Elite Russian troops are displaying a new arsenal of body armor, individual weapons, armor-piercing ammunition and collar radios — a menu of essential gear that gives them a big tactical advantage against a lesser-equipped Ukrainian army.
If President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion, the new-generation body armor, in particular, would provide exceptional protection against small arms if Russian troops go street by street to capture Kiev and other cities.
"What we saw and what was dangled in front of the West was a clear indication that Putin is on a roll," retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales said. "It just seems to me from watching the films that their arrows are pointing up and ours are sadly pointing down."
Weapons specialists such as Gen. Scales have been studying images of Spetsnaz, Russia's ubiquitous special forces, and airborne troops since they conquered the Crimea region and mobilized to strike eastern Ukraine.
What they see are the fruits of a modernization plan begun in 2008, not just in tanks and vehicles but all the way down to the individual warrior. Russia now has the world's third-highest defense budget, at over $70 billion.
"They've got better equipment than they had five years ago," said Scott Traudt, an executive with Green Mountain, a Vermont gun manufacturer. "They've got new grenade launchers that are awesome. The helmets are better than our helmets. The body armor is better than our body armor. They're doing a lot of things right. I'm pretty amazed at it."
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