Category Archives: Force Modernization

The Rest of Government Hour

It’s worth wading through the rest of Russian Defense Minister Shoygu’s “government hour” address to the Sovfed to compare this speech to previous data points. His future remarks can be put in some kind of context against this baseline.

Shoygu in the FC

Shoygu

First, Shoygu briefly illustrated the condition of the Russian Army in 2012.

He said “modern” equipment amounted to only 16 percent of the total. Serviceable equipment (i.e. operational, not needing repair or overhaul) 47 percent.

The Defense Minister said Serdyukov-era cuts in officer corps created 61,000 rasporyazhentsy (распоряженцы) on which the MOD had to spend 32 billion rubles annually. These semi-unemployed officers occupied 28,000 service apartments and others occupied housing rented by the MOD at commercial prices.

So the rasporyazhentsy problem was a bigger one than the MOD ever let on. It was hardly discussed after 2012 until the MOD reported it solved in late 2019.

But back to Shoygu. He indicated 107,000 Russian servicemen needed apartments in 2012. There were only 186,000 would-be professional contract soldiers in the ranks. The air forces were short some 2,300 pilots. The MOD had 1,300 unneeded military towns on its books costing five billion rules to maintain. Only 21 percent of Russians thought the army could defend the country and only 28 percent considered the army prestigious.

Then he described major points in the Supreme CINC’s (Putin’s) May 2012 decrees:

  • The share of “modern” weapons would be 70 percent at the end of 2020.
  • Not less than 50,000 contractees would be recruited each year for five years (436,000 by the end of 2017?).
  • Social protection of servicemen in housing and pay would be raised.
  • Military-patriotic indoctrination of young people would be organized.
  • Prestige and attractiveness of military service would be increased.

In answer to those pointed, Shoygu claimed the share of “modern” MOD systems is now 68.2 percent and will be 70 percent by the end of this year.

Strategic nuclear forces are more than 87 percent “modern.” He must be counting just missiles and warheads because many delivery systems (i.e. bombers and SSBNs) can’t really be called modern.

Serviceable equipment is 94 percent. More than 1,400 aircraft and more than 190 ships, boats, and support vessels were procured. The “combat potential” of the RF Armed Forces has more than doubled since 2012, according to Shoygu.

However, some weapons and equipment Mr. Putin wanted by 2020 won’t be delivered. Putin’s list in 2012 looked like this:

  • 400 ICBMs and SLBMs.
  • 8 Borey SSBNs.
  • About 20 multipurpose submarines.
  • More than 50 surface ships.
  • Nearly 100 military satellites.
  • More than 600 aircraft.
  • More than 1,000 helicopters.
  • 28 regimental sets of S-400.
  • 38 battalions of Vityaz SAMs.
  • 10 brigades of Iskander-M.
  • More than 2,300 tanks.
  • About 2,000 SP artillery systems.
  • 17,000 military vehicles.

The eight Borey SSBNs and 20 other subs obviously won’t happen. Vityaz SAMs are just starting to reach the force. The tanks were supposed to be new T-14s but became modernized T-72B3Ms at best.

Other items did arrive: ICBMs, airplanes, helos, S-400s, Iskanders, etc.

But back to the speech. Russia, Shoygu said, is countering U.S. missile defenses with:

  • Experimental combat duty of the Kinzhal ALBM.
  • Flight testing of the Tsirkon ASCM / LACM.
  • First regiment of Avangard HGVs on SS-19 Mod 4 ICBMs.
  • The Peresvet laser system.
Russian Peresvet laser for point defense of ICBM bases

Peresvet laser for point defense of ICBM bases

Defense Minister Shoygu recounted the “great experience” gained from the Syrian civil war.

He said every military district commander, staff officer, army and air army commander, division, brigade, and regiment commander has received combat experience in Syria. Ninety percent of flight crews and 56 percent of air defense personnel participated in combat there. Russia now has some pilots with 200 combat flights, according to Shoygu.

It’s clearer than ever that Moscow intervened in Syria not simply to raise its international profile, but also to have a place to test its weapons and train its personnel under real-world conditions. 

