Tag Archives: NCOs

Serdyukov Meets Gates at Pentagon

Mr. Serdyukov Goes to Washington (photo: ITAR-TASS)

ITAR-TASS reports Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates will meet for a total of 5 hours today.  And the Russian press service concludes: 

“This is highly unusual and attests to the great significance the U.S. Defense Department attaches to the visit.” 

Aside from all the customary ceremonies, there will be three sets of talks today.  The morning session is dedicated to discussing military reform plans and defense spending on both sides.  ITAR-TASS says the Americans consider this the most important topic from their viewpoint. 

The press service quotes The New York Times saying the two men “simultaneously declared war on longstanding and ineffective bureaucratic organizations,” adding that they’ll find a common language as they compare their efforts. 

A working lunch will be devoted to nuclear arms control and missile defense.  RIA Novosti quoted a Defense Department spokesman who said you can’t meet Russians without discussing missile defense, but it won’t be the main topic of the visit.  Today’s afternoon session will cover a variety of regional and global security problems.  Serdyukov will visit an unspecified U.S. Army base as well as the Naval Academy. 

In an interview published in today’s Kommersant, Gates said: 

“I’ve attentively followed Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reform efforts.  I have the impression that the scale and depth of the reforms he’s conducting correspond to what I’m trying to do in the U.S.  The thing is in the coming years we don’t expect significant budget increases.  Therefore, we have to decide how best to use the resources we have.” 

“I know the Russian Defense Minister has an interest in how to select highly professional soldiers and how to keep them in the armed forces, how to exert command and control of the armed forces in order to strengthen national security.  This is especially complicated in the face of economic problems standing before each of our countries.” 

Apparently, Gates doesn’t understand precisely.  The Defense Ministry already has an answer — to jettison its failed professional contract service program, return to reliance on conscripted soldiers, and see if they can train and retain some professional NCOs. 

Asked if Russia’s a threat to the U.S. and about its new ballistic missiles, Gates replied:  

“No.  I don’t view Russia as a threat.  We are partners in some areas and competitors in others.  But we cooperate on important issues.” 

Good answer. 

“From the viewpoint of our program modernization the new SOA agreement is a great achievement.  Just as the agreements which preceded it.  They establish rules of the game which provide transparency and predictability.  Modernization programs within the bounds of the new SOA agreement are absolutely normal.  We’ll conduct our own modernization. 

Asked about cooperation on missile defense and the Gabala radar specifically, Gates said the U.S. is interested in Gabala and in the possibility of establishing a missile launch data exchange center [JDEC] in Moscow.

Bad News for Would-Be Officers

Future Officer, or Sergeant? (photo: RIA Novosti / Valeriy Titiyevskiy)

There’s no better time for bad news about changes in military education than the beginning of Russia’s academic year.

The Defense Ministry said Monday it’s stopping induction of cadets into military higher educational institutions (VVUZy or ВВУЗы).  And new students will not matriculate next year either.

There’s no doubt there’s lots of excess capacity that needs to be cut from Russia’s military education system, but, as usual, there seems to be more angst about the way the process is being managed than about the need for some kind of change itself.  The Defense Ministry is trying to ram many young men who signed up to be officers into sergeant’s billets, and generally changing the rules in the middle of the game.  There’s no doubt large numbers of VVUZ professors and other teaching staff will be pushed out of the service, but the Defense Ministry is denying this for now.  Perhaps most interesting, RIA Novosti elected to editorialize on this issue, saying it exemplifies the Defense Ministry’s, and the Defense Minister’s, poor way of dealing with the public and presenting its initiatives.

Deputy Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Personnel Directorate (GUK or ГУК), Tamara Fraltsova (who doubles as Chief of the Military Education Directorate) made the announcement during a video conference marking the opening of the Presidential Cadet Corps in Orenburg.  Specifically, she said:

“In the course of this year and next, the Defense Ministry is refraining from selecting cadets for its VUZy.”

“This is connected to an overabundance of officer personnel and a deficit of officer positions in the Armed Forces.”

“At present, graduation of cadets exceeds the officer positions we have in the Armed Forces by four times.”

In other words, the military educational system is still too big, and needs more cuts.  There are 56 teaching institutions in all – VVUZy and their branches (filialy). 

The ‘overabundance’ of officers is part and parcel of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s ‘new profile’ reforms in which officers are being reduced to 150,000 from well in excess of 300,000 in late 2008. 

Fraltsova has previously indicated VVUZy would be cut further and unified into ten ‘inter-service scientific-training centers.’  Duplicative or overlapping specialty training will also be eliminated.

Izvestiya reported that Fraltsova said the military education system is still configured to support a 4-million-man, rather than a 1-million-man, army.

Nevertheless, Fraltsova maintained that all 15,000 VVUZ graduates were placed in military billets last year.  But she didn’t say what kind of billets.

Krasnaya zvezda quoted her:

“. . . there is a chance for higher quality manning of the Armed Forces.  So, the requirements for future officers must be stricter.”

“There is a need for a review and selection of military specialties, according to which education in military VUZy is provided.  Part of [these specialties] will be transferred to the civilian ranks, part will go into to the duty category of sergeant personnel.”

There’s been media reporting for months that any cadet receiving even a single ‘2’ – an unsatisfactory mark – is now drummed out.  But this doesn’t eliminate many – 70 percent of cadets graduate without ever getting even a ‘3,’ according to the Defense Ministry.

