Tag Archives: Pavel Felgengauer

Reacting to Felgengauer

A good friend asked for a reaction to Pavel Felgengauer’s latest piece.

This author agrees with many of Felgengauer’s views, though not all of them.  In particular, this observer is unable to declare, like Felgengauer, that Russia’s military reform is failing abjectly, despite its uneven results.

Let’s look at his article.

Mr. Felgengauer presented the essence of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s dustup with Prime Minister Medvedev last week.  Serdyukov said outright, if the PM wanted to fire someone for failing to prepare semi-abandoned military towns for handover to regional authorities, he should fire him.

You may have read on these pages, the problem of no-longer-needed military towns is an enormous one.  There’s a veritable archipelago of hundreds of voyengorodki throughout Russia.  They’ve long since lost their purpose and support from the Defense Ministry.  Fixing them to transfer to civilian control is an enormous task, probably beyond the Defense Ministry’s current financing and capabilities.

One Putin campaign pledge for 2012 was not to foist broken down military infrastructure on Russia’s regions and localities.  And, though left unsaid, the problems of voyengorodki are connected to the military housing woes.  If more apartments were ready for occupancy, there might be fewer ex-servicemen living in the archipelago of former military towns.

Felgengauer could have written about how the Serdyukov-Medvedev flap reflects wider tensions in Russia’s ruling elite.  Between Putin’s people and Medvedev’s.  He did say the scandal showed the latter’s relative powerlessness.

Felgengauer might have clarified for some folks that, under the constitution, the Defense Minister answers to the President first, and the PM second.  Not so for most ministers.

He mentioned the situation harked back to Serdyukov’s reported ambivalence about continuing in his job.  There was also pre-election talk that Serdyukov might be replaced at the start of Putin’s third term.  But Felgengauer concludes Putin wanted to keep him in the post regardless.

Felgengauer suggests Serdyukov might suffer a “mental meltdown.”  He could have reacquainted readers with the temper and frustration Serdyukov showed the VDV in Ryazan in late 2010.

Turning to strictly military issues, Felgengauer concludes, “. . . the actual capabilities of the military after almost four years of Serdyukov’s reforms are questionable.”

Despite efforts to move away from reliance on hollow units, and increase permanently ready units, woeful undermanning (Vedomosti, June 9) leaves newly formed army brigades crippled, “with most of them not ready to be used in combat as full units in any circumstances.”

He continues:

“Most of the soldiers are one-year serving conscripts, called up two times a year, so half of them at any moment have been serving less than 6 months — not yet trained to be battle-ready at all.”

Let’s examine all this a bit.

Undermanning certainly exists.  The lack of detail on the strength of Russia’s new brigades make things somewhat sketchy.  If (a very big if) the brigades aren’t large, 300,000 conscripts might stretch to cover them, barely.

If the 45 maneuver units have only 3,000 draftees each, that’s 135,000.  Add maybe 60,000 (40 x 1,500) in other brigades, and Russia uses 200,000, or two-thirds, of its conscripts for the Ground Troops.

If these brigades are fully equipped and can depart garrison in an hour or two, they’re technically permanently ready.  But, as Felgengauer points out, six months is not adequate time for combat training, so it’s not clear what missions they can accomplish.  The issue is more combat capability than readiness.  Permanent readiness is a starting point, not an end in itself.

Felgengauer rightly notes that Serdyukov’s reform has lacked a strategic objective and defined doctrine.  One might say it’s failed to prioritize goals, problems, and threats.  Felgengauer says “attempts to meet all other possible threats [besides the U.S. / NATO] resulted in thinly spreading out limited resources.”

This author agrees completely.

Felgengauer ends, weakly, saying military food service was outsourced to make conscript service more attractive, and Putin might abandon it.  He views it as a failed military reform.  It may be, but outsourcing was really introduced to keep draftees in training 100 percent of the time rather than in non-military duties like KP.

We’ll return to the issue of whether military reform is succeeding or failing another time.

Fox News on the Russian Military

We laughed, we cried, two thumbs way down to Fox News for yesterday’s story on the Russian military.  It makes us wonder what kind of crap they say and write on topics we don’t know anything about.  Well, actually, we already know how bad that drek is too.

