Daily Archives: May 6, 2017

Where Conscripts Serve

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

Russia is in the throes of its spring military draft running from April 1 to July 15. The MOD will induct 142,000 young men into the armed services and units of other “power” structures, i.e. Natsgvardiya, MChS, etc.  Last spring the military took 155,000.  The increasing number of contract soldiers is steadily reducing the requirement for conscripts.

A close look at the draft may allow for some surmises (perhaps insights) into how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are composed.  But patience during a bit of discourse will be required.

The media in some regions have reported about where their young men will serve. 

  • In Rostov Oblast — Russia’s sixth most populous region, 5,000 men will be drafted. According to the Don24.ru portal, fully 75 percent will serve somewhere in the Southern MD.  Sixty percent — or 3,000 — will serve in the Ground Troops.  Some 600 will go to VKS units.  Rostov will send 134 to the Navy, and 15 to the Kremlin’s elite Presidential Regiment.  No word on the destination of the remaining 1,251.
  • Russia’s seventh most populated territory Bashkortostan will send more than 5,100 men to the military, reports Bashinform.ru.  The Ground Troops will get 2,500 of them.  The Natsgvardiya gets 565, RVSN 560, VDV 180, and MOD “units of central subordination” 170.  No indication about the other 1,125 or so.
  • In Tatarstan — eighth by population — Gazetadaily.ru indicates that 4,000 conscripts will be sent to troop units.  Some 1,668 will be in the Ground Troops,  516 to the VKS, 440 Natsgvardiya, 320 Navy, and 280 RVSN.  Assignments for 776 were not identified.
  • Udmurtiya will send 1,100 of its citizens into the military this spring.  This includes 528 for the Ground Troops, 121 VKS, 55 Navy, 44 VDV, 99 RVSN, 88 Railroad Troops, and 55 Natsgvardiya.
  • In Vladimir Oblast, 1,790 men are being drafted.  The region ranks 31st in population.  Portal Vladtv.ru reports 501 are going to the Ground Troops, 233 to the VKS, and 260 to “units of central subordination.”  No word on the remaining 796 men.
  • Karachayevo-Cherkesiya will send off 500 new soldiers.  It is 76th by population.  The Riakchr.ru portal indicates that 70 men are bound for the Ground Forces, 6 for VDV, 131 VKS, 189 Natsgvardiya, 78 Railroad Troops, and 15 MChS.  Fifty of the troops for VKS will serve in nearby military-space units — the Krona space monitoring facility near Zelenchukskaya specifically.
Physical exams in Barnaul

Physical exams in Barnaul

In Moscow Oblast — the RF’s second most populous region, 5,970 young men will be conscripted this spring and summer, according to Regnum.ru.  More than 80 percent of them will serve their year in units in the Western MD.  News outlets in two of the oblast’s major cities have reported on this year’s spring callup:

  • Odintsovo.info reports that Odintsovo’s levy for spring 2017 is 311 men.  Of them, 140 will serve in the Ground Troops, 62 in VKS, 30 in “units of central subordination,” 15 RVSN, 13 VDV, and 10 Navy.
  • In Podolsk, 274 men will be drafted.  Pro-Podolsk.ru states that 130 will head to the Ground Troops, 101 to VKS, 19 Navy, 17 Natsgvardiya, and 7 VDV.
Issuing gear in Orenburg

Issuing gear in Orenburg

There are, of course, other ways to peel the conscription onion.  Klops.ru reports that the Navy’s Baltic Fleet will receive 5,000 draftees this spring and summer.  The MOD’s Krasnaya zvezda states that Kaliningrad Oblast will draft 1,200, and send 80 percent (960) of them to the Baltic Fleet naval or ground units.

Mil.ru indicates that the Northern Fleet will get 2,500 conscripts.  Some 800 will come from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts.  Each region is drafting 1,000 men.  The new Northern Fleet personnel will serve their year ashore in motorized rifle, air defense, supply, and aviation-technical units.  The most fit among them will go to the fleet’s naval infantry brigades.

Unlike the past, there seems more tendency to let conscripts serve close to home. “Extraterritoriality” used to be the rule when Soviet and Russian draftees would be sent far from their native areas just to discourage AWOLs.  Particularly notable is the induction of young men from maritime regions into their nearby fleets.  Or men from Pskov or Ulyanovsk to be conscripted into local VDV units.

