Russian military reforms-Aviation-Impossible to read “Putin’s Pokerface”

President Putin opened up a series of discussions through meetings, which started in early June, concerning the implementation of the military reforms, a fact which has proven to be a serious “headache” for the Russian politicians and of course the Russian armed forces. The 2008 conflict in Caucasus showed a series of shortfalls in the Russian armed forces, suggesting that if reforms did not start taking place soon, then in the case Russia would have to defend its soil, it would be literally unable to do so. The equipment was absolutely obsolete, the communications between the units almost non-existent (at some point during the conflict, a Russian officer had to use his mobile phone to call a unit), as non-existent were necessary systems such as a proper IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). The Russians initiated a general mobilization, based on the “all out” Soviet Doctrine of en mass mobilization of forces. This fact had negative consequences on the campaign itself. Roads were clumped, friendly planes were shot down and unacceptable casualties (like the soldiers who lost their lives as a result of road accidents or mishandling equipment) occurred. The “bear was awaken”, but it looked kind of “drowsy” and “old fashioned”, at least at the military level, thus a series of reforms were initiated “effective immediately”. Russia’s biggest problem was her vast army, consisting of more officers than soldiers. Most of the divisions were “skeleton ones” as they were manned only to some instead of full extent. There were also problems associated with guarding obsolete equipment stored in Soviet depots. All these factors had to change and it went without saying that as the old Rome was not built in a day, thus the army of the New Rome would not be built in days or months either.

On the bright side, Russia possessed Soviet time blueprints of projects that were never materialized, due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The time had come for those projects to become attached to those modernization efforts. In this section we are going to analyze Russia’s most ambitious aviation reforms. We should not that overall, Russia intends to spend up to 777 billion dollars in a decade for her armed forces, an astronomical amount, provided of course that oil prices remain at a relatively high level.

The Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA stealth fighter has been the most popular (and secret) project with regard to aviation. Its construction marked a new era for the Russian Aviation, which entered the “stealth era” of the fifth generation fighters. According to Russian sources it has recently passed with flying colors its tests for aerial refueling, while more tests are under way. In 2011 in the air show exhibition, the “PAK” performed mere fly overs over the spectators, without engaging into acrobatics, like the Su-35 for example. The reasons behind this was that first the Russian government did not want to exhibit publicly its aerodynamic skills and second, according to statements, it was not yet ready to do so. There was an incident with one of the engines going ablaze, but we presume that every new model has its “baby illnesses” as General Heinz Guderian first used the term to describe the malfunctions in the Tiger and Panther Panzer models.

The secrecy behind those projects, concerning both the Sukhoi Stealth Fighter and the development of the Stealth Bomber (Tupolev PAK DA) has led to some misleading and rather confusing information regarding how much Russia is willing to spend on defense armaments. The initial figure was 777 billion overall (Financial times) but after a visit at the President of the Russian Federation webpage we read the following:

“…As a result of this work {modernization framework} a plan was drafted to modernize the military industrial complex at a total cost of nearly three trillion rubles [$100 billion]. Now, the Government of the Russian Federation must make sure that this plan is carried out….”

as for the air force:

“…We will be bolstering the aviation of the Armed Forces qualitatively and quantitatively by 2020. I already stated at a meeting with flight crews of the military base we are visiting, that we are planning to budget over four trillion rubles [$130 billion] toward these goals, while a bit under three trillion (some 2.9 trillion) rubles for the entire military-industrial complex. But aviation, the state armaments procurement for aviation needs, will get more than four trillion. As you see, it accounts for almost one quarter of expenditures withinthe entire state defense procurements…”

The maths are not correct. If 1/4th is more than 4 trillion rubles then the overall spending for Russia’s defense is 16 trillion rubles (more than 520 billion dollars), so we are a bit confused here as to the exact amount that Russia will be spending until 2020 for her armed forces. There are definitely secret funds allocated in areas and resources we are not aware of, but that is only natural and not the point of this analysis.