Shoygu said the military has 225,000 conscripts and 405,000 contractees. The army’s sergeant ranks are fully contract as are Spetsnaz, Naval Infantry units, battalion tactical groups, and operators of complex systems.

Interestingly, no figure on the Navy afloat which is supposed to be virtually all contractee. This raises the official contractee number from 384,000 to 405,000. The number’s been steady just shy of 400,000 for the past four years.

Since 2012, some 775,736 servicemen have been housed per Shoygu. This includes permanent housing for 244,107, service housing for 226,712, and “real market rate” compensation for 304,917 renting on the local economy. Since 2014, 37,312 have used subsidies to buy or build in “places of their choosing.”

Odd he didn’t mention the military mortgage program which, since 2009, has been a key plank of solving the army’s housing problem.

Congratulating himself for reviving the Young Pioneers in the form of Yunarmiya, Shoygu castigated 12 regions where local authorities aren’t supporting this organization. He said he knows some Senators aren’t sponsoring their own Yunarmiya detachments.

Beyond the 1,300 in 2012 mentioned at the outset, Shoygu said the MOD has transferred 1,800 military towns to the regions. But this is, of course, not always a boon for the recipients. Sometimes the former garrison towns are a big burden.

Shoygu said about 90 percent of Russians “trust” the army, while “negative evaluations” have declined by 4.5 times.

It’s not obvious what polling the Defense Minister is referencing. Polls usually ask, “Can the army defend Russia in the event of a real military threat from other countries?” If that’s not trust, what is? Even Levada’s poll from 2010 showed 63 percent of the nation believed it definitely or most likely could.

Situation Normal, Pretty Much

Shoygu addresses the Collegium

At the MOD Collegium on March 20, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu pretty much acted like there’s not reason for concern.

With pandemic set to sweep across Russia (everywhere else too), Mr. Shoygu outlined the MOD plan to manage coronavirus. Most of his publicized remarks still focused on the country’s military security and the “increased presence” of U.S. forces, ships, and planes on Russia’s borders.

Shoygu claimed no COVID-19 cases in the Russian Army. The MOD has stopped sending “military delegations” abroad and it won’t host foreign officers. He mentioned vague plans to keep Russian troops close to their garrisons.

Russia’s spring draft won’t be postponed. It will begin as normal on April 1 and end July 15. Conscripts will be tested for coronavirus before they go to their units, and “isolated” during their first two weeks there.

How about testing young men before they answer the summons at the military commissariat? The draft is good news for men being demobbed. Not so good for their replacements.

Recall the Russian Army is a place where barracks and units have been decimated by illness in the recent past. Sixty percent of disease there is respiratory (as is COVID-19). The MOD’s medical establishment is often corrupt and probably just average on its best day.

So much for health security . . . . The Collegium turned to the 2020 plan of activity for the Southern and Eastern Military Districts. After describing U.S. efforts to dominate Russia’s “south-west strategic direction” and the Black Sea, Shoygu said the Southern MD got 1,200 new and modernized weapons and equipment in 2019, and will get nearly three times that many in 2020.

The Defense Minister said the Southern MD will stand up a motorized rifle division and two “missile troops and artillery” brigades. Perhaps the Russians will upgrade one of the Stavropol-based 49th CAA brigades to division status. 

“Missile troops and artillery” is the formal name for the artillery branch of the Ground Troops. It seems likely one artillery brigade will be established at the district level and another for the 8th CAA. 

After detailing U.S. striving to control the Asia-Pacific region as well as Russia’s Sakhalin and Primorye “operational directions,” Shoygu indicated the Eastern MD got 1,300 major items of equipment in 2019, and will get 1,350 including 502 new ones (so 848 modernized) this year.

He said the Eastern MD will get motorized rifle and tank regiments (probably just one of each) in Primorye. They will likely round out the 5th CAA’s 127th MRD, created recently out of the 59th MRB.

127th MRD at Sergeyevka

127th MRD at Sergeyevka

Shoygu also said the Eastern MD will participate in nine international training events in 2020. The MOD also remains adamant that the 75th Victory Day celebration will go on no matter what. Not sure how that squares with health security. Sounds like mixed messaging by the MOD.

