East European military technology

Some reports about Russian arms industries are quite dismissive, and indeed, the ambitions of the political leadership appear to go beyond the competences shown by the Russian arms industry so far.

They may still lag in a couple of areas, have a reliability problem in systems such as the Bulava missile and are generally selling what mostly looks like refurbished versions of 1980's equipment.
Still, they have a couple specific strengths, and these should be respected.
The Western arms industries aren't exactly exemplary either with their excessive gold plating and living off "cost plus" development contracts more than off actual production, much less production for export.

One of the strengths of the Russian, Ukrainian and coincidentally also the Finnish arms industries is that they develop their stuff for cold temperatures, too.
Germany discovered the significance of this in 1941/42, when lubricants in German machineguns froze them into repeating rifles, tank gearboxes became inoperative and many other kinds of technical problems appeared at -20°C to -40°C.

The new and quite interesting (and cheap) Ukrainian anti-tank missile system "Korsar" or "Corsar" (105 mm calibre, laser beam rider, impressive "behind ERA" penetration claims) is an example for a system developed for low temperatures:
"Korsar" ATGM: laser beam rider, 105 mm tandem HEAT, man-portable
The missile can be launched at temperatures ranging from minus 40 to plus 60 degrees Celsius, whereas U.S. and Israeli systems are not designed to operate at temperatures lower than minus 20 degrees Celsius. (...) The anti-tank missile system costs only about $130,000, and missiles - $20,000, which is three or four times cheaper than their foreign analogues.

Civilian hardware has similar problems. Stories about Lada Niva 4x4 cars driving through snow in Arctic temperatures when import cars are dead already are widespread.

This chart shows the problem with mobile phones:
click on it for larger size, source

You don't learn about this relative problem during great power games in the Mid East.

Russian-equipped military forces could - if this low temperature issue is widespread enough - easily shatter Western military forces during winter time, which is an unacceptable scenario for the national security of the Easternmost NATO members.
But our attention is on great power games in the Mid East, of course. And of course the Russian arms industries are crumbling, produce obsolete products which are to be judged by the quality of exported monkey models and their missiles fly in circles anyway.


Edit: Another example - look at this Finnish machinegun's trigger guard. Looks funny and crude, doesn't it?
It's meant to allow use of the weapon with thick mittens.


  1. The Russians are currently very busy committing demographic suicide. If you think, their arms industry, just like their general economy, has had it tough in the 1990s and is on the rebound now - well - my humble prediction is, that they will be in a world of pain, come the 2020s and beyond. Harsh winters will have more immediate effects then on their people, too.

    I share your view of Russian tech, to some degree. Still, that new fashion in recent years of making noise about Russian military build-ups is vastly overblown, from my observation of their efforts. We would have much more of a problem, if there were a fairly heavily populated country in Eastern Europe, that had an antagonistic view of the West, a solid economy and close mil-tech ties with Russia. Very luckily for the EU this is not the case (though if it were, I bet, more emphasis would be put on continental defence).

    Though there might potentially be a problem, when a comparably well armed nation finds itself cornered or wrecked by internal stress, and that is something, that warrants continuous vigilance (leaving aside for a moment the whole nukes-issue). Esp since demographic trends in Eastern Europe do not exactly look stellar either.

    The combination of a crumbling Russia, Near East in quick and somewhat unpredictable motion and of course the changing landscape in East Asia will certainly make for an interesting couple of decades.

  2. I was thinking about adding some more useful ( I think) info and commenter Para gave the perfect pretext.
    1. Russian population is not falling. It is increasing at a low pace.
    Birth rate is higher then US' s number. US birth rate is at it's present relatively high level for a developed country due primarily to having high fertility Hispanic emigrants.
    Non Hispanic whites have a birth rate identical to the Russian one in the depth of the demographic crisis during late 90s.
    ( I am highly supportive to Mexicans colonizing US. But I had to offer the data in order to underline what the Russian number means. No ill meaning at all there about the mainly Mexican migration into El Norte.)


