older. They are planning a new bomber (B-21) which will appear at about the same time as the PAK-DA. Noteworthy is the fact that the entire strategic triad of the USA needs to be replaced at once during the next decades; let’s see where Uncle Sam is going to find the budget for it. In the meanwhile, as I have mentioned above, Uncle Ivan is well underway in modernizing the ICBMs and SLBMs including the submarines that are going to carry them.

The ongoing VKS campaign in Syria made a star of the various Sukhoi aircraft including the latest Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35. During the hard economic times that Russia went through, the Sukhoi Company managed to clinch a number of large and valuable export orders for its aircraft. That kept the factories busy and the company profitable. Funds were available to come up with new aircraft iterations and even develop the future Russian 5th generation stealth fighter the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA which is expected to enter squadron service in the next couple of years. While the various Su-27, 30 and 35 models are a good match to any of the Western fighters (F-15, F-16, F-18, Rafale and Typhoon), the PAK-FA will take on the stealthy F-22 and F-35.
Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA

In comparison, MiG fell into the shadows for a while only to re-emerge recently by supplying naval versions of the MiG-29 to the Russian and Indian Navies. The Mikoyan design bureau now has orders for the follow on MiG-35 which is a much modernized and improved MiG-29. The MiG-31 interceptor remains the largest fighter aircraft in the world. With powerful radar, long range missiles and the ability to fly at very high speeds for extended periods of time, this aircraft is ideal to cover and protect large expanses of territory from intruding aircraft and cruise missiles. Most of the fleet recently got modernized to MiG-31 BM standards with even better weapons, electronics and communication means. There are reports that Mikoyan is planning a 5th generation replacement for this aircraft which is tentatively named MiG-41. Such an aircraft must be capable of dealing with all kinds of airborne threats including ballistic and hypersonic ones. Mikoyan is also said to be planning a small stealthy fighter that would replace the existing MiG-29s in the future.

Here is a photo-report at the factory where the MiG-31 interceptors are being completely overhauled and modernized:

Now, let’s talk about SAMs and ABMs: Although the USA makes a big fuss about their anti-missile system, no one mentions that the Soviets based a working ABM (A-35) system around Moscow decades ago. That system was compliant with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which allowed the deployment of an ABM system in only two locations. In 2002, the USA unilaterally withdrew from the treaty and started deploying ABM systems in Europe and Alaska with the pretext of countering alleged Iranian and North-Korean ICBM threats. The real reason was to shoot down Russian ICBMs and make an atomic war winnable for the USA…or, maybe not entirely so (more about that later). In 1995, the elderly A-35 system around Moscow was replaced with a more modern A-135. Recently, new reports started coming in that the Russians are developing a new ABM system that is road mobile. The 2015 yearly calendar of the famous Russian SAM manufacturer (Almaz-Antey) included a picture of an unknown ABM system. The picture was most likely leaked intentionally.
The A-235 Nudol ABM System

The name of the system is speculated to be A-235 NUDOL or SAMOLET-M. It is said that it is intended to shoot down all kinds of strategic ballistic Missiles as well as satellites and spacecraft at altitudes up to 200 km. The smaller S-500 Prometheus (also called Triumphator) is a next generation long-range (up to 600 km) fully mobile SAM system that is expected to enter service next year. It is designed for intercepting and destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as hypersonic cruise missiles and all types of manned and unmanned aircraft. It is truly an Air and Cosmos weapon that will complement and perhaps replace the formidable S-400 that can deal with Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (the likes of SCUD and PERSHING) but not the Intercontinental ones.
S-350 Vityaz

At the lower end of the SAM range, the new compact S-350 Vityaz system (120 km range) will soon replace the bulkier S-300 while the new BUK-M3 (70 km range) will take the place of the 40 km range M1 and M2 variants. A new PANTSIR-SM missile is also scheduled to arrive soon. The new missile has a 35 km range versus 20 km for the older PANTSIR-S.

Here is media presentation of the soon-to- come PANTSIR-SM:

No article about Russian Aerospace Defense Forces would be complete without mention of Radars and other electronic warfare systems.  These kinds of systems usually fall in the “classified” category and little detail is available. Recently names of some Russian electronic warfare systems become famous; these include AVTOBAZA, KRASUHA and NEBO. The latter is a class of radars that are capable of detecting and tracking stealth aircraft.

Here is a short video showing the deployment of the NEBO-M:
Family of NEBO Radar Systems

The Robots

Decades ago Soviet high ranking military staff developed the concept of Bizkontaktnaya Voyna (Contactless war), a war in which the Soviet side would carry military operations without putting their soldiers in harm’s way. The concept envisaged the use of stand-off weapons, unmanned systems and robots.  Ironically, with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, it was exactly that kind of warfare that the USA and NATO waged against the former allies and friends of the USSR and other countries including Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya. With minimal loss of life on their side, the West’s armed forces hammered these countries to destruction or submission. Lower intensity versions of the contactless war (sometimes referred to as Drone Wars) are still being conducted against Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other countries.

The modern Russia that emerged kept pace with the West in stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles, Precision Guided Weapons (PGM) and the like. However, unmanned systems and robots were generally neglected until the 2008 Georgia war during which the lack of modern UAVs (Drones) became obvious for the Defense Ministry which embarked on a program to develop and field various types of unmanned systems to be operated in the air, on land and on water.  In 2014 (Ukraine) and 2015 (Syria) the Russians employed various forms of Contactless war with great success and minimal losses on their side.

As far as UAVs (flying Drones) are concerned, in a short few years Russia caught up with the West in the segment of small UAVs, but still is behind in medium and large ones as well as in the segment of armed drones (UCAVs). Everybody knows that they are working on such systems but they are keeping their programs under a strict veil of secrecy. Fr om time to time, they reveal glimpses of some projects they are working on; like this video that is showing a scaled-down mock-up of the FRIGATE project:

What is increasingly clear is that the Russians are now in the process of fielding a whole range of land fighting robots.  Mine clearing robots are already hard at work in demining the recently liberated ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry recently unveiled the UDAR, a crew-less version of the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle or maybe I should say: Infantry-less fighting vehicle! They have even disclosed that a T-14 ARMATA tank can be controlled by another one and that they can even carry their own UAV! Yes, it definitely looks like Russia is leapfrogging the West in the ground dwelling unmanned systems. I am most impressed with their unmanned URAN-9 combat robot armed which is equipped with a plethora of different weapons ranging from an automatic 30 mm cannon to antitank missiles and even Man Portable SAMs (MANPADS). I will let the dear reader be the own judge of the greatness of the URAN-9 by watching these 2 videos:

Combat robotic system Uran-9:
Uran-9 Combat Robot

The Big Guns

We all saw the future of the Russian ground forces during last year’s military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory during the Great Patriotic War. The T-14 ARMATA tank, its T-15 Infantry fighting vehicle counterpart, the KURGANETS and BOOMERANG armored personnel carriers as well as the KOALITSYA self-propelled artillery. Bit by bit more details on these futuristic vehicles are emerging thanks to TV programs that are carefully screened and censored by the Russian Defense Ministry. These above mentioned new monsters are straight from Sci-Fi movies with crews having multiple video screens and other gadgets. Here are the videos:

KOALITSYA Self-propelled Gun:
What we see on Red Square and in the above videos are just pre-production prototypes, the final vehicles might be somewhat different. We know that the T-14 ARMATA has an unmanned turret and a crew of 3. In the future it will be crewed by only 2 people and have a 152 mm main gun as well as an UAV. It will also be able to remotely control another ARMATA tank with no crew in it! Yes, a robot ARMATA. The KOALITSYA 152mm self-propelled gun has the fastest firing rate in its class (rumored to be 10 -12 rounds per minute), it also has the longest range (70 km) and is operated by the smallest crew (3 people). Recently, we learned that it also carries radars (seen in the video above) that track the path of the shells and make the necessary corrections to allow the next shell to be extremely accurate. 

In addition, we know that in these videos, the Russians are not telling us everything and that they are showing us only the features that they want us to know about. The rest is shrouded in secrecy. These new weapons make everything else look like they are hopelessly obsolete. One thing is clear: The Russian army is about to field the best in the world tanks, armored vehicles and artillery that are a class above anything that the USA and NATO have or planning to have in the coming years. The West is lagging behind and will have to invest huge sums to catch up…

A few years ago, the Kremlin announced that 70% of the equipment of the Russian Armed Forces will be of the modern category by 2020. Apart from the above described “Big Guns”, there will be new models of KAMAZ and URAL trucks, new MLRS replacing the older GRAD, URAGAN and SMERCH. The list of new equipment being or to be adopted is very long.


The current re-equipping and modernization of the ground forces goes all the way to the socks and underwear of the individual soldier. The ground forces are now re-equipping with the new soldier’s equipment called RATNIK which includes everything from bulletproof vests to helmets, communication gear to boots and much more.
Some elements of RATNIK

We saw elements of the RATNIK gear on the “polite people” who showed up in Crimea during the 2014 turmoil. More bits and pieces are now being seen on the Russian special units operating in Syria.  The RATNIK gear makes the soldier a truly 21st century combatant. The pictures don’t make justice to the equipment: there is so much more to it. Just to give you examples: The fatigues are made of a fabric that does not burn! The combat helmets are extremely hard to pierce yet they are significantly lighter than anything else the USA or Germany can field. The RATNIK gear will also include a new rifle. Rigorous tests are being done to decide which weapon will be adopted in service. Both Kalashnikov’s new AK-12 and Kovrov’s A-545 are pre-selected and approved. But only one will be fielded in large numbers to replace the existing AK-74.
The AK-12 and A-545 are contenders for the RATNIK program

Another race is ongoing to select the future squad machine to replace the aging RPK. Once again, Kalashnikov and Kovrov are in the forefront. Here are a couple of videos showing some of the contenders:

Urgently looking new Russian AK machine gun heavy machine-gun firepower and high precision of 96 pa:
A new sniper rifle and other goodies are also in the works.
The SK-16 is a Potential Future Sniper rifle

The Specials

No army is complete without spearhead units that are tasked with the most difficult and most important missions. Russia has 3 such groups:

- The airborne troops called VDV: The call-sign of these highly trained and highly motivated elite forces is: Nikto Krome Nas (no one besides us). The VDV comprises 4 Divisions and 5 separate Brigades. These quick reaction units can be deployed at a moment’s notice by parachute airdrop, conventional air transport, by ship or by land. They use tactics consisting of a powerful strike coupled with element of surprise. They exploit weak areas of the opponent and make sweeping movements to surround, outmaneuver and confuse them. During the 2008 Georgia conflict, VDV units participated in reversing the Georgian attack and made landings on the coast of Abkhazia.  VDV units are at the forefront of re-equipment. They are already getting the RATNIK gear and the new version of the air-droppable BMD-4M fighting vehicle as well as the RAKUSHKA armored personnel carrier. They have just received the latest VERBA Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) that is replacing the older but still excellent IGLA.

- The Morskaya Pekhota (Morpekh) is the Russian equivalent of the US Marines: Their call sign is: Were we stand, there is victory. This elite amphibious force is tasked mainly to conduct landings on beaches. Much smaller in size compared to their US equivalent, their scope of action has traditionally been limited to the seas immediately adjacent to Russia/Soviet Union. This force received a major setback when the deal on French MISTRAL type large amphibious ships collapsed. Nevertheless, the Russian High Command considers these units as second only to the VDV and is embarking on modernizing them.

- While the VDV and the Morpekh are considered as elite and highly professional, the Spetsnaz (spetsialnogo naznacheniya) are truly “special forces” that undergo the most rigorous training. The main tasks of such forces include: infiltrations, sabotage, diversionary actions, anti-terrorist operations etc. Currently, Russian Spetsnaz units are highly involved in gunning down any terrorists that pop-up in the Caucasus region.

The Open Seas

I find the Russian military potential to be comparable or even superior to the West’s in most areas. However, when it comes to sea warfare, the Russians have some catching up to do. A nation must build a navy to become an empire and not vice versa. The first Emperor of Russia (Peter the Great) started beating the Ottomans in Azov only after building a navy. Similarly, he captured the Baltic coast (to build the city of St. Petersburg later on) only after building a navy capable of beating the powerful Swedish navy. Yet, Russia has traditionally been a land power…and it is still is.

The enemies of modern Russia are now consistently creating wars and conflicts at the periphery of the Bear’s territory. The Kremlin will be able to take the fight back to the opponent’s backyards only by having a large navy that can project power, protect and assist friends and allies in distant lands and sometimes intervene in the same manner the USA and allies do to “punish” anyone who does not follow the assigned line.

Today, the bulk of the Russian Navy is tasked to defend the fatherland with a few hundred small to medium sized ships including corvettes, patrol boats, missile boats and minesweepers that are ideal for places like the Baltic, Black sea and the Sea of Japan. They may also do a decent job in not too far away places like the Eastern Mediterranean. But, to sail into the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean, a good number of large Ocean-going ships are required.

Currently the Russian Navy’s ocean-going surface component consists of just one aircraft carrier, a handful of cruisers, a couple of dozen destroyers and frigates and about twenty medium –sized landing ships. Furthermore, not all of these vessels are available at any given time because a portion of them will be in docks for repairs, overhauls and modernizations. So, in case one of Russia’s South American friends is bullied by the USA, Russia will be able to dispatch just a few precious ships to counter the might of the US Navy that has many times more large warships.

The first multirole Yasen K-560 Severodvinsk submarine by the pier of the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk
Severodvinsk Nuclear Submarine (YASEN Class)

The most potent branch of the Russian Navy is its submarine fleet. It is only a fraction of the size it used to be in Soviet times but it is considered to be strong enough to be a credible deterrent against the US Navy. Yet, it is currently plagued by too many boats that are waiting for their turn to go into docks for lengthy overhauls and modernizations. This problem has occurred because too many scheduled refits were postponed in bleaker economic times. In any case, submarines are mainly a “disruptive” force: they can’t land tanks and troops and provide the necessary support to friendly countries the way a surface fleet can.

For the foreseeable future and with the available assets, the Russian Navy will be able to complete its tasks in the seas adjacent to its borders and in waters that are not too far away (like Syria). Places like Libya will present a bigger challenge. Conducting major operations further away (like off the coast of Venezuela) will be near impossible. The Navy high Command is well aware of the situation. That is why the MISTRAL type large amphibious ships were ordered from France to partly remedy to the shortage of ocean-going ships. The West cancelled the deal to prevent the Bear the liberty to stretch too far away.

