Tag Archives: Undermanning

766,055

That number — 766,055 — is how many officers and soldiers Russia’s Audit Chamber says were paid to serve in the armed forces on 1 January 2013, according to RIA Novosti.

This confirms what’s been said by various military commentators over the past year or so.  Several said about 750,000 or below 800,000.

The Audit Chamber is a quasi-independent and pretty reliable source, something akin to America’s GAO.

Walk this back . . . take 766,055 and subtract 220,000 officers, 186,000 contractees reported at the beginning of 2013, spring 2013 and fall 2012 draft contingents of 153,200 and 140,140, and you are left with 66,715.

That leftover number roughly corresponds to cadets in VVUZy.

Undermanning — below the statutory authorization of one million — has been confirmed officially.

This is the truest, most accurate manpower baseline we’re likely to see.

Shoygu’s Inherited Dilemmas

Shoygu and Serdyukov

Shoygu and Serdyukov

Before Russia’s holiday topor fully enshrouded military commentators, Gazeta’s Sergey Smirnov published an interesting piece on the situation in which Defense Minister Shoygu finds himself.  There isn’t a lot of great comment on Shoygu yet, but it might be cranking up.  Smirnov looks at how the popular Shoygu could mar his well-regarded career while tackling the same accumulated military structural problems that faced his predecessor.  He writes about possible bureaucratic and personal conflicts with Sergey Ivanov, Sergey Chemezov, and Dmitriy Rogozin.

Leftover Problem One:  Contract Service

According to Smirnov, Russia’s military added virtually no contractees in 2012, but still has to recruit 50,000 of them every year until 2017 to reach its assigned target of 425,000.  The obstacles are the same.  Eighty percent of them don’t sign a second contract because the army doesn’t offer living conditions more attractive than barracks.  Undermanning is a related problem.  Smirnov says the military’s manpower is certainly below 800,000.  And Shoygu may have to acknowledge this problem.

Leftover Problem Two:  Bureaucratic Competitors

Smirnov describes Serdyukov’s conflict with Rogozin over the OPK and its production for the military.  He claims the “Petersburg group” of Sergey Ivanov, Chemezov, and Viktor Ivanov wanted one of its guys to take Serdyukov’s place at the Defense Ministry.  But Putin didn’t want to strengthen them, so he took the neutral figure Shoygu.

According to Smirnov, Serdyukov wanted out, and wanted to head a new arms exporting corporation to replace Rosoboroneksport.  That, of course, conflicted directly with Chemezov and the interests of the “Petersburgers.”  And Smirnov makes the interesting comment:

“But that appointment [Serdyukov to head a new arms exporter] didn’t happen precisely because of the big criminal cases which arose not by accident.”

Was Serdyukov done in for overreaching rather than for corruption scandals in the Defense Ministry?

Shoygu, writes Smirnov, was not thrilled at the prospect of continuing the “not very popular” army reforms.  Smirnov is left at the same point as everyone else:  will it be a “serious revision” of Serdyukov’s reforms or a “course correction?”

There’s lots of talk to indicate the former rather than the latter.  The new VVS CINC has bloviated about returning to one regiment per airfield instead of large, consolidated air bases.  He claims the Krasnodar, Syzran, and Chelyabinsk Aviation Schools will be reestablished.  He babbles about going to a three-service structure and retaking VVKO.  Shoygu will allow Suvorov and Nakhimov cadets to march in the May 9 Victory Parade.  He stopped the Military-Medical Academy’s move out of the center of Piter.  Other commonly mentioned possible revisions are returning to six MDs and transferring the Main Navy Staff back to Moscow.

Leftover Problem Three:  Outsourcing

Serdyukov’s outsourcing policy led to scandals, and didn’t work for the Russian military’s remote bases.  Gazeta’s Defense Ministry sources say the structure and activity of Oboronservis will likely be greatly modified or, less likely, Oboronservis will be completely disbanded if some workable entity can take its place.

Leftover Problem Four:  Military Towns

The military wants municipal authorities to take over the vast majority (70-90 percent) of a huge number of old military towns (that once numbered 23,000) no longer needed by Armed Forces units.  The army only wants some 200 of them now.

The local government wants the military to provide compensation to restore and support these towns, but the latter doesn’t have the funds.  The army is laying out billions of rubles in the next three years, but only to outfit 100 military towns it wants to use.  There is also the problem of who gets, or has the power to give away, legal title to this military property.

Leftover Problem Five:  Officer Housing

Shoygu, says Smirnov, has to solve the unresolved problem of officer housing, especially for officers “left at disposition” of their commanders (i.e. not retired but lacking duty posts and apartments).  The Defense Ministry still doesn’t know how many need housing.  Smirnov writes:

“Despite the fact that the military department daily reports on the handover of apartments, the line of officers retired from the army who are awaiting receipt of living space is not becoming smaller.  At present from 80 to 150 [thousand] former officers are awaiting the presentation of housing.”

More than enough lingering headaches for one Defense Minister.

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.

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.

No One to Call (Part II)

Let’s continue our look at the just-completed fall draft before returning to the issue of contract service.

In Nezavisimaya gazeta, Sergey Konovalov counts 220,000 officers and 180,000 contractees at present, then quotes retired general Yuriy Netkachev:

“If we add the number of men called into the troops in the spring and fall of last year (135,900 [sic] and 218,000 lads respectively), then with authorized manning of the army and navy at one million men, undermanning is not less than 15%.  Given such indicators, it doesn’t do to talk about the full combat readiness of the troops.”

With due respect to Netkachev, this adds up to just over 750,000 men in the RF Armed Forces.  That would be 25 percent undermanning against a million-man army. 

