Russia’s Looming Military Apocalypse

Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:

When Anatoly Serdyukov was hired as defense minister in early 2007, most of my colleagues poked fun at him because he once worked in the furniture business. But I predicted that his experience as head of the Federal Tax Service would help him implement much-needed reforms in the armed forces.

Serdyukov seemed to confirm my faith in his abilities last week when he announced unprecedented personnel cutbacks that had been considered unfathomable. The number of officers will be reduced by almost two-thirds, from 355,000 to 150,000. In addition, the number of military units will be drastically reduced. For example, of 1,890 army units, only 172 will remain.

Serdyukov had to change a ludicrous situation in which there was one officer for every two soldiers. This is why he suggests reducing the number of colonels by almost two-thirds — from 25,000 to 9,000 — and the number of majors by three-fourths — from 100,000 to 25,000. At the same time, the number of lieutenants should increase from 50,000 to 60,000.

But if you take a closer look at Serdyukov’s plan, you will see several serious problems.

The main target for job cuts is 117,000 majors and lieutenant colonels with 10 to 15 years of service. By law, once they are fired they are entitled to additional benefits, the most important of which are apartments. But it is by no means a given that Russia will be able to provide 117,000 apartments to those who lost their jobs. Nor is it clear if they will be able to find new jobs that match their qualifications. So far, Serdyukov has only mentioned the possibility of transferring them to civilian army specialist posts or, if this is not possible, of leaving the military altogether and taking up civilian professions. But it is far from certain that they would find comparable salaries and benefits in the civilian sector.

This could create a serious political problem. Imagine 100,000 jobless men in their 30s who are deeply embittered with the state. They could easily become a powerful anti-government force. It is important to remember that it was disgruntled and disenfranchised officers more than any other group in the Weimar Republic who paved the way for the rise of the Nazi party.

Until recently, the justification for maintaining bloated ranks of senior officers was the argument that a mass-mobilization army was needed to fight a huge enemy such as the United States or NATO. Thus, it would seem that cutting down the number of officers by two-thirds shows that Serdyukov is trying to put an end to Russia’s military model based on mass-mobilization.

But there is one glaring contradiction. Simple math tells us that about 550,000 conscripts would have to serve in the “new” Russian army. This means the “permanent combat ready units” — a central part of President Dmitry Medvedev’s military doctrine that he unveiled during military exercises in Orenburg in late September — would consist of draftees who now serve for only one year. They receive some kind of military training in special centers for the first six months, after which they serve for six months in permanent combat readiness units. One can only imagine the superb level of their “combat readiness” when half of their numbers change every six months.

For now, we can only say that if there is a plan to institute real reforms in the armed forces, that plan is still unclear. A major cutback in the number of officers is certainly a blow to the concept of a mass-mobilization army, but it falls short of openly rejecting this model — one that has dominated Soviet and Russian military strategy for more than 70 years.

The largest hole in Serdyukov’s so-called reform project is that lowering the personnel numbers by itself hardly means an increase in the quality and effectiveness of the military. The most likely outcome is that Russia could end up with an exact replica of the Soviet army in terms of its low quality, and the only difference would be that it is five times smaller in size.

Given the economic crisis, it is a complete mystery how the government will be able to fund its ambition military reforms, including a massive reorganization and absurd plans to build new aircraft carriers, a submarine fleet, fifth-generation military aircraft and a multibillion-dollar air and space defense system. It is hard to make any sense out of Russia’s military planning when each new reform project is even more ridiculous than the last.

6 responses to “Russia’s Looming Military Apocalypse

  1. I believe they are letting these officer’s go so they can be replaced by NCO’s. The Russian army doesn’t have a strong NCO corp, which is one of the big differences between them and western armies. I personally don’t see the Russians being able to successfully bring about this change. The new NCO’s probably won’t be respected by the officer’s, which could cause a power struggle. In the U.S. military, the NCO corp basically get’s the job done, with little interference from the officer’s. That probably won’t happen for a long time in Russia, their system is hopelessly backwards. They seem incapable of stopping the severe hazing of young recruit’s, which goes along with the Russian inability to except living by rules and having a high level of integrity in ones life. Not to say that many Russian’s aren’t good people who love their country and wish the best for it. But the institutional dishonestly that prevails throughout the society will make it difficult to change to a more modern, efficient military.

  2. It is important to remember that it was disgruntled and disenfranchised officers more than any other group in the Weimar Republic who paved the way for the rise of the Nazi party.

    I can only see 100,000 disgruntled officers as a positive development in Putin’s Russia. If Putin is Hitler incarnate, then the Russian government can only improve after him.