A few years ago, the Navy ordered 6 units each from two different classes of large frigates: Admiral Grigorovich class and Admiral Gorshkov class. Construction started, but only 3 of the former and 2 of the later will be completed on time. The rest of the ships are delayed because the engines of these ships contain Ukrainian components that are being held by the pro-West Kiev government. It will take time to substitute them with domestic ones.

Video of the Admiral Gorshkov on sea trials: 

фрегат Адмирал Горшков:
Video of the Admiral Grigorovich on sea trials:
Сторожевой корабль ВМФ РФ «уничтожил» самолет «противника» над Балтикой:
Another blow to the Navy came from the Germans. Construction of the smaller BUYAN type missile corvettes (the ships that carried out of the much publicized KALIBR cruise missile in Syria from the Caspian Sea) has halted after 5 units were completed because they use German made diesels which are under sanctions. The remaining 4 ships will have to wait for alternative made in Russia or China engines. Similar Corvettes of a newer class called KARAKUT have recently been ordered, these are being made of exclusively domestic parts. One of these boats is being built in Crimea, it will be the first Crimean built Russian warship since the peninsula’s return to the motherland.
KARAKURT Class Missile Corvette

Fortunately, submarine construction is hardly affected by sanctions. By the beginning of next decade, the Navy’s high command plans to have in service 8 BOREI class strategic nuclear submarines carrying the BULAVA missile. The first 3 boats are already patrolling the oceans; the other 5 are in various stages of construction, one of them is called Czar Alexander III. Six large multipurpose large attack submarines of the YASEN class are also ordered with the first one already in service. To make up numbers, the Russians are also building a series of smaller KILO class conventional (diesel/electric) submarines for less demanding tasks, these will soon be followed on the building slips by a new type of submarine (Project KALINA) that uses a modern air-independent propulsion system. 

All of above non-strategic submarines will use the KALIBR cruise missile system. The larger boats will also carry the modern ONYX anti-ship missile (500km range at speed of Mach 3) and eventually the earlier mentioned hypersonic ZIRCON that is rumored to have a speed of Mach 6 and a range of 1000 km. Existing submarines of various classes (including the massive OSCAR class) are currently in the process of modernization: they will be able to carry KALIBR missile for example. But let me reiterate: submarines are more like a “disruptive” force. They can inflict heavy blows to the opponent’s fleet (with anti-ship missiles and torpedoes) and to its land based assets (with cruise missiles). However, they cannot contribute much to land operations in the form of troops, air defense or air support; for that, large surface ships are a must.

To rectify that, the Russians had long term plans: once the 2 MISTRAL ships were acquired from France, they were going to build an additional two locally. There were also plans to start building a few aircraft carriers during the next decade too. To support and protect these vessels, a bunch of cruisers and destroyers/frigates were contemplated…and then we had the Ukraine conflict with the associated sanctions, economic constraints and the fall in value of oil and other natural resources. The MISTRAL deal was cancelled and Russia’s grandiose plan for a large blue-water surface fleet was torpedoed. A new plan is being put together. The Navy is now considering two domestically built classes of amphibious vessels: One that is a bit larger than the MISTRALs is called Project LAVINA, and another one called Project PRIBOY that is smaller than the MISTRALs. Latest rumors speak of both classes going into production.
Project LAVINA

The aircraft carrier project may still be on, however I doubt we will see any for a number of reasons, among them: finances, shipyard availability and a planned expansion and modernization of the long-range bomber fleet (New Tu-160 and PAK-DA) which take over some of the missions tasked to carriers. In addition, the proliferation of cruise missiles among Russian ranks mitigates the need for those super expensive aircraft carriers. What seems to be approved for production is a class of destroyers under the project LEADER. At 17000 tons and with nuclear propulsion, these are really large cruisers that are almost as big as the Peter the Great.  Provided that everything goes as planned and in a best case scenario Russia will have a sufficiently large ocean-going surface fleet sometime towards the end of the next decade. That will give the Bear longer arms to reach further in global geopolitics. In the meanwhile, the Kremlin will have to expand its global influence with the existing assets and by other means that don’t involve military might.

The Polar Bear

Throughout the ages mankind has tapped, exploited and often extirpated the planet’s natural resources. The appetite for keeping on doing the same is not going to recede in the future even though the resources will diminish. As resources become scarce, the appetite will grow. The world’s largest untapped resources are now in the Arctic…and the lion’s share of them happens to be within the hunting grounds of the Bear. Realizing that there are packs of wolves and flocks of vultures looking forward to pillage these resources, the Bear set up his plans to defend his territory.  First, an expedition led by a Russian scientist of Armenian descent (Arthur Chilingarov) planted the Russian flag at the bottom of the Arctic. It may have sounded like a symbolic or patriotic gesture, but it was much more than that: the Bear was marking its territory as a warning to others. Next, came the orders for all sorts of icebreakers to navigate and patrol the icy waters. Some of the icebreakers (like the project 23550 class) are going to be Navy operated and will be KALIBR capable.
Project 23550 Armed Icebreaker

Here is a video of one the largest civilian icebreakers being currently built:
Project 22220 - Nuclear Icebreaker - Проект 22220 (ЛК60Я) атомный ледокол:
Later on, the Bear started carrying on a number of military exercises in the area. Troops equipped with special arctic gear conducted landings and other activities in ever increasing scale. The gear of these “arctic units” encompasses everything from special thermal garments to transport equipment that includes arctic crawlers as well as covered and heated snow-mobiles. This video shows a bit of what I am talking about:
 2016 - New Russian Military Snowmobile - TTM-1901 "Golden Eagle-2" * ТТМ-1901 "Беркут-2":
Eventually, the Bear started building bases in the Arctic. Recently, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited one of these bases. Here is a video report of that particular ice-citadel:
Ледовая цитадель. Специальный репортаж Дмитрия Кодаченко:
The Bear’s defenses in the Arctic are in an advanced stage and are far ahead of all the other countries combined. There will be no encroachment on the Bear’s icy territory.

The ABM Encroachment

The Obama administration’s decision to deploy ABM systems in Poland and Romania is a serious threat to world peace. The media markets these ABM systems as a “missile defense shield” that will shot down Russian ICBMs thus making a nuclear war winnable for the USA. In fact this is not an insurmountable problem at all for the Russian military. Shield or no shield, all the US/NATO targets will be destroyed in case of global war.  These ABM sites are simply incapable of intercepting the latest Russian Ballistic missiles and upcoming hypersonic missiles. Russia’s nuclear strike force will prevail. For the Russians, the problem is different; the Kremlin is worried about the use of these ABM launchers to launch a different missile against Russia: Cruise missiles can be launched from the same launchers of the ABM system. These are not "defensive" weapons.  These are first-strike weapons.

Here is what President Putin said after meeting his security council:
"This is an obvious violation of the Short and Medium Range Missile Treaty, since these missile-launchers which will be deployed at the sites in Romania and Poland upon activation of the Radars there could easily be reconfigured for short and medium range missiles. This reconfiguration of the launchers could be done in a very short time and for us it will be impossible to see what is going on there. We will not be able to control it and this is an additional threat to us."
Would the USA disregard existing treaties and deploy these offensive weapons in Europe? I fully expect that the incompetent, irrational, power hungry elites in that country who suffer from “Chronic Exceptionalism Syndrome” to absolutely go ahead and do that. What would the Bear’s response be to that threat? God forbid, if things go hot between US/NATO and Russia and a conventional high-precision shoot-out occurs, the first layer of defense will be Russia’s vastly superior air defense network engaging the incoming missiles. Next, NATO’s ABM sites will themselves be attacked by volleys of KALIBR, Kh-101, Kh-55, ISKANDER and other precision weapons launched from anywhere from Kaliningrad in the Baltic to Crimea (and we all do realize the strategic importance of that peninsula) in the Black Sea by BUYAN and KARAKURT corvettes, KILO submarines and Tu-160 bombers among many other things that are all well within both the range to Deveselu Air Base in Romania and the Polish missile installations. Here is what President Putin said after meeting his security council:
"This is an obvious violation of the Short and Medium Range Missile Treaty, since these missile-launchers which will be deployed at the sites in Romania and Poland upon activation of the Radars there could easily be reconfigured for short and medium range missiles. This reconfiguration of the launchers could be done in a very short time and for us it will be impossible to see what is going on there. We will not be able to control it and this is an additional threat to us."
Would the USA disregard existing treaties and deploy these offensive weapons in Europe? I fully expect that the incompetent, irrational, power hungry elites in that country who suffer from “Chronic Exceptionalism Syndrome” to absolutely go ahead and do that. What would the Bear’s response be to that threat? God forbid, if things go hot between US/NATO and Russia and a conventional high-precision shoot-out occurs, the first layer of defense will be Russia’s vastly superior air defense network engaging the incoming missiles. Next, NATO’s ABM sites will themselves be attacked by volleys of KALIBR, Kh-101, Kh-55, ISKANDER and other precision weapons launched from anywhere from Kaliningrad in the Baltic to Crimea (and we all do realize the strategic importance of that peninsula) in the Black Sea by BUYAN and KARAKURT corvettes, KILO submarines and Tu-160 bombers among many other things that are all well within both the range to Deveselu Air Base in Romania and the Polish missile installations.
Deveselu ABM base in Romania

It will not be Russia who will attack first. This simplest fact is beyond the grasp (or deliberate calculations) of many in the political West. But, by looking at what’s going around in the world, it seems Washington is hell bent on creating a situation where things may get out of control. Today, the main difference between the current cold war and the previous one is the fact that Russia does now possess massive conventional stand-off capability (cruise missiles) coupled with a superior nuclear strike force (ICBMs and SLBMs) and an outstanding air defense network (SAMs). In fact, real military professionals in the US do realize that NATO can’t win conventionally anything in Russia's immediate vicinity. This fact doesn't sit well with many in the White House and the Pentagon.

The Mighty Dollar

The USA was once the greatest industrial power. For a long period of time, the US industrial complex supported the might of the US Dollar. Over the last few decades we all have been witnessing the de-industrialization of that country on a colossal scale. As the process continues unabated, it frightens me to think that most of us will live to see the day when the US financial markets will be done de jure, not just de facto. Having lost the backing of the industry, the US Dollar is today a currency that is supported by nothing but trust in US military power. The only thing which prevents many from dumping US treasuries is the US military might, or rather what it supposed to be capable of conventionally. Nobody is interested in the nuclear option, it is just too unthinkable). The US military is sure as hell capable of sending back conventionally any third world country to the stone age and whatever passes as their armies into a pile of rusting junks. But Russia is not third world...  And then, the Syria intervention happened and the whole hell broke loose precisely because politicians and masses in the West began to sense and understand the simple fact that there is another military power which fields similar, if not superior, conventional military capabilities! This happens to be a massive threat to the American privilege of being the owner of global reserve currency, which rests on the US being the sole conventional military superpower. It is also a threat to a livelihood of the Western Elites who did view themselves as militarily, hence financially, untouchable.

Dear Elites and dear One Percent of population, things have changed since. Those damn Russkies not only have the most advanced nuclear deterrent in the world but have beaten the US/NATO at their game of conventional high precision weapons. We are talking here of a change of military paradigm, a tectonic shift has happened right in front of the blind eyes of the West. Yes, Russia has indeed risen!

The West’s shock was so great when the relatively small BUYAN corvettes of the Caspian Flotilla (not even a fleet) delivered their first conventional cruise missile strike in Syria. Now, let the US/NATO generals and admirals visualize the deployment by Russia of these same cruise missiles (this time on nuclear submarines, such as the modernized OSCARs , the brand new YASENs or the perspective submarines with air independent propulsion) right off the US shores to make conventional precision strikes on US territory a reality. Can they contemplate the thought of US citizens enduring what the citizens of Iraq, Serbia and Libya went through? Let me say this clearly, the notion of US/NATO and Russia getting into the open conflict is unthinkable. Yet, I tremble at the thought that some idiot in the high corridors of power would make a stupid mistake. Unfortunately, such morons do exist in the corridors of power in Washington and London. These idiots who never served a day in their life in a military institution are in fact trying their best to provoke the Russians even at the edges of the Bear’s territory in Europe. As for the well-being of the Europeans: Victoria Nuland said it: F*** the EU.

The Epilogue

Modern Russia is a superpower that is more than capable of defending itself.  Its influence on world geopolitics has grown immensely over the last 16 years since Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin came to power. A good part of this increased influence has been due the modernization and strengthening of its armed forces. As recent history has demonstrated, Russia will also defend its valuable allies. It has the will, courage and capability to send its army to foreign lands when the time comes.
Thank God Armenia is not far from Russia. Thank God our beloved country happens to be within easy reach of the Bear’s den. Thank God we live in the Bear’s backyard that it keeps an eye on. As a patriotic Armenian, I wish the Bear will never have to come up roaring on our enemies to defend us. We should be able to protect ourselves. But let’s be realistic: Our enemies (the Turks and Azerbaijanis) have many times more people, much larger armies and considerably bigger finances. What are our chances if we are left alone? What are our chances if the Bear is not around?

Unfortunately, we have in our population a small but significant fraction who sometimes wants to throw rocks at the Bear. I am not talking about the traitors and fifth columnists who are on the payroll of well know embassies of foreign countries, these people do not qualify as Armenians. I am talking about people who think that Armenians are strong enough, brave enough and capable enough to beat all the Turkic nations combined!  May God grant these “wannabe fedayees” a bit of maturity, wisdom and pragmatism.

Post Scriptum: The 4 Day Artsakh War

This all brings us back to the April 2016 four day war over Artsakh. The Western operatives among us and some of our naïve compatriots are accusing our only true ally (Russia) of arming the Azerbaijan army and claiming that the recent Russian arms were used against us. Nothing could be so far from the truth: I actively watched the equipment used by the Azeris during the conflict (photos and videos). More specifically, I kept an eye on any use of the recently delivered Russian hardware that is creating so much controversy among some of our more emotional compatriots. Here are my observations:

There is no evidence that indicates that the Azeris used these latest weapons sold by Russia over the last few years.

1) Our Defense Ministry has mentioned that our forces engaged and destroyed a number of Azeri T-90 tanks. Yet, not a single photo or video evidence emerged showing T-90s, dead or alive. All the tanks that were shown were various iterations of the venerable T-72. I am deeply sorry to say that the Ministry has lost all credibility. Their claims and bulletins sound like they are coming from the Arab world.

2) Our side has claimed that our opponent has used the TOS-1 thermobaric artillery system and that we destroyed one of their units. I have yet to see any photo or video of destruction, carnage or incineration that I can attribute to that system.

3) There is one instance in which Artsakh was hit by Smerch rockets. There are some photos. But the Azeris had in their arsenal this weapon for over ten years now; they had received them form Ukraine.