Improved Kilo for Northern Fleet?

This week featured the normal ramp-up for Submariner’s Day (March 19).

According to Interfaks-AVN, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev stated on March 16 that the Northern Fleet will receive a new project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine in 2021. The Improved Kilos are Kalibr LACM (SS-N-30A) shooters that Admiralty Wharves have busily built for the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets since the early 2010s.

Admiralty is currently at work on units 3-6 for the Pacific Fleet. A unit beyond number six has been postulated for the Baltic Fleet. But if Moiseyev’s Northern Fleet is to get an Improved Kilo in 2021, it’ll have to be one forecast for the Pacific (probably Magadan). Moiseyev said his fleet is preparing a crew for the boat this year.

Not as much a news story, Moiseyev said (again per Interfaks-AVN) that Northern Fleet submarines are widening their training and patrol areas.

In his briefing dedicated to the impending holiday, the Northern Fleet’s commander said:

It’s become normal practice for us when we have more than a dozen submarines of various classes at sea working on different tasks.

Visiting our garrisons you can’t but notice that many piers are empty. This says yet again that submarine crews are occupied with carrying out missions — they are improving their at-sea training, fulfilling combat training tasks, carrying out combat duty or combat patrol. 

Recently the Northern Fleet has significantly broadened the regions in which we are occupied with planned combat training.

Moiseyev reminded his audience that, in 2019, Delta IV-class Tula and Borey-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy fired SLBMs and crews of Delta IV-class Karelia and Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk “confirmed their readiness to operate as designated . . . .”

Vice-Admiral Moiseyev reported reconstruction of piers and shore facilities at Gadzhiyevo (SSBNs and SSNs) is complete and similar work is focused on Zaozersk (Severodvinsk and SSGNs).

Worth stating the obvious. Empty piers could also mean that sub numbers are low or some subs are under repair.

Tanks in GPV-2027

According to a February 13 report from Vedomosti’s Ivan Safronov, Russia’s Ground Troops could receive 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks before the current State Armaments Program (GPV) ends in 2027. The article is paywalled, but Bmpd recapped its contents.

Nine hundred — 500 T-14 and 400 T-90M — seems quite an optimistic forecast.

T-90

According to Safronov’s story, a source close to the Russian MOD said there were three contracts between 2017 and 2019 to deliver more than 160 T-90M (Proryv-3) tanks. The first two called for 60 tanks in 2018-2019, of which 10 would be newly built, 50 would be older T-90 tanks modernized to T-90M, and 100 would be T-90A tanks from the inventory improved to T-90M.

However, an industry source said the deliveries slipped because its fire control and target tracking system needed to be finished, and the turret with its dynamic defense — the tank’s main feature — had to be tested.

These issues are supposedly resolved, and the tank is in series production. The MOD should get not less than 15 T-90M tanks in 2020.

A source close to the MOD leadership indicated that President Vladimir Putin wants to renew Russia’s tank inventory over the next five years. Currently, only 50 percent of the Ground Troops’ armored vehicles are “modern” — the lowest indicator of any branch or service of the RF Armed Forces.

Upgrading Russia’s armor will involve both new production and modernization. There may be a contract in 2020 to improve another 100 T-90s to T-90M. Deputy Defense Minister and arms chief Aleksey Krivoruchko has indicated there are 400 T-90s in the Ground Troops that could be upgraded.

State testing of the newest T-14 tank on the Armata chassis is set to begin in 2020. A Vedomosti interlocutor says there could be a state order for 500 T-14s by 2027.

Recall after debuting in 2015, the T-14 was supposed to enter state testing in 2017 but that didn’t happen.

Ground Troops are hoping for 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks to arrive by 2027, but they won’t supplant some 2,000 T-72B3 tanks as the foundation of Russia’s tank inventory, according to military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy. He adds that the T-72B3 can’t really be considered a “modern” tank without serious modernization.

For those keeping score, the T-72B3 is a 2010 upgrade of the T-72B not really improved since the mid-1980s. The T-72B3M is a 2016 modification adding Relikt reactive armor, a more powerful engine, etc. The T-90 and T-90A are early 1990s upgrades on the T-72B. The T-90M is a 2018 update with the same gun as the T-14, Afganit active protection, Relikt reactive armor, etc.

