The Big Thing the Russian Air Force Still Can’t Do
Moscow lags in precision munitions
After two decades of neglect, the Russian air force is enjoying a petrodollar-funded renaissance. In 2010, the air force and naval aviation bought just 19 new fixed-wing airplanes. The number of new planes swelled to 24 in 2011, 35 in 2012, 51 a year later and a whopping 101 in 2014. This year the Kremlin expects to acquire 91 new fixed-wing aircraft.
But for all this modernization, there’s one big thing the Russian air force still can’t do. Nearly 30 years after the United States and its closest allies ushered in an era of precision guided munitions, wherein almost every combat plane packs laser-, radar-, infrared- or GPS-guided bombs and missiles, Russia still lags behind in the development, acquisition and employment of such “smart” air-to-ground munitions — especially long-range ones.
“Certain categories are absent completely, such as precision-guided, air-launched stand-off missiles (in the class of the MBDA Storm Shadow and the Raytheon AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon) and satellite-guided bombs, despite the fact that such bombs have been tested successfully by the Russian military,” Alexander Mladenov writes in the current issue of Combat Aircraft.
Along the same lines, Moscow has failed to acquire targeting pods for its warplanes. Many other air forces use these sensor pods to find targets for smart weapons. But not Russia. Consequently for the Kremlin, “all newly-introduced Russian air force bombers and tactical fighters rely on air-to-surface targeting technologies that are 30 years old,” Mladenov explains.