Analysis: The Russian State Armament Programme 2018 – 2027

Even though the report used for the following analysis is more than one year old, its content makes it a remarkable tool to understand the Russian defence evolution in terms of technical feasibility and financial affordability. Since then, Air Recognition published a lot of information enabling the validation of this precious analysis that was carried on by Julian Cooper, Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, University of Birmingham/Associate Senior Fellow, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Extracts of his report addressing Army Recognition’s concerns have been selected hereunder.

Analysis The Russian State Armament Programme 2018 2027 Sukhoi Su-57 (Picture source: Russian MoD)

The Russian authorities have recently acknowledged that, after some delay and even some confusion about whether it had finally been signed off, President Putin has signed the new Russian State Armament Programme (SAP). As Deputy Prime Minister Dmitrii Rogozin noted, the new SAP was due in 2016, but given the events of 2014, particularly the fall in the price of oil, it was delayed.

This is an important step – the adoption of SAP-2027 indicates that Russia is set to begin a new phase of development of the Russian armed forces. Though the document itself is classified, and so cannot be reviewed directly, there is much evidence in the public domain which allows a detailed analysis of it. This review first briefly sketches out the role of the SAP in Russian planning and the shift in planning horizon to a decade. It then turns to explore the scale of the funding of SAP and the priorities of the new SAP by service branch, before reflecting on the role of science in SAP, the defence industry and, finally, assessing the affordability of the SAP.

The SAP, is a ten-year document, updated every five years, approved by the President, setting out plans for the acquisition of new weapons, the modernization and repair of existing military equipment, and research and development (R&D) for the creation of new systems. The programme does not have the force of law but provides the basis for drawing up the annual state defence order (SDO) which brings together all the contracts between defence industry lead contractors and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for the procurement of weapons and R&D to be implemented during the following year. This is approved by government decree and the funding of its implementation forms part of the federal budget chapter ‘national defence,’ which covers all the military activities of the MOD.

The SAP is a multi-volume document subject to very strict classification, summarizing the desired acquisitions of not only the MoD, but also other agencies with armed forces, in particular the Federal Security Service, the Ministry of the Interior, the troops of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), the Ministry of Emergencies and the Federal Guard Service. The funding of the programme is based a long-term budget forecast prepared by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), drawing on an economic forecast of the Ministry of Economic Development (MED). Funding is presented in terms of current, not constant, prices. The SAP is effectively a five-year document as acquisition intentions are set out in detail only for the first five years, the second presenting only general priorities. The principal performance indicator is the share of modern armaments and other military equipment in the total stock, by service and type of weapon, although the definition of ‘modern’ gives plenty of scope for subjective judgment.

Since SAP-2027 entered into force, a significant development has been Putin’s state of the nation speech of 1st March 2018 in which he presented publically for the first time a number of advanced new weapons at various stages of development. They included the ‘Sarmat’ ICBM, an ‘Avangard’ hypersonic missile warhead, the ‘Kinzhal’ hypersonic air-launched missile, a mobile laser weapon of unspecified purpose, a long-range nuclear powered underwater drone able to carry a nuclear device, and a very long range nuclear-powered cruise missile. According to Siluanov, funding for these development projects has been provided in SAP-2027 and it appears that the first four named systems are planned to enter service before the end of the period.

The priorities of SAP 2027 for the Air-space defence forces

The most significant development under SAP-2020 was the steady build up of the number of divisions equipped with the S-400 ‘Triumf’ air defence system, from 4 in 2011 to at least 36 by the end of 2017, with 10 more planned for 2018.36 By that time the overall share of modern armaments in the air defence forces had reached 68%. Deployment is likely to continue after 2018, perhaps bringing the total number of divisions to the SAP-2020 target figure of 56, but a major priority will be bringing its successor, the S-500, into service. This was to have been deployed after 2015, with ten divisions in place by the end of 2020, but its development has been delayed. In May 2017, Shoigu suggested that it will enter service in 2020, although shortly before that Borisov had said 2018 and that five divisions would be deployed by 2025.

