Leadership: Where The Nuclear Umbrella Still Thrives


January 7, 2012: There's a growing debate in Russia over what to buy with the growing amount of cash available to rebuild the armed forces. So far, the government has directed most of the money at nuclear weapons (especially land and sea based ballistic missiles), nuclear submarines (with and without ballistic missiles), military satellites, air defense, and strategic communications. But critics point out that most of the Russian military activity in the past two decades has been fighting Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus. Backers of the current spending patterns point out that it's only nuclear weapons that can really defend a nation as large as Russia. This is especially true since the Russian armed forces are a fifth the size of the 1991 Soviet Union military. The military satellites and communications systems are needed to ensure that the government can keep in touch with all parts of the nation during an emergency and be sure when, and if, there is a need to go nuclear.

It's not that the ground forces have been completely ignored. Six years ago, for the first time in fifteen years, the Russian army began receiving significant quantities of new and refurbished equipment. The Russian army had been falling apart since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. That was fifteen years of practically no new equipment, and a vast downsizing. The Cold War force of 175 divisions dwindled to 25, plus 21 independent brigades (equivalent to another five divisions.) These divisions were, for the most part, very under strength. The Russian army was, at that point, smaller than the American army and much less capable.

Most of the 1991 era equipment had been scrapped or cannibalized to keep the new, now quite miniscule (320,000 troops), army going at all. Most of the trucks and tanks were twenty years old, or more. Tiny defense budgets over the previous decade were barely able to buy food for the troops, much less fuel for training exercises. For a generation, tank crews trained in vehicles that rarely moved and engines were only started to see if they were still functional, not to move the vehicle.

Over the last six years the army has received enough gear to equip some rapid reaction forces and get the assembly lines going for a new generation of weapons. To that end, the troops began receiving new T-90 tanks and refurbished, Cold War vintage, T-72s and T-80s. Some new BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles were bought, as well as lighter BMDs, for the parachute and air-assault units. Noting the success of the American Stryker, new BTR-80 and BTR-90 vehicles were purchased. In addition, refurbished BMPs, BMDs, and BTRs were also obtained.

 The army also received new radios, field uniforms, protective vests, small arms, more powerful RPGs, and grenades. 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, received a lot of refurbished and upgraded aircraft (Su-24 bombers, Su-25 ground attack aircraft, plus some Su-27, and MiG-29 fighters). New Mi-28 and Ka-50 helicopter gunships were bought as well.

The government is spending money to replace Cold War era bombs and shells with more modern designs, but these won't reach the troops in large quantities for another two years.




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