Tag Archives: Contract Service

Contract Euphoria

Vadim Koval offered words of caution and perspective on contract service in an October 31 NVO op-ed.  Until 2012 or so, the retired colonel was the official spokesman for the RVSN.

Koval suggests you can’t measure contract service by numbers alone, which merely represent “start-up capital” for the professionalization of the armed forces.

He was prompted a recent official announcement that the MOD has signed up an historically high number of contractees this year — more than 70,000 already — with two months left on the calendar.

The MOD reports, for the first time, the number of soldiers and sergeants serving on contract exceeds the number of conscripts in the ranks.  That means something more than 305,000 — based on fall 2013 and spring 2014 draft campaign target numbers.

Success in finding contractees, Koval writes, is due, in no small part, to an aggressive MOD advertising and recruitment drive this year.  But the greatest attraction for young men is increased training, new arms and equipment, and the overall improved condition of the armed forces.  None of which “remain unnoticed among potential candidates for contract service.”

Still, Koval concludes, even in light of record recruiting numbers, it’s obvious “the defense department’s main work with this category of servicemen is still ahead.”  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu didn’t fall into euphoria over the numbers, and ordered his subordinates to concentrate on the quality of contractee training, according to Koval.

He writes:

“Even statistics graphically confirm that problems with the quality of recruited contractees exist:  the quantity of contract servicemen dismissed from the Armed Forces in 2014 was 18 thousand.”

Koval finishes noting that much depends on the clarity of the MOD’s response to the challenge of getting and keeping suitable and well-trained soldiers in the military.

It’s surely difficult (well, impossible) to make that 305,000 number jibe with numbers we’ve already seen.  If Moscow had 225,000 or 205,000 at the end of 2013, this year’s 70,000+ would make 295,000 or 275,000 contractees.  Neither of those is 305,000.

It could be that Koval’s very interesting 18,000 number plays into this . . . if that many contractees quit or were drummed out this year, maybe that’s why the numbers don’t equal or exceed 305,000. Perhaps the MOD isn’t counting its attrition — only the manpower it added.

If 18,000 is the number of contractees who left the service, that’s pretty low attrition — about 6 percent.  Last year that percentage looked to be 12 or more.

Health of the Force

The confluence of recent news stories makes an update on the health of Russian military forces opportune.  As elsewhere in the armed forces, the military’s medical situation seems generally better compared with two or three years ago.

According to Izvestiya, the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU), General-Major Aleksandr Fisun told the Defense Ministry’s Public Council that illnesses in the army declined 13 percent in 2013.  The illness rate in 2012 had been 40 percent higher than 2011.

The MOD attributes the improvement to better living conditions for soldiers. These include heated barracks, washing machines, shower facilities allowing troops to clean up more than once a week, and socks replacing foot wrappings.

Fisun said, among conscripts, 60 percent of illnesses were respiratory in nature, while about 14 percent involved skin conditions.

Better training for commanders was another factor in cutting the number of sick soldiers.  An MOD spokesman told the paper:

“Work in early identification of illnesses was reinforced — commanders were strictly ordered to send subordinates for initial observation on just the suspicion of an illness.  The condition of everyone hospitalized was reported to [military] district commands.”

Valentina Melnikova of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (KSM) told Izvestiya commanders have been the problem.  However, she said Defense Minister Shoygu has said any soldier not allowed to see a doctor can now turn to military prosecutors for help.

Bmpd.livejournal.com published Fisun’s pie charts from his presentation to the MOD’s Public Council.

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

There are separate pies for conscripts and contractees.  Respiratory diseases, however, were the largest problem for both groups, accounting for half or more of illnesses.

Fisun also presented data on fitness for service among this spring’s conscripts.

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

The tabular data shows an increasing number of young men are fit, or fit with insignificant limitations, to serve in the armed forces (73.4%).  Most of that improvement apparently comes directly from decreasing the number of potential soldiers considered to have limited fitness for service (21.6%).