Another new system that was expected to enter service from 2015 was the medium-range S-350 ‘Vityaz’, with 38 divisions by 2020, but this too has fallen behind the original schedule. In April 2017 it was claimed that it would enter service in 2018-19, but this was on the assumption that state testing would be completed in 2017.39 There is no evidence that this was achieved; indeed the S-350 is very rarely mentioned in the Russian media although according to the general designer of the ‘Almaz-Antei’ concern, Pavel Sozinov, work is still underway and the new system will be exceptionally versatile. During 2012-17, 19 divisions of the short-range Pantsyr-S air defence system entered service and their deployment will continue in the coming years, probably in the form of the upgraded Pantsyr-S2, adopted for service in 2015.

Finally, it is worth noting another dimension of the development of air and space defence systems, the modernisation of the one in place to defend the city of Moscow and the surrounding region, the A-135 ‘Amur.’ Work has been underway for some time to upgrade the system to enhance its anti-missile capability, with a development programme ‘Samolet-M.’ A modernised missile for the system was tested in February 2018. It is thought that one component of the eventual new A-235 system will be a new missile, the 53T6M, capable of intercepting the warheads of ballistic missiles and also satellites in a low orbit, the ‘Nudol’ development programme. Completion of this project is likely to be a priority of SAP-2027.

The priorities of SAP 2027 for the Air Force

During 2011-17, the Air Force was a major beneficiary of SAP-2020 especially in relation to fixed-wing combat aircraft and also helicopters. Little success was achieved however in the renewal of Russia’s fleet of military transport aircraft. The long-range aircraft of the strategic nuclear forces received modernised planes but no new ones. In the five years from 2012-17, the armed forces received more than 1,000 planes and helicopters. Overall, the share of modern equipment at the end of 2017 was 72%. In SAP-2027, there are likely to be changes, with volume acquisition of some new aircraft and more emphasis on transport planes.

In relation to Russia’s airborne component of the nuclear triad, in the course of its implementation SAP-2020 was amended. The original intention had been to focus efforts on developing a new long-range strategic bomber, the PAK DA, expected to be ready to enter service at the end of the programme period or soon after. But in 2015 a decision was taken to put the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack bomber back into production in a modernised form. Development work is still underway and the first Tu-160M2 is expected to fly in early 2018 making possible serial production in 2023 according to an MoD source, with up to 50 to be built.45 At the Tupolev design bureau, work on the PAK DA continues. According to Borisov, its first flight may be in 2025 or 2026 with serial production three years later, so after 2027. It appears that it will be a subsonic plane of flying-wing formation with a range of up to 15,000 km. In addition, during SAP-2027 the existing fleet of Tu-22M3 bombers will also undergo modernization from 2018 and by 2020, it is planned that approximately 30 of the fleet of over 100 will have been upgraded to Tu-22M3M.

The main focus of combat aircraft acquisitions during the first period of SAP-2020 was on Sukhoi planes, the Su-30SM, Su-30M2 and Su-35S fighters plus the Su-34 bomber. All these aircraft are upgraded versions of Soviet-era systems, in some cases with far-reaching modernisation. The principal new development was the creation of the Su-57 fifth generation fighter. The first prototype flew in 2010 and the tenth in December 2017, and was subsequently deployed to Syria in early 2018 for two days of combat testing missions. The MoD has ordered an initial batch of twelve, the first to be delivered in 2018-19. But these will not have the new engine that has been under development for a number of years. Only when this is available will the Su-57 become a truly fifth-generation plane but probably not before 2025. It is possible that the Su-57 will be armed with the new ‘Kinzhal’ hypersonic missile now undergoing trials.

