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Key US military operational superiority imperiled by Russian military exports

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Whatever the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the R&D production of state-of-the-art military technologies was not one of them, a fact that escapes most lay observers when they examine an operational Russian military in otherwise disarray. Only buyers and attendees at international weapons trade shows know that Russia sells superior military technology that, in dollar-denominated terms, greatly undersell their Western counterparts. Despite its economic woes, Russia has continued to devote funds to its military-industrial complex for three reasons:

  • Weapons exports earn hard currency. Whereas frontline equipment was retained in Soviet inventory, and second tier equipment offered for export, the drive for hard currency has seen the best of Russian weapons exported, often with very fuzzy export credentials. Russia lags only the US in military exports.
  • Russia is re-exerting its control over the "near abroad" states of the former USSR, states which Russia considers to see as its suzerain, an effort noted in the former NATO-confrontation states and the energy states among the Stans.
  • Russia shares the Chinese view of the value of a "multipolar" state environment that is able to act beyond the limits of a sole superpower and so must have the military equipment able to allow it to project force in the near abroad and internationally.

One of the most prodigious buyers of frontline Russian technology is the PRC, and their aircraft of choice is the Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker, a long-range precision-attack fighter similar in mission profile to the US F-15E Eagle. This same aircraft has been sold to India and is now being manufactured there. It is the Su-30, flying with IAF (Indian Air Force) pilots that recently outflew US-made F-15 aircraft piloted by US pilots in a bilateral dissimilar air combat (DACT) exercise, Cope India 2004 at Gawalior, India in Feb 2004, prompting the USAF to acknowledge a "wake-up call":

During Cope India 2004 the USAF F-15Cs were tasked with the defense of Gawalior AF Base. The Indian Air Forces aircraft were tasked with attacking Gawalior. Miarage 2000s, Su-30Ks, MiG-29 and MiG-21 Bis escorted the Indian strike force consisting of MiG-27s. For some reason, possibly security concerns raised by the Indians, the F-15Cs operated without an AWACS. That one factor probably leveled the playing field for the Americans

Forced to rely on Indian ground radars and / or their own airborne radars the F-15Cs must have felt crippled. Their misery was probably compounded by the fact that the attack force enjoyed overwhelming numerical superiority. The F-15C pilots would have been easily overwhelmed by multiple targets detected minutes before they came into visual range.

The US depends upon a combination of pilot skill, maneuverability, avionics, and AWACS C2 in order to assure victory. Reduced to maneuverability, US pilots were outclassed in the majority of their engagements, a fact that was not lost on the Chinese who have long felt that the US is overly reliant on electronic command & control systems. Interrupt that C2 or C3 and an appropriately trained Chinese pilot in an Su-30 could outfly and US carrier-based F-16.

US forces could similarly face Russian technology in an engagement in the Taiwan Straits. Long a leader in mach-level cruise missiles, the USSR built the Mach-3 3M82 Moskit, NATO code named SS-N-22 Sunburn, specifically to attack US carrier battle groups armed with Aegis fleet defense systems. In the aftermath of an insertion of a US carrier battle group in the Taiwan Straits, the Chinese went on a buying spree that included the Sunburn and specialized Russian Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers to deliver them.

When the US and USSR divided a bipolar world and were able to constrain their client states, frontline technology was reserved for their respective armed forces and each state could reasonably assure that only lesser weapons variants were available for export to foreign states, large or small. In the current environment, the US can expect to face frontline Russian weapons systems in the hands of second and third tier states.

Russian military technology fights back
By Yevgeny Bendersky
Asia Times
July 23, 2004

India's top guns head for the US
Asia Times
June 24, 2004
By Siddharth Srivastava

On Eve of Japan Delegation's Arrival in Washington, Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Is High
By Jeremy Torobin and Justin Rood, CQ Staff
CQ HOMELAND SECURITY - BORDER SECURITY
July 19, 2004 - 9:53 p.m.

Gordon Housworth



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