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> If you were to try to write an allegory of a superpower in decline, you could hardly do better than tell the story of the F-35.

The Russian Su-57 is plagued with the same kind of issues, made much worse by the fact that Russia is no longer the superpower it was. The difference between the US and a superpower in actual decline is that the US can throw almost unlimited funds at the F-35 program and Russia can't. The real mark of a superpower isn't that it makes clever things but that it can afford making stupid things.

I understand your argument, that frivolous spending and basically throwing money at technical problems until they go away are the exclusive purview of superpowers. But I think calling Russia a "superpower in decline" is slightly off-mark. I would call them a "Great Power that understands its limits". I would argue the decline has stabilized from lows of the 1990s. Now they are in a kind-of stagnation caused by demographics, sanctions, and a failure to diversify away from a kleptocratic resource-export economy.

The Russian approach to their defense industry is pretty rational IMO: they do small batches of extremely high-tech stuff mostly to keep their engineers active and to improve their institutional knowledge. Then they spin off iterative improvements and upgrades to the bulk of their legacy military hardware. Perfect examples are the T-72B3M and the Su-35. Hell, the Su-57 itself, if you look carefully, is basically a heavily-stealthed Su-27 planform.[1]

And they can do this because their MISSILE tech is absolutely first-rate. Russia understood the "payloads over platforms" mentality long before the US did. And their national defense posture is basically "We have nukes to deter anyone who is an existential threat, and everyone else can be beaten by our leftover Soviet stuff."


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