Category Archives: Manpower

Contractees in BTGs

General Staff Chief, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov held a press conference with Russian news agencies on 14 September.  The just-completed Kavkaz-2016 strategic exercise was the main, but not the only, topic.


Gerasimov’s Press Conference

Interfaks-AVN captured Gerasimov’s comments on one particular subject of interest.

Army General Gerasimov said:

“Contractees are substantially increasing the combat capability of sub-units and military units.  In our districts, including the Southern Military District, battalion tactical groups [BTGs], which are fully manned by contract service soldiers, have been created.  There are now 66 of such BTGs, at the end of 2016 there will be 96, next year 115, and the year after [2018] 125.”

Every BTG, Gerasimov noted for the media, has 700-800 men, and reinforced BTGs have 900.  As a rule, each Russian regiment and brigade has two BTGs, he said.

What is a BTG?

A BTG is a motorized rifle or tank battalion of 2-4 companies with attached ATGM, artillery, reconnaissance, engineer, and rear support platoons making a fairly self-sufficient ground combat unit.

These were some brief but significant comments from Gerasimov. What do they tell us?

BTGs are supposed to be completely manned and fully combat ready. Gerasimov didn’t say that regiments and brigades typically have at least a third maneuver battalion which may not be completely manned or combat ready.

To simplify our math, let’s say Russia’s Ground Troops today comprise 36 maneuver (motorized rifle and tank) brigades.  We’ll leave out the longstanding 2nd Motorized Rifle Division and 4th Tank Division, as well as the future 150th MRD.

Those 36 brigades equate to a nominal 108 (36 x 3) maneuver battalions.  If there are 66 BTGs now, then two-thirds of the 108 are organized in essentially ready-to-fight packages.

Ninety-six would get close to 100 percent BTGs by the end of this year.  But adding another 30 (66 + 30 = 96) in less than four months seems almost ridiculously difficult.

The 115 (96 + 19) and 125 (115 + 10) figures for 2017 and 2018 would be much easier.

Battalions composing current divisions (or new divisions and brigades in the process of forming up) certainly account for some number of BTGs above 108.

It’s unclear how many airborne (VDV) or naval infantry BTGs there might be. Gerasimov seemed to be talking strictly about Ground Troops.  Between them, VDV and naval infantry might have 30+ battalions already organized into BTGs, or candidates to become BTGs.  But we don’t know if or how they factor into Gerasimov’s current or future number of BTGs.

Gerasimov’s comments have value with regard to contract service.  Sixty-six BTGs at 800 men each account for 52,800 professional enlisted.  And 125 would be 100,000. Those numbers represent a fair portion of a Russian Army of 300,000 considering that there might be 60,000 officers, and there will always be conscripts.

JO Shortage

Russia’s Eastern Military District (MD) is apparently experiencing a junior officer shortage.

The district headquarters in Khabarovsk announced this week that 227 of its contractees are set to receive lieutenant’s shoulderboards in the near future.

Eastern MD Contractees in Basic Training

Eastern MD Contractees in Basic Training

The Russian MOD site indicated that these contractees already have a higher education, and 39 have a military specialization.  Apparently, they will start serving immediately as junior officers.  The other 188 have been enrolled in military training establishments (VUZy) for an unspecified period.

Another 85 will soon be sent off for similar training.  The MD is already selecting well-prepared contract servicemen who have a higher education.

The district also intends to send representatives from its personnel directorate and military commissariats to western and central Russia to recruit individuals to serve as officers in the Eastern MD.

The MOD site reminded readers that, in May, MD commander General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin said the district needed to find officers “who were forced to resign during the optimization of the structure and size of the Russian Army” as well as contract servicemen with higher education who want to be officers.

The “optimization” of course was that of former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov.  His effort to cut bloat in the officer ranks began in earnest in 2009. While focused mainly on senior officers, Serdyukov’s knife also slashed lieutenants and captains at the base of the TO&E pyramid.  At the time, commentators reported complaints from units saying they had trouble keeping order and fulfilling routine requirements due to a lack of platoon and company commanders.

In some sense, the news about a JO shortage is surprising given that each spring the MOD gushes about young lieutenants graduating from VUZy and taking up their responsibilities in the nation’s far-flung armed forces.  It also brags about stiff competition to enter those VUZy every year. 

