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.
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.”
Both Sivkov and Korotchenko want to return to the glory days of the USSR when the country was more of an Army with a state than a state with an Army.
They (Tetekhin too) could be termed right-wing critics — though Korotchenko to a much lesser extent. Combined with liberal criticism, that from the right helps provide a somewhat accurate picture of what’s going on. This isn’t to imply that Putin and the MOD are somehow centrist — they are just for retaining power.
Realistically, any semi-astute Russian military observer is aware of these issues. That’s not to say criticism is not welcome, but it would be more useful to know exact actions undertaken by Russian industry and MoD to overcome said issues.
They are well known to those who’ve followed a long time (not to those just looking for the first time). But the point here is that the Kremlin / MOD PR campaign to demonstrate the Russian military “has returned” masks their existence and mutes discussion. Because there isn’t much substantive reported about these problems, there isn’t much written about possible solutions or how effective they are. The constant PR drumbeat makes independent military journalism that much more difficult.
So how would Russia solve its expensive military and industry recruitment problem by wallowing in criticism and self-pity?
Russia needs events like Army 2015 to make service desirable, only so much can be done in a budget to improve facilities and offer benefits, to make the existing (quite considerable) investments work you have to start altering public perception.
Obviously the BBC’s Russian service will busily work in the opposite direction as an extension UK policy towards Russia, somewhere between the MOD and BBC we have reality.
No, but neither can they conquer problems by acting as if they don’t exist. Army-2015 was not much about recruiting contractees. It was more about showing Russians how ready the Kremlin is to fight the “probable enemy.” Showing a few pre-production T-14s on a field outside Moscow is pretty easy when compared with producing and actually operating 2,000 of them. So we’ll learn more when new equipment really starts to reach line units. The BBC has done well providing a countervailing view where (again, because of Putin and the Kremlin) there is little independent Russian military journalism left to give it. Reality is in between, but (as time will tell) it is much closer to the BBC’s version than the Russian MOD’s.