Moscow Victory Day Parade Tips Putin's Military Strategy

A Russian T-14 tank with the Armata universal combat platform is parked at a range before a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russia's Victory Day military parade on Monday is more a domestic propaganda exercise than an authoritative representation of the nation's achievements in the military sphere. However, this does not mean we cannot draw some valuable conclusions about the general trend in the Russian military development basing those on the equipment proudly displayed in Moscow. This year especially, with the Russian military engaged in Syria and Ukraine, it is worth paying attention to the new military technology Russia has on show and at its disposal.

The Kremlin's New Tech Protects Its Soldiers

Some seemingly minor details observable during the parade allow an important generalization. Firstly, the tectonic shift in the Russian political-military leadership's attitudes toward the Russian armed forces is evidently happening over the last few years, mirroring in the new design features of the Russian military hardware. Like any other developed country, Russia is coming to the recognition that these people are trained personnel who represent the most valuable asset of the armed forces. That recognition makes it impossible to continue postponing the transition from the old design of armored personnel carriers (APC), with infantrymen dismounting via side hatches straight under adversary fire, to the new design philosophy making rear door the must-have design feature. The new design allows infantrymen to dismount under protection of the vehicle's hull, thus radically improving survivability of infantry on a battlefield—and that is the standard feature of all new Russian armored vehicles, ranging from T-15 "Barguzin" heavy infantry fighting vehicle (IFV; this vehicle on "Armata" base will not be shown at the parade this year) to "Kurganets-25" IFV/APC, and relatively light "Bumerang" wheeled APC.

Russian servicemen march during a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade to mark the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Armor protection of the new Russian vehicles radically improved too—making them more shelter for personnel on a battlefield rather than a potential mass grave. That was the case with the previous generation of Soviet/Russian APC/IFV, which infantry preferred to ride on the top rather than under the vehicles' unreliable armor where chances to die collectively as the result of just one successful shot of anti-tank weaponry were prohibitively high. Explosive reactive armour (ERA) and even "Afganit" active anti-tank defense systems (physically intercepting incoming anti-tank weapons) are now found on the heavy and medium IFV/APC as standard features. This is a radical departure from the previous practice where ERA was installed on tanks only while armored vehicles' active defense systems were the technology demonstrated mainly for arms shows domestically and abroad, not for actual force protection.

Taken together, these new standard design features give evidence that survivability of personnel has become the priority for the Russian political-military planners, tasking the Russian military industry, in practice, not as the fancy slogan only. Introduction into service of two variants of "Tayfun" armoured lorries further confirms that latter conclusion: "Tayfun" vehicles are designed to be a secure mean of troops transportation, saving lives in case of terrorist and mine attacks on troops en-route, and making unnecessary entrepreneurial armour-cladding of existing standard lorries.

Russia's New Armored Family Aims to Outmatch U.S.

Emphasis on maximizing troops combat "output," evident from the designs on parade display, is the second novelty in the Russian military developments. New generation Russian combat and transport vehicles are evidently larger than their predecessors—their more spacious and ergonomic internal compartments provide much greater comfort for crews and infantrymen to operate their weapons in combat or preserve good shape even after long period of time spent inside vehicles. That was not the case in the existing Soviet-style highly compact combat vehicles where tiredness of soldiers due to prolonged stays in cramped conditions took its toll. The "Ratnik" new improved combat gear set for soldiers contribute to their combat effectiveness too. The lighter, though more impact-resistant body armor and helmets improve survivability, while the new "Valdai-PG210" collimator sights, which will be publicly shown for the first time at the parade this year, will become the standard feature of Kalashnikov assault rifles improving effectiveness of fire with the weapon not famous for its accuracy.

The final decision to go ahead with re-armament of the Russian airborne troops with the new BMD-4M "Giardiniera" airborne fighting vehicle (AFV) might be seen as another example of the same trend, namely the continued emphasis on the need to achieve operational goals with the use of minimal forces. Russia, which reduced its armed forces more than four times compared to the USSR, cannot rely anymore on use of troops en-masse—that is why the remaining troops must deliver as heavy punch as possible. The 100-millimeter calibre cannon of BMD-4M—the calibre never found on Russian AFVs before—is designed with precisely that goal in mind.

T-14 "Armata"—the new generation Russian main battle tank and the lead member of the wider "Armata" family of heavy vehicles—is designed with the crew survivability as the first priority, as well. But it signifies the novel trend in the Russian military development: creation of the family of standardized combat and combat support vehicles which would perfectly augment each other on the battlefield is the general idea. In this regard "Armata" parallels the US "Striker" concept with one important deviation: the highly-survivable heavy vehicles, rather than lightly-armored ones, will become the base of the Russian "Striker-ski" forces. No doubt they will be able to deliver the heavier blow while remaining difficult targets for adversary.

Dr. Igor Sutyagin is Senior Research Fellow in Russian Studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).