4) The Mi-24 helicopter that we shot down was not one of the newer Mi-35 that was delivered by Russia. They had that older Mi-24 for a long while and it happens to be one of the airframes that was modernized by South Africa many years ago.

5) None of the BMP-3, Vena and other weaponry recently acquired from Russia was seen in any sort or form.

6) Baku used all the “Made in Israel” shiny toys (UAVs, Kamikaze drones, long range anti-tank guided missiles etc.) without any hesitation during the clashes. Yet, for some reasons, they have refrained from using the new equipment that came from Russia.

I reiterate: I am deeply sorry to say that our leadership has lost credibility in my eyes. Are they trying to cover their mistakes by distorting certain things? Are they pointing fingers elsewhere? Are they trying to blame Russia?  

So, what happened on our highlands during those tense few days on the borders? Here is a quick summary of how I see things:

The GOOD: Our soldiers held their ground as much as possible. They fought well with the equipment they had and under the circumstances they were in.

The BAD: There was too much reliance on positional warfare (trench warfare), too little concealment and camouflage of assets, too little first-hand information on what the opponent was doing.

The UGLY: The Azeris had an advantage in having more modern weapons and equipment. Our Defense Ministry simply did not do enough to keep the Military Balance.

During the nineties and first decade of the century, our Leadership was able to maintain an edge over the opponent by introducing major weapon systems: SCUD, TOCHKA, S-300 from Russia and WM-80 MLRS from China for example. Then they became complacent and took a break. During the last few years, the only major item the Armenian armed forces received was a KUB (SAM-6) air defense system that was transferred to us (free of charge) from the Russian contingent in Gyumri. At the same time, the Azeris were arming themselves to their teeth thanks to their oil money. By not taking the appropriate measures, our Leaders are partly to blame for creating the conditions that encouraged Aliev to launch the April four day war.
KUB (SAM-6) Air Defense System in Artsakh

We managed to keep the status-quo over Artsakh for 2 decades. Baku wants to change that by initiating clashes and creating conflict. What to do now? If we want to maintain the status-quo and not make any territorial concessions, we must tilt back the balance of power to our favor. Military balance parity is the bare minimum to deter Azerbaijani aggression. The $200 million arms procurement deal that we agreed with our Russian allies is a good start. Yes, that deal should have happened a few years ago. It should be followed by subsequent ones to ensure that Baku will never get adventurous. Funding such arms purchases should not be seen as a problem. Our Leadership will have to look for the solutions. Getting even closer to Russia is the right way to go. It is no secret that we buy arms from them at heavily discounted prices. And yes, conducting “complimentary politics”, “getting in bed” with the West and “blaming Russia” are definitely bad ideas Please allow me to make this clear, if we cannot maintain the “military balance” over our Artsakh highlands we will have to sit down at the negotiating table and be prepared to accept some territorial concessions in order to preserve peace.

So, either we get stronger and we keep the “no-war  no-peace” status quo or we negotiate a settlement that will see Russian troops in Artsakh guaranteeing our peace and security over the areas of Artsakh that remain in our hands. It is our choice. Our Russian allies will support us whatever our decision will be. But, we need to do right things first.

June, 2016


Thinking the Unthinkable: Russia Has Re-Emerged As a Great Power

The Western image of Russia and Putin in recent years has been very negative. President Obama has publicly called Vladimir Putin a “schoolboy who slouches in his chair in the back of the room“ and derided his country as a mere “regional power.” This begs the question: how Russia could again become a major power after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991? How could Putin do this without an agrarian or consumer revolution and with the massive drop in the price of oil? If Putin is a terrible leader, then how can you explain successful interventions in Georgia (2008), Crimea (2014), Ukraine (2014-2016) and Syria (2015-2016)?

Putin, however, is actually a very shrewd leader with a brilliant Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who relies on a capable Foreign Ministry. Putin has rebuilt Russia’s military capability by spending $49B a year on security. Russia retains 1,790 strategic nuclear weapons. With over 140 million people and 13 million college graduates, Russia has nearly a million first-class scientists, engineers and technicians, most of whom work for the military.

Many former great powers are now no longer major powers. Japan, which smashed the Russian army in the 1904 Sino-Japanese War, occupied much of China from 1937-1945 and has a four trillion dollar economy is no longer a great power. After its defeat in World War II capped by the American dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and American post-war occupation, Japan has sworn off further intervention in the world and refused to acquire nuclear weapons.

Europe, which once teemed with great powers such as Germany, France, England and Austro-Hungary, now has gone in another direction. Germany soundly beat the Russians in every World War I battle and came close to doing the same in 1941 and 1942. Today with weak power projection the three main powers have less than 1,000 mainline battle tanks and few aircraft carriers. Weak economic growth (1.5%/year), disputes among its 28 members, migration from the Middle East, serious problems with weaker members such as Greece, promote domestic over international issues.

China, with its ten trillion dollar GDP, over two trillion dollars of exports, over three trillion dollars in its reserve fund, 1.35 billion people and 3.7 million square miles of territory, is a future great power. It has made huge economic progress since Deng Xiaopong launched the Four Modernizations in 1978.

Yet, its remaining problems are staggering: enormous air pollution, 675 million peasants, huge governmental corruption, authoritarian one party dictatorship, lack of rule of law, rapidly aging population, hundreds of thousands of children raising themselves and only $7,500 GDP/capita. Its military, while boosted by 150 billion dollars of spending, still needs another decade to become a truly modern force. India has 20 percent illiteracy, 300 million people without electricity and a $1,300 GDP/capita that is less than three percent of the United States. It faces Pakistan soon with 200 atomic bombs. India, with over a billion people, will be a major power but not for several decades.

Then there is the United States, the sole global superpower since victory in the Cold War and one of two superpowers in the world since 1945. Its 18 trillion dollar economy, 17 of the world’s top 20 universities, world leadership in high technology, over 550 billion dollars in military spending and 330 million people give it serious advantages over Russia. But, with the rise of popular neo-isolationist Presidential candidates, the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, decline in its manufacturing sector, administration talk of reducing the size of the American military to the 1940 level, and the Obama semi-withdrawal from the Middle East, the door that had been shut to Russia has been open.

The unthinkable has become a reality. Russia, seemingly finished after its defeat in the Cold War, now is emerging as a prospective great power challenging the West. Russia has done the unthinkable—become a great power filling the void left by other former great powers that have now shrunk in size, power and influence.

 Hypersonic warhead for future ICBM successfully tested in Russia – report

The Russian Strategic Missile Forces have successfully launched an RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) intercontinental ballistic missile from the Baikonur space center. © Sergey Kazak

Russian Strategic Missile Forces have conducted a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, testing a hypersonic cruise vehicle, Interfax reported, citing a source familiar with the issue.The test launch was performed Tuesday using an RS-18A strategic ballistic missile (UR-100N, NATO designation SS-19 Stiletto) from a missile deployment area in the Orenburg Region, the source said, adding that the test was a success.Russia’s Defense Ministry has neither denied nor confirmed the report. All modern nuclear warheads are delivered on targets using ballistic trajectory that can be calculated, therefore such warheads could be intercepted. Hypersonic warheads currently in design would be capable of maneuvering by yaw and pitch, eventually becoming impossible to intercept, thus making any existing and upcoming missile defense system impotent. The new warhead is likely to be readied for the upcoming RS-28 Sarmat heavy liquid-propelled ICBM, which is expected to enter testing later this year.Tests of the new Russian ICBM RS-28 Sarmat, which is meant to replace the outgoing heavy silo-based Soviet R-36M missiles, dubbed “Satan” by NATO, are likely to begin in summer this year. The RS-28 has been in development since 2009 and is scheduled to start replacing the old ICBMs in 2018.The new missile, weighing at least 100 tons, will reportedly be capable of carrying a payload of up to 10 tons on any trajectory. This means an attack on a target could be made from any direction, i.e. RS-28 could start from Russia and fly in the direction of Antarctica, make a circumterrestrial flight and hit targets on the other side of the planet from an unexpected direction. The Russian military plans to put Sarmat in service in late 2018 and complete replacing older variants of Satan by 2020. 


Russia’s hypersonic Zircon missile to go into serial production in 2018

Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered missile cruiser

Russia’s cutting-edge hypersonic missile Tsirkon (Zircon), which is now undergoing state tests is expected to go into serial production in 2018, a source in the Russian military-industrial complex told TASS on Tuesday."State tests of Zircon are scheduled for completion in 2017 in accordance with the contract, and the missile’s serial production is planned to be launched next year", the source said.In mid-February, a source in the Russian shipbuilding industry told TASS that Russian cutting-edge hypersonic missile 3M22 of the 3K22 Zircon system was in the development trials. The Project 11442 (NATO reporting name: Kirov-class) Pyotr Veliky (Perter the Great) nuclear-powered missile cruiser will carry the type following its upgrade, a shipbuilding industry source told TASS. According to the source, the Pyotr Veliky cruiser will start its repairs in the third or fourth quarter of 2019. Its repairs and upgrade are planned to be complete in late 2022, with the ship to be equipped with Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

Russia’s heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Admiral Nakhimov will get in the course of modernization the Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic missiles, a source in the shipbuilding industry told TASS on Tuesday.Earlier, another source told TASS that the Zircon missiles are planned to be installed on the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) cruiser of the same class, which is to undergo modernization after 2018. The Admiral Nakhimov warship should return to the Navy ranks by that time."The Admiral Nakhimov heavy missile cruiser’s deep modernization envisages the replacement of the warship’s missile strike system. As a result, the vessel will get the Zircon hypersonic missiles," the source said.

The Admiral Nakhimov (till 1992 - Kalinin) is a cruiser of Project 1144 (NATO reporting name Orlan). The vessel has a displacement of 24,500 tons and is armed, in particular, with the Granit anti-ship missiles, the Fort and Osa-MA anti-aircraft missile systems. The Admiral Nakhimov cruiser had been moored since 1999. Spring 2013 saw a contract signed for her repair and upgrade, with the ship placed in a dry dock in the fall of 2014.The tests of the 3K22 Zircon system are planned for completion by 2020. The system is expected to be unveiled in the air-launched and ship-based variants. Its characteristics are classified. According to open sources, the new missile’s range may reach 400 kilometers and it will travel five to six times faster than the speed of sound.Hypersonic weapons are missiles and aircraft capable of reaching speeds of Mach 5 and more - or five times the speed of sound. They are extremely difficult to intercept due to their overwhelming speed and maneuvering capabilities. Hypersonic technologies in general, used in weapons systems and prospective aircraft, were seen by experts as a game changer in future warfare.


Hypersonic Missile in Development Testing for Russian Navy Kirov-class Cruiser

Russian cutting-edge hypersonic missile 3M22 of the 3K22 Zircon system is in the development trials. The Project 11442 (NATO reporting name: Kirov-class) Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered missile cruiser will carry the type following its upgrade, a shipbuilding industry source told TASS on Friday.

Russian cutting-edge hypersonic missile 3M22 of the 3K22 Zircon system is in the development trials. The Project 11442 (NATO reporting name: Kirov-class) Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered missile cruiser will carry the type following its upgrade, a shipbuilding industry source told TASS on Friday. "The Pyotr Veliky cruiser will start its repairs in the third or fourth quarter of 2019. Its repairs and upgrade are planned to be complete in late 2022, with the ship to be equipped with Zircon hypersonic antiship missiles. Now, the missile is in the development testing and will enter service, if it passes the tests," the source said. The tests of the 3K22 Zircon system are planned for completion by 2020. The system is expected to be unveiled in the air-launched and ship-based variants. Its characteristics are classified.

Navy Recognition understands that early rumors indicate the Indo-Russian BrahMos II hypersonic cruise missile may be an export variant of the Zircon (just as the BarhMos missile share many similarities with the Russian P-800 Oniks missile). The planned operational range of the BrahMos-II is about 300 kilometers and its speed is set to be around Mach 7 thanks to a ramjet engine.

Pyotr Veliky is the fourth Kirov class cruiser (and the only one operational today), a class of nuclear-powered warship of the Russian Navy. It is the largest and heaviest surface combatant warships after aircraft carriers currently in active operation in the world.  As was reported in the press, the Sevmash Shipyard and the Special Machinebuilding Design Bureau (KBSM, a subsidiary of Almaz-Antei) made a deal for 10 3S-14-11442M vertical launch systems (VLS) to equip the Project 11442M Admiral Nakhimov missile cruiser being upgraded now. The contract is valued at 2.559 billion rubles ($33.5 million). Thus, the ship’s 20 inclined below-deck launchers of P-700 Granit antiship missiles (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) will be replaced with 10 VLS modules of the UKSK versatile ship-based launch system. The VLS modules will total 80. The same solution is expected to be applied to the Pyotr Veliky cruiser.

The 3S-14 VLS can launch the missiles of the Kalibr family (SS-N-27 Sizzler). In addition, the equipment for testing the VLS using mockups of the 3M-54, 3M55 and 3M22 antiship missiles is to be ready be December 2016.

The Project 11442 Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser is designed to sink hostile ships, destroy land targets and provide air defense for its formation. The cruiser carries the 130-mm AK-130 gun, land-attack, antiship and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, Kortik SAM/gun close-in weapons systems and the Vodopad antisubmarine missile/torpedo system. The ship was launched in 1989 and commissioned with the Russian Navy in 1998. It displaces 24,500 tons and measures 251 m long. It has a full power of 140,000 hp, a speed of 31 knots and a crew of 728. The cruiser carries a Kamov Ka-27 (Helix) helicopter or a derivative thereof. 

Russia testing 6-Mach Zircon hypersonic missile for 5G subs - reports

File Photo © Sputnik

First trials of a sea-based Zircon hypersonic cruise missile have begun, a top defense industry source told RIA Novosti. The secretive missile is said to be capable of flying five to six times the speed of sound. It is launched from a 5G submarine.“Zircon hypersonic missiles are already there, and testing from a ground-based launching site has begun,” a senior defense industry source told RIA Novosti on Thursday. The new, highly secretive missile would be able to fly five to six times faster than the speed of sound, the source added.

Zircon missiles would be mounted on the newest fifth-generation nuclear-powered Husky-class submarines.Features of the new hypersonic missile are not found in public sources. Earlier in February, it was revealed that the Russian Navy’s nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) would also be armed with hypersonic cruise missiles by 2022.A military source told TASS the cruiser will be refitted with the brand new multirole 3S-14 vertical launch systems, which house three types of anti-ship missiles, including Zircon, Onyx and Kalibr.Zircon will probably replace P-800 Onyx and Kalibr NK missiles. Both have supersonic anti-ship capabilities, while Kalibr can cover long-range distances of up to 4,000 kilometers and carry a 500kg warhead. The combat-proven cruise missile was seen in action last year, when it was deployed against Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) defenses in Syria.Russia is also actively developing other hypersonic systems, such as BrahMos, a short-range ramjet missile based on the P-800 Onyx.

