Russia held its annual Victory Day Parade on Wednesday commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. It’s an important fixture in the Russian national psyche, and being the 75th anniversary, there was even more nostalgia than usual, with a formation of iconic WWII T-34 tanks resurrected to lead the parade. The event is also an opportunity to show off new military hardware and is keenly observed by Russia watchers. This year had its share of novelties.
The event was delayed from May 9 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was lower key than usual. Most Muscovites watched on television rather than thronging the streets. While there were fewer world leaders in attendance than President Putin may have hoped, India’s defense minister was present as well as the Chinese defense minister, and the parade is also a display window for arms deals.
The tanks on show have mainly been seen before, even the futuristic T-14 Armata, which has seen more Victory Day parades than actual military service, as delivery of the first production batch has been delayed. The T-90M or “Proryv-3” may be more significant, being an upgraded version of the existing T-90MS with modifications made on the basis of combat experience in Syria. Land Forces Commander-in-Chief Army General Oleg Salyukov highlighted the T-90M, which Russia hopes to export, in an interview with TASS before the parade. The upgrades include explosive reactive armor on the turret. The T-90Ms 125mm gun can fire advanced anti-tank ammunition as well as Refleks guided missiles.
Multiple rocket launchers have been a mainstay of Russian artillery since the ‘Stalin’s Organ’ truck-mounted missiles of WWII, and the latest generation are far more advanced. This parade included the latest version of the BM-30 Smerch, which launches twelve 300mm rockets with smart warheads out to a range of 35 miles, and also some more specialized units.
The new TOS-2 is described as a ‘heavy flamethrower vehicle’ armed with 24 rockets. These can have either incendiary or thermobaric warheads., which disperse a cloud of flammable vapor and ignite it to produce an extremely powerful explosion. The earlier TOS-1 was used with devastating effect in the Chechen conflict, being able to incinerate eight city blocks at a time. The TOS-2 retains the same firepower and features an upgraded chassis from the T-14 Armata.
The 50-barreled ISDM ‘engineering vehicle’ is another short-range rocket launcher, this one designed for minelaying. The 122mm rockets each scatter a number of mines across a precise area, creating an instant minefield from up to nine miles away. While other nations have pulled back from land mines in recent years following the Ottawa Convention, the Russians are still enthusiastic users, and the ISDM supposedly scatters “high-performance new-generation mines that fully meet the requirements of international agreements on their self-destruction.”
It would not be Victory Day without a mobile ballistic missile launcher, and this year the lineup included the RS-24 Yars. Yars is a giant, road-mobile system carrying an ICBM able to deliver three thermonuclear warheads over six thousand miles. While Yars is not new, this year it had some unusual escorts, Listva microwave mine-clearance vehicles which travel ahead of nuclear missile convoys zapping any mines in their path and burning out the fuzes.
The threat of drones lies heavy on Russian forces these days. There were three versions of the Pantsir S-1 air defense system in the parade, each carrying 12 short-range missiles and two 30mm cannon. Syrian-operated Pantsirs were recently devastated by Turkish drones, leading to doubts about its effectiveness. A new alternative was on display, the 2S28 Air Defense Derivative. This has a single rapid-fire 57mm cannon: big enough, and with sufficient range to take out large drones and aircraft, but firing rapidly enough to knock down swarms of smaller attackers. The 2S28 fires a new guided projectile with pop-out wings claimed to have a kill-probability similar to surface-to-air missiles. The cannon is also effective against ground targets including armored vehicles.
What was noticeable though was the lack of unmanned vehicles, in particular the unmanned Uran-9 robot tanks which featured in the 2018 and 2019 Victory Days and which saw action in Syria. This may show a lack of confidence in combat robots, or it may reflect a wish not to draw attention to them. Even when Russia puts on a show, you only see what they want you to see, and it hides as much as it reveals.