Now, no one who frequents this blog will accuse your present author of giving Moscow credit for much.  No, of course not.  But Fox News has succeeded in taking the absurd in Russian defense policy and making it ridiculous.  Fox’s article couldn’t garner a C in a high school journalism class.

At the risk of getting some of the stink on us, let’s examine the piece a little:

  1. Ahem, if you didn’t notice, the Russian military’s been falling apart for a long time.  And, actually, in the most objective sense, experts who’ve watched the process would say Defense Minister Serdyukov and his cronies may have arrested the process some over the last 4 years.
  2. Yes, CAST did put out a new monograph, but it’s a slender volume, and certainly neither comprehensive nor groundbreaking in any sense.  CAST is valuable, but hardly well-known.  And its leadership is probably not fully independent of the current regime.
  3. Fox’s claim that Russia only has 8-10 thousand deployable troops is a ridiculous misreading of intentionally hyperbolic statements in the CAST report.  No serious analyst believes that Russian forces aren’t more ready today than they were 5, 10, or 15 years ago.  But this is a relative comparison.  It doesn’t mean they’re sufficiently ready, in sufficient quantity, to execute the missions they’ve set for themselves.
  4. The Russians have already beat the furniture salesman stuff to death, but one supposes it’s still funny to a nonspecialist audience in the U.S., a country where actors become governors and presidents (and good ones at that).  But even the most basic journalistic accounts normally note that Serdyukov married well, gaining a father-in-law with a strong connection to Vladimir Putin.  And Serdyukov’s no dummy; he probably engineered most of the tax case against Khodorkovskiy.  Not sure Fox knows who Khodorkovskiy is though.  The bottom line is, most people accept Serdyukov as a savvy and tough bureaucrat with talent, who was specifically selected to do a job he’s well-suited for.  Doesn’t mean he hasn’t pissed off Russian military men.  That’s exactly what he was supposed to do.
  5. Fox missed the point that Serdyukov was sent in to stop the stealing, not to cut the military’s budget.  Does Fox realize the $78 billion that DoD’s going to trim over five years isn’t much less than what Russia’s military budget will be over that period?  Duh.
  6. Fox saves itself a little by referring to Felgengauer, but it can’t spell his name.
  7. Russian defense industry has problems, yes, but buying abroad is more complex than Fox’s passing mention.  Fox didn’t bother to Google Mistral either.
  8. Fox’s military expert is wrong; Russia still has a military.  But the U.S. needs to worry about whether and what kind it will have in the future.  We don’t need a “sick man of Eurasia,” and a military vacuum there wouldn’t be good for Americans.  And we also need to worry if there will be a country there, by the way.  Fox’s retired general is right, however, when he reminds that Russia is still a nuclear weapons superpower, and it is relying on nukes heavily for its security.  And its conventional weaknesses increase the risks of miscalculation.  But this has been the case for much of the past 20 years. 

But none of this is a news story.  The news story is that even skeptics have to admit the Russian military is doing a little better, and it’ll be interesting to find out how much better the next time it goes into action.  It’ll be interesting to see if it’s somewhere on the former Soviet imperial periphery, or against another internal threat in the North Caucasus.

The Russian media reactions to the Fox article are just starting, we’ll see if they get interesting.

But thanks Fox for providing something to write about this morning.

Dizzy with Bulava’s Success?

Iosif Vissarionovich might have accused Bulava’s proponents of dizziness after the SLBM’s test firing on October 7.  There’s no mistaking it was a clear boost to a troubled program.  Success always trumps failure.  It may even turn out that all of Bulava’s design, production, and assembly problems are resolved.  But one would think the history and current state of the Bulava would call for more cautious, guarded optimism.  This successful test was necessary, but far from even close to sufficient to complete the program.

The biggest news story after this successful test was the report that, as a result, the Bulava SLBM and Borey-class SSBN weapons system might be accepted into the arms inventory as early as mid-2011.

A highly-placed Navy Main Staff source told Interfaks:

“Before the end of the year, another two test launches of the missile are planned, if they are as successful as today’s launch, then it’s legitimate to consider the issue of the quickest completion of tests of this strategic system.  I’m proposing that the acceptance of Bulava into the arms inventory could happen in the middle of next year.”