A joint Russian-Indian project, BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Moskva. Traveling at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3, it’s widely believed to be the world's fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. Hypersonic weapons are missiles and aircraft capable of reaching speeds of Mach 5 and more – or five times the speed of sound. They are extremely difficult to intercept due to their overwhelming speed and maneuvering capabilities. Hypersonic technologies in general, used in weapons systems and prospective aircraft, were seen by experts as a game changer in future warfare.


Fifteen ships and vessels are to be laid down in 2016 for the Russian Navy

Fifteen ships and vessels are to be laid down this year, Deputy Navy Commander-in-Chief Alexander Fedotenkov told journalists on Thursday. "They include two more Project 22800 guided missile craft, Project 20380 corvettes, Project 22160 patrol ships and a drastically advanced Project 23550 ice patrol ship triple-hatted as tug, icebreaker and patrol vessel," he said without specifying the shipyards earmarked to lay down the ships.

Fifteen ships and vessels are to be laid down this year, Deputy Navy Commander-in-Chief Alexander Fedotenkov told journalists on Thursday. "They include two more Project 22800 guided missile craft, Project 20380 corvettes, Project 22160 patrol ships and a drastically advanced Project 23550 ice patrol ship triple-hatted as tug, icebreaker and patrol vessel," he said without specifying the shipyards earmarked to lay down the ships. The Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet operates four Project 20380 corvettes - the Steregushchy, Soobrazitelny, Boijy and Stoiky. The Project 20380 Retivy and Strogy and Project 20385 Gremyashchy and Provorny corvettes are being built by the Northern Wharf Shipyard. The Amur Shipyard is building three more Project 20380 corvettes.

Project 20385 has been criticized as being too expensive and redundant in its armament. Another reason for Russia resuming Project 20380 corvettes construction may be European sanctions following the crisis in Ukraine: The improved design is fitted with MTU engines (from Germany) instead of the Russian DDA12000 diesel units in the original vessels. The recent sanctions mean Russia can not take delivery of the German made engines anymore. Only two Gremyashchy-class corvette (of Project 20385) have been laid so far: The first one, Gremyashchy, in February 2012 and the second one, Provornyy, in July 2013.

The Gremyashchy-class corvettes differ from their predecessors of the Steregushchy-class by greater dimensions and displacement. They have a steel hull and composite superstructure, with a bulbous bow and nine watertight subdivisions. Compared with the Soobrazitelny, Boiky, Sovershenny and Stoiky ships, which are fitted with Redut air defense VLS system of 12 launchers on the bow, these new ships are equipped with a UKSK VLS system comprising 8 launchers for SS-N-27 or SS-N-26 cruise missiles instead.
The Russian Navy will get a Project 23550 ice patrol ship capable of simultaneously serve as an icebreaker, a tug boat and a patrol ship said Russian ts Navy Commander Viktor Chirkov in April 2015. "The new generation vessel will have the capacity of a tug, an icebreaker and a patrol boat at the same time. This flexibility will enable the vessel to carry out a wide range of tasks in the Arctic zone. This year, we will finalize the design"- said Chirkov at the time.


Over 50 warships to come into service with Russian Navy by 2018

According to Russian Navy Commander-in-chief Vladimir Korolyov, it will make it possible to reinforce groups practically in all strategic directions. More than 50 new warships will come into service with the Russian Navy by 2018, Russian Navy Commander-in-chief Vladimir Korolyov said on Monday."I would like to stress that in a span of three years from 2013 to 2016 we have put into service 42 warships. In the period from 2016 to 2018, we plan to put into service more than 50 warships. It will make it possible to reinforce groups practically in all strategic directions," he said.


Bigger and faster: Russia unveils designs to replace marooned Mistrals

'Mistral' warship (Reuters / Jean-Paul Pelissier)

A St. Petersburg navy design bureau says it is ready to build a Russian-made alternative to the troubled Mistral carriers, which remain moored in France. The intended new ship dubbed Lavina (‘Avalanche’) promises to be bigger and faster than the Mistrals. The technical specifications of the helicopter carrier were revealed in a presentation given by the Krylov State Research Centre, at the Army-2015 military expo near Moscow. Lavina will have a full load displacement of 24,000 tons, as opposed to 21,300 tons for the French-designed ship. It will also have a maximum speed of 22 knots, compared to 19 knots for the Mistrals, two of which were ordered by the Russian Navy four years ago.

Just like the Mistral, Lavina will house 16 helicopters, about 50 armored vehicles (about 10 fewer than the French amphibious assault vessel) and a potential six smaller boats, as opposed to the Mistrals' four. All figures are likely rough estimates, with numerous variables, and it is unclear how advanced the Lavina blueprints are at the current stage. The two Mistral-class ships, custom-built for Russia for a price of €1.2 billion, have been completed, but their delivery has been suspended by France, following Crimea’s accession into Russia last March, and the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine. Domestic shipbuilders are competing to fill the gap.

Earlier this week, Priboy, a 14,000-ton helicopter carrier, also capable of transporting 16 attack helicopters, was announced by Nevsky Design Bureau, another leading St. Petersburg design bureau. It said that plans were afoot to begin construction next year. Last week, the Yantar shipyard also reportedly began construction of a smaller Ivan Gren-class assault vessel, which the Navy said would be ready by 2018. It seems unlikely that all of these projects will be greenlighted simultaneously, but officials have confirmed that an amphibious vessel capable of performing a landing thousands of miles away from its home port is a centerpiece of its naval strategy up to the year 2050.

Meanwhile, according to a senior official who spoke to TASS news agency on Wednesday, Moscow has not ruled receiving its original order from the St. Nazaire shipyard, and negotiations are “ongoing.” If the delivery is not made, as appears increasingly likely, the biggest stumbling block remains the size of the compensation for the canceled order. The latest public pronouncements show that France is offering under €800 million in compensation, while Moscow is holding out for at least €1.1 billion.


 US can't keep pace with Russian submarine deployments - top Navy official

© Igor Zarembo

The US Navy is facing better and more numerous Russian submarines capable of taking out aircraft carrier groups. The service can’t ensure full awareness of Russian sub activity, CNN reported, citing American admiral."The submarines that we're seeing are much more stealthy," Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces in Europe, told the news channel. "We're seeing [the Russians] have more advanced weapons systems, missile systems that can attack land at long ranges, and we also see their operating proficiency is getting better as they range farther from home waters."Russian deployments of attack and ballistic missile submarines are currently at levels unseen since the Cold War, he said. The US has 53 submarines in service and the number will drop to 41 by the late 2020s due to budget constraints, Ferguson added.

Even with the current numbers, the Pentagon can’t monitor all Russian subs, according to retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO supreme allied commander."We cannot maintain 100 percent awareness of Russian sub activity today," he said. "Our attack subs are better, but not by much. Russian subs pose an existential threat to US carrier groups." Ferguson acknowledged that Russia invested years and billions of dollars into upgrading its submarine fleet because it sees NATO as a threat to its security.

"NATO is viewed as an existential threat to Russia, and in the post-Cold War period, the expansion of NATO eastward closer to Russia and our military capability they view as a very visceral threat to Russia," he said. The Russian submarine deployments are “focused on protecting the maritime flanks of Russia” and on “denying NATO the ability to operate” in areas such as the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. For 20 years Russia has been complaining that NATO's eastward expansion poses a military threat. The US and the alliance have steadfastly denied this, attempting to justify the policy as one designed to ensure the security of Eastern European nations and dismissing Russia's concerns as unfounded.

The US claimed the anti-ballistic missile system the US is deploying in Europe protects NATO allies from a possible attack by “rogue nations” such as Iran and North Korea. Moscow maintains it undermines its missile deterrence. This week, the Pentagon argued before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee that the Missile Defense Agency should get the funding it requests “to deny Russia offensive capabilities.” It also listed war-battered Syria as a source of growing ballistic missile threat to the US.


Russia's new Armata tanks undergoing troop tests

The new T-14 Armata tank

An experimental batch of Armata (T-14) tanks is undergoing troop tests - the last stage before they are put into service and serial delivery starts, deputy chief of Russian machine building company Uralvagonzavod Alexey Zharich told the Izvestia daily."Tests of Armata are proceeding according to schedule, there are no problems," Zharich said, adding that serial deliveries "may start at any moment as soon as the client wants them to."Currently the troops have some 20 T-14 tanks, he said.


Flying tanks: Russia’s robotic Armata system to have own scout drone

A T-14 tank with the Armata Universal Combat Platform at the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War. File photo. © Anton Denisov

The company that unveiled the Russian Armata supertank at last year’s Victory Parade in Moscow plans to turn it into a fully robotized “machine of the future.” What is more, Armata will employ a Russian-built unmanned aerial vehicle to gain a tactical edge. “Unmanned Armata is the machine of the future, we have no doubts about it. Both we and the military are sure,” Oleg Sienko, director of Uralvagonzavod, leading Russia’s tank manufacturer, told RIA Novosti news agency in an interview Monday.It will be not the first time the Russian defense company has tried its hand in the construction of unmanned armored vehicles. Back in 2013 it presented a cutting-edge firefighting truck which can be operated by remote control due to the cameras mounted around it.

The truck can be essential in carrying out operations in highly dangerous environments with a huge risk of explosion, for example, at military bases filled with ammo.“We are moving forward, we already have experience with designing a robotized firefighting vehicle on the basis of the T-72 tank…Generally speaking, even those vehicles shown on Red Square can be turned into unmanned vehicles or robots,” Sienko added, referring to the Armata’s impressive debut at the last year’s Victory Parade.The innovative vehicle, which is the first Russian tank designed entirely in post-Soviet Russia, boasts an unmanned turret fitted with a 125mm smoothbore cannon.Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) now intends to install a drone onto the heavy vehicle Armata-15 as part of the company’s strategy aimed at “moving away from crewed vehicles.”“It is a necessary element at a tactical level. It is very hard to move forward in the column ‘without eyes,’ that’s why the UAV is provided there and we will be actively introducing it,” Sienko said.

It is not yet known which UAV will be used to fit into the vehicle, but it will certainly be one made in Russia, Sienko said, adding that it is for the Russian Defense Ministry to decide which device to choose as it runs the trials.“We will install whichever one [the ministry] tells us to. But there will be one for sure,” he said. Armata is not just a new model of tank, but rather a common platform that can be used for building various military vehicles, such as missile launchers, armored personal carriers and more than 20 other types, Sienko said.

“We have a military vehicle development concept based on the Armata platform. It consists of 28 units of prospective types of weaponry. They must be integrated into the same platform, be it anti-missile defense or heavy armored vehicles,” he said. This transformer-like concept with a common base has other benefits, including easier maintenance. “Then we will have the common repair kit, common spare parts so we can rapidly change any joints and components.”

Last month it was announced that the first batch of 20 Armata tanks were undergoing trials and are expected to be sent to the Russian armed forces in 2016 or 2017. Sienko said that safety remains the main priority in the development of the cutting-edge tank. Although the basic engine power is estimated at 1,500 horsepower, the tank is yet being tested with an engine delivering 1,350 hp. “Upgrading the engine is planned for the future, but we believe that the more you force the engine, the fewer are its resources,” he added. The current engine’s power enables the tank’s operator to drive at speeds of up to 80 km/h, which already exceeds the stated speed, according to Sienko. This puts Armata in line with Russia’s legacy of extremely maneuverable “flying” tanks. The Armata tank is currently armed with a 125mm cannon, which can be upgraded with an even more powerful 152mm cannon. According to the company’s deputy director, Vyacheslav Khalitov, the bigger cannon can “just blow a turret away.”

“The 152mm caliber is pretty effective and doesn’t require special ammo to deal with armor. A 152mm shell’s kinetic energy is high enough to just blow a turret away. So this is a promising direction and we are considering it,” Khalitov said last month.  Sienko confirmed that an order for a total of 2,300 tanks had been already placed by the Defense Ministry and approved by President Vladimir Putin. Uralvagonzavod announced its plans to create a remote-controlled tank in 2015 after its success with the Armata-14. China, India and some potential buyers from the Arab have shown interest in buying the tanks.


The Kremlin's Tiny Drone Tank Bristles With Weapons

Russia has a new remotely operated ground combat vehicle, the Uran-9, built for reconnaissance and fire support. Despite looking like a baby tank, Uran-9 is fully capable of taking on enemy vehicles much larger than itself.Developed by Russian defense contractor Rosoboronexport, Uran-9 is a tracked armored vehicle controlled remotely by an operator. The turret is equipped with a 2A72 30-millimeter cannon with a rate of fire of 350 to 400 rounds per minute and can shoot high explosive incendiary and armor-piercing ammunition. A 7.62-millimeter machine gun is mounted parallel to the cannon.Studding the outside of the turret are four 9M120 Ataka anti-tank missiles, each capable of hitting a tank at 2.5 miles with a 90 percent hit probability. The tandem shaped charge warhead is designed to defeat so-called "reactive armor" tiles by using a smaller charge to detonate the reactive armor, allowing the main charge hit the enemy's main armor. Each Uran also mounts four Igla-S surface to air missiles, giving it the ability to shoot down low-flying aircraft to distances of up to 1.86 miles.Uran-9 is to enter service with the Russian Ground Forces and will be exported abroad. Here's Rosoboronexport's marketing video for the little killer.

Deadlier Than Terminators: WATCH Russia's Unique Robotic Tank in Action


The Russian Defense Ministry has unveiled a unique video highlighting the battlefield abilities of the one-of-a-kind Uran-9 robotic tank, Zvezda TV channel repo1rted.The latest in a long line of military robots made in Russia, the Uran-9 unmanned ground combat vehicle is loaded with a machine gun, a 30mm cannon that fires 350 to 400 rounds per minute, a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and a battery of supersonic guided missiles. The Uran-9 is remotely controlled, so there’s always a human directing the machine. It was developed to provide reconnaissance and fire support to infantry and counter-terror units.According to the developers, Uran-9 will not be treated as a weapon system but rather deployed with an infantry unit. Fully loaded, the Uran-9 weighs around 10 tons and looks like a small tank.It also boasts a cutting-edge laser warning system, target detection, high-tech identification and tracking equipment.“Russian developers possess all the expertise they need to create modern military robotics that will be in demand on the international market. This is a fast-growing segment of the arms market, so we will develop and implement a long-term marketing strategy for promoting such pieces of hardware, including as part of integrated security projects,” said Boris Simakin who heads the Analysis and Long-Term Planning Department at Russia’s official arms trader Rosoboronexport.


