Russia and the United States have again traded weapons threats.
On January 20, it was reported that the United States was planning to deploy its Patriot surface-to-air missiles not in Warsaw suburbs, but in Warminsko-Mazurskie Province close to Morag, a town 60 kilometers from the Russian border.
In response, on the morning of January 21, a high-ranking representative of the Russian Navy said that Russia was going to strengthen its Baltic Fleet in view of the scheduled siting of Patriots near the Russian border.
A few hours later the statement was withdrawn, and a Defense Ministry spokesman said that "All rearmament and modernization measures being conducted in the Russian fleets, including the Baltic Fleet, are scheduled in accordance with the state armaments program and are part of the drive for a new image of the Armed Forces."
At the same time, this exchange of views has focused attention on Russia's potential to reinforce its Armed Forces in general and the Baltic Fleet in particular. How great is this potential?
Unfortunately, current progress in replenishing the Navy (the entire Navy, not just the Baltic Fleet) is still far from meeting the targets set and existing requirements. The latest large surface ship to join the Navy has been the frigate Yaroslav Mudry, built as Project 1154. The construction of this vessel, the second in its class, took 20 years and it was not commissioned for service until 2009.
Among the latest ships, there is one new Project 20380 corvette, which has been completed, and four more under construction scheduled to become operational in the next few years. Then there are Project 22350 frigates, which are larger and more powerful. The type ship of this series - Admiral Gorshkov - was laid down in 2006 and is to join the ranks in 2011. In 2009, construction began of a second ship, Admiral Kasatonov.
With new diesel submarines, things are not any more positive. The type submarine of Project 677, undergoing trials since 2006, has still not been accepted as part of the Navy, which is hampering the construction of the entire series, while two more boats are being built.
The number of ships currently being built looks smaller still when viewed in the context of four distant fleets operated by Russia, each of which calls for new additions, and this not counting the Caspian Sea flotilla. Two fleets of the four - the Northern and the Pacific - are ocean-going, and their mission, among other tasks, is to operate strategic missile submarine cruisers. Replenishing these naval groups is of paramount necessity.
It is clear that such purchases in no way compensate for the retirement of outdated ships. This raises the issue of upgrading the current inventory, giving a new lease on life to such ships and submarines by installing the latest weapons on them.
The same applies to all other elements of the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, reports about the commissioning of new combat units of different classes often serve as a cover to hide the critical situation with the availability of military equipment.
Only a purposeful policy backed by new ideas and more funds can help overcome this crisis.
First, a new military doctrine should be adopted, its provisions giving a clear answer to which kinds of weapons systems the army needs and in what numbers. These figures must not be kept secret but made public, as is done in NATO countries, which regularly issue defense forecasts, analyzing possible threats and proposing a future face for the armed forces.
With this background, a new armaments program should be passed, combining deliveries of new weapons and repairs of old ones in amounts great enough to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces.
These forecasts and corresponding purchase programs should be reviewed regularly to keep the development of the country's Armed Forces in line with changing circumstances.
All documents should have an appropriate backing: a running modern industry and funding. This requirement is among the most complex these days, but unless it is met the Russian Armed Forces are bound to degrade.
And last but not least: the chief condition for success in upgrading the Armed Forces is the political will of the country's leadership, expressed openly and unequiocally.
Such things usually have a much greater effect than episodes like Baltic Fleet vs. Patriots in Poland.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)