The Russian economy has been flat and underperforming, due to low energy prices and exacerbated by targeted sanctions by forty countries. Russians have weathered multiple crises in the post-Soviet period. The “shock therapy” of 1992, the August 1998 default, and the 2008–2009 global recession each had political consequences. Yet the current economic downturn is different: it is structural, protracted, and unfolding against the backdrop of a global pandemic, which limits the efficacy of government instruments in handling the crisis.
With GDP estimated to contract by 3.6 percent and projections of a bleak recovery (according to reports by the IMF, World Bank, and the Russia-based Economic Expert Group), the Russian economy does not look promising for the country’s citizens.
The problem with the Su-57, T-14 Armata tank, AK203 assault rifles, Su-35, and Admiral Grigorovich class frigate was that their actual performance numbers weren’t close to the hype created by the Russian media.
There is still a strong sense of pride and competition amongst the US and Russian militaries that dates the back to the late 1940s, which isn’t likely to diminish soon. The Russian military-industrial complex has been throwing out exaggerated product performance figures since that time. This is quite the opposite in Western countries, where corporations are held responsible for their product performance numbers. Furthermore, Russian budgetary constraints have, in many cases, led to embarrassing technological failures in the post-soviet era.
It was a known fact within military circles that any amount of incremental development of the Su-27/35 engine/airframe technology could not have led to a fifth-generation aircraft! Developing a 5th generation aircraft requires a clean sheet design, in which all subsystems are closely matched to requirements for a very low observable airframe. Take the example of the engine requirements for a fifth-generation fighter- it requires an engine design that can “supercruise” beyond Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. These engines attain a core temperature in excess of 3,000F. The first such engine was produced by the USA well over two decades ago.
At present, neither Russia nor China possesses the technology to make such an engine that propels a true fifth-generation aircraft at high speed, in stealth mode without lighting up enemy infrared search and tracking system! That’s something that China can afford, but Russia can’t! Since the Chinese have developed a copycat 5th generation airframe, they are in the process of field testing of a next-generation J-20 aircraft engine as well. China is yet to master sensor fusion and baked-in composite technology that makes a true fifth-generation fighter.
In Russia’s case, the Su-57 does not possess any fifth-generation attributes, nor does it have an AESA radar but is priced at $100 million apiece. Russia’s economy prohibited Russia to acquire a large number of Su-57. It had ordered only 76 Su-76 aircraft and received one Su-57 with an inferior engine and PESA radar. Moreover, India’s withdrawal from the project gave a financial blow to Russia.
The story of the T-14 tank is quite the same. Poor product development, lack of funding and design compromises led to the embarrassment of the tank breaking down during the yearly parade in Moscow and being towed away! Furthermore, Turbine powered tanks aren’t well suited to deployment in urban/sandy theaters of war. The T-14 would’ve proven to be only an incremental improvement over the T-90 tanks.
Any investment in equipment, vehicles, or weapons is made on a cost/performance basis. In short, the original plan to field 2,300 T-14 tanks by 2020 (announced in December 2014) was determined to provide too few benefits to justify the cost of continuing it.
Furthermore, the plan was launched but then aborted after all of the design, development, and production-line tooling and setup, for a whole family of military vehicles, so something quite serious changed this calculation in the meantime. Sixteen to twenty prototype tanks were ordered, and up to seven of them have been publicly paraded. Then a test batch of 100 was begun, initially announced as “full production,” delayed once or twice, and possibly scaled back—recent reports are vague, but as of October 2020, serial supplies will begin in 2021, but at the same time crew commanders and mechanics will train on simulators in military institutes and return to units beginning around 2025–2026.
The level of performance of the T-14 is yet to be demonstrated. The actual production run of 2,300 tanks has now been completely canceled in favor of recommissioning tanks that had been lined up for the scrap heap. Of course, this was all part of the larger design, development, manufacturing, and adoption effort for the Armata platform of all-new vehicles that share common components: tank, IFV, ARV, heavy fire-support vehicle, and self-propelled artillery gun.
The reason for the cancellation was stated as cost. But of course, it means performance benefit relative to cost, and we can only speculate on the reasons behind this. What we know has changed:
The full truth may never be knowable, but researcher Dr Mark Galeotti believes the military never requested the T-14, and it was ordered largely for political reasons.
