Putin's loud mouth or arms race?

“We are talking primarily about providing our forces with state-of-the-art modern technology,” Putin said at an air show in the Moscow Region ahead of the 100th anniversary of the country's air force. “Over 600 new warplanes and 1,000 helicopters will come into service by 2020 – not mentioning the upgrade to already existing systems.”

(I found no much more reputable sources so far.)

Russia's nominal GDP is USD 1,850 billion according to wikipedia.

PAK-FA prototype (T-50)
723 billion $ divided by seven remaining fiscal years is about 103 billion $, which would be in excess of 5% of current Russian GDP, probably in excess of 3 or 4 % GDP in later years assuming an even distribution and good economic growth.
The figure of 600 new warplanes is furthermore much greater than the earlier figures for planned PAK-FA procurement.

I see three interpretations, in order of descending probability:

(1) That was a wrong report.
(2) Putin is a loudmouth.
(3) This is going to be a full-blown air power (catch-up) arms race.

S Ortmann


  1. (4) There is an imminent full-scale war in the making soon...

  2. Seven years is an appropriate time span for preparation of a war between great power, of course.

    It just doesn't make sense to prepare for one knowing that for the time being, Russia would be inferior to all great powers it could wage war against. The West is allied redundantly (North Atlantic Treaty, Lisbon treaty plus friends such as the Aussies) and the Chinese could more easily bring to bear their power than Russia with its precarious Siberian logistical lifelines.

  3. Always 2020.
    I think this is significant meaning that someone has been doing the numbers on strategic raw materials and figured out that being the only one with oil and gas to sell to most of Europe is a situation that needs to be stabilized by show of strength.

  4. Maybe he is talking about an ongoing program, and thus the numbers could be backdated over a few years to include the entire program?

    Or maybe he is counting drones as aircraft.

  5. Drones or not, dollar is dollar unless you take a non-USD, of course.

    Backdating doesn't change the picture much either, for they did spend very little on aircraft during the past years. procurement was on pre-series scale.

  6. dollar is dollar and trillion is billion.

  7. I am not sure, what all the fuss is about. A number of things, as far as I have observed the Russian military circus, and credible reporting on these issues (Dmitry Gorenburgs blog is pretty solid, among others):

    "Warplanes" in Russian parlance includes everything from fighter jet to transport plane, and in this context the number 600 makes sense. It certainly does not just refer to Pakfa, just as "helicopter" does not just mean Ka-28.

    At the moment Russia is buying a whole bunch of "real" warplanes, Su-30, Su-35, Su-34, Mig-29, with additional orders very likely just to keep the factories going. Mig has been saved from almost shutting down numerous times and things are not looking up.

    Additionally the current force has been cannibalised for parts for years. Upgrades and modernisations have been happening at very slow pace (the Mig-31 having been a priority). There likely will be a decently sized order for Su-25 attackers just to keep numbers from depleting. The same is the case for Su-30 and Su-35, the latter replacing at least part of older Su-27 and Mig-29.

    Pakfa will stay in the single digits until at least 2016, when it is hoped, a second contract to establish IOC will come into effect. But that means, there wont be any T-50 in significant numbers until after 2020, and they too will have to replace old airframes.

    Then there is the transport/multi-purpose fleet, for which contracts numbering well over 200 airframes are necessary just to credibly maintain existing capabilities. This will be in the form of An-70, Il-76 (or its modernised form), Tu-204 and - in a best case scenario before 2020 - more An-124. As said before, all these AC are very likely included in the "warplanes"-category, as the Russians are very fond of propping up numbers (and technically they are of course warplanes).

    Last but not least, the Air Force is one but of three services, and by far the most prestigious, with almost lavish funding - by Russian standards and in comparison with the Army and Navy. The latter in particular continues to fall apart at the seams, with new hulls not nearly enough to keep numbers up. The situation has overall improved since the 1990s, but an "arms race" is nothing but a wet dream - unless perhaps the Americans screw up so badly with JSF, that their fleet numbers too are going down without replacement (unlikely though, even with JSF failing, as they do have other options).

    In any case, I would be guessing that Russia is looking east much more than west. All Mistrals for instance are destined for the Pacific Fleet and the potential for conflict in the Far East is arguably there, and not so much by Russias making (despite the occasional noise towards Japan).

    1. Can warplane mean a turboprop like the Tucano or a new batch of legacy fighters? Maybe the translator made a mistake or it's an often cited misprint.

  8. Dunno why you all look at the figure for warplanes. Look at the figure for dollars!

    1. Your link to the article does not work for me anymore. In any case, those numbers are originally from one of Putins publications during his election campaign in February. I suspect, that the budget figure is meant to represent the entire Russian military budget over the next seven years and not directly related to the figure of 600 aircraft and 1000 helicopters. If that blog post said otherwise, I think, its simply mistaken.