Killer airwaves: Russia starts trial of electromagnetic warfare system

A ground-based, unified electronic warfare (EW) system at the MAKS-2015 International Aerospace Salon in Zhukovsky near Moscow. © Mikhail Voskresenskiy

Russia’s electronic warfare equipment producer launched tests of a tactical electromagnetic combat complex fully integrated with latest air-defense systems. It guarantees complete neutralization of all enemy electronics.Factory testing is underway for components of the new system, capable of protecting troops and civilian facilities from air and space attacks, a representative of Russia’s leading producer of electronic warfare systems, Radio-Electronic Technologies Concern (KRET), told TASS. The tests are expected to be completed by the end of 2016.Integrated with air defense systems and networks, the new complex “maintains automated real-time intelligence data exchange with the airspace defense task force” to facilitate centralized target distribution, the source said.

Solutions realized in the new complex ensure secure suppression of any existing and perspective airborne electronic equipment, making it impossible for the aircrafts and satellites to proceed with their missions.It uses brand-new algorithms of electronic jamming with expanded combat capabilities and modernized command module design. The complex consists of multiple jamming modules exercising long-range impact on enemy command system with a powerful and complex digital signal.“We’ve created multichannel information transmission system ensuring simultaneous electronic jamming of various systems,”

KRET’s representative said.Jamming modules serve as elements of a hierarchically-organized multilevel system, which “optimally distributes its energy, band and intellectual resource,” KRET’s press service cited the deputy general director, Igor Nasenkov.Besides that, all modules are equipped with means of electronic self-defense, because they “they come as top-priority target for enemy’s primary attack,” Nasenkov said.In November 2015, Nasenkov said that a new upcoming ground-based electronic defense system integrated with air defense system is going to be incorporating antisatellite capabilities.The new jammer would render enemy precision weapons useless by suppressing guidance systems, including those relying on satellite signals.

“The system is meant to jam enemy aviation, carrier-launched, tactical and strategic, and jam the signals of foreign military satellites,” Yury Maevsky, deputy head of KRET, told TASS also last November.Maevsky said elements and modules of the upcoming electronic warfare system are going to be deployed at will on various land-based, airborne and naval carriers.


Russian electronic warfare equipment surpasses Western analogues

Russian electronic warfare equipment surpasses Western analogues by a number of characteristics, including range, Russian Electronic Warfare Forces commander Maj. Gen. Yury Lastochkin said Friday.Lastochkin said that in general, the main tendencies of development of domestic electronic warfare (EW) equipment and similar equipment by leading foreign states coincide, which predetermines the closeness of their technical and tactical characteristics."Nevertheless, among key advantages of domestic electronic warfare equipment compared to foreign analogues can be named its greater range, which is achieved thanks to the use of more powerful transmitters and more efficient antenna systems," he said. According to the commander, the share of state-of-the-art equipment in electronic warfare troops totals 46%.Lastochkin told journalists that in line with the plans to equip electronic warfare (EW) units in accordance with the state defense order, some 300 main specimens of hardware and more than 1,000 small-size items of equipment have been supplied to the troops.

According to the commander, the share of state-of-the-art equipment in electronic warfare troops totals 46%.Lastochkin told journalists that in line with the plans to equip electronic warfare (EW) units in accordance with the state defense order, some 300 main specimens of hardware and more than 1,000 small-size items of equipment have been supplied to the troops."The activities made it possible to re-equip 45% of electronic warfare military units with modern systems, such as Murmansk-BN, Krasukha, Borisoglebsk-2 etc.," he said."In this way, by the start of 2016, the overall share of modern specimens of equipment totaled 46%," Lastochkin said.Electronic warfare troops at Russian military drillsThe official also pointed out that electronic warfare troops would be involved in various maneuvers of the Russian Armed Forces to complicate the situation during the drills. Lastochkin told journalists that over 200 special tactical drills and command post exercises are scheduled for 2016 with electronic warfare (EW) formations and military units as part of combat training events.He said a special electronic warfare testing site is to be created in Russia by 2018.


Russia's Deadly S-500 Air-Defense System: Ready for War at 660,000 Feet

The Russian military expects to receive the first examples of the new Almaz Antey S-500 air and missile defense systems in the near future. Meanwhile, tests are continuing on the advanced S-350 Vityaz system, which will eventually replace the existing S-300PS air defense batteries. “We expect the first samples of the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system to be delivered soon,” Lt. Gen. Viktor Gumyonny, commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ air defense troops, told Rossiya-24 according to TASS [4].

The new weapon—which will form the upper tier of Russia’s layered integrated air defense system—is expected to be able to engage targets at altitudes of about 125 miles—or 660,000 feet. That means that S-500 will be able to engage targets such as incoming ballistic missiles in space at ranges as great as 400 miles. The first regiment of S-500 will be deployed to protect Moscow and central Russia.

The S-500 is expected to able to detect and simultaneously attack up to ten ballistic missile warheads flying at speeds of twenty-three thousand feet per second. It is also reportedly being designed to use hit-to-kill interceptors [5]—a design with similarities to Lockheed Martin's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Like all modern Russian air defense systems, the S-500 is expected to be highly mobile and will use a network of radars for targeting over vast distances. The missile system is expected to use the 91N6A(M) battle management radar, a modified 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, as well as the new 76T6 multimode engagement and 77T6 ABM engagement radars, according to Missile Threat—which is run by the George C. Marshall and Claremont Institutes. [5] Meanwhile, the Russian military is already testing the S-350 Vityaz mid-tier mobile air and missile defense system. The new weapon will replace the older S-300PS and complement systems like the Buk-M3 [6], S-300VM4, S-400 and S-500.

“Tests of the S-350 Vityaz anti-aircraft missile system are currently ongoing,” Gumyonny said. “The first launches have been successful and the system has proved its characteristics and will be used on a large scale for the replacement of the S-300PS anti-aircraft missile system.”

The S-350 is built around a new advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and a new mobile command vehicle. A normal battery would include command vehicle, two radars and eight launch vehicles. The S-350 uses the same active radar-guided hit-to-kill interceptors as the S-400—and can engage targets at ranges of 75 miles at altitudes of about 100,000ft. It can engage 16 targets simultaneously while a total of 32 missiles at any one time.

The Russians are expected to network the S-500s with their S-400, S-300VM4 and S-350 and other weapons as part of an overall integrated air-defense network. As one U.S. industry official noted, while the Russian military industrial sector suffered greatly in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, somehow Moscow managed to continue developing advanced air defense system without much degradation in capability. Indeed, some of these new weapons—like the S-500—are so capable that many U.S. defense official worry that even stealth warplanes like the F-22, F-35 and the B-2 might have problems overcoming them.

Russia’s Aerospace Force expects development of first S-500 missile system prototypes soon

The Russian Aerospace Force expects that the first S-500 antiaircraft missile system prototypes will be developed soon, Aerospace Force Air Defense Chief Viktor Gumyonny said on Friday.  "We expect the first prototypes of the S-500 antiaircraft missile system soon," he said in an interview with TV Channel Rossiya-24.  The R&D work on the S-500 air defense system is nearing completion while the tests of the S-350 complex are currently underway, he said.  "The prototype tests of the antiaircraft missile system S-350 Vityaz of the air defense forces are currently going on. The first launches have been successful and the system has proved its characteristics and will be used on a large scale for the replacement of the antiaircraft missile system S-300PS," Gumyonny said.  Aerospace Force Commander-in-Chief Viktor Bondarev earlier said the S-500 system might start arriving for the Russian Armed Forces already in 2016.  According to the commander, the advanced S-500 system will be capable of intercepting targets at an altitude of up to 200 km. The first regiment of S-500 antiaircraft missile systems is expected to provide cover for Moscow and central Russia.


Russia's Newest Cruise Missiles Make Combat Debut in Syria 
Russia's latest cruise missile has been used for the first time in the Syria conflict. Introduced in 2013, the Raduga Kh-101 has been spotted on Russian Tu-95MS heavy bombers (pictured above) lobbing salvos of cruise missiles at Islamic State targets. The Kh-101 is a subsonic, conventionally armed cruise missile that flies at low level to avoid enemy radar. Compounding the difficulty of detecting the Kh-101 is that the missile is low-observable—not quite stealthy, but still designed with radar evasion in mind.

The missile is large, 24.4 feet long and with a launch weight of 5,060 pounds. A turbofan engine propels the missile at high subsonic speeds, thought to be around .77 Mach. Armed with an 880 pound conventional warhead, Kh-101 packs twice as much punch as its predecessor. The missile takes advantage of Russia's GLONASS satellite guidance system to achieve accuracy within 30 feet, making it two to three times as accurate as the previous cruise missile.

The truly astounding feature about the Kh-101 is its intercontinental range. The missile has a claimed range of 6,000 miles, meaning it could be launched from Moscow and hit nearly any part of the United States. Low observable and capable of flying under many air defense radars, the Kh-101 is very useful for so-called "day one" surprise attacks, especially on well-defended targets. A nuclear version of the missile, the Kh-201, is thought to carry a 250 kiloton warhead. And that's what worries the Pentagon.

The prospect of a Russian nuclear cruise missile threat—launched from thousands of miles away—has set the Pentagon on edge. The threat of a surprise attack on Washington DC, a so-called "decapitation strike" that would eliminate the civilian and military leadership in one sudden stroke, is the driver for LENS aerostat network deployed around the nation's capital. The aerostats, one of which broke free and crashed last month, sit at an altitude of 10,000 feet and use radar to scan for incoming cruise missiles.

The choice of the Kh-101 is an odd one. The Kremlin could have attacked undefended Islamic State targets equally well with older, obsolete missiles. Using the latest, most expensive cruise missiles seems like a waste—unless the real intent of the missile bombardment was to show off the Bear's newest claws.

Russian Missile Tech Is Getting a Much-Needed Workout in Syria

In the first week of October, Russian naval vessels in the Caspian Sea launched a salvo of ship-based cruise missiles at targets in Syria up to 1,000 miles away. Never mind Pentagon reports that some of the missiles reportedly crashed in Iran along the way. The strikes marked the first time Russia’s navy has launched a sea-based, surface-to-surface cruise missile in anger, and the first real-world test of its Kalibr land attack cruise missile.

In the weeks since, Russia has continued to push the envelope in Syria in terms of both military technology and doctrine, launching more cruise missiles and deploying all three of its heavy bombers in concert for the first time. The conflict has grown into a fertile testing ground for a Russian military that hasn’t carried out military operations at this scale in three decades. In its use of sea-launched cruise missiles in particular, Russia also is putting the West on notice, analysts say. In Syria, Russia is demonstrating both to itself and to the rest of the world that the capability gap separating its military from those of the U.S. and its NATO allies is shrinking.

“Russia is in the midst of a relatively big military modernization program,” says retired U.S. Army Col. David Johnson, a senior historian at RAND Corp. “This is is a way to test these things out in combat conditions.”

Cruise missiles like those Russia is launching from the Caspian Sea require no small degree of technical prowess. After a booster rocket launches it a few hundred feet skyward from a surface ship or submarine, a Kalibr cruise missile tips over horizontally and fires up a solid fuel turbojet engine that sends it screaming toward its target at many hundreds of miles per hour.

More unmanned aircraft than conventional rocket, cruise missiles don’t have to fly in a straight line or along a preordained trajectory. Using GPS (or Russian-equivalent GLONASS) navigation, Russia’s latest missiles can weave their way to predetermined waypoints to avoid obstacles or air defenses. They hug the topography of the Earth, flying as low as 170 feet above ground level to stay well below enemy radar. (Preprogrammed geographical data and onboard sensors help the missile avoid collisions with terrain features or buildings.)

During its terminal phase, the missile locates its target through a mix of coordinates and onboard image recognition, essentially matching an uploaded image of the target to what the missile sees in front of it. If all goes to plan, the missile’s 1,000-pound payload of high-explosive is then guided straight to the target for a violent impact.

The above description could just as well describe the U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missile in use by the U.S. and U.K. navies since the early 1980s. From guidance to targeting to characteristics like range, size, and speed, Russia’s latest cruise missiles mirror the capability of their Western counterparts. “We’ve always considered it the Russian version of a Tomahawk,” says Bryan Clark, a naval expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “They’ve had this latent capability that was developed maybe 20 years after the Tomahawk emerged, but they’ve just never been able to use it.”

In Syria, that’s changed. Though the presence of Russian bomber aircraft in Syria renders cruise missile strikes nonessential, Russia is taking the opportunity to pull its cruise missiles out of the toolbox and put them through their paces. Along with its new ship-based cruise missiles, Russia has also reportedly fitted its Tu-95MS heavy bombers with the latest Raduga Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile, marking the first operational use of that particular weapon as well.

It’s by no means clear that Russia is ready to deploy these cruise missile technologies in a more heavily defended airspace, says Dr. Richard Weitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. But there are some interesting nuances associated with Russia’s cruise missile operations thus far, particularly the fact that Russia has launched its strikes from small naval vessels, some just one-tenth the size of the average U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer.

That means the U.S. and other nations now have to think about the possibility of other nations—not just Russia, but nations equipped by Russia—outfitting their much smaller naval fleets with long-range cruise missile capabilities that could threaten both larger naval vessels and inland targets. In a larger, strategic sense, it also means the capability gap between Russia’s navy and its Western counterparts is shrinking.

“I don’t see anything alarming from the fact that they’ve done this—I’d be surprised if they hadn’t done it, quite frankly,” RAND’s Johnson says. “The big message to the U.S. and NATO is that the period where we were completely dominant following the Cold War is coming to a close. The things we would have to confront in NATO just became very visible in a combat situation.”


 Russia Flight Tests Anti-Satellite Missile

Russia conducted a successful flight test of a developmental anti-satellite missile on Wednesday that is capable of destroying satellites in orbit, American defense officials said. The Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile was launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility, located 500 miles north of Moscow, said officials familiar with the situation. The missile was monitored by U.S. intelligence satellites and the test appeared to be successful.

The launch marks another major milestone for Moscow’s efforts to develop weapons capable of destroying U.S. navigation, communications, and intelligence satellites, a key strategic advantage.

No additional details were available, and it could not be learned if the Nudol missile was fired against a satellite or was test launched in a suborbital trajectory without hitting a target. It was the second successful test of the Nudol, following a Nov. 18 launch, and shows Russia is advancing its anti-satellite weaponry.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza declined to comment. Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow is modernizing its entire strategic arsenal and developing new weapons like anti-satellite missiles. Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, told a House hearing in March that the Russians are developing space weapons, known as “counter-space capabilities.”

