Making Soldiers in the Southern MD

Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye’s Oleg Vladykin participated in a press-tour of the Southern MD (OSK South), and last Friday he published his take on what he saw.

Deputy District Commander, General-Lieutenant Igor Turchenyuk set the scene, telling assembled journalists about establishing the YuVO last year:

“A substantial — more than two times — growth in the combat potential of the grouping of troops and forces deployed on YuVO territory is the result of the transformations which have been carried out.”

Turchenyuk said the YuVO conducted more than 200 command-staff and tactical exercises, including jointly with air and naval forces, during the winter training period.  This was reportedly seven times greater than comparable training in the old North Caucasus MD.  

Turchenyuk claims the intensity of everyday combat training has increased noticeably, doubling fuel and ammunition expenditure.  Outsourcing food and laundry services and arms and equipment maintenance made this possible.  By eliminating extraneous duties, a more intense 40-hour week has added more than 300 hours of training time to the year.   

Turchenyuk’s main point:

“As a result, we got the chance to prepare a real professional serviceman-specialist even under the conditions of a one-year training cycle.”

And Vladykin’s:

“Of course, it’s hard to argue with figures.  Therefore, I really wanted to confirm with my own eyes how conscript servicemen are being turned into real professionals.”

Vladykin and the others were taken first to the 34th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain), built from scratch on President Putin’s order.  The 34th was established as an elite, model formation as good as any “show” unit elsewhere in the Armed Forces.

But, says Vladykin, not everything turned out as imagined, especially with the formation’s manning. 

The brigade found 5,000 contractees to train as professional mountain infantry, but today, with the cut in contractees, more than half the brigade’s manpower are conscripts.  After seeing some training, Vladykin concludes:

“I won’t say that all soldiers looked like high-class mountain infantry.  But since I know most participants in the exercises have served a little over half a year, I’m ready to acknowledge: they’re not badly trained.”

Next up was the 22nd Independent Brigade of Special Designation (Spetsnaz).  Its professionalism needs to be even higher, but this brigade is currently 60 percent draftee.  Vladykin wonders out loud whether they will be able to carry out the brigade’s missions, and whether it’s possible to grow a real soldier from a conscript.

Lastly, in the 19th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade, practically all soldiers and junior commanders (NCOs) are conscripts.  Here, says Vladykin, they learned the difference between draftees and contractees in battles in two Chechen campaigns and in South Ossetia.

Its officers reserve judgement about the efficacy of outsourcing rear service functions.  Conscript drivers learn vehicle maintenance from contracted civilian mechanics who won’t be with them in combat.

The brigade’s chief of staff describes how a reinforced company tactical group meets the formation’s permanent (one-hour) readiness requirement in the volatile North Caucasus.  Another officer says duty officers have returned to the barracks to keep order at night.  The officers here don’t fully trust their conscript soldiers and sergeants.

Vladykin doesn’t provide a larger bottom line.  It seems to be that the YuVO may be turning draftees into soldiers, but not true professionals.  For all the figures about the district’s higher training tempo, Vladykin doesn’t seem too impressed.

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