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Useful Notes: Russians with Rusting Rockets
aka: Tricolours With Rusting Rockets
Dammit, that's the third time this week!

"When they complained about our escorting their "Blackjack" bombers I just wanted to say that we just wanted to be there for search and rescue if they needed it."
Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense, January 2009

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation found itself rather short of cash militarily. The USSR had spent a huge proportion of its budget, and by extension tied up huge shares of its GDP, in sustaining the largest peacetime military in world history (in absolute and proportional terms). Given that cuts in social benefits (in addition to the already reigning economical chaos) would've resulted in widespread riots and other nasty stuff, the government found that lavish Soviet-time military spending is something that new Russia could no longer afford to do.

This meant that a lot of stuff ended up rusting. This really isn't helpful when it's a nuclear submarine. It's been estimated by some analysts that only about 30 of 300 Russian ships could've been put to sea at any one time. This situation has been steadily improving since about 2005, with large scale rearmament programs in place (though invariably slipping in deadlines and costs, but that's another matter), and some cool new stuff in the pipeline, but it's a rather slow process. At least the old hardware gets to be properly maintained and modernized again at last.

The Reds with Rockets were broken up among the new states, with all their forces being withdrawn from East Germany, as well as the Central and Eastern European states that had been satellites. The nuclear forces ended up all in the hands of Russia or destroyed. Russia retained some foreign facilities in the new states, including the Garbala radar tracking station in Azerbaijan, the Sevastopol naval base in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsulanote  and various posts in Armenia and Central Asia.

Insert new ship name to continue

A lot of ship names had to be changed because they were no longer politically correct, referring to places now in independent states, or in some cases to Communist figures who were considered rather less admirable under the new regime. They sometimes ended up being changed again when stuff was sold on.

This can cause some confusion.

Your next military aircraft is canceled... Please find alternative tactics

A lot of planned aircraft and other military technology got cancelled. The other three aircraft carriers of that class that would join the Tbilisi (renamed to the Leonid Brehznev, then to its current name Admiral Kuznetsov) were canceled. Number two, later named Varyag ("Viking") was sold incomplete (the hull works were finished, but no outfitting, including the engines, took place before the sale) by Ukraine to the Chinese to be turned into a floating casino. However, it was secretly repaired, and officially launched again in 2011.

  • The MiG-29K "Fulcrum-D", deemed surplus to requirements for Kuznetsov, was canceled, but has been revived for the INS Vikramaditya, the conversion of the Admiral Gorshkov (formerly the Baku) to a full-length carrier. China has also ordered some of them, apparently for flight testing on the Varyag and later use on whatever fully operational carriers China builds.
    • Not anymore. Recent reports confirm that the Russian government will order 24 new MiG-29K to replace the Su-33.
    • The Chinese had reverse-engineered and produced their own Su-27 sea variant, though they're still limited by the lack of reliable domestic engines and have to buy them from Russia.
  • The Yak-141 "Freestyle", a planned supersonic VTOL aircraft, was scrapped at prototype stage. No Mach 1+ VTOL plane has yet entered service anywhere in the world - the F-35 Lightning II (the Joint Strike Fighter) has not entered full production yet.
    • Yakovlev sold loads of its know-how to Lockheed in the Nineties, much of which ended in the F-35 project.
  • A nuclear-powered carrier was canceled at 40% complete.
  • The seventh Akula/"Typhoon" was scrapped incomplete.

"Saber" Rattling II- Electric Pootie-Poot

With the arrival of Putin and Medvedev, major investment is going into the Russian military, with new carriers and subs planned, stuff being upgraded (such as the Su-24 "Fencer" aircraft) and new missiles being tested. It may take a while to come to full effect- the Russian military has had a lot of problems getting things built on time. The low oil prices are certainly not helping with the monetary issues, as Russia is a major exporter of oil, producing an average of 10 million barrels of oil per day.

In recent years, the Russian Federation has engaged in a number of acts that could be termed sabre-rattling, using the excuse of in response to the American "Son of Star Wars" missile defence system after the American withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the continued expansion of NATO. These include restarting long-range bomber patrols, threatening to target Mnogo Nukes on Europe (nuclear missiles are currently de-targetednote ), threatening to leave the INF treaty and a recent unconfirmed rumour that Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers may be forward deployed to Latin America. While things have calmed down somewhat, tensions remain high, and there is still the possibility of selling S-300PMU/SA-20 "Gargoyle" anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (they've not been delivered) that gives Israel nightmares, since they understandably prefer to maintain air superiority.