T-72B3M

Not addressed in the Vedomosti report is what (if anything) the Russian Army plans regarding the future of upgraded T-80BVM tanks. It received an unspecified number in 2017-2019. The Ground Troops often prefer its gas turbine engine over diesel for extreme cold in the Arctic and Eastern MD.

It’s difficult to assess even what happened with tanks in GPV 2011-2020. Putin and the MOD called for 2,300 tanks in 2012 even though Ground Troops procurement wasn’t a priority in that GPV. The naive assumption they’d be new ones soon gave way to realization that all tanks received were ones modernized as described above. Complicating matters further, Russian MOD descriptions of what they actually received typically lump all armor — tanks and armored vehicles — together making it virtually impossible to tell how many upgraded tanks of which type (re-)entered Russia’s forces.

OPK Write-Off

President Vladimir Putin has apparently agreed to a major write-off of Russian defense industry debt. It’s a significant story not receiving much attention.

Putin with VTB chief Kostin in August 2019

Putin with VTB chief Kostin in August 2019

The decision came in a secret presidential ukaz at the end of 2019. VTB chief Andrey Kostin broke the news in a late January interview with Rossiya 24 television at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The most coherent rendering of what Kostin said came from Interfaks-AVN:

Everything’s decided. At the end of last year the President met with all interested parties, the President’s ukaz was received, it’s true it’s secret, therefore I wouldn’t begin to comment on it. [But then he does, at least generally.]

But on the whole the problem’s solved, there is active participation of the [federal] budget and preferential restructuring on the part of leading banks is also provided, but it is so feasible, it is reasonable, it really takes into account, of course, that risk the banks took, therefore on the whole we’re satisfied with this decision. I think the government is too. So the program is being effected. I believe we won’t return to this issue again.

According to Interfaks-AVN in late December, Deputy PM and arms tsar Yuriy Borisov said measures to improve the financial state of key OPK enterprises were worked out and there would be a clearing of loans amounting to 700 billion rubles [$11 billion]. The main troubles, he indicated, were at OAK, OSK, ODK, and Roskosmos.

In early December, Borisov proposed writing off 400-450 billion of the debt and restructuring the remaining 300-350 billion for 15 years with a five-year initial payment holiday and a preferential two percent interest rate, according to a report in Rbc.ru.

Borisov and Russian bankers other than Kostin haven’t commented.

Borisov’s proposal may be the plan contained in Putin’s ukaz, but we don’t know since it’s secret. And it’s most likely secret to keep normally docile Russian citizens from learning that the government is bailing out weapons makers, not them. Russian household debt has increased steadily in recent years with little or no economic growth.

In July, Borisov said Russian defense industry’s large debt load was forcing it to “live hand to mouth, servicing financial institutions that don’t produce anything,” Interfaks-AVN reported. He indicated then that 90 percent of the debt belonged to OAK, OSK, Uralvagonzavod, Almaz-Antey, and Precision Systems (Высокоточные комплексы).

He called for writing off all or part of the debt at that time. But the biggest OPK creditors Sberbank and VTB opposed it.

Yuriy Borisov

Yuriy Borisov

In September, Putin directed then PM Dmitriy Medvedev to investigate problems with the profitability of defense enterprises. This came after the Military-Industrial Commission session in Izhevsk at which Putin blamed “unused capacity during a reduction in order volumes and the requirement to finance development work, the costs of which aren’t included in planning documents.” The president didn’t say anything about contract prices being too low or funding lost to waste or corruption. 

Novaya gazeta reported in July that 700 billion rubles represents non-performing defense industry loans. Total OPK indebtedness, however, is 2.3 trillion rubles ($36 billion). A write-off of 700 billion rubles (or part of this amount) would be a significant hit to the working capital of major Russian banks (and OPK creditors).

Borisov said corporations and enterprises were making only interest payments on the most troubled loans, according to Novgaz. Experts told the paper that more than half of the OPK’s profits are going to debt service leaving most producers with net profits of only 3-4 percent or even losses. Defense enterprises say they are frequently paying 22-23 percent on loans accumulated over many years. Meanwhile, the Russian banking sector is earning record profits.

