The tenure of Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov (2007 – 2012) and the Chief of the General Staff General Nikolai Makarov (2008 – 2012), who served as the main ideologist of the military reform, marked the first turn to the possibility of Russia acquiring weapons in the West. This new trend was presented in a sensational way, and the first contracts for the purchase of directly foreign “platforms” (Mistral, Iveco) concluded in this connection caused fierce controversy.
Of course, a turn to the West in many respects marks a real military-technical, political and mental revolution, since over the past few decades the desire of the USSR was customary, and then, by inertia and post-Soviet Russia, to provide almost all national production with weapons. Still, if you look back at the Russian military historyit is easy to see that the purchase of weapons and military technology abroad over the centuries has been an important part of the Russian military efforts. The period of more or less fully autarkic self-sufficiency of Russia (USSR) takes only a relatively small segment of Soviet history from 1945 to 1991 a year - however, even then, the USSR actively connected allied enterprises of Eastern Europe to the production of part of weapons and equipment.
The reasons for Russia's imports of armaments over the centuries are fairly obvious. Already in the early stages of the formation of a Russian centralized state, tendencies towards its technological and economic lagging behind the countries of Western Europe emerged. Prolonged Mongol conquest (1240 – 1480), constant wars with nomadic neighbors, rarity of the population, continental character of a country with huge spaces and distances, difficulty of communication, harsh climate contributed to low profitability of agriculture, weak cities, underdeveloped trade and crafts. Under these conditions, Russia was forced to import a significant part of the products of material production, including weapon, from Europe, where cities and industry have received rapid development.
As a result, Russia becomes a buyer in the West of firearms and what today would be called strategic materials (namely, non-ferrous metals necessary for the production of guns and cannons), already under Prince Ivan III (1462 – 1505), which, in fact, created centralized Russian state. The privileged partner of Moscow during this period was Denmark, which became the main supplier of modern weapons at that time.
Russia actively bought weapons and resorted to the help of Western military specialists and engineers both during the 16th century, especially during the first Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible (1533 – 1584), and during the 17th century, when the most intensive ties were established with Sweden.
It was the Swedish kingdom, which actively fought against Moscow’s historical adversary, Poland, for almost a hundred years that became for Russia the main source of cannons and iron.
In the 17th century, under the tsars Mikhail Fedorovich (1613 – 1645) and Alexey Mikhailovich (1645 – 1676), the formation of a Western-type army began on a regular basis (regiments of the new system), to which officers employed in Europe were widely involved. Arms and armor for the new regiments were mostly imported from Europe: the lances were bought mainly from the Netherlands, and firearms from Germany. At the same time, large-scale measures were taken to create their own military industry, and again based on Western knowledge and experience. At the direction of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich, in the year 1632, the Dutchman Andreas Vinius founded state-owned iron manufactories, which became the main supplier of cold and firearms and armor for the Russian army. However, the own production of guns in Russia has traditionally lacked, and their simultaneous purchases abroad were conducted almost until the end of the XIX century.
Needless to say, the colossal role played by foreign military specialists and foreign purchases during the reforms of Peter the Great (1689 – 1725), when the regular army and navy of the European type were finally created. Almost all the military news in the XVIII – XIX centuries came to Russia from Europe.
A new surge in foreign acquisitions occurred a century and a half later. The transition to steam shipbuilding in the middle of the XIX century led to the need to purchase steam engines for ships in England. Moreover, on a number of Russian steam warships, even the mechanics were originally hired by the British, despite the fact that Russia and Great Britain soon entered the Crimean War of 1853 – 1856 with each other.
The Crimean War clearly demonstrated Russia's noticeable technological lag behind the advanced industrializing Western powers. The second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century became the time of rapid development of military technologies in the West. Russia here inevitably once again found itself in the role of catching up. As a result, during this period until the collapse of the imperial regime in 1917, the country became an increasingly large buyer of foreign weapons. The then rapidly changing generations of small arms and artillery demanded large purchases of relevant samples, licenses and patents abroad. In 1867, the Austrian rifle Krnka became the standard rifle of the Russian army. With the 1870, it was replaced by the American rifle Berdan. The latter, in turn, was replaced in 1891 by the famous Mosin rifle, developed using the design of the Belgian inventor Nagant. Revolvers for the Russian army were also mainly purchased in the United States, until the license issue in 1895 of the Nagan revolver began, which became the standard pistol of the Russian army for almost half a century.
