Declining Defense Orders

Smaller military budgets and delays in putting GPV 2018-2025 into place will apparently trickle down into reduced orders for Russia’s defense-industrial complex (OPK) in coming years.

According to TASS on June 15, Deputy Chief of the Main Armaments Directorate Boris Nakonechnyy said the MOD can’t fully “load” OPK enterprises with orders during the next GPV.  “As the primary customer for weapons and military equipment, the Defense Ministry can’t fully support the work of enterprises,” he told the news agency.

There may be some reduction in defense orders during the new arms program, Nakonechnyy said.  But he indicated the MOD would still support the scientific work (presumably the RDT&E) of Russian defense-industrial enterprises.

Nakonechnyy said the MOD doesn’t expect global military threats to decline, but it’s not possible to increase substantially the funding needed to counter them.  At the same time, he emphasized it’s important for Russia not to lose the current tempo of development in its OPK, and not to allow itself to lag behind world leaders in military technology.

Welding parts for BMP-3 at Kurganmashzavod

Welding parts for BMP-3 at Kurganmashzavod

TASS provided no context for Nakonechnyy’s comments.  Other media outlets ran the TASS story as is.  Utro.ru, however, provided its own interpretation of his remarks.

While perhaps somewhat alarmist, Utro writer Andrey Sherykhanov puts Nakonechnyy’s statements in the context of the continuing battle between the defense and finance ministries over future military spending.

Sherykhanov recalls the recent Vedomosti report putting likely appropriations for GPV 2018-2025 at 17 trillion rubles, three times less than the original MOD request.  The peak of defense orders, he concludes, is already past.  The military will have no orders for production enterprises, which will close and send their workers on indefinite furlough as they did in the 1990s, he writes.

But maybe, Sherykhanov opines, this won’t be necessary since President Putin has said the OPK’s potential should be harnessed to the needs of cutting-edge, science-intensive sectors like medicine, energy, aviation, space, and information technology.  Last year the Supreme CINC himself said 30 percent of OPK production has to be for the civilian market by 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.  Massive state defense-industrial holding company Rostekh has already announced that half of its output will be civilian by 2025.

Sherykhanov writes that there’s no real concern about this new program of conversion to civilian production at present:

“In the upper echelons of power, they spoke about it just a year and a half ago. There’s a gathering sense that the leaders of Russian defense enterprises aren’t beating their heads with this, concentrating as they are completely on military orders which OPK enterprises are provided until 2020.  That is, they act according to this scheme:  we’ll handle this, and then we’ll see.”

Russia Reinforcing Mediterranean Formation

The Russian Navy is beefing up its Mediterranean presence. Recently, it announced its intent to increase the contingent from 10 to 15 ships.  This greater Med activity is both cause and effect of the navy’s effort to revivify its Black Sea Fleet (BSF), virtually moribund just a few years ago.

On June 1, TASS reported the current Russian naval force in the Med includes Proyekt 11356 frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, Kashin-class destroyer Smetlivyy, tank landing ships Tsezar KunikovNikolay Filchenkov, and Azov, Proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar, unspecified minesweepers, “anti-sabotage” boats, a tanker, and other support vessels.  So it’s unclear just how many Russian ships are in the Med right now.

Ancient Smetlivyy returned to Sevastopol on June 3.  The venerable ship has served in the BSF since 1969.

Essen fires Kalibr LACM

Admiral Essen fires Kalibr on May 31

Admiral Essen and Krasnodar each fired two Kalibr (SS-N-30) land-attack cruise missiles at Islamic State positions near Palmyra on May 31.

Other BSF units — Admiral Grigorovich, Proyekt 21631 Buyan-class missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov, and submarine Rostov-na-Donu — fired Kalibr missiles at targets in Syria from the eastern Med in 2015 and 2016.  Prior to this, the Russian Navy lacked a land-attack capability in the Med, and used surface combatants from its Caspian Flotilla to launch Kalibr missiles.  However, those weapons had to overfly Iranian and Iraqi territory to reach Syria.