There was of course the war against Georgia in summer 2008, where the Russians lost a "Backfire" bomber to Georgian fire and their air force generally didn't do too well, mainly because of general lack of training, as the current generation of pilots mostly came around during the worst time of the 90s, when there wasn't enough fuel to train. The series of the large-scale maneuvers undertaken in the closing years of the decade were mostly to address these problems.

The red star was planned to be dropped from their aircraft, with a new symbol being designed... only for it to look almost completely like the old one (the only difference being one narrow blue band around the star to match the colors of the flag) due to strong opposition against a radical change.

The whole world will know the name Field Marshal Simon Stoolowitz! - The So-Called Reforms

The latest (to date - 2011) chapter of Russian military history is the much-maligned reform conducted by the defense minister Serdyukov. Russia's first civilian minister of defense (not counting Leo Trotsky) is widely considered absolutely incompetent in his job; servicemen rewarded him with the unflattering nickname "Field Marshal Taburetkin" (from taburet - stool), since his previous job was manager of a furniture mall. Some of his reforms are based on quite sound ideas; it's the practice that earned him the Hate Dom.

Among his reforms are mass firings of officers (including a total disbanding of warrant officers), purchasing military hardware in the West instead of giving jobs to the domestic military-industrial complex, reformatting the entire armed forces to be more like American ones while Russia has a wholly different strategical situation necessitating an old-style Soviet doctrine (including disbanding of regiments and divisions and shifting focus on brigades and operative commands) and introducing new uniforms that are woefully inadequate to the severe Russian climate.

On the other hand, much of his reform (which is not actually his, but a concerted governmental effort) is, as noted above, based on the solid reasoning, however bad its execution went, and the whole affair is a controversial thing, which breaks the base among both the serving soldiers and civilian military buffs like there's no tomorrow. The reform proponents claim that a lot of what is perceived as dumb moves is actually a sort of bitter medicine that was sorely needed, but no one has the heart and means to do. Whether that's really so is mostly the matter of personal opinion.

For example, the old Soviet doctrine envisioned a massed land war not unlike the World War II, which, frankly, isn't likely nowadays at all— cue the establishment of joint regional commands and a shift to the brigade structure as a way to improve coordination and control. After all, the Russian military was for the most part still structured around WWII expectations, just as the Soviet one was.

It assumed a mass mobilization of the conscripts in the time of war, and thus in peacetime its rank structure was incredibly top heavy — in Russian Army captains did the stuff for which professional master sergeants would suffice, because NCOs were mostly conscripts and would leave after a year or two, leaving a hole in the ranks, while officers were career soldiers and were expected to stay. Thus, claim the reform proponents, with the creation of the professional NCO corps a lot of officer positions simply become obsolete, leading to the mass discharges — which, understandably, angered the people discharged.

The catch is, as of now there's still not that many professional NCOs around, and, anyway, the military has a huge problem with the quality of its volunteers: it's mainly poor, badly educated, working class young men with not much to do outside of the army, so their motivation and discipline leaves much to be desired. There are attempts to take some measures about it, such as almost twofold increase in pay (which actually comes across the board for the whole MoD) and much more stringent requirements and intensive training, but they are yet to bear fruit, if that's at all possible.

Another reason for resistance is plain graft (or, better put, the competition for graft opportunities). During the turmoil of the Nineties, a lot of the officers, especially senior ones, became corrupt and struck a lot of lucrative deals with the local businesses and even criminal gangs. So, for these officers a chance of losing the ability to skim off the top — either because of cleaning of the house, as reform's proponents say, or because the Serdyukov's cronies want to steal themselves, by the words of its detractors — is understandably an anathema either way. And then there's a simple resistance to change. A lot of much needed reforms are refused on the ground level simply for the entirely justified reason of "That's not our way, that's how Americans do it".

Equipment squabbles that much intensified during the Serdyukov's tenure, are a bit more complex story, but the core of the problem is rather simple: during the Nineties most of the Soviet military industry simply died, or at least come to the verge of death, because the nation just didn't have the money for the new toys for its military. Very few companies (Sukhoi, for example, and that's why its CEO, Mikhail Pogosyan, now leads the United Aircraft Corporation) managed to stay afloat, mainly on export contracts, and any technological progress not linked to them simply stalled.

So when the money appeared again it was the tough choice: either invest into the mostly dead industry, which will give results some 20 years down the way, while letting soldiers continue to use rusting and obsolete equipment in the increasingly high-tech environments; or buy equipment abroad, giving soldiers the chance, but driving a nail into the industry's coffin. MoD tries as it might to find a Third Option, but not always succeeds, and industry complains. Loudly.