Reasons for “liberating” citizens from serving were pretty evenly distributed among, in order, muscular-skeletal and connective tissue diseases, psychiatric disorders (drug addiction, alcoholism), digestive system diseases, circulatory diseases, nervous system diseases, and other.

KSM’s Melnikova told Interfaks-AVN that illness was still the major issue for young men facing the spring draft.  She indicated 80 percent of complaints coming into KSM concern unfit men who were drafted.

In Moscow, some conscripts with documented health conditions  were deferred until fall under additional medical observation, but others were told they have to serve now, and had to turn to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the GVMU is reportedly amending physical standards for Russian Spetsnaz and VDV soldiers.  It’s lowering the height requirement by 5 cm (2 inches), and increasing the weight limit by 10 kg (22 pounds), according to Izvestiya.

Spetsnaz and VDV may soon be as short as 165 cm (5’4″) and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).  The new standards will apply for conscripts, contractees, and military academy cadets.

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops Will Be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops to be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Izvestiya was told a Defense Ministry order officially putting these standards into effect is expected in 2-3 months.  Its VDV source said the increased weight limit is related to use of the newer D-10 parachute which can bear up to 120 kg, so it can support a heavier jumper along with 20 kg of gear.

Perhaps the last, best word comes from Ruslan Pukhov, independent expert and Public Council member.  According to Izvestiya, he recommends increased spending on rear support and logistics, even if it means less expenditure on armaments:

“It’s worth sacrificing a couple nuclear submarines or refraining from construction of corvettes , but don’t economize on people — on their food, medical care and pay.  Iron doesn’t fight, people fight.”

Manning the Northern Fleet

Parade in Murmansk (photo: Mil.ru)

Parade in Murmansk (photo: Mil.ru)

Krasnaya zvezda recently reprinted a column from the Northern Fleet newspaper about manning and contract service.

It’s an interview with the chief of the sailor and NCO manning section in the fleet’s Organization-Mobilization Directorate (OMU), a Lieutenant Colonel Verbov.  It’s funny (perhaps suspicious) because his name is the root of the word verbovat (вербовать) – to hire, enlist, or recruit.

In any event, this LTC Verbov says his priority is manning the fleet’s submarines, and several years ago, submarines were manned at 98 percent — or “practically fully” with contractees.  Since then, conscripts sent to the submarine force have served only ashore.

The manning of billets which should be occupied by contractees is about 90 percent for the fleet as a whole.  He adds, however, that officers lacking officer billets hold some of these contract enlisted positions.  But the situation varies.  In the Kola Mixed Forces Flotilla, third-rank ships are “practically fully” manned with contract sailors and NCOs, but first- and second-rank ships only 50-65 percent.

Contractees are needed for those ships, and for Coastal Troops, Naval Infantry, and Naval Aviation units.  Some 200-250 recruits are accepted on contract service every month.  But this isn’t enough to solve his TO&E manning problems.

So, the interviewer asks, what’s the problem?  Verbov answers:

“. . . many wish to serve, but there are a number of factors, let’s say, negatively impacting organization of the selection of citizens for military service on contract.  Here’s an example, a young man comes into the military commissariat [voyenkomat] and says:  ‘I want to serve on contract in the Northern Fleet.  How much do they pay here?’  They tell him:  ‘Initially 27 thousand rubles [per month].’  ‘That’s not much,’ — says the potential recruit and he leaves.”

“But 27 thousand is really just the starting pay.  Then polar supplements, time served, sea duty begin to ‘grow’ — the salary will begin to grow by leaps and bounds.  But they didn’t explain this to someone, someone who didn’t want to wait, as a result they are left without a contractee.”

“A second factor is poor living conditions.  Unfortunately, they can’t give service housing in all garrisons to every citizen who concludes a contract with the Ministry of Defense.  Initially, a recruit has to live in the unit [usually a barracks], on a ship.  Such a situation doesn’t suit very many, and they break the contract.”

“Non-compliance with the regulation on working time on some ships and in some units forces some contract servicemen to leave military service.  One has to confess, occasions arise when the ‘needs of the service’ deprive people of normal rest.  Not everyone can withstand a regimen of two days off per month.”