    2. Russian industry is rapidly recovering. It has suffered a near-fatal collapse in the 90s.
    It still has a long way to go but it is recovering at lightning speed.
    Few hints:


    Production base of the airspace industry had been massively overhauled. Order are in the range of hundreds. Many hundreds.
    The target is 160 civilian airliners per year in 2020 by only one company - Sukhoi. Even if it will be missed the trend in unmistakable.
    Another large operator will probably add significantly to this number. You can look at their aircraft industry for a more accurate view.
    3. Auto industry produced in 2012 a number of 2.2 mil vehicles. Total market was 3.1 mil.
    Production numbers are already at the level of the USSR at its peak.
    About the future :
    "Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade predicts continued growth of the country’s car market to 4.17 million by 2020 (at that point, a full 3.75 million and expected to be produced in Russia); PricewaterhouseCoopers is more conservative at 3.5 million (still 20% more than today)."
    The growth of the market has been kept under control through financial methods ( high auto credit rates and high insurance costs) in order to allow the auto industry to grow and catch up with the market.
    As in the case of airspace industry, even if the target will be missed it ain't collapse or a kind of tragedy.
    4. I have deliberately avoided the military, extractive/agriculture and construction industries. There is no doubt there about the production level and trends.
    5. It ain't collapsing neither demographically nor industrially. I do not know exactly what low quality propaganda outlets you have been reading dear Para but they have been lying.
    6. Russian military investments are not about developing offensive capabilities. They are merely intended to prevent the democracy loving people from spreading their wonders into the Russian neighborhood or on Russian soil.
    As we can see what kind of results the democracy spreading crowed aims for, it is hard finding faults into this peculiar Russian logic.
    Of course the ability to sometimes stop the US army from helping Salafi/Al Qaida brigades take over one country or another is an added bonus.


    1. Teo, for someone, who throws out accusations of propaganda at other folks, you are pretty loose and fast on your own facts. Indeed your selective little list is misleading and factually wrong in several aspects and you went as far as to bother with some "russophile" links, it seems pretty clear from where I am standing, that you got a large chip on your shoulder there.

      In any case:

      1) Russian population is almost constant, with very light growth that owes its existence exclusively to immigration, just as with some other countries, most notably Germany.

      Enlightening also, how you chose birth rate over TFR to make your case, as birth rate is a very poor indicator of long term growth, as it is actually being pushed up by high mortality, something that is a severe issue in Russia due to sub-par life expectency, with alcohol abuse, crime and general condition of the health system being major culling factors for the Russian population.

      Furthermore amusing is, that you want to pick apart ethnic fertility rates for the US, but neglect to do the same for Russia. Of course if you would do that, it would become plainly evident, that ethnic Russians have by far the lowest TFR (technically the lowest is with Russian Jews, but they have demographically already become irrelevant due to emigration, with only old people with little to no reproductive potential staying behind). TFR is highest among immigration families with non Russian ethnicity.

      Russia has to cope with a two-pronged challenge of both lowering the appalling mortality rate and raising fertility levels among its native population, Western countries face only one of those issues. Therefore Russia cannot apply the normal standard for TFR to sustain its population as easily as some other countries, it needs in fact a higher TFR, voiding your 1:1 comparison with places like the US. Even more important, immigration into Russia is not handled even nearly as well as in the US, which despite all the fear-mongering and racism in US domestic discussions and abroad has successfully absorbed millions of immigrants and remains an attractive place of immigration not just for unskilled labour.
      Whatever you trying to make of your numbers, those facts dont go away.

      2: Your hyperbolic language (lightning speed etc) in economical matters needs some perspective. The 1990s have been a time of total anarchy in these matters, Russian growth is no more impressive in this regard than that of African countries. You rise quickly, if you start at rock bottom.
      Car industry is one of the few positive examples, and only due to massive easing of foreign investment in recent years. This growth is not coming from Russian manufacturers. Thats not criticism, but an observation. Of course Russia could regain economic life much quicker, if such investment were encouraged on a wider scale, but talk to investors and you will hear the same old story, that it remains a challenge due to arbitrary application of laws and the general character of Putins command and control-approach. Again, better than the 1990s, but very much not the stellar success you are trying to make it.

      End part 1.

