How long will it take for Russia to rebuild its armed forces after the end of the war in Ukraine? The answer to this question is critical both to the unfolding of this war and to Russia’s position as a great power over the next decade.
Russia suffered massive losses of personnel and equipment. Personnel losses are a major short-term problem and can have a long-term effect on the culture of the Russian armed forces and the procedures by which Russia rebuilds its force. Certainly, Russia has vast stocks of military equipment inherited from the Soviet era. On the one hand, these systems are obsolete, but on the other hand, they represent a hardware base that Russian industry can update with new technologies. Worldwide, much of the military kit of the 2020s is just updated kit from the 1970s, even though these updates drastically increase lethality and survivability.
Thus, Russia will have to invest massively in rebuilding its armed forces. Unfortunately for Russia, even its relatively self-sufficient defense economy depends on high-tech supply chains. Modern tanks, like modern cars, are simply computers on tracks. Russia currently does not produce enough advanced chips to supply its defense industrial base with enough processors to field new equipment.
Russia suffers from a significant shortage of precision ammunition, and the quality of its current ammunition is in serious question. This poses a double problem, because increasing production without addressing technical problems with weapons does Russia no good. The penalties started to bite; there are indications that Russia was forced to reuse commercial chips for military purposes.
Russia’s choices for technology acquisition are slim. It can supply chips to China, although many Chinese companies have expressed reluctance to do business with Russia in the face of Western sanctions. Russia can try to make as much of it as possible through smuggling, but that’s unlikely to prove to be as big a source of parts as possible.
Historically, Russia has traded arms for technology (and integrated technology into defense industry supply chains), but war is “flushing » Weapons made by the Soviets outside Europe, both by reducing existing stockpiles and making it unlikely or impossible that Russia will be able to supply weapons or upgrades to existing NATO partners. Western capital, know-how and bureaucratic capacity also played a role in keeping Russia’s defense industrial base operational. These ties are dissipating as US companies seek every possible way to escape the Russian market.
Import substitution is the other option. Like Branko Milanovic highlighted, Russia will have to try a new form of import substitution; recreate industries for domestic consumption that were allowed to wither and die in the post-Soviet era. Russia’s economy has survived and, to some extent, thrived on commodity production, but that hasn’t left it with the kind of labor force or industrial facilities needed to turn to production. high tech.
As Milanovic notes, there is a significant mismatch between the need for reindustrialization and the existing skills of the Russian workforce. Russia has a highly skilled workforce with a profile similar to that found in the West; What Russia needs is an industrial workforce capable of producing not-quite-first-class industrial products. There is no indication that Russian IT workers want to return to work in automotive or aircraft factories, or that they can acquire the necessary skills in a practical time frame. Automation will solve some of these problems, but of course a highly automated industrial system will also tend to depend on importing foreign technology.
And yet, Russia must find some sort of solution. He apparently cannot destroy the Ukrainian state and it is extremely unlikely that he can force Ukraine to disarm in any meaningful way. After the end of the war, Russia will therefore face a hostile Ukraine armed to the teeth with modern Western weapons. Depending on how Finland’s NATO membership progresses, Russia will share a wider border with the alliance while being in far worse political conditions. Besides, Russia cannot authorize its arms exports wither; it needs foreign currency, and if Russian industry cannot meet orders, buyers will turn to China, India, Turkey or South Korea.
All is not lost. The problems Russia is currently facing are one of the reasons why the defense industry remains one of the most self-sufficient sectors in the world. Russia has the physical factory needed to build new equipment and upgrade old ones. It has an aging but still capable defense industrial workforce. But saving Russia’s defense industrial base will be one of the most difficult political balances Vladimir Putin’s government has ever faced.
Now editor in 1945, Dr. Robert Farley is a lecturer at the Patterson School at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016) and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020).