Nevertheless, our Verbov says the Northern Fleet filled its quota of contractees at 96 percent in the last year.

So ends a micro-level look at Russia’s military professionalization problem.  Let’s see what the MOD is saying about the issue at the macro-level.

The basic idea was to add 50,000 contractees per year, reaching a total of 425,000 in the armed forces before 2018.

By the end of 2013, the MOD overfulfilled its plan by 27 percent, accepted more than 81,000 new recruits, and had more than 225,000 men serving on contracts, according to the annual report on Action Plan 2020.  The goal for 2013 had been 240,000.

According to Deputy Defense Minister Pankov, the MOD had 186,000 contractees at the beginning of 2013.  If it added 81,000, it would have reached 267,000.  So it must have failed to retain 42,000 contractees during the year, if it ended with 225,000.

For completeness, we should note Defense Minister Shoygu said that the armed forces had more than 205,000 in November 2013.  In December, President Putin said 205,100 (just to be precise).

By early May 2014, the MOD said it had 237,000 contractees.  That’s a good start for about four months.  It wants to reach 280,000 by year’s end.

For argument’s sake, assume it had 205,000, adds another 80,000, but also loses another 40,000.  That leaves the MOD at 245,000 at the end of 2014 (i.e. the same number as the endyear goal for 2013).

Again, ultimately, what matters for the success or failure of contract service is how many guys stay or leave the service.

Data on VDV

One can’t call this news.  News not discovered or reported promptly is just data. Not less important to this mind.  But on with the story . . .

Last summer, VDV Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov told the press about pending changes in the Russian Airborne Troops’ manning and structure.  Not clear if, when, or at what level they’ve been approved.  But fait accompli is Shamanov’s style.  His influence is larger than his nominal rank and post, and he often gets what he wants.

Specifically (among many things), Shamanov claimed the VDV will:

  • Upgrade some regiments to brigades;
  • Establish a logistics brigade;
  • Raise some companies to battalions; and
  • Add a third maneuver regiment to each VDV division.
Valeriy Vostrotin

Valeriy Vostrotin

That’s all context . . . last October, chairman of the Union of Airborne of Russia (SDR or СДР), retired General-Colonel Valeriy Vostrotin gave out two data points in a comment to Rossiyskaya gazeta:

“We veterans were satisfied with the news that it’s now been decided to reinforce the VDV significantly, to increase their numbers by another 20 thousand men.  For me personally, it’s particularly pleasant that, in 2015 in Voronezh an air-assault brigade with the number 345 will be formed and the banner of the famous 345th regiment, which I once commanded in Afghanistan, will be transferred to it . . . .”

So . . . another 20,000 men for VDV, and a new brigade.  Not confirmed, but possibly on the horizon.

Today Russia’s airborne forces are thought to number about 30,000.  Down from an “on-hand” strength ranging anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 in the late 1980s or very early 1990s.  Desantura.ru gives figures like that.

Going back to 50,000 would be significant, and would add lots of contractees to the ranks.  Equipping a new formation and other new units would not be a minor undertaking either. 

Again, data not news.  May or may not happen.  But we were informed.

55 OMSBr (G)

Denis Mokrushin’s blog provided heads up to the establishment of an independent motorized rifle brigade (mountain), which may stand up in, of all places, Tuva in 2015.

Tuva and Central Asia

Tuva and Central Asia

According to Mokrushin, the new 55th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain) will be based in Kyzyl, capital of the ethnic Tuvan republic located at the geographic center of Asia, not far from Central Asian nations where it might deploy in a crisis.

The new mountain brigade, part of Russia’s Central MD, will reportedly be designated not just for mountain combat, but peacekeeping duties as well.  A story from February indicated only residents of Tuva will be considered for enlistment in the 1,500-man brigade.  It will be mainly equipped with GAZ-2330 Tigr vehicles.

The 55th would be one of a handful of formations specifically created for mountain warfare, the most significant being the Southern MD’s 33rd and 34th brigades.  It will also give Russia a maneuver force in a location near its border currently lacking troops.

