Tag Archives: Permanent Combat Readiness

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.

Farewell Russian Arms and Russian Army

Does it matter what old soldiers think?  It doesn’t seem to right now.  Maybe they’re just bitter old dudes whose time has passed. 

But they certainly provide interesting and frank commentary on the state of the OPK, the Armed Forces, and Serdyukov’s reforms at odds with official pronouncements from the Kremlin, White House, and Defense Ministry.

Former 58th Army Commander, retired General-Lieutenant Viktor Sobolev wrote recently for Pravda.  He reacted to a program on the army on NTV from October 9.  It apparently wasn’t posted on NTV’s site. 

Sobolev says this right up front:

“On the eve of elections, our president and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Dmitriy Medvedev and ‘national leader’ Vladimir Putin have been worried in turn by the condition of the country’s army and military-industrial complex and are assuring gullible Russian citizens that they will do everything so that our Armed Forces meet modern requirements and receive new types of armaments and military equipment in a timely manner.”

“The Russian mass media [SMI] under the government’s and president’s control have been actively used in making these assurances.”

The ex-general-lieutenant is critical of just about everyone:  Serdyukov and his “effective” managers, people who haven’t served in the army, former First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin who wanted to buy more arms abroad, his successor Sukhorukov who dares insist that defense enterprises substantiate their prices, independent defense commentators like Litovkin and Pukhov, interest-hungry banks, corrupt middlemen.

He points only to Tactical Missile Armaments Corporation General Director Boris Obnosov in a positive light for recognizing that other countries won’t sell Russia their best weaponry. 

Still, Sobolev’s under a bit of a misimpression thinking that Moscow is really buying lots abroad.  In fact, a cynical observer might conclude the whole situation over the last year was designed to let Putin be the champion of the domestic defense sector vs. Medvedev the Westernizer.  But we digress . . . 

For Sobolev, this all sums to an OPK with a broken GOZ, that’s chronically underfinanced and losing its capability to produce modern arms and equipment. 

Again, the cynic might say this was already lost a number of years ago.

But, says Sobolev, when compared with the OPK:

“Even worse is the situation in the Armed Forces.  It’s believed we have a million-man army which Mr. Sukhorukov recalled on this program.  Let’s calculate it together.  According to TO&E, there are 150 thousand officers in the army, no warrants at all, they were liquidated.  According to civilian [but he still wears his uniform] GOMU Chief V. Smirnov, 184 thousand contractees are serving in the army and navy.  In all 334 thousand, the remaining 666 thousand are conscript servicemen.  But they simply couldn’t have called up so many.  Moreover, conscripts serve not only in the army and navy, of the number called up, up to 30% serve in the Internal Troops, Border Guards, MChS units, presidential regiment, and so forth.  This means in the army and navy huge undermanning exists, and it will only get bigger.  It’s planned to reduce the fall callup by 2 times.  More than 200 thousand citizens, according to Smirnov, are evading military service.  The spring callup stretches out to September, and the fall until March.  In the troops, they’re occupied with it constantly, in the course of the entire year, they take young soldiers into their ranks in small groups, organize individual training for them and try to man sub-units.  At the same time, the process of dismissal also goes on without interruption.  In these conditions, you can’t talk about any kind of quality manning of sub-units.  What kind of units of permanent combat readiness are these?”

“Therefore NATO’s military analysts note with satisfaction that, as a result of the reforms conducted, Russia’s Armed Forces aren’t capable of completing missions even in local conflicts, ‘The Russian Army does not have a sufficient quantity of transport resources for redeploying troops over great distances, does not have a sufficient quantity of aircraft and pilots who know how to fly in any weather, no unified information system.  There are not enough soldiers in the army . . .’”

“In NATO, they understand the Russian Army’s fallen apart, but how about our country’s leadership?”

Whoa. 

Sobolev’s no crank, and he’s not to be taken lightly.  Born and schooled in southern Russia, he probably has combat experience whereas the current General Staff Chief and Ground Troops CINC probably don’t.  Sobolev served as Deputy Commander of the OGV(s) in Chechnya in 2002, before taking over the NCMD’s 58th Army in 2003.  He ended his career as the chief military advisor in Russia’s Indian embassy in late 2010.

