Is America Losing Its Military Edge to Russia?
Current tensions between Russia and NATO are leading many to carefully assess this question and examine the current state of weaponry and technological sophistication of the Russian military -- with a mind to better understanding the extent of the kinds of threats they may pose.
Naturally, Russia’s military maneuvers and annexation of the Crimean peninsula have many Pentagon analysts likely wondering about and assessing the pace of Russia's current military modernization and the relative condition of the former Cold War military giant’s forces, platforms and weaponry.
Russia has clearly postured itself in response to NATO as though it can counter-balance or deter the alliance, however some examinations of Russia’s current military reveals questions about its current ability to pose a real challenge to NATO in a prolonged, all-out military engagement.
Nevertheless, Russia continues to make military advances and many Pentagon experts and analysts have expressed concern about NATO's force posture in Eastern Europe regarding whether it is significant enough to deter Russia from a possible invasion of Eastern Europe.
Also, Russia’s economic pressures have not slowed the countries’ commitment to rapid military modernization and the increase of defense budgets, despite the fact that the country’s military is a fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.
While the former Cold War giant’s territories and outer most borders are sizeably less than they were in the 1980s, Russia’s conventional land, air and sea forces are trying to expand quickly, transition into the higher-tech information age and steadily pursue next generation platforms.
Russia’s conventional and nuclear arsenal is a small piece of what it was during the Cold War, yet the country is pursuing a new class of air-independent submarines, a T-50 stealth fighter jet, next-generation missiles and high-tech gear for individual ground soldiers.
A think-tank known as The National Interest has recently published a number of reports about the technological progress now being made by Russian military developers. The various write-ups include reporting on new Russian anti-satellite weapons, T-14 Armata tanks, air defenses and early plans for a hypersonic, 6th-generation fighter jet, among other things. Russia is unambiguously emphasizing military modernization and making substantial progress, the reports from The National Interest and other outlets indicate.
For instance, Russia has apparently conducted a successful test launch of its Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile, according to The National Interest.
"This is the second test of the new weapon, which is capable of destroying satellites in space. The weapon was apparently launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility north of Moscow," the report from The National Interest writes.
In addition, The National Interests' Dave Majumdar reported that Russian Airborne Forces plan six armored companies equipped with newly modified T-72B3M tanks. Over the next two years, those six companies will be expanded to battalion strength, the report states.
Russia is also reportedly developing a so-called "Terminator 3" tank support fighting vehicle.
.During the Cold War, the Russian defense budget amounted to nearly half of the country’s overall expenditures.
Now, the countries’ military spending draws upon a smaller percentage of its national expenditure. However, despite these huge percentage differences compared to the 1980s, the Russian defense budget is climbing again. From 2006 to 2009, the Russian defense budget jumped from $25 billion up to $50 billion according to Business Insider – and the 2013 defense budget is listed elsewhere at $90 billion.
Overall, the Russian conventional military during the Cold War – in terms of sheer size – was likely five times what it is today.
The Russian military had roughly 766,000 active front line personnel in 2013 and as many as 2.4 million reserve forces, according to globalfirepower.com. During the Cold War, the Russian Army had as many as three to four million members.
By the same 2013 assessment, the Russian military is listed as having more than 3,000 aircraft and 973 helicopters. On the ground, Globalfirepower.com says Russia has 15-thousand tanks, 27,000 armored fighting vehicles and nearly 6,000 self-propelled guns for artillery. While the Russian military may not have a conventional force the sheer size of its Cold War force, they have made efforts to both modernized and maintain portions of their mechanized weaponry and platforms. The Russian T-72 tank, for example, has been upgraded numerous times since its initial construction in the 1970s.
On the overall Naval front, Globalfirepower.com assesses the Russian Navy as having 352 ships, including one aircraft carrier, 13 destroyers and 63 submarines. The Black Sea is a strategically significant area for Russia in terms of economic and geopolitical considerations as it helps ensure access to the Mediterranean.
Analysts have also said that the Russian military made huge amounts of conventional and nuclear weapons in the 80s, ranging from rockets and cruise missiles to very effective air defenses.
In fact, the Russian built S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft air defenses, if maintained and modernized, are said to be particularly effective, experts have said.