“Russia views U.S. dependency on space as an exploitable vulnerability, and they are taking deliberate actions to strengthen their counter-space capabilities,” Buck told the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Gen. John Hyten, the commander of Air Force Space Command, also has said both Russia and China are building space weapons. “They are developing capabilities that concern us,” Hyten has said in press reports.

Russia’s Nudol program has been couched in secrecy, but it appears linked to Moscow’s missile defense systems. State-run press reports in the past have mentioned the Nudol experimental development project as a “a new Russian long-range missile defense and space defense intercept complex.” Former Pentagon official Mark Schneider said senior U.S. military leaders have been warning about Russian anti-satellite threats for years and regard it as serious.

“GPS guidance has been widely adopted for many of our weapons because it was cheap, all weather, and works well in low and medium intensity conventional conflict,” he said. “The loss of GPS guidance due to [anti-satellite] attack would take out a substantial part of our precision weapons delivery capability and essentially all of our standoff capability.”

Geneva-based Russian military analyst Pavel Podvig speculated whether Russia may have conducted a simulated intercept in the latest test. How the Nudol program fits within Russia’s military doctrine is difficult to assess, he said. “My take is that it is not necessarily part of a well thought out strategic plan,” Podvig said. Soviet-era and current Russian weapons developments were often developed without a clear idea on how they would be employed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the [Nudol] system is being developed just because it can be developed—they will think about its role later, assuming that it works,” he noted. Podvig said the apparent missile manufacturer, Almaz-Antey, “is making an argument that an [anti-satellite] system might be useful to hold U.S. [low-earth orbit] assets at risk.”

“But if it gets to a real conflict scenario it is very difficult to see how this capability might be militarily useful,” he added. A Defense Intelligence Agency report to Congress in February 2015 warned that, “Russia’s military doctrine emphasizes space defense as a vital component of its national defense. Russian leaders openly assert that the Russian armed forces have anti-satellite weapons and conduct anti-satellite research.”

Schneider said the threat to U.S. satellites is compounded by a lack of kinetic U.S. counter-space capabilities that could hold Russian Glonass satellites at risk. China also is developing anti-satellite missiles and in 2007 conducted a test of a missile that destroyed a weather satellite, resulting in tens of thousands of pieces of dangerous orbiting debris. The blog, which monitors space launches, lists three earlier Nudol tests, including an April 22, 2015, test that failed. The two other tests were the  successful launch on Nov. 18 and an Aug. 12, 2014 launch.

The blog identified the Russian designation for the Nudol missile as “14Ts033.” Coincidentally, the Nudol test took place a day before the Air Force Space Command concluded a major annual war game involving a notional Russian adversary armed with both direct ascent anti-satellite missiles and orbiting anti-satellite robots, command officials told reporters. Air Force Col. Mike Angle, Space Command’s chief of training, weapons, and tactics, said the exercise involved European allies and U.S. forces facing off against a “peer competitor” in 2026 that appeared to be Russia. The annual exercise is called Schriever Wargame 2016 and was held this year at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala.

The exercise included simulated activities by missiles, cyber attacks, and orbiting satellite-killing robots. Scenarios also included cyber attacks against GPS satellites that provided false data to military GPS receivers that are widely used for navigating precision-guided weapons. “We’ve got to, and we feel we need to, prepare for a crisis or conflict that might extend in the space domain,” Angle said. Jason Altchek, a Space Command official who directed the war game, would not say if the notional adversary was Russia. “I can tell you it was a global scenario that focused on the European Command,” he said, noting that the scenarios were split evenly among space and cyber crisis and conflict simulations and responses.

Pressed on whether Russia was the adversary, Altchek said such details remain classified. “But I can tell you that the Schriever Wargame has gone from looking at a near-peer competitor, to a peer competitor,” he said. The seven allied nations that took part in the war games were not immediately identified by the Air Force. However, Angle said one lesson was that “were not all on the same sheet of music” in dealing with space and cyber threats. Past Air Force exercises had been limited to mainly launching and controlling satellites in a relatively peaceful space domain. “We had never trained to perform in the face of a thinking adversary,” Angle said.

In recent years and including the recent war game, the military has begun training to deal with space threats such as “what happens when you have a direct ascent [missile] launched against a satellite,” Angle said. Missiles are easier to identify than unidentified, small maneuvering satellites that might either be a killer anti-satellite robot or a benign maintenance satellite.

The goal of the exercise was to simulate coalition warfare that extends into space and cyber space. The scenarios took place in the European Command area and included “a full spectrum of threats across diverse operating environments to challenge civilian and military leaders, planners and space system operators, as well as the capabilities they employ.” About 200 military personnel and civilians from 27 commands and agencies took part.


Blast from the Past: Soviet-Era Tu-160M2 Is More Lethal Than Ever

Russia’s upgraded Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic bomber is expected to make its first flight in 2019. Moscow currently has sixteen of the original version of the Mach 2.0-capable bomber, which are the last surviving examples of the thirty-five aircraft built by the Soviet Union before its demise. Moscow hopes to build fifty new Tu-160M2 aircraft to upgrade its aging strategic bomber force.

“I believe that in 2019 this plane, upgraded and manufactured, will make its maiden flight,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces told the Moscow-based TASS News Agency on March 2. [4]

Russia made the decision to extend the development of the Tupolev PAK-DA in favor of the Tu-160M2 in 2015. Serial production of the new Blackjack variant is expected to start in 2023. According to Russia’s deputy defense minister Yuri Borisov—as cited by TASS—the Tu-160M2 has been fundamentally upgraded with completely new mission systems and other improvements over the existing M variant. “This will be essentially a new airplane, not a Tu-160 but a Tu-160M2,” Borisov told RIA Novosti last year [5].

Details on the exact nature of the Tu-160M2 upgrades are scarce. Presumably, Tupolev has made long-overdue adjustments to the airframe that were supposed to have been implemented during the Blackjack’s original production run. However, those tweaks are likely to be fairly minor. The major upgrades are almost certainly going to be focused on the bomber’s avionics suite.

Russia’s Radio-Electronic Technologies Concern (KRET) is working on developing the new avionics suite for the Tu-160M2. “Today we can say with confidence that the new aircraft will be constructed using the elements of integrated modular avionics (IMA),” the company told Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti. [6] “In the project to modernize the Tu-160, KRET will be creating new on-board systems, controls, a gimbal-less inertial navigation system, electronic warfare complex, fuel use monitoring systems, as well as weapons control systems.”

Some of the new avionics could find their way onto the PAK-DA, which is being developed in parallel to the Tu-160M2. “The resumption of production of the Tu-160 will mobilize all research and manufacturing facilities of concern in this area and create an ideology for a fundamentally new approach to be implemented in the framework of the project of creation PAK-DA,” KRET told the Russian outlet.

While much of the aircraft will be new, the Tu-160 will nonetheless retain its original nuclear deterrence mission. Unlike the stealthy Northrop Grumman B-2 or future B-21, the Russian bomber primarily relies on a combination of blistering speed and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles [7] to deliver its doomsday payload. Indeed, it’s probable—given Russia’s nuclear doctrine—that even the future PAK-DA stealth bomber [8] will rely primarily on long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles for the nuclear deterrence role.


Russia’s Strategic Bomber PAK DA May Take Off Earlier Than Expected

 PAK-DA Russian 5th generation bomber concept art

Work on the PAK DA strategic bomber is coming along at a good pace, according to the Chief of the Russian Air and Space Forces, Viktor Bondarev.  The prototype PAK DA may hit the skies before 2021, the chief added.  “Work on the PAK DA is coming along and the pace is suiting us. The challenge remains to raise the prototype into air by 2021, but if all continues at the current pace, it will take off even earlier,” Bondarev said.

A Tu-22M3 supersonic strategic bomber and missile carrier taking part in the dress rehearsal of the Victory Parade in Red Square in Moscow © Sputnik/ Iliya Pitalev Russia to Introduce Six Long-Range Tu-22M3 Backfire Bombers by 2016 Russia’s prospective complex of distant aviation (PAK DA) is a proposed next-generation strategic bomber design. The project is currently being developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau.  The PAK DA project was launched in 2009. The military intended to receive a single type of long-range bomber to replace the current Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3.  The PAK DA will be a unique project in the history of Russian aviation since it will be a "flying wing" aircraft, a design never used before by Russian engineers. It will fly at subsonic speeds and the large wingspan and design features will provide the jet with reduced visibility to radar.

Earlier, the Long-Range Aviation Commander Lieutenant-General Anatoly Zhiharev talking about PAK DA said that, “This is a fundamentally new plane with a new sighting and navigation system. This plane will be equipped with the latest communication systems and electronic warfare, and will have little visibility to radar.”  Representative of the concern “Radio-electronic technology” Vladimir Mikheyev said that the new modification of the strategic missile is based on the principle of integrated modular avionics, allowing components to replace the on-board electronics and restore each other.

The bomber will be able to set a course without the help of satellite signals. This will be possible thanks to the inertial navigation system, which will determine the course and speed of the aircraft due to the high-precision data acquisition devices — laser gyroscopes and quartz accelerometers.

Russia to set up 3 divisions to counteract NATO

Russia will set up two new divisions in its Western Military District and one division in its Southern Military District to counteract NATO buildup near its borders, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Wednesday. "The Defense Ministry is taking a number of measures to counteract the buildup of NATO forces in the immediate vicinity of Russian borders. Two new divisions will be set up in the Western Military District and one division in the Southern Military District until the end of the year," Shoigu said at a conference call.Work is already under way to create necessary infrastructure at the places of the new divisions’ deployment, the defense minister said.

"I have given instructions to use the most advanced construction solutions to build the facilities. Specifically, block-modular structures will be used. The flow-line production technology and the delivery of modules allows erecting buildings within three or four weeks at the longest," the defense minister said.If necessary, the structures can be promptly disassembled and moved to another place. The entire utility supply system, including boiler houses, is assembled in the same prompt manner, Shoigu said.

The Russian defense minister announced the formation of three new divisions in the western direction back in January. Later it was reported that a new motor rifle unit would be set up near Rostov-on-Don and two more such formations in the Smolensk and Voronezh Regions.Each of the new divisions was reported to have 10,000 personnel. Last autumn Shoigu said that since the beginning of 2015 about 30 units and forces had been created in the Western Military District. And at the end of November he declared that fifteen units had been created in the Southern Military District and the establishment of two more units was in the final phase.According to earlier reports, the Western Military District had been reinforced with a newly-formed 1st tank army, headquartered near Moscow.

A senior source in the General Staff told TASS the 20th general purpose army in the district had to be created from scratch, as most of its original forces had been handed over to the 1st tank army. The 20th army is to be stationed in five regions in the west of Russia. Its headquarters are Voronezh.


World's first air-droppable missile system being developed for Russian Airborne Forces


The world's first air-droppable air defense missile system is being created for the Russian Airborne Forces on the basis of the BMD-4M combat vehicle, a source in the Russian Defense Ministry told TASS on Wednesday."The work is underway on the on the creation of an air-droppable anti-aircraft missile defense system based on the BMD-4M airborne combat vehicle. The experimental design work is codenamed Ptitselov (Fowler)," the source said.According to him, the system will be parachuted.The Russian Airborne Forces currently have in service various modifications of the Strela-10 air defense missile system the basic model of which had been made operational in 1976.The track-mounted Sadovnitsa BMD-4M combat vehicle is a version of the BMD-4 vehicle with a new body, engine, chassis and other units. It is equipped with the Bakhcha-U combat unit, which comprises two guns - one of 100-mm caliber and another - of 30-mm caliber, and a machine gun. Previously, a Russian Defense Ministry source told TASS that the BMD-4M vehicle, along with the BTR-MDM (Rakushka) armored personnel carrier entered service. According to other previous reports, under the existing contract the Russian Defense Ministry should receive within three years up to 250 of these airborne combat vehicles and armored personnel carriers.


Russian army got 1,200 new and modernized planes, helicopters over past 3 years

Russia’s Defense Ministry has received since 2013 as many as 550 new and 700 modernized helicopters and airplanes, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said on Friday."Undoubtedly, the domestic aviation industry has achieved strong performance at present, and the involvement of the Russian Defense Ministry has played a significant role in this. Over the past three years, in 2013-2015, we have received from you 250 new planes, 300 helicopters, 700 aircraft that underwent serious modernization with repairs," Borisov said at a congress of Russia’s aircraft manufacturers underway in the town of Zhukovsky outside Moscow.According to Borisov, the Russian aviation industry has been able to achieve good results both in the industrial and scientific spheres.


Defense official: Russian Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35 warplanes performed excellently in Syria

Su-35 fighter

Russia’s Sukhoi Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35 fighters have excellently performed during the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation in Syria, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov is quoted as saying by the ministry’s press service on Friday.  "The entirely new Su-30, Su-34, Su-35 aircraft models have performed excellently, by their flight characteristics they are not inferior, but in many ways superior to their foreign analogues", said Borisov, who attended the 3rd Russian Aircraft Manufacturers Congress that is underway in the town of Zhukovsky outside Moscow.


Russia to develop new strategic extra heavy airlift aircraft

An-124 strategic airlift aircraft

The Russian aviation industry will deal with development of a new strategic airlift aircraft for the Armed Forces and the civilian market, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said on Friday.  "We will have to seriously work on a promising aircraft system; I mean an extra heavy airlift aircraft," the deputy minister said.  "We will have to think how to develop an aircraft enjoying demand in the interests of the defense ministry in the first instance, and the civilian market as well," the official added.  Antonov An-124 Ruslan is currently the heaviest strategic airlift aircraft in service with the Russian military transport aviation.


Russia develops new-generation communications headset for armed forces

When a soldier speaks or receives orders, the sound is transmitted through the bones of his skull, picturesquely said, via the temples of his head, rather than his ears and traditional microphones.  A new-generation communications headset to be used as part of the soldier outfit has been developed by the United Instrument Corporation (UIC, a subsidiary of Rostec). It relies on transmitting sound via the skull, rather than the ears and traditional microphones, a UIC employee told TASS on Thursday.

"The headset builds on a latest technology - the transmission of sound through ‘bone earphones’. When a soldier speaks or receives orders, the sound is transmitted through the bones of his skull, picturesquely said, via the temples of his head, rather than his ears and traditional microphones. Sound vibrations are detected by the hardware. Thus, the soldier can simultaneously receive orders by radio and hear what is happening on the battlefield," the source said.

