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Russian Defense Industry in Crisis

by Ward Carroll on September 10, 2009

Russian defense shot.jpg

The Russian defense industry may not have long to survive. Long the provider of massive amounts of weapons to the Soviet armed forces and those of satellite nations and much of the Third World, today some experts believe that only a massive infusion of funds from the Russian government can save the industry.

Further, the best showcase for new Russian aerospace products has fizzled. Writing for the Military Periscope online database, Russian expert Reuben F. Johnson reported on the recent Russian aerospace exhibit (MAKS 2009) in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky:

The ever-multiplying layers of security and clearance procedures that the Russian government now requires of its contractors helped to generate a largely disappointing event. Various Russian industry representatives had been talking for six months or more about 20 new
weapon systems and other innovations that would appear at MAKS.

None saw the light of day.


For more than a decade the MAKS exhibit had been the prime “selling tool” of the Russian aerospace industry.

Johnson also wrote,

Not being allowed to show its wares is but the latest problem for the Russian aerospace industry, which already suffers from shrinking order books and escalating unhappiness among its largest long-time customers, such as India. The aerospace show has become, as one [Russian] correspondent put it, a manifestation of “very big hopes against a background of insolvable problems.”

The aerospace industry issuesas well as those of the Russian shipbuilding industryare further complicated by the Russian government’s lack of control or even influence over various component suppliers who are located in independent countries that were part of the Soviet Union prior to December 1991. These firms now “march to their own tune,” taking orders for products more profitable than making components for Russian weapon systems.

The Russian shipbuilding and naval weapon industries are experiencing similar problems. As a result, the Russian delivery of ships and naval systems has been noticeably late, over cost, and at times without key components. The most significant example has been the ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which was sold to India in January 2004. The ship was essentially “given” to India, which then committed about $700 million to the Russian government to modernize and refit the carrier. The shiprenamed Vikramadityawas to have been delivered about 2008; more likely the carrier will be delivered about 2012 at about double the previously estimated cost.

The carrier situation was further illustrated by Johnson in a telephone conversation from Kiev as he told this writer that the situation in Russia is rapidly deteriorating. Whereas aircraft carriers up to 55,000 tons full load were built in the Soviet Union (at Nikolayev, now in the Ukraine), with a nuclear-propelled carrier to displace 75,000 tons having been started, Russia is now considering the construction of a smaller carrier in collaboration with France.

There is also a psychological aspect to the Russias defense industry problems: The world has learned that the Russian Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, a very high priority program, is a development disaster, while the Russian-built nuclear submarine K-152/Nerpa, on trials before transfer to India, suffered an accident that killed more than 20 persons and injured others. These revelations must hurt potential Russian weapon sales.

The Russian defense industry will survive. But the drying up of foreign ordersin part because of more aggressive U.S. weapon sales in the Third World market since the end of the Cold Warcoupled with the small size of the post-Soviet era armed forces means that it can no longer be considered a major factor in the measurement of Russian military power.

– Norman Polmar

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