General-Lieutenant Sobolev

A more recent photo shows him looking just about as fit in retirement at age 61.

One wonders if a conservative like Sobolev realizes how much his thinking coincides with that of more liberal critics he seems to detest.

Collapsing Contract Service, the Draft, and Professional NCOs

General Staff Chief Makarov’s recent death pronouncement for contract service means, as he said, more conscripts in the near future (or an attempt to conscript more soldiers).

In the longer run, however, the collapse of contract service means the Russian Army faces several manpower policy choices, each unpalatable for its own reasons.  The army will likely be less combat ready, and less combat capable, than desired.

Think back about where the army’s been, and how it reached the current predicament.

The armed forces were reportedly 1.13 million men, but probably more, in recent years.  At any moment, they had four distinct draft contingents of about 130,000 conscripts, totaling 520,000 draftees.  Next, they had a layer of perhaps 300,000 contractees and warrant officers.  The contractees included probably 90,000 long-term enlisted, NCOs, and females as well as no more than 80,000 contract soldiers from 2002 and later.  There were probably about 130,000 warrants.

So, let’s count 520,000 conscripts and the middle layer of 300,000, for a total of 820,000.  Lastly, on top, let’s add nearly 400,000 officers. 

What did this manpower structure mean for the Russian Army’s force structure?

With practically the same number of conscripts and officers, the force structure was hollow–few units or formations were fully manned and many low-strength (cadre) units had officers and equipment, but only small numbers of soldiers–conscript or contract–and they existed only to be fleshed out with mobilized reservists in the unlikely event of a big war.

This structure didn’t work well in little wars like Chechnya or more recently Georgia in which the army had to piece together regiments by finding combat ready battalions and capable commanders wherever they could be found.

In 2006, Putin said of the military dilemma at the outset of the second Chechen war:

“. . . we needed to gather a force of at least 65,000 men.  And yet the in all of the Ground Troops there were only 55,000 in combat ready units, and even they were scattered all around the country.  The army was 1.4 million strong, but there was no one to do the fighting.  And so unseasoned lads were sent to face the bullets.”

And in late 2008, Medvedev emphasized the need for 100 percent combat ready units as the number one lesson of the August conflict over South Ossetia:

“Overall, these changes aim to make the Armed Forces more combat ready.  We talked about the war in the Caucasus, where our armed forces demonstrated their best qualities, but this does not mean that there were not also problems that became apparent.  We need to continue improving our Armed Forces. What steps does this require?  First, we need to move over to a system of service only in permanent combat ready units.”

So, after the August war with Georgia, Serdyukov moved to eliminate the huge, big-war mobilization base, hollow units, and unneeded officers, and to use the savings to man and outfit 85 Ground Troops brigades in a permanently combat ready condition.

Given a nominal strength of 3,000 men in them, the army needs roughly 260,000 troops to man these new combat brigades.  And this doesn’t count conscripts needed elsewhere in the Ground Troops, Rear Services, VVS, VMF, RVSN, VDV, or KV.

With the commencement of the one-year draft in 2008, Moscow doubled its induction of conscripts from 130,000 to 270,000 every six months.  And the Ground Troops need fully half the 540,000 conscripts present in the armed forces at any given moment.

Like any country, Russia has a real and an ideal army, the army it has and the army it wants (a la Rumsfeld).  Moscow’s ideal army by 2012 has one million men, including 150,000 officers, a layer of 64,000 professional NCOs, and conscripts as the balance, perhaps 800,000.

But the Arbat military district hasn’t articulated it this clearly for several reasons.  First, shedding officers and (warrants) year after year isn’t an easy task.  Second, the number of professional NCOs desired or available in the future is in doubt given General Staff Chief Makarov’s and Defense Minister Serdyukov’s statements on the failure of contract service and the apparent withdrawal of funding for the current contract sergeants program.  And third, it’s unclear if Moscow can draft 400,000 young men semiannually to put 800,000 soldiers in the ranks.