Based on the recent history of OPK debts, Novgaz concluded the most likely scenario is partial write-off, partial restructuring, and recapitalization of affected banks by the Finance Ministry. Promsvyazbank (PSB) — bankrupt and nationalized in early 2018 — is also being turned into a specialized bank for handling state defense orders and problem loans to the OPK. PSB might insulate healthy parts of the Russian banking sector from bad OPK debt, and possibly from U.S. economic sanctions.

Defense producers say price formation — agreement with the MOD on contract prices — remains a substantial problem, according to the Novgaz report. Its source said:

Everyone is right — both the customer can’t pay a lot, and the contractor can’t operate at a loss. But there’s no arbiter for a compromise, and the customer is always stronger.

This OPK debt write-off is pretty much like earlier ones. It may take care of the most immediate and acute symptoms but it won’t cure the causes of the ailment, including price formation, theft, and cumbersome rules about handling GOZ funds.

What They May Get, 2020

S-350 Vityaz launcher

S-350 Vityaz launcher

In his year-end report, Russian Defense Minister Shoygu not only publicized what the MOD received by way of arms and other equipment in 2019, he also mentioned what the military is supposed to get this year.

According to Shoygu, it will receive:

  • Twenty-two ICBM launchers with RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) and Avangard “hypersonic glide vehicles.” The latter is the long-in-development weapon that will be placed on “dry” SS-19 ICBMs Moscow received from Kyiv in the early 2000s.
  • Six modernized Tu-95MS strategic bombers.
  • The first “series produced” project 955A Borey-A SSBN Knyaz Oleg. (But the very first 955A Borey-A Knyaz Vladimir wasn’t accepted in 2019. It’s now scheduled for delivery during the first quarter of this year.)
  • 565 “modern” (presumably new or modernized) armored vehicles, 436 missile and artillery systems, two battalion sets of Buk-M3 SAMs to round out 11 formations and units. (565 doesn’t go too far — perhaps six motorized rifle regiments, but 436 is a lot — maybe 24 artillery battalions, enough for eight MR brigades.)
  • 106 new and modernized aircraft.
  • Four regimental sets of S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) SAMs.
  • Six battalion sets of Pantsir (SA-22 Greyhound) gun-missile systems.
  • One Kupol early warning satellite (fourth overall).
  • 14 surface combatants of varying size, three submarines, and 18 other vessels. (Not real precise.) One Bal (SSC-6 Sennight) coastal missile system.

Shoygu said the RF Armed Forces will have 70 percent “modern” arms and equipment in 2020, fulfilling the order given by President Putin in 2012.

He also noted that the Defense Ministry signed long-term contracts for 76 Su-57 Felon (PAK FA) fighters (although the first series model crashed) and more than 200 combat helos in 2019. He reported that 22 ships for the “distant ocean zone” are under construction and eight more will be laid down in 2020.

On January 13, Krasnaya zvezda quoted Shoygu saying procurement will be about 1.5 trillion rubles ($25 billion), about the same as 2019, with 68 percent going to purchase new equipment. Nearly 4,000 new armored and other vehicles (i.e. trucks, etc.) will arrive in 2020 along with 1,700 artillery and missile systems. (How does that track with the 436 above?? Perhaps it includes slightly modernized or repaired?)

RIAN offered its own list of what the Russian military is supposed to get this year. It noted that the MOD and OPK signed about 50 contracts in 2019 worth more than 1 trillion rubles of weapons and equipment. Not all for delivery in 2020 of course.

According to the official news agency, the Russian Navy will receive the second project 636.3 Improved Kilo Volkhov for the Pacific Fleet, the second project 677 Lada Kronshtadt also for the Pacific, and the second project 885M Yasen-M Novosibirsk. (But in 2020 the Navy is still awaiting the first Yasen-M Kazan and expects renovated project 949A Belgorod that will carry Moscow’s doomsday torpedoes.) 