As for the new T-14 Armata tank, feted in the Russian media and talked up as the new threat in the West, I have not yet met a Russian officer who says this is the tank they wanted. So advanced it is likely to be temperamental, and ludicrously expensive, it is the tank Uralvagonzavod wanted to sell them, and even though at the time they were seeing the advantages of cheap, light, highly-mobile wheeled tank destroyers to supplement their tank fleet, like it or not they are now committed to the T-14 and its whole family of behemoths.
This makes sense. A “next-generation” tank built according to a novel, an untested design pattern is something you build when you want to show off, you want to rejoin an arms race with top military powers, you are flush with cash, and hopefully, after the bugs are worked out, and real combat demonstrations pan out, you want to sell for billions on the world market, a few years down the road. Not all of these conditions are currently met.
But the Russian Federation never needed the T-14. No matter what kind of tank it has, the Russian Federation is totally outmatched in conventional military and economic terms by the United States, the EU, China, or NATO. Yet it is totally impervious to attack because it has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. There will be no Third World War.
The $8 million T-14 isn’t required for any of this. It is an expensive, unnecessary luxury that the Kremlin had big eyes for but certainly can’t afford anymore. So after the mildly humiliating and terribly expensive dead-end of the project, cash-strapped Russia follows Ukraine’s lead and will refurbish and upgrade thousands of Cold-War T-72, T-80, and post-Soviet T-90 tanks.
Similar decisions are being made about equipment for the Russian Air Force and Navy as well.
Does Russia need modern weapons?
The Russian Federation only has frozen conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, a dispute over a couple of islands in Japan, and some overseas deployments brewing in central Africa and perhaps Venezuela. The Russian Federation is currently in hot wars in Syria and against its neighbor Ukraine.
In Syria, the Russian Federation is limited by its small strategic reach—it lacks the capacity to conduct a major conventional war there but helps Assad carry on a civil war through Soviet-era Su-24, Su-25, and the use of mercenaries.
In Ukraine, the Russian Federation maintains escalation dominance by simply having more soldiers and tanks than Ukraine—for every tank company Ukraine fields, the Russians can send a battalion or two across the border. The Russian Federation controls the pace of the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, maintains the threat of more extensive regular incursions from in summer of 2014 to January 2015, and holds the possibility of a still more extensive open invasion over Ukraine’s head.
As to other potential conflicts, the Russian Federation could only go to war against other smaller states outmatched by its current military disposition anyway.
The third order for 30 Su-35 aircraft finalized in August 2020 was to increase the total number to 128 Su-35s, and then Russia stopped buying Su-35 aircraft. Sukhoi offered 50 Su-35 worth $1.4 billion far too expensive Russian economy.
Russia realized Russia could upgrade the Su-30SM to the Su-30SM2 standard cheaply for the domestic and export markets. The first aircraft of the new modification in the naval livery has already departed from the Irkutsk aviation plant to the place of its deployment, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) ‘s TV channel, tvzvezda.ru reported today.
The Su-30SM2’s main areas of improvement over the Su-30SM are a new engine and a cheaper phased array radar, which dramatically expands its combat capabilities, according to the report. At the same time, the fighter retained all the advantages of the basic version: supermanoeuvrability, long flight range, and a vast arsenal of weapons.
The Su-30SM fighter was tested with the AL-41F-1S only a couple of months ago. It is part of the Russian MoD’s plan to achieve as much commonality with the Su-35 as possible.
The new engine for the Su-30SM2 is the AL-41F-1S TVC engine derived from the top-of-the-line Su-35 jet. The new engine will provide an increased thrust-to-weight ratio, lower fuel consumption, and longer time between overhauls compared with the outgoing Al-31FP engine.
Also new in the Su-30SM2 is PESA radar, the N011M Bars-R derivative, with increased detection and tracking performance (compared to the radar on the Su-30SM). The SM2 upgrade includes the OSNOD multi-channel communication and information distribution system, enabling the aircraft’s integration into Russia’s new-generation command-and-control network.