In the end, the current reform is a very fluid, ambivalent affair that could be seen from several radically different angles, and it's simply too early to give it a conclusive overview. Though at least there's enough fuel for training again, and the ships, both old and new, gets to chase them some pirate off the coast of Africa. On the other hand, even Putin and Medvedev do acknowledge the reform as rather poorly executed and Serdukov himself as a failure, though he managed to keep his position in the recent government reshuffle, while Interior Minister Nurgaliev got the boot. On the other hand, Nurgaliev failed much more spectacularly. However, Serdyukov finally got the boot in late autumn 2012, with a huge scandal about his coruption.

Rockets Repainted

As said above, the situation has been improving ever since the early Nougties, with something finally being visible by the beginning of The New Tens. There's been a number of large-scale maneuvers, something that hasn't happened since the Soviet times, the long-range air patrols were reinstituted, and the Navy finally got a bit of love is so missed since Gorshkov's times. The Horn of Africa became a training grounds for the Russian Navy, with rotating squadrons from different fleets staying there pretty much all the time.

New equipment finally starts to get out of the pipeline, initially starting small, such as with project 22350 corvette, dubbed Stereguschy (Vigilant) class. Relatively small, just 2500 tons of displacement, it is nevertheless extremely heavily armed for its size, as is in Russian tradition, and is a smallest warship in the world to carry an integral helicopter. Three are commissioned, and five are on the slips, with the plans to eventually built 20 to 30 of them.

Its larger counterpart, the project 20350 frigate of Admiral Gorshkov class (named after Soviet admirals) would be better designated a destroyer, hadn't that moniker been grabbed by the essentially light-cruiser sized vessels nowadays. 4500 tons and bristling with the guns and missiles, the lead ship is undergoing a testing, to be commissioned in late 2012. Two more are building, with around ten projected overall. They are to be supplemented by six or nine projected Admiral Grigorovich (Tsarist admirals this time) class ships, of the 11356 project (the same Russia build for India), a tried and true design, which would give the Navy a respected frigate force.

On a heavier side there's the plan to repair and refit the three mothballed Kirov battlecruisers (probably cannibalizing one in the process, as a lot of parts aren't produced anymore), and there's half-finished Slava-class cruiser that Ukraine has on sale. The new heavy destroyer project (12-14 kilotons) is also in the works, this time probably nuclear-driven, armed with 4x6" guns in addition to the loads and loads of missiles, and probably even armored, essentially a scaled down Kirov. The new aircraft carrier is considered, but probably won't be started until 2020. Two Mistral-class LAPDs are ordered from France, mostly for their tech, with the two more to be license-built in Russia.

Two new classes of nuclear subs are entering service, the project 955 Borey-class boomer, armed with the infamous, but (when all the kinks were finally ironed out) pretty capable Bulava("Mace") missile, and a multipurpose 885 Yasen ("Ash tree") boats, essentially a Sea Wolf counterpart (and similarly hellishly expensive). Two of the former and one of the latter are already commissioned, with the plans to build around ten of each. Older boats are repaired and modernized, and there's also a thriving diesel boat program, supported by the brisk export sales.

Things are also pretty bright on the Air Force front, with the new 4++ gen fighters like Su-35 and MiG-35, a major upgrades of the Su-27 and MiG-29 families entering serial production, and a new 5-gen fighter prototype, a Sukhoi's T-50, undergoing testing (although western experts such as George Friedman consider it to be de facto 4th generation). The humongous An-124 transport is getting on the assembly line again, funded in part by the US military's inexhaustible airlift needs, and new Yak-130 advanced trainer helps young pilots to learn the ropes. Even the new bomber platform is deliberated, with some truly unbelievable rumors coming down the grapevine. And helicopters are being baked by the dozen, both utility and gunships as well, including the navalized Ka-52 Sea Alligator for Mistrals.

Land forces are also getting an overhaul, and receiving some new toys. The 2008 South Ossetia war showed the weakness the Russian Army has in C&C, with officers sometimes having to switch to civilian mobiles to direct the troops. Thus the whole slew of new communication and reconnaisance equipment, including UAVs, are being designed, tested, and adopted — sometimes with the mixed results. Then there's the infamous uniforms debacle, which is often used to showcase the reform's shortcomings.

You see, the MoD decided to introduce a new, modern synthetic uniform, rather closely modeled after the American ACU, with a new digital camo pattern (unofficially dubbed Tsifra, "Digit"), which theoretically was much better than the old natural fabric (mostly wool and cotton, with some sheep furs) one, but in fact the quality was a hit-and-miss, and, in a stellar example of Poor Communication Kills, the upper echelons failed to adequately inform and train the line officers, who in Russia decide the details of the wearing, such as issuing the hats and warmer coats in a cold weather, that it has the completely different wearing directions than the old one.

