What happens if the land offensive started by Assad’s forces Wednesday with help from Iranian troops and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia fails to recapture lost territory? Does Russia have a specific goal or at least a time frame? What about an exit strategy?These questions matter only if Russia is in this for the long haul. It has done nothing to suggest that it is, however. The Kremlin only appears to be setting short-term tactical goals for now because it’s not heavily committed to an outcome in Syria. One of these objectives is to battle-test and show off new hardware.
Although the U.S. has been involved in several foreign wars since 1991, Russia has only fought on its own territory or within the former Soviet Union. These conflicts provided limited opportunities for a modern army to show what it can do: They consisted of either large-scale police operations or covert, hybrid warfare. Fighting small, agile bands of Chechen guerrillas in the mountains, helping separatist rebels surround Ukrainian units or running through overconfident but tiny Georgia in just four days is no general’s dream. It also is no way to demonstrate new weaponry to potential foreign buyers or test it for Russia’s own armed forces.
It might seem absurd to get involved in a war as a training exercise, but in Putin’s Russia, it could make some sense. The country’s defense spending has risen to about 4.5 percent of gross domestic product this year from just 1.5 percent in 2010, and Russia now has one of the world’s 10 most militarized economies. It is also the second-biggest arms exporter, with 27 percent of the global market. Last year, it exported $15.5 billion worth of weaponry; that was about 5 percent of its non-commodity exports and 2.6 percent of the total.
Even though Russia has exported its Su-30 fighter jets to a dozen countries, it has never used them under battle conditions. Now, there’s a chance to test four of the aircraft. The state-of-the-art Su-34 fighter-bombers were used in a limited way during the Georgia campaign, but they, too, are getting extensively tested in a real war for the first time. Russia has sent six to Syria.
One benefit of the real-life “exercises” is that it makes for impressive video and powerful domestic propaganda.
Full article: Syrian war gives Russia a chance to test weapons (Japan Times)