26 June 2019

What Will Russian Military Capabilities Look Like in the Future?

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Because of conflicting interests between Russia and the West and because Russia's future intentions are uncertain, how Russia develops its military presents real challenges to the United States and its allies. Russia's military appears to have improved significantly since the war in Georgia in 2008. Uncertainty about the future strength of the Russian military poses challenges for Western defense planners. Russia could seek to strengthen its numerous ground forces to achieve greater parity with the West, or its economy and demographics may force it to constrain the size and quality of its forces. Russia may also focus its military investment across competing priorities, including preparing for war with NATO, military dominance against former Soviet republics, or global power projection.

This brief summarizes a report analyzing the development of Russia's military capabilities over the next 20 years — with a focus on ground combat — and the implications of that development for U.S.-Russian competition and for the U.S. Army. RAND researchers designed a two-part theoretical framework to analyze the development of Russia's military forces relevant to ground combat: (1) identify and make forecasts about the political, economic, demographic, and societal factors underlying Russian military power, and (2) analyze the likely future development of key military capability areas. This framework provides a transparent, flexible, and systematic approach for making forecasts over the short term (next 5 years), medium term (5–10 years), or long term (10–20 years).

Researchers relied on open sources —including official Russian government documents, official budgets, law, and public statements — and on a range of detailed open-source reports about the Russian military by government, government-sponsored, and nongovernmental research institutions, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Swedish Defense Research Agency, the Foreign Military Studies Office, RAND, and others. Russian and Western news media also provided reporting on Russian military developments and operations. Finally, researchers spoke with U.S. and Russian officials and analysts studying the Russian military.

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