Technological differences between the Russian Army and the Red Army

The arsenal that Russia used in the South Ossetian War was mostly Cold War gear, plus some newer material that was mostly an evolutionary improvement over said Cold War gear.

The only Russian aircraft seen on videos and shot down were attack and reconnaissance aircraft of Cold War vintage, the involved fighters did apparently not fly low enough to be filmed. There are very few non-Cold War aircraft types available anyway.

The photographed armoured vehicles were pretty much typical 1980's equipment. I didn't see a photo of T-64's yet, but surprisingly some T-62's. I didn't spot new equipment like BMP-T, BMP-3, T-90 yet. Even T-80's were apparently not used.
The most modern AFV that I identified on published photos was so far a 2K22 Tunguska air defense AFV.

The involved forces represented the better half of the Russian army - this shows quite clearly the old technology that coins the Russian armed forces TODAY.
There's still a chance that the less visible equipment (electronic warfare tools, radios and such) is more modern, but reports about the Russian Army don't suggest this.

The Russian Army doesn't need to look like this in some years, though. Outdated armies are likely candidates for strong modernization efforts, especially if the fiscal situation develops favourably as in Russia '08.

The Russians developed a lot of gear to prototype or troop-testing stage and didn't procure much in the past years. That's reminiscent of the 1933 Reichswehr, which begun its expansion and modernization with late 20's equipment.
A possible Russian Army modernization in the next few years would (on the material side) likely see a quantity procurement of known equipment.

There are some especially interesting and conceptually different systems that pose significant challenges to NATO military technology and tactics - no matter whether employed by Russia or its arms customers:

Tactical ballistic missile Iskander
This missile enables to destroy critical targets like bridges, airfields and ships (at least in harbour) even in face of enemy air supremacy. This is a challenge for the land-based air defenses and apparently a major reason for the ABM missile versions in the Patriot, MEADS and SAMP missile SAM systems. The effectiveness of such interceptors against a maneuvering Iskander missile is unproven, though.
Its accuracy is the primary problem; the user can select where to hit a bridge instead of just hoping to hit it somewhere.

Long-range surface-to-air missile system S-400
This is a post-Cold War long-range air defense missile with active radar seeker.
Its range is superior to the publicized Western anti-radar missile (HARM and ALARM) nominal ranges (about 90km) and most likely superior to their practical ranges.
A cluster of such SAM systems can cover a huge area and might offer at least defensive air superiority in combination with the newer versions of MiG-29 and the Su-27 family.

Active defense suites and heavy ERA on tanks
This is a technical and tactical challenge, as it's a step forward for the survivability of tanks against most anti-tank weapons. Many modern anti-tank guided missiles are very unsatisfying against such defenses, even Systems like Javelin, Hellfire and Spike might fail against a modern-concept hard-kill active defense suite. The Russians pioneered this technology a generation ago and did likely not publish about their newest models. Western active defense suite brochures already claim effectiveness against the most challenging threats (top attack missiles and Mach 5 dense metal APFSDS arrows).

Long-rage multiple rocket launcher 9K58 Smerch
This multiple rocket launcher (MRL) was originally deployed immediately before the end of the Cold War, but improvements of the ammunition changed the characteristics a lot.
Its maximum range of 70 to 90 km protects the launcher vehicle against most artillery counter-fire efforts (only air attacks and ATACMS missiles pose significant threats).
The use of relatively cheap trajectory control technologies (not full guidance, but reduction of the range dispersion) enable a useful dispersion and pattern-firing even at long ranges.
NATO forces can do a lot with their tools against howitzers and even self-proelled howitzers and shorter-ranged MRLs. A long-range MRL with good dispersion is a significant threat that cannot be considered as under control yet.

Short-range multiple rocket launcher TOS-1 Buratino
This is basically an old main battle tank hull with a short range MRL. It originated in the 1980's, but only became publicly known much later. The rockets have only the range of a light mortar, but their low ballistic trajectory might hide them from counter-artillery radars in many terrains and the hull isn't easily impressed by counter-fires anyway.
The real problem is the warhead, though. The 220mm rocket has a thermobaric warhead that pretty much says "forget about fortifications" to its opponents.
The system could quickly be produced in huge quantities because of the availability of thousands of tank hulls for conversion.

Tank Support Fighting Vehicle BMP-T
This is again a system that could be quantity-produced by conversion of old MBT hulls. The Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) concept has always been questionable due to the lesser protection than the MBTs which were to be escorted by the IFVs. The ability of mounted infantrymen to deliver effective suppressive fires with personal weapons was questionable against unguided short-range anti-tank weapons like Panzerfaust, Bazooka and RPG types and non-existing against ATGMs. An auto cannon, one or two mediocre ATGMs and a coaxial machine gun were rather moderate fire support for MBTs - especially in comparison to what the BMP-T offers.
The BMP-T has a MBT hull with MBT-like survivability. It has an overhead weapon station with dual autocannon that could rip IFVs and nearby helicopters apart, long-range ATGMs that could kill AFVs and helicopters at longer ranges than a MBT's main gun and automatic grenade launcher in a suppressive fire role reminiscent of WW2 tanks' bow machine guns.
This package might prove to be a much more effective fire support against those opponents that MBTs don't have under control. The higher-than-IFV survivability might enable an armoured unit to sustain an offensive longer than a MBT/IFV mixed unit could (because the latter could quickly be turned into a vulnerable MBT-only force).

These were some very visible and well-known weapon weapons that are available to Russia. They're cornerstones of technological-tactical counters to some NATO army technological strengths. The more challenging stuff is likely not publicly known yet.

The equipment used in the South Ossetia War deserves to be considered as basically 1980's equipment. The Russian Army would change its technological face rapidly if it modernizes its arsenal. The new equipment would pose new challenges and make well-established ideas about conventional warfare obsolete.


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