Data on the contribution of various regions to the draft is summarized in this table. It is not large enough for grand conclusions with high confidence, but perhaps for some conjectures. 

Let’s look first at what we’ve heard recently about how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are put together.  President Putin’s March decree stated that the armed forces have 1,013,628 uniformed personnel.  However, Defense Minister Shoygu indicated the previous month that only 930,000 soldiers — including 380,000 contractees — were actually in the ranks.  The remaining 550,000 presumably included 220,000 officers, 50,000 warrants, and 307,000 conscripts who entered the service in the spring and fall of 2016.

But that math isn’t quite right; this would give the armed forces 27,000 more men on hand than Shoygu said.  Either the total is higher than 930,000 or one (or some) of the other numbers are lower.  In early 2017, the MOD admitted that it was short of officers and pilots.

Next we have to examine the even murkier claims about the size of Russia’s armed services.

We’ll start where the clarity is greatest.  The RVSN commander said last year his troops will remain around the 60,000 level.  VDV are generally put at 35,000 or 45,000.  The Navy is usually estimated at 130,000-150,000 men.  While they are ranges, they aren’t extreme.

Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces are the problems.  It may be easiest to start with the latter.  One sees reports of the VKS at 190,000 and at 430,000 (?!).  The Ground Troops range from 220,000 to 400,000 depending on the source.

It might look like this:

Armed Service Low Medium High
Ground Troops 220,000 310,000 400,000
Aerospace Forces 190,000 310,000 430,000
Navy 130,000 140,000 150,000
RVSN 60,000 60,000 60,000
VDV 35,000 40,000 45,000
“Units of central subordination” 295,000 70,000 -155,000
Total 930,000 930,000 930,000

Let’s look at the three ways of allocating 930,000 personnel.  The “low” estimates almost certainly leave too many in the MOD’s “units of central subordination.”  The “high” estimate for each service doesn’t even fit a force of 930,000.

The “medium” estimate looks like it might be fairly close to reality, with some adjustment.  The 310,000 for VKS seems a little high, although the new service was created in 2015 by merging the old VVS and VVKO each with roughly 150,000 personnel. Still, it may be less, perhaps 280,000 now.

Russian Federation Armed Forces manpower might be distributed like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent
Ground Troops 340,000 37%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30%
Navy 140,000 15%
RVSN 60,000 6%
VDV 40,000 4%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8%
Total 930,000 100%

The real issue could be the distribution between the two largest services, Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces.  There might be more in the former and somewhat fewer in the latter.

So what does the latest allocation of conscripts tell us?

About 42 percent of conscripts in this unscientific sample are headed for the Ground Troops.  It seems to make sense because this service likely still has a heavy concentration of draftees.  Some 19 percent are going to the VKS.  Again, not surprising since the VKS almost certainly relies more on contractees than conscripts.  Approximately 6 percent are bound for the Navy.  It has reportedly almost stopped using draftees for afloat duties leaving a smaller requirement for personnel to work in billets ashore.  The RVSN and VDV still rely on conscripts but have significant numbers of contractees in their ranks. They are getting 8 and 3 percent of their personnel from the levy, respectively.  “Units of central subordination” are receiving 9 percent of those drafted this spring and summer.

It looks like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent Conscript Allocation
Ground Troops 340,000 37% 42%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30% 19%
Navy 140,000 15% 6%
RVSN 60,000 6% 8%
VDV 40,000 4% 3%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8% 9%
Total 930,000 100%

The allocation of new conscripts is not a great proxy for showing how manpower is distributed in the Russian armed services.  But it isn’t a bad one.  It allows for some assertions that could be researched and tested in the future:

  • The Ground Troops have a higher number of conscripts in their ranks than a strictly proportional distribution of draftees would provide. 
  • The Aerospace Forces and Navy have fewer conscripts than their proportional shares.
  • The RVSN, VDV, and “units of central subordination” have conscript numbers that fit a proportional distribution in line with their share of MOD manpower. 

The sample size, of course, is small and the existing data incomplete. A significant percentage of conscripts lacked an identified service assignment.

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