Russia unveiled its new "Checkmate" stealth fighter for the Moscow Aviation and Space Salon together with other weapons systems and President Vladimir Putin was on hand to inspect the handiwork of Russia's military industrial complex. Putin was pleased " "What we see today in Zhukovsky clearly shows that Russian aviation has great potential for development, and our aircraft industry continues to create new competitive aircraft." The plane boasted seemingly impressive specification and came with an attractive sticker price compared to Western aircraft.
Had Russian weapons development caught-up with the West? Not so fast argues military expert Pavel Felgengauer in an interview with Rosbalt's Alexander Zhelenin. Felgengauer claims that many Russian arms systems are merely modernized versions of Soviet platforms and far from closing the gap, Russia is falling further behind.
The Felgengauer interview follows below:
Pavel Felgengauer (Source: Rtvi.com)
"According to military expert Pavel Felgenhauer, despite the hyped developments, the gap between the Russian military-industrial complex and the global one is still increasing.
"The other day the Russian military-industrial complex stirred interest with the announcement of the newest single-engine Russian fighter of the fifth generation. Its development was so highly classified that the appearance and the name of the new vehicle, 'Checkmate,' were announced only on July 20, during the 'MAKS-2021'air salon presentation, which was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also. Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov was able to relate that the new fighter is intended for the African, Vietnamese, and Indian markets.
"However, previously, there were numerous announcements of 'fundamentally new' Russian military equipment. The Rosbalt columnist asked military expert Pavel Felgengauer to elaborate how effective all such projects are, for what combat they were designed, and how deeply Russia is embroiled in an arms race with the US.
— In recent years, aside the newest light fighter demonstrated to Vladimir Putin at 'MAKS-2021'air show, the Russian military-industrial complex developed many other vehicles, for instance: Sukhoi Su-57 fighter, the 'Armata' tank, RS-28 'Sarmat' ICBM [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile], the 3M22 'Zircon' anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile, the S-500 'Prometey' missile (the system was tested at the 'Kapustin Yar 'proving grounds on July 20), Russian combat UAV, etc. How successful were all these projects?
— Well, I would argue that all these developments look like the appearance of a cargo cult, and were intended for PR purposes. In other words, all of it was needed to ensure the sale of all these arms (which, perhaps, would be facilitated through enormous bribes) to some Third World countries.
Regarding the new single-engine fighter, so far even the demonstration pictures show that many design decisions are, let’s say, erroneous. For instance, one can see that the air inlet (that couldn’t be designed to be unseen) was placed under the cockpit. A similar design was implemented in the American fourth generation fighter F-16. On the one hand, the decision on such air inlet placement is smart, because the air immediately enters the jet’s turbine, but on the other hand, [such placement] is not so good, because it prevents the fighter from being absolutely undetectable.
Putin tours new Russian military hardware at air show (Source: Tass.ru)
But the PR of our new technology is absolutely ridiculous. It’s similar to how instant noodles are advertised ...
— Did the aforementioned developments of the Russian military-industrial complex go into a serial industrial production, or are they just single samples?
— Well their production can hardly be called 'serial.' Out of relatively new developments only Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber is produced in decent numbers. However, this is Soviet project. [Sukhoi Su-34 and other Soviet projects] upon the USSR's collapse many simply didn’t make it to a mass production. Today, Russia muddled through to finalize them.
The shortcomings of our military-industrial complex are quite significant, thus the overall gap between Russian military-industrial complex and global one is only increasing, just as our country’s isolation is increasing. After all, earlier we had an access to Western technology and components, but after 2014 this opportunity was as they say dead in the water.
Right now [our military-industrial complex] experiences a deficit in many areas. For example, we can’t mass-produce aviation APAR radars (active phased array radar). For aircraft, Russia mainly produces PESA radars (passive electronically scanned array). The problem is that this is early 1980s technology. Back then Mikoyan MiG-31 jets were equipped with PESA radars. Then that was new; today it is totally not. The difference between a passive and an active phased array radars are that the latter is less visible to enemy radars.
