GENOA — Eager to get Western defense technology to fill its defense gaps without having to spend years and billions of rubles developing it locally, Russia is increasingly partnering with cash-strapped Italy.
Russia’s acquisitions have already benefited Europe — it is, for instance, acquiring French Mistral helicopter carriers — and Moscow is now on the hunt for Western armored fighting vehicles (AFV).
Officials evaluated several European designs, including the Rheinmetall Boxer, the GD-Mowag Piranha and the French VBCI, before aiming for the Italian Freccia VBM (Veicolo Blindato Medio) infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), as well as the Centauro AFV, which can be armed with a 105mm or 120mm gun. A trial campaign is going on in Russia involving a 105mm version.
Russia is interested in advanced mobility solutions, protection and armor, firepower, the latest fire control and communications. Russia would like to customize foreign systems by adding its own subsystems, and asking the contractor for specific modifications of the basic design.
For instance, Russia has decided not to change its standard weapon systems calibers. Some preliminary assessments are being carried out to see if Russian guns can be modified to fit into modern, remotely controlled turrets. Oto Melara is involved in these technical evaluations, including automatic reloading systems for heavy guns. At the same time, Russia believes it does not possess a light, short recoil gun that can be fitted on an 8 X 8 AFV.
Russia wants to allow its own AFV industry to be involved in the production and support of the foreign vehicles and to acquire the skills to produce new designs. At the same time, Russian military authorities are resisting pressure from their industrial complex to get Russian funding to develop required systems locally. Russian President Vladimir Putin is adamant he does not want to commit time and money to an all-Russian approach, unless there is a reasonable prospect of quickly getting state-of-the-art systems that provide the required capabilities.
If there is a new main battle tank, it will be locally designed, but the Russian defense ministry is not willing to wait years and accept risks and cost increases to allow local industry to develop lower-end systems. In the AFV case, the army is eager to get new vehicles to replace older designs that have been intensively used and are either obsolete or time-expired.
In theory, deliveries of the new AFV should start as soon as 2015, but it is quite possible this date will slip. Procurement of the whole complement of specialized variants (including command post, recovery, ambulance, mortar and so on) is envisioned.
The Russian appetite for Italian technology is not limited to AFVs. It is also known that Russia is interested in Beretta small arms, including the new ARX-160 assault rifle in service with the Italian army. Russian army representatives have been briefed on the Italian army’s Future Soldier program, as well as on the Forza Nec network-centric/digitalization program. Italian authorities have made it clear they will screen the technologies, but in principle there is no veto.