Russia is close to concluding its next ten-year armament programme, with a more modest level of re-equipment ambition.

Russian Deputy Defence Minister signs armament agreement. Credit: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace; and Henry Boyd, Research Fellow for Defence and Military Analysis

Two years later than first planned, Moscow has near concluded its next ten-year State Armament Programme (GPV). Official detail on GPV 2027 remains scant, but it is overall more cautious and conservative in terms of ambition than the previous GPV 2020, likely intended to consolidate the progress in equipment recapitalisation.

The new programme earmarks 19 trillion roubles (US$295 billion) for defence procurement and equipment support over the ten-year period. Broad overall approval for the plan occurred either at the end of 2017 or in January 2018. Although as of 13 February President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary said that he had yet to sign the document.

The previous GPV was allocated nearly the same amount at the beginning of the programme, although several key equipment types that were intended to be bought in significant numbers failed to materialise. Air-force ambitions to buy up to 60 Su-57 combat aircraft to begin to meet its PAK FA fifth-generation-fighter requirement could not be met, nor was the army’s aim of beginning substantial series production of the Armata T-14 main battle tank (MBT), while several naval acquisition goals were missed.

The launch of the new armament programme was delayed by a combination of factors, including Russia’s worsening economic situation, its ongoing involvement in the war in Syria and the need to substitute Ukrainian components in some weapons systems.

Nuclear aims

While the GPV 2027 continues to prioritise the nuclear triad, and support its ongoing modernisation, plans to resurrect a rail-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), known as Barguzin, appear to have been shelved. However, the development of the liquid-fuelled Sarmat (possibly SS-X-29) heavy ICBM and the RS-26 Rubezh (SS-X-28) solid-propellant road-mobile ICBM continue to be supported. The first ten new-build Tu-160M2 Blackjack long-range bombers were ordered at the beginning of February, while a dual-capable very-long-range air-launched cruise missile, known publicly as KH-BD, is also reported to be part of GPV 2027. The armament plan also likely includes funding for the Borey-B nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine, a further upgrade of the Project 955 design.

Land forces

The new universal combat-platform programmes, the Armata, Kurganets and Bumerang, are expected to see serial production orders in the new GPV, but annual production numbers and schedules are not in the public domain. Armata, besides providing a new MBT, will also be used as the basis for a heavy infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and in armoured-support roles. Kurganets is a lighter IFV, intended to replace the BMP family, while Bumerang is a wheeled armoured personnel carrier designed to succeed the BTR family.

Given the high costs of these new systems and ongoing contracts for the modernisation of existing armour, striking the correct balance between ambition and resourcing on these programmes is likely to have been a difficult act to perform in this GPV.

There has been an unofficial suggestion that serial Armata production will begin in 2020 to supply the Western and Southern Military districts with ‘hundreds’ of models – a far cry from the original 2020 plan to have over 2,000 in service by the same date. For now, manufacturer Uralvagonzavod is only publicly committing to continuing the supply of upgraded T-72B3 tanks and 2S19M2 self-propelled artillery pieces, beginning contracts for modernising T-80BVM tanks, and producing new T-90M tanks and BMPT fire-support vehicles.

The same pattern of confirming the continued production of upgrades of existing systems also applies to artillery and air defence. For the former, short-term attention remains focused on the Tornado-G and Tornado-S upgrades to existing Grad and Smerch multiple-rocket-launcher systems, and the upgraded 2S19M2s. However, information on the production timeline on the 2S19’s long-term replacement, the Koalitsiya-SV, remains limited. Once expected to start being delivered in bulk in 2016, the first ten models for operational testing were reportedly only handed over in late 2017.

The ground forces mobile air defence will continue to receive investment, with additional Tor-M2 (SA-15 Gauntlet) short-range, Buk-M3 (SA-17 Grizzly) medium-range and S-300V4 (SA-23) long-range systems being procured in order to replace older models currently in service. All of these systems saw production in the previous GPV and their entry into service appears to have been judged to be successful.

Aerospace forces

While some of the more ambitious aims of GPV 2020 were not fully met, the aerospace forces still benefited considerably from recapitalisation that allowed it to replace many of the legacy combat aircraft still in its inventory. Withdrawing the remainder of the basic Su-27 Flanker B, MiG-29 Fulcrum A and C, and Su-24M Fencer D will likely be concluded during the course of GPV 2027. This will require the purchase of additional Su-35S Flanker E and Su-30SM Flanker multi-role fighters, along with a further order for the Su-34 Fullback, possibly the Su-34M upgrade. What is less certain is the pace at which the fifth-generation Su-57 is introduced into the inventory, though it now seems the air force may well wait until ‘Izdeliye-30’, the new engine intended for the aircraft, is ready, before a full-blown series production run of the combat aircraft.

Plans for the PAK DA next-generation bomber have also slowed compared to GPV 2020, with the restarting of production of an upgraded Blackjack bomber taking precedence in the near term. There are also suggestions that the PAK DA is now being viewed by Russia as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, the Blackjack.

Transport, tanker and airborne early warning and control aircraft purchases also continue to be supported, with the Il-76MD-90A upgrade of the Candid as the baseline. Delays to Il-76MD-90A production have seen the project slip from GPV 2020 to GPV 2027.

Funding the acquisition of a range of tactical air-to-surface weapons, now including some in development, will also feature in GPV 2027. This reflects in part the experience of Russian air units involved in the Syria campaign and the comparative lack of modern tactical air-launched precision weaponry in the inventory.

While overall helicopter acquisition numbers will fall in GPV 2027, the defence ministry has stated that it will include a further 114 Ka-52 Hokum attack helicopters. These will include upgrades arising from the helicopter’s operational use in Syria.

Naval plans

Russian naval aspirations have been curtailed in GPV 2027, reflecting in part continuing production issues at naval shipyards. Production targets for the previous GPV were not met, and with regard to surface vessels the focus appears more now on the littoral environment than on blue-water operations. Ambitions for a new class of aircraft carrier will remain no more than an aspiration for the course of GPV 2027, while the proposed Leader-class large destroyer also appears to be unfunded.

The Military Balance 2018 was released on 14 February 2018 and features analysis of Russia’s military capabilities, displaying key forces by role, equipment inventories and defence economics. Print copies are available to order.

The Military Balance is the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual assessment of the military capabilities and defence economics of 171 countries worldwide. It is an essential resource for those involved in security policymaking, analysis and research.

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