This has lead to several high profile cases of the soldiers contracting pneumonia (with some deaths) due to improperly issued uniforms, which cemented the ill reputation of Yudashkin's uniform (after a famous fashion designer, even though he wasn't really involved in its designnote ) in the minds of many. Now there's a second iteration in the works, now basically a carbon copy of the ACU in cut and structure, that' sbeing tested and deployed, with much more intensive training on its wearing.

Another matter of note is the armor. A several major development programs were initiated to create three unified platforms for most armored vehicles: heavy, up to 60 tons, tracked — this will become new tanks, SPGs, etc, it was dubbed "Armata"; medium tracked one, up to 25 tons, mainly for the future IFVs, designated "Kurganets-25"; and two wheeled ones, medium, for the future APC, and light, as a mine-protected Humvee counterpart — current armored light truck, GAZ Tigr, has pretty limited mine resistance.

For the meantime, the military decided to bid its time, refusing to buy new tanks and haggling incessantly with the industry. The plants (whose managers often tend to pad their prices) threaten the unrest of their unemployed workers, while the military threatens to buy abroad, and sometimes does, as it was with the Italian "Lynx" armored truck and "Centauro" wheeled tank destroyer, or a bung of Israeli UAVs.

In the end, everything is still rapidly changing, and only future will show whether the fresh paint on the rockets won't start to peel again.

Tricolours in fiction

The Russian soldier is somewhat less of an antagonist than he or she was. They appear as good guys (though a bit angry at us, mostly justified) in the Stargate Verse, for example. Villains are usually of the Renegade Russian variety. However, in the novel Plan of Attack, by Dale Brown, the Russians launch Mnogo Nukes at America, although their leader makes Putin look positively nice.

The modern Russia is seeing something of a climb in popularity as an antagonist in video games, possibly owing to the (extremely arguable) belief that their state military presents or will in the near future present the most believable threat to the United States in the area of symmetric warfare.

See also Yanks with Tanks, Reds with Rockets, Mnogo Nukes, Peace Through Superior Fire Power.

Noted examples in fiction:

  • Tom Clancy's End War : A rebuilt, vigorous, and thoroughly modern (by 2020 standards) Russian army is one of the playable sides in Tom Clancy's Endwar, though it is less high-tech focused than the American and European armies - for example, their command vehicle uses bodyguard soldiers rather than unmanned drones for defense.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company puts the player in the role of an Army grunt during a war with Russia, though the plot doesn't concern itself much with the actual war. The sequel puts the war with Russia in the forefront, with Russia gaining ground at an alarming rate.
  • Modern Warfare 2 features the Russian Army, after some fancy electronic trickery, attempting to invade and occupy Washington DC. The Russians here have been tricked via a False Flag Operation into believing that America is responsible for a terrorist attack against civilians on Russian soil, to which they respond with a "one thousand of you for every one of us" mentality and are ultimately turned back.
    • ...But not before blowing big, messy chunks out of Washington and basically wrecking all the government facilities not built into bunkers. If it weren't for Captain Price's improvised, rogue EMP strike and poor Ramirez doing bloody well EVERYTHING on the ground, they probably would have levelled the place before the US could put them down.
      • If the Russians didn't, then it was implied the folks at NORAD were ready to use Superior Firepower.
  • Singularity puts the player in the role of Captain Nate Renko, a Marine in a recon team sent to investigate strange radiation readings on an island near Russia called Katorga-12. The Russian government is extremly tight-lipped about the island, and the fear is that some old and neglected nuclear material is about to cause a larger Chernobyl. It's actually leftover Soviet Superscience in the area of time travel, and when Renko unwittingly alters the past by saving a man from a burning building in 1955 before he realizes what's going on, the modern Russia no longer exists, replaced by a modern Soviet Union that's conquered the world and isn't in the habit of letting anything rust.
  • Tom Clancy's The Bear and The Dragon nicely proves that he can, in fact, tear himself away from the old "US vs. USSR" mindset ... by making Red China, complete with nukes, the new villains. As a result, the USA becomes allied with Russia (complete with commentary about the old red stars being overwritten with Russian tricolors on vintage equipment) in a fight against those nasty ChiComms.
  • ARMA II heavily subverts this by having a well modernized Russian military as one of the playable factions.
  • The Green Elephant is a very disturbing arthouse movie about Russian army in The Nineties.
  • Leroy Ivanoff from Hell Night.


Reds with RocketsUsefulNotes/EuropeFrom Russia with Nukes
Reporting NamesUsefulNotes/RussiaCyrillic Alphabet
Portuguese Men-of-WarUseful NotesMnogo Nukes
Rebels with RepeatersForces with FirepowerReds with Rockets

alternative title(s): Tricolours With Rusting Rockets; Russians With Rusting Rockets
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