On June 6, Interfaks-AVN reported that the Russian Navy will not cut the cruise missile strike capabilities of its “permanent operational formation” in the Mediterranean, according to a source “familiar with the situation.”  So there is apparently no plan for Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen, or Krasnodar to return to Sevastopol soon.  They joined the Russian Med formation in early and late April and mid-May respectively.

Not a Large Formation

Russia’s current Mediterranean force is mistakenly called a squadron (эскадра) like its Soviet-era 5th Eskadra predecessor.  However, the Russian Navy says its Med presence is a formation (соединение), not a large formation (объединение).  A formation is typically naval ship division (дивизия) of 5-10 major and minor combatants with an O-6 in command.

A large formation, by contrast, is a major fleet component — a flotilla or eskadra, and it is commanded by an O-7.  Such a command typically is a stepping stone to fleet commander.

In contrast to today’s formation, the 5th Eskadra normally had 40-50 ships in the Med every day at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s.  That’s probably more than the entire BSF today.

After the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Syria’s Shayrat air base on April 7, Vladimir Pavlov wrote disparagingly of Russia’s declining capabilities in the Med.  Pavlov concluded that the brief and ill-fated deployment of Admiral Kuznetsov to the eastern Med this winter left those waters empty for the U.S. (as if the Russian carrier would have prevented American action).

Pavlov noted that the navy had to rely on “1st and 2nd rank” ships from other fleets, the Baltic in particular, to maintain its Med formation.

Things look a bit better now with two Proyekt 11356 frigates in the BSF.  The third, Admiral Makarov, is now supposed to join the fleet before the end of this year.  The fleet has its full complement of six new Proyekt 636.3 submarines.  Missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov entered the order-of-battle in late 2015.  More of them might follow.

The second Proyekt 18280 Yuriy Ivanov-class intelligence ship Ivan Khurs will reportedly go to replace Liman, which sank near Istanbul after colliding with a Turkish freighter on April 27.

The rest of the BSF surface fleet, however, is old.  Flagship Proyekt 1164 Slava-class CG Moskva will be due soon for overhaul and modernization.  Its other combatants, small missile ships, and amphibs are largely from the 1970s and 1980s.  These older ships patrol the Med, but to return to port for maintenance often after brief sorties.

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

The Russians originally formulated plans to renew a continuous naval presence in the Mediterranean during 2011-2012, primarily out of their concern with the Syrian civil war and thinking that they might intervene eventually.

The Russian Med patrols began in early 2013, and all four fleets provided ships under the Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone (Оперативное командование в дальней морской зоне or ОК ДМЗ).

At the time, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu acknowledged that overdue repairs and slow ship construction were hindering the navy and the new naval presence in the Med.  But five years hence, these problems have been overcome to a large extent.

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

TASS reported that Captain First Rank Pavel Yasnitskiy commands the Russian Mediterranean formation.

He is a 47-year-old third generation officer born in Severomorsk — the Northern Fleet headquarters, according to Ruinformer.com.  After commissioning, he served on a Black Sea Fleet destroyer before becoming executive officer, then commander of Baltic Fleet frigate Neustrashimyy.  He was to command the first Improved Sovremennyy-class destroyer Vnushitelnyy, but it was never finished. Instead, he served as chief of staff for a ship brigade.

Yasnitskiy then returned to the BSF as chief of staff for a formation.  He served as deputy chief of staff, chief of staff, and commander of Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone.

Russia Day Promotions Preview

Yesterday Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin issued a decree with a short list of 17 MOD general and flag officer promotions.  Tomorrow those promoted can toast themselves along with the 27th anniversary of the RF’s declaration of state sovereignty.

Space Troops Commander Aleksandr Golovko became a three-star general-colonel.

Colonel-General Aleksandr Golovko wearing his old two-star rank

General-Colonel Aleksandr Golovko wearing his old two-star rank

The Southern MD’s 58th CAA Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander Sergey Kuzovlev was promoted to general-lieutenant with a second star, as was the Western MD’s 6th CAA Commander Andrey Kuzmenko.  Commander of the Eastern MD’s 11th Air Forces and Air Defense Army Yevgeniy Tuchkov also became a general-lieutenant.  The chiefs of the MOD’s сommunications and troop air defense academies also got their second stars.

