Monthly Archives: December 2016

Today We Are Stronger

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Shoygu and Putin at MOD Collegium (photo: Kremlin.ru)

The year-end MOD Collegium fell on December 22.  International news agencies headlined what sounded like bellicose braggadocio from President Vladimir Putin.  “We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he said according to AP.

But his remarks were more nuanced than it’s possible to tell from that wire service quote.

His full speech to the assembled Russian brass is available here.

Putin featured Syria prominently, and indicated that Russia will take advantage of the greater demand for its weapons and equipment because of the war.

He listed force development priorities including “precision weapons, modern communications, reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare systems” and strategic non-nuclear forces.

He noted that the SAP will be completed “by 2021,” effectively giving the military and industry all of 2020 (not just until the end of 2019) to reach its 70 percent modernization goal.  But he also mentioned “five years” to complete rearmament which sounds like 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and all of 2021.  The dates on the arms program are increasingly elastic as necessary.

Not surprisingly, Putin described a higher level of threat on Russia’s borders this year.

A complete translation of Putin’s speech follows.

“Respected comrades!”

“Today at the annual Ministry of Defense Collegium we will discuss results of work during the latest period, and determine near- and long-term tasks for the development of Russia’s Armed Forces and strengthening the country’s defense capability.”

“In 2016, the course of modernizing the army and fleet continued, rhythmically, and their reequipping went according to schedule.”

“The condition of the nuclear triad, which plays the key role in preserving strategic parity, was supported at the necessary level.  I note that the share of modern armaments in the nuclear forces is almost 60 percent.”

“The level of combat training of troops rose substantially.  The results of strategic command-staff exercise Kavkaz-2016 convincingly demonstrated this.  Its successful conduct increased the security of Russia’s southern borders, including from terrorist threats, and helped work out the organization of territorial defense in the Southern and North-Caucasus Federal Districts, including questions of supporting troops, for example their financing in wartime, that require coordination from many state organs and elements, including branches of Russia’s Central Bank.”

“I note also that four surprise combat readiness evaluations of troops took place in the course of the year.  They confirmed that units and sub-units could effectively deploy at great distances and in short periods of time to establish groupings in strategic directions. The Defense Ministry needs to analyze the results of the evaluations in detail and consider them in combat training plans for the future, and also in the organization of other measures of a similar type.”

“The potential of the Russian Armed Forces passed a stress test also in combat with international terrorists in the Syrian Republic.  The Syrian Army received tangible support, thanks to which it conducted several successful operations against militants.”

“I also note the great assistance which our Armed Forces renders to peaceful Syrian citizens.  Almost 800 tons of foodstuffs and medicine alone have already been transferred. I want to thank the leadership and personnel of the Armed Forces participating in the operation once more for their professionalism and courage.”

“Respected comrades!”

“In the coming year, the Ministry of Defense needs to concentrate on resolving the following key tasks.”

“First, to support the balanced development of all services and branches of troops, and to continue the assimilation of precision weapons, modern communications, reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare systems.”

“It is necessary to strengthen the combat potential of strategic nuclear forces, primarily missile systems capable of assuredly overcoming existing and future missile defense systems.”

“Strategic non-nuclear forces also need to be brought to a qualitatively new level, allowing them to neutralize any military threats to Russia.”

“Second.  It is important to maintain the tempo achieved in rearming the army and navy.  To control the realization of measures in the State Armaments Program and fulfillment of the state defense order effectively.”

“By 2021 we need to achieve the established indicators of troop equipping with modern weapons and equipment at not less than 70 percent.”

“We need to make note that five years is not such a long period of time for such a large-scale rearmament program.  Any delay in fulfilling its tasks can cause a break in the production chain, which is then highly difficult to reestablish. Therefore sanctions for breaking contracts should be severe to the maximum extent. Meanwhile, it is important to effectively expose causes of violations and expeditiously eliminate them.”

