Russia: Priced Out Of The Battlefield



March 28, 2009: There is a debate going on within the Russian military over how to proceed with reforming the military. Many generals believe that the military industries that produced a wide range of weapons for the Soviet Union are now either gone or no longer capable of producing competitive weapons or equipment. An example is the Mi-8 helicopter. This was Russia's answer to  the radical American UH-1 ("Huey"). While the UH-1 was replaced by the much improved UH-60 in the 1980s, the Mi-8 has gone through lots of upgrades (to the current Mi-171), but never a new design. Russian industry has a new design, the Mi-38, but no customers. Even the Russian military cannot afford to buy the more expensive, which is competitive with the UH-60. This is typical of the fundamental situation throughout the Russian military. They cannot afford modern equipment, and as a result, Russian military industries are not getting the orders required to keep them in business. The government has, in the last decade, announced that it was going to buy new equipment for the military. But the new stuff never shows up. Oh, some does, in fits and starts. But, as many of the generals and admirals have noted, the money isn't there. And with the low price of oil, and other raw materials Russia exports, the money won't be there for a while. Many generals oppose the current reforms, which includes dismissing thousands of generals and disbanding the mass reserve army. For over a century, this reserve army was organized to raise millions of troops, armed with low-tech weapons and poorly trained, to defend Russia from invasion.

Further investigation has revealed that the Cyber War attacks on Estonia and Georgia (which temporarily shut down Internet access in those countries), while carried out by nationalistic Russian hackers, was done at the instigation of Russian government officials (who got in touch with leaders of Russian hacker groups and requested the attacks).

The government has reduced the list of weapons subject to export control (you need permission to sell abroad). The weapons still on the list are;  shoulder fired surface-to-air missile systems, portable antitank guided missile launchers (ATGMs), portable anti-tank rocket grenade launchers (RPGs), and portable flamethrowers. Several weapon types, which used to be controlled, are no longer. These include revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles, sub-machineguns, automatic rifles, light machineguns, antiaircraft machineguns, antitank guns, and light and medium mortars (caliber less than100 mm).

In another attempt to clean up the corrupt and inefficient national police, a code of conduct has been issued for the force. Bribery, drinking on the job and adultery (among many other forms of misbehavior) are now forbidden.

The government has ordered army and police authorities in Chechnya to set up a timetable to officially end their operations there. Chechen police have been taking over more of the security work in the province for the last few years. While corrupt and brutal, the local police are capable of dealing with local gangsters and trouble makers (Islamic radicals and anti-Russian nationalists.) The official end to the war would make it easier for Chechen companies to import and export goods.

The Russian Navy announced its intention to resume the use of nuclear warheads for some of its anti-ship missiles (those launched via torpedo tubes by submarines). This would enable these missiles to destroy a group of warships, and to avoid defensive weapons (like Phalanx and SeaRAM). The U.S. and Russia withdrew their tactical nuclear weapons from their navies at the end of the Cold War.

Canada and Russia are engaged in a growing dispute over who controls certain Arctic waters, and natural resources that may be present on the seabed beneath. Russia says it is going to set up a special military force to patrol Arctic waters it believes it "owns". Precisely who controls Arctic waters has never been spelled out by international treaty, and the Russians have expressed a determination to define what they own, by themselves, and see who will do what to oppose these claims.

March 21, 2009: In Dagestan, three days of fighting in a wooded area, left five policemen and at least a dozen rebels (a combination of gangsters, Islamic radicals and people just angry at the corrupt local government) dead.

March 20, 2009: The government admitted that permanent military bases were being established in the former Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two areas have joined Russia, becoming the first Russian territorial annexation since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 (and broke up an empire that took four centuries to put together.)

March 16, 2009: Two IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier off the South Korean coast. The Russia aircraft were escorted by U.S. Navy carrier fighters, as the IL-38s came in at 500 feet. All this had no military significance, and was mainly a publicity stunt. This is about all the elderly IL-38s are good for these days. The Russian Navy only has about 30 IL-38s, which are roughly equivalent to the American P-3s, but have not had their sensors and communications equipment updated since the Cold War. There is new equipment for the IL-38s, but only export customers, like India, can afford it.

March 15, 2009:  A Russian Air Force general casually mentioned that Russia might base long range maritime recon aircraft (Tu-142) and bombers (Tu-160) in Cuba and Venezuela. This caused an uproar in the Western hemisphere, with Cuba and Venezuela expressing interest, while there was a less friendly reaction in the United States. But the Russian government soon announced that there was never any intention to build bases in South America, simply to land there and refuel before flying back to northern Russia. Cuba was such a base during the Cold War, but the maritime recon missions were of limited use, because space satellites did the job more efficiently. Making those flights today are PR exercises.

March 13, 2009: A third of Russia's 290 Mig-29 jet fighters have passed inspection and allowed to fly again. But 90 of them are grounded because corrosion was discovered. What was most disturbing was that some of the grounded aircraft had only spent a few hundred hours in the air. But these aircraft had also spent years on the ground, because there was no money to buy fuel or spare parts so they could fly. India is not grounding its 70 MiG-29s, mainly because they are better maintained and flown more frequently.

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