The Russian Military Is Neglecting Its Eastern Flank
Arms buildup in the west, 'museum of antiques' in the east
Ten years ago, the Russian military embarked on a series of major reforms intended to restructure, modernize and equip its forces for the 21st century. In more recent years, Russia has put those reforms to the test in two conflicts, in both cases successfully.
The Russian military of today is not the antiquated, rusted-out Soviet hand-me-down that it used to be — at least, the parts of it that Russia likes to show the world in parades, in the western regions near NATO, in Syria and in the news media. Russia’s military reforms have been uneven and there are still major holes in the country’s defenses that still leave it ill-prepared to fight a major war.
That’s the verdict from a recent article in Military-Industrial Courier or by its Russian acronym VPK, an influential military newspaper. These vulnerabilities are acute in Russia’s Central and Eastern Military Districts, which encompass most of the country’s territory and stretch from the forests east of Moscow, past the Urals to the Pacific — as well as most of Russia’s southern borders.
The Eastern Military District in particular is a “museum of antiques,” according to VPK. The district, stretching across 2.7 million square miles and including the Kuril islands, the island of Sakhalin and the Kamchatka peninsula, is still largely reliant on old equipment such as 1960s-era BMP-1s and 1970s-era Konkurs anti-tank missiles. Anti-aircraft systems rely heavily on Shilkas, mobile anti-aircraft cannons ineffective against high-flying aircraft.
“Huge spatial ‘holes’ exist in ground-based air defenses, which are also renewed much more slowly than in the west of the country.”
Above — a Russian Tu-95 bomber in the east. At top — Russian scouts during training. Russian Ministry of Defense photos
“It will be extremely difficult to resist the [U.S.] Air Force and the U.S. Navy and Japan, but this is not the worst [part],” adds the VPK article’s author, Alexander Khramchikhin of the Moscow-based Institute of Political and Military Analysis. “It is much harder for parts on the mainland (from Lake Baikal to Vladivostok) to fight against the PLA, which has been radically updated over the last two decades.”
Khramchikhin is also concerned about the state of Russia’s reserves. While Russia has thousands of tanks — 2,700 in the active forces alone and thousands more in reserves — a future conflict will likely chew through these vehicles at an alarming rate. In Eastern Ukraine, hundreds of tanks on both sides have been lost. In Syria, tank losses number in the thousands.
Thus, Khramchikhin advocates Russia buy thousands of T-14 Armata tanks, which have many modern features including reactive counter-measure systems designed to ward off anti-tank missiles. (Russia currently only has 100 Armatas planned by 2020.)
“The current European practice of purchasing new equipment in microscopic quantities is a gross waste of money in its senselessness,” Khramchikhin writes. “It is necessary either to buy a lot, or not to buy anything.”
Among other shortcomings in the Russian military — refueling aircraft, electronic warfare planes and transport aircraft. While Russia can afford to lose some combat aircraft, these additional planes are indispensable, and losses will create knock-on effects throughout the Russian military’s ability to wage war.