Russian microwave cannon added to arms catalog. Just business, or a bit of bravado?

The Russian government is unveiling several new high-tech weapons at this week's Army 2015 show, including a microwave anti-drone cannon and new tanks and planes. But the show is about more than just sales.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/File
Russian T-14 Armata tanks make their way to Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 4, The Armata, which will be on display in this week's Army 2015 arms show in Russia, is expected to form the backbone of the nation's armed forces for years to come.

Russia is unveiling its 21st century weaponry, including a microwave cannon that can disable drones and warheads, as well as a new generation of fighting robots

The Army 2015 show that opens Tuesday near Moscow will be Russia's biggest ever arms exhibition. And it will showcase a revived arms industry that no longer just recycles and updates old Soviet designs, but has a catalog filled with advanced modern weaponry for both domestic use and for export. 

"We now have a full-scale attempt to revive our military-industrial complex," says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Previous attempts have failed, due to lack of funding. The current effort has the long overdue, primary goal of re-equipping the Russian military," he says.

But the show may also serve another purpose – to boost public spirit at home and distract from the military's spotty record as it attempts to rebuild after the Soviet era.

The Russian defense ministry and national space agency are sponsoring the show, and have been talking it up for months now. Vladimir Putin is expected to make an appearance, along with thousands of curious Russians and a good many foreign military observers and prospective buyers. The show will reportedly feature 5,000 "cutting-edge" Russian weapons systems, along with displays by the country's top aviation stunt teams, and a spectacle billed as "tank ballet."

The exhibition's highlights will include the new microwave gun, which will fit right into the 21st century battlefield by killing drones and disabling warheads with a blast of high-frequency radiation at a distance of up to 10 km. All the country's newest combat aircraft will be on display, along with the first post-Soviet family of armored vehicles, especially the new Armata battle tank, first rolled out at the Moscow Victory Day parade last month.

Russia's venerable maker of assault weapons, Kalashnikov, will debut its new line of guns, body armor, and  all-condition clothing for special forces.

A rough recovery

But the Russian military is experiencing a lot more problems than will be on display at the Army 2015 exhibit, Mr. Zolotaryov says.

Russia is in the midst of a massive rearmament program which will see over 70 percent of the military's hardware replaced by 2020. Despite slowdowns in some key programs due to the economic crisis, including the much-discussed fifth-generation fighter plane, Russian media claims that development and procurement of advanced weapons will continue without a break.

Russia's military-industrial complex virtually collapsed along with the Soviet Union a quarter century ago, and despite Mr. Putin's $700 billion rearmament program it reportedly still suffers from lack of skilled personnel, massive cost overruns, and less-than-satisfactory production.

Accidents have also plagued Russia's ambitious attempts to revive its space program.

Even the venerable Soviet era Tu-95 "Bear" bomber has suffered a string of mishaps, and the entire fleet has been grounded. The bomber had recently garnered headlines as it ventured out into European and North American airspace to revive Russia's cold war-era global patrol patterns.

Still, none of that looks likely to cloud the Army 2015 show, which experts say is at least as much about bolstering public spirit as it is about publicizing Russia's new warfare capabilities.

"One major purpose of this exhibition is to stimulate patriotic feeling, and to help the military improve its public image, especially among the youth," Zolotaryov says.

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