Writing in Komsomolskaya pravda, Viktor Baranets indicated that only 100 of 600 lieutenants who arrived in the Pacific Fleet got officer jobs, and, in Voronezh, only the very top-ranked graduates found officer posts in the Air Forces.  About 20 percent of cadets normally graduate ‘with distinction.’  So the remaining 80 percent either accepted a sergeant position, or immediate dismissal into the reserves and the civilian world.  

Grani.ru reported that most graduates of the Defense Ministry’s Military University – a social sciences institution located in Moscow – got a ‘free diploma’ and an immediate discharge.   

According to Izvestiya, Fraltsova said there are only 5,000 command positions in the Armed Forces against an influx of 15,000 newly-commissioned junior officers.  The paper quotes her:

“Let them compete for what they will get.  The rest simply received a free higher education.  In my opinion, this is fair.”

She claims these changes are improving student performance, and she wants to use competitive ratings to make initial officer assignments.

She dismisses worries about the impact of cadet reductions on VVUZy teaching staffs because, in many cases, they’ll be busy teaching noncommissioned officers.  Some will be one-year conscript sergeants, and others three-year contractees getting nearly 3 years of post-secondary schooling.

Fraltsova revealed that 60 percent of VVUZy already teach on a ‘for-profit’ basis, and this will fully employ their instructors.

The effects of officer corps cuts, and VVUZy cuts, have rippled down to Russia’s venerable Suvorov and Nakhimov schools.  Without places in VVUZy, these young men will have to seek spots in other power ministry academies, if they want to be officers.  Premilitary Suvorov and Nakhimov schools now have to compete for students with the new Presidential Cadet Corps, which are supposed to train youth for the civil service in each federal district.

Forum.msk’s Anatoliy Baranov remarked that Fraltsova and her ilk “will suddenly observe in 10-15 years that everyone in higher military institutions has died, and there is no one and no way to teach new officers.”  Leonid Ivashov told Gzt.ru simply, “We are witnessing the destruction of Russian military education.”

RIA Novosti published surprisingly stark criticism of Fraltsova’s (and Serdyukov’s) performance. 

First, it quoted her:

“. . . not everyone in Russian society is sympathetic to this initiative.  Yes, these are very severe measures, not many like them, and we are being subjected to criticism for this decision.”

The news agency said Fraltsova’s press conference left the media with the impression that the Defense Ministry still doesn’t know what to do about the military education system.

It called the halt in VVUZ induction a ‘radical step,’ which calls attention to the Defense Ministry’s secretiveness in making important decisions.  The agency complains that, since 2008, when the ‘new profile’ started, the media and society have learned about most changes after the fact.  Veterans and other social groups have written to Serdyukov asking to give input, but it’s not clear their letters are even answered.  RIA Novosti concludes, in this case, the military department has once again ‘stepped on a rake.’

Yesterday Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov went on TV in damage control mode, saying these changes are intended to improve military education as well as to save money.  He intimated there will be lots more pain in going from 56 to 10 institutions.  Pankov said 20 percent of this year’s 10,000 VVUZ graduates will become sergeants instead of officers, but the Defense Ministry will keep these reluctant NCOs in mind if officer billets come open.

There Will Be Professionals, But Later

In Thursday’s Vedomosti, Aleksey Nikolskiy wrote about Defense Minister Serdyukov’s remarks on contract service to the Federation Council.  Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov have cited different figures on the current number of contractees (150,000 vs. 190,000), but agree they’ll be cut.  Professionals will come not only later, but in a smaller numbers.  And contractees will occupy only certain duties.

Nikolskiy cites a figure of only 50,000 contractees signed on during Russia’s failed 2003-2007 attempt to set up a professional enlisted force.

A future smaller number of contract NCOs could receive pay equivalent to that of junior officers.  Except that junior officer pay is supposed to increase dramatically toward 2012 under the new pay system.

According to Nikolskiy’s interlocutors, a new table of organization will soon spell out exactly where contractees will serve, i.e. there will reportedly be few driver-mechanic contractees, while the number of senior NCO billets will increase.

While contract soldiers decrease, how will Moscow manage its commitment to keep conscripts out of ‘hot spots’ (i.e. potential combat zones)?  As recently as April, the Defense Ministry had to reassure the public it had no intention of stationing draftees in Chechnya.

Here’s Nikolskiy verbatim:

“In the long run, contractees in the army will increase from 150,000 to 250,000, but first they will cut them to pick the best and pay them more.”

“Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov told reporters in the Federation Council yesterday there are no plans to abandon contractee servicemen and their number in the future will increase to 200,000-250,000. The day before in the defense committee of the upper chamber, the Genshtab chief Nikolay Makarov said the number of contractees will be significantly reduced compared with the current 190,000.  According to him, contractees will occupy only duties in the Navy, Air Forces and Air Defense requiring good professional training, and also in permanent readiness units.  Only conscript soldiers will serve in the remaining posts.”

“An officer from the Defense Ministry central apparatus explains that Serdyukov’s and Makarov’s statements don’t contradict one another.  In the long run, depending on developing financial conditions, the number of contractees will grow, but first they will reduce them to get rid of ballast which got into these posts during the first attempt at professionalization of the army.”

