While Russia’s Defense Ministry chases the military hardware shopping cart, billions of dollars are being spent on new strategic weapons – dozens of intimidating tanks and fighter jets. They are inflatable, too.
Somewhere just outside Moscow sits the prototype for Russia’s next strategic weapon. It comes amidst a modernization drive aimed at inflating the military’s potency – in this case quite literally.
The Russian Army is now buying more and more blow-up armaments to pump up their forces, employing everything from tanks to MiG jet-fighter replicas and even anti-aircraft batteries.
The purpose of models like those of T-80 tanks is to fool spy satellites and enemy aircraft. From above, they are supposed to look just like the real thing. Filled with more than just helium, these customized balloons use modern technology to deceive onlookers.
“In the inflatable hood and other areas, thermal devices are installed to provide heat. A thermal imager will see these heated spots – the same as if they were on a real weapon,” says Aleksander Talanov, the owner of Rusbal Company.
Costing the military a mere fraction of actual weapons, they provide a cheap means of luring enemy firepower away from their more prized arsenals.
But whilst it may be a cost effective form of trickery, it is the state of the functioning military that has some analysts feeling somewhat deflated.
“The fifteen-year vacation in procurement needs to be dealt with, because so much of the weapon systems and equipment is dated and obsolete,” says Roger McDermott, a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International relations in the University of Kent.
There is likely to be a long and drawn-out battle ahead.
The commander of Russia’s ground forces estimates only 12 per cent of the infantry have access to modern weapons. The government is planning to spend $700 billion to rectify this by 2020.
But it is a strategy likely to get bogged down in endemic corruption.
“To date, policy initiatives to deal with corruption appear to be having minimal impact. It’s something that’s particularly hampering the capacity of the defense industry to meet the needs of the Russian armed forces,” continues Roger McDermott.
Official estimates point to 20 per cent of Russia’s defense budget being lost due to corruption in 2010.
Authorities now only have nine years to transform a cold-war warrior into a 21st-century military, and to ensure that Russia’s future fighting machine is not one based on hot air.