When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the resulting problems in maintenance, disrepair, and a lack of funding in major areas of the Russian military became a running joke in the West. This attitude towards Russian equipment (Reinvigorated with Russia’s economic troubles of the 90’s) reaches back to the Space Race and the number of cosmonauts who unfortunately died in malfunctioning spacecraft, to World War I & II where soldiers in the Russian Army (Later the Red Army) suffered a lack of weaponry to the point of a “Some men get rifles, others get bullets” policy but also as far back as the time of Peter the Great. Peter himself is famous for recognizing Russia’s status as “behind the times” in relation to the rest of Europe, and began an effort to modernize Russia through such projects as rebuilding the Russian navy and building St. Petersburg, where the capital was moved from Moscow until 1917.
Is the Russian Federation currently undergoing yet another massive modernization?
The MiG-31 “Foxhound,” an interceptor intended to shoot down nuclear bombers and similar threats entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1982. When the USSR collapsed, many MiG-31’s (Which formed a critical part of the defense of Russia) were unfit to be operated, with a low point of 20% of “Foxhounds” capable for combat in 1996. However, by the mid 2000’s most MiG-31’s were operational again, and now the fleet is currently being upgraded to a “BM” standard with modern electronics, GPS, radar, etc. bringing about the MiG-31BM variant.
The Su-27 “Flanker,” another proud aircraft produced by the Soviet Air Force, was once a formidable air-superiority fighter. The Su-35 “Super Flanker,” an improved variant, is now undergoing upgrades as well, such as the Su-35BM “Bolʹshaya modernizatsiya” or “Big Modernization” in Russian which was unveiled in 2009. Sukhoi also has begun development and production on a stealth fighter, the PAK FA, the first aircraft of its kind in Russia.
Similar advancements in the Russian Air Force are not far-removed from other air forces. After all, in this modern age air power has begun to dictate the outcome in warfare and thus most countries are focusing on this branch.
However, many portions of the Russian Ground Forces are receiving new equipment as well. The T-90 tank has been in service since the 90’s and was planned to replace the aging T-72’s and T-80 tanks used by the Red Army, and already the T-99 “Armata” is scheduled to replace it in 2020.
In 2008 the VDV (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska, or Air Landing Forces) were developed from 4 divisions into eight air-assault brigades. Similar reforms were made in all areas of the Russian military that year, such as restructuring of divisions, introduction of civilian employees, etc. and dividing the Russian Military into six districts.
Perhaps the most recent advancement is the new AK-12 assault rifle. Designed by the same man behind the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov has produced an AK variant now capable of utilizing grenade launchers, optical attachments, etc. with the same ease as the American M16 or M4. Originally dubbed the “AK-200” the AK-12 is sturdier and more rugged than its American counterparts, but its design has been influenced by suggestions from Spetsnaz and other similar operators in Russia.
It would appear the Russian Federation is making great strides to modernize all areas of its military when compared to other nations, and some would suggest it’s the result of NATO enlargement closer to Russian borders and spheres of influence. That’s not to say other countries in Europe or the U.S. aren’t modernizing their armed forces, but Russia’s strength and size makes it particularly significant.