Tag Archives: Manning

Walking Back Serdyukov’s Personnel Policies (Part I)

And so it’s begun. 

The first of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s major reform planks – cutting the officer corps from 355,000 to 150,000, or no more than 15 percent of the million-man army – has been reversed.

The Armed Forces’ officer manning level was apparently one topic in yesterday’s meeting between President Medvedev and his “power” ministers about plans to raise pay for servicemen in 2012.

Serdyukov told the media about the decision to increase officers in the Armed Forces by 70,000:

“A decision’s been taken to increase officer personnel by 70 thousand.  This is connected with the fact that we’re deploying additional military units, establishing military-space defense, that is, an entire service (of troops), and the increase is happening in connection with this.”

First, this raised some interesting questions about VKO.  Is it really going to become a service (vid or вид).  After all, the Space Troops are only a service branch (род войск) right now.  That’s quite a promotion.  And are we really supposed to believe the expansion of VKO or the Space Troops will require 70,000 additional officers? 

Of course not, it’s a convenient excuse to walk back a large part of the 50 percent cut in army officers Serdyukov announced when he launched his reforms in October 2008.

Most media outlets were pretty confused on what this means for officer numbers.  They assumed the Russian Army’s at 150,000 officers right now, just add 70,000 for a total of 220,000.  But it’s not so simple.

When Serdyukov started cutting officers, there were 305,000 occupied officer billets.  Krasnaya zvezda said the Armed Forces had 181,000 officers at the end of last year.  So a grand total of 124,000 officers were either discharged, placed outside the “org-shtat” at their commander’s “disposition,” or forced to accept an NCO billet between late 2008 and the end of 2010.  Returning 70,000 to the ranks might leave us wondering only about what happened to the other 54,000.  And 181,000 plus 70,000 takes the officer corps basically back to 250,000, or fully one-quarter of the million-man army.

The army officer corps has endured considerable sturm und drang in a little over two years all for the sake of shedding just 55,000 officers.

More on this tomorrow.

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Kramnik on Vostok-2010 and Military Reform

This is complete finally.

Ilya Kramnik’s RIA Novosti piece about the exercise has been quoted by others, but it hasn’t gotten attention as a whole on its own.

So what does Kramnik think?  He cites Makiyenko to the effect that Vostok-2010 showed that reform has been positive for the army, but there are, of course, problems.  Troops aren’t uniformly well-trained, and the failure of contract service has really hurt.  But Kramnik gives Defense Minister Serdyukov a lot of credit, on the order of being a 21st century Milyutin.  But back to the problems again.  Things like contract service, tension over officer cuts and premium pay, military education cuts, and the failure to deliver new weapons have to be fixed.  But Kramnik believes Serdyukov is the kind of guy who’ll go back and fix what he didn’t get right or get done.  Then Kramnik shifts to the type of conflict the military reform is preparing the Russian Army to fight.  Obviously [?] not a nuclear one, but rather, again turning to Makiyenko, a Central Asian local war scenario that might threaten the RF’s internal stability.  The conclusion is that, if reform stays on track and occurs quickly, the army will be able to meet this challenge.  Some, however, might well argue that even a properly and rapidly reformed Russian Army might not be enough to contain and damp down the kind of conflagration Makiyenko describes.  Finally, Kramnik concludes that even the U.S. front isn’t secure; an American regime in 2012 or 2016 might take to renewed active support of new ‘color revolutions’ in Moscow’s back (or front) yard.

Here’s a verbatim text:

“The official results of the just ended ‘Vostok-2010’ exercise are still being reckoned, and this will be done by the Defense Ministry.  Meanwhile, it’s already possible to make some conclusions.” 

“‘Vostok-2010’ was the largest of all in the post-Soviet period of Russian history.  More than 20 thousand men, 75 aircraft, 40 combat and auxiliary ships took part on the ground, in the air, and at sea in maneuvers conducted from Altay Kray to Vladivostok.”

“The aim of the exercise was to check the three-level command structure — operational-strategic command – operational command – brigade, and other new elements in the Armed Forces command and control and support system, and to uncover deficiencies needing correction.  An expert of the Russian Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Konstantin Makiyenko expressed his opinion on the recent maneuvers:  ‘The recent maneuvers fully refuted the propagated myth about how the army is being destroyed as a result of the actions of the current Defense Ministry leadership.  It’s obvious the army is alive and developing.  Units participating in the exercise demonstrated their combat capability, despite the fact that they are not in the ranks of the best military districts, and scarcely armed with the most modern equipment.'”

