Even with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and heightened tensions, it is very unlikely that the United States will ever directly face off against Russia. A shooting war with Russia would almost certain end poorly for all concerned.
Modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, but it is still possesses a very formidable arsenal of both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. Moreover, given the uneven state of Russia’s conventional forces—which have greatly atrophied since the Soviet collapse—the country relies much more heavily on its strategic deterrent to ward off enemies than the USSR ever did. Indeed, in November 1993 , Russia dropped the Soviet Union’s pledge not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into any conflict. Instead Russia reserves the right to use its nuclear weapons under a doctrine that it paradoxically calls " de-escalation."
The bottom line is that the United States is not going to engage Russia in a war—however it might face Russian weapons during a conventional conflict where those weapons have been sold abroad. Therefore, the article won’t address the most obviously dangerous Russian weapons—such as nuclear weapons or nuclear-powered submarines—but will instead focus on systems that American forces may realistically face in combat one day.
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Here is a selection of five of the most potent Russian weapons that U.S. forces might face.
Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E
The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is the by far the best operational fighter aircraft Russia has produced to date. An advanced derivative of the original Soviet-era Su-27, the new Flanker variant is high flying, fast and carries an enormous payload. That, combined with its advanced suite of avionics, makes the Su-35 an extremely dangerous foe to any U.S. fighter, with the exception of the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
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As an air-superiority fighter, the Su-35’s major advantages are its combination of high altitude capability and blistering speed—which allow the fighter to impart the maximum possible amount of launch energy to its arsenal of long-range air-to-air missiles. During an air battle, the Su-35 would launch its missiles from high supersonic speeds around Mach 1.5 at altitudes greater than 45,000 ft. It also has three-dimensional thrust vectoring—which gives it exceptional maneuverability, advanced avionics and a powerful jamming capability.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force is keen to acquire the new jet and there have been reports that North Korea would also like to buy some number of Su-35s. As the Su-35 begins enter service in numbers, additional customers are likely to start lining up to buy the new fighter.
While Russia builds sophisticated nuclear-powered ballistic missile and attack submarines like the new Borei-class and the Severodvinsk-class boats, it is a near certainty that those vessels will never be exported. Russia has only ever allowed India to lease its nuclear-powered submarines. India currently leases the Akula II-class attack submarine INS Chakra—also known by its Russian name Nerpa (K-152)—and it also previously leased K-43, which was a Charlie I-class attack submarine. Most other client states will buy advanced Russian diesel-electric attack boats the latest of which is the Amur-class.
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Diesel-electric boats—though they lack the endurance of a nuclear-powered vessel—are extremely quiet and pose an extremely dangerous threat to surface warships. This is especially true in confined littoral waters close to shore. Even older diesel-electric boats have proven to be surprisingly dangerous. In 2007, for example, a relatively elderly Chinese Song-class boat approached the carrier USS Kitty Hawk undetected until the crew announced themselves by surfacing near the giant warship. The Russian Kilo-class and its newer Amur-class successor are far quieter and far more capable than the Chinese boat.
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The Amur-class boats, which are derived from the Russian Navy’s Project 677 Lada-class submarines, are designed specifically for the export market. Compared to the older Kilo-class design, the Amur is much quieter—largely thanks to its new single hull design--and is far better armed. It can also be fitted with an air independent propulsion system—which means it can stay underwater for a lot longer than conventional submarines that are not so equipped. The Amur-class is equipped with four 533mm torpedo tubes and 10 vertical missile launch tubes. It can travel at speeds of 20 knots and has an endurance of at least 45 days.
Russia has not yet found a client for the Amur, but given that the older Kilo was very popular, it is near certainty that they will make a sale sooner rather than later.
The Russian T-90 main battle tank is the most advanced current Russian armored vehicle until the Armata series enters service. Though the designation is new, the tank is at its core a very heavily upgraded Soviet-era T-72.