Russia inflates its military with blow-up weapons

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The Russian military is using a cunning plan to deceive the enemy and save money at the same time: inflatable weapons.

They look just like real ones: they are easy to transport and quick to deploy.

You name it, the Russian army is blowing it up: from pretend tanks to entire radar stations.

The decoys are a hundred times cheaper than the real thing, which means Moscow will save a lot of money by blowing up its own weapons.

On the edge of Moscow, two men carry a black duffle bag into a field, then drop it on the ground.

When they open the bag, they take out a large sheet of plastic. It looks like a tent or a tarpaulin.

In fact, it's the Russian army's latest strategic weapon. It doesn't need ammunition - just air.

On goes the pump, in goes the air and the plastic sheet begins to rise and take shape.

A turret appears, then out pops a long plastic gun barrel. This is an inflatable Russian tank.


When the men pump up their next piece of plastic, this one expands into a S-300 rocket launcher, complete with giant truck and inflatable rockets. It is a cross between a ballistic missile and a bouncy castle.

And waiting to be blown up are inflatable MiG fighter jets - even entire Russian radar stations.

Image caption,
The inflatables are stitched together at a former hot-air balloon factory

These state-of-the-art stand-ins are among the most advanced military decoys in the world - much lighter, more manageable and mobile than the rubber versions used in World War Two.

What they lack in firepower, they make up for in flexibility: they are light and can be deployed quickly to deceive the enemy.

They are also very realistic. They are made of a special material that tricks enemy radar and thermal imaging into thinking they are real weapons.

The inflatables are stitched together at a former hot-air balloon factory.

"I'm proud to be making entire rocket-launchers and tanks for our armed forces," says Lena, who is stitching a surface-to-air missile system.

"When you finish sewing them and you watch them being filled with air, it's so satisfying."

Correction: On 18 October 2010, we added a reference to make clear that more basic inflatable decoys were used in World War II.