In another, it isn’t surprising.  Serving in the military in Russia’s harsh and underpopulated Far East is no more popular than living there for other reasons.  It’s a hardship post with little attraction for 22-year-old.

Lastly, each contractee taken to become an officer means another enlisted soldier has to be signed up for the Eastern MD.  And that’s a more difficult sell.  One is left wondering if the recruitment of contract servicemen for the Far East isn’t going so well either.

Sufficient numbers of young Russian men are just getting harder to find.  It’s hard to get them to go where the military thinks they’re needed.  Meanwhile, Moscow is trying to expand its force structure. And the very bottom of Russia’s demographic hole won’t be reached until 2018. 

Million-Man Army

President Putin (photo RIA Novosti Sergey Guneyev)

President Putin (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneyev)

For some time, observers have talked about the Russian military as a force of roughly 1,000,000 soldiers.  But its legal ceiling was above one million, while its true personnel number was below that level. Now Moscow has, for the first time, a statutory limit of 1,000,000 uniformed personnel.

This week President Vladimir Putin decreed a manpower limit of 1,885,371 for Russia’s Ministry of Defense.  One million will be uniformed service personnel and the balance civilian employees.

RIA Novosti reported on the decree.  It replaces one from January 2008 specifying 2,019,269 with 1,134,800 in uniform.

In a largely overlooked December 2008 act, former president Dmitriy Medvedev decreed that the limit would be 1,884,829, including one million serving in uniform, from the beginning of 2016.

So Putin has authorized an additional 542 civilian workers for the Defense Ministry.

To round out this picture, Putin decreed a limit of 2,020,500 with 1,134,800 servicemen in 2005.

Putin’s latest decree is the new benchmark.  But who is that million?

There are about 300,000 draftees in the armed forces at present.  In late 2015, the military reported having 352,000 contractees.  It announced it would take only 31,000 volunteer soldiers in 2016, and claimed its formations and units were manned at 92 percent of authorized manpower.

If you take 300,000 + 352,000 and add in 220,000 officers and 50,000 warrants, it looks like armed forces of 922,000 or 92.2 percent of the current one million authorized.  Another 31,000 contractees this year would be 95 percent.

In late 2014, the Defense Ministry said 220,000 officers, 50,000 warrants, 425,000 contractees, and 300,000 conscripts was its goal by the end of 2017. That’s 99.5 percent of one million.  Some 42,000 contractees will have to be signed up in 2017.

Perhaps, just maybe, the days of undermanning at 766,055 servicemen on January 1, 2013 are behind the MOD.  However, there are problems with believing it.  Number one is the fact that no one talks about the rate of contractees leaving the armed services.  Retention may be as good, but it’s not 100 percent.  The addition of new volunteers isn’t a straight line up to 425,000.

Beyond whether contractees stay are more important (and more difficult to evaluate) issues of the quality of recruits, what they learn in training, and what they add to Russia’s combat capability.

P.S.  Also notable this week was Putin’s signing of a decree on MVD manning which increases its personnel by 64,000 to 1,067,876 (872,970 police officers).  This, and the MOD decree, are part of an apparent rewickering of the “power” ministries that began with the establishment of Putin’s National Guard.

Don’t Publish This Story

It seems TASS, RIA Novosti, and Interfaks got orders not to report on Pavel Bakhtin’s rampage. It’s entirely possible under Russia’s increasingly controlled media regime.

Recent military-related news focused on Arctic exercises, MAKS-2015, and Tsentr-2015 preparations, but nothing about Bakhtin from the major Russian wire services.

Smaller outlets published stories about Bakhtin, and a few larger ones (lacking the reach of big news agencies) printed bare-bones reports.

Nothing here is meant to suggest senseless and tragic incidents don’t occur everywhere men and women are under arms for the state. They do.  The U.S. has more than its sad share.  What’s different is that everywhere (except Russia) it’s the lead story on TV news, it’s front page in the largest national papers, etc.

Here’s the basic story . . .

On 26 August, Corporal Pavel Bakhtin took his automatic weapon and killed his sleeping company commander and two other soldiers.  He wounded three more (one of whom later died) before turning the gun on himself.  Some sources claim that a fifth victim died.