“I note that essential measures to resolve problematic issues in the fulfillment of the state defense order have been taken at all levels.  On the whole, we need to keep the situation with the realization of the State Armaments Program and with the state of affairs in the defense-industrial complex under constant control.  You know we discuss these issues twice a year at regular meetings in Sochi.  This has already become a tradition which has been highly useful in practical work.  This year two cycles of such meetings occurred.  They allowed us to determine joint steps in the sphere of rearmament, and to support constant working contact between the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and industry.”

“Third.  We must closely follow any changes in the balance of forces and military-political situation in the world, especially along Russia’s borders, and simultaneously introduce corrections into plans for neutralizing potential threats to our country.”

“I ask you also to synchronize these plans with updated future planning documents.  Just a few weeks ago the new Information Security Doctrine of Russia was approved, and a little earlier the Scientific-Technical Development Strategy.  The milestones given in them concern all organs of authority, including also militarized departments.”

“Fourth.  The introduction of the newest training means and programs should be among the priorities of operational and combat training.”

“And last.  The effectiveness of employing Russian weapons in Syria opens new possibilities for the development of military-technical cooperation.  We need to use them to the maximum extent.  We know what kind of interest foreign partners are showing in modern Russian armaments.”

“Respected collegium participants!”

“One of the most important directions of military organizational development is increasing social support of servicemen.  You know how much has been done in this relation in recent times.  For example, since January 2012 the line for housing in the Defense Ministry system has been reduced 2.8-fold.  In 2016, 27 thousand servicemen were provided service housing,  and almost 20 thousand permanent housing.  Within the mortgage-savings system, 14 thousand servicemen obtained apartments.”

“It is necessary also to remember:  concern about personnel, and strengthening the social guarantees of soldiers and officers is important, the most important investment in the indoctrination of the young generation of defenders of the Motherland, and guarantee of the prestige of military service and the authority of people in uniform.”

“Respected comrades!”

“On the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, and on commanders at all levels, lies the special responsibility for the qualitative modernization of the Armed Forces.  I believe that in the future you will do everything necessary to achieve high results in combat training.”

“I want to thank the leadership and personnel of the Armed Forces for the precise fulfillment of established tasks, and for their conscientious service.”

“Allow me to wish you further successes.”

After Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s lengthy remarks, Putin concluded the session.

“Respected Sergey Kuzhugetovich, respected comrades!”

“In recent years, much has been done to increase the country’s defense capability. But, it stands to reason, much is still not enough.  The minister just spoke about this when he formulated tasks for 2017 and coming years.”

“We need to do much along the lines of strengthening the nuclear triad, perfecting the BMEWS system, in the Aerospace Troops [sic], still more at sea, and in the Ground Troops. We need to perfect reconnaissance and communications systems.  We still have much to do.”

“However today, given a very large number of factors, including not only military ones, but also our history, geography, and the internal condition of Russian society, it is possible with certainty to say:  today we are stronger than any potential aggressor.  Any.”

“At the same time, I would like to turn your attention to the fact that, if we were to allow ourselves for one minute to relax, to allow even one substantive failure in the modernization of the army and navy, or in troop training, the situation could change very quickly given the speed of events transpiring in the world.  We may not even notice.  Therefore, a very great deal depends on the continuation of our work, which began and has been conducted in the course of recent years.”

“I count greatly on you working in a coordinated manner, and being responsible for work assigned to you.  And, working in such a way, we, certainly, will fulfill all tasks which stand before us in the most important sphere of strengthening Russia’s defense capability.”

“I want to thank you again for your service in the past year and wish you success in the coming one.”

“All the best to you.”

“Thank you.”

So Putin wasn’t exactly bragging that Moscow is the biggest bully in the world, but rather claiming that, given Russia’s history and geography as well as its recent military modernization, the Kremlin can now be sure of repulsing any attack on its territory.  Assertions about evil U.S. and NATO intentions notwithstanding, what aggressor has designs on Russia today?  

Putin’s contention is a little abstract, lacking as it does any particular scenario or temporal context.  But it isn’t really as sinister as it sounded in Western media.