    2. Part 2:

      3:Aerospace is actually a great example here, and something I do pay attention to. Your Sukhoi-example, which you try to make out as just one case, that will be followed by others ("just one company" etc) is misleading, The UAC has been a consolidation-effort, that basically put Sukhoi in charge of nearly everyting. MIG is finished, they will fall back to being a subcontractor, once their original products have run the course of life. Sukhoi is in fact the only healthy defence company, that can still innovate on a larger scale, thanks to coming out on top at the end of the 1990s. Talk to Russian airline operators and ask them, what planes they would like to buy instead. Russian manufacturers wont make that list. Sukhoi will have an uphill battle promoting the Superjet, they will compete not just with four strong Western competitors, but in time face the Chinese too. The number of airframes they will put into the market remains to be seen, but 160 remains an aspirational number, as low as it is, and entry into service for the model has so far confirmed everything observers have worried about regarding Russian practices (ie. low reliability, bad support in maintenance and repairs). I wish them luck out of sympathies for Sukhoi, but you are trying to make out a success story, where none exists so far.

      4: Shame (or convenient) you skipped over extractive industries, as thats a very mixed bag and will become more of an issue, as time progresses. Gas is looking good for the medium term, but crude oil, a major cash-source is in long term decline, with the large Russian fields (Russia/SU is a very old crude producer) coming to the end of their lives, and no relevant new capacities (Russia is well explored in terms of oil thanks to SU efforts, there are no new reserves beyond the stuff, that is known).
      Generally many of the reserves in resources some people speak so glowingly about are located in Siberia in places, where cost of extraction is significant and not nearly comparable with the cost-benefit-ratio which Russia is digging for at the moment and in the past.

      I'll probably write something about the ship-building industry and general arms industry later on, as time is limited for me at the moment. Lets just say, that there are plenty more cases that illustrate the hyperbolic assessments some make about progress and improvement in Russian affairs, and they are not exceptional examples picked for convenience, something you seem to do way too much.


    3. Russia benefits from global warming because it makes the resources in Siberia more accessible. The sea route along their northern shore is gaining traction as a reliable and short connection between Europe and Eastern Asia. With shipping using this North East passage, the infrastructural position of Siberia changes a lot. It is no longer reliant on the Transsib and riverine transport alone. Shipping along Russias northern shore does massively affect the costs of resourcs extraction form the frozen land that is becoming more and more unfrozen. The less progress we make in climate protection, the better off is the Russian economy. Their longterm prospects look quite good, but they could be better. Official data on Russia is not reliable, because of a very widespread "black market" of tax dodging arrangements in all kinds of transactions. Their state system does not appear to have a rosy future, it's still a long way to go until that land functions well.

  3. I think the main idea behind my echoe got lost.

    1. Russian demography is neither Pakistan's nor Mexico's.
    But it is not collapsing. That is a simple fact.
    Any planning that involves " and the Russians are gonna die out" is only wishful thinking. Because they are not dieing out.
    The ethnic aspect is an interesting one.
    Caucasian republics represent around 5% of the total population of the RF. I shall allow the Ossetians in.
    Only Chechenia has a fertility rate above replacement level and significantly higher then the country as a whole.
    Adding the Volga "muslim" republics you get around 12%. Half of the Volga republics inhabitants are Russian. Their fertility rate is lower or around the median number of the country. Society is secular anyway.
    So yes the Caucasian group will add around one million people in the next 2 decades -less then 1% of the total. How is this going to change the ethnic balance I can not see.
    2. Russia is not going to become a manufacturing hub like China anytime soon. It is a complete impossibility due to geography.
    But it's industrial base is not "crumbling " either.
    To imagine the "crumbling" part and plan accordingly seems to me a pretty erroneous way of getting whatever one desires - like the Russian collapsing and dieing out.
    We can see that due to the amount of red tape or whatever present in Russia they are "crumbling" while areas completely under NATO military control and integrated into Western economic and financial structures - at the bottom of course - have had stellar performances.
    From Latvia to Greece great results came to Eastern and Southern Europe.
    Those areas are in a demographic collapse stage and their economies are crumbling.
    Russia is not going through those unpleasant developments. You missed the target a little bit.

