Russia currently spends barely one-tenth of the annual US outlay on its military, or around $50-billion this year, but Moscow’s defence budget is poised to leap by at least 50 per cent by 2010.
President Dmitry Medvedev will soon sign an order for Russia’s military to embark on a spending binge that will include procuring a new generation of strike aircraft, multi-purpose combat vehicles, reconnaissance drones and attack helicopters. That’s in addition to a long term $200-billion programme to add a lot of strategic bombers, intercontinental missiles and new warships, possibly including aircraft carriers, by 2020.
Security analysts say the vital backstory to this emergency burst of military modernisation is the Russian Army’s dismal performance in its August war with Georgia. That perception may come as a surprise to the outside world, which appeared shocked at how rapidly the “US-trained” Georgian army was smashed by what looked like a Soviet-style armoured juggernaut.
But Russian military experts are still shaking their heads in dismay over a catalogue of shortcomings, breakdowns and outright failures that dogged the Vladikavkaz-based 58th Army’s thrust into Georgia, aimed at blunting a Georgian military assault against the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.
“We were not nearly as ready as we should have been. Our army’s delays gave the Georgians 20 hours to destroy South Ossetia,” says Andrei Klimov, vice chairman of the Russian State Duma’s international affairs committee.
In addition to being slow to mobilise, the Russian force lacked even basic intelligence regarding Georgian artillery positions and troop deployments, which led several of its leading units to fall into costly ambushes. In one case, the 58th Army’s senior commander, General Anatoly Khrulyev, was badly wounded and had to be evacuated.
In a desperate effort to get information, the Russians sent a specially-equipped Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bomber over the battlefield — and it got shot down. In all, Russia lost 4 planes, including three Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack fighters to unexpectedly effective Georgian air defences.
Some Russian commanders have reported using cell phones to communicate with their units, because their own radios proved useless. None of the tanks deployed by the Russian army had night sights for their guns, and the reactive armour that was supposed to protect them from Georgian anti-tank weapons did not work in many cases, experts say.
“Everyone is calling it a great victory for Russia, but actually it was an urgent wake-up call,” says one expert. “The Russian military needs to join the 21st century as quickly as possible.”