Kronshtadt

Kronshtadt

RIAN says the Russian Navy will get its second project 11711 LST Petr Morgunov in the first quarter of the year. The Black Sea Fleet will accept 16 new ships and other vessels. And the Baltic Fleet will be content with catamaran-type hydrographic survey vessels (project 23370).

The Aerospace Forces will acquire new Su-35S fighters, six Mi-28NM helos, S-400 SAMs, and more S-350 Vityaz SAMs. (These initial deliveries are for troop testing and training. Series production of this system is slated for 2021-2027.)

More random notes on 2020:

  • Mil.ru says the Ground Troops in 2020 will get more than 300 tanks and armored vehicles. Its Moscow-based 1st Tank Army will receive more than 250 weapons systems and other pieces of equipment.
  • Interfaks-AVN indicated some will be BMP-3, BMP-2, and BMPT armored vehicles with new unmanned turrets.
  • The Russian Army is supposed to receive 40,000 new AK-12 assault weapons.
  • The VDV’s 76th DShD in Pskov already got a battalion set of BMD-4M and BTR-MDM armored vehicles.
  • The Central MD reports it’ll acquire more than 850 new or modernized items including 19 aircraft, 10 radars, 145 armored vehicles (30 T-72B3M tanks), four battalion sets (two regiments) of S-400 SAMs.
  • Ilyushin had to bounce two of five new Il-76MD-90A transports it couldn’t finish in 2019 to this year.

What They Got, 2019

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s address to the MOD Collegium on December 24 began with de rigueur descriptions of how the U.S. and NATO menace Russia.

Not bothering, of course, to mention that it’s Moscow’s treaty-busting and its invasion of a neighbor that put America back in the intermediate-range missile business and caused Balts and Poles to bulk up their defenses.

Capture

It’s not propaganda of interest here, but rather what Mr. Shoygu claims the Russian military acquired by way of hardware in 2019.

Shoygu said the MOD had the highest level of arms and equipment supplied to its forces in four years — more than 6,500 — which raised the share of “modern” types to 68.2 percent overall. “Modern” arms reached 76 percent and 82 percent respectively in the RVSN and Russia’s nuclear triad specifically.

He added that the first missile regiment outfitted with Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles began combat duty this week. Three RVSN regiments received RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) ICBMs. Peresvet laser defense systems are on-duty with five ICBM divisions.

Shoygu enumerated what the rest of the military got this year:

  • Five modernized strategic bombers
  • Completed testing of Borey-A (pr. 955A) SSBN Knyaz Vladimir [but still not accepted for service]
  • 624 tanks and other armored vehicles
  • 143 airplanes and helicopters
  • 13 satellites, including the third Kupol early warning satellite
  • One submarine [the first pr. 636.3 for the Pacific Fleet Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy]
  • Eight surface ships
  • 17 vessels and support ships
  • Four coastal missile systems
  • 10,000 pieces of comms gear [how does that square with 6,500?]

Not everything can be good, so Defense Minister Shoygu said the serviceability rate of the MOD’s training aircraft is only 58 percent, and new Yak-130 jet trainers only 56 percent. But he claimed the overall rate for MOD equipment is 95 percent. Naturally, it’s a game of what gets counted and what doesn’t.

Listing the military’s accomplishments, Shoygu provided other points of interest.

— In 2019, the Russians held two “systematic” surprise inspections of combat readiness involving military districts, armed services, and service branches. He didn’t say which ones or where.

— The MOD conducted an attestatsiya of contractees to evaluate their competence and suitability. Some were found unfit and separated from the service.

— An old problem from the early 2010s is nearly resolved. Housing has been provided for some 61,000 officers who lacked a duty post but couldn’t be retired until they got apartments legally due to them. Only 47 officers in this situation remain to be housed.

— The LRA conducted 48 strategic bomber flights in 2019.

— Russian aircraft sorties in Syria are down to 2-3 per day now. In 2015-2017, there were 80-90 combat flights daily.

— Russian forces have now tested 359 “modern” weapons and equipment items in Syria.

In conclusion, Defense Minister Shoygu said the Russian Armed Forces fulfilled all assigned missions in 2019, and increased their combat potential by 14 percent.

Wouldn’t we love to see the formula used to determine that.