In the field of artillery, the transition to rifled systems was carried out in Russia based on Germanic Krupp system samples. He developed and produced the main types of Russian 1867 and 1877 sample guns, with Russia initially purchasing large quantities of guns in Germany. Before World War I, the country held a number of international competitions for the selection of heavy artillery guns, acquiring licenses for a number of French Schneider systems and German Krupp systems.
According to Western models, domestic shipbuilding was also actively developing. The first Russian armored ship was the First-born armored floating battery ordered in 1861 in England. In the future, Russia systematically ordered ships of almost all classes abroad, including battleships. Destroyers ordered in whole batches, and then built under license.
Particularly indicative in this regard is the composition of the Russian fleet in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, when almost all of the most efficient and modern ships were either acquired abroad or built in Russia according to more or less modified foreign projects. Ships of a purely Russian origin, with some exceptions, did not differ in brilliance of combat and technical characteristics. Purchases of ships and mechanisms abroad continued after the Russo-Japanese War - just remember the British-built powerful armored cruiser Rurik-II and German steam turbines for Russian destroyers of the Novik type.
Arms import reached its natural maximum during the First World War (1914–1918), when the Russian defense industry in the first three years of the war was unable to meet the colossal needs of the army in small arms, machine guns, artillery, gunpowder and ammunition. Almost completely originally imported planes and cars, and even creating their own aviation industry until 1917 did not eliminate dependence on imports of aircraft engines, which remained Russia's weak point before the revolution. On the eve of the Bolshevik coup, negotiations were held on the purchase in France and the UK tanks.
Capitalist weapons for the dictatorship of the proletariat
Although the Bolsheviks came to power with the slogans of the struggle against world imperialism and constantly denounced the tsarist regime for backwardness, it was the first half to two decades of Soviet military construction that became the heyday of the purchase of foreign weapons and military technologies on a huge scale. The Soviet Union in general created its defense industry, unsurpassed in many respects, to a large extent with foreign (German mainly) participation.
In this case, two factors coincided: the collapse of the Russian military industry as a result of the 1917 – 1922 civil war and the mass flight or extermination of qualified personnel, as well as the Bolsheviks' striving for the forced modernization of the country and the general Bolshevik worship of technology. Soviet military theorists dreamed of creating powerful mechanized armies and air fleets, with no basis for this in a country that was in decline after the destructive revolution. There was no place to take modern military equipment, except to buy from the Western imperialists.
As a result, throughout all 20-s and the beginning of 30-s, the material part of the Soviet Air Force was mainly Western production. And initially, they were based on combat aircraft that were massively purchased in the UK, despite the fact that “British imperialism” was considered the enemy number 1. Airplanes were also purchased in France and Italy, but the greatest effect was the cooperation with the German aviation industry, which to a large extent worked for Moscow in the 20s. In addition to the purchase of a large number of aircraft in Germany and their release under licenses, a base was created for all-metal aircraft construction - the Junkers plant at Fili in Moscow. Virtually all Soviet aviation engines 30 – 40-x were licensed German, French or American models or their further upgrades. Even at the end of 30, licenses were purchased for a number of American aircraft, including the famous DC-3 and the Catalina seaplane.
Tank building in the USSR was created on the basis of British (Vickers of different types) purchased in 1930 – 1931 and American (tank Christie) samples. As a result, all the Soviet 30 tanks baked in thousands were essentially copies of the purchased ones or their variations. The further development of the Christie machine (built as BT in the USSR) led to the creation of the T-34 tank in the USSR.
The basis for the development of artillery was the extensive cooperation at the end of 20-x and the beginning of 30-s with the German group Rheinmetall, under the license of which a number of well-known samples were launched into the series. A secret collaboration developed with the Czech company Skoda and the Swedish Bofors, who also gave the USSR a number of specimens of tools launched into production.
Already after Hitler came to power, the German companies under the 1934 contract of the year developed for the Soviet fleet a project of the submarine E-2, then built in large quantities in the USSR as the type "C". In Italy, torpedoes were bought, then mass-produced in the Soviet Union. Also in Italy, in 1934, the USSR ordered the ultrafast leader of the Tashkent destroyers and two patrol ships for its fleet. On the eve of the Second World War, the design of a number of types of ships was ordered in the United States and even negotiations were held on the possible construction of battleships and destroyers for the Soviet fleet in America, which were unsuccessful due to opposition from the American government.
The Second World War became a new stage for the mass import of weapons to the USSR. Initially, the Soviet Union successfully reaped the fruits of its 1939 pact of the year with Germany, purchasing from the Germans to study a significant amount of the most modern weapons and military technology, as well as carrying out massive imports of German equipment for its military industry. Including in Germany, the unfinished heavy cruiser Lutzow was even bought - however, due to the start of the war, it was not fully commissioned.
