In Russian defense policymaking, ideas never die; they wax and wane, and wax again. Andrey Nikolskiy in Thursday’s Vedomosti reported a source in the Defense Ministry’s central apparatus claims the idea of establishing four regional Operational-Strategic Commands (OSKs) in place of Russia’s current military districts and fleets is waxing again. This is hardly a new story.
The West reportedly would combine the Moscow Military District (MD) and Leningrad MD, and the Baltic Fleet, under a headquarters located in St. Petersburg. The East would combine the Far East MD with part of the Siberian MD, and the Pacific Fleet, with its headquarters in Khabarovsk. The North would combine the remainder of the Siberian MD with part of the Volga-Ural MD, and the Northern Fleet, with Yekaterinburg as the headquarters. Finally, the South would put the North Caucasus MD with the remainder of the Volga-Ural MD, and the Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla, with Rostov-on-Don as the headquarters.
Vedomosti is circumspect on the four OSKs. It maintains that no decision has been taken yet, and the possibility of creating them is being studied. Interfaks was quick to claim they’ll be established before the end of the year. Putting the West headquarters in Piter would track with the apparently continuing effort to relocate the Navy Main Staff to the country’s ‘northern capital.’
So, a little about what would happen if this idea were implemented . . . clear losers are the LenVO, SibVO, and PUrVO, which all disappear. The VMF won’t like the idea and the VVS is perhaps more ambivalent since its air forces and air defense armies (AVVSPVOs) pretty much exist within the current MD structure anyway. The East would have 14 active maneuver brigades instead of the DVO’s 10. The West would have 9 instead of 6. And the North might be created with 6 brigades. Of course, the OSKs would also have greater territory to cover than the MDs.
In retrospect, new Ground Troops CINC General-Colonel Aleksandr Postnikov foreshadowed renewed talk of OSKs replacing MDs when he arrived in March mentioning the possibility of an MVO-LenVO merger.
Former Genshtab Chief Yuriy Baluyevskiy’s one-year experiment with an Eastern Regional Command at Ulan Ude headed by General-Lieutenant Nikolay Tkachev was euthanized by his successor, Nikolay Makarov, in October 2008. Theoretically, it might have been one regional command alongside analogous western and southern structures. Baluyevskiy’s initiative probably dated back to 2005 discussions about a new command structure in the RF Security Council. But it’s not clear what kind of regional commands were considered. Were they to overlay the MDs and fleets like the High Commands of Forces of late Soviet days or replace them in a more radical restructuring?
This winter, then Ground Troops CINC, Army General Boldyrev said that each MD would become an OSK, and the MD-OSK commander would have operational control over all military units on its territory–Navy, Air Forces, MVD Internal Troops (VV), etc. Boldyrev said:
“The operational-strategic command is a military district. Such is its function and standing. The legal status of the OSK has been drafted, its approval is planned in the very near future, this will possibly happen before the end of this year. The district commander has been declared the commander of the operational-strategic command.”
Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye has been predicting the MD’s replacement for some time, writing in September last year:
“. . . the leadership of the country and of the Armed Forces are returning to the idea that was proposed several years ago by former RF Armed Forces General Staff Chief, Army General Yuriy Baluyevskiy, who attempted to create Operational-Strategic Commands in theaters of operations, but not on the basis of individual districts, but rather by unifying several districts and fleets under the command of the OSK.”
The MD is still more part of the administrative, training, and mobilization system for the paradigmatic ‘large-scale war’ of Soviet planning. The OSK would have to become a combatant command for fighting regional or local wars here and now. Consolidating three MDs and possibly downgrading fleet commands somewhat might save a few hundred senior officer positions.
As Vedomosti describes it, if the four OSKs actually stand up, they will include armed forces units, not other militarized forces like the VV or FSB Border Guards. This isn’t surprising since these OSKs would be permanent, not just wartime, command structures.
The control of strategic nuclear forces is always an issue in debating structures like the OSK. Would OSK commanders really control and operate the RVSN, SSBNs, and long-range bombers on their territory? If not, how would the OSK’s general purpose forces support strategic operations?
Abolishing 6 MDs and especially 4 fleets and their long histories would be a politically daunting task, sure to raise lots of opposition in the ranks and among the publicly vocal ex-military.
Finally, it might be argued that the military has experienced near ‘permanent revolution’ over the last 18 months, and doesn’t need another major organizational innovation while the situation settles out from previous changes.
In any event, the replacement of MDs with OSKs still remains a rumor at this point.