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With Russia's $650 billion rearmament plan, the bear sharpens its teeth

If Russia can reduce reliance on its aging Soviet-era nuclear missile deterrent, analysts say it could create a 'whole new ball game.'

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"It's hard to see what our Navy needs these Mistral money pits for," says Viktor Baranets, a former defense ministry spokesman who's now military correspondent for the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. He says they may be prestigious, "but they require a huge amount of protection. At any time, half the Russian Navy may be employed just escorting these ships around the world."

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The new submarines will be designed to deploy a brand-new long-range nuclear missile, the Bulava, which has failed half of its flight tests so far. "Defense ministers can make promises, but no designer or engineer can promise that the Bulava will be operational in time," says Mr. Baranets.

Uncertainty over new stealth fighter

Experts point out that most of the new weaponry to be procured is actually based on old, Soviet-era designs, including the Mi-28 helicopter gunship, the Mi-26 transport helicopter, and the Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighter plane.

"These are all designs from the late Soviet period, and not really new at all," says Alexander Golts, military expert with the online newsmagazine Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "The lack of fresh designs shows the underlying weakness of our military-industrial complex."

The only truly new weapons being rolled out, says Mr. Golts, are the trouble-plagued Bulava missile and the much-hyped "fifth-generation" fighter plane that Russia is reportedly developing with India.

"We don't know enough about this Russian fifth-generation fighter to tell whether it is the real thing" – a futuristic stealth fighter comparable to the US Air Force's F-22 and F-35 warplanes – "or if it's just a jumped-up version of something old," says Golts.

Critics say that despite the huge sums of money slated to be injected into the rearmament program, it is far short of the amounts needed to revive Russia's moribund military-industrial complex, which has lost the vast network of subcontractors that existed in Soviet times.

"This is not the first time the Kremlin has talked about military modernization," says Golts. "But all previous programs have failed."

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