We've slammed the Russian defense industry for their failures before, but those mostly the result of bureaucratic missteps, when the Russian Ministry of Defense overreaches on requirements and underfunds budgets. Russian weapons designers are, however, perfectly capable and they can come up with some gems when given the money and time.
Here are seven weapons to watch out for if a new war kicks off:
The S-400 launch vehicle needs to be combined with a radar and a command vehicle to get the job done, but it's absolutely lethal.
(Vitaly Ragulin, CC BY-SA 3.0)
S-400/S-300 surface-to-air missile systems
The S-300 was a game-changer in the Cold War, allowing the Soviets to drive a few trucks that could detect enemy planes, track multiple targets, and guide multiple missiles to multiple targets at once. They can carry two types of missiles at once, a long-range missile and a short range one — it's like having anti-aircraft rifles and shotguns in one package. Decades of upgrades have kept the system fully capable.
But while the S-300 is still potent, its descendant, the S-400, is better. It retains all of the S-300's power while being capable of carrying four missile types. To continue the comparison above, it adds a submachine gun and a SAW to the mix as it targets American jets. And while it isn't certain that it can detect and track F-22s or F-35s, it is possible. Upcoming missiles could extend its range out to 250 miles.
In a war, things could turn into a quick-draw competition between jets and air defense crews to find and kill each other first, but Russia can build and export missiles faster and more effectively than we can make jets.
The Saint Petersburg, a Lada-class diesel-electric attack submarine in 2011.
(Mike1979 Russia, CC BY-SA 3.0)
It's generally accepted that top-of-the-line diesel submarines are quieter than their nuclear counterparts, and Russia has the best. While diesel's drawbacks in range make them a poor choice for offensive warfare, their greater stealth is valuable when you're defending your own waters.
The Kilo- and Lada-class diesel attack submarines are fast, stealthy, and well-armed with torpedoes and missiles. Luckily for the U.S., their sensors often aren't top notch and nuclear attack submarines have a huge advantage over traditional diesels in a protracted fight: the nukes can stay underwater indefinitely, even while maneuvering and fighting, while diesels need to surface for air after a few hours.
The Kirov-class nuclear-powered Frunze underway in the 1980s. These ships were specifically designed to down American aircraft carrier.
(Defense Intelligence Agency)
The Kirov Class is a nuclear-powered Cold War weapon that doesn't get discussed as often as it should. While there are only four of them and they are aged, they were specifically designed to take out American aircraft carriers while defending themselves with anti-aircraft missiles — and they are still capable of that today.
The Kirov-Class ships can find U.S. targets with satellite feeds, an onboard helicopter, or their own systems, and then can engage them with 20 supersonic missiles carrying 1,653-pound warheads up to 300 miles. And, sure, American jets can fly further than that, but the Kirovs carry the same anti-air missiles as are on the S-300 as well as shorter range anti-air, making attacks against them risky.
Russia's Krasukha-4 is a potent electronic warfare platform.
(Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)
It may seem odd to see an electronics warfare platform on a list like this, but cutting the enemy's lines of communications is always valuable, especially in modern warfare. It gives you the ability to blind ISR platforms and cutoff forces in the field from their headquarters and other assets.
And that's what the Krasukha-4 does: drives around the battlefield and allows commanders a quick option to suppress communications and networked capabilities as well as radars. Not sexy, but it can tip battles if the enemy commander isn't prepared.
A Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter flies in an air show.
(Sergey Vladimirov, CC BY 2.0)
While it's sometimes billed as the fastest military helicopter or fastest attack helicopter in the world, it's actually neither of those things, but it's still quick at 186 mph (the Chinook is faster). And it's a tank buster, carrying a 30mm gun that's similar to that on America's Apaches, 80mm unguided rockets that are larger than Apaches, and anti-tank missiles.
Since the Army hasn't had armored anti-air defense since the Linebacker was retired, that means it would have to rely on Patriot and Stinger missiles to defend formations. A less-than-ideal solution against enemy attack helicopters.
Koalitsiya 152 mm Self-Propelled Howitzer
The Koalitsiya 152mm self-propelled howitzer is a powerful weapon that, like the T-14 Armata, Russia won't be able to buy in significant numbers as long as sanctions and mid-range oil prices remain the norm. But it does boast a huge range — 43 miles compared to America's Paladin firing 18 miles and Britain's Braveheart, which only fires 24.
Its automated turret can pump out rounds, reportedly firing up to 15-20 per minute. Paladins top out at 8 rounds per minute and have to drop to one round per three minutes during a sustained fight. That gives the Koalitsiya a massive advantage in a battery vs. battery duel.
Hypersonic anti-ship missiles
These would be ranked higher, but the entire hypersonic missile vs. ship threat is still theoretical and Russia has a recent history of lying about these and other bleeding-edge missiles. So, take any Russian military claims with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to these missiles. But Russia has multiple promising contenders in development like an upgraded Brahmos, the Kinzhal, and the Zircon.
If any of them do become operational, they're game-changers, flying so fast that many anti-missile defenses can't hit them, and punching with enough power that even missiles with small warheads can do insane damage. But successful deployments of the missiles are likely years away.