Eleven one-star general-major and rear-admiral promotions rounded out the MOD list.

Somewhat surprisingly, Putin’s National Guard got its own ukaz yesterday containing two three-star, six two-star, and four one-star promotions.

Electronic Warfare Chief Interviewed

Russia’s Chief of EW Troops, General-Major Yuriy Lastochkin gave an interview to Krasnaya zvezda in April for the Day of the Electronic Warfare Specialist.  His remarks make interesting reading on the direction of Russian EW.  The interview was subsequently carried by other media outlets, most recently by VPK.

General-Major Lastochkin

General-Major Lastochkin

Asked what areas of EW are most critical today, Lastochkin replied:

“The introduction of modern electronic technologies in the command and control systems of forces and means of the armed forces of leading foreign countries is a component part of realizing the prompt global strike concept.  This, adopted in the U.S. Armed Forces as a Doctrine of conducting combat actions in a unified information space, substantially increases the level of threat to the military security of the Russian Federation, and fundamentally changes the character and content of armed struggle.”

“The increase in the role of EW is determined by the very mission of disorganizing the command and control of enemy troops and weapons by means of electronic defeat.  We have to recognize distinctly that a new realm of confrontation has appeared — the information-telecommunications space.  The spectrum of missions of EW Troops is broadening significantly.  The effect of using developmental EW means is comparable to defeat by precision fire. Conceptual documents approved by the RF President in the realm of electronic warfare aim for this.  The country’s military-political leadership attaches great significance to the improvement of EW systems as one of the most important elements of guaranteeing national security. Today electronic warfare is a most complex intellectual-technical component, particularly in hybrid conflicts.  This in turn requires the development of principally new means capable of neutralizing the enemy’s technological and information advantage.”

The chief described Russia’s EW forces:

“Our troops are designated for the electronic defeat of enemy targets and systematic control of measures to counter technical reconnaissance means, and electronic defense of our own troops. They consist of command and control organs, formations [brigades], military units [regiments] and sub-units [battalions, companies] of various subordination.  EW forces and means are part of the strategic system of radio jamming, the Unified System of Systematic Technical Control (KTK¹), and the array of EW units of military districts, large formations [armies] and formations [divisions, brigades] of the services and branches of the RF Armed Forces.”

“At present, the main forces and means are concentrated in the Ground Troops, Aerospace Forces and Navy, and the component inter-service groupings of military districts.  In the VDV, we’ve established EW sub-units in assault divisions.  In the RVSN, there are KTK sub-units for every missile army, division, and testing ground. Since 2014, the forces and means of radio jamming in the districts have carried out duty missions.”

What the priority directions for development of EW systems?

“The improvement of EW equipment needs to be balanced.  There is a traditional approach.  It suggests broadening the list of targets countered, cutting the types of EW means, unification, increasing protection against precision weapons, mobility and modernization potential.  In the innovation plan, I would single out five directions:

  • deployment of controlled fields of radio suppression on enemy territory on the basis of unified small dimension reconnaissance and jamming modules delivered by UAVs;
  • creation of defeat means with powerful electromagnetic radiation on the basis of the employment of specialized munitions and mobile systems;
  • development of programmable equipment for action on highly-organized command and control systems by destroying the accessibility, integrity, and confidentiality of information;
  • introduction of means of imitating a false electronic situation and disinforming the enemy’s system of troop command and control and weaponry;
  • increasing the level of information security of organs (points) of EW command and control, improving decisionmaking support algorithms through the unified circuit of command and control of forces and means.”

Lastochkin mentioned that Zaslon-REB [Barrier-EW] entered state acceptance testing last year.  It seems to be some kind of COMSEC system designed to “block all possible channels for leaking confidential information and establish an ‘impenetrable information dome’ over Russian Defense Ministry facilities.”

Russian EW exercises, he said, have doubled during the past four years. “Electron-2016” exercise was the first strategic level drill for EW Troops since 1979.  They used this training to experiment with new equipment, and develop procedures and tactics.