Pavel Bakhtin

Pavel Bakhtin

That day, 18-year-old Bakhtin — just about three months shy of demob — was a sentry for the 331st Parachute Regiment (of the Ivanovo-based 98th Airborne Division) at a field camp near Pesochnoye on the border between Yaroslavl and Kostroma Oblasts.  After duty, Bakhtin went back to the guard house without returning his weapon, and unleashed it on his comrades.

With the apparent perpetrator dead and his victims dead or seriously injured, it’ll be hard to get what happened and why.  Nevertheless, a criminal case is open.  The investigation focuses on Bakhtin’s “personal motives” for killing his fellow servicemen. reports maybe Bakhtin flipped out because Senior Lieutenant Andrey Voronchikhin punched him in the chest half a dozen times for removing a plate from his bullet-proof vest. cites human rights advocate Ella Polyakova who says men like Bakhtin are usually driven to a point where they commit such a crime.  She reports that the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers has received complaints of abuse from the Kostroma-based regiment.

Komsomolskaya pravda writes that soldiers in Bakhtin’s training company in Omsk say they knew he “wasn’t right.”  He couldn’t carry a weapon there.  They imply he had some kind of “psych file” at Omsk that got lost and didn’t follow him to his permanent unit in Kostroma.

But there are contradictory accounts saying Bakhtin’s friends claim he was a good guy who had no problems in the army. reports that the VDV is apparently testing (or re-testing) the mental fitness of soldiers in the Kostroma regiment.  The web site also suggests the regimental command may have leaned hard on conscripts to sign up for voluntary contract service to make its quota.  Some troops and family members assert that officers forced conscripts to sign up, and even kept them standing at attention on the parade ground for hours until 30 men joined up.

The possibly belated psych testing seems akin to checking to see if newly renovated and re-occupied airborne barracks are safe to inhabit.  Conscripts and contractees are supposed to be assessed prior to induction.

The VDV is an elite branch of service.  It gets the pick of the best available conscripts in Russia’s twice-a-year draft.  Not to mention top choice of candidates for contract service.  This kind of crime is supposed to happen in other services, not in the airborne.

The Bakhtin case may illustrate what NG suggested in 2014: Russia’s military is pressing too hard and too fast.  Pressing to fly lots of aircraft and losing some, pressing to stretch its budget and not paying its electric bills, pressing to build military housing and facilities that are sub-standard, pressing to reach 425,000 contractees by 2017 and putting the wrong people in the ranks.

Better Talk About Your Problems

Army-2015 (photo:

Army-2015 (photo:

Last week the Russian MOD put on an extravaganza.  Army-2015 was a huge public exhibition of the latest and greatest Russian military technology and equipment.  It was a major patriotic event designed to boost the average Russian’s pride in his or her armed forces.

Army-2015 was not intended as a forum for discussing the Russian military’s deficiencies and difficulties.  However, the venerable BBC Russian Service interviewed four well-known commentators attending the show about this very issue. It’s a topic no longer easy to find in the Russian media.

The BBC turned first to State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Tetekhin from the KPRF who pointed to the Pentagon and its penchant for airing the U.S. military’s problems to identify and resolve them.  Tetekhin said Russia very much lacks similar discussions in its legislature and military ranks.

Army-2015 (photo:

Army-2015 (photo:

The British broadcaster asked these observers to name weak points in Russia’s military which — in their opinion — need to be fixed immediately.  The experts listed five:

  • The development and production of modern armaments suffers from a lack of personnel and the “incompleteness of the material base.”
  • The size of the armed forces is insufficient, and manning is difficult because of a lack of men.
  • A lack of follow-through in reforms, arbitrariness in decisionmaking.
  • Insufficient modern weapons, including UAVs, and the slow pace of reequipping the army.
  • The need for large expenditures to continue reform — to stop it is impossible, but great resources are needed to complete it.

That “incompleteness of the material base” sounds like defense industry is missing skilled workers, part and component suppliers, and sub-contractors who traditionally supported big arms makers. Moscow was compensating for this with foreign purchases, but it is now preoccupied with arranging for domestic import substitution.

Tetekhin expressed his concern about who will design Russia’s future weapons systems.  The skill of those working in R&D today is “an order lower” than the previous generation, he says.