More to the point than Putin, however, is Maxim Trudolyubov’s conclusion from his recent op-ed:

“. . . Russia — with its renationalized economy and aging population — is now incapable of competing on equal economic and political terms with other major powers may have led the Kremlin to believe that it can compete only by other means — namely by displaying no hesitation at using force or covert influence to claim Russian greatness again.”

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What’s Been Bought (A Preview)

Soon Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu will convene a year-end MOD Collegium to summarize the results of 2016, including procurement.

A preview of Shoygu’s claims about Russian military acquisition in 2016 is evident in year-end reports from individual military districts.

In late November, according to RIA Novosti, the Western MD announced that more than 1,500 pieces of equipment entered its inventory in 2016.  They include Su-35S fighters, Mi-28N, Mi-35M, and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters, BMP-3 and BTR-82A armored vehicles, and Tigr-M and Tayfun vehicles.

In early December, the district’s press-service said its forces will receive 500 major equipment items before the end of the month, including 20 T-72B3 tanks, An-148 transports, Mi-35M and Mi-8MTV-5 helicopters, and 30 command-staff vehicles.

Russian defense industry retains the Soviet tradition of “storming,” or last-minute rush work to meet the annual production plan.  You might not want a ride on a Russian helo assembled in December. 

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New R-149AKSh-1 Command-Staff Vehicle

On December 1, the Eastern MD reported it has received more than 650 major pieces of equipment this year.  Interfaks-AVN indicated they include Su-35S and Su-34 aircraft, Iskander-M and Bastion SSMs, Tor, Pantsir-S, and Verba air defense systems, Tornado-G MRLs, and UAVs.

The Central MD got more than 700 equipment items in 2016, according to TASS. It received the Iskander-M, Pantsir-S, eight aircraft, three updated Mi-24 helicopters, and 50 T-72B3 tanks.

The Russian media hasn’t reported on Southern MD acquisition, but, being a high priority, it will likely equal the Western MD’s 2,000 items of equipment.

Logistics tsar Deputy Defense Minister Dmitriy Bulgakov told Izvestiya the military has put more than 6,000 pieces of armor and other vehicles, and 1,000 missile and artillery systems into service this year.  The latter includes “13 brigade and battalion sets” of SSMs and SAMs.  He also noted that 19 auxiliary vessels have been commissioned into the navy.

Bulgakov concluded, with this year’s deliveries, it’s “possible to say that half our armament is new.”  That’s 50 percent on the way to the goal of 70 percent by 2020.

The lists provided by the Russian media weren’t meant to be exhaustive.  We’ll see a more complete enumeration of 2016 procurement from Shoygu or his deputies in the days to come.

But even if we only consider Bulgakov’s 7,000 pieces of equipment, 2016 will be a bigger procurement year than 2014 when President Putin stated that 4,500 weapon systems and other items were acquired.

Promotion List

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed out his Constitution Day promotion list on December 12.  View the ukaz here.

The MOD promotees have been appended to this list of more than 360 Russian general and flag officers.

In this round of advancement, there was a three-star promotion, four two-star, and 20 one-star promotions.

The most prominent promotees were Andrey Demin, in charge of Russia’s ballistic missile defenses, Sergey Sevryukov, 49th Combined Arms Army, and Aleksandr Chayko, 1st Tank Army.  Each received his second star.

Promotions also included first stars for:

  • Two Ground Troops brigade commanders.
  • Two RVSN missile division commanders.
  • Demin’s subordinate at the 9th Missile Defense Division.
  • Two Northern Fleet surface formation commanders.

The balance included three staff officers, two logisticians, three military academics, and seven officers for whom a current post couldn’t be found.

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General-Major Zabit Kheirbekov

One of the material support officers is General-Major Zabit Kheirbekov, who is chief logistics officer at Khmeimim air base in Syria.  Russia is learning that long-distance expeditionary warfare is all about supply.  It hasn’t experienced this in quite a while.