Asked about countering enemy UAVs, Lastochkin said EW is the only effective means against small unmanned aircraft.

He indicated that a “situation center” has been established in the Directorate of the Chief of EW Troops.  It links EW formations [brigades] to their units in the field.  He looks forward to a system that presents Russia’s operational and electronic situation in a “single information space.”

Lastochkin claimed Western sanctions have had only a minimal effect on equipping Russia’s EW units, and he expects to have 70 percent modern systems by 2020.  Besides Sozvezdiye and KRET, STTs — a UAV developer — works closely with the EW Troops, according to their chief.

He told his interviewer that the EW Troops have tested 30 different types of equipment during the past three years.  He intends to make “serious investments in modernizing the experimental-testing base.”

In conclusion, General-Major Lastochkin summarized the goal of Russian EW:

“The entire system of measures of organizational development of EW Troops will substantially increase their contribution to winning superiority in command and control, and in employing weapons.  The volume of effectively fulfilled missions in various strategic directions will grow by two – two and a half times and by 2020 will reach 85 percent.  This in turn will become the basis of an effective air-ground EW system, capable of neutralizing the enemy’s technological advantage in the aerospace sphere and the information-telecommunications space.”

__________________________

¹KTK appears to be analogous to electronic support, i.e. “actions tasked by, or under direct control of, an operational commander to search for, intercept, identify, and locate or localize sources of intentional and unintentional radiated electromagnetic energy for the purpose of immediate threat recognition, targeting, planning, and conduct of future operations,” to quote Joint Pub 3-13.1 Electronic Warfare.

Is Such a Ship Needed?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has concluded another week of meetings with military leaders and defense industry officials.  Some significant statements appeared in the media, but none more interesting than those from Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin.  He, of course, oversees the defense industries, and serves as Putin’s deputy on the government’s Military-Industrial Commission (VPK).

Rogozin contends the new state armaments program (GPV) will include innovative weapons systems rather than modernization of existing platforms.  He buries Navy hopes for a modern aircraft carrier, and — worse for the Navy — he’s down on big ships that make great targets.  And he expounds at length on transport aircraft programs (which his son Aleksey now directs as vice-president of OAK).

Dmitriy Rogozin

Dmitriy Rogozin

Vesti asked Rogozin what will or won’t be in the next GPV.  He answered:

“We are gradually moving away from the modernization of old types of armaments, although, we must say, modernization is just as normal as the development of new types.  But there can’t be an endless amount of modernization.  Let’s say, three-four times, not more.  Otherwise this stops the development of new weapons systems. Therefore the new program of armaments is, in essence, an innovation program which includes completely new approaches. Above all, it is the development of smart weapons, and automated command, control, communications, and reconnaissance systems. We’ll have modern troop communications, which has always been a weak point.  We’ll have robotic systems, we have almost completed development of new unmanned vehicles, both ground and air.  And, of course, a strong renewal of our satellite network is in progress.  High-quality navigation, reconnaissance, and many other things.”

Asked if the Navy was favored over the Ground Troops in the current arms program, Rogozin responded:

“No, we won’t have some kind of imbalance, that is something favoring the Navy, favoring the Aerospace Forces or favoring new smart systems.  This is the emphasis of the new program of armaments.  The Navy will receive new ships.  Today we are stressing ‘muscular’ ships — frigates, corvettes of near and distant ocean zones, that is what doesn’t provide a great target for the enemy, but nimble, maneuverable, and capable of responding just like a large ship.”