    3. Military side of the aircraft industry has already recovered. That is why I did not mention it. What they are trying to do is to reach an equilibrium between the military and the civilian sides.
    Starting from scratch is not easy, especially in such a high tech high value added activity.
    The other operator I mentioned - brand, OK - is Irkut and it's MS-21 airliner.
    I do not know if the Superjet will reach a target of 160 pieces in 2020. But if they reach 100 it is clearly a great increase from 6. It means it is not "crumbling".
    Russian airliners be they the Superjet or MS-21 not going to take over the world market. But it is not crumbling either.
    What they target is to have a significant percentage of the global market.
    They have invested the capital, they have the orders, they are involved in strategic partnerships with various suppliers from around the world, I can see that at least a medium level of success is probable.
    The helicopter industry's great success allows us to estimate that their airplane manufacturing colleagues are probably going to succeed in reaching the modest goals they aim for.
    4. We are hitting resource limits. We live in a finite world.
    Russia has very large natural resources. But I did not suggest they are infinite.
    As we can observe hitting the limits leads to significant price increases which benefit the producers.
    Russia is going to have a problem when we won't afford to buy their energy exports.
    As we move downwards on the resource pyramid the financial limits of resource extraction will be eventually reached. Our economies will not afford to pay for the extraction prices and we will stop buying - some call this collapse.
    It is of no benefit to us.
    Countries like Spain or Japan which have a large percentage of oil and gas into their energy mix are collapsing right now. But of course Russia is in trouble.
    What are they going to do if we just get angry and drop dead? Oy vey poor them.
    I would pity us not them.


  4. In conclusion:
    1. Russia is not collapsing, neither demographically nor industrially.
    It is not going to become a manufacturing juggernaut like China and it's population isn't increasing like India's.
    2. Any reasonable planning should consider that the Russians in one form or another are here to stay for some time.
    That is all I wanted to say.

    I do not understand what is the problem with life expectancy. Russia reached a peak death point sooner then the Western countries. The large age cohort born many decades ago died a few years earlier then their western counterparts. The same is going to happen pretty soon in all Western countries. The number of deaths is exactly the same as the number of births. The impact on the active population is minimal if grandpa dies a few year earlier.
    The correlation between age cohorts and fertility rates is a difficult one to make. The final numbers are pretty similar to the rest of the developed world. Better then most, worse then some. But Russia is not an outlier.


  5. In the mean time.
    The industrial base of Western Europe, US and Japan is getting pummeled by the high energy prices and by Chinese competition.
    Population is getting older fast so the social costs are increasing.
    The strategic map is changing.
    But it is not Russia the one crumbling.
    The power gradient is changing very fast and that means that planning should take this into consideration.
    (For the time being some of the Western block have managed quite fine, Germany and Sweden come to mind.
    But they did it by climbing on the mast faster then the ship is sinking. It does not change the status of the block.)

    I do not have a crystal ball. I do not know what is going to happen. But I can read the numbers.
    European auto industry is collapsing. The much smaller Russian one is increasing. So neither great intelligence nor great prediction abilities are needed to see that.
    European auto industry is crumbling. Russian one not. It is a very simple fact.

    The power gradient in the near future depends on 2 parameters.
    1. How the Russian reindustrialization /rearmament process evolves.
    2. How fast European economic/industrial base crumbles.
    We can not make any estimation with any pretense of accuracy. But both factor are at work as we speak.

    Any assessment that does not take both into consideration is bound to be highly inaccurate and useless.


  6. I would appreciate if the longterm cooperation between Russia and India was highlighted. It seems different from the situation between Russia and China, not to speak of India and China.
    You can see Russia as Eastern European, but you can also see them as Central Eurasian. The Central Eurasian position might be more appropriate, because it puts them within the context of a US-aligned block and the rising China. Their products must provide defence against these, especially for their resource treasure in Siberia that already attracted the last invader (disounting Georgia in Ossetia). It's only natural that they prepare to fight on ice and snow in deep winter.
    A remilitarizing Argentina would be among the important customers of their hardware with conflict in the cold south.
    I also wonder why Russia is not mentioned among the nations investing into A2/AD. Their systems are useful for that purpose. Seems like the A2/AD debate is a veiled threat of further invasions of Iran and finally PR China (!!!)?

