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Russia’s Military Modernization: Where Next?

Posted by Samuel Bendett on April 27, 2016

Following years of rumors, and its initial showing during a military parade in Moscow last year, Russia’s newest battle tank, the Armata, continues to make headlines.

The Uralvagonzavod factory tabbed to produce the machine announced recently that it could produce an unmanned Armata as well, calling such a tank the weapon of the future.

The famous military production plant already has experience with unmanned machines — it produces a robotic fire truck on the basis of the T-72 battle tank. According to plant management, mass production of the newest manned Armata tanks could begin later this year — field testing is well underway.

Uralvagonzavod will be busy in the coming years as it answers numerous government orders for the production, modernization, and upgrade of a broad selection of military equipment. The orders include T-72B3 tanks, BMP-2 armored vehicles, MSTA 2S19M1 self-propelled artillery systems, BTR-82AM armored personnel carriers, airborne combat vehicles, and other products — all told, the factory will deliver more than 1,400 vehicles to the Russian armed forces.

For the past several decades, the American Humvee armored car, or HMMWV, has set the standard by which other military vehicles are judged, having served in all of America’s conflicts spanning the globe, enduring every climate and every imaginable terrain. The Russian military has worked hard to develop its own alternative, finally fielding the Tiger armored vehicle in 2006. Since that time, Russia’s GAZ manufacturer and the Russian Defense Ministry have worked to bring Russian design up to domestic and international standards, offering upgrades and pushing the vehicle to compete with American and similar Western designs. In 2010, Brazilian law enforcement eyed the Tigers for use in its SWAT teams, and in 2013, that country completed testing and evaluation of the car for major sporting events in 2014 and 2016.

During the upcoming annual May 9 military parade that will mark the 71st anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II, the Russian military will showcase its newest vehicle version, the Tiger-M, equipped with the Arbalet (Crossbow) DM remote controlled weapon system. According to Sergey Suvorov, the official spokesman of the company that manufactures Tigers, the vehicle was supposed to have been equipped with an Italian weapons system, but then the sanctions against Russia kicked in, making the transaction impossible. Besides, the “Italian technology proved too fragile for our climate,” while Crossbow performed well in temperatures ranging from -50C to +50C.

According to Suvorov, the Crossbow unit is fully stabilized, and its fire control system has the function of capturing and of automatic target tracking, which allows the operator to conduct effective fire while stationary or when moving — the vehicle can also be operated remotely when necessary. Crossbow includes two types of guns and an automatic grenade launcher, and the operator can switch between different types of weapons via a computerized fire control system. The future use of of newly equipped Tigers can be surmised from their place in the May 9 parade — they will accompany Yars mobile strategic missile complexes, suggesting that Russian Strategic Missile Forces will be the first to receive such vehicles. They will guard mobile launchers and ballistic missiles.

Weapons of higher learning

As a sign that the famed Kalashnikov semi-automatic weapon is maturing as a production and export platform, the Kalashnikov weapons company, part of the Rostec state corporation, is about to open its own corporate university. According to Mikhail Nenyukov, deputy director of quality and development at the factory, such a decision should ensure the development of knowledge management among company personnel, claiming such a university would be “a unified system of leadership development, talent management and production competencies” among Kalashnikov employees at all levels, from assembly workers to the most senior managers.

Igor Korotchenko, the editor of Russia’s National Defense magazine, considers it necessary to create educational structures within the large corporations and enterprises of the nation’s military-industrial complex:

“We have almost no other form of training skilled workers, therefore, such initiatives are welcome. The defense industry today is the locomotive of the Russian economy, and it is necessary to train personnel, especially since there is an ongoing large-scale modernization of production, there are modern machines with digital controls, new technologies and materials being used.”

It should be noted that in Soviet times, the country’s military-industrial complex drew the best and the brightest workers and designers, offering high, steady salaries and an unmatched system of benefits. Today’s Russian defense industry has suffered major attrition and brain drain to the private sector, and the Russian government is trying to ensure that it can train and retain the next generation of skilled workers.

The views here expressed are those of the author alone.

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