According to Tuva’s military commissar, contractees in the brigade will have a chance to support themselves and their families.

Tuva might best be described as remote, rugged, impoverished, and sparsely inhabited.  Its 300,000 or so people are predominately, and increasingly, Tuvan as the Russian population dwindles.

The reported plan to recruit only in Tuva means that the 55th brigade would be effectively an ethnic formation — something the Kremlin and the MOD have steadfastly resisted in regions like Tatarstan or the North Caucasus.  The brigade priest will be Buddhist.

This month, however, a military spokesman said men from neighboring Krasnoyarsk Kray, Khakassia, and Kemerovo will be recruited as well.

The report of a new brigade in Tuva appears against the backdrop of previously announced plans to add more Russian Army brigades and sign up larger numbers of contract servicemen.

Shoot Better

Among changes (and changes of emphasis) in his first year, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu stressed something as basic as shooting better.

Putting metal on target more often.  Something that takes time, practice, and money.

Shoygu broached the issue while reviewing last summer’s exercises in the Eastern and Central MDs.

Defense Minister Shoygu Reviewing Exercises (photo: Mil.ru)

Defense Minister Shoygu Reviewing Exercises (photo: Mil.ru)

Shoygu told the assembled brass:

“In the first place, it concerns poor results in destroying targets from TO&E weapons.  One of the main causes of this is an insufficient quantity of ammunition allocated for combat training of brigades according to existing norms.  We already talked about this problem.  Therefore today we need to adopt a clear mechanism to resolve it.”

Shoygu spoke publicly about the need to increase ammunition expenditure “by several times” from the current norm of 20 rounds per tank or artillery crew.  And more explicitly:

“Our colleagues in other countries shoot 160 shells a year per crew.  We have to increase our indicator at least five times.  We have every possibility for this.”

He and his subordinates mulled the irony that Russia destroys old munitions while not enough new ones are manufactured.  Deputy Defense Minister Yuriy Borisov said more money is going to ammunition production.

However, NVO’s Viktor Litovkin noted a different problem – practice firings too routine for crews to learn anything about shooting in combat:

“The first deficiency on which Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu focused is ‘we still shoot poorly.’  The causes here are several.  One of them is the fact that tankers, as a rule, conduct combat firings from training tanks.  Three-four of them per battalion.  The tank range on the brigade training area has been studied down to the last knoll, so that every sight setting is thoroughly well-known.  And how to fire at what distance.  And all targets are well-known.  Behind the sight of a TO&E tank, on unfamiliar terrain, people are lost.  And unacceptable mistakes ensue.”

So, the military leadership is more occupied with the quantity than the quality of training.

There’s a personnel policy connection here too, curiously  unmentioned by the leadership.

There are legions of former conscripts who rarely, if ever, fired live rounds from weapons locked in storage rooms of the barracks during their year of service.  But the planned expansion of contract service should produce many enlisted who stay long enough not only to learn to shoot better themselves, but to teach other contractees and conscripts.

Then there’s always technology.

Recently, Mil.ru reported that the Central MD’s Samara-based peacekeeping brigade [15th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade] increased the effectiveness of fire training by 20 percent after introducing laser simulators into the process.

This isn’t the first time the army’s used simulators, but it isn’t noted often.

Soldier Outfitted with 9F838 Tselik Laser Fire Simulator (photo: Mil.ru)

Soldier Outfitted with 9F838 Tselik Laser Fire Simulator (photo: Mil.ru)

It shouldn’t be news.  It’s been 34 years since the U.S. Army started using MILES.  What’s surprising is how late this technology is reaching Russian troops.  Mil.ru indicated the 15th IMRB got its simulators through new 2013 procurement.

The system is standard fare.  It looks a tad cumbersome, but it can reportedly be used with any infantry weapon, grenade launcher, or ATGM.

Russia is not so far behind in the technological sense, but more so in simply producing and using laser simulators.

