Russia in the Precision-Strike regime - military theory, procurement and operational impact

FFI-Report 2017

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Tor Bukkvoll Roger N McDermott
This is a report about Russian thinking on the use of conventional high-precision weapons. It explains how this debate has developed in Russia since its inception in the mid-1980s, and analyses what Russian military theory has to say about high-precision weapons today and what their significance is likely to be for future warfare. Russian military and military analysts were in fact some of the most important pioneers internationally in this regard. Their problem was that they had little chance to implement their ideas in their own armed forces. Because of the fall of communism and the Soviet Union, Russia entered an economic crisis that meant there was no money for arms purchases. In addition, political relations with the West in the 1990s and early 2000s were good. This meant that in terms of Russian security there was not that much need for high-precision weapons. There were programs for the development of such weapons throughout this period, but the Russian armed forces started to actually achieve operational conventional cruise missiles only in 2010. Today, however, the situation has changed radically. This is mainly for two reasons. First, Russia experienced high economic growth in the 2000s. This growth gave financial room for returning to higher levels of spending on the armed forces. The funding for the State Armaments Program 2011–2020 tripled compared to previous programs. Second, relations with the West deteriorated during Putin’s rule. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the support in instigating an anti-Kiev rebellion in Eastern Ukraine the same year, relations have grown very cold. In combination, these two changes gave a new boost to the Russian development of highprecision weapons. In 2017 the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu promised that the quantity of such weapons in Russia would increase 30 times by 2020. In the future, conventional high-precision weapons may come to play an important role both in defence of the country, especially in terms of deterrence, and in bilateral conflicts with other countries where Russia wants to force its will through. In general, the Russian debate on these weapons is more preoccupied with defensive than with offensive scenarios. Some Russian analysts see these weapons as adding an extra layer of deterrent capability in addition to nuclear weapons, whereas others suggest that they in the future may even supplant the nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Although offensive use is less frequently discussed than defensive use, there is a debate in Russia also of this aspect. Three points are often raised: (1) that conventional high-precision weapons are likely to increase the role of military force in foreign policy generally around the world; (2) that for Russia they may be particularly efficient in conflicts with highly developed states, since these states are highly vulnerable because of their high concentration of critical stationary installations; and (3) that these weapons may be particularly efficient in combination with other capabilities. In Russia these capabilities are first of all seen to be special and airborne forces. However, the report also points out that there are a number of considerations that may limit the future use of conventional high-precision weapons. These weapons are likely to remain especially costly to produce, and Russian production capacity is not unlimited. In addition, their efficiency in terms of Russia reaching its political goals will be very dependent on both how they are used and in what contexts they are used.

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