Russia’s outsourcing of arms production


Senior Member
Mar 21, 2009
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Written by Sim Tack
Friday, 12 March 2010 21:34

Russia has been known for decades to be one of the world’s main arms exporters. During the Cold War Soviet weapons were spread over the globe and are still active in most third world countries. Even since the end of the Soviet Union Russian arms exports continued and during the last decade have seen a spectacular rise again. Russia has been, and will continue to be, known as one of the major arms producers. Lately Russia has however shown a shift in its policy towards indigenous production of arms destined for its own armed forces. In the past Russia produced all materiel needed for its armed forces itself, with the exception of sporadic small imports from other ex-Soviet states as a result of remaining Soviet weapons production infrastructure being split across borders. In recent years however Russia has started to import weapons from non-Soviet states and even from NATO countries. This is a distinct shift from past policies with obvious political and military consequences.


Russia recently decided to purchase a Mistral class landing assault ship from France, it is also considering to have more ships of this class built under French license, making the French delivery of these ships key to the sustainment of the Russian fleet’s amphibic assault capability. Reports have also surfaced that Russia would be looking into the purchase of armored vehicles from Italy. While Russia has always been a prominent arms exporter it had no history of meaningful imports up until 2007. Starting in 2007 it started allowing larger imports and sporadic smaller imports. Eventually now in 2010 Russia has made the policy shift to even import military equipment from NATO signatories. This measure is likely to have been taken due to Russia’s own inability to keep up with the demands placed upon its defense industry by modernizing the Russian armed forces in a tight timetable. If Russia continues along this path it will be forced to align its policies with those of its western suppliers and eventually it may lead to a lack of military capabilities when NATO supplies become unavailable to Russia.

The Russian decision to buy a French Mistral landing assault ship has been widely reported and discussed in the media. It is a big thing for a great power as Russia to buy a strategically important system from a theoretically competing great power as France. The ship itself does not provide Russia with new capabilities, but it does enlarge the capability it already had, especially since the complete plan involved the construction of 3 more Mistral class ships after purchase of the first one. The purchase of this ship is also essential to the Russian fleet due to the current lack of available construction facilities. The purchase itself also presents a political commitment between Russia and the west. Even though Russia is helping out the French economy by purchasing such a large ship, it will still need to compromise on certain issues where it had previously taken a different stance than France and even NATO, such as the Iranian nuclear program and the European missile defense.

This week reports surfaced that Russia allegedly tested the Italian M65 LMV (Light Multi-role Vehicle) manufactured by Iveco during 2009. According to a Russian military source the Russian army would have positively evaluated the vehicle and would be considering a purchase of around 1,000 such vehicles from Italy. Russia itself officially denied that it considered buying armored vehicles from other countries and claimed the vehicle was tested only to compare it to Russian standards to guarantee the quality of Russian vehicles. It is however still possible, and perhaps even likely, that Russia will buy these vehicles. Russia is in the middle of modernizing its brigades and it has been noticed that it does not possess the necessary infrastructure, funds or time to produce the necessary equipment to upgrade all these brigades by itself. For this reason it is likely that even if Russia does not engage in negotiations over the purchase of these Italian vehicles, it will still purchase armored vehicles and other equipment from non-Soviet states in order to bridge the gap to a modern military during the next years.

While Russia has always been known to be one of the main exporters of weapons to the rest of the world, it has never been an importer of arms on a large scale. Up to three years ago Russia consistently produced all of its weaponry within its own borders. According to data of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms from 1992 to 2008 the first time since the end of the Soviet Union that Russia imported arms was in 1995 when it purchased four combat aircrafts from Kazakhstan which were initially produced in the Soviet Union, as such this can not even be seen as an import but rather as a re-appropriation.

The next year imports were recorded by Russia was in 2007, when it did make a notable purchase of one hundred missile systems from Ukraine, which still possesses a large amount of the Soviet Unions weapons industry. Some smaller purchases also occurred in 2007 and 2008, but none were of strategic importance. This does show however that in 2007 a change in Russian policy was made and arms imports, however small, started to occur sporadically to fill gaps in its own production. These purchases however were limited to ex-Soviet states and third world countries. It is only now, in 2010, that Russia has made the large policy shift toward importing military equipment from a NATO country. On top of that Russia is depending on this purchase to cover a complete capacity within its fleet, making the future of its fleet on the short term dependant on Russian relations with France and NATO. As reports of other sales to be negotiated surface it is likely that we will witness more purchases of NATO equipment by Russia in the years to come.

As Russia faces the difficult task of upgrading its military equipment it has noticed that it is unable to produce the necessary goods within its own borders. Instead of postponing the modernization plans it has wisely decided to outsource its arms production in order to protect its timetable and limit the amount of years that its military remains below its intended performance level. The next decision Russia faced was that of who it would order its weapons with. As the worlds largest arms producers are the United States, Russia, Germany and France it is no surprise that Russia sees itself forced to buy from the NATO countries to find a supplier that would be able to manage the size and timeframe of Russia’s demand as well as deliver decent quality.

Since the end of the Cold War Russian arms sales have been on the rise again, this make it easier for Russia’s industrial military complex to finance the outsourcing of arms production in order to bridge the gap to a modern military. Especially since the growth of Russian military exports still outweighs the growth of military exports this is a financially viable system and might even hold budgetary advantages on the short term over modernizing and rebuilding Russia’s arms production infrastructure. Russia is also saving the cost of investing in the research and prototyping of next generation vehicles and ships by choosing to buy them abroad.

Although the financial picture and the timetable may look good for this Russian approach to modernizing its military it is a very controversial action for a great power to take. By engaging in arms trade with other great powers from the receiving end Russia puts itself in a submissive political position, especially when it really needs these imports. France and NATO in general are now in a position to force Russia to align with western policies. If Russian dependency on arms production in NATO countries rises Russia will continue to align more and more with western policies in order to maintain its opportunities to modernize its military within the timeframe it has allotted for this project. There is also a great risk of laziness, where Russia may find the import of certain equipment an easier and, on a short term, cheaper solution than rebuilding its own military industry. This may lead to Russia reaching a point where NATO supplies are no longer available without an indigenous industry to fall back on. This may result in a loss of certain military capabilities for a certain amount of time.


Senior Member
Dec 17, 2009
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Russia is not buying Italian vehicles. How many times do they have to say it?

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