According to him, the headset embodies Russian technologies and software only. "What matters is that the headset is donned and doffed easily without modifications to the helmet unlike its predecessors requiring modifications like that. The headset allows quality signal reception and transmission without unwanted sounds," the industrialist said.  He also said the corporation had developed an active hearing protection system. "It is in the form of earphones that automatically reduce the volume of loud sounds (gunshots, blasts, etc.) while enabling its wearer to hear almost perfectly what is happening on the battlefield," he added.  Defense contractor Luch in the Tver Region is the manufacturer of these systems that have been unveiled at the SPETS-ekipirovka show under way in Moscow today.


Russia: Turning Unpredictability into a Strategic Virtue

“Without international revolution, neither the Soviet Union nor any other [socialist] country can triumph... We have to increase the number of our friends,” Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet premier and wartime Minister of Foreign Affairs, once said. Such wisdom from the olden days of the Cold War should be held in high regard in todays’ Russia, given the increased official respect for Soviet legacy. But the Kremlin does not seem to follow cold-war blueprints.

It is hard to discern any respect for long-lasting partnerships, let alone “friendships,” in Russia’s behavior. Russia does not foster predictability in its relationships with neighbors. On the contrary, Kremlin policymakers clearly prefer ambiguity and unpredictability. “[Russia is] even taking pride in a decision-making process as inscrutable and unpredictable as possible. The ability to make strategic decisions quickly and to implement them militarily and politically with great speed and agility sets Russia apart from the tsarist Empire or the USSR,” write the authors of an assessment report [4] of Finland’s possible NATO membership.

A mere discussion of NATO membership for Finland is a massive change in the dynamic between the two nations. Regardless of any immediate politics, Finland is important to Russia for reasons of history and geography. Russia and Finland share a 1340 kilometer-long border (833 miles). The Grand Principality of Finland was part of the Russian Empire between 1809 and 1917. Immediately after the Russian revolution, Lenin let go of Finland, but Soviet Russia played a role in the Finnish civil war of 1918, in an attempt to influence Finland’s “Reds.” The two countries both participated in the Winter War of 1939-40 that began with  an invasion by the USSR and witnessed hostilities during the remaining part of World War II, in which Finland fought on the side of Germany. While tense during the interwar period, Soviet-Finnish relations became calm and mutually beneficial after the war. In the postwar period, Finland maintained a carefully balanced policy of compromises with Moscow and openness to the West, complete with a non-alignment stance vis-à-vis any military blocs.

Finland did not become a member of the European Union until 1995 and is, of course, not a member of NATO. This legacy is under severe strain now. NATO membership is not something the Finnish society seems to be comfortable with (fewer than one-fourth of those polled support it), but it is being seriously debated and attitudes may change. If Russia ever had a quiet but tough neighbor who would always be keen on building a long-term, rule-based relationship, it is Finland. In international relations, this is better than friendship; after all, who knows what friendship is in international relations? Losing the trust of a neighbor like this would be a major risk for Russia.

But this prospect does not seem to bother Moscow policymakers. Russia is busy projecting agility and unpredictability. These virtues have been apparently chosen because they add weight to Russian military resources that, despite recent military reforms, remain stretched. Russian warplanes are buzzing U.S. Navy ships and American spy planes to send a message that Russia is no longer afraid to play dangerously.

If one adds a strong degree of unpredictability, the projection of force becomes quite formidable. It is strategically important for the Kremlin to keep everyone guessing whether Russia will strike again and, if yes, where exactly. If this kind of projection is meant to compensate for military disparities between Russia and NATO, it probably serves its purpose. It also fits a broader trend as seen by Michael Kofman and Andrey Sushentsov in their recent report [5] for the Valdai Discussion Club. “Today we see a clear trend away from strict rules of warfare or the existence of any tangible separation between war and peace,” write Kofman and Sushentsov. “There is a strong convergence between the U.S., Russia and China in the tendency to engage in indirect warfare and confrontation using the political, economic and information instruments of national power.”

Russian policymakers turned unpredictability into a strategic virtue because they became disillusioned with building rule-based, long-term relationships. Such relationships never turned out in their favor or (more likely) Moscow was simply not patient enough. The Russian ruling class started to present almost any unfavorable changes (including the ruble devaluation) as hostile acts directed at Moscow by the West. President Putin, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, and their supporters found it politically useful to accentuate anti-West rhetoric [6] to garner public support, especially as the economic growth that heralded Mr. Putin’s early years in power faded.

Moscow should not be surprised to find that it has created a lot of anxiety among its neighbors. If Russia wants to be seen as strategically unpredictable and politically agile, everyone around it, including Finland and Sweden, should be excused for seeking to increase their sense of security.


Russia and Turkey Escalate: Russia’s Threat to NATO Goes Beyond Eastern Europe

Key Takeaway: Russia is waging a multi-front campaign against Turkey in order to weaken NATO in line with its strategic objectivesThe use of a high-end Soviet-era MANPADS  against a Turkish helicopter in southeastern Turkey on May 13, 2016 could indicate that Russia is providing meaningful military support to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) insurgency. The incident, if indeed a Russian escalation, is yet another Russian infringement of a sovereign NATO partner. Russia targeted the same pressure point by overflying Turkey with combat aircraft in November 2015, leading Turkish President Recep Erdogan to authorize the shoot down of a Russian plane. The U.S. rushed to de-escalate rather than backing Turkey in November, a signal that Erdogan does not have unequivocal NATO support. The provision of military support to the PKK thus offers Russia a surgical option to escalate against Turkey without provoking a response from the U.S. and NATO, especially because U.S. strategy against ISIS relies upon the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which has strong links to the PKK. It is a dangerous possibility that Russia will cultivate its relationship with the PKK in ways that undermine the U.S. and Turkey, even if the recent MANPADS event does not represent this inflection.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) crossed a phase line in its insurgency against Turkey on May 13 by using Russian SA-18 Igla MANPADS to shoot down a Turkish AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter in southeastern Turkey. The Turkish General Chief of Staff confirmed the crash and the death of both pilots on May 13 but initially attributed the incident to a “technical failure.” The PKK claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted to its website and uploaded a high-quality video to YouTube clearly showing the shoot down on May 14. The appearance of such a sophisticated weapons system in the hands of a U.S. designated terrorist group within a NATO partner is alarming. The attack is the first evidence of the use of a MANPADS by the PKK in Turkey, reflecting a dangerous escalation in the group’s military capabilities and intent to wage a sustained insurgency. The last documented use of MANPADS by the PKK reportedly occurred in northern Iraq in 1997, although several unverified allegations of their use have surfaced in the intervening years.

Turkey escalated its counter-insurgency campaign against the PKK in the months prior to the use of the MANPADS. The Turkish Armed Forces began conducting major clearing operations in the majority-Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey in August-September 2015 after the PKK resumed its local insurgency and seized several urban centers. These operations have expanded over time. Most recently, Turkey deployed 20,000 soldiers and police officers to Mardin and Hakkari Provinces in March 2016 as part of a new wave of operations to expel the PKK from several district capitals. Turkish Gendarmerie and Special Operations Forces also continue to conduct operations against the PKK throughout the surrounding countryside. This mounting pressure has provoked intensifying retaliation from the PKK. The PKK conducted at least four successful VBIED attacks targeting Turkish security forces in Istanbul, Diyarbakir, and Mardin Provinces in the past two weeks, an escalation of its operational tempo from previous months.

It is possible the MANPADS used on May 13 originated in Syria or Iraq. Syrian Arab Army and the Iraqi Army maintained Igla-class MANPADS in their inventories, and the systems have been photographed in the possession of both ISIS and opposition groups fighting in the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Forces (YPG) could have acquired this weaponry as spoils of war and transferred the weapon to the PKK given the close operational and ideological links between the two groups. The MANPADS available in Iraq and Syria are often relatively old or nonfunctional, however, and it has been rare to see a system used by the combatants on the ground, let alone successfully.

It is more likely that the PKK acquired the weapon from an external actor. The careful manner in which the PKK used and claimed credit for the MANPADS indicate that it was an intentional escalation of the PKK’s insurgency rather than an unplanned use of an available system. The PKK’s video was shot at a perfect angle, in the manner of a training video, and posted in a way that suggests that the MANPADS usage was intentionally recorded for dissemination. The shooter also demonstrated precise training – he waits for the helicopter to finish suppressing fire, turns on the battery, gets missile lock on the aircraft, and launches the weapon within the required 90 seconds as his companion counts time. The PKK previously upgraded its video equipment and capabilities in March 2016, as indicated by the videos on its YouTube site. The overall increase in capabilities the PKK has demonstrated since March 2016 indicate that the group is intentionally escalating its insurgency with the purpose of reaching a wider audience. The entrance of an external benefactor is one possible explanation for this phase change.  

Russia is a likely candidate to have provided such a game changing capability to the PKK. Russia seeks to undermine NATO through a global campaign against the alliance and a multi-pronged effort against Turkey. It already supports the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Erdogan views as an extension of the PKK and an existential threat to the long-term unity of the Turkish state. Russia’s support to the YPG is not critical for the success of pro-regime military operations in Syria. Russia is therefore likely supporting the YPG primarily to provoke Turkey on a strategic level. It is possible that Russia expanded its support to the YPG to include covert military support to the PKK. Russia may have chosen to do so in response to perceived escalations by Turkey in Syria over the past several weeks, or to deter Turkey from undertaking future escalation. Support to Kurdish elements is also a direct way to weaken NATO’s southern flank, independent of the conflict in Syria. The following sections explore the Russo-Turkish competition and Russia’s global campaign against NATO in more detail.

Limited Russian media coverage of the MANPADS incident has emphasized Erdogan’s responsibility for provoking the situation. Anna Glazova, Deputy Director of the sate-sponsored Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, highlighted Erdogan’s role in oppressing the Kurds after the MANPADS use. Glazova even called for an evaluation of Turkey’s “treatment of its citizens at the international level” in reference to the UN.[1] This framing is consistent with Russia’s attempt to isolate Erdogan diplomatically and cast Turkey as the aggressor. Russian media such as Sputnik News previously distributed stories claiming that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have already delivered surface to air missiles to rebels in Syria, justifying Russian retaliation. 

The Russo-Turkish Competition in Syria

Russia has waged a concerted campaign against Turkey from Syria as part of its wider strategic objective to weaken NATO. The Russian Armed Forces repeatedly violated Turkish airspace violations among other provocations since the start of its air campaign on September 30, 2015. The conflict dramatically escalated on November 24, 2015 after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that had violated its airspace along the Syrian-Turkish Border. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to this act of defiance with a multifaceted campaign of punitive measures. Russia imposed sanctions and travel bans that sharply limited its economic ties with Turkey. The Russian Armed Forces deployed an advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system to its base at the Bassel al-Assad International Airport in Syria, contesting the airspace over large parts of southern Turkey. In Syria, Russia shifted its air operations to target opposition ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in northern Syria that provided free access to arms, supplies, and reinforcements from Turkey. These strikes also targeted frontline positions held by Turkish-backed opposition groups, facilitating the loss of terrain at the hands of both the YPG and ISIS. Russia also dispatched military personnel to scout the Qamishli International Airport and Kuweires Airbase in northern Syria in a clear threat of future military deployments along the Syrian-Turkish Border.

Russia expanded its political and military outreach to the Syrian Kurds in late 2015, weeks after the downing of the Russian jet. The Russian Armed Forces began providing support to YPG-led operations against opposition groups in northern Aleppo Province in early December 2015. Russia reportedly also began deploying small numbers of ground forces to support the Kurds in Aleppo Province by February 2016, possibly to serve as forward air controllers for the YPG. These outreach efforts bore fruit in mid-February 2016 when Russia facilitated significant YPG advances against Turkish-backed opposition groups in northern Aleppo Province. The Russian operation was designed to buffer a simultaneous advance by pro-regime forces attempting to encircle and besiege Aleppo City. Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) – the political body that directs the YPG – also established its first foreign office in Moscow on February 10 with at least tacit support from the Kremlin.

Russia continued to provoke Turkey despite a nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ in Syria that began in February 2016 and resulted in a notable decrease in combat operations on the ground. Russia used the start of UN-backed negotiations to end the Syrian Civil War as a platform to apply political pressure on Turkey on the international stage. Russia repeatedly pressed for the inclusion of the Syrian Kurds in the Geneva Talks while calling for the exclusion of Salafi-Jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham and other opposition groups backed by Turkey from the political process. Russia also attempted to target Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam – another major Salafi-Jihadist group backed by Saudi Arabia – by submitting an unsuccessful proposal to designate both organizations as ‘terrorist organizations’ before the UN Security Council, thereby criminalizing external support to the groups. Britain, France, and the U.S. blocked the proposal. Russia simultaneously provided continued military support – albeit at a lesser threshold – to pro-regime forces as they carried out numerous attempts to complete the encirclement of the opposition in Aleppo City, which remain Turkey’s primary source of leverage in the Syrian Civil War. These operations include a recent attack against the vulnerable opposition-held Handarat District of Aleppo City on May 12.

Turkey appears be providing increased support to its allies in Aleppo to counter Russian- and Iranian-backed regime operations. Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham launched a counter-offensive that recaptured the town of Khan Touman southwest of Aleppo City on February 5. The attack inflicted major casualties on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and marked a notable setback for the Syrian-Russian-Iranian coalition fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia may have interpreted this loss as a new escalation by Turkey. Turkey likely provided military and financial support to Ahrar al-Sham and other opposition groups that seized Khan Touman, coordinating through the reconstituted Jaysh al-Fatah Operations Room. Turkey also conducted a cross-border raid using Special Operations Forces into Northern Aleppo Province on October 7 as part of efforts to clear ISIS from the Syrian-Turkish Border. These incidents may have created an incentive for Russia to pursue other options in order to retaliate against Turkey.

External supporters of the Syrian armed opposition have threatened to deliver MANPADS into Syria as a “Plan B” if the Geneva negotiations to end the Syrian Civil War fail. Saudi Arabia has been the most vocal proponent of MANPAD deliveries, but Turkey is likely also considering the option. Turkey and Saudi Arabia already coordinate to deliver aid to Syrian armed opposition groups, and have discussed how to escalate their involvement in the past. Images from the battlefield reveal that a variety of opposition groups remain in possession of these anti-aircraft systems, although it is unclear how many remain functional. Opposition forces were able to down a regime fighter jet over the town of Kafr Naboudah in northern Hama province in March 12 with alleged MANPADS. Some of the MANPADS displayed by opposition forces are models not carried by the Syrian military, suggesting that the opposition obtained the weapon from external benefactors. A prominent opposition group that operates north of Damascus also uploaded a video of MANPADS training on April 19, stating that it expected to receive shipments soon. It is possible that Saudi Arabia and/or Turkey provided initial shipments of MANPADS in order to gauge Russia’s response.