The army Russia has is messier than the vision stated above.  Serdyukov says they are at 1 million already.  There were a reported 355,000 officers at the outset of the current reform in late 2008.  About 40,000 officer billets were vacant and 65,000 officers were released in 2009, putting them at 250,000 officers today.  Serdyukov has set about the elimination of almost all warrant officers, but he hasn’t said what they’ve done in this regard yet. Let’s guess 30,000 have been dismissed, leaving 100,000 warrants.  Let’s also make reasonable guesses that 60,000 recent contractees and 70,000 longer term ones remain in the troops.

So what is there?  Armed forces with 540,000 conscript soldiers and about 480,000 officers, warrants, and contract enlisted.  Moscow will have to revitalize its military education system to get the smaller number of quality officers needed in the future.  Getting the requisite numbers of conscripts will be a challenge given the country’s well-known demographic problems which are biting hard right now.  But obtaining the noncommissioned officer layer of military unit leadership is also proving difficult.  The layer is presently a jumble of perhaps 230,000 warrant officers, contract sergeants, and even officers and warrants who’ve accepted downgraded positions rather than dismissal.  It is not the army’s ideal, but this middle layer fulfills some functions.

With all this said, what are the Russian Army’s manpower options for the future?

If Moscow actually reduces the officer corps to 150,000 by 2012 and the contract sergeant program is not put on track, the balance of its 1 million man army could be 800,000 or 850,000 conscripts (including conscript-sergeants trained for only 3 or 6 months).  Drafting 400,000-425,000 men every six months would be practically impossible.  Of the current cohort of maybe 900,000 18-year-olds, maybe 300,000 can be inducted, leaving the army to find 500,000-550,000 conscripts among men who are 19-27 and have not already served, but can be difficult to induct for various reasons.

Even if manned fully, a 12-month force has to make Moscow wonder whether this mass of conscripts with this amount of training really meets its definition of a modern, combat-ready, and combat-capable army.

Reducing the manpower requirement by cutting the army’s overall size would reduce the draft burden, but it would contravene the decreed million-man army policy.  There would be howls of protest that the army is too small to cover Russia’s borders (as if one million is even enough to do it).

Extending conscription back even to 18 months would ease this task considerably.  Moscow could take just slightly more than the 270,000 it is conscripting now for 12 months, and by keeping them an extra six months, it could work its way up to a conscripted force of nearly 850,000 in the space of a year and a half.  An increased draft term would be unpopular but Russians would swallow it.  It’s not like it would lead to a Medvedev (or Putin) defeat at the polls in 2012.  The real problem might be the draft’s similarity to taxes–the longer (or higher) they get, the more incentive for people to avoid them.

So that brings us back to the central point.

The way to reduce the number of conscripts needed for a million-man army, keep the draft term at 12 months, and have a reasonably well-trained and capable force is the one path that has been abandoned–developing a large and professional NCO corps that has the right material incentives to serve for a career.

The slow-to-start, small-scale, and apparently recently eviscerated Federal Goal Program to train only 64,000 professional sergeants is not enough.  The current ranks 230,000 of former officers turned sergeants, warrant officers, warrants turned sergeants, contract sergeants, and enlisted contractees is a stew that could theoretically be converted to a professional NCO corps, but it would be far from easy.  In terms of size, however, it’s more like what’s required to do the job, lighten the conscription load a little, and impart some professionalism to a mass, short-term draftee army, if these NCOs become professionals themselves.

What professional NCOs demand in return is pretty basic (higher than median income wages, family housing, and guaranteed off-duty time outside the garrison), but they haven’t gotten it since the most recent contract experiments began in the early 2000s.  In many cases, even officers haven’t got these things.  But the pay promised in the contract sergeant program (up to 35,000 rubles per month after graduation) is more like what’s needed to attract men.

The sergeant program seems to be the army they want, but the Defense Ministry appears to have pulled the financial plug on it.  The flotsam and jetsam is the army they have and might be turned into something, but there’s no move in this direction as yet.  Meanwhile, recall that Serdyukov’s plan for mass officer reductions was partly justified by the thinking that many officer tasks would go into the hands of capable NCOs.  And as recently as the 5 March Defense Ministry collegium, Medvedev said:

“Particular attention also should go to sergeant personnel. Sergeants need to be capable, if the situation demands it, of replacing their tactical level officers.”