Combat Readiness Doesn’t Equal Combat Capability

Vitaliy Shlykov (photo: RIA Novosti)

In an article entitled Secrets of Serdyukov’s Blitzkreig, Shlykov assesses that Defense Minister Serdyukov has done rapidly what none of his predecessors was able to do.  Shlykov’s positive assessment has something to do with the fact that Serdyukov’s success has validated a lot of things the author advocated.  Nevertheless, Shlykov offers a nice rundown of why Serdyukov’s reforms were needed, and also some cautionary notes for the future.

According to Shlykov, someone not following the changes in the armed forces closely over the last year won’t be able to believe what’s happened.  Serdyukov’s 11-minute speech on 14 October 2008 started a completely unexpected ‘revolution from above’ to put the entire force structure into permanent readiness and turn the officer corps from a ‘bloated egg’ into a pyramid.  Shlykov describes how previous cuts in the armed forces left too many officers in place commanding mobilization units with equipment and no soldiers.  Junior officers escaped pitiful conditions in the army by various means.

But slashing the empty, ‘big war’ force structure in favor of a smaller, permanent readiness army was Serdyukov’s most radical move.  Along the way, Shlykov makes note of Ground Troops CINC Boldyrev’s comment that, in 2008, only six army divisions were considered combat ready.

Shlykov’s math on Russian officers and warrants provides an interesting picture of sharply increasing importance of sergeants and soldiers in the force over the next three years.  In 2008, there were 623,500 sergeants and soldiers in a 1,118,800-man army (56 percent).  In 2012, they are supposed to be 850,000 (including 180,000 contractees) of a million-man army (85 percent).  I think this is why some observers are wondering if the much-reduced officers corps will be able to control its subordinates.

Shlykov notes the drastic cut in the military educational establishment–65 to 10 institutions–and the fact that new cadets in 2009 numbered only 3,000, instead of the 18-19,000 of recent years.

Summarizing a bit, he says no element of the military was untouched by cuts and reorganizations.  Actually, there were some major ones–the RVSN and VDV.

The ‘new profile’ brought sharp criticism in the media, and a “muffled discontent” in the military.  Despite this, according to Shlykov, Serdyukov’s basic goals were achieved a year after he began.

Shlykov says military districts will assume a bigger role in the command and control system, taking responsibility for things like engineer brigades and former GRAU arsenals on their territory.  Taking control of things like the Navy’s arsenal in Ulyanovsk could be a major headache.  He mentions the professional sergeant corps training at Ryazan, but not its very slow and difficult start.

The secret of Serdyukov’s success?  His personal qualities, especially his exceptional management capabilities, played the greatest role, Shlykov says.  But being purely civilian–something Shlykov has advocated–also played a part in his success.

Shlykov says Serdyukov has also succeeded because, unlike his predecessors, he broke the taboo on borrowing what works from foreign experience in “military organizational development,” that is basically force structure and force development policy.  Serdyukov saw that the generals basically didn’t have the answers after nearly 20 years of supposed reforms.  Serdyukov saw that there are certain priniciples of military organization that are axiomatic and don’t need to be tested or examined, and can be introduced without further discussion.  Some were suggested by Shlykov’s SVOP but rudely rejected by the Genshtab.

Shlykov says he and his colleagues don’t claim authorship of Serdyukov’s reforms.  He’s inclined to think that generals themselves proposed the majority of them.  All the innovations are dictated by common sense, which many generals have.  What they didn’t have were ministers who were ready to listen.  From the beginning, Serdyukov said he didn’t intend to launch a grandiose reform, but the avalanche began and other changes inevitably followed the first ones.

Finally, Shlykov says we can’t confuse combat readiness with combat capability.  The army now has only 10 percent new equipment which is up to world standard.  Even President Medvedev has warned about this:  “Our next task is more complex–the technical reequipping of the army and navy.”  And common sense can’t get you around this.

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