The timing of the use of a MANPADS in Turkey is therefore significant in the Syrian context. It occurred three days before a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Vienna to discuss the political process. The ISSG meeting was a success for Russia. The ISSG members states did not agree to resume the talks, but neither did they abandon the process. The ISSG instead reaffirmed the August 1, 2016 target date to “reach agreement on a framework for a genuine political transition”. This outcome – a protraction of diplomatic stalemate – is ideal for Russia because it sustains the diplomatic track despite growing American unease with the situation on the ground. The ISSG member states also committed to conducting air bridges and air drops of humanitarian aid if the UN is not granted access to any designated besieged area by June 1. This agreement is a concession from Russia, but it does not challenge Russia’s freedom of action or its priorities in Syria. Instead, it commits ISSG member states to a course of action that remains on a humanitarian plane. It is possible that Russia provided  small  numbers  of  MANPADS  to  the  PKK and  trained personnel to fire and record them in order  to  send  a  warning  to  Turkish  President  Recep  Erdogan  and  deter  Turkey  from  further action  in  Syria.  Russia may have intended to divert the  attention  of  Turkey  away  from northern Syria  by  providing  the  PKK  with  sufficient  capabilities  to  escalate  their  local  insurgency  and force  the  Turkish  Armed  Forces  to  deploy  additional  assets  towards  the  threat. Forcing Turkey to confront the risk of an escalated PKK insurgency could encourage Turkey to withdraw its support from possible Saudi plans to escalate in Syria, as intimated on May 17 after the ISSG meeting. 

Russian Escalation with Turkey and NATO beyond Syria


The Kremlin is finely tuning where, when, and how it escalates against Turkey. The deliberateness of Russian escalation in southern Turkey contrasts with a more nuanced policy in other regions. Russia has intensified its military support to the neighboring state of Armenia amidst rising tensions with Azerbaijan – a close Turkish ally – in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Russia signed an agreement with Armenia to establish a regional joint air defense system on December 23, 2015.[2] Azerbaijan and Armenia later resumed large-scale military operations along the border of Nagorno-Karabakh on April 1, breaking an uneasy ceasefire that has largely held since 1994. On February 18, the Russian government announced that it had supplied Armenia with a $200 million loan with payment deferred until 2018.[3] Russia is a major arms supplier to both sides in the conflict, but its support heavily favors the Armenians. Russian military forces stationed in Armenia regularly conduct training exercises, including exercises with the Armenian military. Russia most recently began joint flight exercises with the Armenian military on May 12 that included more than 200 personnel and over 20 aircraft and helicopters.[4] The exercises caused concern in neighboring Turkey.

Russia has meanwhile portrayed Turkey as an aggressor amidst the hostilities, stating that Turkish support for Azerbaijan constituted “not appeals for peace but for war.” The combination of rhetoric incriminating Turkey and simultaneous Russian military investment is standard Russian methodology for exploiting sub-state conflict. Russia purposefully took steps to de-escalate the conflict. . The co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, met with the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Vienna on May 16 in order to discuss the escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh beginning on April 1. The leaders agreed to increase the strength of the OSCE monitoring mission along the frontline of Nagorno-Karabakh and pursue further peace talks in June. Meanwhile, the Armenian government approved a bill for discussion in parliament that would officially recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan on May 5. The Armenian government rejected[5] further consideration of the bill on May 16, but they maintain the ability to reconsider the vote at any time. The Kremlin did not publically support the bill, signaling its intent to support de-escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia’s decision to deescalate likely represents a calculation that the costs of increased hostilities in the region are too high at this time.

The current de-escalation may actually favor Russia by enabling the Kremlin to choose the timing of future escalation. Russia is using its involvement in the talks to present itself as a global peacekeeper and an effective partner for the West, despite being a primary enabler of the conflict, a pattern that it has exploited in Ukraine as both a belligerent and a guarantor of the ceasefire. Russia is meanwhile increasing its capability to act against Turkish interests through the Nogorno-Karabkh by training with the Armenian military.  

Crimea and Ukraine

Turkey is responding to Russian aggression by cultivating other partners who are hostile to Moscow, and particularly, Ukraine. Part of this is defensive. Turkey is attempting to respond to increasing Russian military capabilities on the Black Sea that threaten its northern flank. Turkish President Erdogan called for increase NATO presence in the Black Sea, warning that NATO’s “absence” had almost turned the Black sea into a “Russian lake” and claimed that “if we don’t act now, history will not forgive us.” This rhetoric comes as NATO considers forming a Black Sea Fleet, comprised of Turkish, Romanian, and Bulgarian vessels and potentially supplemented by Ukrainian and Georgian ships in order to counter Russian military presence in the Black Sea.

Turkey and Ukraine conducted joint naval drills on April 6 in the Black Sea. The two countries signed a military cooperation agreement on May 16 designed to expand military education and troop training efforts and mutual defense planning.  On May 13Turkish DefenseMinister Ismet Yilmaz, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak, and new Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman met in Kyiv on May 13 to discuss plans to enhance security in the Black Sea region and improve military cooperation.  The Azeri Minister of Defense also announced at a meeting with his Turkish and Georgian counterparts on May 16 that a military cooperation agreement between the three countries was being discussed that would take military cooperation “to a new level.” Turkey, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Georgia may be laying the groundwork to establish a regional military alliance to fill the existing regional power vacuum and prevent Russian expansion if NATO decides against creating a Black Sea Fleet at its July 8 - 9 summit in Warsaw. Action to counter Russia in the Black Sea outside the NATO construct risks escalation with Russia that the U.S. cannot control. Turkey is also cultivating Ukrainian support in other ways that are less directly tied to defending the Black Sea.  The Turkish government gave Ukraine five mobile military hospitals during President Poroshenko’s visit to the Ukrainian Flagship Hetman Sahaidachniy on March 10 as it concluded exercises with the Turkish Navy. Ukraine and Turkey are also in talks to expand economic ties.

Ukraine has an ethnically Turkish minority population, the Crimean Tatars, that is both a cause and a pretext for support. The Crimean Tatars, a Turkic people, are a largely pro-Ukrainian population with an inherent cultural distrust of Moscow after centuries of war and the 1944 mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. Russia stepped up its repression of the Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea in early February in an effort to consolidate control of the peninsula. Russian authorities in Crimea banned the Mejlis, the representative bodies of the Crimean Tatars, on April 26 after previously labeling them as “extremist” organizations. Turkey immediately condemned the decision and pledged to support the “just struggle” of the Turkic Crimean Tatars against Russian oppression. Turkey has historically prioritized supporting Turkic people outside the Turkish state. Russia continued to target the Crimean Tatars, including a large-scale detention of roughly 100 Tatars on May 06. The European Union adopted a resolution in support of the Crimean Tatars on 12 May as Russian security forces conducted a series of raids and arrested at least five Tatars including the Vice Chairman of the National Mejilis. Erdogan later stated that Turkey refused to recognize the annexation of Crimea and “our main priority in the conditions of the Ukrainian crisis is to secure the peace, safety, and well-being of our brothers the Crimean Tatars” on May 15.[6] Turkey’s rhetorical support to Crimean Tatars is incentive for Russia to punish Turkey on other fronts.

Turkey and the Baltics

The PKK use of a MANPADS against a Turkish helicopter in its own airspace came simultaneously with a wider set of aggressive Russian signals sent to NATO. Russian forces in the Baltic region also continue their aggressive maneuvers against NATO member states. Russia forced British fighters based in Estonia to scramble to intercept three unresponsive Russian aircraft approaching Baltic airspace on May 13. Russian intelligence collection ship also patrolled Latvia’s exclusive economic zone the same day. These particular signals were also timed as the United States activated in Romania on May 12 the first land-based facility in its European missile defense system designed to protect Europe from missile strikes from the Middle East and began construction of a second facility in Poland on May 13. Russia has consistently opposed the missile shield and claimed that it is targeted toward Russia and not the Middle East. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would take measures to neutralize “emerging threats” to Russia.

Russia is setting conditions for further offensive action against NATO by establishing a legal framework to take action anywhere Russian populations are under threat from “extremists.” The Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, passed a series of anti-terrorism laws on May 13 that would expand Russia’s ability to control its population and lay the groundwork for increased Russian global activity in the name of the war on terror. The laws would allow the Russian government to stop its civilians from travelling internationally if they are suspected of “extremism,” lowers the age of responsibility for acts of terror from 16 to 14, punish Russian citizens who do not inform the government if they were aware of planned “extremist” activity, and expand Russia’s legal definition of terrorism to encompass any act that affects Russians abroad. By expanding its definition of terrorism in this way, Russia will be able to claim legal grounds for pursuing terrorists that target Russians anywhere in the world.[7]  In addition, Russia is building up its military forces.  Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu announced that Russia would form three new divisions along its western border with Europe in response to alleged NATO aggression on May 3.


Russia has demonstrated its ability to undertake precise escalatory and deterrent actions based on a strategy to achieve intended effects on a global scale. American responses do not match Russian aggression in either scale or sophistication. The U.S. and NATO must stop visualizing the individual provocations by Russia in a vacuum, but rather recognize these converging threats as a global strategy to weaken NATO. Russia has identified the seam between Turkey and its fellow NATO members, and is using a series of escalatory steps to weaken the alliance. The synchronization of Russian escalatory actions against NATO allies in various theaters from May 13 – 16 indicates a concerted effort to exploit seams in different theaters in an effort to establish itself as a global hegemon. The willingness of NATO to defend Turkey and its other partners in the region is once again in question.

NATO is erroneously parsing Russian escalations in Northern Europe as different from those in Southern Europe. Russian aircraft have repeatedly performed dangerous and provocative maneuvers against U.S. military forces in the Baltic region as it continues its campaign of military intimidation and hybrid warfare against the Baltic States. The Russian campaign against Turkey is linked to this aggression on the northern European front. Russia’s intervention in Syria is a direct challenge to Turkish interests. Russia is repeating this method by overflying Turkish airspace. It may have introduced MANPADs to the PKK, the Kurdish group waging a war against Turkey. Russia has waged a sophisticated information campaign against Turkey, portraying Turkey as a regional aggressor to deter decisive NATO action while Russia targets Turkish strategic priorities in Syria. This information operation may be contributing to U.S. inaction. Continued NATO inaction in response to Russian aggression against Turkey risks sacrificing the ability to shape future Turkish responses.

In any scenario, the potential provision of MANPADS and other advanced systems to insurgents inside of Turkey should present a red line for the U.S. and NATO. Hopefully, this line has not yet been crossed. The sophisticated Russian information campaign to implicate Turkey as a regional aggressor has nonetheless begun to take hold, raising concerns that NATO would be unwilling to respond to a Turkish invocation of Article Five. Russia is incentivized to press its advantage. The failure to respond to these provocations will only further motivate an already-emboldened Russia to reshape the current world order in its own favor. The U.S. and NATO risk losing the ability to shape Turkey’s response to Russian aggression by failing to act. It is both likely and dangerous that a unilateral Turkish response will fragment NATO and jeopardize American strategic interests over the long term.

Russia Defense Report: Russian Forces in Armenia

The Russian military involvement in assistance of the government of Syria had led to a sharp deterioration of relations between Russia and Turkey, which until recently had been seen as if not an ally then at least a solid partner. While the reasons for Turkish president Erdogan’s betrayal of trust with Russia are still not fully known, this unexpected turn of events had instantly elevated the importance of the Russian military contingent in Armenia, a country which is not only tied to Russia by a range of collective security treaties but also shares a long border with Turkey, which is after all a member of NATO, as well as with Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which have been building their ties to NATO in recent years. Which means that Armenia is the Transcaucasus equivalent of Belarus–a buffer state between the suddenly hostile NATO and Russia. Any escalation of the Russia-NATO differences of opinion over the future of Syria would necessarily involve the Russian forces already stationed there, plus whatever reinforcements could be sent to the area. The presence of Russian forces in Armenia is also significant for the reason of the still unresolved Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. Given Armenia’s geographic importance and its political and military alignment with Russia through the Collective Security Treat Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union, one also has to keep in mind that Armenia represents a tempting “color revolution” target. For that reason, Russian troops stationed there can rightly consider themselves to be part of a frontline deployment.

The permanent contingent of Russian forces in that country centers around the 102nd Military Base near the city of Gyumri, with Russian troops enjoying basing rights there thanks to a bilateral Russia-Armenia agreement until 2044. The 102nd Base was established on the basis of the 127th Motorized Rifle Division that was based in Gyumri. Its equipment strength includes 74 Main Battle Tanks, nearly 200 BTRs and BMPs, as well as artillery systems including long-range Smerch MRLs, which is equivalent to a reduced-strength motorized rifle division of three motorized rifle regiments (each with one tank company) plus a separate tank battalion, consistent with the number of 4500 Russian soldiers stationed at Gyumri.  The 102nd is not the only such formation in existence–the 201st Military Base in Tajikistan that is intended to help maintain security in Central Asia also as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has roughly similar organization and strength.

However, while the 201st only needs to worry about Taliban, Al Qaeda, and, now also ISIS infiltration from Afghanistan, the 102nd is based in close proximity to a NATO state which necessitates protection against air attack. That protection is provided by the 988th Air Defense Missile Regiment with S-300 and Buk-M systems and a flight of MiG-29SMT fighters based at the nearby Erebuni airfield which recently also received 18 Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters. Rounding off the 13 thousand strong Russian contingent in Armenia are the 4.5 thousand FSB Border Guards based at Gyumri, Armavir, Artashat, and Megri.

This force serves a number of peacetime functions. It extends Russian conventional deterrence umbrella over Armenia against any external attempts to violate Armenia’s sovereignty. It helps integrate Armenia into the CSTO, with Russian troops serving as military trainers and advisors in a fashion similar to the role their counterparts played in Syria. Indeed, Russian and Armenian forces hold frequent joint military exercises to hone their interoperability. Should the situation deteriorate, the 102nd’s organization and strength make it suitable to wage a low intensity counter-insurgency campaign against well organized “foreign fighters” and, in the event of a major military threat to Armenia, it is sufficiently powerful to screen Armenia’s borders until reinforcements could be sent, while bombarding key enemy sites with Iskander-M missiles. Even though Armenia does not share a border with Russia, it does have one with Iran, whose close security relationship with Russia shows no signs of weakening which means that, should the worst come to worst, Iranian airspace could be used to reinforce Armenia.

Current Russian national security plans foresee the Russian force grouping in Armenia to be increased, as part of the overall enhancement of the role of CSTO in guaranteeing regional security and in response to increased NATO activity in the region. What happens next is really up to the West. Should it insist on continuing the course toward confrontation, Russian forces in Armenia could greatly complicate its strategic calculations.