Key point: While cooperation between Russia and China is booming, Moscow is very much a junior partner to a fast-rising Beijing even if the two sides present it as an alliance of equals.

Russia and China are drawing closer together as Moscow faces further isolation from the West. Indeed, the two great powers are starting to co-develop new weapons systems. One such example is a new drone that would be launched from a multiple launch rocket system.

“Joint experimental design work with the Chinese side is underway,” Tecmash Research and Production Group deputy CEO Alexander Kochkin said at the ArmHiTec-2018 exhibition on Friday according to the TASS news agency.

While cooperation between Russia and China is booming, Moscow is very much a junior partner to a fast-rising Beijing even if the two sides present it as an alliance of equals.

“Both countries present this as a partnership of equals. But yes, for now, its still Russia selling advanced weapons to China,” Sam Bendett, a researcher at the Center for Naval Analyses, told The National Interest.

China, for example, is more advanced in the development of unmanned aircraft than Russia. However, it is still Moscow that is selling its hardware to Beijing.

“What is interesting is that we have not seen any Chinese sales of their UAVs to Russia – even though China is ahead of Moscow in using combat UAVs,” Bendett said. “This particular partnership again reinforces the flow of weapons to China, not the other way around.”

Indeed, as Kochkin noted, the Russian military has no interest in the company’s drone. That is mostly because the Russian defense ministry has not developed a concept of operation (CONOPS) for these machines. The fact that the Chinese are interested suggests that Beijing is ahead of Moscow in developing a combat doctrine for UAVs.

“This also indicates that China is experimenting with various CONOPS for the use of unmanned systems in combat, and this particular delivery of UAV appeals to them,” Bendett said.

It is possible that the Kremlin might eventually adopt the system itself, but right now, concepts are often developed by Russia’s defense industry well before the military considers adopting them.

“This points to one of the biggest problems that the MOD [Ministry of Defense] and its military-industrial complex have to overcome,” Bendett said. “A lot of unmanned systems development was driven by the manufacturer, not by a military requirement handed down from the MOD.”

In effect, the developmental process in Russia is being driven by industry.

“Often, a manufacturer will exhibit a system that was not necessarily required by the Russian military,” Bendett said. “So today, the MOD is trying to reverse this trend and marshal its bureaucracy to take control of unmanned weapons developments that are actually needed by the military and will be used by its forces.”

In this particular case, given Russia’s experiences in Syrian and Ukraine, Moscow might eventually adopt the system for its own use.

“Yes, perhaps down the line,” Bendett said. “The Russians have learned a great deal from Syria and Ukraine and will base their future CONOPS on these conflicts.”

This article first appeared several years ago.

Image: Reuters.

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