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Defenceless Defence

troopsThe Russian State Duma has approved the draft 2004 federal budget in the third reading. This virtually means that no more drastic changes can be made to it. National defence appropriations exceed all other appropriations, accounting for 20.33% of the entire budget. In short, the Russian Armed Forces will receive 411,472,653,400 rubles, or 2.69% of the entire Russian GDP, which is 66, 947 million rubles more than the 2003 figure.

Nonetheless, generals and defence industry experts are unhappy, believing that the level of financing is insufficient. Why? A recent top-brass conference, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov's report there, provides the answer to this question. Ivanov's report did not contain a word about the defence budget. However, Colonel-General Vladimir Mikhailov, who commands the Russian Air Force, was criticised by Ivanov rather severely. Many people believe that Ivanov was targeting the defence budget, rather than General Mikhailov.

There have been eight fatal air crashes this year. A Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber crashed near Saratov in September, two Mi-24 helicopter gunships collided in the Primorye Territory and a MiG-29 Fulcrum air-superiority fighter recently crashed in the Armenian mountains. The defence minister came to the conclusion that pilot error and mistakes made during servicing were to blame for seven out of the eight crashes.

It is impossible to contest this well-justified conclusion. How the crews and technical staff made these mistakes, though, is a different matter. Any military expert understands that all these faults are the direct consequence of inadequate professionalism on the part of engineers, technicians and pilots alike.

One detail alone confirms this theory.

Sergei Ivanov claims that the Tu-160 crashed because of unexpected technical problems, and the state board of inquiry confirmed his opinion. But why did those technical problems arise all of a sudden? Why did such an experienced pilot as deputy regimental commander for flight training Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Deineko and his co-pilot Major Oleg Fedosenko fail to cope with this emergency? Why could they not save the plane, their lives and those of their subordinates? And, finally, why did the crew not eject to safety?

Unfortunately, the answer is quite simple: the pilots lacked several fractions of a second to make their escape. This time gap distinguishes an experienced pilot from a merely well-trained one. Russian pilots are supposed to log at least 150-200 flight hours every year. However, Deineko had logged just 50 hours last year, and 30 hours in 2003. This country's strategic bombers remained grounded over the 1992 to 1998 period. Routine maintenance and repair work was not conducted regularly enough; the same can be said about replacing obsolete equipment and instruments. The Russian Air Force did not receive any defence budget allocations for all this and for buying top-quality kerosene or engine accessories.

According to official statistics, the army and the navy did not get 2.2 billion rubles for buying the required amount of petroleum, oil and lubricants in 2002. Air force, naval and other combat-training programmes received just 30-40% of the required fuel. Moreover, only 20-25% of all basic weaponry and combat hardware was repaired. Obviously the professionalism of the pilots, engineers and technicians, who flew and maintained such complicated aircraft as strategic bombers, suffered in these conditions.

The State Duma defence committee estimates that car-fuel ceilings have been reduced by 20% in comparison to the 2003 budget. Meanwhile, the breakdown for diesel fuel, aircraft kerosene and ship boiler oil is 15% percent, 5% and 15%, respectively. Consequently, air force and navy pilots will fly no more than 32-35 hours, while warships, which are supposed to sail 40-day missions each year, will spend just 16-30 days outside their bases.

The defence committee has drawn the same conclusions in the rearmament-program sphere. Spending on R&D, weapons and hardware, as well as on repair and maintenance work at defence enterprises, will come to 137, 366 million rubles, thus accounting for 33.38% percent of the entire defence budget. However, it is 1% below 2003 levels. The committee points out that Russian weapons and combat hardware are, therefore, becoming outdated, meaning that the country will lag behind other leading military powers.

Yuri Solomonov, director and general designer of the Moscow Heat Engineering Institute, is also the general designer of the Topol-M strategic missile complex. In his words, the R&D and weapons-procurement appropriations stipulated in the presidential state defence order programme fall short of the real requirements by over 25% in the budget-2004. This means that the Russian military-industrial sector will be unable to mass produce, in one-three years, such hi-tech weaponry as ballistic missiles, multi-role spacecraft, smart reconnaissance and attack systems, air-defence complexes, communications networks, fifth-generation warplanes, nuclear submarines, fourth-generation warships, as well as other modern weapons and combat-support systems. We have already lost nearly 200 unique technologies to develop and repair combat hardware, he noted. He believes that if the country takes a few more steps toward the abyss, then Russia can forget about ensuring genuine military security.

Viktor Litovkin, RIAN