      I think, Putin also expects over-optimistic economic growth, and when based on what has been achieved over the past three years, all this is highly doubtful anyway.

  9. It is called "industrialisation 2.0".
    It is catch-up or an attempt. Not only military.
    It is planned as a way to restart the entire industrial sector - and through the military industrial sector to inject capital and technology into the entire system.
    The amount of investments is much higher.
    "On the last day of summer, at the Security Council meeting Vladimir Putin ventured such a statement: "It's necessary to make the same powerful, all-embracing breakthrough in modernisation of the defence industry as it was made in the 1930s".

    The meeting of the Security Council was devoted to the army's rearmament and modernization of the defence industry, for what some 23 trillions, that is more than 500 bln euro will be allocated till year 2020. Vladimir Putin particularly empathized that it’s the last chance, because our lag is more than 30 years. If this chance is missed, there will be no such opportunity and resources to carry it out."

    He talked about this in context of the restart of the entire technical/industrial system of Russia.

    The amounts are quite high compared to formal GDP numbers. But you have to consider the very particular status of Russian economy today.
    Large capital available for investments are normally produced through 3 ways:
    1. Internal accumulation - like the SU did, and many others but it is besides the point.
    It means compressed consumption and low quality of life. This brings problems of legitimacy in todays globalised world.
    2. Burrowing. Clearly brings problems in the future. No need to detail I think.
    3. Exploitation of colonies/vassals.
    Here is the interesting case, because Russia in a sense is exploiting a sort of temporal colonies. The fossils it sells abroad were formed in millions of years. The energy capital is there already produced.
    So a large capital resource is available to the government. Which was not produced in present days on the Russian territory by its own population.
    Of course how successful they are going to be is another question. Not very if you listen to the leadership. You start to get the idea why cadres in industrialisation 1.0 needed to be threaten with getting shot - and sometimes getting shot for real.
    In present days almost no penalties affect the cadres so results are hmmmm incredible.
    Rogozin speaking:
    "Dmitry Rogozin posted on his Facebook page a copy of a 1940 letter from Stalin to gun factory managers and accompanied it with a sarcastic warning: "Such methods of improving discipline also exist".

    Stalin's letter to the managers said: "I give you two or three days to launch mass production of machinegun cartridges... If production does not start on time, the government will take over control of the plant and shoot all the rascals there."

    "Of course, it was a joke," Rozogin told reporters regarding his posting but added that failures would not be tolerated."
    ""Our satellites are falling, our ships are sinking, we had seven space failures in the last 18 months but not a single plant felt the consequences," he said after the council session.

    "The culprits should come on stage. The country should know them."
    Of course almost nobody cared. As Medvedev once said :" Russian disrespect for laws and rules is almost nihilistic."

  10. So the numbers are real.
    But the largest amount is allocated to technology, personnel etc. There is not to be expected a huge quantity of equipment.
    The only areas where results are going to be large are Air Force and Strategic weapons.
    Not an increase in numbers though.
    In AF case a large increase of efficiency is to be expected - in case of moderate success.
    By these 2 structures Russia might escape the crushing military efforts the nation had to support for the last 3 centuries. They are very capital intensive - something they have now - but will allow society to breath.
    A very tech AF - modeled after US/NATO approach - and powerful Strategic forces can offer safety even considering Russia's horrible strategic position. And can be supported easily as long as a steady supply of capital is available from the outside world. Or can be supported easily just by Russia itself if it can modernize its industrial base and secure a dominant position in Eurasia which might offer natural frontiers/buffers.
    After this huge capital injection - if successful - only maintaining the force and the supporting industrial base is a much smaller expenditure. We are not talking about huge numbers, more in line with European ones then the American. Somewhere in the middle which is quite rational, European numbers are too small for their strategic outlook.

    I studied the subject for the last years.
    I think we know what they are trying to do. It is quite public and official. All data are available.
    What we do not know - they don't either - is the degree of success.
    It does not matter too much anyway, even moderate/mediocre results are enough. It is a defensive plan, aiming sustainability of the country strategically and technologically in the troubled decades to come.
    Just part of the huge efforts made by the Russian government to build a sustainable society, usually the natalist policy is much more present in Putin discourses then the military policy. If Russian people die out what is the point to defend anything? What remains to be defended?
    So they always start and end talking about children. Armed Forces are just a tool of protecting the above mentioned children.
    And their inheritance of course.