For Konstantin Sivkov, the main problem is that the armed forces aren’t large enough.  He says they need to be 50 percent bigger to defend the country. More modern weapons answering modern requirements are also needed.

Igor Korotchenko sees the lack of drones — tactical to strategic and strike variants — as Russia’s most important military shortcoming.  He also complained of changing priorities and arbitrary decisions made by new defense ministers, especially regarding arms purchases.  As a remedy, he calls for permanent deputy defense ministers and service CINCs.

They tried virtual life tenure for deputy defense ministers and CINCs in Soviet times.  Didn’t work out too well.  It was a true recipe for arbitrariness and stagnation.

Lastly, the BBC quotes Konstantin Bogdanov, who gives us the most thorough summation of where the RF Armed Forces are today.  It’s worth quoting verbatim:

“The first and main problem is the unfinished state of the military reform, launched at the end of the 2000s, and repeatedly changed in its particulars. Both under Serdyukov and under Shoygu.”

“The second problem is connected to the still not overcome so-called ‘procurement holiday of the 1990s.’  The fact is a significant part of equipment, which should have been withdrawn from the inventory at the start of the 2000s and replaced with new models, is being replaced only now.  Fifteen years at a minimum have been lost.”

“This led, in particular, to an entire range of industrial enterprises, to use a sports analogy, ‘getting out of shape.’  Over the course of a long time, they couldn’t support the delivery of necessary equipment and armaments with the required characteristics and production costs.”

“This situation is being corrected somewhat, but at the end of the 2000s it was completely outrageous.”

“The manning problem is connected with the demographic hole.  They have to drag people into the army, I wouldn’t say with a lasso, but with a very sweet cake — pay.”

“There is yet another problem — the need for large infrastructure outlays.”

“Abandoned military garrisons in the Arctic, the construction of new bases there.  But this is not just a problem in the Arctic, attention is just riveted on it.  […] Airfields are being reestablished, military bases reestablished, which were abandoned at the end of the 1990s.”

“This is enormous money, and how all this will look under difficult financial conditions is hard to say.  The army is eating lots of resources, but it has gone halfway and stopping here wouldn’t be right.”

Adding (and Subtracting) Contracts

General-Colonel Viktor Goremykin

General-Colonel Viktor Goremykin

Chief of the Main Directorate of Cadres (GUK) — head of personnel for the MOD, General-Colonel Viktor Goremykin was on-stage Friday, 3 April as the latest spokesman for contract service, i.e. the military’s professional enlisted recruitment program.

This is an interesting, if subtle, shift.  More often in the past, the General Staff’s Main Organization-Mobilization Directorate (GOMU) spoke to contract manning issues.  GUK has typically dealt more with officer promotions and assignments.

The GUK’s Goremykin was commissioned into the army, but his mid-career training came in counterintelligence at the FSK Academy (soon renamed the FSB Academy).  So perhaps he was a KGB “special section” guy or osobist from his earliest days as an officer.  His path is reminiscent of his immediate boss, Nikolay Pankov.

According to TASS, Goremykin told the assembled media that the MOD will very soon have 300,000 contractees, because it now has exactly 299,508.  He added that the military gained 80,000-90,000 men on contract service in 2013 and 2014, and has added 19,000 in 2015 thus far.

We can peel back the contract service onion as a result:

  • If, from this 299,508, we subtract 90,000 + 90,000 + 19,000, the Russian MOD had only 100,508 contractees as recently as 31 December 2012. Pankov claimed 186,000 contractees at the start of 2013.  The 85,492-man discrepancy represents contract attrition over the last 27 months, or an average loss of 3,166 contractees — an entire brigade of recruits — every 30 days.
  • As Mokrushin notes, General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov said there were only 295,000 contractees in late December.  If 19,000 were added in 2015 but the total is only 299,508, then a net of only 4,508 was added due to the loss of 14,492 contractees during those months.  Call that five percent attrition, but annualized it’s 20 percent.
  • We were told in early November 2014 that the Russian military, for the first time, had more contractees than conscripts.  Since there were 305,000 conscripts at the time, ipso facto, contractees must have numbered at least 305,001.  You can add the November-December losses — 10,001 — to 14,492 and you get 24,493 lost in five months.  That’s 4,899 per month on average — call that two brigades of recruits lost — every 30 days.