“‘It’s especially worth focusing on the good morale of the officer personnel — it’s not possible to speak of general enthusiasm, of course, but I didn’t see dim eyes among the officers.  As a group, they are interested in the success of the current reform and hope for its success.'”

“While agreeing with this point of view, one has to note that the situation with soldiers looks a little different, both RIA Novosti’s reviewer [Kramnik] and Konstantin Makiyenko have also noted this.  Very much depends on the branch of troops and the basic training of the soldiers themselves.  Contract-servicemen in a ‘Tochka-U’ operational-tactical missile launch battery look and are trained much better than conscript-soldiers in motorized rifle units.  In the words of motorized rifle officers up to the battalion commander level, the reduction in the number of contractees has negatively affected platoon and company training.  Ideally, the service term of a specialist-soldier (mechanic-driver, weapons system operator, etc.) needs to be three years, that is achievable only on the contract manning principle for these positions.”

“Speaking about the attainability of the announced goals of the reform, one can say the following:   the will of the military leadership which certainly exists, is the main component of success, a firm understanding of the goal is also obvious, and the possession of authority — it’s not possible to doubt this.  As a result, the current Defense Ministry leadership needs only time to realize its ideas.  Overall, the military reform being conducted is the most significant event of Russian history in the last ten years — since the suppression of the separatist rebellion in the North Caucasus.  The Serdyukov-Makarov reform in the military sphere is the most radical and deepest since the time of Mikhail Frunze’s reforms in the 1920s, if not since Dmitriy Milyutin in the 1860s and 1870s.”

“As proof, it’s possible to note the fact that the Defense Ministry leadership is constantly searching and ready to correct those steps which, when checked, turn out to be incorrect or unattainable in real political-economic conditions.  So, the current principles of manning the army will undergo a serious correction:  it’s obvious that neither the organization of contract service, nor, even more, the existing format of conscript service corresponds to the demands of the time.”

“Evaluating the correspondence of the Defense Ministry leadership to its missions, it’s possible to say, that at present Russia has the most appropriate military leadership since the collapse of the USSR.  At the same time, it’s obvious that the radicalism of the reform, the compressed time of its implementation, unavoidable resistance in the environment and hard economic conditions didn’t allow for avoiding a large number of mistakes and excesses.  Among the most fundamental failures it’s possible to name the collapse of the army’s transition to the contract manning principle, serious social tension arising in connection with the rapid reduction of officer personnel, the ambiguous situation with the scale of servicemen’s complaints after the introduction of the differential pay system [premium pay or Serdyukov’s Order No. 400?], the hurried and not completely thought out reform of military education and many, many other things.  It’s  particularly worth focusing on the implementation of the state armaments programs which fail one after another, not being executed in a significant part.  As a result, the lag of Russia’s Armed Forces behind the most developed countries in the level of  technical equipping continues to grow such that in conditions of a quantitative lag it could become very dangerous.  All these mistakes have to be corrected, since they impact on rudiments of the army’s combat capability.”

“For what type of wars does Russia’s new army need to prepare?  Obviously, the time of long wars between the great powers has gone into the past — nuclear weapons haven’t left chances for such a development of events.  The most probable type of conflict in which the Russian Army will be involved is a local conflict on Russia’s borders and the territory of the former USSR, in the course of which there could be clashes with the most varied enemy:  from a regular army to many bandit formations and terrorist groups.”

“In Konstantin Makiyenko’s opinion, Central Asia presents the greatest danger in the future of a possible hot conflict with Russia’s direct participation:  ‘The U.S. and NATO, obviously, are less and less controlling the Afghanistan situation, and it’s not excluded that in the foreseeable future they may have to abandon this country.  The return to power in Afghanistan of the ‘Taliban’ movement looks most realistic in the event of such a development of events.  The arrival of Islamic radicals in power would unavoidably be a catalyst for conflicts on the territory of former Soviet republics of the region already riven by contradictions.  Weak authoritarian regimes in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, not to mention what’s become the ‘failed government’ in Kyrgyzstan, could be easy prey for the Taliban.  As a result, Russia might be forced to consider the likelihood of a large Asian conflagration which it would have to prevent, or if it didn’t succeed — extinguish, at a minimum with the aim of preserving its own internal stability.  One very much wants to believe that the reform will bear fruit before the described situation becomes a reality.'”

