Monthly Archives: February 2012

SSBN Patrols

A Delta IV SSBN (photo: ITAR-TASS)

Not all interesting commentary on the Navy’s future came from Deputy Prime Minister and OPK steward Dmitriy Rogozin last week.  

Media outlets quoted Rogozin saying Russia would soon be able to build an aircraft carrier and six submarines a year.  Subsequently, he claimed he was misquoted, and actually said Russia would be finishing renovations on the Admiral Gorshkov for India and building/repairing six submarines this year.

Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy also had curious comments of his own.

According to ITAR-TASS, on Friday, Admiral Vysotskiy told an audience that, by June or a little later, Russia will resume continuous SSBN combat patrols.  Then he added, “We’ve waited 26 years for this event.”

That would be, or will be, quite a news story.  To see where the Russians have been on SSBN patrols, consult Hans Kristensen.  He reported Russia conducted ten SSBN patrols in 2008, and might have reached, or be headed back toward, a continuous SSBN combat patrol posture.  But there is, apparently, no patrol data for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

A continuous SSBN patrol would be in line with more strategic bomber patrols and mobile ICBM deployments.  It would make sense for a Kremlin worried about U.S. insistence on fielding missile defenses.

But the difficulty comes with doing it.  Russian SSBNs are down to ten aging boats — six Delta IVs (possibly only three active due to overhauls and repairs) and four Delta IIIs.  The newest Delta IV is 22 years old, and the newest Delta III is 30.  Constant patrols could stress this force to the limit. 

Pinning a return to constant SSBN patrols to the year 1986 [26 years ago] is interesting too.  Did General Secretary Gorbachev order the Navy to reduce patrols?  Did the Yankee I SSBN (K-219) sinking near Bermuda have anything to do with it?

Vysotskiy said there’s noticeable momentum in the fleet, and the state’s leadership sees its development as a priority comparable to VKO.  He continued:

“Yesterday I together with directors of ministries and departments ranking as ministries and deputy ministers conducted a very serious event in Severodvinsk where the shipbuilding program to 2035 was roughly reviewed.  Our Duma, Federation Council have long awaited it, in order to review it.  Proposals were prepared, I won’t say what kind, in my view faithful to taking fleet construction to the state level, lifting it somewhat from a ministerial ‘slot.’”

Vysotskiy sees putting the Navy’s development before the national leadership as a panacea for its ills.  He’s probably long felt the Navy doesn’t get a fair shake from the Defense Ministry.  But it’s likely even Putin 2.0 won’t be able to give the Navy the kind of attention and resources its CINC wants.

The Russian Threat

DNI James Clapper

Ahhh, the annual testimony . . . and a story based mainly on English sources for a change.  Thanks to VPK.name for picking up the Vzglyad piece which printed a few lines on what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s unclassified Worldwide Threat Assessment testimony to the SSCI had to say about the state of the Russian military.  Otherwise, this would have been overlooked.

A few preliminaries . . . Clapper is a tall septuagenarian reared professionally in the Cold War who manages to keep on climbing the career ladder.  His bulbous dome once prompted underlings to dub him “the Martian” (although it’s known he’s actually from Remulak).  But analysts liked him (at least long ago) because he really seemed to listen to them.

Now on to his testimony, or statement for the record.  Clapper didn’t write it, nor did his staff.  It’s carefully crafted compromise language melding the views of CIA analysts mostly, and DIA analysts and others a little.  One guesses the text hasn’t changed too much from previous years.  A comparison of changes (especially adverbs) from year to year might be more revealing than what the document says.

Thanks to the Washington Post for printing the DNI’s sanitized testimony.  Unlike the impression you’d get from the Russian media, Clapper’s statement isn’t all about the Russian threat.  It definitely isn’t 25 years ago when the USSR was front and center throughout.  Russia appears first on page 7 as a state-based cyber threat and page 8 as an economic espionage threat.  Then it retires to page 20 where a mainline discussion of the country finally begins.

Domestic politics gets one-third of a page; foreign policy (you can read it yourself) gets two-thirds.  The document boldly predicts “more continuity than change” under once-and-future president Vladimir Putin “at least during the next year.” 

But that’s just the problem, isn’t it?  Putin can’t change his fragile system of rule without toppling the entire shaky edifice.

The reader’s also told (shockingly) that Putin’s unlikely to be an “agent of liberalization,” will continue protecting his wealthy cronies, and will try to placate the masses (though Russia’s moderate economic growth rates won’t support this). 

