Medvedev Contemplates Modernizing the Russian Defense Industry
On October 26, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met the leaders of the defense industry, to consider its future and address issues that emerged in September during the Zapad 2009 joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises. He visited the Mashinostroyenia open joint-stock company in Reutov, one of the defense industry leaders, and said that what he found there was atypical of the condition throughout the defense industries. Medvedev made no reference to the company's prestigious K300P Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile system, which was lavishly praised by the defense ministry controlled Zvezda television on November 1. His omission further highlighted that this was no mere PR opportunity for the president to berate the defense industry, without any further action. The meeting occurred in two parts: public discussion followed by a closed door session. However, his public comments provided some clues concerning the modernization priorities and measures to make the industry more competitive and enable it to develop new weapons and equipment (Zvezda TV, November 1; Interfax, October 26).
Medvedev identified the key issues facing the defense industry. Despite considerable expenditure, little progress has been made in its modernization, which he described as "patching the holes." Directors and state agencies must reduce prices to make their products worth procuring, and lower running costs. The legal regulation of state defense procurement needs to be improved, formulating clearer rules on planning and placing such orders. Research and development, he suggested, should reflect the state prioritizing promising new models, avoiding wasting time and resources on old products or those that are simply never used. Lastly, the strategic goals for the future of the defense industry are shaped by the structural transformation of the armed forces, which will be completed by December, meaning that the procurement of modern weapons and equipment is becoming more urgent (www.kremlin.ru, October 26).
During the same meeting, the Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin reinforced this message to the defense industry in order to facilitate the modernization of the "new look" armed forces. He pointedly criticized the slow rate at which new weapons are purchased. This failed to arrest the "decline in the technological standard of the existing stock of weapons." Popovkin explained that "considering the state of the enterprises and problems related to staff, production, technology and financing, it is becoming difficult to re-equip the armed forces with modern weapons in the timeframe that has been set without a fundamental modernization of the military-industrial complex and providing greater sources of innovation," (Interfax, October 26). The defense industry leaders no doubt perceived an intention to turn a reforming eye on them, since the announcement that Moscow is negotiating procuring a Mistral-class helicopter carrier from France, expected to be agreed by mid-November (RIA Novosti, October 31).
Popovkin noted that as a result of streamlining expenditure, this year the proportion of funds spent on repairing old equipment has been reduced to 16 percent or 20 percent less than originally planned. This enabled the armed forces to receive "nine strategic missiles, six space vehicles, 43 combat aircraft, 41 combat helicopters, a frigate, three launchers for the Iskander missile system and 13 missiles for it." Moreover, it will facilitate the deployment of a mobile missile system in 2010, and launching eleven space vehicles. Purchases of ground equipment for the GLONASS satellite system has doubled, while shortly procuring 17 combat aircraft, 48 helicopters, and completing the construction of two submarines and commencing the construction of five ships (Interfax, October 26).
While the streamlining Popovkin referred to is bearing fruit, it is clear that the modernization demanded by the reform of the conventional armed forces will require deeper and more systemic measures. Industry and Trade Minister Viktor Khristenko advocated domestic production on a partly commercial basis, in order to enhance the defense industry's capacity to fulfill state orders. Given the "lessons learned" from the Russia-Georgia War in August 2008, which exposed among other weaknesses those in communications, navigation and reconnaissance; it is evident that this is at least trickling down into the new structures (Interfax, October 26).
On October 19, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant-General Yevgeniy Meychik said that work is underway to introduce a military internet throughout all units: "We are striving for a military internet to cover our armed forces. This is our future, and we are moving towards it." He also noted that by 2011 every serviceman and combat vehicle will have individual radios, allowing each brigade commander to "communicate directly with every information object on the battlefield." Experimental models of the Akveduk and Granit radios were used in the Kavkaz, Ladoga, and Zapad 2009 exercises (Vremya Novostei, October 21).
Indeed, by late 2009 Sozvezdiye will complete new generation Azimut-M integrated navigation equipment. It is planned to fit these in command staff and combat vehicles in the second half of 2010. Azimut-M will provide greater accuracy in measurement and ustoychivost raboty (stability in operation), in the context of attempted radio-jamming and can be used where it is difficult or impossible to receive satellite radio-navigation system signals. It is smaller and lighter than earlier versions and offers expanded capabilities at a lower cost. "For the first time, navigation equipment for command-staff and combat vehicles will be manufactured using heteromagnetic technology. It will be fundamentally different from previous generation navigation equipment in terms of its technical characteristics," according a statement by the design company (Interfax, October 27).
The transition to the new brigades and command structure, which has preoccupied the Russian defense ministry, will in future place greater demands on the defense industry. Modernization, in this sense, has been temporarily eclipsed by the radical force restructuring this year, while concepts such as "streamlining" have yielded only a trickle of new weapons and equipment. The signals from the defense ministry, General Staff, and now more crucially Medvedev, are that prior to the completion of the structural reform, planning is turning to the more arduous task of modernizing the largely obsolete weapons and equipment inventory. To achieve this in the longer term, it will first require deeper adjustments to the defense industry. Thus, on October 26, Medvedev signaled that an equally radical overhaul is needed within the defense industry: it is precisely this "fundamental modernization" that is currently being worked out.