  7. Sorry for going a little bit of topic.
    Absolutely false data would have derailed the debate towards irrelevance.

    You are on to something very important with the Russian interest and investments in preparing possible tensions or conflict in Arctic conditions.
    Lets see what they have to say about it. I Shall give quotations from Russian sources:
    "According to expert estimates, the Arctic contains 90 billion barrels of oil and 47,000,000,000,000 (trillion) cubic meters of natural gas. The Arctic continental shelf may hold as much as a quarter of all of the world’s deposits of hydrocarbons and an equivalent of 10,000,000,000 (billion) tons of oil, not to mention the gold, nickel and diamonds.

    Russian researchers estimate the non-discovered reserves of hydrocarbons, bedded potentially in the Russian water area, at 9 billion to 10 billion tons of equivalent fuel;"

    "Global warming and the melting of the Arctic permafrost will soon unlock the Arctic Ocean treasures.

    This prospective change has caused the Arctic to now be wrangled over by the Arctic Five – Russia, Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway, of which only Russia, it must be noted, is not a NATO member. The alliance clearly specified its interest in the Arctic at the November 2010 Lisbon summit."
    "Canada allocated money to build a deep water port and a Navy base in the abandoned town of Nanisivik and the launched the renovation and the expansion of a military training base in Resolute Bay and ordered the construction of new Arctic patrol ships. The country’s Arctic military contingent has also been increased tenfold. Even though Canada has no constant military presence in the Arctic it has been carrying out annual drills called Operation Nanook to train for emergencies and disasters and since 2007 it has been conducting sovereignty patrols in the Arctic.

    In 2010 the Canadian war games, for the first time, featured troops from the US and Denmark which gave Canada official status as a NATO observer in the Arctic. In summer 2011 the exercises were joined by the US and NATO Air Forces and included jet fighters, spy planes and cargo aircraft."

    "Norway, for its part, opened a new hi-tech Arctic Circle Centre north of Mo i Rana near the Arctic Circle. The country also moved its main military base to the location and used it as the venue for the Cold Response drills in the summer of 2011 which featured 10,000 NATO and Norwegian troops."


    NATO and Russia are going to have a heated debate over the resources of the Arctic. The better armed will take the prize. I mean will bring democracy to the oil and gas fields.
    Russia preparing a significant part of its armed forces for operations in very cold areas is a reality. But it does not involve Central Europe.
    Western media has kept a very tight lid on any information regarding the current efforts made by their armed forces into the Arctic area.
    Of course that is only normal, in democratic countries media shows only what the government and corporate sector considers fit for printing.
    Consequently you will find only strange info regarding unexplained Russian moves in that area. In fact Russian actions mirror US/UK ones (rest are vassals, just like in Warsaw Pact, only the owner of the alliance makes decisions).

    What we see is the militarization on the Arctic. Stakes are enormous it seems.


  8. I also do not think Russia is in poll position. Others started early and in force.
    "starting with 2007, there’ve been huge war maneuvers on the Swedish and Norwegian soil, with all NATO, and specifically the American State participating in huge maneuvers in the north.

    They were called for instance: Nordic Air Meet in 2007 where a lot of countries took part, and then in 2009, it was Loyal Arrow: history’s largest air maneuver in the northern part of Sweden and Norway, and also Finland was the area. And then it continued with the Cold Response №1, a winter maneuver in the northern part of Sweden and northern Norway. And it continued in March 2012 with the Cold Response №2 with 16,500 soldiers from 15 different countries. And then after this you had last autumn a huge maneuver in the north called Nordic Air Meet №2.

    So, there are ongoing military war games and some Russian military has protested, specifically against Cold Response №2."

    But as I said before, the essence of free media is to publish only what the government wants published. That is why Russian actions seem so mysterious.

    Looking through Russian eyes we see:
    1. Potentially enormous energy resources will become available in the Arctic.
    2. Arctic counsel countries are directing their military resources into that direction.
    3. Almost all their NATO allies - except Russia all Arctic counsel states are in NATO - are exercising for war in the area. Coming to help against "After an earthquake in the fictional country of Asando, an armed conflict by extremists and separation-groups against government forces erupts.".
    Have I mentioned that everyone is in NATO except Russia?