Vesti inquired about delaying investment in new aircraft carriers and strategic bombers.  Rogozin answered:

“If we talk, let’s say, about aircraft carriers, then technologically and technically today Russian defense industry is capable of developing a ship of such displacement.  But it’s a question for the military whether such a ship is needed.  After all, we have to remember that, unlike the United States, we are not a great maritime power, we are a great continental power, and we have several other priorities.  As far as a strategic bomber goes, we have completed unique work at the Kazan Aircraft Plant, reestablished, but on a new technological basis, electron beam welding that is needed to develop the titanium fuselage on which the technology of the Tu-160, our great strategic bomber, was always based.  And we will recreate this aircraft, undoubtedly, on a new technical basis, with new electronics, new weapons, but this doesn’t mean that we have abandoned plans to develop the future aviation system of long-range aviation [PAK DA].  Work on it is beginning, as on the future aviation system of military-transport aviation [PAK VTA], and on a medium military-transport aircraft.  Decisions were made recently in Sochi.  We will produce it, and we’ll have it around 2023-2024.  At the end of this year, we are planning for a small, light transport aircraft to fly.  For our army, which is compact, it’s important to have the possibility of being instantly redeployed to another theater of military operations where some threat is growing. In this way we’ll repulse any aggression by potential enemies not with great numbers, but with the great skill and mobility of our Armed Forces.”

Moscow’s made a start in this direction, but Rogozin might be exaggerating its progress.  More interesting is his intimation that the MOD is making trade-offs in the process of cobbling together GPV 2018-2025.  Are large (and expensive) ships out in favor of neglected military transport aircraft?  Rogozin rails against “endless” modernization but, practically in the same breath, insists the MOD won’t forget about PAK DA as it prepares to produce updated Tu-160 bombers.  Perhaps someone will remind him there are things besides modernization which interfere with the development of new weapons.

Shocking

Yesterday RIA Novosti pointed out something easily overlooked.  On May 11, the head of the MOD’s Main Directorate of Combat Training (GUBP) announced in Krasnaya zvezda that the Russian Army will reintroduce the honorific “shock” [ударная] — as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Shock Army [ударная армия].

Medal for 3rd Shock Army Veterans

Medal for 3rd Shock Army Veterans

General-Lieutenant Ivan Buvaltsev indicated that units will compete for the right to bear the title “shock.”  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu will award the name to the most combat capable formations (divisions, brigades) — motorized rifle, tank, naval infantry, airborne, air-assault, but also units and sub-units.  They will receive a distinctive heraldic emblem.

Commanders of Russia’s military districts and armed services and branches have nominated 78 formations, units, and sub-units.  An MOD commission will inspect them this month before the final selection.  It isn’t exactly clear how many will win the title.

Honorific names are traditional in the Russian military.  The moniker Guards might be the most ubiquitous.  It was a Tsarist title abolished by the Bolsheviks in 1918, but reinstituted by Stalin in 1941 to inspire divisions in the dark early days of the Great Patriotic War.  Honorary names are passed down to preserve the lineage of different units.  Common for divisions and brigades, they are less frequently awarded to regiments, battalions, etc.

Udarnaya [ударная] is the adjective from the verb udarit [ударить] meaning to hit, strike, bang, beat, shock, etc.  So you’ll see the translation “strike army” sometimes.

Shock armies were big in the Soviet defeat of the Wehrmacht.  They were much heavier in tanks and artillery than regular armies, and had tank and mechanized corps in them. They had organic air support.  They served as reinforced armies on the main axes of fronts, and were built to break through enemy defenses.  In short, there’s no army in today’s Russian military approaching the size — the men and equipment — of the wartime shock armies.

There were five Soviet shock armies by late 1942.  Three belonged to the reserve of the Headquarters Supreme High Command [Ставка ВГК].  One was on the North-West Front, and another on the Volkhov Front.  The latter — General-Lieutenant Andrey Vlasov’s 2nd Shock Army — was encircled and destroyed trying to lift the siege of Leningrad in the first half of 1942.  Vlasov was captured, and he collaborated with the Nazis by heading the so-called Russian Liberation Army.

What the Russian MOD intends in resurrecting the shock army (shock division, shock regiment?!) only time will tell.  But it’s probably not for nothing.  The armies (divisions, battalions?!) so designated might be beefed up.  Those chosen for the honor likely won’t surprise us.  Look for them in the southwest opposite Ukraine and northwest opposite the Baltic countries.

Where Conscripts Serve

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

Russia is in the throes of its spring military draft running from April 1 to July 15. The MOD will induct 142,000 young men into the armed services and units of other “power” structures, i.e. Natsgvardiya, MChS, etc.  Last spring the military took 155,000.  The increasing number of contract soldiers is steadily reducing the requirement for conscripts.

