On August 1, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu conducted a teleconference during which he addressed the serviceability (исправность) of Russia’s weapons and military equipment.
Serviceability is pretty synonymous with “in service,” “good condition,” “operability,” or “equipment operational readiness.”
Shoygu reported that the Russian military has achieved the following serviceability rates:
- 63 percent for Aerospace Forces (VKS) aircraft;
- 96 percent for air and missile defense systems;
- 98 percent for space systems;
- 76 percent for the Navy;
- 94 percent for armored units;
- 93 percent for artillery units.
Shoygu claimed that the military has devoted attention to obtaining higher quality weapons systems and to supporting their serviceability in the future. He attributed high equipment availability to the shift to “full life cycle” maintenance contracts. He said the MOD has worked with producers and developers to find problems that occur during use and work out measures to prevent them in the future.
In 2014, Shoygu reported that the overall serviceability of Russian arms and equipment improved from 80 to 85 percent.
In late 2013, Kommersant reported that the serviceability rate of aircraft in the air forces (VVS) was below 50 percent. “Permanent readiness” requires 80 percent operational availability.
The MOD Action Plan (2013) specifies that equipment in-service rates for the ground troops and navy should be 85 percent and 80 percent for aircraft by 2020.
The U.S. military goal is 90 percent for all equipment except aircraft, which is 75 percent. But actual serviceability varies widely depending on a unit’s training and operational tempo. Recovery time might actually be more critical.
The Canadian Army recently assessed its major vehicle and equipment fleet serviceability at 60 percent, which apparently didn’t make it too happy.
What do we make of Shoygu’s claims about the Russian military’s serviceability rates?
The Russians have put more effort against equipment modernization, overhauls, and repairs since Shoygu came to the MOD. Therefore, increasing rates of serviceability aren’t surprising.
At the same time, the serviceability rate can be manipulated easily.
In most militaries, serviceability is determined and reported up the chain by military units themselves. In the U.S., equipment readiness/serviceability is an element of the Unit Status Report (USR). It’s possible for commanders to fudge it. The question is are they inclined to do this?
In Russia — where fulfilling the plan and meeting norms is highly valued, it seems likely. Add to this the recent command housecleaning in the Baltic Fleet. The MOD did a clean sweep on its headquarters for, among other things, padding numbers on training, readiness, etc. So perhaps Shoygu double-checks his subordinates’ claims.
This is the country that created the Potemkin village. For centuries, Russian provincials have been trying to fool any inspector-general (or party bureaucrat) sent from St. Petersburg (or Moscow).
At the same time, fudging can also be initiated at the top. Mentioned on these pages more than once is the old trick of slashing the denominator to raise your percentage. If 7,000 of 10,000 tanks are running, write 2,000 off and suddenly 88 percent of the army’s assets are serviceable, right?
In the end, we may have suspicions about Shoygu’s serviceability claims, but we don’t have any independent insight. It’s true, though, that any military establishment that fools itself (at whatever level) about its “equipment operational readiness” runs an awful risk the next time bullets are fired in anger.