“Besides the described scenario it follows to study also the probability of another development of events:  as experience has shown, on the territory of former USSR republics, the rise of openly anti-Russian regimes with external support at their disposal can’t be excluded.  For today, such a situation is a low probability due to the fact that the current administration in the U.S. — the main sponsor of ‘colored revolutions,’ is clearly not inclined to continue the policy of George Bush.  However by 2012, if President Obama loses the election, the situation could change, and this risk is even greater in 2016 when the administration will change in any case.  Meanwhile, you have to note that even the Democrats remaining in power in the U.S. is not a guarantee of a peaceful life:  Obama’s point of view on a coexistence format with Russia is hardly shared by all his fellow party members.  In the worst case, a return to the next variant of Cold War and new spiral of the arms race isn’t excluded.”

“The coming decade isn’t promising Russia an easy life.  The success of military reform is all the more important.”

Collapsing Contract Service, the Draft, and Professional NCOs

General Staff Chief Makarov’s recent death pronouncement for contract service means, as he said, more conscripts in the near future (or an attempt to conscript more soldiers).

In the longer run, however, the collapse of contract service means the Russian Army faces several manpower policy choices, each unpalatable for its own reasons.  The army will likely be less combat ready, and less combat capable, than desired.

Think back about where the army’s been, and how it reached the current predicament.

The armed forces were reportedly 1.13 million men, but probably more, in recent years.  At any moment, they had four distinct draft contingents of about 130,000 conscripts, totaling 520,000 draftees.  Next, they had a layer of perhaps 300,000 contractees and warrant officers.  The contractees included probably 90,000 long-term enlisted, NCOs, and females as well as no more than 80,000 contract soldiers from 2002 and later.  There were probably about 130,000 warrants.

So, let’s count 520,000 conscripts and the middle layer of 300,000, for a total of 820,000.  Lastly, on top, let’s add nearly 400,000 officers. 

What did this manpower structure mean for the Russian Army’s force structure?

With practically the same number of conscripts and officers, the force structure was hollow–few units or formations were fully manned and many low-strength (cadre) units had officers and equipment, but only small numbers of soldiers–conscript or contract–and they existed only to be fleshed out with mobilized reservists in the unlikely event of a big war.

This structure didn’t work well in little wars like Chechnya or more recently Georgia in which the army had to piece together regiments by finding combat ready battalions and capable commanders wherever they could be found.

In 2006, Putin said of the military dilemma at the outset of the second Chechen war:

“. . . we needed to gather a force of at least 65,000 men.  And yet the in all of the Ground Troops there were only 55,000 in combat ready units, and even they were scattered all around the country.  The army was 1.4 million strong, but there was no one to do the fighting.  And so unseasoned lads were sent to face the bullets.”

And in late 2008, Medvedev emphasized the need for 100 percent combat ready units as the number one lesson of the August conflict over South Ossetia:

“Overall, these changes aim to make the Armed Forces more combat ready.  We talked about the war in the Caucasus, where our armed forces demonstrated their best qualities, but this does not mean that there were not also problems that became apparent.  We need to continue improving our Armed Forces. What steps does this require?  First, we need to move over to a system of service only in permanent combat ready units.”

So, after the August war with Georgia, Serdyukov moved to eliminate the huge, big-war mobilization base, hollow units, and unneeded officers, and to use the savings to man and outfit 85 Ground Troops brigades in a permanently combat ready condition.

Given a nominal strength of 3,000 men in them, the army needs roughly 260,000 troops to man these new combat brigades.  And this doesn’t count conscripts needed elsewhere in the Ground Troops, Rear Services, VVS, VMF, RVSN, VDV, or KV.

With the commencement of the one-year draft in 2008, Moscow doubled its induction of conscripts from 130,000 to 270,000 every six months.  And the Ground Troops need fully half the 540,000 conscripts present in the armed forces at any given moment.

Like any country, Russia has a real and an ideal army, the army it has and the army it wants (a la Rumsfeld).  Moscow’s ideal army by 2012 has one million men, including 150,000 officers, a layer of 64,000 professional NCOs, and conscripts as the balance, perhaps 800,000.

But the Arbat military district hasn’t articulated it this clearly for several reasons.  First, shedding officers and (warrants) year after year isn’t an easy task.  Second, the number of professional NCOs desired or available in the future is in doubt given General Staff Chief Makarov’s and Defense Minister Serdyukov’s statements on the failure of contract service and the apparent withdrawal of funding for the current contract sergeants program.  And third, it’s unclear if Moscow can draft 400,000 young men semiannually to put 800,000 soldiers in the ranks.