“In 2003 the FTsP “Transition to Manning with Soldiers Conducting Military Service on Contract in Some Formations and Military Units” was adopted at a cost of more than 20 billion rubles.  According to it, by 2007, the number of contractees in soldier and sergeant duties in permanent readiness units should have gotten to 150,000.  However, they began to fulfill this program from the wrong end, said an officer, having simply mechanically increased the number of contractees in posts not worrying about their training or paying a normal wage.  As a result, they took less than 50,000 and the program collapsed, as the Defense Ministry’s leaders confirmed this year.  Now, after their reduction, the number of contractees will be increased carefully, take well trained people into posts and pay them wages equivalent to salaries of junior officers, said Vedomosti’s source.  At President Dmitriy Medvedev’s meeting on Monday [7 June], increasing wages was discussed and a figure was named—from 25,000 rubles [monthly].”
“In the words of an officer from one of the Ground Troops’ motorized rifle brigades, the latest order about contractees came to the unit at the beginning of the year and it indicated there should be no more than 5 percent of them among the number of soldiers and sergeants in driver duties, though more posts for contract sergeants as company and battery sergeant-majors were introduced.”
“According to him, you can’t judge where exactly contractees will serve until the introduction of new tables of organization which they’ve promised to do in coming months.”

Who Defends Officers?

On 13 April, Svpressa.ru made the point that officers don’t have a place to turn for help or protection against abuse in the army, unlike conscripts who have the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (KSMR or КСМР).

In response to the suggestion that officers need a “Committee of Officers’ Wives and Mothers” to help them with problems in the service, KSMR Chairwoman Tatyana Znachkova said:

“There’s no one to defend officers, and many of them live unhappily, not better than conscripts.  So their wives could create a committee for their defense.  Officers or their wives actually have come to us very often in recent times.”

Asked what their complaints are, she says:

“Legal violations in the unit, low wages, problems with obtaining housing.  But we can’t help them.”

“So I advise them to create their own organization because their problems are so very great.  But they are silent.  It’s understandable why the officers themselves are silent, they’re not allowed to gripe, but why are their wives silent?  No one can prohibit them.  If the family is without housing, without work, without money, what’s to lose . . .”

Svpressa continues, many of the officers cut have been thrown overboard, without housing, without work.  So in Voronovo, near Moscow, where a unit was closed a year ago, residents say former colonels and lieutenants go around to nearby dachas offering to do repairs or any kind of work on the houses.  They do it to feed their families since they don’t have any other work.

Anatoliy Tsyganok tells Svpressa:

“Officers have now been thrown to the whims of fate.  There’s really no where for them to complain.  Their problems are resolved well only in words.  Look for yourself, in just the last year, more than 3 thousand officers discharged into the reserves without housing and deceived by the state about the payment of monetary compensation have turned to the European Court . . .  The main part of complaints concerns nonpayment to servicemen of money for participation in this or that combat action or peacekeeping operation.  Part of the complaints are collective.  And the quantity of such complaints will increase since there is more and more of a basis for them.”

Asked about the basis of complaints, Tsyganok says:

“Some officers are outside the TO&E, receiving a fifth of their usual pay for several years, although they are supposed to be in such a situation not more than half a year.  They are waiting for apartments from the Defense Ministry.  They have every basis for placing law suits in Strasbourg.  In the framework of armed forces reform almost all billets in voyenkomaty at different levels were cut.  And 90 percent of former voyenkomat officers, dismissed without apartments, will also appeal to the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg].  These are educated people who understand they won’t get the truth in a Russian court.  And their only hope is the European Court.  Today there are very many officers left without apartments.  They don’t know in what order, when and who will give them apartments.  These people have a direct road to the ECHR.”

Tsyganok goes on to mention how President Medvedev has promised to house officers, and claimed that an unprecedented 45,000 apartments were acquired for them last year.  Tsyganok believes the number was actually less than 30,000.  He notes that in St. Petersburg officers are being offered prefab housing, fit only for summer living, built for the Defense Ministry at a vastly inflated price (5-6 million rubles vs. 1.25-1.35 million market price).  Officers with apartments in abandoned military towns have to hope the nearest municipality will take them over and assume responsibility for services, but they usually don’t want to.

Tsyganok describes the difficulty in employing former officers.  Businesses generally don’t want anyone new over 40.  An initiative to use officers as teachers didn’t get off the ground.  So, according to Tsyganok, many officers choose between working for security firms or criminal groups.

He repeats his familiar lament that Russia is losing its well-trained, well-educated military intelligentsia—officers who completed 4-6 years in a VVUZ, mid-career branch-specific training, and 3 years in the General Staff Academy.  He concludes:

“So I presume, Russia is flashing back to the former Red Army.  In case, heaven forbid, of some conflict, I believe the current Russian Army won’t survive.  In these conditions, I think it doesn’t compare even with Georgia . . .”

Tsyganok says it’s absurd for an officer to have to repair dachas like a guestworker to feed his family.  It’s even more absurd for him to choose between security guard and criminal.  But the saddest thing in this situation is there’s no place from which to expect help.  So maybe officers need an organization to protect their rights, and in light of the current military reform, the need is very acute.

Organizations and institutions that exist, or have existed, to help officers are like most civil society in Russia—weak or eventually dispersed or coopted by the authorities.  There are ones that come to mind—the All-Russian Professional Servicemen’s Union (OPSV or ОПСВ), the Movement in Support of the Army (DPA or ДПА), and the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly that last met in 2005 or so.

On 14 April, Viktor Baranets picked up some similar themes, saying today’s reformist thinking from Defense Ministry and Genshtab chiefs is generally incomprehensible to Russian Army commanders.  For many years, they inspired the troops by telling how superior contract manning would be, and these serious intentions were underscored by hundreds of billions of rubles.  But the result was fewer contractees than before.  And now the Genshtab has said it’s changed its mind about more professionals and is reversing course.