This straightline type of assessment is easy and safe to stick with, especially for one year.  Continuity is always the baseline scenario with a sufficiently short timeframe.  

Good thing the document didn’t have to judge whether Putin will complete his third term in office, the conditions under which he could be forced out, or who might take his place. 

One might have even settled for the simple conclusion (that many Russians are making):  Putin’s regime has exhausted its potential after 12+ years.  It’s unlikely to last another six, let alone another 12, even if it’s impossible to foresee exactly what Putin’s undoing will be.

Maybe the real answers are in the classified testimony.  No, not likely.

The next page has 3 paragraphs, two-thirds of the page, at last, on the Russian military.  The first is lost to a largely factual effort to explain the military’s reforms since late 2008.  The second sensibly concludes that:

“. . . funding, bureaucratic, and cultural hurdles—coupled with the challenge of reinvigorating a military industrial base that deteriorated for more than a decade after the Soviet collapse—will complicate Russian [rearmament and force modernization] efforts.”

One could say deteriorated for nearly two decades, and there are many Russian observers who believe it can’t be revived.  Surprising nothing’s said about buying weapons and arms technologies abroad.  Again, perhaps in the secret version. 

But at least this testimony doesn’t assume the military and OPK will automatically and absolutely get every ruble and every system talked about in the context of GPV 2011-2020.

The third paragraph tries to say what all this means.  Russia will have the military might to dominate the post-Soviet space (already largely true for the past 20 years) but not to threaten NATO collectively. 

Which raises an interesting point.  Is this document insinuating  Moscow might try to threaten one NATO member individually to test the alliance’s reaction and cohesion?

But, in the end, the text says until improvements in conventional capabilities really reach Russian troops, the Kremlin will continue looking to its nuclear forces to offset its weaknesses vis-a-vis potential opponents with stronger militaries.

You can read on yourself for more on Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Cosmic Corruption

Sergey Fridinskiy

Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy gave Interfaks an interview several weeks ago in which he described generally improved crime statistics in the Armed Forces.  But he also called the scale of corruption in the military nothing short of “cosmic.”

Fridinskiy told the news service the army’s crime situation is stable and even improving.  Crimes by servicemen are down 16 percent, and there are fewer crimes committed by officers.  There’s a constantly growing number of military units where no legal violations law are registered.  Last year fewer soldiers suffered violence at the hands of their fellow soldiers.  But the army’s top law enforcer doesn’t think he’ll run out of work any time soon:

“In particular areas, for example, like saving budget resources allocated for military needs, or corrupt activities, the crime level, as before, is significant.  And we’re still far from ridding ourselves of nonregulation relations.”

More than 1,000 military officials were prosecuted for corruption, including 18 general officers — one-third of whom received jail time.  Since January 2011, the GVP’s prosecuted 250 bribery cases, many more than in 2010.  Fridinskiy singled out the GOZ and commercial firms outsourcing for military units as areas where problems are “not small.”  He puts annual Defense Ministry losses to corruption at 3 billion rubles.

This is, interestingly, the same figure he cited in early 2010.

Asked about the types of corrupt schemes in the military, Fridinskiy responded:

“Mainly untargeted use of budget resources, violating the rules and requirements of conducting auctions, competitions, and contractor selection, paying for work not really performed, significant inflating of prices for military products.  There are also multifarious kickbacks, bribes, and misuse.  Generally, the banal sharing out of budget resources.  Devotees of living on state funds especially go for violations of the law.  Their scale now is simply stratospheric, I would even say, cosmic.”

Fridinskiy said the GVP’s been active in checking high-level Defense Ministry officials’ asset and property declarations.  He said called the scale of violations here “impressive.”  More often, he continued, the GVP finds evidence of servicemen and officials engaged in illegal entrepreneurship and commercial activity.  He mentioned an unnamed deputy Northern Fleet commander who failed to disclose his wife’s assets, and a Rosoboronpostavka bureaucrat who simultaneously serves as general director of a corporation.

The GVP Chief then shifted gears to talk about barracks violence which he said was down by 20 percent in 2011, with cases involving “serious consequences” declining a third.

Lastly, Interfaks asked about military police, of which Fridinskiy’s skeptical.  He emphasized military prosecutors will continue supervising army investigations, but he doubts MPs are ready to run criminal inquiries.  He repeated his familiar assertion that they aren’t a panacea; their existence won’t change the social factors behind crime among servicemen.

Would have been interesting if the news agency had asked if this year’s higher pay for officers will cut army crime in 2012.