Are We 30 Years Behind?
“30 years behind the USA” is an exaggeration … American weapons are superior, no doubt, but the degree of superiority is questionable: the most heavily armed tank in the world is the Russian T-series (T-64, T-72, T-80). Also, the Russians developed the largest torpedoes known to man, some carrying a payload as large as the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the US. Russian success is also found in the Mig series. Even if the Russians are not on the same level as the United States, it’s clear that their army is far from weak. Russia possesses a nuclear stockpile of 16,000 warheads (the largest in the world).
The answer is yes, their weapon systems are typically not as advanced as ours, but on purpose.
The Russian military doctrine has always emphasized quantity over quality. To simplify, you can put all of the coolest and most advanced gadgets on your tank, or you can build two for the same price. Americans took the former approach, the Russians the latter. Is Russian technology superior to American technology?
This is best illustrated that according to the 1989 Encyclopedia Britannica (right before the end of the Cold War), the Soviets had 32,000 tanks in their arsenal and the Americans only had 8,000. Was their massive army of tanks nearly as advanced as those of the U.S.? Hell no, but at 4-1 odds, they didn’t need to be. Russian equipment emphasizes cost and field reliability in exchange for effectiveness. A great example is that while the MiG-29 lacked the avionics of the F-18, it cost half as much to produce and maintain.
These days, though, the picture is even bleaker for the Russians. Due to constricted budgets, the majority of their weaponry is still the same stuff they were using in 1990 since they don’t have the money to buy anything better.
So, it may be a stretch to say the Russian military is 30 years behind us, but it’s at least 10 years behind where it wants to be.