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Investments in technical fabrics for the Russian military

February 1st, 2018 / By: / World Views

The Russian government will allocate $300 million for the development of new types of specialty fabrics and technical textiles

The Russian government plans to allocate US $300 million for the design of new types of specialty fabrics and technical textiles for the needs of the Russian army during the period of 2017–2018, according to recent statements from Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Implementation of these plans will be part of a record state defense order which was approved by the Russian government in 2017, involving massive re-armament of the Russian military.

The defense order particularly specified amounts to pay for the increased volume of supplies of specialty fabrics and technical textiles for the needs of Russian military forces during the next several years.

The need for innovation

According to statements made by an official spokesperson of Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defense, the Russian army currently has an acute need for innovative solutions in the field of industrial fabrics and technical textiles, and the Defense Ministry is ready to place large-scale orders for the design of a new generation of military uniforms and ammunition with Russia’s leading industry manufacturers, as well as major global suppliers with operations within the country.

In the case of international suppliers, according to recent statements from Medvedev, the government planned to conduct talks with some global producers of innovative technical textile solutions during the 2017 St. Petersburg Economic Forum, one of the most important annual business events in Europe. The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is an annual Russian business event for the economic sector, held in St. Petersburg since 1997, and under the auspices of the Russian president since 2005. Each year, more than 10,000 people from more than 120 different countries take part.

According to Denis Manturov, Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade (the person responsible for the development of technical textiles and the nonwovens industries in Russia), the government anticipates signing several large-scale contracts that will involve the launch of production of  industrial fabrics and technical textiles within the territory of Russia. Particular hopes are put on U.S investors, as these business investments in the Russian market have slowed significantly in recent years.

Manturov also noted that the current shortage of modern fabric development and manufacturing in Russia could be partly explained by existing economic sanctions, which prevent imports of high-tech industry products to the country. The latter, according to Manturov, has already forced the Russian government to accelerate R & D activities in the specialty fabrics industry, aimed at developing new products within the country’s territories.

In the case of the military’s needs, according to Shoigu’s spokesman, initially the Defense Ministry plans to place orders for the design of new types of specialty fabrics that could be used in the production of uniforms for Russian troops; the scope and the number of orders may significantly increase in upcoming years as the demand continues to grow.

Emphasis on research

The design of these solutions, according to plans, will be carried out within the capacities of one of Europe’s largest scientific clusters and R & D centers in the field of technical textile nonwovens, which has recently been established at Saratov State University, one of the largest universities in Russia and Eastern Europe. Some other local scientific institutions will also be involved in the development and manufacture of new products.

The establishment of the new scientific and business cluster took place in the Saratov region in central Russia, (which was closed to foreigners during the Soviet era). In addition to Saratov State University, the project involves the participation of the Russian Foundation for Advanced Studies (the Russian investment fund, which supports research in different scientific spheres) and the Russian Ministry of Science and Education.

The volume of investments in the establishment of a new cluster, to date, has amounted to US $250 million. Funding of the cluster is expected to come from the proceeds of the Russian state defense order, which this year was set at the record level of RUB 3.3 trillion (US $70 billion).

According to Yuri Salkovsky, head of the “Materials for special purposes” laboratory, one of the largest laboratories of the new cluster to date, scientists in the laboratory have completed a series of investigations aimed at the development of technical textiles and nonwoven materials from ultra-fine fibers, which have a thickness of 30-500 nanometers. These materials are to be used in the production of a wide range of innovative products that will be manufactured within the walls of the scientific cluster in the coming years.

According to Salkovsky, in addition to defense and military products, the new cluster will also focus on the design of innovative medical dressings, based on nonwovens and technical textiles, while its range will be significantly expanded during the next several years. (Details of other products to be produced within the new cluster are currently classified.)

Soldier of the future?

Salkovsky also noted that in recent years the Russian government, and in particular the country’s Ministry of Defense, has become significantly more interested in the design of equipage for a “soldier of the future.” This, in turn, created conditions for the acceleration of scientific research aimed at the development of special materials and fabrics, based on nonwovens, that could be used by soldiers from the Russian land forces, airborne forces and other Russian military units.

Current plans are for scientists in the new manufacturing cluster to focus on the design of special fabrics, based on nonwovens, that will make troops immune to electromagnetic radiation, biological radiation, toxic substances and extreme environmental conditions. In addition, the new materials will help make soldiers invisible to night-vision goggles and radar detection.

According to Salkovsky, the new types of fabrics to be designed within the laboratories of the new cluster will be better by 10 times, on a number of parameters, when compared to currently existing products, and could be used in a wide range of industries as well as in the defense sector. The majority of the new cluster’s production, however, will be supplied for the needs of the Russian defense sector, as well as other segments of Russian industry and manufacturing. Any products not used in Russia will be exported abroad as needed.

Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In a September 2017 article in “Innovation in Textiles,” Eugene Gerden reported that the Russian technical textiles industry continues its rapid recovery from the financial crisis, as growth resumes and major investment projects are implemented.

In the first half of 2017, the industry grew by about 20 percent, compared to the same period of last year, to US $1.45 billion, and further growth is anticipated in the second half of 2017. The growth of the nonwovens sector reached 35 percent, approximately US $600 million, which became a record high in the last 36 months.

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