Russian recruiting centers have to keep a torrid pace just to stay even with these losses.

But back to Goremykin.  He said the MOD’s goal for 2015 is to reach 352,000 contractees, and plans for the outyears haven’t changed — 425,000 by 2017, and 499,000 by 2020.

With possible attrition of 27,000 over the next nine months, the MOD will have to recruit 79,000 contractees to be at 352,000 by the end of 2015.

Goremykin indicated the MOD will continue allowing conscripts with higher education to serve two years as contractees instead of one as draftees.  The percentage choosing this option isn’t large, but it’s growing, according to him. The six-year service requirement to qualify for a military-backed mortgage may be dropped to five years just to encourage this category of contractees to re-up.

The GUK chief said there are plans to make the Russian Navy almost 100 percent contractee, starting with its submarine forces first, then most of its surface forces.

According to RIA Novosti, General-Colonel Goremykin also announced this year the MOD will make its entire contingent of “junior commanders” (NCOs) contractees.  It intends to do away with the longstanding practice of selecting and making some draftees into sergeants.  Goremykin added, “This is a task for this year.”

Two take aways:

  • As always, it’s difficult to trust the MOD’s numbers; they tell us about additions, but not subtractions.
  • As shorthand, we tend to call newly recruited and enlisted Russian contractees professionals when, in fact, they have just signed up to become professional.  Whether they do is a function of whether they stay, get trained, and become experienced.  One senior Russian commander has said he considers soldiers professionals when they’ve served two or more contracts (6+ years).

Catalyst for Military Reform

It’s sad, but safe, to conclude that Russian politics has always been pretty violent. Always being the last several hundred years.  And that violence has claimed its latest high-profile victim.

RIP 1959-2015

RIP 1959-2015

The many eulogies for Boris Nemtsov were eloquent and on-target for what they said about the man and about Russia today.

It was surprising, however, that they all (from what the present writer can tell) pretty much neglected Nemtsov’s role as a critical catalyst for serious reform of the Russian military.  The part Nemtsov played was just one way he reflected hope for the emergence of a liberal, European Russia.

Whether in government in the 1990s or out in the 2000s, Nemtsov argued for making military reform a priority.  He was the political face of criticism of President Vladimir Putin for failing to reform the armed forces.  He had lots of knowledgeable help and supporters, but he was a politician who could make the case publicly and loudly.

In the early 2000s, Nemtsov and the SPS advocated reducing the compulsory military service term from two years (which the MOD thought barely sufficient) to just six months.  He also called for slicing the army from more than 1 million to just 400,000.

Early and often, Nemtsov said the military should rely first and foremost on professional contract servicemen.  He did this in rallies and marches back when they were permitted and could be arranged with relative ease.  Former Defense Minister and Putin confidante Sergey Ivanov labeled Nemtsov’s call for an all-contractee army by 2007 “populist hodgepodge.”

But Nemtsov’s insistence was a major impetus behind the government’s 2003 contract service experiment in the 76th Airborne Division, and the 2004-2007 Federal Targeted Program to introduce contract service throughout the armed forces.  In the latter, the MOD aimed to convert 200 divisions and regiments to full professional manning instead of conscripted soldiers.

Even Ivanov said, if the government’s program worked, conscription could be cut to one year.  It didn’t.  Nemtsov argued that the contract service program, as implemented, was underfunded.  He also tried to tell Putin that the MOD generals could never be trusted to reform themselves.

What has happened since?

Civilian Anatoliy Serdyukov served almost six years as Defense Minister and imposed many military reforms on reluctant Russian generals.

One-year military conscription was phased in and became the norm in 2008.

Most importantly, professional contract service replaced conscription as the basis of Russia’s military manning policy.  The armed forces have the goal of putting 425,000 volunteer enlisted in the ranks by recruiting 50,000 each year through 2017.

And the Russian Army has, generally speaking, become a safer place to serve.

Boris Nemtsov wasn’t solely responsible for these important changes, but he was a significant force pushing for them.

So it isn’t surprising Nemtsov was killed while urgently trying to awaken somnolent Russians — mothers and fathers — to the dangers of letting the Kremlin send its young men to fight, and possibly be injured or die, in eastern Ukraine.