Old Weapons Good Enough, or Worn Out?

In Tuesday’s Gzt.ru, Denis Telmanov writes that Vostok-2010 features arms and military equipment that is 20, or sometimes 30 years old.  Neither the Defense Ministry nor independent experts see anything terrible about this, though they worry it could become physically worn out.

Telmanov says the exercise relies on old weapons systems like the Mi-24, Tu-22M3, and the Petr Velikiy.  The latter was laid down in 1986, and didn’t join the fleet until 12 years later.  The overwhelming majority of Pacific Fleet ships in the exercise were also laid down in the 1980s, and are at least 20-plus years old.  Even the vaunted Su-34 first flew in 1990, but didn’t go into operational use until 2007.  The remaining arms and equipment were developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and produced at the end of 1980s and early 1990s.

This state of affairs allows the Defense Ministry to show that the Russian military can fight successfully with the equipment it has.  The military’s press service chief wouldn’t comment for Gzt.ru on the age of systems taking part in Vostok-2010, except to say they’re the same as those on combat duty in formations and units in the rest of the Armed Forces.

The spokesman said:

“Today the army uses the equipment that it has.  And one of the missions of the exercise is to show how effectively established missions can be fulfilled in the new TO&E structure with this equipment.  The effectiveness of military equipment really doesn’t depend so much on its age, as on skill in using it and on how it corresponds to the established missions.  The course of the exercise still shows that the equipment is fully combat ready and allows troops to fulfill these missions put before them completely.  But it’s understood that this in no way diminishes the importance of the planned modernization and introduction of new equipment which will enable troops to act even more effectively.”

He cited EW equipment and the Su-34 as new systems being used in Vostok-2010.

Gzt.ru goes on to remind readers that, for over a year, President Medvedev and Defense Minister Serdyukov have taken pains to tell Russians the majority of the country’s armaments are obsolete or worn out.  Serdyukov said the share of modern military equipment in the inventory was only 10 percent.  That’s when he and Medvedev launched the campaign to increase this figure to 30 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020.

CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov says the absence of serious military threats makes the next ten years a good time to do this:

“. . . Russia has a window of opportunity the next 10 years, and it isn’t threatened by war.  It’s necessary to use these 10 years to bring the armed forces into a condition in which they can repulse any threats which arise.”

Pukhov says the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets should be modernized first, Iskanders deployed to deter Georgia, and S-400s in the Far East to counter North Korean missiles [recall General Staff Chief Makarov’s claim last year that S-400s were there?].

Mikhail Barabanov of Moscow Defense Brief says the problem is not age, but physical wear:

“40-year-old ships and 30-year-old tanks are now almost gone.  In reality, the problem of old equipment in our Armed Forces is not so much its age as the amount of equipment wear and tear.  That leads to breakdowns.  For example, in the Vostok-2010 exercise the guided missile cruiser Moskva didn’t succeed in launching its Vulcan [SS-N-27??] anti-ship missiles.  As a result, missile boats with Moskit missiles destroyed the target.”

Nevertheless, Barabanov remains confident that, even with aging weapons, Russia’s military is superior to neighboring armies, including China’s:

“On the whole, the equipment level of Russian units in the Far East is generally adequate to perform defensive missions, although not at the highest level.  It’s another issue that the equipment is badly worn out.”

Barabanov is not against buying new equipment of older designs:

“Even if industry’s existing models can be criticized for deficiencies from the standpoint of modern requirements, the fact remains they will be physically new, with a full service life, and allow for significantly increasing the combat readiness of troops.”

Telmanov ends by reminding readers of President Medvedev’s late 2009 pledge to provide the military 30 land-based  and naval ballistic missiles, 5 Iskander missile systems, nearly 300 pieces of armored equipment, 30 helicopters, 28 aircraft, 3 nuclear submarines, a corvette, and 11 satellite systems in 2010.

5 responses to “Old Weapons Good Enough, or Worn Out?

  1. Roger McDermott

    Pure farce, for independent Russian experts to make such wild claims! The comparison with the capabilities of the PLA beggers belief. Especially that high-profile battalion movement, then equipped from a local storage depot. In a conflict with the PLA are they going to telephone Beijing and ask that they kindly avoid targeting these facilitieis [and airfields] to allow time for reinforcement?

  2. anonymous coward

    The PLA’s armor is not really in much better shape than the bulk of the Russian fleet. On both sides of the border you are looking at huge fleets of very old armor, almost none of which is equipped with fancy Western TI’s or safe from third gen penetrators of any kind. If the Chinese fleet is a bit newer and in slightly better technical state it’s not by much.

    The Chinese military attache said all the right words “politically” on Zvezda TV and just judging by his face I’d say he didnt come away thinking the Russians were a bunch of drunk incompetents though who knows what the Chinese observers really took away from Vostok. Surely, if the Russians felt they had nothing to show they wouldn’t have invited them at all. The stars of the exercise were the invisible threads of new C2 systems and new radios. Also, little things like helmet and body armor discipline were clearly observed throughout the exercise which is somewhat unusual for the Russian army which until now seemed to not understand what those things even meant. Compared to recent Chinese exercises where you generally see ZERO body armor worn by anyone it is a marked difference.

    Those ancient 2S5 guns using UAV’s to correct their fire definitely made for a sharp contrast, and its easy to look at them and just say “obsolete garbage,” but that obsolete garbage when coupled with a $2,000 UAV will kill you just as easily as a brand new MSTA.

  3. There is hardly any possibility of China going to war with Russia as these nations are trying to join together to prevent a West domination in the eastern region. If a nation possesses nuclear weapons, and is threatened for its own survival, it will have no alternative but to use such weapons. The conventional weapons are useful so long as a nation is not threatened beyond a certain point.


  5. The important thing to remember is that MSTA and 2S5 are not weapons, but delivery platforms.
    The weapon is the 152mm shell being fired.
    As said the target will not know the difference between shells fired from MSTA or 2S5, but they will know if one of those platforms fails to deliver the shell to the target.
    Higher performance guided shells are only useful if you can see what you are firing at, so a real advance is the UAV, and another advance will be GLONASS guided shells.
    Whether MSTA or 2S5 delivers them is of no importance to the target, though no doubt the newer MSTA will make shell delivery more comfortable for the crew.

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