Not all of Russia’s game-changing weapons were mentioned in the president’s landmark speech that the mainstream media keep writing so much about. The president’s address simply could not include all the numerous breakthroughs in military technology Russia has achieved recently. Some cutting-edge systems exist but are not yet operational. A few are already part of the Russian arsenal, although in rather small numbers. But that’s just a start. Many achievements have flown under the media's radar and deserve more exposure. The information available from public sources is worth discussing to get an idea of where things seem to be headed.
The military added Kh-32 air-to-surface missiles in 2016 to advance the operational capabilities of the Tu-22M3 Backfire. The weapon was created on the basis of radical updates to the Kh-22. After being launched, the Kh-32 climbs up to the stratosphere, reaching an altitude of 40 km (130,000 ft) for the midcourse phase of its flight. As it nears its target, it goes into a steep dive. The attack is too fast and the missile too maneuverable for the enemy to mount an air defense.
The approach can be flown at an altitude as low as five m, going undetected by a ship’s defense systems until a distance of about 10 km. This leaves a reaction window of roughly 10 seconds before this extremely agile target is hit. It doesn’t have a chance. This deadly weapon is a threat to any ground target.
The weapon boasts an inertial navigation system and a seeker head. It needs no navigation satellites for guidance and is impossible to jam. Its primary mission is to knock out aircraft carriers and large surface ships, as well as ground-based assets.
The Kh-32 has a range of roughly 1,000 km (620 mi) and a speed of over 5,400 kilometers per hour (1,500 meters per second). Its 500-kilogram (1,102 lb.) warhead can be either nuclear or conventional.
The US doesn’t have anything comparable to the Kh-32, nor does it have an effective system to protect its assets from it. Even the speed and altitude of the famous Aegis (SM-6) are useless against this new weapon. The Kh-32 does not breach the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, as its trajectory does not envisage going into orbit. And this is not the only breakthrough worth talking about.
On March 15, Russian Defense Chief Sergey Shoigu made quite a splash when he claimed that mass production of combat robots would begin this year. The military had 160 unmanned aerial drones a few years ago, but today operates about 1,800 of them. The trials of the robots designed for land operations are almost complete. Robotic mine-clearing vehicles have also been successfully developed.
Combat, transport, and artillery-reconnaissance variants of the Nerekhta robot exist. The system consists of a compact, light-tracked chassis, and a hull for mounting special equipment. It is used to take on armored weapons. The robot can also be used for transportation and reconnaissance. The Nerekhta can operate alongside drones. The suite of weapons can include a Kord or Kalashnikov machine gun, an AG-30M automatic grenade launcher and an anti-tank missile system.
The biomorphic (four-legged) 400-kg Lynx robot will be equipped with a machine gun and anti-tank guided missiles, and can operate in urban and industrial areas, on asphalt, marble, wood, sand, and unpaved roads. Almost no terrain would be off-limits, even ice, grass, snow, or shallow waters. The Lynx can travel up to 15 km/h on flat terrain, and 10 km/h on uneven surfaces.
Russia uses robotic security guards to keep its strategic sites safe, including ICBM silos. These vehicles, armed with a machine gun and an automatic grenade launcher (both with a kill range of about 400 meters), can detect targets at night while remaining invisible and moving around the perimeter of the site. Since 2017, strategic nuclear missile sites have been guarded with the Mobile Robotics Complex (MRC), designed to detect and destroy stationary and moving targets. There are many more robots at different stages of development that are close to becoming operational. The robotization of the Russian armed forces is one clear trend and it’s not the only one.
Five Udaloy Project 1155 destroyers are being refurbished to be armed with Kalibr long-range cruise missiles, providing them with anti-ship as well as deep land strike capability. The prestigious Russian newspaper Izvestia has just reported on the installation of weapon systems on the ships, which has already started and will be completed by 2022. The program will greatly increase the Navy’s strike power and power projection capability.
Russia’s radar-invisible bombs are already in service, striking terrorist targets in Syria. The Drel (Drill) gliding bomb cartridge delivers 15 self-guided killing elements, each weighing about 20 kilograms. The weapon does not breach the international convention banning the use of cluster bombs. With no engine, the bomb can glide for dozens of miles. It boasts an operational range of more than 30 km after separating from the carrier. A single sub-munition can take out up to ten tanks – almost twice as many as its closest competitor, the US AGM-154. It can detect targets while producing no infrared emissions. The Drel’s friend-or-foe identification system prevents it from striking the wrong targets.
This year, the Army-2018 exhibition will see a light aircraft powered by a hydrogen-air engine. The forum is slated to be held August 21-26. The concept behind this engine is known as “Electric Aircraft,” which uses fuel cells as a power source to produce electrical energy without the combustion process. The fuel used is hydrogen, which is transformed into electricity. Such a plane could stay in the air for a very long time and would be very inexpensive. No other country has managed to make such an aircraft operational. It could be used for a multitude of various missions by the military and other security agencies.
Since Moscow launched its operation in Syria, the most frequently asked question among military wonks and pundits has been “Does Russia really have superior military technology?” And the answer often heard was, “No, it does not, it is unsophisticated and is clearly lagging behind.” More and more evidence has emerged recently to illustrate that Russia is actually the leader in military technology and more information arrives almost every day confirming this fact.
Can the cutting-edge breakthroughs, which are such a feather in the military's hat, that are being produced by the defense sector of the economy be isolated from the remaining sectors? Impossible nowadays, especially given how much is being done to transfer the achievements of the defense industry over to the civilian sectors of the economy. The West’s sanctions have helpfully expedited the process of replacing Western technology with “made-in-Russia” solutions. Military technologies targeted for the civilian sector will inevitably invigorate Russia’s economy. The West wanted to turn Russia into a backward country on its knees. This was a strategic mistake that instead encouraged it to stand tall and lead the way in the state-of-the-art technology race, forcing the US and its allies to lag behind.