Is Russia preparing for a major conflict?

The Swedish Defense Research Agency, or FOI, released a detailed student report the evolution of strategic exercises in Russia, to deduce the objectives and capabilities of the Russian armed forces. Several aspects are particularly noteworthy in this report. First of all, there has been a very significant increase in the format of the exercises in which the Russian forces are engaged. Thus, if in 2010, the exercises brought together 5 to 10.000 men, they now bring together between 100.000 and 150.000. The same goes for the Navy, going from 10 to 40 vessels hired per exercise, and the air force, going from a few dozen to several hundred aircraft per exercise. In addition, the exercises have become mostly joint, where they were previously devoted to a single army.

The second remarkable aspect is based on the surprise inspections, which appeared in 2013, and which considerably increased the reaction and preparedness capacities of the Russian armed forces. Thus, the report estimates that it would now only take 2 to 4 weeks for the Russian forces to engage a force of 150.000 men capable of maintaining a large-scale military action over time. By way of comparison, the RAND had estimated that France was able to implement 2 mechanized brigades with support units in 4 weeks (i.e. 12.000 to 15.000 men), like Great Britain, while Germany or Italy would struggle to set up a fully operational brigade within the same timeframe.

Finally, the report emphasizes the very notable improvement in the operational capabilities of the Russian forces, whether from the point of view of training and the strengthening of personnel, as well as equipment and the logistics chain, and concludes that now Russia was in a position to engage in a large-scale conflict, whether against NATO or China, and would be able to sustain the effort over time. By projecting the Defense programs announced, and the reforms undertaken, both in Russia, in the West and in China, we see that Russia will benefit from the best differential in force between 2025 and 2035, compared to Europe. Beyond that, new generation programs, such as the FCAS and the MGCS, will be likely to reestablish Western technological dominance, assuming that Russia remains on current programs, such as the Su-57 and the T-14.

On the Chinese side, the differential will be satisfactory from 2030, when the Chinese fleet will have 6 aircraft carriers, new Type 055 cruisers in quantity, and new generations of submarines, which the Air Force will have at their disposal. J-20 in quantity, as well as the replacement for the JH-7 and the H-6, and that the army will have finalized its transformation towards modern equipment, such as the T-99 tank. Therefore, the period 2030-2035 appears to be the optimum period for a Sino-Russian alliance to impose itself militarily on Western forces, in order to redefine the geopolitical map of the Eurasian continent.

It would therefore be largely profitable for France, as for European countries, to adapt their Defense programs to this geopolitical reality. If Russia's intention to carry out an offensive in Europe is not established, the fact is that it will have the means, just as China will have the means to impose itself on the Indo-Pacific belt. The two countries are also increasing their diplomatic efforts to form a network of military and economic alliances guaranteeing their resilience in the event of a major conflict: Russia with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Syria or Algeria, and China with Pakistan or Bangladesh. In addition, the two countries are increasing their rapprochements with Iran, as with Turkey, as well as with many African countries, offering as many points of support and defense. 

However, current programs, such as the FCAS, the MGCS, the British Tempest, or the FMAN/FMC missiles, have a timetable and a structure aimed at the generational evolution of European forces beyond 2035, therefore, obviously, at the beyond the maximum risk period. By adding intermediate stages to these programs, so as to have a European air supply benefiting from the latest technological developments in 2030, would therefore be likely to rebalance military potential in Europe, and therefore reduce the risks of conflict. 

Furthermore, these intermediate steps would not require calling into question the objectives of these programs. Thus, within the framework of the MGCS, having an E-MBT from 2025 to boost French, German and other European armored units would be likely to moderate the superiority of Russian land forces, which will remain massively equipped of T72B3M and T90M. For the FCAS, the development of a version of Rafale, and perhaps Typhoon, specialized in electronic warfare, as well as a UCAV comparable to the objectives of the FCAS, by 2025/2030, would allow the European air forces to maintain a capacity for action in depth against Russian anti-aircraft defense systems, and therefore to balance the overall military potential.

European countries, or at least the Franco-German couple, would be wise to carry out an objective study for the design of a common White Paper, the objective of which would be precisely to prepare the period 2025-2035...

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