The Yak-130 jet trainer has been a success of SAP2020, with 86 acquired during 2011-17.52 Procurement at about 10 a year is likely to continue during the early years of SAP-2027. Three new trainers will be purchased. Firstly, a new light trainer, the Yak-152, has been under development for some time and first flew in September 2016. Under SAP-2020 150 were to be built and the MOD placed an order for this quantity in June 2016. It has a diesel engine built by the Russian-owned RED company based in Germany. Secondly, a private company, Moscow KB ‘SAT’, on its own initiative, has developed a light jet trainer, the SR-10, which the MoD is interested in acquiring, the first in 2018. Thirdly, in 2017 the Ekaterinburg factory of civil aviation assembled the first three Austrian Diamond DA42T light trainers with twin diesel engines under a contract with the MoD to build a total of 35. Any concerns that the arrangement could be subject to sanctions have probably been lightened by the fact that in December 2017 the Austrian company was wholly taken over by China’s Wangfen Aviation Industry Company.

To date, there has been little success in relation to transport aircraft. Originally, there was to have been a heavy reliance on the acquisition of Antonov models. With the breakdown of relations with Ukraine, intentions had to be changed with a reorientation to Ilyushin transports, the building of which will be a very high priority during SAP-2027. The Voronezh plant is now building the Il-76MD-90A Candid, with a contract for 39. However, by the end of 2017, the MoD had received only three. It will also produce the light Il-112 military transport even though it is an old design dating back twenty-five years. In April 2017, it was expected that serial production would begin in 2021 but this now seems optimistic as a new engine is being developed for it. The annual output is set to be from 12 to18. In addition, a new medium transport, the Il-276, will be developed from 2020 and put into production at the Ul’yanovsk ‘Aviastar’ factory. This will be based on a design originally conceived as a joint project with India, terminated in 2015, for the development of a multi-role transport. Given the schedule, it is unlikely that the Air Force will acquire many new transport aircraft until at least 2025.

During SAP-2020, a large number of new helicopters were acquired by the air force and navy, in particular the Ka-52 and Mi-28N combat helicopters and a number of variants of the Mi-8. However, the number of new helicopters acquired each year fell after reaching a peak in with a planned SDO for 2018 of only 80. This lower volume is likely to be retained in SAP-2027, although no specific target figure has been made public. The MOD has confirmed, however, that 114 Ka-52 ‘Alligator’ combat helicopters will be purchased within the limits of the new programme.61 The carrier version, the Ka-52 ‘Katran’, is still under development but scheduled for serial production in 2019-20. One new development being granted high priority is work on the creation of a high-speed helicopter for military use with a cruising speed of up to 400 km per hour, with a possible unmanned variant. Its first flight is expected in 2019.

The defence industry has its own programme

In examining future prospects for defence spending, it is necessary to consider a new dimension that appeared in 2016, namely the approval by the government of a new state programme for the development of the defence-industrial complex. Most of the funding of this programme, approved by a government decree of 16 May 2016, is classified. Only its first sub-programme, ‘Stimulating the development of the defence-industrial complex’ had open funding to a total of 35 billion rubles for the five years 2016-20. Rogozin later revealed that total budget funding of the programme would be 1,067 billion rubles, meaning that the open part is a mere 3%. Given that the programme is scheduled for only five years, this amounts to over 200 billion rubles a year.

Since the programme was adopted, further details have emerged. It has a number of sub-programmes in addition to the above, including the federal targeted programme, ‘development of the OPK’, which was originally intended to run from 2011 to 2020, a programme devoted to import substitution of technological equipment and components, one devoted to strategic materials, and another to ‘investigatory scientific research in the interests of the development of industrial technologies for the production of armaments, military and special equipment.’109 According to prime-minister Dmitrii Medvedev, work has now started on a new programme of development of the defence-industrial complex to 2025, presumably an updated extension of the existing state programme to bring it into line with GPV-2027.