Konovalov cites KSMR’s Valentina Melnikova on legal violations in the recent draft.  The fall call-up possibly set a record for rights violations even though it was the smallest post-Soviet draft.  Melnikova claims 6,000 violations were reported — one for every 20 men inducted.  And, according to Konovalov, prosecutorial data seems to support her number.  The main violation was simply drafting guys not fit to serve.  Melnikova believes commissariats did this consciously because it was the only way they could reach even relatively low target numbers.

Konovalov turns to military sociologist Colonel Eduard Rodyukov who worries that, following a precedent set in Chechnya, the Defense Ministry is not inducting men from Dagestan.  Only 121 were inducted against the republic’s plan for 3,320.  And those few entering the army appeared to be Slavs rather than Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, etc.

Rodyukov concludes:

“This is unjust.  In Moscow, to fulfill the call-up plan, they shave everyone for the army – both lame and near-sighted, but in Dagestan and Chechnya potential recruits are sent into the reserve [without serving as conscripts].  A peculiar Slavicization of military collectives is occurring, the structure of which doesn’t correspond to the country’s population.  But the Russian Army is not an imperial army.  It should be international [i.e. interethnic].”

Konovalov believes conscription’s been cut in other “hot” republics of the North Caucasus as well.

Let’s come back to a larger point where we started.  If conscription of Caucasians has been pared for fear of having them in the ranks, overall conscription has been cut in favor of having 425,000 professional volunteers in the army by 2017. 

The Defense Minister recently said he’d go as far as 90 percent contractees and only 10 percent conscripts in the Armed Forces if the budget allowed for it.

Viktor Baranets addresses, in understated fashion, the difficulty of going from about 180,000 contractees today to 425,000:

“But this requires enormous expenditures.  A soldier or contract-sergeant also needs, besides uniforms, weapons, and corresponding social benefits, to be given good housing (and among them there are also many who are married).”

Yes, housing was a huge downfall of the 2003-2007 contract service effort.  So was failure to recruit the right men, and make contract service truly different from being a conscript.

Baranets goes on to suggest G.I. bill-type benefits (privileged VUZ admittance, government hiring preferences, etc.) for Russia’s contractees.

But pay can’t be underestimated as the primary factor in whether the Russian Army can attract contractees this time.

In 2004, a newly-signed contractee might have gotten 10,000 rubles a month.  After accounting for inflation, the Defense Ministry will have to pay at least 20,000 today to give enlisted the same deal. 

General Staff Chief Makarov has talked about minimum pay of 23,000 — not much more than what was offered in 2004 after inflation.  As always, much depends on the supplements and bonuses an individual serviceman receives. 

Contract pay may be better than it was.  But it’s going to be, as Baranets said, an enormous expense.  We’ll have to see if it’s an affordable and sustainable one.

No One to Call (Part I)

Shaved and Ready to Serve (photo: Yelena Fazliullina / Nezavisimaya gazeta)

“We could call-up 11.7% of all young men.  Of them, 60% got out on health grounds.  Therefore, the RF Defense Ministry confronts the fact that there is almost no one to call-up into the RF Armed Forces.”

Army General Nikolay Makarov

So the General Staff Chief declared on November 11, 2011, and he’s been quoted to this effect many times since. 

Just nine months earlier, the Defense Ministry declared professional contract service would be the primary method of manning the Armed Forces.  And a year before that, the Defense Minister and General Staff Chief said the exact opposite:  conscription would be primary and contract service would be curtailed.  

But the impossibility of manning a million-man Russian Army by means of the draft was clearly understood by many observers at that time.

The Defense Ministry recently issued its customary press-release indicating 100-percent fulfillment of the fall draft campaign.  

Only 135,850 young men were conscripted for one year of obligatory military service.  This was about 80,000 fewer than the number inducted during the spring draft (218,720), and less than half the fall 2010 call-up (280,000). 

This fall’s 135,850 twelve-month soldiers are just about the same number of men typically drafted for a two-year service term in the mid-2000s.

Viktor Baranets published his archive of annual conscription numbers back to 1999, which is handy.  He makes the point that, in contrast to today’s 12 percent or less, 20 percent of available men were being drafted as late as the late 1990s.

Let’s suppose if Makarov’s 12 percent go to serve and 60 percent are excused for health reasons, then 28 percent are escaping through deferments (mostly educational) or evasion. 

Makarov’s precise 11.7 percent or 135,850 conscripts would mean his total draft pool was under 1.2 million men.  This seems odd because census numbers say Russia should have at least two million 18- and 19-year-old men right now.  And that’s not even mentioning some 21- or 22-year-olds who get caught in the commissar’s dragnet. 

There might be some math your author can’t fathom, but it could also be that the widely-reported number of 200,000 long-term draft (or draft summons) evaders is actually much, much higher.

Let’s look at a fairly detailed report on conscription in one oblast — Sverdlovsk.  Nakanune.ru reports the oblast’s military commissar sent out 25,000 draft notices to the region’s youth. 

Almost half were unfit for health reasons, leaving, let’s suppose, 13,000 young men to sort through.  But this, of course, means Sverdlovsk’s a lot healthier place than many places.

Of those 13,000, some 6,000 had deferments.  So we’re down to 7,000 candidate-soldiers.  Of them, 4,056 were inducted this fall. 

That’s a deferment rate of 24 percent for all men summoned to the draft board.  And 4,056 is 16 percent of those summoned.  The MVD got 700 men (3 percent), and the Armed Forces presumably got 3,356 (13 percent).

Now unmentioned are the 2,944 not deferred and not drafted.  Who knows how they might be counted.  But they might be guys evading the draft by simply going missing.  For those keeping score, that could be an 11.7 percent evasion rate.  Just as many dudes avoiding service as going to serve this fall.

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.