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Russia, Spurred By Georgia War, Plans Arms Upgrade

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia plans a massive increase in its weapons procurement for three years beginning in 2009, with 300 tanks, 14 warships and almost 50 airplanes on the shopping list, a senior government official said.

Vladislav Putilin, deputy head of the military-industrial commission, told journalists after a cabinet meeting the government planned to allocate 4 trillion rubles ($141.5 billion) in 2009-11 to bankroll equipment purchases to modernize its army.

He gave no comparative figure for previous years, but said the government "had been given the powers ... to redistribute expenditure (on other items) within the budget" to upgrade the armed forces.

The move comes after Russia's five-day war with tiny neighbor Georgia, triggered by Tbilisi's attempt to retake its rebel South Ossetia region by force.

Russia won, but the conflict exposed a Soviet-style army with obsolete equipment, poorly coordinated command, outdated communications and a lack of spy drones and high-precision bombs.

Russian Defense Ministry Anatoly Serdyukov afterwards touted a military reform -- Russia's most radical since the end of World War II -- aiming to turn the army into a smaller, but more mobile and better-equipped force.

Putilin said that over the three-year period Russia's armed forces would receive more than 400 new types of weapons, including 48 aircraft, six spy drones, 60 helicopters, 14 warships, 300 tanks and more than 2,000 auto vehicles. He did not specify their types.

Serdyukov says he wants the Russian army ideally to be able to fight in three local or regional conflicts simultaneously.

Foreign analysts and critics at home say that at the moment dealing with one enemy bigger than Georgia would be a serious problem.

Media critical of the government also have pointed out that while the Russian military in recent years received handfuls of new aircraft or tanks, huge amounts were earned by exporting weapons abroad.

While upgrading its conventional forces, Russia will continue to rely heavily on its huge arsenal of nuclear weapons to safeguard its national security.

"Measures to ensure support and development of strategic nuclear forces will be given top priority," Putilin said.

He said Russia's armed forces would buy 70 strategic nuclear missiles in 2009-11.

Putilin said 30 Iskander tactical missile systems would be supplied to the armed forces over the next three years.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened to deploy such missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad region, should the United States move ahead with its plan to deploy elements of a missile shield in European Union members Poland and the Czech Republic.

"First of all, we will implement tasks set by the president of the Russian Federation ... including those aimed to counter the deployment of the third positioning region of U.S. air defense in Europe," Putilin said.