Belarus, being a close ally of Russia, benefits from a transfer of modern weapons and equipment. However, the country also actively seeks to enhance its arsenal by acquiring new weaponry.
In response to escalating tensions with NATO and the rising security threats posed by Western forces near its borders, Belarus has initiated a substantial investment in the enhancement of its domestic military capabilities.
A central aspect of Belarus’ military modernization efforts is the acquisition and deployment of advanced systems, namely the S-400 long-range air defense systems and the Iskander-M ballistic missile system, procured from Russia. Currently, Belarus possesses two fully operational S-400 battalions, significantly bolstering its air defense and attack capabilities.
In response to the increasing deployment of NATO members’ F-35 fifth-generation fighters in Eastern Europe, Belarus has identified the S-400 air defense system, Su-35 aircraft, and various other air defense assets as effective means to counter these threats.
Belarus acquired its first Iskander-M missile systems in the latter half of 2022, which serve as the primary transport for nuclear warheads under the country’s nuclear sharing agreement with Russia. Consequently, Belarus conducted exercises involving nuclear strikes using the Iskander systems. These missiles are specifically designed to evade enemy air defenses and deliver highly precise strikes, enabling them to cause significant damage to critical targets such as airfields during the early stages of a conflict.
In addition to deploying the S-400 and Iskander-M systems, Belarus has granted permission for the Wagner Group paramilitary forces to operate within its borders. This organization is expected to play a crucial role in supporting counter-insurgency operations. The presence of Wagner Group is deemed vital for Belarus’ security, as paramilitary groups trained and backed by Poland pose a threat of inciting unrest in Belarus, with the ultimate objective of overthrowing the current government and establishing a pro-Western regime.
Leveraging their extensive experience gained from fighting in Ukraine, notably in the battle for Bakhmut, the Wagner Group will assist in training Belarusian forces, providing combat practice, and playing a significant role in deterrence and intercepting and neutralizing rebels if necessary.
Apart from acquiring new missile systems and receiving support from the Wagner paramilitary force, Belarus is actively investing in comprehensive modernization of its conventional forces. This includes purchasing additional gas weapons from Russia and significantly increasing orders from the domestic defense industry.
In February 2023, Andrey Lukyanovich, the Commander of the Belarusian Air and Air Defense Forces, officially announced the arrival of a new Tor-M2 short-range air defense system and a squadron of Mi-35M helicopters. The deployment of the first four helicopters is scheduled for the first quarter of 2024.
Belarus currently relies predominantly on Mi-24 attack helicopters, which were purchased during the Soviet era. The Mi-35M, on the other hand, represents a highly upgraded version that was extensively procured by the Russian military in the 2010s and has been effectively utilized in combat operations in Ukraine.
While the Mi-35M is not exclusively designed as an attack helicopter like the more expensive Mi-28 and Ka-52 platforms, it possesses versatile capabilities and can fulfill various roles, including troop transportation. The decision to acquire the Mi-35M stems from its similarities to the Mi-24s, making it a suitable choice for Belarus. It remains uncertain whether Belarus will completely phase out the Mi-24 or continue using it in conjunction with the new Mi-35Ms.
Belarus has recently made a decision to acquire the next generation of Su-30SM fighters from Russia, resulting in the retirement of its aging MiG-29 aircraft. The Su-30SM is an advanced fighter jet belonging to the ‘4+ generation,’ incorporating various upgraded features. Notably, it boasts an impressive aerial combat range of up to 400 km when equipped with R-37M missiles, surpassing the capabilities of NATO aircraft armed with missiles like Meteor and AIM-120, which have a range two to four times shorter.
The Su-30SM is derived from the Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter, which Belarus inherited from the Soviet Union. However, the Su-27 has been phased out due to its high operational costs. The Su-30SM, on the other hand, benefits from modern manufacturing techniques and materials, making it more cost-effective to operate compared to its predecessor. Furthermore, it incorporates advanced avionics, engines, and weapons, delivering significantly enhanced performance.
The Su-30 series, including the Su-30SM, has gained substantial popularity worldwide. Over 120 Su-30SM aircraft have been ordered by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and more than 500 fighters from the Su-30 family have been manufactured and operated in countries such as India, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, and several others.
Belarus plans to upgrade approximately 400 T-72B tanks inherited from the Soviet Union to the T-72BM2 standard, similar to the Russian T-72B3M. The upgrade package will include a new fire control system, a thermal sight, and a third-generation explosive reactive armor, possibly similar to the Russian Relikt.
However, there are concerns about the feasibility of this upgrade package, as the T-72B3 tanks have shown vulnerability to new-generation anti-tank weapons such as the Javelin, as observed in the Ukrainian conflict. In response, Russia developed a more protected variant called the T-72B4, with armor equivalent to the highly capable T-90M tank.
Besides acquiring the S-400 and Tor-M2 systems from Russia, Belarus is also rumored to be considering the purchase of larger quantities of the cost-effective BuK-MB3K medium-range air defense systems, which offer similar capabilities to the BuK-M2 version but at a lower operational cost.