Similarly, for years there’s been talk of ‘raising the prestige of the officer corps.’  And what does Baranets see in reality:

“And the fact is a large number of majors and even lieutenant colonels have started to be put in sergeant billets.  I’m not talking about captains and senior lieutenants.  Because, do you see, there aren’t enough professional junior commanders.  They’ve only just begun to train them.  But why do we need to ‘pay’ for the tactical calculation of reformers at the expense of downgrading people?  Putting officers in lower positions by every army canon is a form of punishment.  And no kind of service expedience can justify this violation.  And where is the logic even?  With one hand the chiefs give such officers impressive premiums for good service, and with the other they write orders on a transfer to a position which is not seldom even 4 steps lower than the one they occupy!  The rampage of personnel abuse has already gone to the point that they’ve already warned cadet-graduates of the Voronezh Military Aviation University [sic] (tomorrow’s lieutenants):  only those who graduate with a gold medal and distinction will get officer’s positions, the rest—sergeant’s.  In such confusion I don’t exclude that soon General Staff Academy graduates will command platoons.  It’s time for the Main Military Prosecutor to sort it out:  but how do these reform outrages accord with the demands of our laws?  But does it even make sense to put a specialist with higher education, whose 4-5 years of preparation cost the state millions of rubles, in a position yesterday still occupied by a junior sergeant who has secondary school and 3-months of training behind him?”

Viktor Litovkin noted this morning that Serdyukov’s Military Education Directorate Chief, Tamara Fraltsova, told Ekho Moskvy that the VVUZ system will again produce an overabundance of lieutenants this year for a shrinking number of junior officer posts in platoons, companies, and batteries.

Fraltsova said:

“Today the army has the right to pick the most worthy officers from the number of VVUZ graduates.  We’ve tightened the rules for passing examination sessions.  Now a cadet can be put out of the military-education institution for one 2, an unsatisfactory evaluation received in the course of a session.”

Litovkin says the overproduction of lieutenants (and decline in officer posts) led to young air defense officers being assigned to sergeants’ duties last summer.  A similar thing happened with VVS pilots; not every graduate-pilot could find an operational aircraft.  So great resources—3-6 million rubles per pilot—were poured into the sand.  Litovkin sees it as indicative of an armed forces reform in which great resources are expended in vain.  Not to mention the trauma to lieutenants who, against the law, are placed in lower-ranking duties.

Makarov Describes the Army He’s Building

Nikolay Makarov (photo: Viktor Vasenin)

Today’s Rossiyskaya gazeta interview with General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov has lots of questions and answers on the state of U.S.-Russian negotiations on a new strategic arms treaty, and on missile defense.  If you’re interested in those, you’ll need to read for yourself.

If you’re interested in the other things Makarov said, read on.

Asked isn’t it strange that Russia’s army would be cut when NATO is drawing closer to its borders, Makarov answers:

“We proceeded from the fact that the world has changed to a significant degree in the last 15-20 years.  Russia needs armed forces capable of reacting promptly to any threats and challenges.  Our army, if you take the first Chechen campaign, couldn’t cope with these functions.  To fulfill missions we were forced to man military units with, as a rule, untrained soldiers and officers in the course of combat actions.”

Makarov goes on, saying, after 1996, the army manned 13 percent of its regiments at 80 percent of their wartime complement, so they would be ready for action in a few days if needed.  The remaining 87 percent stayed at cadre level, with equipment and supplies in storage.  So Russia kept a big army that ate up enormous resources, but couldn’t carry out missions. Officers and warrants were almost 50 percent of personnel, and there weren’t enough soldiers.  Possible variants for the best structure were considered and the brigade was selected.  And today any brigade can be ready for action in only one hour, according to Makarov.

Makarov says, in Afghanistan and Chechnya, battalions were reinforced with reconnaissance, artillery, air defense, logistics, and repair units before they deployed for combat.  But battalion commanders weren’t so good at commanding these attached units not normally in their TO&E.  So, says Makarov, it was decided to add these units to battalions, so their commanders can learn how to employ them.  And three battalions organized as such and fully manned comes to 4,500 or 5,000 men–a ‘half division’ rather than a regiment.  And, he notes, battalions can operate independently or as part of brigade tactical groups.

He goes on to explain the Russian Army’s changed outlook:

“In the past we fought with multimillion-man groupings of troops, the basis of which were fronts.  The experience of military conflicts of the past decades showed that such a war was possible, but unlikely.  In the future, troops will go over to actively maneuvering actions.  The actions of inter-service groupings on the entire depth of the enemy’s force structure are replacing frontal battles.  The sides will try to destroy critically important objectives, and also conduct noncontact combat actions.”

The interviewer asks Makarov why only 2 tank brigades in 85 Ground Troops brigades, doesn’t the infantry need armored support?

Makarov answers that, like cavalry in the new age of automatic weapons, today the tank’s role is becoming secondary.  But what’s causing the change? He says it’s the information and artificial intelligence inside equipment, highly accurate weapons used as part of a single information space, and weapons that ‘see’ and ‘know’ everything and can be used against troops and targets in automatic mode.  But he calls robot-tanks with highly accurate weapons a thing of the future at this point.  And Makarov adds that no one is forsaking tanks:

“Here you’re talking only two brigades. Actually we are filling motorized rifle brigades with a great number of tanks.”

Makarov explains the advantages of modular brigades and battalions. Modularity means freedom in structuring battalions and brigades.  If we need a fist of motorized rifle and tank battalions and artillery batteries, we make it.  Commanders in the past didn’t have this freedom.  The entire army force structure was laid out for the conduct of a large-scale war.

Makarov explains modularity as a reaction to Chechnya and even World War II where C2 and force structure was created out of troop units that weren’t coordinated [неслажённые –a difficult one in English, troops that weren’t previously trained and melded together into a cohesive unit or formation].

