Tag Archives: Contractees

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.

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.

Contract Euphoria

Vadim Koval offered words of caution and perspective on contract service in an October 31 NVO op-ed.  Until 2012 or so, the retired colonel was the official spokesman for the RVSN.

Koval suggests you can’t measure contract service by numbers alone, which merely represent “start-up capital” for the professionalization of the armed forces.

He was prompted a recent official announcement that the MOD has signed up an historically high number of contractees this year — more than 70,000 already — with two months left on the calendar.

The MOD reports, for the first time, the number of soldiers and sergeants serving on contract exceeds the number of conscripts in the ranks.  That means something more than 305,000 — based on fall 2013 and spring 2014 draft campaign target numbers.

Success in finding contractees, Koval writes, is due, in no small part, to an aggressive MOD advertising and recruitment drive this year.  But the greatest attraction for young men is increased training, new arms and equipment, and the overall improved condition of the armed forces.  None of which “remain unnoticed among potential candidates for contract service.”

Still, Koval concludes, even in light of record recruiting numbers, it’s obvious “the defense department’s main work with this category of servicemen is still ahead.”  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu didn’t fall into euphoria over the numbers, and ordered his subordinates to concentrate on the quality of contractee training, according to Koval.

He writes:

“Even statistics graphically confirm that problems with the quality of recruited contractees exist:  the quantity of contract servicemen dismissed from the Armed Forces in 2014 was 18 thousand.”

Koval finishes noting that much depends on the clarity of the MOD’s response to the challenge of getting and keeping suitable and well-trained soldiers in the military.

It’s surely difficult (well, impossible) to make that 305,000 number jibe with numbers we’ve already seen.  If Moscow had 225,000 or 205,000 at the end of 2013, this year’s 70,000+ would make 295,000 or 275,000 contractees.  Neither of those is 305,000.

It could be that Koval’s very interesting 18,000 number plays into this . . . if that many contractees quit or were drummed out this year, maybe that’s why the numbers don’t equal or exceed 305,000. Perhaps the MOD isn’t counting its attrition — only the manpower it added.

If 18,000 is the number of contractees who left the service, that’s pretty low attrition — about 6 percent.  Last year that percentage looked to be 12 or more.

Health of the Force

The confluence of recent news stories makes an update on the health of Russian military forces opportune.  As elsewhere in the armed forces, the military’s medical situation seems generally better compared with two or three years ago.

According to Izvestiya, the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU), General-Major Aleksandr Fisun told the Defense Ministry’s Public Council that illnesses in the army declined 13 percent in 2013.  The illness rate in 2012 had been 40 percent higher than 2011.

The MOD attributes the improvement to better living conditions for soldiers. These include heated barracks, washing machines, shower facilities allowing troops to clean up more than once a week, and socks replacing foot wrappings.

Fisun said, among conscripts, 60 percent of illnesses were respiratory in nature, while about 14 percent involved skin conditions.

Better training for commanders was another factor in cutting the number of sick soldiers.  An MOD spokesman told the paper:

“Work in early identification of illnesses was reinforced — commanders were strictly ordered to send subordinates for initial observation on just the suspicion of an illness.  The condition of everyone hospitalized was reported to [military] district commands.”

Valentina Melnikova of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (KSM) told Izvestiya commanders have been the problem.  However, she said Defense Minister Shoygu has said any soldier not allowed to see a doctor can now turn to military prosecutors for help.

Bmpd.livejournal.com published Fisun’s pie charts from his presentation to the MOD’s Public Council.

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

There are separate pies for conscripts and contractees.  Respiratory diseases, however, were the largest problem for both groups, accounting for half or more of illnesses.

Fisun also presented data on fitness for service among this spring’s conscripts.

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

The tabular data shows an increasing number of young men are fit, or fit with insignificant limitations, to serve in the armed forces (73.4%).  Most of that improvement apparently comes directly from decreasing the number of potential soldiers considered to have limited fitness for service (21.6%).

Reasons for “liberating” citizens from serving were pretty evenly distributed among, in order, muscular-skeletal and connective tissue diseases, psychiatric disorders (drug addiction, alcoholism), digestive system diseases, circulatory diseases, nervous system diseases, and other.

KSM’s Melnikova told Interfaks-AVN that illness was still the major issue for young men facing the spring draft.  She indicated 80 percent of complaints coming into KSM concern unfit men who were drafted.

In Moscow, some conscripts with documented health conditions  were deferred until fall under additional medical observation, but others were told they have to serve now, and had to turn to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the GVMU is reportedly amending physical standards for Russian Spetsnaz and VDV soldiers.  It’s lowering the height requirement by 5 cm (2 inches), and increasing the weight limit by 10 kg (22 pounds), according to Izvestiya.

Spetsnaz and VDV may soon be as short as 165 cm (5’4″) and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).  The new standards will apply for conscripts, contractees, and military academy cadets.

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops Will Be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops to be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Izvestiya was told a Defense Ministry order officially putting these standards into effect is expected in 2-3 months.  Its VDV source said the increased weight limit is related to use of the newer D-10 parachute which can bear up to 120 kg, so it can support a heavier jumper along with 20 kg of gear.

Perhaps the last, best word comes from Ruslan Pukhov, independent expert and Public Council member.  According to Izvestiya, he recommends increased spending on rear support and logistics, even if it means less expenditure on armaments:

“It’s worth sacrificing a couple nuclear submarines or refraining from construction of corvettes , but don’t economize on people — on their food, medical care and pay.  Iron doesn’t fight, people fight.”