The army Russia has is messier than the vision stated above.  Serdyukov says they are at 1 million already.  There were a reported 355,000 officers at the outset of the current reform in late 2008.  About 40,000 officer billets were vacant and 65,000 officers were released in 2009, putting them at 250,000 officers today.  Serdyukov has set about the elimination of almost all warrant officers, but he hasn’t said what they’ve done in this regard yet. Let’s guess 30,000 have been dismissed, leaving 100,000 warrants.  Let’s also make reasonable guesses that 60,000 recent contractees and 70,000 longer term ones remain in the troops.

So what is there?  Armed forces with 540,000 conscript soldiers and about 480,000 officers, warrants, and contract enlisted.  Moscow will have to revitalize its military education system to get the smaller number of quality officers needed in the future.  Getting the requisite numbers of conscripts will be a challenge given the country’s well-known demographic problems which are biting hard right now.  But obtaining the noncommissioned officer layer of military unit leadership is also proving difficult.  The layer is presently a jumble of perhaps 230,000 warrant officers, contract sergeants, and even officers and warrants who’ve accepted downgraded positions rather than dismissal.  It is not the army’s ideal, but this middle layer fulfills some functions.

With all this said, what are the Russian Army’s manpower options for the future?

If Moscow actually reduces the officer corps to 150,000 by 2012 and the contract sergeant program is not put on track, the balance of its 1 million man army could be 800,000 or 850,000 conscripts (including conscript-sergeants trained for only 3 or 6 months).  Drafting 400,000-425,000 men every six months would be practically impossible.  Of the current cohort of maybe 900,000 18-year-olds, maybe 300,000 can be inducted, leaving the army to find 500,000-550,000 conscripts among men who are 19-27 and have not already served, but can be difficult to induct for various reasons.

Even if manned fully, a 12-month force has to make Moscow wonder whether this mass of conscripts with this amount of training really meets its definition of a modern, combat-ready, and combat-capable army.

Reducing the manpower requirement by cutting the army’s overall size would reduce the draft burden, but it would contravene the decreed million-man army policy.  There would be howls of protest that the army is too small to cover Russia’s borders (as if one million is even enough to do it).

Extending conscription back even to 18 months would ease this task considerably.  Moscow could take just slightly more than the 270,000 it is conscripting now for 12 months, and by keeping them an extra six months, it could work its way up to a conscripted force of nearly 850,000 in the space of a year and a half.  An increased draft term would be unpopular but Russians would swallow it.  It’s not like it would lead to a Medvedev (or Putin) defeat at the polls in 2012.  The real problem might be the draft’s similarity to taxes–the longer (or higher) they get, the more incentive for people to avoid them.

So that brings us back to the central point.

The way to reduce the number of conscripts needed for a million-man army, keep the draft term at 12 months, and have a reasonably well-trained and capable force is the one path that has been abandoned–developing a large and professional NCO corps that has the right material incentives to serve for a career.

The slow-to-start, small-scale, and apparently recently eviscerated Federal Goal Program to train only 64,000 professional sergeants is not enough.  The current ranks 230,000 of former officers turned sergeants, warrant officers, warrants turned sergeants, contract sergeants, and enlisted contractees is a stew that could theoretically be converted to a professional NCO corps, but it would be far from easy.  In terms of size, however, it’s more like what’s required to do the job, lighten the conscription load a little, and impart some professionalism to a mass, short-term draftee army, if these NCOs become professionals themselves.

What professional NCOs demand in return is pretty basic (higher than median income wages, family housing, and guaranteed off-duty time outside the garrison), but they haven’t gotten it since the most recent contract experiments began in the early 2000s.  In many cases, even officers haven’t got these things.  But the pay promised in the contract sergeant program (up to 35,000 rubles per month after graduation) is more like what’s needed to attract men.

The sergeant program seems to be the army they want, but the Defense Ministry appears to have pulled the financial plug on it.  The flotsam and jetsam is the army they have and might be turned into something, but there’s no move in this direction as yet.  Meanwhile, recall that Serdyukov’s plan for mass officer reductions was partly justified by the thinking that many officer tasks would go into the hands of capable NCOs.  And as recently as the 5 March Defense Ministry collegium, Medvedev said:

“Particular attention also should go to sergeant personnel. Sergeants need to be capable, if the situation demands it, of replacing their tactical level officers.”