TechPeeking behind Russia's military façade: 'modern' weapons just old ideas reborn?

Peeking behind Russia's military façade: 'modern' weapons just old ideas reborn?

Su-27 - the prototype of currently produced Russian fighter aircraft.
Su-27 - the prototype of currently produced Russian fighter aircraft.
Images source: © Lic. CC BY-SA 4.0, Moonhunterofindia, Wikimedia Commons
3:40 AM EST, January 21, 2024

In the Cold War decades, the Russian arms industry was at the forefront of global innovation, manufacturing advanced airplanes, tanks, and submarines to maintain a technical balance.

This equilibrium was disrupted towards the end of the 70s and 80s. The conflicts in the Bekaa Valley unequivocally demonstrated the superiority of Western equipment, tactics, and military methodologies. The technological gap grew more prominent in the subsequent years.

Interestingly, Soviet engineers did put forth innovative and intriguing projects for their time, even though these ideas never came to fruition.

Decades later, Russia revisited some dormant projects, adapting them to accommodate modern requirements. This article provides insight into which of the "new" Russian weapons have been created from these recycled concepts.

T-14 Armata: A rejuvenated concept

A prime example of this is the T-14 Armata tank. This restored project, which seems to be the jewel in the crown of Russian armored weaponry, has lain dormant for years. Despite a decade since its launch, the T-14 has not gone into mass production, contrary to Russian claims.

Technical issues with the propulsion, among other things, remain. Even though the Russians make occasional claims about their latest tank, the T-72, T-80, and T-90 models still dominate the Russian military and will continue for years.

The T-14 is promoted as a design unmatched anywhere in the world. This claim is somewhat accurate, albeit not a testament to the tank's quality. What's not often discussed is that it's a simplified, modernized version of a design from the '80s.

In the latter half of the '80s, Soviet engineers brainstormed designs for next-generation tanks to replace the current models. During this period, the experimental tank project Object 187 was devised and evolved into a vehicle named Object 195. It was finally materialized into an operational prototype at the turn of the century.

Object 195
Object 195© Andrei-bt, Livejournal

This model incorporated numerous elements from the T-72 but featured an unmanned turret and a three-person crew housed within the hull. Development halted around 2008, but discussions began about constructing the T-14 tank only two years later. In 2013, Russia showcased its latest weapon, which incorporated solutions from Object 195.

Military aviation stuck in the past

Based on the upgraded Su-27, current Russian combat aircraft are anchors to the 70s and 80s era. Even though the Su-27 was successful for its time, it's a large, heavy, and twin-engine plane – as are all its successors, including the Su-30, Su-35, or Su-34.

This shows in Russian aviation's production scale, cost, and capabilities, which currently lack any modern, lightweight aircraft that can meet the demands of the contemporary battlefield.

The MiG-29 is considerably outdated now. Its updated variant, the MiG-35, hasn't seen mass production or foreign orders, and the "light" Su-75's future is uncertain.

The production of the potential successor to the Su-27 series, the Su-57, is also moving at a snail's pace. If production continues at this rate, the "new" Russian fighter will be outdated before it substitutes the older models.

Consequently, Russian military aviation will have to rely on aircraft designed back in the 70s for many more years despite the availability of possible replacements.

A recycled ship project

The announcement of plans to build a new Russian CATOBAR-type aircraft carrier harks back to an older initiative. The new model, meant to succeed the infamous Admiral Kuznetsov, is predicated upon a design developed in the '80s for project 1143.7, the Uljanowsk-type aircraft carrier.

This was intended to rival the Nimitz-type units the United States was constructing. It showcased the ambitious nature of the Soviet navy and its shipbuilding industry capabilities – the ship's construction began and continued until the USSR disbanded.

Sketch of the aircraft carrier Uljanowsk
Sketch of the aircraft carrier Uljanowsk© Public domain

Russia's current possibilities are a pale comparison to the former empire's; therefore, announcements claiming intent to construct a new, sizeable nuclear-powered aircraft carrier appear more like a propaganda move for domestic consumption than any concrete plans for furthering the Russian fleet.

Consider the ongoing renovation of the nuclear cruiser Admiral Nakhimov, which hasn't been finished since its start in 1999. It paints a more accurate picture of the Russian military's actual state than the Kremlin's frequent pronouncements.

The evolution of ballistic missiles

In light of recent reports from Ukraine, one of Putin's 'superweapons,' the hypersonic missile Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, has seized attention. Putin has used the potential capabilities of the rocket to intimidate the world for several years, although its performance in the Ukrainian war has now been analyzed.

Initially, the Kinzhals effectively targeted Ukrainian facilities, and the Ukrainians, using outdated Soviet anti-aircraft equipment, conceded defeat. The tide turned with the arrival of the Patriot systems, which effectively thwarted the Kinzhal attacks.

MiG-31K with the Ch-47M2 Kinzhal missile
MiG-31K with the Ch-47M2 Kinzhal missile© Mil.in.ua

The discovery of unexploded Kinzhal warheads enabled an examination of the weapon's structure. Ukrainian specialists speculated that the Kinzhal hypersonic missile resulted from a prolonged evolution of Soviet ballistic missiles and featured structural details devolving from the Tochka-U system conceived in the '80s.

These factors, particularly the placement of the initiating system and the warhead, possibly contribute to the malfunction of Kinzhals, preventing them from detonating when they hit a target.

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