MOSCOW (RIA Novosti commentator Viktor Litovkin) - Two years ago Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said, "The military reform has largely been completed." This statement must now be reconsidered in line with more recent statements made by other Defense Ministry heads and the Russian president.
Vladimir Putin said at a Security Council session that the "the heads of the security agencies have not yet managed to implement the agreed military reform programs."
"The long-term program for the development of the Armed Forces should be based on a clear understanding of the many factors that are pertinent today. It should be appropriate to the rapidly changing situation in the world," Putin said. "Accurate analysis of the nature of the threats posed by international terrorism, drug trafficking, industrial accidents and social and ethnic conflicts in regions bordering Russia is essential. And these kinds of problem still exist within our country as well. Of course, we should also keep our powder dry for solving other global problems. Let us never forget that."
There are many urgent problems facing the Russian army. We will concentrate on just one of them, namely the introduction of modern weapons and combat support systems, because unless we do this, it will be impossible to counter terrorism, drug trafficking, ethnic and other conflicts or more serious potential threats.
The Defense Ministry has released official statistics showing the present state of Russian weapons and military hardware: about half of all tanks (of which there are about 20,000) require major repairs, only 20% of weapons meet modern requirements, and only 30% of fighter planes are combat ready.
At the same time, more money has been allocated in the 2005 federal budget for weapons purchases than Russia received from arms exports in 2004. The exact budget figure is 186 billion rubles, or $6.3 billion, while arms exports were $5.7 billion.
One of the key problems is that the mechanism for allocating funds for research and development and for direct weapons purchases remains underdeveloped. In a recent interview with one of Moscow's newspapers, deputy defense minister, head of the Russian Armed Forces, Army General Alexei Moskovsky complained that from 2001 to 2004 the weapons program suffered a 160-170 billion rubles or $5.8 billion funding shortfall. This is roughly the sum set aside for weapons purchases in 2005. There is a simple reason for this: the state budget is drawn up annually, and almost all high-tech weapons take three to ten years to develop. Therefore, every year weapons designers have to spend valuable time proving to various government bodies and parliament that their work is going well and that the country should continue to fund it. They do not always succeed in arguing their case, and then their projects are stopped. As a result, the army does not get what it needs.
This is one of the reasons why the Air Force has still not received the long-promised Mi-28N helicopter, the "night hunter." It also explains why outdated strategic submarine missiles have not been replaced, and why not only the military but also the president have repeatedly stated that the country urgently needs to develop modern reconnaissance and communications systems.
These reconnaissance systems include unmanned aerial vehicles. Russia has a high-precision tactical missile system, Iskander, which has a range of 280 km and can locate the most hard-to-reach targets. But so far there is no unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle with such a long range. This also constrains rearmament.
The solution to the problem is already known. Federal budgets should be drawn up not just for one year but for three years and even longer. Then funds could be allocated for the development and purchase of arms and combat equipment on a more systematic basis. Funding for weapons manufacturers would be more secure. All the Russian government ministers, including those from the Finance Ministry and Economic Trade and Development Ministry, agree that this is the way forward, but so far no progress has been made toward implanting the proposed changes.