Andrew Osborne – Sydney Morning Herald February 25, 2011
Russia has unveiled the biggest rearmament program since the fall of the Soviet Union, saying that it intends to buy 600 planes, 100 ships and 1000 helicopters within the next decade.
The ambitious overhaul will cost the equivalent of $650 billion. European countries are meanwhile cutting defence spending to try to balance their national budgets.
But with oil prices rising, Russia, the world’s biggest energy exporter, feels confident it can afford to upgrade its dilapidated Soviet-era military and believes it urgently needs to do so to confirm its self-proclaimed status as a leading world power.
Vladimir Popovkin, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister, said the rearmament would be sweeping. ”The main task is the modernisation of the armed forces,” he said. ”Nineteen trillion roubles [$647 billion] will be allocated for this. We are not interested in purchasing any foreign weapons or military equipment.”
Alexei Kudrin, the Finance Minister, has said defence spending will account for 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product, up from 0.5 per cent now.
Mr Popovkin said the navy would get 35 new corvettes, 15 frigates and 20 submarines, eight of which would be nuclear-powered and armed.
He estimated that the navy, which is badly trailing the US Navy in terms of modern ships, would take delivery of 100 vessels before 2020.
Despite his claim that Russia would not need to buy foreign military hardware, two of the vessels will be French-built Mistral-class helicopter carriers. Russia would build two more at its own shipyards, he said.
The sale by France is controversial among some of Russia’s neighbours, such as the Baltic states and Georgia. The vessels can carry 16 helicopters and dozens of armoured vehicles, giving Russia the ability to land hundreds of troops quickly on foreign soil.
Russia’s air force, which performed inconsistently during the brief and victorious war against Georgia in 2008, will be given 600 more planes and 1000 helicopters before 2020.
The planes will mostly be Sukhoi 34 and 35 fighters. The helicopters will include Mi-8 gunships and the bigger Mi-26 heavy lift cargo craft.
Russia’s fearsome TU-160 strategic nuclear bombers, which have begun to probe the limits of Britain’s airspace in recent years, will also be modernised.
Much of the spending will be channelled into strategic missile forces. Several hundred mobile S-400 and S-500 defence missile systems are on order and a new intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of carrying 10 nuclear warheads, is being developed.
Quoting analysts, the BBC reported that the ambitious program would only make sense if the Russian military upgrades its training and recruitment.
”Russia needs a professional non-commissioned officer corps to train specialists who can really put these arms to effective use,” Pavel Felgenhauer, a well-known military analyst based in Moscow, told Associated Press.
”This spending necessitates a whole new kind of military.”