Asked if there aren’t place in the RF where one can fight with divisions, Makarov says the Russian Army hasn’t gone completely away from divisions [but almost].  But he goes on to insist that their modular nature allows brigades to be used just as well as divisions in Siberia or the Far East, just as well in a large-scale war as independently.

Asked how the army can be trained to fight in a new way, he says:

“The last twenty years there was no intensive combat training in the Russian Army, graduates of commissioning schools and academies didn’t reinforce their theoretical knowledge with practical actions.  And like a foreign language–if there’s no practice, in 2-3 years it’s forgotten.  At the same time, officers without such practice rose in position and rank, some even served to the point of commanding armies.”

“Two tasks stood before us.  First of all, to change the mentality of commanders and their views on war.  It certainly wouldn’t be the one they were taught in the past.  Troop actions, capabilities and forms of their employment have become absolutely different.”

“In order to get to a common understanding, a common methodology is needed.  We are beginning to introduce it, but we are dedicating the current year to individual training of servicemen and combat coordination [слажевание]  of brigades.  From January to February 2010 at the base of the Military Academy of the General Staff we conducted supplementary courses with military district, fleet, and army commanders and their deputies.  Officers ranking from general-colonel to colonel serve in these positions in the armed forces.  Special demands are made on them as organizers, directors, those directly responsible for teaching and training subordinate military command and control organs and troops.”

“We’ve built a training chain, but we understand that this is just the first step.  Everything that officers study in theory still needs to be assimilated in practice.  For this in the second half of May we plan to conduct an operational assembly on the base of one of the units of the Moscow Military District where we are developing a single methodology of training in brigades and below.”

Makarov says 148 new ‘programmatic-regulation documents’ have already been developed.  The Kavkaz, Zapad, and Ladoga exercises last year showed some problems with them, but working groups from the Center for Military-Strategic Research and the Main Combat Training Directorate are reworking them.  The revised regulations will be used in Vostok-2010.  The goal is to have a new combat training program and new combat manuals before 1 October.  Once approved, they’ll be used to organize training starting in 2011.

Makarov also takes this opportunity to expound on his views of netcentric command and control.  He mentions that the U.S. war in Iraq showed that former canons about needing to have 2-3 or 5-6 times superiority in forces and means for military victory no longer necessarily apply.  He says Moscow has the ambitious goal of achieving netcentric command and control in 2-3 years, but the future system is being established in the SKVO this year.

The last issue raised for part one of Makarov’s interview–contract service.  Makarov says the media claimed he had recognized the failure of military reform, when what he really addressed were the miscalculations in contract service over a period of several years.

He says 6-month conscripts were forced into contracts just to meet the [previous] Genshtab’s dictate to have not less than 95 percent contractees in permanent readiness units.  He says these guys were not professionals, but rather just highly [well, not terribly highly] paid conscript soldiers who left the army at the end of their two years anyway.  So, Makarov concludes, it’s no surprise that contract service became a fiasco.

But he adds, we aren’t turning away from it.  A fully contract army would be the very best variant if Russia could afford it [can’t it?], but it can’t according to Makarov.  So he continues:

“Therefore we want to select as professionals only those who’ve served in the army [as conscripts], and only for positions determining the combat capability of military units, related to the operation of complex and expensive equipment.  In the Navy, practically all positions are such.  In motorized rifle brigades not less than 20 percent of the TO&E will be contractees–tank, antiaircraft, and artillery system drivers, gunner-operators, some other specialties.  Plus sergeants.”

“Moreover, if a sergeant is a professional, has served 10-15 years and the level of his training is higher than a new lieutenant, he should get more than the young officer.  We understand that the pay of a contract soldier has to guarantee the attractiveness of military service.  All this will be put into the new pay system.”

Asked about housing for contractees, Makarov says professional soldiers and sergeants need to live like officers in service apartments or dormitories.

Collapsing Contract Service, the Draft, and Professional NCOs

General Staff Chief Makarov’s recent death pronouncement for contract service means, as he said, more conscripts in the near future (or an attempt to conscript more soldiers).

In the longer run, however, the collapse of contract service means the Russian Army faces several manpower policy choices, each unpalatable for its own reasons.  The army will likely be less combat ready, and less combat capable, than desired.

Think back about where the army’s been, and how it reached the current predicament.

The armed forces were reportedly 1.13 million men, but probably more, in recent years.  At any moment, they had four distinct draft contingents of about 130,000 conscripts, totaling 520,000 draftees.  Next, they had a layer of perhaps 300,000 contractees and warrant officers.  The contractees included probably 90,000 long-term enlisted, NCOs, and females as well as no more than 80,000 contract soldiers from 2002 and later.  There were probably about 130,000 warrants.

So, let’s count 520,000 conscripts and the middle layer of 300,000, for a total of 820,000.  Lastly, on top, let’s add nearly 400,000 officers. 

What did this manpower structure mean for the Russian Army’s force structure?

With practically the same number of conscripts and officers, the force structure was hollow–few units or formations were fully manned and many low-strength (cadre) units had officers and equipment, but only small numbers of soldiers–conscript or contract–and they existed only to be fleshed out with mobilized reservists in the unlikely event of a big war.

This structure didn’t work well in little wars like Chechnya or more recently Georgia in which the army had to piece together regiments by finding combat ready battalions and capable commanders wherever they could be found.