The point to some extent is, from what has been published and seen so far, the degree to which Russia’s air force (specifically for this analysis) can work as the cornerstone of Russia’s defense. It is almost certain that the PAK for example has been successful so far, but what about other projects such as the Tupolev PAK DA or even the forgotten “eagle” Russia’s SU-47 Berkut. Is the Tupolev program a whim or a necessity? Is Dmitry Rogozin right when he states that in the modern era and given the potential of the multistatic radars, there are no absolute “Stealth” guarantees? Finally, is Russia in some way, being too modest about her conventional weapon capabilities, is sharing just a slice of the aces she holds in the drawer?

Concerning the bomber project, Rogozin is right to one extent, yes no aircraft has 100% stealth capabilities, this was proven for the first time in Serbia when the first F-117 was shot down. This “bubble” was burst back then, but what about now? Is this a reason not to build stealth bombers at all? The issue is more connected to the “ballistic age” rather than the Stealth “era”, as from Koroliev’s time and the construction of the ICBM missiles, the role of the bomber became less important. But based on the same philosophy, we can argue that the anti-ballistic missile defense technology has progressed thus far as well, as to confer the necessary security for a state’s defense! So, in the end what is more important? The research on a bomber, which may be tracked eventually or the research of missile type technology, which will make the projectiles non interceptable? Surely, the Chinese have chosen the path of missiles by constructing “deadly Aircraft carrier killers”, even though China as well has invested money into developing its own J-20 stealth fighter (even though it is commonly known that the aircraft is an intermediate of the F-22 and the T-50 PAK FA, constructed by “stolen technology” and reverse engineering methods).

We presume that at the doctrinal level each country pursues different strategies in order to safeguard its borders, but in the case of Russia the construction of the Tupolev is a matter of “whim” as well in the context of Putin’s thoughts that “My dog is bigger than yours”. Yet, it is extraordinary, that the blueprints for the project also existed from the Soviet times, drawn by an Italian communist who fled to the USSR. Still, though, the distance between a blueprint and the actual construction “is measured in light years”, as for the cost, well this is even more relative than time itself, as Einstein described, with the biggest example being the “endless” project of the F-35. Thus, we conclude, in terms of the Russian bomber, that the choice is a double edged sword, which can prove out to be on the one hand augmenting for Russia’s air delivery methods of cruise missiles, on the other, though, as a worst case scenario, a total waste of money.

In terms of the non-stealth fighters and transport airplanes, the webpage of the President of the Russian Federation states that:

“…It is nevertheless imperative to modernise our strategic Tu-160 and Tu-195MS missile carriers. Incidentally, we have already introduced a new airborne long-range cruise missile to arm the warcraft…”, obviously Vladimir Putin is referring to the newly built and still tested Bulava missile.

“Second, the tactical component of the Air Force will also require serious renewal. Here, I will note the modernization of the Su-25SM fighters, the delivery of new frontline Su-34 strike aircraft, and of course the fifth generation frontline fighter aircraft. Besides, in the next five years, we should implement the A-100 early radar warning aircraft project…” The Su-34 is mainly used for bombing operations, although it is considered as a multi-role aircraft. In general and from a historical perspective, Russians have always had the upper hand in aviation in terms of the aerodynamic structures of their jets. They have always been able to execute “impossible” maneuvers and lest we forget the very well known “Cobra maneuver”, which is executed while the aircraft enters the “stall phase”, this was firstly carried out by Russian jets, then followed the F-22 performance. In terms, though, of electronics and modern aviation technology, undoubtedly Americans have the upper hand, not because of the extensive R&D, but also because Russians have just begun to modernize their military, so it is almost impossible to catch up with the progress of NATO!

“…Overall, by 2020, we plan to increase the share of modern aviation technology in our military to 70 percent. As I said at our previous meeting, which was devoted to the 100th anniversary of Russian Air Force, over 600 new airplanes and 1,000 new helicopters should be delivered to the military units in the nearest future, and that’s not including the upgraded systems. Serious attention will be given to modernising airfield infrastructure as well. Over the last four years we have brought about seven new modernised airfields into operation per year – 28 in four years – and another nine airfields are being renovated now in Severomorsk, Chkalovsky, Engels, Aktyubinsk, Krymsk, Yeysk, Lipetsk, Chkalovsk in Kaliningrad Region, and Korenovsk. Within the framework of their modernisation, contracts have already been signed worth over 40 billion rubles [$1.3 billion]. The work is underway, and I hope that it will be fulfilled on time, with high-quality results…” Again here we should make a notation regarding the helicopters and the airfields. Choppers are of two types namely the Ka family (Ka-50, Ka-52) and the Mi-28 equipped with Night vision “gadgets”, a luxury the Russians did not have back in 2008. Those two types of attack helicopters are almost the same, the reason behind the choice of both of them was that the company which was producing the Ka family, before it was selected by the state, was at a state of bankruptcy, so the state projects left them plenty of room to breathe. Now regarding the airports:

