Analysis: The Russian State Armament Programme 2018 – 2027

However, the report used for the following analysis is more than one year old, its contents make it a remarkable tool to understand the Russian defence evolution in terms of technical feasibility and financial affordability. Since then, Army Recognition published a lot of information that enables to validate 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 Navy Recognition’s concerns have been selected hereunder.

Analysis The Russian State Armament Programme 2018 2027 925 002 The Main Naval Parade (Picture source: TASS)

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 Defense (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 on 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, 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 Navy

The first priority for the navy in SAP-2027 is continuing the renewal of the fleet of strategic nuclear submarines. The original aim of SAP-2020 was to commission eight new project 995/995A ‘Borei’ class nuclear submarines each armed with sixteen ‘Bulava’ (SS-N-32) SLBMs. As of the end of 2017 three had entered service, all project 995, and five more (all the upgraded project 955A) were at various stages of construction at the Severodvinsk ‘Sevmash’ yard, the eighth laid down in December 2016. Delays in construction and commissioning mean that the navy is unlikely to receive the full complement of eight submarines until 2022 or 2023. Under SAP-2027, the completion of this first series will be the initial priority although work has begun on the creation of upgraded project 955B vessels with quieter power units. The first is to be laid down in 2023 with handover in 2026 and it appears that four will be built.

The situation with respect to nuclear multi-role submarines is not as envisaged when SAP-2020 was adopted. It was then planned to acquire seven project 855 ‘Yasen’ class submarines before the end of 2020. But by the end of 2017, only one had been commissioned, and six are at various stages of construction and expected to be handed over to the navy only by 2025. Development work of a successor multi-role submarine, the Khaski project, has started and the first may be laid down in 2023-24 and join the fleet after the end of SAP- 2027.

Veiled in secrecy two special-purpose submarines, the ‘Belgorod’ and Khabarovsk’ are under construction. They are believed to be the potential carriers of the long-range, nuclear-armed, underwater drone mentioned by Putin in his state of the nation speech. Both are likely to enter service before in the next few years, although the drone project is clearly a long way from completion.

Similarly, the building of non-nuclear submarines did not proceed as originally projected. There was an ambitious plan to build approximately eight project 677 ‘Lada’ class diesel-electric submarines under SAP- 2020 but as of the end of 2017, only the initial trial vessel is available, still under trial by the navy though completed in 2010. Three more are under construction but there is clearly dissatisfaction with the project, partly because no quiet air-independent power unit has yet been developed for it. Work on one is underway but its testing is not expected to be completed until 2021.

As compensation, there has been a focus on the older and simpler project 636 ‘Varshavyanka.’ In SAP-2020 it was planned to build six, all now in service, but in 2016 this was changed, with an additional order for six more for use by the Pacific fleet.

Plans for SAP-2027 clearly depend to a large extent on the progress of a new power unit. Development work on a new diesel-electric ‘Kalina’ class submarines is to be undertaken and when complete it will be built in parallel with the ‘Lada’ class vessels.

In 2016 and 2017, while the GPV-2027 was being drafted, there was much discussion of possibilities for building new surface naval vessels larger than the frigates and corvettes which figured prominently in SAP-2020. Attention focused in particular on a possible aircraft carrier and a destroyer, plus a helicopter carrying landing craft to substitute for the ‘Mistral’ class vessels denied by sanctions. At the time of writing some uncertainty remains as to plans for a new aircraft carrier. The sole ship of this type possessed by the navy, the ‘Admiral Kuznetsov,’ will soon undergo repairs and some modernisation, and is unlikely to be back in action until 2020 at the earliest. There is little doubt that the navy would like to have at least one more carrier, but there is also keen awareness of the cost. From the available evidence, it appears to be the intention to develop one, of a scale yet to be determined, and lay it down towards the end of SAP- 2027, but this probably means that the navy will not receive it until after 2030.

Under SAP-2020 there was an intention to develop and start the construction of a new destroyer, to be laid down in 2017. This did not happen but the evidence suggests that one will be built, or at least laid down, under SAP- 2027. This will be a project 26560 ‘Lider’ class with a nuclear power plant.

As for a helicopter-carrying landing craft, the intention under SAP-2027 appears to be that two will be built before the destroyer is laid down. Preference appears to have been granted to a vessel somewhat smaller than the French ‘Mistral’ class, most likely the a new ‘Priboi’ class with a displacement of 14,000 tonnes with space for eight helicopters, the plan being to start development in 2018 with the aim of laying down the first in 2020 for hand over to the navy in 2024, and the second in 2022 for delivery in 2026.

With the prospect of very few new large surface combatants coming into service, the fleet will be strengthened by the completion of modernisation programmes on existing vessels. Two modernised heavy atomic cruisers, the ‘Petr Velikii’ and ‘Admiral Nakhimov’, should be handed over to the navy in 2022 and 2025-26 respectively, both armed with ‘Kalibr’ and ‘Oniks’ missiles.

As under SAP-2020, the principal focus of naval development will be the building of smaller, well-armed, surface combat vessels, in particular frigates, corvettes and small missile ships. As Dmitrii Rogozin has observed, the value of such small ‘muscular’ ships has been demonstrated in the Syrian conflict. Plans for building frigates under SAP-2020 were disrupted by delays in getting new ships into service and then by the ending of deliveries from Ukraine which deprived three frigates under construction of power units. This applied to the project 11356 ‘Admiral Grigorovich’ class frigates, two of which had entered service by the end of 2017 with a third ready for delivery in early 2018. Two more were under construction and the laying down of the third was delayed because of uncertainty as to the availability of a power unit. In late 2017, however, as the Rybinsk ‘Saturn’ works made progress with developing a Russian substitute power unit, reports began to emerge that the ships will go to the Russian navy after some delay.

A second type of frigate, the project 22350 ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ class, also experienced problems. In SAP- 2020 the intention was that the navy would receive eight by 2020, but by the end of 2017 the headship had still not been handed over because of delays in the completion of its new air defence system and two more were at various stages of construction.75 Not surprisingly, SAP- 2027 retains a focus on building project 22350 frigates but probably a larger, modernised version, though the number to be completed is not known.

The development of a fleet of new corvettes presents a similar story. In SAP-2020 two types were to be built, the project 20380 ‘Stregushchii’ and the project 20835 ‘Gremiashchii’ class, with up to twenty of the former and two of latter. By the end of 2017 five of the former had been handed over to the navy and five more were under construction, but none of the latter, both still being built.

In SAP-2027 the completion of the project 20830 corvettes will be a priority together with the building of an unknown number of new project 20836 ships. Since 2011the most dynamic aspect of the re-equipment of the navy has been the building of small missile ships and other vessels of relatively modest scale but well-armed, now many having ‘Kalibr’ and ‘Oniks’ cruise missiles. Indeed, the emphasis on smaller vessels has increased, and this trend can be expected to continue. The navy received five project 21631 ‘Buyan-M’ small missile ships of a series of twelve between 2011 and 2017.

Now the main emphasis is on the project 22800 ‘Karakurt’ class, armed with ‘Kalibr’ missiles. Seven are being built, the first to be handed over in 2018, and the plan is to build at least eighteen.

A successful dimension of naval modernisation has been the re-equipment of coastal defences with the adoption of new missile systems, particularly thirteen divisions of ‘Bal’ and ‘Bastion’ with respective ranges of up to 130km and 500km. By the end of 2017, the share of modern weapons was claimed to be no less than 96 per cent, compared with 53 per cent for the navy as a whole.

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 per cent, 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 Defense College | 01/18 – May 2018


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