VKO Game On

Yes, it’s game on in the fight for control over Russia’s future unified aerospace (air-space) defense or VKO.

General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov’s recent statements sound like he’s hard over on putting VKO under the General Staff’s immediate control.  But the Space Troops (KV) definitely aren’t out of the game, and even the Air Forces (VVS) – running third right now – are still in the competition to own VKO.

Say VKO falls under the General Staff, is it up to the job of running what will amount to a service or major command?  This at a time when it’s been cut back, and refocused on strategic planning?  And, entirely aside from organizing or reorganizing for VKO, there’s an issue how much a unified VKO will actually improve current Russian capabilities.  Acquiring new capabilities is a different problem altogether.

But let’s recall how we reached this point.  In late 2010, President Dmitriy Medvedev set the task of unifying the command and control of VKO under a single strategic command by 1 December 2011.  He cited this as his third major task for the military in his 18 March speech before the expanded Defense Ministry collegium:

“This year a unitary air-space defense system must be established.  It is necessary to unite existing anti-air and anti-missile defense, missile attack warning, and space monitoring systems under common command and control.  Moreover, this needs to be done not in the abstract, on paper or in electronic form, but in the context of the current situation, including the decision of the issue of our participation or nonparticipation in the system of European anti-missile defense which is being established.  It is necessary to form several large air bases, taking into account the deployment of units.  This will increase the mobility of sub-units, and allow for the establishment of military infrastructure echeloned along main strategic axes.”

Medvedev sounds like he’s saying he won’t be fooled by bureaucratic paper lash-ups or procedures.  He wants blood drawn — forces and systems taken from one command and given to the new VKO command, whatever its shape or subordination.  The real sticking point, of course, is anti-air defense assets now under the VVS.

Friday’s Rossiyskaya gazeta reported Army General Makarov and Defense Ministry Serdyukov are currently studying proposals on VKO.  But they’re keeping them within a small circle, and don’t intend to create public debate on the issue.  And the paper thinks the form and control of VKO will be revealed in the next months, if not weeks.

Let’s turn for a moment to what Makarov’s been saying.

Interfaks reported Saturday that the General Staff Chief said flatly:

“Air-space defense will be created in the General Staff, under the General Staff’s leadership, and the General Staff will command and control it.”

Vesti.ru said he dismissed the idea of the KV running VKO:

“The Space Troops are only one element of all the components of this air-space defense.”

Well, you can say that, but they also appear to have three of VKO’s four cited components.

At any rate, Makarov continued, saying VKO:

“. . . has to be multilayered, by altitude and by range, and has to integrate all forces and means that exist, but are very few of now.  We are counting on production taking off, beginning literally next year.”

He also noted:

“No one will take back those means which are now transferring to the districts [MD / OSKs].  This [VKO] will be implemented in Troop PVO.”

The chief of Ground Troops’ Air Defense (ПВО СВ) also said as much in late December.

None of this is very different from what Makarov’s said all along.

Rossiyskaya gazeta summed Makarov up this way on 15 December:

“The thing is various military structures are involved in securing the skies at present.  The Space Troops answer for orbital reconnaissance and the work of missile attack warning stations.  The Air and Air Defense Armies with the aid of radar companies and border posts inform staffs about approaching enemy aircraft.  The Special Designation Command covers the Moscow Air Defense Zone.  Air defense troops and fighter aviation cover other important facilities.”

“The system is built on the service [видовой] principle and is therefore uncoordinated.  We need to make it integrated and place it under the Genshtab’s command.”

Despite Makarov’s strong words, Rossiyskaya gazeta has been told that the leadership is still studying putting VKO under the KV’s control.  Especially since, as noted, it already has 3 of 4 of its components – PRO, SPRN, and KKP.  But, the paper thinks, no one is talking about putting SAMs (ZRK) or Air Defense Aviation (APVO) under the KV.  However, the KV might get independent radar brigades and some SAM units equipped with the S-300, S-400, and the future S-500.

On 24 March, the KV’s spokesman repeated earlier statements from its commander, General-Lieutenant Oleg Ostapenko, saying basic documents setting out the establishment of VKO on the basis of KV have been prepared and presented to the Defense Ministry and General Staff.

On 27 January, Ostapenko told RIA Novosti:

“There’s already a decision that the system of VKO will be built on the base of the Space Troops.”

It might also be worth noting Vedomosti’s Defense Ministry sources were, at least at one point, reporting that KV had the upper hand in the VKO sweepstakes.

Lastly, the VVS remains a possible home for VKO.  The Air Forces might not have much to recommend them over the Genshtab or KV, but they operate the existing VKO prototype in the Moscow region’s Special Designation Command (KSpN).

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