The U.S. Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has revived a cold-war era practice of assessing Russian military power, and has now released a report indicating the Russian military is hard at work modernizing its capabilities and mission to better align with current events and the balance of international power.
“The Russian military has built on the military doctrine, structure, and capabilities of the former Soviet Union, and although still dependent on many of the older Soviet platforms, the Russians have modernized their military strategy, doctrine, and tactics to include use of asymmetric weapons like cyber and indirect action such as was observed in Ukraine,” according to the DIA report.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia invested little in its military. Though the Soviet Union notably renounced the first use of nuclear weapons, Russia now relies on those weapons to fill the gaps in its conventional military structure. Meanwhile, Russia continues to rebuild its conventional forces and move more aggressively into modern military technology.
Russia is now working on its largest military buildup since the end of the Cold War more than twenty years ago. Vladimir Putin has been pushing for this increase over the objections of forces within the Kremlin who worry that the costs of major military spending will have a negative impact on the Russian economy. Nevertheless, many Russians support this buildup. A Levada Center poll reports that 46 percent of Russians favor an increase in military spending even if it results in an economic slowdown, versus 41 percent who are opposed if it results in economic hardship.
Russian concerns are to protect its huge natural resources, particularly in the Arctic. Without a strong military, citizens perceive Russia as vulnerable to exploitation by stronger foreign powers. There is also a longing for Russia to regain its glory days as an economic and military superpower.
Military leaders around the world are paying attention to the fact that Russia has resumed bomber patrols in the Atlantic and Pacific, deployed task forces to various places, including some as far off as the Caribbean. Also concerning are budget reports and papers from the Russian Defense Ministry, describing expenditures that are raising eyebrows. A few years ago, Russia invested less than 10 percent of what the U.S. Navy invested in shipbuilding, and now the shipbuilding budget is approximately half of that allocated by the U.S. According to Russian Defense Ministry position papers, by 2020 the Russian army will have combat-ready, deployable brigades that are at least 70 percent equipped with modern weaponry and gear; they will have one million active-duty personnel, 2300 new tanks, 1200 new helicopters and planes, a navy deploying fifty new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines, and a hundred new satellites augmenting Russia’s communications and control capabilities.
Yet Russia’s goals don’t always align with their execution. Intelligence reports after the collapse of the Soviet Union showed a pattern of gross exaggeration and faulty intelligence. Whether or not the DIA’s analysis is accurate remains to be seen – but we can be sure that leaders will be watching from all over the globe.