Actually, we can also produce APAR radars for aircraft, we have good engineers after all. However, so far, single units of this equipment are being produced. For mass production, we need American components from the 'Raytheon' Company.
— In your opinion, for what war is the Russian army being re-equipped? Will all these developments be effective both in the case of a global confrontation (let’s say, in World War III against the US or China) and in local conflicts (like the recent confrontation in Karabakh)?
— The Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov formulated this in Russian military doctrine as Russia's capacity to engage in three types of conflicts simultaneously: local conflicts (for instance a counter-terrorist operation), regional conflicts (like the war in Ukraine), and at the same time as preparedness for a global nuclear conflict (if the regional one turns into one).
There are very few military developments for engaging in such conflicts. It could be said that only S-400 'Triumf' missile systems went into production. Actually, quite a lot S-400 units were made. Whether this missile system will be effective in a real conflict is another question though. The effectiveness of such weapons systems, especially those related to electronic warfare, are usually kept secret, until the moment they have to be used.
Mostly our troops equipped with modernized Soviet vehicles. [For instance] the Sukhoi Su-24 and Sukhoi Su-30 jets, T-72B3 and T-72B3M tanks are in fact modernized versions of vehicles produced in the 1970s-80s. However, in many cases, due to technology loss we are unable to produce even Soviet systems.
The problem is that [following the collapse of the Soviet Union] we were left with only the Russian-based part of the Soviet military-industrial complex. First Latvia, which was a powerful center of the military-industrial production, seceded, then Ukraine, Georgia, and Uzbekistan followed. Now in this regard Russia can cooperate only with Belarus. The Americans cooperate with European countries, Japan, and South Korea, but we basically have nobody.
— The Russian authorities made numerous statements that the defense budgets of Russia and the US are not comparable, thus our country reserved a right to 'asymmetrical response.' However, Russia still tries to develop a fifth-generation jet fighter. Meanwhile, the US already possess almost two hundred Lockheed Martin F-22 'Raptor 'fighters and more than 600 units of the Lockheed Martin F-35 'Lightning II' jets, which are all fifth-generation vehicles. We need about the same number of Russian-made fifth generation jets in order to oppose them. Thus, are we still trying to 'catch up and surpass America,' but not in meat and milk production (as it was under Khrushchev) but in ultramodern (and super-expensive) military equipment?
— The F-22 fighter is actually quite old, but the Americans produce 120-130 new F-35s a year, so soon they will have thousands of them.
— Is Russia capable of producing modern military equipment in such quantities?
— Certainly not. In years after the collapse of the Soviet Union we were only able to produce just a few units of SU-57. And the SU-57 isn’t really a fifth generation aircraft. We are unable to produce perfectly flat parts, which are necessary for the hull of stealth aircraft.
Meanwhile, there is a new five times cheaper, low-visibility Northrop Grumman B-21 'Raider 'strategic bomber in development in the US. It’s planned to replace B-2 'Spirit' strategic bomber. The first test flight of a new bomber is scheduled for 2022. Russia is also developing a new strategic bomber. However, the vehicle will still have flight-controlling parts of the hull (i.e., the plumage), which do not contribute to stealth characteristics. Such technology won’t be deployed in the B-21 'Raider.' This will be an absolutely stealth bomber. In other words, it can fly over Moscow and remain undetected. This level [of technology] is unavailable to us.
— I checked the Su-57 specifications, it has a top speed of 2.45M (Mach number), and the F-35 is able to reach 1.6M ...
— True, but the F-35 is not a fighter jet though. It is first and foremost a strike vehicle. Its main task is to conduct reconnaissance missions, to 'sneak up' on the enemy undetected and strike. And during aerial combat subsonic speeds are used anyway. Thus the F-35 designers didn’t focus on speed, they strived for undetectability.
— And yet I have a feeling that we have decided to catch up and surpass America in arms ...
— Not really, we just decided to give it a good scare. By the way, the Pentagon is enjoying it, because the left wing of the Democratic Party intended to cut military spending. Thus, the US military, striving for additional budgets, is praising our 'Zircons 'and other military hardware to the skies.