  11. Connected to the energy/steel post below

    The only case where numbers GDP/energy consumtion did not add up by a large margin was in Russia's case. Was. So it bugged me. Numbers have to add up - if theory is correct, something was definitely wrong.
    So now World Bank gives Russian GDP per capita (PPP) at above 21 000 dollars - for 2011. They are mainly revising their numbers, official growth rate was not very high.
    And there is something more.
    For example in US case - don't know about Germany - if you own your house and don't pay rent they are calculating for GDP an amount similar with rentals in your area at similar house values. So by sleeping in his own house ole' John is creating GDP, while his Russian counterpart is just sleeping. Statistically at least :).
    Also Russia has a much larger black/grey economy not appearing in stats.
    In conclusion real numbers are probably close to 30 000 dollars/capita.
    (Many other details can be discussed - this seemed just the most obvious , like the financial sector's percentage of global GDP numbers - is it for real or mainly a phantasmagoria , etc. But they are for a post some years from now.)
    In this case the apparently disproportionate amounts of capital Russian economy/society can absorb without getting awry start to make sense.

    PS. It explains for example why Russian energy consumption is larger the Germany's but its GDP was considerably smaller - statistically wise. It isn't smaller in reality. Numbers got more accurate and the image is a little bit different.
    I do believe the numbers are going to be corrected again in the coming years until they reach something matching reality. With some moderate/low growth rate RF is going to reach some number around 35 000 dollars/capita very soon.
    Anyway that is the number the Russian government
    aims. Former economy minister Nabiullina - I think, don't remember exactly who - even mentioned that those numbers have to be reached is a few years, otherwise all modernization/budgetary plans are unsustainable.
    It might have seem lunacy to propose something like that few years ago but they had much more accurate data. And were able to interpret them correctly it seems.

    1. You should pay more attention to energy (in)efficiency in Russia.
      The figures about the share of natural gas that escapes pipelines, the technological state of powerplants etc are horrible and can easily explain a big gap.

      35k "soon" is unrealistic in my opinion. If for no other reason, then for the reason that due to geography they have much less efficient infrastructure than Germany (more road and railroad kilometres per 100,000 inhabitants, greater need for heating in winter, greater loss of productivity in both winter and summer due to continental climate and so on).

      Their current economy is held afloat by raw material exports (gas, oil); the manufacturing sector has relatively few success stories.

    2. Inefficiencies are significant.
      That is why the numbers for the cases we discuss - Germany and Russia - are 306 to 685 million tonnes of oil equivalent while the GDP difference is probably very small in Russia's favor - we can only estimate, but no more then 20-25%.
      Official World Bank numbers consider them almost equal. But the numbers are not accurate - visible in the continuous revision upwards for Russian economy. They kept underestimating and correcting year by year. And will continue for the following years.
      Due to geographic reasons you mentioned there is definitely a limit to what Russia can do. If they manage to avoid confrontations and waste of resources then from around 30 up to 35 it's not a big increase. Anything more is clearly unrealistic.
      And a median level of 35 means that economic active areas will be at around Western European levels, which is exactly what Russia aims. Isolated rural areas, without major cities, small/medium size cities - isolated by distances from seaside or Moscow/Petersburg/Kazan etc will keep the median level lower then WE. But there is absolutely nothing anyone can do. It's a defined and fixed feature of geography.

      Manufacturing sector is the focus of all development plans. That is absolutely obvious. The level of success remains to be seen. Too many variables.
      The basis of manufacturing success are the large corporate structures. Germany has a few of them. They keep the country afloat. ( Know about the middle level companies, the German successful peculiarity.)
      What Russia aims is something more equilibrated, like US or rather UK. Anyway trying to clone a German model would be unrealistic and unnecessary.
      They will have at least 2 - probably 3 -energy supermajors so the need to have a large number of very large manufacturing corporations like Germany is not there. No need to obtain German result in this domain, because the supermajors will be there to compensate.Probably not possible either but it's besides the point.
      And we can see the directions.
      Rosatom is going to be a large industrial company. One of the national companies.
      In aviation probably Sukhoi is the one which will be consolidated and supported.
      Auto industry will probably see the growth of one or two major manufacturers with WE help - until now the results are absolutely disapointing.
      They are making a lot of efforts and pouring large amounts of capital and support for pharmaceuticals and shipbuilding.
      As I mentioned previously they do not need to obtain similar results with Germany in manufacturing.
      To support the budget and the balance of payments Russia will also have what now only US/UK/France have - the above mentioned supermajors. If you also add the large mining conglomerates with global activities - ever heard anything about Dian Dian :) -they are consolidating now you get a very equilibrated picture.
      So some BP/Shell + Some Rio Tinto/BHP Billiton and then a modicum of industrial success generated by a medium level sized/technology companies is enough. And its exactly what Russia aims for now.
      It is a medium sized country as population and needs. It does not need more, it probably can not do more and it does not plan for anything more.
      Only the military-industrial sector will be larger then European norms due to strategic reasons. But not by an order of magnitude. That self destructive approach from Soviet times is not coming back.
      These are realistic plans. And they can be achieved with a modicum of competence if they avoid major disruptions.

