The Soviet Union might have collapsed in 1991, but modern Russia continues to develop state-of-the-art weapons even if its defense industry is a shadow of what it once was.
In recent years, Russia has launched a host of new developmental programs to replace its Soviet-era arsenal. Though development work has been hurt by economic sanctions and low oil prices, work on myriad projects continue.
While not every part of Russia’s defense industrial complex has weathered the Soviet collapse equally, there are certain areas where Moscow excels. Russia still makes excellent aircraft, armored vehicles, submarines and electronic warfare systems--certainly systems NATO should have its collective eyes on in the months and years to come.
The Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA is probably Russia’s most prominent modernization project. The new jet is being developed as a stealthy fifth-generation fighter that would eventually replace the trusty Su-27 Flanker and its many derivatives.
Once fully developed, the PAK-FA would be a rough analogue to the U.S. Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. Like its American counterpart, the PAK-FA is designed to fly high and cruise at supersonic speeds. It’s also being designed to be extremely agile. Russia is also expected to fit the aircraft with advanced sensors and electronic warfare systems.
However, the PAK-FA is expensive and Russia has curtailed its buy to twelve for the time being. Russia probably won’t ramp up production until new, more powerful engines specifically designed for the new jet have completed development.
Russia has also started work on a new stealth bomber. Tupolev, which is the design bureau that has built the majority of Russian bombers, is developing the new aircraft.
There is little concrete information available concerning the PAK-DA. However, there are indications that the plane is being developed as a stealthy, subsonic flying-wing. That’s a departure from earlier Russian efforts that have focused on speed. Indeed, the last Soviet-developed bomber was the Mach 2.0 capable Tu-160.
Russia is delaying the PAK-DA program in favor of new-built Tu-160s, with the PAK-DA being pushed out to 2023. So the program might be slowed down--but Moscow will need a new bomber sooner rather than later.
Russia is also developing a family of new armored vehicles under the aegis of the Armata program. Instead of a specialized vehicle designed for a specific function, Russia is developing a common chassis that can be adapted for each role.
As such, the Armata is being developed as a series of vehicles including a tank, infantry-fighting vehicle and self-propelled artillery among others. The vehicles incorporate advanced armor and electronics and novel features never before seen on a Russian or Soviet machine. Indeed, the T-14 tank variant includes an unmanned turret and an active protection system.
The question is—can Russia afford it?
While many Russian technological developments have tended to lag slightly behind the West, Russian electronic warfare systems are equal to if not more advanced than their NATO and American counterparts.
The Pentagon has taken note of Russia’s focus on electronic warfare even as the U.S. Defense Department has lost its way on dominating the electromagnetic spectrum. Some good examples of cutting edge Russian electronic warfare system are the exceptionally capable Krasukha-4 vehicle-borne jamming system and the very capable Khibiny airborne jamming pod—though that system’s capabilities are often grossly overstated.
Russia continues to hone its electronic capabilities and it will continue to be a significant threat going into the future.
Russia has always built excellent submarines. But even though they are very capable, the latest Russian designs that have put to sea—the Borei-class ballistic missile submarine and the Yasen-class attack boat—are originally late Soviet-era designs.
The Russians are well aware that technology has moved forward and are working on next-generation nuclear submarine designs. Currently, the Russian navy appears to be developing two additional nuclear submarine designs—one to replace the Oscar-class SSGN and another to replace the Sierra-class.
The Oscar replacement will stalk U.S. carrier strike groups just as their predecessors did while the Sierra replacement will be an “interceptor” that would protect Russia’s SSBN fleet.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.