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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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