Combat Readiness Percentages

Conscript on His Mobilnik (photo: Reuters

Conscript on His Mobilnik (photo: Reuters)

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s editorial has the title above.  It’s sub-titled “An Unprejudiced Look at Military Reform.”

Here’s what it says.

“One of the most serious accusations against the former defense minister and former chief of the General Staff is the low combat readiness of armed forces units and sub-units caused by the military reform they conducted.  And the basic argument is the fact that only 15 of 35 combined arms brigades of permanent combat readiness are manned at 100%, the rest have personnel deficits from 20 to 30%.”

“There’s some truth in this.  If you figure the number of servicemen in the force structure — 220 thousand officers, 186 thousand contractees, 320 thousand conscripts and 50-60 thousand VUZ cadets — then the million required by the president’s decree has in no way been gathered.  But the main cause of this is by no means military reform, but the demographic situation in the country for which neither Serdyukov nor Makarov can answer.  And increasing conscript service, as proposed by some [Duma] deputies, can’t patch this hole.  And only those who contrary to Suvorovist science trained to fight the old way with numbers, and not skill, can talk about combat readiness relying just on arithmetical calculations.”

“Many concepts are part of combat readiness.  And not just manning.  Among its components, in particular, are the presence of modern combat equipment and combat support systems in the force, high operational-tactical qualifications of officers, their combat experience, skill and training of personnel…  The military reform of Serdyukov and Makarov, it seems, managed to deal with the last indicator.  We’ll cite just one fact — the average flying time of Russian Air Forces pilots reached 125 hours per pilot in 2012.  And squadron commanders flew 175 hours, and at Vyazma air base — more than 215 hours.  If you remember just several years ago our pilots had an average flying time of 30-40 hours, some of them generally 5-7 hours a year, and they got lost in the sky over the Baltic, then who would dare say that our military aviation is suffering from a lack of combat readiness.”

“The picture is approximately the same in the Ground Troops where soldiers and officers literally don’t leave the training grounds, conducting integrated tactical and operational-tactical exercises jointly with the Air Forces and Air Defense, with the Naval Infantry — if they’re on maritime axes.  They can’t complain about low combat readiness even in the Navy, whose ships, earlier tied to the piers, today ply the waters of the world’s oceans year-round, joining in the struggle against pirates in the Gulf of Aden.  They don’t complain of boredom in the VDV where over the past year more than 65 exercises of varying scale and intensity have been conducted, together with 1,150 combat training events, including more than 800 section- and 270 platoon-level combat firings, 73 company and 14 battalion tactical exercises.  Including with USA spetsnaz on American territory.  Additionally, the blue berets completed several tens of thousands of parachute jumps…  If these are not indicators of combat readiness, then what kind of percentages can you talk about?!”

“One more indicator of combat readiness is the evaluation of strategic nuclear deterrence forces which President Vladimir Putin recently carried out.  Launches of ground, naval and air-launched missiles were conducted then with high accuracy.  And the Supremo directed them from the Unified Central Command Post created in the framework of the reform this very year.”

“Yes, the reform according to the prescriptions of the ex-minister and the ex-NGSh has many deficiencies and mistakes.  ‘NG’ and ‘NVO’ wrote about them not once or twice.  We hope the new Defense Ministry leadership will rectify and correct them.  But not one more or less serious army dared test the combat readiness of our country’s armed forces after August 2008.  And no percentages can refute this fact.”

Yes, Serdyukov and Makarov are to blame for the mistakes of army reform.  Primarily for moving too fast across too broad a front without without adequately understanding the situation and consequences of their actions.  In some sense, this was their task — to break the logjam on military reform.  And that some people in Serdyukov’s team were venal didn’t help matters.

But NG’s right to argue they aren’t to blame for undermanning that leaves only 15 maneuver brigades at full personnel strength.  That’s a number not different from Putin’s first and second terms, the 1990s, or the late Soviet period.

NG’s also right to point to higher levels of training activity as an unalloyed good thing from Moscow’s perspective.  It’s a start.  It’s a function of having money and fuel, and a political leadership willing to allocate them.  But it’s only a necessary condition for building a modern army.  Sizeable Russian forces are probably ready to leave garrison when ordered.

The sufficient condition goes deeper.  Are those formations and units armed, equipped, supported, as well as trained to execute the missions their leadership envisions (and ones it doesn’t)?  It’s simply much harder to tell if they are ready for battle, if they will be capable in combat.  Much depends on the situation and scenario into which they’re thrown.  If, as NG alludes, Georgia should test the Russian Army’s readiness, it would perform better than in 2008.  It would probably do better in a new North Caucasus counterinsurgency.  But these cases are on the low intensity side of the warfare spectrum.  But perhaps they’re the most likely places where the Armed Forces would be employed.

But let there be no mistake, training activity doesn’t equal combat readiness, and combat readiness doesn’t equal combat capability.  It is significant and necessary, yes, but not sufficient.  One has to know a lot more about the condition of the forces and what goes on in those exercises.

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3 responses to “Combat Readiness Percentages

  1. Good point; exercises are all well and fine, but we need more info regarding what goes on at the military institutions – what today’s conscripts are being taught and how the way commanders lead and train their troops, methods etc

  2. very informative and balanced…
    125 flying hours per fighter pilot in 2012?! Wow… this sounds rather high. Not yet the Soviet level, but I (wrongly?) assumed it was around 60-90 hours – I did read it somewhere prior. If 125 hrs is true – not bad!

    • “Soviet level..”
      Well that would rather depend where an air unit was stationed and its strategic importance assigned to the various Military Districts (MDs).
      I imagine elite pilots in East Germany and the westernmost parts of the USSR would have been flying much more than 125 hours, but a lower readiness unit with older aircraft somewhere in Kazakhstan or the Urals would be flying much less.

      As well, the increase in flight hours is not proportional across the four commands either. This year, flight hours ranged from 170 a year for transport aviation, 215 for some chopper units in Vyazma, but just 80 hours on average for Baltic Fleet ASW chopper pilots. (source: http://www.sdelanounas.ru/blogs/26020/)

      Another challenge that will remain for the observable future is retention of highly qualified pilots and land/air-force interoperability and co-ordination.

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