He follows adding that serial production of the SLBM and its deployment in proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBNs will ensue.

The Navy Main Staff source doesn’t go into exactly what ‘quickest completion’ entails, but others do.  Presumably, this means another test from Dmitriy Donskoy before the end of October and, if that’s a success, the first launch from Borey-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy before year’s end.

Vesti.ru conjectures that ‘quickest completion’ might mean a second, ‘insurance’ shot from Yuriy Dolgorukiy in early 2011, then a volley firing of two missiles in spring or early summer.  After this, if every test is a success, the weapons system would be accepted, serial production would begin, and Bulava would be deployed on Yuriy Dolgorukiy.  That’s if everything goes right.

An irrationally exuberant Defense Ministry source even told RIA Novosti:

“The successful launch of the missile gives a basis to suppose that the entire system ‘submarine plus missile’ will be accepted into the Russian Navy’s arms inventory by the end of the year or at the beginning of next.”

Former Armaments Chief Anatoliy Sitnov was pretty confident, telling Interfaks and ARMS-TASS that no specialists are expressing doubts about Bulava, and ‘broken links’ in its production process have been overcome.

Old RVSN general Viktor Yesin told Interfaks he agrees it’s possible to plan for completing Bulava testing by mid-2011.  But he retains some caution:

“The tests conducted instill hope that the two flight tests of the Bulava ballistic missile coming before the end of this year will be successful.  If this happens, it’ll be possible to confirm that the designers and producers overcame a period of failures in the creation of the new submarine-launched missile system.”

Yesin also notes that only the telemetry can say if all the Bulava’s systems were working normally.

Forum.msk’s Anatoliy Baranov is skeptical about making Bulava part of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces even if the next two tests are successful, and make the tally 8 successes in 15 attempts.  He says having a missile you want to produce doesn’t mean you can produce it quickly in the necessary quantity:

“Incidentally, no one has answered for the strategic decision which left the country practically without a naval component of strategic nuclear forces [SYaS].  Don’t believe that the resignation of MIT director Solomonov is a sufficient measure of responsibility considering the possible consequences of such a mistake, and the fact that today our naval strategic nuclear forces [MSYaS] already lag the strategic enemy by a factor of 5.  But even given the most successful confluence of circumstances, we will have a gap between old missiles and submarines going out of service and new ones coming into service because the possibilities of domestic industry in serial production of solid-fuel missiles are very limited.  The Votkinsk factory produces 5-6 solid-fuel ‘Topol-M1′ missiles, there aren’t other producers.  This means the production of new missiles of the ‘Bulava’ type puts an extra load on production which already can’t cope with the creation of new land-based missiles — see, straining the RVSN rearmament program even worse.  In the best case, the necessary complement of armaments for the 3 new ‘Borey’ class SSBNs will be produced in nearly 15 years.  This is a catastrophe.”

Andrey Ionin doesn’t agree with Sitnov above.  He told Gazeta.ru that the Defense Ministry shouldn’t be impatient:

“A state commission report on successful testing and a formal decision on accepting the system for regular use doesn’t change the fact that the problem of low quality in joint production has not been eliminated.”

Carnegie Center Moscow associate Petr Topychkanov says:

“Three successful tests in a row is not a reason to put a type into serial production.”

But, unlike Baranov, he points out that the production run for Bulava doesn’t have to be too big since there are, and will be, relatively few tubes to fill.

Pavel Felgengauer in Novaya gazeta is skeptical about how close the Bulava RVs came to their intended targets, but, more important for this discussion, he calls saying that Bulava is almost ready for deployment after this successful test a “dangerous adventure.”  He adds:

“And here is a ‘raw’ missile, not completely ready and the not tested ‘Yuriy Dolgorukiy,’ a crew which clearly hasn’t mastered its submarine — and missile launches right away.  Very bold to put it mildly.”

Viktor Baranets sums it up:

“A successful launch instills some optimism.  But it’s still a long time before accepting the missile into the arms inventory.  And of 13 launches only 6 (including yesterday’s) [October 7]  were recognized as successful.  Or ‘partially successful.’  But this is not cause to launch the missile into a serial run.  Higher ‘positive indicators’ are needed.  Our specialists and foreign ones believe the quantity of successful launches should be steadily above 90%.”