Defence industry diversification

The adoption of SAP-2027 poses a challenge to the defence industry. Putin has been warning since December 2013 that the industry has to prepare for the time after 2020 when the growth of military orders will begin to moderate and even decline. As he underlined in April 2016, the response had to be diversification, with the development of the production of high-technology civilian and dual-use goods finding demand on both domestic and foreign markets. This would ensure the full use of defence industry capacities and employment but had to be prepared for in advance. This was the theme of meetings led by Putin in Tula and Izhevsk later the same year and has often been discussed since by Rogozin, Borisov and others, with frequent emphasis on the high-technology nature of the diversification, clearly to distinguish it from the ‘conversion’ of the Gorbachev years, a bitter memory in defence industry circles.

More recently, Putin spoke at a meeting on diversification at the Ufa aero-engine works in late January 2018. He noted that deliveries to the armed forces under the SDO would peak in 2020 and reiterated the basic targets: a civilian share of the output of the defence industry of 30% by 2025 by and at least 50% by 2030 compared with 17% in 2017. A month later, he issued a set of instructions (porucheniya) to the government on measures to facilitate diversification and monitor its implementation.

Can Russia Afford SAP-2027?

In 2018, Russia planned to spend 1,500 billion rubles on the MOD’s state defence order (SDO) accounting for almost 55% of planned spending on ‘national defence’, the budget chapter that accounts for most military spending, which is set to be just over 2.8% of GDP. From the three-year budget for 2018-20, it can be calculated that the SDO in 2019 is approximately 1,600 billion rubles, and ‘national defence’ 2.7% of GDP and for 2020 the equivalent figures are 1,700 and 2.6, with the SDO accounting for 60% of total spending on defence.

As noted above, the SDO is set to decline after 2020, apparently at first in nominal terms, i.e. to less than 1,700 billion rubles. Starting with these data and recalling that the funding of the SAP is in current prices, a simple simulation exercise reveals that the programme is probably affordable, definitely if a reasonable rate of growth is sustained. If an annual rate of economic growth of 2.5% is forecast for 2021-27, with a GDP deflator of 4%, and it is assumed that the defence share of GDP is held at 2.6% and the SDO share of ‘national defence’ at 55%, as in 2018, then it can be estimated that a modest decline in the volume of the SDO in nominal terms is possible in 2021 and that total spending on the SDO for the years 2018 to 2022, the first five years of the SAP, will be almost 8,300 billion rubles or almost 44% of the total funding allocation for the MOD under SAP-2027. For 2023 to 2027, total spending on the SDO turns out to be less than about 10,800 billion rubles, giving a total for the ten years of just over 19,000 billion rubles.

On the other hand, if growth after 2020 averages only 1.5%, the SAP could be implemented if spending on ‘national defence’ were held at 3% of GDP and the share of defence spending going to the SDO were 60%, as in the forecast for 2020. Such a gloomy growth scenario would clearly create more difficulties. Overall, SAP-2027 must be judged as feasible from an economic point of view, especially if economic growth is maintained at 2% a year or more.


SAP-2027 initiates a new phase of development of the Russian armed forces, a transition from an intensive process of renewal of its weaponry after almost two decades of being starved of new equipment to a more normal process of annual renewal. Clearly, the country’s civil and military leadership considers that by 2020, when the share of modern equipment should exceed 70%, that an adequate level of modernization will have been achieved making such a transition possible. As with SAP-2020, a large role will be played by modernized hardware, as opposed to completely new systems, although some developed during the last few years will finally be acquired in volume by the armed forces. Provided that the economy develops on a reasonably stable basis with an average rate of growth of GDP of at least two percent, the new programme should be feasible. For the defence industry, a new challenge will be posed: transition to the manufacture of more high-technology, competitive, civilian goods while continuing the development and production of genuinely modern armaments. But regardless of the new challenges that lie ahead, it cannot be denied that as a result of the implementation of SAP-2020 Russia is back as a credible military power.

Source: RUSSIAN STUDIES, NATO Defence College | 01/18 – May 2018