by Mark Galeotti .
Russia’s military is only at 82 percent of its proper establishment strength and is likely to shrink even more than planned in coming years, thanks to demographic shifts and the continued failure to make it an appealing career choice. If deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin gets his way, part of this shortfall will be made up for by a major shift towards the introduction of drones and robotic weapon systems.
In an address to the Russian Duma, Rogozin — whose portfolio includes the defense industries — cited robotic weaponry, drones and advanced automated combat management systems as priorities for the new state arms procurement program to cover 2016-25.
As well as a general rationalization of systems, with fewer but modular and versatile vehicles and pieces of equipment, produced in larger and more cost-efficient runs, Rogozin wants to see a rapid expansion of Russia’s use of military drones on land, at sea and in the air.
In the Chechen war, Pchela-1T and Stroi-P drones helped vector helicopters and artillery fire at rebels. However, Russia has lagged behind the United States and even countries such as Israel and Italy in developing and deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Russia’s drones certainly proved relatively ineffective in the 2008 Georgian War. Only in 2012 did the Defense Ministry form a division to manage drone research and development.
Already, Russia has begun to increase its use of drones. Up to 12 Zala-421 and Gorizont-Air-S100 drones will be deployed in the skies over Sochi during February’s Winter Olympics. However, many of these systems are relatively simple or else foreign-built or –designed. Russia has bought Israeli Bird Eye-400, I-View Mk150 and Searcher Mk.2 UAVs, for example, and in 2012 Rogozin discussed a Russo-Israeli joint venture to produced new designs.
However, Rogozin is an outspoken nationalist who has made much of the need for the Russian military to buy Russian weapons, and so he is also pushing the country’s domestic robot and drone sector. A wide range of new designs are emerging, from the wheeled Kompas RURS Reconnaissance and Strike Robot, able to patrol areas autonomously, through to the Altius-M attack drone, Russia’s answer to the missile-armed US MQ-9 Reaper.
Russian drone technology is behind that of the United States — according to some, by perhaps twenty years. However, Rogozin is looking to the long term and current defense minister Sergei Shoigu seems to share his enthusiasm for drones. A specialized military Bezpilotniy Letayuschiy Apparat — the Russian term for UAV — operator training center has been opened on the outskirts of Moscow. The MiG Skat (‘Stingray’) stealth drone is now under development. By 2040, Moscow may be deploying massive, long-range nuclear drone bombers, even though Rogozin has cast doubts about the survivability of such weapons.
However, what still remains to be seen is whether Russia’s budget will remain able to afford this ambitious new shopping list and whether Russia’s defense industries really can produce leading-edge designs.http://blogs.blouinnews.com/blouinbeatpolitics/2013/12/15/russia-turns-to-drones-and-robots-as-army-shrinks/