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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two Magic Budget Words

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The newspeak equivalent of "Open, Sesame!" for Russian officialdom consists of the following two words: fifth generation. Newly appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has only to utter this invocation and the door to the Treasury swings open. And this potential presidential successor has jumped all over his chance. The military-industrial commission, composed of the highest-ranking state officials, formerly met twice per year, but now meets every week to wander from one defense research institute to another. Ivanov used such an occasion, in the offices of the Almaz-Antei scientific-industrial facility, on Feb. 27 to make a statement that, coming from someone else, might have caused a sensation. "Today I would like to speak about a fifth generation weapons project," he said, "that will include not only anti-aircraft capabilities, but also anti-missile and anti-space weaponry defenses.

"It must be an integrated system, uniting informational, tactical and management systems of the air defense, ballistic missile defense and space defense systems," he continued. "This is a serious and expensive project involving unique technologies and innovations, which we must develop by the 2015 deadline set by the state armaments program."

So, in eight years Russia will have a "system of systems" uniting informational, tactical and management elements of the anti-missile, anti-aircraft and anti-space weaponry defenses.

Not trusting my less-than-modest-technical knowledge, I sought clarification from specialists. "Nonsense" was the only printable reply I received.

What we're talking about is the interception and destruction of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, satellites, aircraft and helicopters. All of these objects fly at different speeds and altitudes. More importantly, they fly according to different principles. So defending against them requires inherently different systems. It is impossible, for example, to create a single system capable of defeating both ballistic missiles and aircraft.

Or perhaps Russian scientists have an eight-year deadline to deliver a weapons system based on as yet unknown principles of physics. So Sergei Ivanov is planning the development of a gigantic project that will, like former-U.S. President Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program, depend entirely on future technological breakthroughs. Why, then, create a new design-engineering department at the Almaz-Antei site, which already specializes in traditional anti-aircraft weaponry?

One analyst told me how this all would end. "When it comes time to deliver the final product," he said, "the commanders of the air, missile and space defense systems will gather in one room, project all their various targets onto one large screen, and call it a unified system. Nobody will pay any attention to the fact that the power cords running from them will be connected to different, absolutely incompatible defense systems."

The idea of unifying these systems is probably nothing more than a bureaucratic response to the U.S. system. The logic is simple, if not primitive. The United States has managed to create a remarkable "system of systems," combining space, air-reconnaissance and targeting capabilities with a "tactical platform" utilizing aircraft and cruise missiles. Russia's leaders have decided this calls for a unified system of our own. But the only thing the current military leadership is capable of doing is reshuffling existing parts. Recall how the military-space force was formed from the strategic missile command when they wanted to get rid of strategic missile force commander Vladimir Yakovlev. The unified system plan is more likely to help some general receive more stars than to become a reality itself.

The early deadline that has been set for the system is especially impressive. At the same meeting where he called for the new system, Ivanov spoke proudly of the completed work on the Triumph S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system, the first elements of which will soon go into active duty. But the S-400 was created in the mid-1980s, went through testing from 1999 to 2003 at Kapustin Yar, and only now is expected to enter service. And this is only one weapon system.

The term "fifth generation" is no doubt a suggestion from the clever folks working in the defense establishment. Not long ago, the term was used exclusively in reference to aircraft technology, where the promise to create fifth generation fighter jets gained officials access to state budget funds even during the lean 1990s. Today, a reference to a fifth generation is the equivalent of a master key. Don't be surprised if we start hearing about fifth-generation small arms in the near future.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.