December 03, 2007

Rearmament in export wrapping

18:46 | 30/ 11/ 2007



MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov) - Russia without end-of-year drum-beating about its achievements is not the real Russia. Orderly reports are made on the housing built, the crops grown, and commodities sold. If trade in arms is added, then there will be another record.

But do the billions of dollars earned from exporting tanks, ships and aircraft relate to a real rearmament program for Russia's armed forces? They do, only inversely.

Weapons exports grow from year to year. "In 2006, Russia reached a record $5.3 billion. This year, it is planning to beat this record and post $5.5 billion. I am sure we will meet this target and perhaps go one better," Sergei Chemezov, general director of Rosoboronexport, the state arms-exporting agency, said in late November.

By a strange twist of fate, Chemezov's deputy Anatoly Isaikin, a KGB-FSB veteran, replaced him by a presidential decree on the same day.

It is, however, unlikely that Chemezov lost his job because the president was unhappy about the export performance of the agency. To believe the former general director, Russia now runs neck and neck with the Americans in exporting arms and equipment.

"According to the latest estimates by the international independent expert organization SIPRI, Russia even has a slight edge with 31% of the market against the U.S.'s 30%," Chemezov said.

In other words, Russia has leapfrogged over the U.S. in the most important category, weapons of mass destruction; and that is the main indicator of national prosperity today. But real strength is determined not by the amount of weapons and military equipment sold, but by the type in one's own army.

The drum-beating becomes dull if we look at the modern weapons available in the Russian army. Let us look at two examples.

Currently armored vehicles are the core of ground forces. According to the most positive estimates, Russian forces have no more than 200 modern T-90 tanks, whose production began in 1992, stopped for economic reasons four years later, and was not resumed until 2004.

Many reports say that only one battalion (31 vehicles), in the showcase Tamanskaya Motorized Rifle Division, has highly advanced tanks, or ones equipped with second-generation thermal imagers as night sights, improved explosive reactive armor, and a diesel engine of 1,000 hp.

Our all-time rivals, according to 2002 figures, have 7,644 M-1 Abrams combat tanks of all types. Aside from thermal sights, all of them are equipped with automatic digital fire control systems. And their propulsion machinery includes an automatic transmission gear we still cannot produce and a 1,500 hp diesel.

Statistics show that India's armed forces have more than 300 T-90 tanks, of which 186 were supplied by Russia and 140 assembled in India under a license. Under a 2001 treaty, India is to manufacture another 1,000 of these tanks.

In March 2006, the media reported the sale of 180 T-90SA tanks to Algeria. In the same year, Russia finalized contracts with Libya (figures unavailable), Morocco, and an order for an additional 330 vehicles for India.

Reports are coming in about contracts also being signed with Iran and Syria.

That's statistics for you. Almost the same can be said of the Iskander high-precision tactile missile system meant for ground forces and equipped with stealth devices and air defense shields.

To date, Russian troops have only one battalion (12 launchers) of this system in the North Caucasus. Their batch production is running up against difficulties and rearmament deadlines are being pushed further and further back.

How could it be otherwise if, according to Yury Koptev, head of the Industry and Energy Ministry's defense industry department, speaking in January last year, over 80% of Russia's defense industry fixed assets have depreciated?

It would be a very fitting occasion to use now Hugo Chavez's hefty price paid for Russia's Kalashnikov rifles to help appreciate the fixed assets.

But it seems the export earnings, if they are paid at all, flow into other pockets, skipping the defense sector's meager coffers.

The Iskanders, meanwhile, are destined for a truly unique future. Russian troops will not have access to them. There are plans to export these systems, each costing an estimated $25 million, to Belarus as a response to American plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.

An excellent idea, but perhaps only Lukashenko knows what it has to do with the rearmament of the Russian armed forces.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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