Walking Back Contract Service (Part II)

Here are some particulars from Deputy Chief of the General Staff, GOMU Chief General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov’s press-conference on the spring draft — and contract service — last week.

After dropping his lower spring draft number (203,720) bombshell, Smirnov said an increase in contractees will accompany this reduction in conscripts.  The Defense Ministry will determine clear, strict criteria for selecting and training contractees, and will raise the prestige of their service (along with their pay and living conditions, of course). 

In other remarks to the press, Smirnov emphasized that conscript service will remain, and the Armed Forces will retain mixed manning (i.e. conscripts and contractees).

Smirnov listed the following priorities for contract manning:

“In 2011, we will man sergeant posts, Navy afloat personnel, Airborne Troops [VDV] formations and military units, formations deployed on the territory of the Chechen Republic, and also the most knowledge-intensive and high technology military specialties, which determine the combat capability of formations and military units, with servicemen on contract.”

Priorities for Contract Service

In the near term, according to Smirnov, the Defense Ministry will put contractees in all sergeant-squad leader billets and positions involving maintenance or operation of complex or new weapons systems and equipment.

He said training of professional sergeants in the Defense Ministry’s higher educational institutions began in six schools in 2009, expanded to 19 last year, and will be conducted in 24 in 2011.

In his Q&A with the media, Smirnov said there’s no plan to switch to large numbers of contractees immediately, but rather:

“The number of contractees will increase gradually, mainly because of the large-scale introduction of new types of armaments.”

So he linked the need for contractees to presumed future success in acquiring new equipment under GPV 2011-2020.

Smirnov told the media a pereattestatsiya was conducted last year, and only 174 thousand competent contractees remain.  He also noted (as indicated on his slide above) that Spetsnaz would also be a priority for contractees.  He said there are currently 55,000 contract sergeants in the training pipeline.

Smirnov defended the earlier contract effort in the mid-2000s, saying it was successfully fulfilled despite being only half financed at 76 billion rubles, and:

“The main Navy and VDV units and formations are half manned with contract servicemen.”

Not a stunning testament to the earlier program.

It’s interesting that Smirnov talked so much about contract NCOs when, less than two months ago, the Federal Targeted Program for Manning Sergeant Billets with Contractees, 2009-2015 was cut in half.  Financing was reduced from 243 to 152 billion rubles, and the number of contract sergeants to be trained from 107,000 to 65,000.  For stories on this, see KommersantNewsru.com, or Komsomolskaya pravda.  The sources in these reports also put the number of contractees remaining much lower than Smirnov’s 174,000; they say at or just above 100,000.

One finds it hard to fathom that the Defense Ministry can find 425,000 contractees when just a half dozen years ago it failed to recruit, train, and retain 133,000.  Thus far in these early pronouncements on reinvigorating contract service nothing’s been said about what or how it will be different this time.  The Defense Ministry will have to make such a case to its political masters, the public, and the men it’s trying to sign up at some point.

Some things, like the Defense Ministry’s other priorities, are already known.  A renewed contract service effort will have to compete with a new higher pay system for a larger number of officers starting next year.  And the Defense Ministry is also at the outset of a new and expensive GPV that’s supposed to provide modern weapons and equipment which demand long-term, professional enlisted personnel (aka contractees).  And there are overdue and unfinished agenda items like the provision of permanent and service housing to officers.

Yes, your author is skeptical that the renewed push for contractees can gain traction.  We have to remember this magical 425,000 number is somewhere off in the future.  There’s no promised delivery date.  And the entire issue began with the tacit recognition that, for many reasons, Russia can only conscript so much manpower.  Keeping fewer guys from being shaved and inducted pretty much against their will is always good politics on the cusp of a presidential election year.

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