Financial woes don't stop Russia funding new nuke weapon systems

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  March 2, 2009 at 11:36 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- Russia's critically weak finances won't slow its ambitious plans to modernize and upgrade its sea-, land- and air-based nuclear missiles, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's right-hand man announced Wednesday.

"The bulk of state defense orders in 2009 is allocated to the procurement of new weapons, (research and development) and modernization of existing arsenals, with priority given to the strategic nuclear triad, including the Strategic Missile Forces, the navy and strategic aviation," First Deputy Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the State Duma, the main chamber of the Russian Parliament, in a speech, RIA Novosti reported.

"It would certainly incur large expenses, but we do not have a choice, as we will have to continue developing and enhancing our nuclear deterrent," Ivanov added.

Russia is facing its worst economic crisis in more than a decade because the global economic recession has reduced prices for oil by more than $100 a barrel, from a record high last summer of nearly $147 a barrel to around $40 a barrel now. Russia is the world's second-largest exporter of petroleum after Saudi Arabia and the largest global exporter of oil and gas combined. Experts say Russia needs a global price for oil of around $90 a barrel to break even.

The Kremlin faces growing unrest across the vast Russian Federation -- still the largest nation in area in the world -- because of the many financial cutbacks it has been forced to make already in the face of the crisis. However, Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev remain determined to fund the massive weapons program expansion that they launched when times were still good.

Russia's defense and strategic nuclear budgets are far smaller than those of the United States, but because of the command economy structure of the Russian defense sector, those figures can be underestimated and may be misleading. RIA Novosti said the Russian government would spend around 1 trillion rubles ($28 billion) on major military and defense expenditures this year. In all, the total Russian defense budget is around $40 billion this year, the report said.

Ivanov directed Putin's programs to revive the Russian armed forces as defense minister before being promoted to first deputy premier, and is still pushing hard to advance his favored programs. According to RIA Novosti, he also told the Duma that funding would not be cut on risky, cutting-edge technology programs to create a new generation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance space-based intelligence-gathering and communications satellites.

Russian political and military leaders concluded last fall, after their rapid and successful conquest of one-third of the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the Caucasus, that the Russian army was still dangerously weak, compared with that of the United States, in its communications, command and control systems, and that these require updated space-based assets.

"A guaranteed nuclear deterrent system for various military and political circumstances must be provided by 2020," Medvedev recently stated, according to the report.

Sukhoi Su-35 to enter service in 2011

The Sukhoi division of Russia's United Aircraft Corp. has promised that its ambitious "fourth plus-plus generation" Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker multirole combat aircraft will become operational in 2011.

"The current progress of the Su-35 testing program confirms the earlier announced time frame for the deliveries of the aircraft to Russian and foreign customers in 2011," the company announced in a statement Feb. 19, as reported by RIA Novosti.

The Sukhoi Su-35 has been touted by Russia as its answer to the U.S. Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter. Critics claim the Sukhoi is not remotely as advanced in its electronics and updated equipment as the two U.S. aircraft. However, Sukhoi has a track record of building first-class, exceptionally fast and maneuverable air superiority fighters.

RIA Novosti said the first two Su-35 prototypes already have carried out 87 test flights since last July. The report said the aircraft had already proved their "superior technical and combat characteristics."

Sukhoi in all wants to give the prototypes 150 to 160 test flights, the report said.

RIA Novosti said the Su-35 had two 117S engines equipped with thrust vectoring capability and that, like its American rivals, it could take on several different hostile aircraft at the same time, firing guided and unguided missiles and other weapons.

The report said the aircraft also carried Russia's new Irbis-E radar and a phased antenna array that has the capability to lock on to as many as 30 aircraft at a time, fighting up to eight of them simultaneously. The Su-35 also carries a 30mm cannon with 150 rounds and up to eight tons of munitions for close air support roles.

RIA Novosti said Sukhoi was also confident it could sell as many as 160 of the aircraft around the world to such nations as India, Malaysia and Algeria.

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