MOSCOW — Under Russia’s sweeping 2020 rearmament program, the Defensce Ministry hopes to modernize some about 70 percent of its military. While most of the attention is paid to flashy procurements such as nuclear submarines and stealth fighters, rejuvenation of the land forces is a significant priority.
A total of 20 trillion rubles was allocated in 2011 (at that time, the value of the program was around $700 billion), with about 16 percent of that money, or 3 trillion rubles, dedicated to land forces acquisitions.
"The central problem is that all of the land forces need attention," said Henry Boyd, a military expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. However, Russia has not been able to make much procurement headway.
According to Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defense think tank, the Defensce Ministry was not satisfied with the Soviet-designed tanks and assorted vehicles industry had on offer.
Instead, the industry for the past several years has been working on designing a new offering of land platforms, known as the Armata Universal Combat Platform, which includes a new battle tank, the T-14, and a variety of armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
"Current wars on Russia’s borders and other places show that the current platforms are very vulnerable to all types of munitions — anti-tank and air-to-surface — and we need to protect people," Pukhov said.
The new platforms ditch Soviet-style design philosophies, for weapons platforms, which prioritized cheap and easy-to-produce tanks that could be made in massive quantities to overwhelm enemy platforms.
Instead, the Armata platform places a clear premium on crew survivability by separating the crew compartment from the munitions compartment and main gun, which is controlled remotely from the forward compartment. The Armata platform also reportedly sports advanced composite armor not seen on current designs.
"For the first time in our history we don’t have a huge reservoir of people," Pukhov said, explaining the shift in approach to platform design.
But a Although new platforms have been a key focus of Russian land forces modernization, they are extremely expensive, and Russia’s economic crisis is forcing the Defense Ministry to adjust procurement forecasts.
In March, Deputy Defensce Ministry Yury Borisov said that Armata turned out to be much more expensive than anticipated — a claim manufacturer UralVagonZavod has since attempted to refute — and would force the military to buy fewer of them.
President Vladimir Putin has said on numerous occasions, including at the May 9 Victory Day Parade, when Armata was officially unveiled, that Russia would buy 2,300 of the new tanks.
However, according to Vadim Kozyulin, a military expert at the Moscow-based PIR Center think tank, most of the armored vehicle procurements by 2020 will be modernized Soviet and early post-Soviet designs.
"This means the land forces will get modernized T-72B3 tanks, BMP-3 and BTR-82 armored vehicles … the Russian industry is familiar with them and capable of doing this work effectively," Kozyulin said.
Beyond the need to modernize its weapon platforms, one of the major problems facing the Russian land forces in is the quality of personnel.
The Russian military is focusing on creating a hybrid land force — , not completely reliant on conscripts, but not fully volunteer — , at which it has been partially successful, Pukhov said. b But these efforts have been stifled by a lack of quality non-commissioned officers, Pukhov said he continued.
"We still have a huge problem with NCO corps. In all professional armies, it's NCOs that run the army, but we have this gap; we have soldiers and senior officers, but not NCOs. That is why there is hazing, and abuse, and you name it," he said.
But overall, Kozyulin argued, the land forces are not a priority for the Russian military, which is devoting most of its resources into nuclear, air and sea modernization.
"Still, they will benefit from the overall modernization effort, as they’ll get new communications, electronic warfare, and air defense systems … not to mention the new samples of tanks, artillery, missiles, anti-tank and other systems," he concluded.
Matthew Bodner covered Russian affairs for Defense News.