“…Many airfields had to close down as well. Out of the pre-reform 245 airfields, 27 are currently on active use, that following the reforms almost 90% of the airfields were disbanded. Given the fact that the numbers that are presented are more or less an estimation and that the reform program involved a big degree of secrecy (probably due to the nuclear weapons), the fact that 90% of a country’s airfields “Close down” is the least to say “suspicious”. That said, it would not be surprising if not all of those airfields were in fact abandoned for good or there are still some military facilities that remain active, albeit operating under different standards and in a very different way…” as written by one of Focus Dynamics researchers Alexandros Boufesis, in his pending publication on the Russian Georgian war of 2008.

The Su-35 BM, although it is not mentioned in Putin’s speech, still plays a very important role as a 4.5 generation model, non stealth, but allegedly able to compete even with the US’s Raptor. It should be reminded that during an iconic dogfight between Greek F-16s and the Raptor, one of the Greek pilots managed to “lock” the F-22, causing a profound embarrassment to the US air force. Specifically the Raptor’s back compartment (near the engines) was more “visible” than the rest of the jet, that is why the Greek pilot locked it. If that is not fixed then it can be shot down in a potential dogfight, especially if the opponent wears a Helmet Mounted Display (Greek pilots are also using this system, which allows them to lock their opponents even if they are not at their 12 o clock line of sight, as each time the pilot turns his head he can lock the “boogie” anywhere within his optical field”. The Su-35 was proposed by the Russians to the Greek Military Aviation. From a research point of view, the operation of the Su-35 with NATO aircrafts will put to the test the theory of hybrid warfare, allowing fighters of two different manufacturing philosophies to operate together, thus having the chance to maximize effectiveness and operational capabilities. This, though, has slight chances of happening for obvious political reasons.

Finally, we promised that we would extend further our argument on the Su-47, the Berkut (eagle). Alexandros Boufesis’s point of view is written below (again from the upcoming monograph on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008)

“…We should also not forget the “mythical” Su-47 “Berkut” fighter, which had inverted wings and it could thus sustain heavy “Gs” without falling into a “Stall”. This project was allegedly abandoned, as the production expenses were “astronomical”, but still one cannot but wonder: Was it only one “Berkut” that was manufactured or was it a whole air regiment, which in the case of a war will come out of nowhere spreading shock and awe like the T-34 and KV-1 “Giant Tanks” did during World War II…?”

“…Yet, the most crucial point lies within the field that Russians have not revealed, thus conveying a message in their own way of: “Regardless of what we exhibit in terms of deterrence, you should be more afraid of what we do not exhibit and it may come as a brutal and deadly surprise, should you choose to provoke the bear again”. In light of recent events, it is either that the message is not conveyed properly or it falls on deaf ears…”

The military aviation analysis closes with the need of modernizing the Tu-95 and the Tu-160 Blackjacks, which have traditionally carried the cruise missiles armed with conventional or nuclear warheads. On July 4, Tu-95s were used to violate the US’s airspace, thus they are both very active and still very useful to convey Russia’s messages to her rivals.

Overall, the Russians appear to rely on their Nuclear deterrence capabilities, with Putin stating that they are not pursuing a new arms race. Maybe they don’t have to, it is possible that through the Meseberg treaty signed by Russia and Germany, Germany gives the Russians the know-hows for developing their conventional arsenal. Or maybe they are indeed in an arms race, probably not because there’s an issue of defending the “Rodina”, but because of the fact that the Russians have to defend their rights in the Arctic ocean and it goes without saying that the nukes cannot be used in every single case as a threat without being backed up by a proper conventional arsenal.


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1 Comment

  1. I needed to thank you for this wonderful read!
    ! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. I have you book-marked to look at new things you post…


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