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Delays in Russian Programmes as Sanctions Bite

T-14 ARMATA Now a Decade Behind Planned Deployment

Commentary from the defence academic community in late February has led to informed speculation as to the state of several major Russian defence equipment programmes – programmes that have been prominent components of NATO’s developing perception of a resurgent threat from the former superpower.

Dr. Igor Sutyagin, a senior research fellow at the prestigious Royal United Services Institute in London, believes that the first batch of 64 T-14 ARMATA main battle tanks will not be delivered for testing until early 2021. The original forecast for the 2,300 vehicle programme was for initial quantities to be operational by 2021. Andrew Frolov from the Centre for Anlysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow says the same problems plaguing the KURGANETS-25 and BUMERANG armoured vehicle s also. As far as causes are concerned, both academics point to the effect of UN-imposed sanctions since 2014 have had on the Russian defence industry, as well as problems with software, a lack of funding and the generally poor state of the industry.

At the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon issued a regular document entitled ‘Soviet Military Power,’ in which the capabilities and advances of the Soviet military machine were painstakingly catalogued, analysed and commented upon. With hindsight, it is evident that hawks within DoD and the wider defence community used the document to promote an exaggerated view of Soviet capability, in order to influence Congress (and the general public) and generate increased funding for defence. Is the same now happening with respect to NATO?

The ARMATA and its companion vehicles have been much vaunted and oft quoted examples of Russian advances among NATO military circles – and have been used to justify and/or support policies as diverse as setting targets for national defence spending to collaborative funding of research and development programmes. They have inspired significant innovation among allied nations in active protection systems and advanced anti-armour munitions and have fuelled an entirely new season of the mobility-firepower-protection debate among military analysts – both uniformed and armchair varieties.

Has it been hyperbole winning out over reality, however? That there has been exaggeration and misconception of the capabilities of Russian industry is certain. But NATO is right to be concerned, in MONS’ view. The operational debut of the vehicles in question may be delayed and their capabilities may turn out to be less awe-inspiring than was at once feared: time will tell on that front. But the programmes are significant – and of immense concern – in that they signify Russian intent. Taken alongside the general revamping of military equipment and the wholesale recapitalisation of the military training system, it is evident that a “resurgent Russia” is a real threat. It is to be hoped that the apparent proof that Moscow is not immune to Western-style procurement debacles in the defence sphere does not lull NATO planners (and their political authorities) into a false sense of security.

Tim Mahon

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