In 2006, Putin said of the military dilemma at the outset of the second Chechen war:

“. . . we needed to gather a force of at least 65,000 men.  And yet the in all of the Ground Troops there were only 55,000 in combat ready units, and even they were scattered all around the country.  The army was 1.4 million strong, but there was no one to do the fighting.  And so unseasoned lads were sent to face the bullets.”

And in late 2008, Medvedev emphasized the need for 100 percent combat ready units as the number one lesson of the August conflict over South Ossetia:

“Overall, these changes aim to make the Armed Forces more combat ready.  We talked about the war in the Caucasus, where our armed forces demonstrated their best qualities, but this does not mean that there were not also problems that became apparent.  We need to continue improving our Armed Forces. What steps does this require?  First, we need to move over to a system of service only in permanent combat ready units.”

So, after the August war with Georgia, Serdyukov moved to eliminate the huge, big-war mobilization base, hollow units, and unneeded officers, and to use the savings to man and outfit 85 Ground Troops brigades in a permanently combat ready condition.

Given a nominal strength of 3,000 men in them, the army needs roughly 260,000 troops to man these new combat brigades.  And this doesn’t count conscripts needed elsewhere in the Ground Troops, Rear Services, VVS, VMF, RVSN, VDV, or KV.

With the commencement of the one-year draft in 2008, Moscow doubled its induction of conscripts from 130,000 to 270,000 every six months.  And the Ground Troops need fully half the 540,000 conscripts present in the armed forces at any given moment.

Like any country, Russia has a real and an ideal army, the army it has and the army it wants (a la Rumsfeld).  Moscow’s ideal army by 2012 has one million men, including 150,000 officers, a layer of 64,000 professional NCOs, and conscripts as the balance, perhaps 800,000.

But the Arbat military district hasn’t articulated it this clearly for several reasons.  First, shedding officers and (warrants) year after year isn’t an easy task.  Second, the number of professional NCOs desired or available in the future is in doubt given General Staff Chief Makarov’s and Defense Minister Serdyukov’s statements on the failure of contract service and the apparent withdrawal of funding for the current contract sergeants program.  And third, it’s unclear if Moscow can draft 400,000 young men semiannually to put 800,000 soldiers in the ranks.

The army Russia has is messier than the vision stated above.  Serdyukov says they are at 1 million already.  There were a reported 355,000 officers at the outset of the current reform in late 2008.  About 40,000 officer billets were vacant and 65,000 officers were released in 2009, putting them at 250,000 officers today.  Serdyukov has set about the elimination of almost all warrant officers, but he hasn’t said what they’ve done in this regard yet. Let’s guess 30,000 have been dismissed, leaving 100,000 warrants.  Let’s also make reasonable guesses that 60,000 recent contractees and 70,000 longer term ones remain in the troops.

So what is there?  Armed forces with 540,000 conscript soldiers and about 480,000 officers, warrants, and contract enlisted.  Moscow will have to revitalize its military education system to get the smaller number of quality officers needed in the future.  Getting the requisite numbers of conscripts will be a challenge given the country’s well-known demographic problems which are biting hard right now.  But obtaining the noncommissioned officer layer of military unit leadership is also proving difficult.  The layer is presently a jumble of perhaps 230,000 warrant officers, contract sergeants, and even officers and warrants who’ve accepted downgraded positions rather than dismissal.  It is not the army’s ideal, but this middle layer fulfills some functions.

With all this said, what are the Russian Army’s manpower options for the future?

If Moscow actually reduces the officer corps to 150,000 by 2012 and the contract sergeant program is not put on track, the balance of its 1 million man army could be 800,000 or 850,000 conscripts (including conscript-sergeants trained for only 3 or 6 months).  Drafting 400,000-425,000 men every six months would be practically impossible.  Of the current cohort of maybe 900,000 18-year-olds, maybe 300,000 can be inducted, leaving the army to find 500,000-550,000 conscripts among men who are 19-27 and have not already served, but can be difficult to induct for various reasons.

Even if manned fully, a 12-month force has to make Moscow wonder whether this mass of conscripts with this amount of training really meets its definition of a modern, combat-ready, and combat-capable army.

Reducing the manpower requirement by cutting the army’s overall size would reduce the draft burden, but it would contravene the decreed million-man army policy.  There would be howls of protest that the army is too small to cover Russia’s borders (as if one million is even enough to do it).

Extending conscription back even to 18 months would ease this task considerably.  Moscow could take just slightly more than the 270,000 it is conscripting now for 12 months, and by keeping them an extra six months, it could work its way up to a conscripted force of nearly 850,000 in the space of a year and a half.  An increased draft term would be unpopular but Russians would swallow it.  It’s not like it would lead to a Medvedev (or Putin) defeat at the polls in 2012.  The real problem might be the draft’s similarity to taxes–the longer (or higher) they get, the more incentive for people to avoid them.

So that brings us back to the central point.

The way to reduce the number of conscripts needed for a million-man army, keep the draft term at 12 months, and have a reasonably well-trained and capable force is the one path that has been abandoned–developing a large and professional NCO corps that has the right material incentives to serve for a career.

The slow-to-start, small-scale, and apparently recently eviscerated Federal Goal Program to train only 64,000 professional sergeants is not enough.  The current ranks 230,000 of former officers turned sergeants, warrant officers, warrants turned sergeants, contract sergeants, and enlisted contractees is a stew that could theoretically be converted to a professional NCO corps, but it would be far from easy.  In terms of size, however, it’s more like what’s required to do the job, lighten the conscription load a little, and impart some professionalism to a mass, short-term draftee army, if these NCOs become professionals themselves.

