May 25, 2006:
For the first time in fifteen years, the Russian army is receiving significant quantities of new and refurbished equipment. The Russian army has been falling apart since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. That's fifteen years of practically no new equipment, and a vast downsizing. The Cold War force of 175 divisions has dwindled to 25, plus 21 independent brigades (equivalent to another five divisions.) These divisions are, for the most part, very under strength. The Russian army is now smaller than the American army, and much less capable.
Most of the 1991 era equipment has been scrapped or cannibalized to keep the new, now quite miniscule (320,000 troops) army going at all. Most of the trucks and tanks are twenty years old, or more. Tiny defense budgets over the last decade were barely able to buy food for the troops, much less fuel for training exercises. For a generation now, tank crews trained in vehicles that rarely moved, and engines were only to started to see if they were still functional, not to move around.
Now the army is getting enough gear to equip some rapid reaction forces, and get the assembly lines going for a new generation of weapon. To that end, this year the troops are getting 30 new T-90 tanks, and another 180 refurbished, Cold War vintage, T-72s and T-80s. Some new BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles are coming, as well as lighter, BMDs for the parachute and air-assault units. Noting the success of the American Stryker, a hundred new BTR-80 and BTR-90 vehicles are arriving. In addition, some 600 refurbished BMPs, BMDs and BTRs will also be available. Twenty anti-aircraft missile batteries will get new, modernized missiles. Some of these batteries have not fired a missile in years, because the only ones they had had "aged out" (become too old to safely fire.)
The army is also getting new radios, field uniforms, protective vests and small arms. There are more powerful RPGs and grenades arriving as well. Perhaps most telling, large quantities of small arms ammunition are being made available for training. This is another side-effect of the war in Iraq, where Russian planners noted how the American army successfully dealt with training deficiencies by greatly increasing live fire training.
The tactical air force, which supports the army, is getting about fifty refurbished and upgraded aircraft (Su-24 bombers, Su-25 ground attack aircraft, plus some Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters). Ten new Mi-28 and Ka-50 helicopter gunships are coming as well.
But most of the $11 billion being spent on new weapons and equipment next year is going to nuclear weapons systems, including missile carrying subs and new ICBMs. With such a miniscule army, and such ramshackle equipment, nukes are now the main defense of the largest country in the world.