MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia's weapon designers are the best science-fiction authors

(Images: Presidential Press and Information Office, Vitaly V. Kuzmin, and Dmitry Terekhov)

Russia has the world's best tanks, top-tier fifth-generation aircraft, and weapons that can zap enemy munitions from the sky or burn out their guidance systems.

Or at least, that's what Russia wants you to think, despite a horrible track record of actually creating and manufacturing top-tier weapons for actual deployment.


Russia's Su-57 isn't a bad plane, but it is far from what was promised on paper.

(Dmitry Terekhov, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Take, for instance, Russia's new-ish plans for a sixth-generation fighter. It's supposed to destroy the guidance systems of missiles chasing it, take photo-quality radar images of enemy planes, and be nearly impervious to many forms of jamming. It would even have an advanced "multi-spectral optical system" that can take photos using visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light.

Sounds awesome, right? Before you start practicing the Russian anthem to welcome our technological overlords, remind yourself that this is coming from a country that has a fifth-generation stealth fighter which is likely not very stealthy and doesn't feature supercruise, so, you know, not really a fifth-generation fighter.

And Russia can't even afford this underwhelming aircraft, declining to put it into serial production under the flimsy excuse that it's too good of a plane to bother buying en masse. India was part of a deal to develop its own version of the fighter, but India declined to follow through in the face of weak performance.

The T-14 Armata tank might be awesome, but few outside of Russia know for sure, and Russia can't buy enough of them for it to matter anyway.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The T-14 Armata tank is the Su-57 of land forces, just not in a good way. It's also supposed to be full of game-changing technology like active protection from missiles, but most of the tech remains unproven, and Russia can't afford to buy it in sufficient quantities, either.

Meanwhile, the Shtorm is going to be Russia's new supercarrier. It'll be the same size as the Ford-class supercarrier and have four launching positions and electromagnetic catapults. But while they say it will begin construction sometime soon after 2025, Russia lost most of its experts in carrier design and construction after the fall of the Soviet Union. They haven't launched a carrier since 1985. So going straight out the gate with a massive, futuristic design is optimistic.

Also, the flashy Peresvet Combat Laser System hasn't been fired publicly, the KH-35U anti-ship missile has a woefully short range, and the nuclear-powered missile with an unlimited range actually flew about 22 miles before breaking down.

The Peresvet Combat Laser System has made a few splashes online, but almost none of its supposed capabilities have actually been publicly demonstrated.

(Presidential Press and Information Office, CC BY-SA 4.0)

So when Russia starts making big claims about its sixth-generation fighter, don't worry too hard. Sure, they say it will fly in swarms with 20-30 drones accompanying it. And they say it will carry directed energy weapons. And they say the swarms will be capable of electronic warfare, carrying microwave weapons, and suppressing enemy radar and electronics.

But they use propaganda to fill in the gaps in their actual defenses. And this new fighter, like the carrier, tank, laser, missiles, and prior fighters, is likely a dud.

But let's clap our hands for the propaganda masters who've been making all this stuff up. They're churning out futuristic novel ideas faster than most prolific authors.