What professional NCOs demand in return is pretty basic (higher than median income wages, family housing, and guaranteed off-duty time outside the garrison), but they haven’t gotten it since the most recent contract experiments began in the early 2000s.  In many cases, even officers haven’t got these things.  But the pay promised in the contract sergeant program (up to 35,000 rubles per month after graduation) is more like what’s needed to attract men.

The sergeant program seems to be the army they want, but the Defense Ministry appears to have pulled the financial plug on it.  The flotsam and jetsam is the army they have and might be turned into something, but there’s no move in this direction as yet.  Meanwhile, recall that Serdyukov’s plan for mass officer reductions was partly justified by the thinking that many officer tasks would go into the hands of capable NCOs.  And as recently as the 5 March Defense Ministry collegium, Medvedev said:

“Particular attention also should go to sergeant personnel. Sergeants need to be capable, if the situation demands it, of replacing their tactical level officers.”

Serdyukov’s Post-Collegium TV Interview

After last Friday’s Defense Ministry collegium, Serdyukov was interviewed on Rossiya 24.

He probably fielded more pointed questions than normal, but he easily navigated them.  At times, he answered partially and the interviewer didn’t follow up with the next logical question.

Asked about officers dismissed in 2009, he said the armed forces shed 65,000 of them, who retired on age or health grounds, requested dismissal, or violated their contracts.  There was no mention of those put in limbo outside the TO&E, without duty posts and only their rank pay to live on.  These are the officers who can’t formally be dismissed because they don’t have housing, and are living at their ‘commander’s disposal.’  There was also no mention of how many warrant officers were put out in 2009.

Serdyukov said some officers accepted civilianized posts, and 4,000 received job retraining–a pretty small number against the large need for it.

The Defense Minister said dedovshchina was officially down 15 percent, and he doesn’t want only platoon and company commanders punished when it happens in their units.  He wants to see all levels of command take more responsibility for the problem.  Not sure what he’s insinuating, but it could be a warning to higher ups that they could suffer too when big time violence cases hit the news and make the Arbat military district look bad.

Serdyukov talked about higher officer training and appraisals, mentioning the assembly for 550 officers from the military districts and army commands.  He said we tried to make them understand what it is we’re trying to do.  But many lacked the knowledge and necessary skills–presumably to continue in the service.  See today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta.  Viktor Litovkin writes about generals and senior officers dismissed under Serdyukov.  Military district and fleet staffs which used to number 500-700 officers have been cut to 300.  Trimming the ‘bloated egg’ is generally a good idea, but as Litovkin says, it really depends on the quality of those left behind.

Back to Serdyukov’s interview . . . in cutting the military educational establishment from 65 to 10 mega-institutions, he said fewer officers will be needed but the quality of their training must be improved.  The 10 left standing have or will have their faculty members assessed for fitness to serve and they’ll get facility improvements.

On contract service which General Staff Chief Makarov has pronounced dead, Serdyukov said:

“The results of the program were not satisfactory.  In reality, we underestimated the situation somewhat, as regards who should switch to contract service and on what terms, or with what pay.”

“. . . the next program should be revised in an attempt after all to think it out regarding what specific positions should be filled by contract service personnel.  Of course, this applies to complex skills, where expensive equipment is operated.”

Nevertheless, he noted that he expects the contract sergeant program [albeit small-scale and apparently no longer funded] to succeed.

He said the army borrowed from foreign military experience in deciding on the shift from divisions to brigades.  He said the latter’s potential is virtually the same or even greater in some cases than that of the former.

Serdyukov said the Defense Ministry has reported to the Supreme CINC on its view of how it would like to reequip over the next 5-10 years.  He repeated that cuts to R&D and maintenance had allowed for bigger buys of new arms in 2008 and 2009.

He admitted Bulava hasn’t been successful, but he expects this system to be put right and completed.

He addressed possible foreign arms purchases:

“. . . in some areas we are lagging behind quite badly.  This relates not just to the Navy but also other services.  We are buying things in single numbers right now.  They are things like UAVs, all kinds of sights, night vision equipment–it is a very broad spectrum where we are specifically lagging.”

Despite reports that Moscow would be negotiating only with Paris on Mistral, Serdyukov claimed Russia is talking to the Netherlands and Spain.  He denied it was no more than a glorified cruise ship, saying it could perform many roles and had many different capabilities.

The Contractees Are Dead, Long Live the Contractees!

Asked about professional soldiers and contract service last week, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov said: 

“We are not switching to a contract basis.  Many mistakes were allowed, and that task which was given—construction of a professional army—was not completed.  Therefore a decision was made that conscript service needed to remain in the army.  Moreover, we are increasing the draft , and decreasing the contract part.  We’ve come to understand that a contractee has to be trained by altogether different methods than there were earlier.  Therefore now we’re taking on contract only sergeants who are studying for 2 and a half years.  We plan to reach a contract army through this.  Many people talked even in the Soviet Army about the need to train sergeants, but now we’ve thought everything through well and we’re promptly moving forward, so that in 2.5 years in our army there will be a sergeant, an assistant commander who’s capable of independently resolving an entire complex of tasks that are now resolved by officers.”

The effort to build a professional NCO corps will continue, but the experiment in recruiting career enlisted personnel—a main line of the army’s development since 2003—has failed.  The tenor of Makarov’s statement almost makes it sound as if he didn’t think or know a mixed manning system with conscripts predominating was the plan all along.  The Russian Army was always going to remain mixed, but now it will be much more one-sided in favor of conscripts.  A Vedomosti editorial pointed out that Russia’s generalitet (what remains of it) never supported contract service anyway.  The training of professional NCOs begun on a very small scale last fall will continue, but how long will it be before that effort too is abandoned?