A close look at the draft may allow for some surmises (perhaps insights) into how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are composed.  But patience during a bit of discourse will be required.

The media in some regions have reported about where their young men will serve. 

  • In Rostov Oblast — Russia’s sixth most populous region, 5,000 men will be drafted. According to the Don24.ru portal, fully 75 percent will serve somewhere in the Southern MD.  Sixty percent — or 3,000 — will serve in the Ground Troops.  Some 600 will go to VKS units.  Rostov will send 134 to the Navy, and 15 to the Kremlin’s elite Presidential Regiment.  No word on the destination of the remaining 1,251.
  • Russia’s seventh most populated territory Bashkortostan will send more than 5,100 men to the military, reports Bashinform.ru.  The Ground Troops will get 2,500 of them.  The Natsgvardiya gets 565, RVSN 560, VDV 180, and MOD “units of central subordination” 170.  No indication about the other 1,125 or so.
  • In Tatarstan — eighth by population — Gazetadaily.ru indicates that 4,000 conscripts will be sent to troop units.  Some 1,668 will be in the Ground Troops,  516 to the VKS, 440 Natsgvardiya, 320 Navy, and 280 RVSN.  Assignments for 776 were not identified.
  • Udmurtiya will send 1,100 of its citizens into the military this spring.  This includes 528 for the Ground Troops, 121 VKS, 55 Navy, 44 VDV, 99 RVSN, 88 Railroad Troops, and 55 Natsgvardiya.
  • In Vladimir Oblast, 1,790 men are being drafted.  The region ranks 31st in population.  Portal Vladtv.ru reports 501 are going to the Ground Troops, 233 to the VKS, and 260 to “units of central subordination.”  No word on the remaining 796 men.
  • Karachayevo-Cherkesiya will send off 500 new soldiers.  It is 76th by population.  The Riakchr.ru portal indicates that 70 men are bound for the Ground Forces, 6 for VDV, 131 VKS, 189 Natsgvardiya, 78 Railroad Troops, and 15 MChS.  Fifty of the troops for VKS will serve in nearby military-space units — the Krona space monitoring facility near Zelenchukskaya specifically.
Physical exams in Barnaul

Physical exams in Barnaul

In Moscow Oblast — the RF’s second most populous region, 5,970 young men will be conscripted this spring and summer, according to Regnum.ru.  More than 80 percent of them will serve their year in units in the Western MD.  News outlets in two of the oblast’s major cities have reported on this year’s spring callup:

  • Odintsovo.info reports that Odintsovo’s levy for spring 2017 is 311 men.  Of them, 140 will serve in the Ground Troops, 62 in VKS, 30 in “units of central subordination,” 15 RVSN, 13 VDV, and 10 Navy.
  • In Podolsk, 274 men will be drafted.  Pro-Podolsk.ru states that 130 will head to the Ground Troops, 101 to VKS, 19 Navy, 17 Natsgvardiya, and 7 VDV.
Issuing gear in Orenburg

Issuing gear in Orenburg

There are, of course, other ways to peel the conscription onion.  Klops.ru reports that the Navy’s Baltic Fleet will receive 5,000 draftees this spring and summer.  The MOD’s Krasnaya zvezda states that Kaliningrad Oblast will draft 1,200, and send 80 percent (960) of them to the Baltic Fleet naval or ground units.

Mil.ru indicates that the Northern Fleet will get 2,500 conscripts.  Some 800 will come from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts.  Each region is drafting 1,000 men.  The new Northern Fleet personnel will serve their year ashore in motorized rifle, air defense, supply, and aviation-technical units.  The most fit among them will go to the fleet’s naval infantry brigades.

Unlike the past, there seems more tendency to let conscripts serve close to home. “Extraterritoriality” used to be the rule when Soviet and Russian draftees would be sent far from their native areas just to discourage AWOLs.  Particularly notable is the induction of young men from maritime regions into their nearby fleets.  Or men from Pskov or Ulyanovsk to be conscripted into local VDV units.