One short dissertation says work on laser simulators began at TsKB Tochpribor in 1986.  Simulators for infantry weapons, BMPs, and tanks were fielded quickly.  The author concludes Soviet ones didn’t lag behind their U.S. or NATO counterparts.

But (he doesn’t note) just around the corner were the USSR’s disintegration and a long hiatus in Russian military procurement.

Still, Tochpribor stayed at the problem, developing new simulators (especially lighter ones) and an automated combined arms training system for up to 900 infantrymen and 180 combat vehicles called Barelef-SV, which passed state testing in 2008.

But domestic development and production like Tochpribor’s cannot fare well against Germany’s Rheinmetall and its €100-million-plus contract to build Moscow a brigade-sized live combat simulation and marksmanship training center slated to open this year in Mulino.

Parts of Russia’s defense industry are getting protection from the possibility of foreign competition (opened up by ex-Defense Minister Serdyukov), but apparently not this part.

Not that Tochpribor and Rheinmetall are in the same league.  The latter’s a world class designer and integrator of military simulators.  A system like that intended for Mulino is network-intensive, and it’s probably beyond Tochpribor’s competence.

Facts in Contractee Debate

Perhaps you saw the tweet relaying a RIA Novosti report claiming 900 men  signed up for contract service in Kemerovo this year against only 160 in 2012.

A reader responded that Russia’s recession obviously benefits recruiting, while another said no, it’s the doubling of volunteer pay that’s bringing more men in the door.  The first said twice nothing is still nothing.

You get the idea.

An interesting issue, but one that requires some facts.

We can’t test the idea that it’s the recession.  We can, however, examine (at least a little) the idea that it’s the doubled pay.

The most recent series of Russian contract service experiments began in Pskov in 2002.  The first men to sign up were paid 3,300 rubles per month (rank and duty pay with no supplements).

By 2007 – the end of that effort to add about 130,000 contract enlisted to the army’s ranks – some contractees were earning 9,000, 10,000, or even 12,000 per month.

If we adjust the 3,300 and 12,000 for Russia’s consumer inflation during the intervening years, contractees have to get 10,000 to 20,000 to get equivalent pay today.

The Defense Ministry has said they will get about the same as today’s increased junior officer pay, or 30,000 to 35,000 rubles per month.

So is that doubled or not?

For a contractee who re-ups, maybe it is.  But field research would be required to find out how these guys perceive the proffered pay.

For comparison’s sake, the average Russian monthly wage at this time last year was (according to Rosstat) about 26,000 rubles.

The Russian Army’s tried to professionalize its soldiers since its inception in 1992.  It’s tried especially hard since 2002.  That was during the second Chechen when the prospect of being a conscript sent to a shooting war caused large numbers of young men to evade the draft.  And the Kremlin was already paying relatively good money (about 30,000 rubles per month) in combat bonuses to soldiers willing to go to Chechnya.

But here’s what became obvious during the contract service push in 2002-2007:

  • Promised pay was not always delivered.  If it was, it was sometimes siphoned off by officers and other middlemen.  Now, maybe (just maybe), that’s changed because officer pay has risen fairly dramatically.
  • Promised benefits were not delivered.  Especially when it comes to housing and living conditions.  Contractees were told they’d live better than conscripts in barracks.  The vast majority of times they didn’t.  Service apartments (for married contractees) and even renovated dormitories were generally unavailable.  Money for construction was tight, and tens of thousands of officers were also awaiting housing, or improved housing, owed them.
  • Retention was, not surprisingly, a huge problem.  The majority of contractees were not more stable guys interested in a career as an enlisted man or NCO, but younger men looking to make quick rubles while searching for something better.

Without high retention, contract service was, is, and will be meaningless.  Actually, worse than meaningless because it entails great expense, lots of time and effort, and considerable opportunity cost.

We could talk all day about current contractee accession, but fact is, it really doesn’t matter.  The real test is whether the Russian Armed Forces have 425,000 professional enlisted soldiers by the end of 2017, and how many of them they manage to keep by 2020, 2023, 2026, etc.

P.S.  The quality, knowledge, and training of those 425,000 guys is pretty critical too.