Launched in June 1941, the war with Germany made the USSR a key ally of Britain and the United States. As a result, the Anglo-American military lend-lease assistance surged into the Soviet Union (it is appropriate to note that some of the first purchases in the UK in 1941 were carried out on a commercial basis). The USSR received a huge amount of modern weapons and supplies. And if the supply of military equipment (tanks and aircraft) played a subordinate role in relation to Soviet defense production itself, the supply of vehicles, gunpowder, food and many military materials were of critical importance for the USSR. As part of the Lend-Lease, the Soviet Union gained access to a number of advanced military technologies, such as radar stations.
Along with the “mastering” of German trophies and captured German military technologies, the “absorption” of Lend Lease helped the USSR to make a qualitative technological leap in the military sphere in the first post-war years.
However, then a whole series of highly significant acquisitions in the West was accomplished. For example, in the second half of the 40s in the UK, Rolls Royce Nene II and Derwent jet engines and licenses for them were quite legally purchased.
Mastered by production in the USSR, these engines were installed on almost all Soviet main jet fighter planes of the first generation, including the mass serial fighter jet MiG-15. In addition, it is curious to note that before the 1951 of the year, push-button automatics for protection of the Siemens electrical grid were installed on the MiG-15.
Movement to the era of Serdyukov
Even the post-war USSR, which built a self-sufficient and quasi-avtarki defense-industrial system, nevertheless had to resort to purchases abroad in a number of cases. Suffice it to recall that within the framework of the Warsaw Pact, there was some military-industrial specialization. In this specialization, Czechoslovakia, for example, became the main developer and manufacturer of training and light passenger aircraft for the USSR and other countries of the Eastern bloc. Poland produced light aircraft and helicopters and built for the Soviet fleet medium and large landing ships, as well as auxiliary vessels. In Czechoslovakia, for deliveries, including in the USSR, licensed production of Soviet infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1 was set up, in Bulgaria self-propelled howitzers and armored tractors, in Poland - mortars, in the GDR - anti-tank missiles.
In Finland, throughout the post-war period, auxiliary vessels for the navy were ordered. But there were also more exotic cases of foreign procurement, including in capitalist countries. In a number of Soviet weapons, subsystems and components purchased in the West were used. So, for patrol ships and minesweepers in 60-ies in Germany, Flettner wing thrusters and thrusters were bought. At the beginning of the 80-s in Japan, three-meter-diameter Bridgestone tires were purchased for the MAZ-7904 transport-launcher of the Celina mobile strategic missile system, since the Soviet industry did not manufacture such tires. In 80, a license was acquired for German diesel engines Deutz specifically to equip the new series of Soviet military vehicles (after the collapse of the USSR, the newly built factory for the production of these engines remained in Kazakhstan).
Thus, the return of Russia under the Minister of Defense Serdyukov to the practice of importing weapons and technologies from the West became in essence a return to the historical norm lost in specific conditions after the Second World War. Moreover, if we analyze not only the historical, but also the actual international context, it will become clear that there are practically no autarkic military-industrial systems left in the world. Practically all large arms exporters are at the same time more or less large importers. This applies even to the United States, which possesses colossal economic, technological, and financial strength, which, in theory, allows this country to fully cover its needs by the forces of the national industry. Every year, the United States buys arms, equipment and equipment abroad for several billion dollars. True, the bulk of these purchases falls on the UK, whose defense industry has largely lost its national identity and is in fact an appendage of the American military industry.
It is clear that Russia today is too small an economy to allow itself to have a completely autonomous defense industry complex, as a result of which integration into international specialization seems to be an inevitable imperative. In general, it should be noted that the import of military equipment in general is cheaper than the content of its own developed defense industry. Another thing is that the rejection of the national defense industry in Russian conditions may be tantamount to the rejection of national sovereignty. In this sense, the Russian Federation is now faced with the task of finding the optimal balance between the two extremes - the rate exclusively on purchases abroad and a focus on the preservation of military-industrial autarky.
In addition to financial and economic, there are purely military imperatives of arms imports. In a number of segments, the lag of the Russian industry from the leaders is so great that overcoming this lag is either impossible in principle or would require an unacceptably high investment of time and resources. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of Russia must solve the task of ensuring military security not in the distant future, but today. And accordingly, they cannot wait for the years that are needed for R & D (without any guarantee of their success) and the deployment of mass production, for example, unmanned systems.