    4. Media reports nothing except various unexplained bits about Putin wanting to steal the North Pole from Santa or something similar.

    What possible conclusion can the Russian government draw?
    What is to be done?

    Sven noticed a small part of the response. And it does not involve Slovakia.
    The Russian armed forces are really preparing for conflict in Arctic conditions. Those are to be found precisely in the Arctic.
    Until now I thought that US/UK and their vassals had a clear upper hand. Current persistent economic difficulties throw a shadow over their ability to greatly increase their military presence there. Coupled with the importance Russia accords to the area and the speed and strength of the response we can estimate that quite a heated debate will take place in the North.


  9. Just in case there's a misunderstanding:
    I am not interested in the freezing temperature reliability of Russian hardware because of the Arctic.
    The Arctic would be fought over by ships and aircraft, and I suppose the de-icer additives of today can keep warships operational up north nowadays (remember the self-decontamination system of warships).

    Instead, I am interested because a superiority at <-20°C would equal an almost annual window of opportunity for a Russian coup de main in border conflicts even with NATO. A kind of intentional South Ossetia intervention scenario. Russia could also overrun Ukraine in case it tilts to the West and NATO might be unable to effectively intervene on the ground (not necessarily a bad thing, though).

    The freezing temperature issue is more about Estonia than Greenland. And it's something which I cannot recall having seen pointed out elsewhere.

  10. There isn't much that can be said about Estonia in this context.
    With the partial exception of Poland Eastern Europe is disarming. From a low level to almost nothing.
    Neither the economic not the demographic resources can allow a resurgence of the area.
    Having a buffer area is a nice advantage for Russia.
    No reason to do anything. Of course Russian banks and corporations are pretty active but that is another issue.
    Ukraine is a different matter. A possible Russian military intervention to support a secessionist movement of Southern - Eastern part if the country is a distinct possibility. I do not see what the US would have to with it. Maybe extract some concessions in other areas for not creating problems.
    Such a scenario is not connected to Winter operations.

    In conclusion I think that we can conclude that Russian are not coming. In winter or otherwise.
    Not to Eastern or Central Europe.
    Russian economic influence is probably going to increase significantly.

    Taking an area in EE as a buffer was done before. It was bad move. It won't be repeated again in the predictable future.
    As things are right now, EE is a nice asset for Russia.
    A good customer for Russian energy and a non existent military threat. No reason to change that.
    Of course Russian banks replacing Austrian ones would increase the economic value of EE for Russia, but that does not involve any need for military moves either.

    Estonia is the only country of the Baltics which is not collapsing. At least not rapidly. A nice xenofobic country. I mean a paragon of democracy.
    It is the only uncertainty we have. For Russia, a military intervention there would mean a lot of trouble and very little to gain. Except Estonian braves eating the hearts of their enemies due to an increased love of democracy l can not see a possible Russian intervention.
    And they'd start chopping only as part of a larger US operation.
    As no one thinks a large US presence is coming anytime soon to a recreated Eastern front, no heart eating is gonna happen and no Russian invasion is going to come.

    PS. I have repeated the "democracy" , ""freedom lovers" words to underline something. Do not consider it as being statement, political or otherwise.
    I wanted to underline that US is currently rapidly losing the soft power which afforded it a very easy ride.
    And even in EE this changes everyones positions.
    That might change the current alignment in the future.
    This loss is not normally taken into consideration.
    I think you can attest to how public opinion has changed in Germany. I traveled around a little bit. It is the same almost everywhere.
    EE was not won by military means. It was soft not hard power in action.

    So a winter war scenario might happen but in a different configuration I can not imagine and I won't even try.

    For the time being no need to worry about a winter coup de main. EE is not armed. It won't be in the predictable future.US has larger fish to fry in other places. It won't move there in any numbers.
    Russia has a lot to lose by taking it and absolutely nothing to gain.


  11. Germany discovered the significance of this in 1941/42, when lubricants in German machineguns froze them into repeating rifles, tank gearboxes became inoperative and many other kinds of technical problems appeared at -20°C to -40°C.

    Great point.