Data on the contribution of various regions to the draft is summarized in this table. It is not large enough for grand conclusions with high confidence, but perhaps for some conjectures. 

Let’s look first at what we’ve heard recently about how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are put together.  President Putin’s March decree stated that the armed forces have 1,013,628 uniformed personnel.  However, Defense Minister Shoygu indicated the previous month that only 930,000 soldiers — including 380,000 contractees — were actually in the ranks.  The remaining 550,000 presumably included 220,000 officers, 50,000 warrants, and 307,000 conscripts who entered the service in the spring and fall of 2016.

But that math isn’t quite right; this would give the armed forces 27,000 more men on hand than Shoygu said.  Either the total is higher than 930,000 or one (or some) of the other numbers are lower.  In early 2017, the MOD admitted that it was short of officers and pilots.

Next we have to examine the even murkier claims about the size of Russia’s armed services.

We’ll start where the clarity is greatest.  The RVSN commander said last year his troops will remain around the 60,000 level.  VDV are generally put at 35,000 or 45,000.  The Navy is usually estimated at 130,000-150,000 men.  While they are ranges, they aren’t extreme.

Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces are the problems.  It may be easiest to start with the latter.  One sees reports of the VKS at 190,000 and at 430,000 (?!).  The Ground Troops range from 220,000 to 400,000 depending on the source.

It might look like this:

Armed Service Low Medium High
Ground Troops 220,000 310,000 400,000
Aerospace Forces 190,000 310,000 430,000
Navy 130,000 140,000 150,000
RVSN 60,000 60,000 60,000
VDV 35,000 40,000 45,000
“Units of central subordination” 295,000 70,000 -155,000
Total 930,000 930,000 930,000

Let’s look at the three ways of allocating 930,000 personnel.  The “low” estimates almost certainly leave too many in the MOD’s “units of central subordination.”  The “high” estimate for each service doesn’t even fit a force of 930,000.

The “medium” estimate looks like it might be fairly close to reality, with some adjustment.  The 310,000 for VKS seems a little high, although the new service was created in 2015 by merging the old VVS and VVKO each with roughly 150,000 personnel. Still, it may be less, perhaps 280,000 now.

Russian Federation Armed Forces manpower might be distributed like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent
Ground Troops 340,000 37%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30%
Navy 140,000 15%
RVSN 60,000 6%
VDV 40,000 4%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8%
Total 930,000 100%

The real issue could be the distribution between the two largest services, Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces.  There might be more in the former and somewhat fewer in the latter.

So what does the latest allocation of conscripts tell us?

About 42 percent of conscripts in this unscientific sample are headed for the Ground Troops.  It seems to make sense because this service likely still has a heavy concentration of draftees.  Some 19 percent are going to the VKS.  Again, not surprising since the VKS almost certainly relies more on contractees than conscripts.  Approximately 6 percent are bound for the Navy.  It has reportedly almost stopped using draftees for afloat duties leaving a smaller requirement for personnel to work in billets ashore.  The RVSN and VDV still rely on conscripts but have significant numbers of contractees in their ranks. They are getting 8 and 3 personnel from the levy, respectively.  “Units of central subordination” are receiving 9 percent of those drafted this spring and summer.

It looks like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent Conscript Allocation
Ground Troops 340,000 37% 42%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30% 19%
Navy 140,000 15% 6%
RVSN 60,000 6% 8%
VDV 40,000 4% 3%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8% 9%
Total 930,000 100%

The allocation of new conscripts is not a great proxy for showing how manpower is distributed in the Russian armed services.  But it isn’t a bad one.  It allows for some assertions that could be researched and tested in the future:

  • The Ground Troops have a higher number of conscripts in their ranks than a strictly proportional distribution of draftees would provide. 
  • The Aerospace Forces and Navy have fewer conscripts than their proportional shares.
  • The RVSN, VDV, and “units of central subordination” have conscript numbers that fit a proportional distribution in line with their share of MOD manpower. 

The sample size, of course, is small and the existing data incomplete. A significant percentage of conscripts lacked an identified service assignment.