The Victory Parade on May 9th in Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 will be accompanied by the display of an impressive amount of new military hardware. The centerpiece will be the Armata combat chassis, which will form the basis not just for what is likely to be the world’s most advanced tank, the T-14, but a whole family of other armored vehicles. This cross-platform utilization is a hallmark of Soviet military design philosophy which stressed efficiencies of scale and interoperability in the chaos and rapid wear and tear of the modern battlefield.
After many months of waiting, the tanks have been finally fully exposed, including the unmanned and fully remotely controlled turret equipped with autoloader, 125mm smoothbore gun that can fire both shells with a muzzle velocity higher than the 120mm Rheinmetall gun used in Leopards and Kornet-D anti-tank/helicopter missiles, a smaller 30mm cannon, a machine gun capable of taking out incoming projectiles such as anti-tank missiles, and the latest in AESA-based radar, information control systems, and remote sensing technologies. It also has the capability to go fully robotic in the future. It runs on a 1500hp diesel engine and the crew is housed in an internal armored capsule that should greatly improve their survivability.
Here are some photos published on the Russian Defense Ministry website with details of other projects based on the Armata chassis:
Medium tank “Armata”
“Coalition-SV” self-propelled artillery system
The parade will also feature vehicles with the Bumerang wheeled chassis, which will form the base for a new APC, and the Kurganets-25 tracked chassis, which will form the basis for a new infantry fighting vehicle and APC, and the Kornet-D1 anti-tank guided missile mounted on a modified chassis of the all terrain infantry vehicle the GAZ Tigr.
The manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, plans to produce around 2,300 of Armata T-14s by 2020, which if successful would replace around 70% of Russia’s modern armor based on the T-72 and T-90 systems. At around $5 million per unit, it will also be twice cheaper than modern Western tanks. This forms part of a vast $700 billion rearmament program which will see Russian military spending rise to 4-5% of GDP for at least the next five years, even as the government cuts back on many other social programs. Because of Russia’s lower costs (one dollar buys more there), the greater share of the budget that is devoted to procurement and research relative to the US (because it has few bases and no wars abroad, and conscripts still make up around 40% of its total forces), and declines in US military spending, it actually appears that Russia will soon be spending more than the US on procuring new equipment.
Does this represent some radically new militarization? It depends on how you look at it. Relative to European countries that now spend 1-2% of their GDP on the military, sure. Relative to the USSR, which spent anywhere from 12%-25% of GDP on the military, certainly not. It is however understandable in the context of an increasingly dangerous international situation as well as the massive depreciation of Russian military capital stock during the crisis years of the 1990s and the recovery-orientated years of the 2000s. In 1990, the Soviet and American total stocks of military equipment were approximately equivalent in real terms; today, Russia’s is only a quarter or a third as big. After this rearmament, this gap will significantly narrow – a fact that will be reflected on the ground in a modernized armored force, a whole bunch of modernized boomer (Borey), nuclear attack (Yasen), and quiet diesel (Kilo, Lada) submarines, over a thousand new helicopters, modest increases in the surface fleet, and some fairly limited quantity of the fifth generation PAK FA fighters (due to a combination of program delays and cost overruns). The current recession and decline in oil prices, even if they are prolonged, are unlike to critically torpedo these plans.
Will this be “good” or “bad” for peace and international relations? The intuitive answer is the latter, but that is not at all that evident on closer examination. First, Russian military weakness during the 1990s and 2000s probably at least somewhat explain why the West was so cavalier about expanding into its sphere of influence, who possibly even went as far as funding the Chechen militants. Surely the perception of Russian military weakness at least partially explained why the US gave tacit approval to Saakashvili’s assault on South Ossetia in 2008. Second, in an inverse of the situation during the Cold War, it is now official Russian military doctrine to use limited nuclear strikes to “deescalate” a conventional confrontation with other nuclear powers (read: NATO) that they are losing. A restoration of the military balance is perhaps the better outcome even for the West than the increased chance of nuclear war with a conventionally weak Russia.