Makarov’s announcement will only add to pressure on Russia’s dwindling manpower resources.  The start of one-year service basically doubled the semi-annual requirement for draftees from 133,000 to 270,000 or so.  Now it’s clear that conscripts are needed to fill spots contract enlisted were supposed to occupy.

Rossiyskaya gazeta and Krasnaya zvezda covered similar comments last week from new Ground Troops CINC Postnikov.  Both papers concluded that, while the effort with professional NCOs will continue, the army’s priority will be on meeting its manpower requirements through conscription.

Vremya novostey quoted Postnikov:

“The federal program to transfer permanent readiness units to manning with contractees did not achieve its intended goals.”

It didn’t succeed in making contract service prestigious, they didn’t select those who could be true professionals, they fully manned units with contractees to the detriment of quality.  Now corrections have been made in the troop manning plans.  Only those positions that determine the combat capability of units and formation will be contract.  There both pay and social conditions will be fitting – just like officers.  They will train contractees for the positions of professional sergeants, just as in the U.S.

And Izvestiya:

“. . . we can’t say that we have precisely those contractees which we wanted to have ideally.  We understood that we had to change the system of training contractees.  It’s planned to do this through the institution of sergeants – an assistant commander capable of independently resolving a whole block of tasks which officers now resolve.  For this reason they have to occupy positions directly answering for the combat readiness of army units and sub-units.  We have to increase their pay, create social conditions for living at the level of officers.”

But one basic problem has always been the jealousy of officers (who rarely get all their pay and benefits) toward contractees or NCOs who might possibly get almost as much as them. 

Novyye izvestiya quoted Sergey Krivenko, a member of the RF President’s Human Rights Council:

“Contractees were not provided housing or normal pay, or even timely indexing of their wages . . . .  Instead huge sums were invested in construction of housing, reequipping ranges and other facilities where the money could easily be hidden and stolen.”

Krivenko adds that contractees didn’t experience a change in their status, were often forced to sign contracts, and were not allowed to leave the garrison or live a normal life with their families outside the garrison.  So there was nothing to distinguish them from conscripts.

To sum Krivenko up, the army failed to find the right candidates and deliver the benefits it promised them.  So one has to be skeptical that the selections and Defense Ministry follow through on the professional NCO effort will be any better.

Krivenko believes that the army has virtually no choice but to increase the conscription term from one year to cover the lack of contract soldiers.  But simply allowing undermanning of units would have the same effect, but that might impinge on Makarov’s claims that most units are now fully manned and permanently ready.

Retired Officer Rails Against Army’s ‘Sergeantization’

One retired Colonel A. A. Karasev, deputy of the Saratov city duma and chairman of the Saratov branch of the Union of Soviet Officers, has written in KPRF.ru about communists and former servicemen picketing Prime Minister Putin’s reception office in Saratov on 17 February.

According to him, they demonstrated their concern about ruinous army reforms and carried signs saying “Putin!  Return Serdyukov to the Furniture Store.”  And, of course, they addressed an open letter to Putin.

Their letter said they’d taken to the streets before what used to be Soviet Army and Navy Day to make their woes, pains, and demands known to the head of government, and to defend the army, OPK, veterans, and their families from the outrages committed by bureaucrats and Duma deputies.

Their particulars included:

  • The U.S.-Russian balance of strategic forces is broken.  The leadership’s rush to a new strategic arms agreement is only reducing Russia’s security.
  • The OPK continues to be destroyed.  Defense factories in Saratov have closed.  Remaining plants get financing only in late spring or summer each year.
  • The Defense Ministry has not thought out its reforms of the army in the American mold.  The combat possibilities of Russia’s brigades are less than those of the formations and units of the ‘probable enemy’ [they really think the U.S. and Russia will go head-to-head?].
  • ‘Sergeantization’ [i.e. officer cuts and efforts to create professional NCOs] of the army means its enfeeblement.  There isn’t a sergeant with an intermediate specialized education [i.e. vocational high school diploma] who can replace an officer from a higher command or engineering school.  Promising contract-sergeants 20-30,000 ruble pay after training only adds extra tension to their relations with officers.
  • Military pensions have fallen to the level of pay for the least qualified workers, and below the subsistence minimum in many cases.
  • Military wives have not received social guarantees to compensate for their inability to work in many garrisons.

They want all these problems rectified, of course, but want to start with firing Serdyukov and his team.

The tension over what they’ve termed ‘sergeantization’ is interesting. 

In the Defense Ministry’s view, officers who’ve been cut, or turned into sergeants themselves, either weren’t needed or weren’t performing officer work or supervising troops.  So officers have been cut, and those that remain will really be officers with real units to command.  Some of them will get premium pay to reward them for now, and, from 2012, much higher base pay, for example, maybe 60,000 rubles for a lieutenant.  Meanwhile, as the Defense Ministry sees it, there won’t be any problem with newly-minted professional sergeants entering the ranks and earning higher pay [which still won’t approach that of officers].

The KPRF has an alternate scenario for the future.  It sees many officers, who were needed, put out of the service and replaced by some poorly trained contract sergeants who will earn more than before.  Two-thirds of officers don’t get premium pay for now, and the KPRF is probably skeptical that greatly increased pay for all remaining officers will be actually be delivered in 2012.  The future it sees has a mass of officers and sergeants, not differentiated by much of anything, including pay.  While the officer-NCO interaction was long ago worked out in Western armies, it’s still a troubling vision for an army in the throes of major structural changes and lacking a professional NCO tradition.