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Losing The 80s Look
by James Dunnigan
November 27, 2009

Russia announced that, in the next year, it's armed forces would receive 30 ballistic missiles (including Iskander, Bulava and Topol-M), 300 armored vehicles (mainly T-90 tanks and new infantry fighting vehicles), 30 helicopters (including new gunships), 28 warplanes (mainly new models of the Su-30 and MiG-29), three nuclear submarines and one surface warship (a corvette). All this is part of an ambitious program to replace the aging Cold War era equipment that is all most Russian troops have. If the Russians can keep up these procurement rates, in about a decade they will be done with the 1980s look they have been stuck with since the Cold War ended in 1991.

The new ballistic missiles are very important, apparently because it's only the nukes that can dissuade a foreign nation threatening invasion. The Russian armed forces cannot do it, as it has shrunk 80 percent since the end of the Cold War, and fallen apart as well. Lack of money means that Russian military technology has not kept up. This includes the nuclear weapons. While Russia got the new Topol M ICBM into service since 1991, this was a Cold War era project, meant to replace the older, and much less effective and reliable ICBMs. While Russia has several thousand nuclear warheads, most are undeliverable because of the post-Cold War military meltdown. In fact, they can launch only a few hundred warheads, with any assurance that these will land anywhere near where they are aimed. That's still a significant deterrent, but it is more vulnerable to anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) defenses (which are more complex and expensive than the missiles they defend against). Thus the great relief in Russian military circles when the U.S. agreed to cancel the anti-missile system planned for installation in Poland (to protect Europe from Iranian missiles). To Russia, this system threatened their much reduced ICBM attack force. It's one reason why Russian generals are now reminding everyone that Russia still considers itself willing to launch a first strike (with nuclear missiles) against a nation considered an immediate threat to Russia.

But the big nightmare is China getting ABM technology. The Chinese already know how much the Russian ICBM force has degenerated. It's one reason why China has not used the last two decades of growing affluence to build a larger ballistic missile force. They have enough, with a few dozen long range missiles, to threaten Russia. But the Russians no longer have enough usable nukes to guarantee the destruction of China, and the Chinese know it. The Balance Of Terror is still there, but tilted a bit in favor of the Chinese.


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