Belarus is expected to invest heavily in modernizing its armed forces in the 2020’s, with Minsk having cited the threat of a growing NATO deployments near its borders, including the planned construction of major U.S. military bases in Poland.
The American withdrawal from the INF Treaty and possible plans to deploy medium and intermediate range missiles to Europe, forms a potential threat to which it is ready to respond.
The perceived threat has only been exacerbated by Western support for riots in the country in August which led to a further deterioration in relations between Belarus and NATO member states, and brought the country closer to its longstanding defence partner and traditional ally Russia.
While Belarus has refused to provide Russia with an airbase on its territory, the Belarusian Armed Forces are expected to purchase a range of new Russian weapons systems over the coming decade to counter the growing capabilities of the NATO alliance near its borders.
The five major weapons systems Belarus is most likely to acquire from Russia over the coming decade are as follows.
Belarus is considered a leading client for the MiG-35 ‘4++ generation’ medium weight fighter, the latest fighter to enter service in the Russian Air Force with the class first commissioned in July 2019.
The backbone of the Belarusian Air Force is currently comprised of around 38 MiG-29C medium weight multi-role fighters, with the country having inherited a sizeable MiG-29 fleet after the collapse of the Soviet Union but selling off several units and modernizing two squadrons’ worth to the MiG-29C standard.
The Belarusian Air Force will look to replace the MiG-29, with the MiG-35 being the most natural successor.
The newer fighter notably uses much of the same maintenance infrastructure and many of the same weapons, which will make the transition easier, and its operational cost is reportedly 80% lower than that of the MiG-29.
Meaning Belarus could potentially seek to field more medium weight fighters as their maintenance will become more affordable.
Moves by neighboring Poland to acquire F-35A fighters, and growing deployments of advanced American fighters such as F-22 Raptors to Eastern Europe, has made the need to replace the MiG-29 more urgent.
Belarus is currently thought to field the largest arsenal in the world of Soviet-built Scud-B and Tochka tactical ballistic missiles, which deploy from mobile transporter-erector launchers and provide a formidable asymmetric strike capability. These might now be replaced by a modern Iskander system.
The Iskander has a 500 km range, the maximum allowed for ground launched surface-to-surface missiles by the INF treaty, although the American withdrawal from this agreement in 2018 its expected to lead Russia to quickly field longer ranged variants.
Belarus was a leading client for Russia’s S-400 long range surface to air missile system, and according to some sources was the very first in the world to receive the system from Russia due to Moscow’s strong interest in ensuring that its neighbors airspace remains secure in the case of a possible NATO attack.
With NATO forces looking to field a wide range of revolutionary new combat aircraft near the end of the decade or in the early 2030’s, including F-X sixth generation fighter jets, B-21 stealth bombers and hyper-sonic surveillance and strike aircraft, upgrades to the S-400 system could provide one of the most cost effective means of countering these threats.
The S-400 was notably designed with engagements against the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fifth generation fighters in mind, and with the Raptor’s lighter counterpart the F-35 expected to be deployed to Europe in its hundreds including in neighboring Poland the S-400 provides an effective countermeasure.
Belarusian armored units currently rely exclusively on the T-72 main battle tank, with the few T-80 tanks inherited from the Soviet Union thought to have been retired or sold on to North Korea for evaluation and study.
Most notable among the upcoming deployments is Poland’s consideration of the South Korean K2 Black Pantherfourth generation tank, which would provide by far the most capable armor in NATO and could be acquired in large numbers.
A German fourth generation tank designed to challenge the superiority of the Russian T-14 Armata tank is also under development.
Considering the Belarusian armed forces’ emphasis on air assault and helicopter units, it is likely that a new attack helicopter class will be acquired ether to replace or to complement the Mi-24 – with both the Mi-35 and the Ka-52 being leading potential candidates.
The Mi-35 is a derivative of the same design, and though its capabilities are far superior it too will likely be considered very old by the mid-2030’s.
The Ka-52 is a much newer both more costly design, and is widely considered the world’s most capable attack helicopter with by far the heaviest and longest ranged armaments including, uniquely, access to Mach 3+ standoff cruise missiles.
Military Watch Magazine.com / ABC Flash Point News 2020.