Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:
A distinctive feature of the Russian power vertical is that leaders do not bother determining what government officials have already said on a particular subject before preparing their own remarks. At a meeting on security agency budgets on May 24, President Dmitry Medvedev set the goal of modernizing at least 30 percent of Russia’s weaponry by 2015. The president was apparently unaware of the previous arms program, announced by then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov three years ago. In 2007, Ivanov told State Duma deputies that the program would rearm 45 percent of the military by 2015. It failed miserably.
In addition, officials often do not feel obliged to fulfill the orders of their bosses — even those issued by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In a February meeting on the new armament program, Putin ordered that 70 percent of the country’s armed forces be modernized by 2020. But at a recent Duma hearing, acting army chief Lieutenant General Oleg Frolov contradicted Putin. Frolov said the 13 trillion rubles ($418.4 billion) for rearmament to be allocated over the next 10 years was only sufficient for modernizing Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, air defense forces and aviation. He said 36 trillion rubles ($1.2 trillion) would be needed to carry out all of the tasks put before the armed forces.
Thus, the new armaments program is doomed to fail, just like the four previous plans. All of these programs go through the same life cycle:
Stage 1: New goals are ceremoniously proclaimed stating exactly what percent of the military will be rearmed over the next 10 years.
Stage 2: The government allocates trillions of rubles with lofty promises about modernizing the armed forces with new technology and weapons programs.
Stage 3: The money disappears without a trace — or at least the traces are ignored. And then the whole cycle repeats itself in the next round of “weapons modernization programs.”
During the meeting on security agency budgets, nobody asked Ivanov, who was sitting next to Putin, why the previous armament program had failed several years ago. Why didn’t anybody ask Ivanov where the tanks and armored vehicles were for equipping 40 tank battalions, 97 motorized infantry battalions and 50 airborne battalions that he had promised in 2007 — not to mention the five brigades equipped with Iskander missiles? Why was there not a peep about the much-vaunted S-400 missile defense systems, only two of which have been deployed?
It goes without saying that corruption is one of the main reasons why so little modern weaponry has been manufactured over the past 10 to 15 years. Kickbacks for weapons contracts can account for 30 percent to 50 percent of the total cost. The level of corruption in military weapons programs grows with every year, despite all the methods announced by Medvedev to curb kickbacks.
The other major problem is that Putin and Ivanov have created a parody of the Soviet military-industrial complex. Huge, clunky and inefficient Soviet-era ministries have been revived in the form of state-owned giants such as the United Aircraft Corporation and the United Shipbuilding Corporation — both of which were created by then-President Putin’s decrees in 2006 and 2007.
Just like their Soviet analogues, these government behemoths are on the brink of bankruptcy. The price tag for delivering the proposed military equipment includes the cost of keeping those dying firms afloat. This makes the defense industry enormously inefficient. Recently published Audit Chamber data reveals that only 64 percent of state defense orders were filled last year.
Another pie-in-the-sky goal is the plan to switch all military communications to digital technologies by 2012. This goal is hardly attainable considering that 85 percent of the army’s technologies are still stuck in the old analog system. Take, for example, the ultramodern prototype radio unit that Medvedev recently demonstrated. These units can only be manufactured abroad. It would be interesting to know which country will be producing Russia’s secret military communications technology and which country will supply the spare parts. Perhaps France will offer its know-how as a follow-up to the Mistral ship deal, or perhaps China will sign a technology-transfer contract with Russia.
In reality, nobody has any serious plans to resolve the problems of the domestic military-industrial complex. It remains a cash cow for corrupt military officials and enables hundreds of dying companies to stay alive on the state’s highly expensive and wasteful life-support system.
The one thing the country’s military-industrial complex cannot do, however, is provide the armed forces with the modern weaponry it so urgently needs.