  3. Ah… if your getting ready for war, then your going to have to clean out a top heavy military. too many cooks spoil the broth. and too many commanders and too few to command is a recipe for screwups as they all seek to countermand each other, save the day, and be the heroes of the motherland.

    in peace time, people rise… many without actual field experience. the systems get top heavy… if your going to actually desire to fight, and with intention, your going to have to do what any CEO of a company would do, get lean, get mean…

    do a search on “too many officers” and see waht you get… you get a common problem in peace time.

    from washington monthly 1990

    The ranks of officers are wildly disproportionate to the peacetime force. At the end of World War II, the Army had 14 generals for each of its active divisions; today, it has 22. At the end of World War II, the Navy had one admiral for every 130 ships; today that ratio is 1 to 2.2. But that the services have too many generals and admirals is only a symptom of the more basic problem: Too many officers are pressing up from below. There are enough officers of the rank of lieutenant colonel and above to lead the force fielded during the second World War.

    In 1945, the Department of Defense had 14,989 officers of the rank of colonel (in the Army, Air Force, and Marines) and captain (in the Navy). Today it has 14,301. In 1945, there were 36,967 lieutenant colonels and commanders. Today, there are 32,575. Unfortunately, there’s not that much left to command: Total force strength has plummeted from 12.1 million in 1945 to about 2.1 million today.

    and from the UK in august 2008:
    Ministry of Defence manning figures showed that there are 14,370 trained officers in the Army, a surplus of 910 over the force’s “requirement strength” of 13,460.

    By contrast, there are 83,920 “other ranks,” a shortfall of 4,400 on the total requirement of 88,320.

    Overall, the Army is 3,500 personnel short of its full needs. The three Armed Forces have a combined deficit of 5,790.

    The MoD data confirmed that the size of Britain’s military forces is continuing to fall even as they conduct two intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    reading things militarily, one has to be a bit looser, and not so keen on proving ones pet ideas right… or else you will miss the reason due to your own fault

    as for the left over leaders… there is no comparisson to weimar, despite the fact that ex soldiers made up the SA. it wasnt commanders who are willing to become grunts for the cause.

    no, what they will do is go take consultancy jobs, which would suddenly lift up other countries efficacy for the bigger fight. so iran will not have iranian commanders, but fully trained russian ones.

    soviet pilots flew in the six day war against isreal.

    they also were in korea…

    how about the spetsgruppa during the vietnam conflict? (3000 soviets served… It was only after the regime collapsed in 1991 that officials admitted more than 3,000 Soviet troops fought against the Americans in Vietnam. feb 16 2008….

    that way the agitprop and others do not say i am lying in their eyes…

    the biggest problem russia has is that they cant train their people fully. which is why they come off as a rag tag violent brutish anamalistic force with no real ability.

    if they had real ability, they might be able to take over. so to be safe, they ahve to cripple their forces to some degree… ergo, the always rag tag situation.

    the one year thing has a purpose strategically and historically. in the attack on a large city that changed names several times, the people were part of taht force.

    if your planning a conflict, then you have to get as many citizens through some form of training. one year for each is better than the american version of non compis mentis on the battle field and tactics, education, hsitory, strategy, etc.

    The booklet in Russian and Portuguese titled “40 Year together” was published in Moscow 6 or 7 years ago, it confirmed that over TEN THOUSAND Soviet servicemen (but not combat units! served in Angola in 1975-1991.

    historically speaking, this is their way of training more than they need, then loaning them out the same way you loan out weapons, records, tapes, etc.

  4. I agree that many militaries have become top heavy, it’s typical in any government organization. Always lobbying for more money and people for an ever expanding mission. Although there is some logic in keeping a top heavy force, in case of a quick mobilisation, there would be extra officers to go around. The German military after WWI was restricted to 100,000, of which they were mostly officers and NCO’s, when they increased the size there were professional troops to take command positions. Also today’s militaries are much more sophisticated then 65 years ago. The weapons systems require educated people to develop training programs etc, so there is some logical justification for a top heavy force. Like I said in my earlier post, the Russians are trying to build an effective NCO corp, which they do not currently have.

  5. in news today…

    Georgia Says Russia Has Massed 7,000 Troops in South Ossetia

    I guess they are getting ready for a fight if one comes… peace time armies are pared down for conflict.

    too many leaders not enough below and it freezes up.

  6. Bill, it comes and goes. There are manning issues that come and go to this day.

    In my opinion, that creates a window to see through a brick wall. Pardon the bad analogy.

    Seeing a minimally manned AFSC perform remarkably under stressful manning situations is counter intuitive to a request for more manning.

    I will not say anymore because I know that you understand, but I will say, this is what grade inflation leads to.

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