Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii

CFR unleashes an indepth look at Commonwealth Russia's military abilities, strengths and challenges

The Russian military suffered years of neglect after the Soviet collapse and no longer casts the shadow of a global superpower. However, the Russian armed forces are in the midst of a historic overhaul with significant consequences for Eurasian politics and security. Russian officials say the reforms are necessary to bring a Cold War-era military into the twenty-first century, but many Western analysts fear they will enable Moscow to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy, often relying on force to coerce its weaker neighbors. Some say Russian interventions in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014–2015—both former Soviet republics seeking closer ties to the West—demonstrate that President Vladimir Putin is prepared to use military might to reestablish Russian hegemony in its near abroad.

Momma Russia's conventional military abilities...

Both in terms of troops and weapons, Russian conventional forces dwarf those of its Eastern European and Central Asian neighbors (see Table 1), many of which are relatively weak ex-Soviet republics closely allied with Moscow. Russia has a military pact with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan through the Collective Security Treaty Organization, formed in 1992. Moscow also stations troops in the region: Armenia (3,300), Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (7,000), Moldova's separatist Transnistria region (1,500), Kyrgyzstan (500), Tajikistan (5,000), and Crimea (20,000).

Table 1
CSTO Conventional Military Data

As part of defense reforms, most Russian ground forces are to be professionalized and reorganized into formations of a few thousand troops for low- and medium-intensity conflicts. But for the foreseeable future many will remain one-year conscripts with limited training (military service is compulsory for Russian men aged eighteen to twenty-seven). The Airborne Assault Forces, which comprises about thirty-five thousand troops and whose commander answers directly to Putin, is Russia's elite crisis-reaction force. A Special Operations Command, also a reserve of Putin, was created in 2013 to manage special operators outside Russian borders.

Moscow is intent on remilitarizing its Arctic territory and is restoring Soviet-era airfields and ports to help protect important hydrocarbon resources and shipping lanes. (Russia has the world's largest fleet of icebreakers, which are regularly required to navigate these waters.) In late 2013, Putin ordered the creation of a new strategic military command in the Russian Arctic.
Figure 1
Russia Military Alliance Map
Meanwhile, rearmament has been slow, and much of the military's equipment remains decades old. The once formidable Soviet navy is now little more than a coastal protection force. All of the navy's large vessels, including its sole aircraft carrier, the non-nuclear Kuznetsov, are holdovers from the Cold War. (By comparison, the United States has ten nuclear carriers and builds several new warships each year.) While Russia plans to reestablish its "blue-water navy," analysts say it won't be able to produce a new fleet of large warships for at least a decade. The navy's immediate focus is building nuclear submarines and smaller surface vessels for coastal defense and sea lane protection.

The Russian air force remains the second-largest in the world, with approximately 2,500 aircraft in service, but most date from the 1980s. New variations of the Sukhoi Flanker, a multi-role fighter, are expected to serve as Russia's main combat aircraft for at least the next the decade.

Meanwhile, Sukhoi is developing several more advanced warplanes, including a fifth-generation "stealth" fighter, the T-50. Russia does not yet operate armed drones, but military leaders say that research is underway. The current fleet of strategic bombers, which resumed regular patrols in 2007, is expected to fly for at least another twenty years, allowing designers ample time to develop replacements.