“New Profile” in Transbaykal

Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye’s Viktor Litovkin wrote recently about his Defenders’ Day press pool visit to the 212th District Training Center (OUTs or ОУЦ) in Peschanka, and to the 29th Combined Arms Army in Chita.  Formerly part of the Siberian MD, they’re now in the Eastern MD or OSK East.  Litovkin set out to see how the military’s “new profile” has been implemented in the four years since he last traveled to Transbaykal.

Litovkin said the army’s future “junior specialists,” i.e. better trained conscript sergeants, aren’t just using simulators, and there’s lots of live action on OUTs ranges and training grounds.

Simulators at Peschanka (photo: V. Litovkin)

The majority of trainees were in training for a minimum of 8 hours a day, not including individual training and PT time.

OUTs Chief, General-Major Sergey Sudakov is new himself, but says much has changed at the center.  He says they’ve gotten new simulators, training buildings and barracks have been renovated, and the mess hall’s been outsourced so conscript-trainees no longer have to pull KP.

Four years ago, the Siberian MD listed 5,970 personnel without housing, but now only 120.  Those without apartments have been taken off the local books, and all their data’s been sent to the Defense Ministry’s Housing Support Department in Moscow. 

Now, however, there are rasporyazhentsy (распоряженцы), those officers, warrants, or sergeants at their commanders’ disposition, in all, more than 200 waiting for permanent apartments outside Transbaykal.  But only 2-3 per month are getting a “letter of happiness” from Moscow saying they’ve been allocated housing, and, in many cases, it’s not in the location they wanted.

The rasporyazhentsy were once commanders and chiefs but now they muster every morning to get orders from their former subordinates.  They don’t get anything serious to do.  They pull assistant duty officer for a unit once a week, or carry out a major’s orders for less than half their old pay.

Medic Senior Sergeant Zhanna Litvinenko is a rasporyazhenitsa who’s waited two years for an apartment in Rostov-na-Donu or Krasnodar Kray.  While waiting to return to “mainland” Russia, she lives on “bare pay,” without supplements, of 16,900 rubles, of which 3,200 pays for her dorm room.

Litovkin visited the officers’ dormitory to see what’s changed since 2007.  He describes familiar noisy corridors with common toilets, showers, and kitchens for officers and their families.  The building’s been renovated, old wooden window frames and the boiler have been replaced, kitchens updated, and showers divided so men and women don’t have to use them on alternating days.

One Captain Rinat Abubekirov and his wife say the load on officers has grown sharply now that there are fewer of them.  The tank training regiment had 140 officers previously, now 98, in a company, there were 7, now 5, and the number of additional duties is unchanged.  A company commander is now a captain, rather than a major as in the past.  Abubekirov has been an O-3 for five years, and no one can tell him when he might make O-4.

Litvinenko and the Abubekirovs in the Officers' Dorm (photo: V. Litovkin)

Training their conscript charges has changed.  Instead of six months, they now have three to do it.  The trainees’ education level varies greatly now — from higher education to some who didn’t finish high school.  Many conscripts arrived in poor health, and the severe Transbaykal winter doesn’t help either.  Minus forty isn’t rare, and -30° (-22° F) is the norm.  They are just not physically or psychologically prepared.  Nevertheless, OUTs Commander Sudakov says fewer are sick this winter than last.

Then, Litovkin turns to the Chita-based 29th Combined Arms Army commanded by General-Major Aleksandr Romanchuk, where the NVO editor says he sees “solid changes.”  All its units are fully manned and permanently combat ready.  In what’s become a fairly common refrain, Romanchuk believes his army’s combat potential exceeds that of its predecessor [the Siberian MD]. He said he and his deputy spent a month at the General Staff Academy learning the new automated command and control system.  He said his best subordinates can earn 100,000 rubles per month in bonuses.

Litovkin says there are questions about the introduction of new equipment in Romanchuk’s command.  It would be good if its tanks and combat vehicles could be replaced quicker.  There are no UAVs or PGMs.  The army relies on T-72B1, BMP-2, Strela-10 and towed air defense guns, and self-propelled Akatsiya and Msta-B artillery.

Litovkin concludes that, while no one believes Mongolia or China will threaten Russia’s borders today or tomorrow, this army needs to train in a real way, with equipment from the 21st century, not the last one.

But this, he continues, is not even the greatest problem.  He was told at every level that it’s simply not possible to make yesterday’s schoolboy into a good specialist in a year.  The commander of the 29th CAA’s 200th Artillery Brigade, Colonel Dmitriy Kozlovskiy, told Litovkin this spring he’ll lose 70 percent of his personnel.  New gun commanders, gunners, radiomen, and reconnaissance, topographic, and meteorological specialists will arrive and in less than a month they’ll need to work like crews, platoons, and batteries, like a unified combat mechanism.  They will learn and leave the army, and the process will begin again.

Sounds like a Russian O-6’s plea for professional enlisted and NCOs . . . .

Litovkin finishes with a story from Romanchuk.  He tells of a tank gunner conscript who hit his target [a 1 — an excellent in Russian training terms] on his 39th day of service.  He said he just did everything as he was taught, and as he did on the simulators.  In times past, according to Romanchuk, tank gunners got to fire live rounds only after serving six months, and this guy scored a 1 on his 39th day.  But Litovkin asked how his buddies did.  Romanchuk answered 2s and 3s.

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