  12. You can find the details - about AF which is the most funded and important in this procurement plans, after Strategic force - about "arms race or loud whatever" .
    I won't mention anything about rigor. I consider that remarque as being quite rude and prefer to pass.


  13. I studied extensively the subject.
    You identified the most probable outcomes by using info from MSM. None were correct. MSM is useless as an information source.
    1. The resources exist.
    The economy as previously mentioned can absorb the amount of resources planned. Of course o collapse of Russia's economic partners - seems quite possible, even probable unfortunately - would create great turbulences in the entire social-economic system of the country. Unpredictable evolutions in this case, no way to estimate anything.
    2. No arms race. The numbers are small.

    The main idea they have is to use a very mobile and technically advance small air force to control the Eurasian land mass.
    Apparently numbers are insufficient. But they are trying to use the US approach.
    AF units will be mobile between bases.
    Fuels, ammo, spare parts etc will be placed at large bases placed in the most important strategic areas. People and machines will come if the need arrives.
    That is why a disproportionate number of transport aircraft shown up in the global numbers. And large ones usually.
    The Vostok exercises practiced among many other issues exactly this kind of rapid deployment of AF units from western districts to the threatened areas, in this case the Far East.
    For a medium size threat that is enough as a deterant.
    Usually Russian exercises take into consideration a defeat of the conventional forces and so for the last years the end is represented by the launch of some rockets by the Strategic Forces.
    I have noticed a lot of similarities with UK approach. I doubt Russian copied, it was probably just the optimal way. Similar necessities usually lead to similar results.
    They are creating the sort of small professional forces with high tech equipment , very mobile by use of air transports , the British created - of course no naval emphasis. Less ships and more planes.
    As of size it is obvious Russian structure will be 3-4 times larger. Strategic forces even larger because they do not have the US arsenal behind them.

    PS. Of course we do not know anything about the degree of success they will enjoy. But I believe it is not very important.
    The entire plan is about having the possibility in a worst case scenario to confront a medium size threat on home field. Not even to defeat it decisively. In case of defeat nukes start to rain on the heads of the attackers.
    For this moderate necessities even a mediocre performance is enough. Spectacular results are not vital.

    1. Consider me unconvinced.
      The figures are big, and I have serious doubts about the Russian state's ability to sustain the plan and the Russian economy's ability to improve more than marginally under the stress if the government could actually pull it off.

      Last but not least, I suppose the prominence of transport aircraft in Russian air force plans is heavily linked to the fact that such procurement does not depend on incomplete R&D.

  14. In order to control it's huge borders and territory Russia always had to keep large military forces spread across Eurasia.
    Transportation made huge numbers vital.
    Now the emphasis on AF is an attempt to keep costs and the waste of resources under control.
    Firstly human resources.
    AF is very capital intensive and this is something todays Russia has abundantly. Problematic is only how to inject the capital into economy without creating massive distorsions.
    Anyway the idea is to use very capital intensive mobile means and keep the human use as small as possible.
    Transport aviation is a must. A very large, almost disproportionate transport sector is a feature of the entire plan. That is in fact the basis of it all.
    Emphasis is on mobility not absolute numbers. Is an attempt to compensate by use of technology for the huge geographic disadvantage Russia always had compared to Anglo powers.

    Of course about the future we do not know anything. If Europe will remain true to its historic roots and will behave as usual, meaning it will descend into tribal warfare, then all the Russian plans have zero value and they will be forced/pulled to intervene. All attempts to create a safe sustainable system, geared towards capital accumulation and reduction of military consumption became meaningless is such a case.
    Unfortunately I have started to believe this is not a worst case scenario, it's rather the most probable one. The sheer amount of greed and stupidity in Europe is something which defies imagination. I am afraid only our cruelty and brutality might compare with those traits.
    So in conclusion Russian plans are quite rational, but it seems darkness is going to descend again upon Europe and in this case all those plans become wrong.

    PS> Have nothing against greed. That is why we are spread all over the globe and control more or less anything worth owning. But if it leads to the village getting burned down it is wrong.
    It is not a political or whatever statement. Do not get me wrong. I just noticed.
    I can understand plans which lead to dead Arabs and us in control of the energy flows. They have a purpose. For good or worse those are actions which can be understood.
    But actions which lead to us crushing the temple upon ourselves are something I do not understand.
    Anyway that is the largest danger for Russian plans. I do believe they made a planning mistake. Today Russian and American control is very weak on continental Europe. They did not imagine how very dangerous we are. Bad mistake.