The Russian Air Force Is Back: Stealth, Su-35s and Syria
Another issue is that while the Russian Air Force is receiving new aircraft with good radars (most of the new jets have a PESA but active electronically scanned array (AESA) are in the pipeline onboard the MiG-35, for example) and excellent electronic warfare suites, the Russian Air Force still lacks good electro-optical/infrared targeting pods comparable to the U.S. Air Force’s Sniper or U.S. Navy ATFLIR pod. Moreover, precision guided weapons comparable to the Joint Direct Attack Munition are still comparatively rare in the Russian arsenal as the Syrian experience has demonstrated. But the Russians are aware of these deficiencies and are working on correcting the problem. Indeed, new targeting pods are nearing production.
Effectively, the current Russian Air Force leveraged late Soviet-era investments in advanced technology to field capabilities that had previously been reserved for Western air forces—such precision guided munitions and long-range strike. Moreover, the Syrian operation showed that the Russian forces have reached a level of proficiency where they can generate sustain sorties from an expeditionary base far from home. Indeed, the Russian Air Force will likely continue to incorporate lessons learned from Syria and continue to improve as time goes on. Thus, while not as large as its Soviet predecessor, the current Russian Air Force is in some ways more capable—its crews are better trained and it has much improved technology at its disposal. The question is really how quickly can Moscow afford to modernize given the state of the Russian economy.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveMajumdar.
Image: Creative Commons.