The Anti-Navy Navy

The inauspicious performance of Admiral Kuznetsov begs questions about the prospects for a new Russian carrier.

Belching black smoke, Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov reached the Med and began ops against Syrian targets about a month ago.

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Admiral Kuznetsov (photo: RIA Novosti)

But after losing two fighters to arresting gear problems in less than a month, Kuznetsov’s air wing could be ashore at Khmeimim airfield for quite a while.

Even without the accidents, this might have been inevitable since its fighters can’t carry much fuel or ordnance and still ski jump off the carrier’s deck.

Nevertheless, on December 1, Military-Industrial Commission member Vladimir Pospelov told Interfaks-AVN that aircraft carriers have a place in future naval development planning:

“In the programs we are formulating for the future, ships of this class are present. The tasks and missions the Russian Navy is performing, I’m sure, in the future will be performed by ships of this class.”

As head of the VPK’s shipbuilding council, Pospelov emphasized that “several variants [of carriers] are always being reviewed.”  He didn’t place special importance on the proyekt 23000 Shtorm model, and he intimated that no decision for nuclear propulsion has been reached.

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Proyekt 23000 Shtorm

More significantly, Pospelov stated that:

“. . . the decisions taken on the final variant will be optimal both in the effectiveness of accomplishing combat missions, and, of course, in the effectiveness and cost of the work.”

“And, of course, the possibilities of the economy are being weighed since naval aircraft-carrying systems are a very expensive pleasure. Particularly accounting for the fact that part of their missions can be resolved by other effective naval means.”

Interfaks-AVN interjected that what Pospelov has in mind are the Russian Navy’s new missile ships.  The news agency likely means small missile ships like Serpukhov and Zelenyy Dol that fired Kalibr cruise missiles at Syrian targets in August.

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Small Missile Ship Serpukhov

Regarding those “other effective naval means,” Pospelov concluded that:

“A sharp increase in the effectiveness of shipborne systems, the development of radioelectronic weapons, the effectiveness of missile systems, and the reduction of their dimensions is going on.  And in the completion of missions, their effectiveness is always increasing from the point of view of accuracy, range, and targeting.”

Still, in a final nod to carriers, he said:

“It goes without saying that development in the direction of an aircraft carrier is also principally important.  On the whole not just for the Russian Navy, but for our country as a naval power.”

But Interfaks-AVN closed by reminding readers of Deputy Defense Minister Borisov’s statement that a new carrier might be built after 2025.

The Navy can’t be pleased by any of this.  

Not only has Kuznetsov been an embarrassment when it’s supposed to demonstrate Russia’s world-class naval power.  But now Pospelov — an influential bureaucrat — has hinted publicly that Moscow should consider whether investing in its “mosquito fleet” is a better bet than a high-cost, high-risk strategy of designing, developing, and building a new aircraft carrier for the twenty-first century.

A carrier won’t be in the next arms program, but rather, possibly, the one after next. With less defense funding likely in the outyears, delay in an expensive weapons system like this is almost the same thing as death.

The Navy, some in Moscow, and perhaps even President Vladimir Putin himself might really like the idea of building (or rebuilding) a major surface fleet to make Russia’s presence known on the world’s oceans.  But things aren’t going well in Russia’s shipyards.  If the Navy has to wait fifteen or twenty years to replace Kuznetsov, where will it be when that first, and perhaps only, new carrier arrives? Much, much further behind than today in its experience of operating a carrier battle group, let alone several of them.  

In short, the U.S. Navy is unique in the world.  Russia isn’t going to compete with its strengths and will have to think about meeting them asymmetrically.

This is why the idea of building numerous small combatants with lethal missiles to defeat or deny access to hostile forces in the closed seas surrounding the Russian Federation is appealing.  It would allow Moscow to leverage its ground, air, and air defense forces against naval threats in a combined arms approach.  

If China is doing it with its much larger economy, why not Russia?

With a future carrier put off to a distant time, perhaps Moscow has decided de facto for an anti-navy navy.  As stated above, delay is about the same as death.