The AK203 is an evolution of AK47 and AK74 rifles. Kalashnikov is a well-established name in the weapon industry; AK is time tested and is based on very simple mechanisms, which means easy part replacement and less and quick maintenance that still uses AK series components.
Like all other product development, Kalashnikov initially modified the design and tried to use German Steyr AUG style material in new AK203 prototype rifles. The Steyr AUG employs a very high level of advanced firearms technology and is made with the extensive use of polymers and aluminum components.
Kalashnikov presented a prototype AK203 to the Russian military with a high price tag, Russian Army backflipped on AK203.
Kalashnikov later dumped the prototype rifle and modified the AK47 rifle to retain the new name as the AK 203 is the latest derivative of the AK47, but the Russian Army was skeptical of the new AK203 for its accurate shots and ranges.
Failing to receive a domestic order, Kalashnikov later offered complete technology transfer to India under a ‘make in India’ initiative with the help of ‘Russia’.
India wants to keep various rifles in its inventory, where AK 203 will be a primary replacement for INSAS (Indian Small Arm System).
AK203 is the modernized version of the AK47 rifle that came into Soviet service around 1959. It fires the 7.62×39 mm cartridge, which was largely replaced in Soviet service by the 5.45×39 mm starting around the late 1970s. The 7.62×39 mm round is not very aerodynamic; it loses velocity fast and is generally inaccurate beyond 200–300 meters. It has high recoil compared to 5.56×45 mm and 5.45×39 mm rounds; it is also not very good at penetrating modern-day body armor. While the AK 203 platform is adequate for the counter-insurgency requirements of the Indian Army, it is already obsolete.
Replacing wood and metal with polymer and attaching a few rails and adjustable buttstock doesn’t change the core issues of limited range and high recoil.
The AK203 is becoming increasingly common in India, although the AK 203 firing the 7.62×39 mm will perform poorly.
Optical sights will allow even an average soldier to engage targets up to 500–600 metres, where the AK 203 will again perform poorly.
Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate
The Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate is essentially a thorough modernization of the Krivak IV-class frigate, a ship that was built for and exported to the Indian Navy from 1999 to 2012.
The bulk of the Russian Navy’s current fleet are corvettes, small craft armed with long-range missiles that cannot stray too far from the coast for long. Frigates have traditionally been the backbone of most of the world’s navies, and Russia still hasn’t given up on having large surface warships as it did during the Cold War.
Admiral Makarov will be the third Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate in the Russian Navy. Russia originally planned to have six frigates in total, but recent events have put the program’s schedule uncertain.
There were initially no plans for any more modernization of the Krivak series. Still, the Russian Navy began to have problems with the building and integration of the Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate — the ship intended to be the center of the Russian Navy’s modern frigate fleet.
“It was just taking too long to finish,” Gorenburg said. “There were issues with some of the systems — it was a kind of brand new construction — and so they realized they needed new ships more quickly than those were going to get approved.”
Russia then modernized the Krivak IVs, which they knew could be built and fielded faster, creating a new class in the process.
Construction of the ships hit a snag when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and war broke out in Ukraine. The ships needed a specific gas turbine engine that came from a Ukrainian company, which, after the annexation and breakout of war, was prevented from selling them.
The United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) estimated the damage inflicted by fire to the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier at 350 million rubles, USC CEO Alexey Rakhmanov told TASS at the Army-2020 forum. Admiral Kuznetsov’s aircraft carrier is an example of Russia’s inability to handle maintenance issues.
As a result, Russia announced that it would sell two of the three Grigorovich-class frigates under construction to India, which would be able to buy the engines separately.
Russia maintains that it will eventually have a total of six frigates for the Black Sea Fleet after a domestic gas turbine engine is produced.
There are still many problems in the shipbuilding and defense industries, but they are so bad now that the Russian military has to adapt to small ships, and building big ships like destroyers, and aircraft carriers is a pipe pipe-dream for Russian shipbuilding industries.
Russia made the prudent decision of not investing more in the Su-57 and T-14 programs. Russia is expected to buy about one dozen Su-57 and perhaps 4–6 dozen T-14 tanks. In conclusion, It would be safe to say that both of these weapons failed to live up to their hype.
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