Daily Archives: June 23, 2011

Below One Million?

Dropping Russia’s military manpower level below one million?  Talk about a watershed.  This might be spurious information, but coming from Dmitriy Litovkin, the report has to be taken seriously.  In fine Russian tradition, it could be a trial balloon to elicit public and elite reactions.

In yesterday’s Izvestiya, Litovkin reported that, over the course of two years, the Russian Army will become smaller by 150,000 men, according to a Defense Ministry source.

The impetus for this is the Finance Ministry’s.  Aleksey Kudrin’s been ordered to fight the budget deficit, and he’s got defense and security spending in his sights. 

The source says concrete proposals to cut military expenditures were prepared for a special government conference in early June.  As a result, the government adopted an “additional reduction” of 150,000 servicemen.  This would reportedly save 10 billion rubles in 2010 [sic], and almost 50 billion rubles in 2014.  The article says military staffs have already been cut 40 percent as a result of army reform. 

Litovkin notes Defense Minister Serdyukov has previously called one million the “optimal” manning figure – ostensibly 150,000 officers, 100,000-120,000 contract sergeants, and conscripts for the balance.

But it wasn’t so long ago that the Defense Ministry declared the need for an increase of 70,000 officers, and raising the number of contract NCOs and soldiers to 480,000.  It’s not clear how these new cuts are supposed to jibe with increases proposed earlier this year.  The Supreme CINC [together with his tandem partner] will have to decide.

Litovkin enumerates Defense Minister Serdyukov’s competing costly initiatives – higher officer pay, outsourcing nonmilitary tasks, etc.  According to this, outsourcing alone has already brought 380,000 [!?] civilians into military support positions and this number is supposed to increase.  Litovkin doesn’t close the loop on this, but he seems to imply the high cost of these efforts requires cuts in manpower.

This is all exciting and interesting and occasions a couple thoughts.

One.  The new “optimal” number for the Armed Forces must be 850,000.  Liberal Russian politicians, military analysts, and observers have long argued for this, or an even more radical cut.  But one million has had mystical power.  Russian conservatives will vociferously object that the country’s borders are too extensive to be defended by a single man short of one million, as if even one [or for that matter two] million could do it, or as if sheer manpower’s the best way to parry modern military threats.

Two.  Though not mentioned by Litovkin, isn’t it possible Moscow’s decided to make a virtue of necessity and recognize that demographic and draft problems have left them well short of a fully-manned force of one million anyway?  This could be a small step in the direction of becoming (or at least looking) more like just another European army.

Three.  The inevitable downsides.  Keeping more officers had been intended to deal with the outplacement cost (apartments) and other negative fallout of cutting the officer corps in half, not to mention simply having more officers around to deal with unruly nonprofessional soldiers in the ranks.  And another round of personnel reductions is likely to delay any resumed movement toward a long-term professional enlisted force.

Just the latest fro in the game of Russian defense policy to-and-fro.

No Funding for Domestic UAVs

Israeli Searcher Mk.2

RIA Novosti reports a highly-placed OPK representative says development of Russian UAVs hasn’t been financed for two years.  According to him, this is connected with the drawn-out work of Defense Ministry experts considering Israeli drones purchased two years ago.  The source continues:

“It’s obvious Russia’s Defense Ministry can’t figure out its future actions:  either continue to buy UAVs abroad, or finance our own development.”

It seems pretty clear to this author it’s the former, especially considering the following figures.

TsAMTO gave the news agency a rundown on Russia’s 2009 contract for Israeli UAVS:  two Bird Eye-400 ($4 million), eight I-View Mk150 ($37 million), and two Searcher Mk.2 ($12 million).  TsAMTO also says a $100 million contract for 36 unspecified UAVs was signed later.

RIA Novosti also notes, this March, the Defense-Industrial Corporation (Oboronprom) agreed on a $400 million contract with IAI to assemble Israeli UAVs in Russia.  Oboronprom’s Helicopters of Russia sub-unit is responsible for the Russian side of this joint venture.  At the time, Russian experts argued that comparable domestic UAVs were several times cheaper.  But Russian designers also acknowledged lagging in some technologies, particularly optical-infrared sensors and data transmission.

More than a year ago, then-Armaments Chief Vladimir Popovkin said 5 billion rubles had been spent on domestic UAV development without result.  Then months of comparing foreign and domestic models followed.  And now the money trail makes it pretty obvious the Defense Ministry (and big OPK players themselves) are intent on buying abroad.  Small Russian UAV makers are the short-run losers. 

This seems a smart choice for now.  It will be some time before  Russia successfully integrates foreign-designed UAVs into its military operations.  There doesn’t seem a compelling reason to aim for self-sufficiency in something that’s still a niche mission. 

What will happen depends on how Moscow handles its domestic developers.  Will they be able to apply foreign UAVs to their own work and make competitive models of their own?  Falling behind on pilotless technology is not exactly a negligible risk in the coming unmanned age.