Kommersant recently ran an interesting article on the progress–or not–of Russia’s military reform efforts. The overall conclusions of the article are similar to what I’ve written about recently (based on other reports).
clipped from: www.kommersant.com
Looking back on eight years of the Russian army reform
Kommersant Vlast continues a series of publications to examine the evolution of different aspects of the Russian society in the past eight years. Experts from the Institute for Economies in Transition Vitaly Tsimbal and Vasily Zatsepin give their evaluation on the way the army reform was carried out and what it has achieved.
Vladimir Putin had just assumed presidential powers on December 31, 1999, when he flew to North Caucasus which was raged by hostilities. The move clearly showed support for armed forces as a priority in Mr. Putin’s policies. It is therefore no surprising that the president invited military men to the reception to celebrate his 55th birthday: “I wanted to be today with people who I deeply respect, and I appreciate everything that you and your subordinates did in the recent years to revive the army and Russia.”
Vladimir Putin repeatedly underscored it during his first years in office that the war in Chechnya had shown that Russia’s national security is facing dramatically new challenges. He spoke about international terrorism that got support from abroad and challenged the country’s territorial integrity. Russians were used to the thought that the Soviet army is one of the two strongest armed forces in the world, and its inability to cope with the Chechen crisis was a distressing sight for the society as well as for President Putin. “To give an effective answer to terrorists we had to gather a grouping of no less than 65,000 people while the whole alert and forces were manned with 55,000 and scattered across the country,” the president said in an annual address to the Federal Assembly in 2006. “The army had 1.4 million people, but we had no people able to fight. So that’s why we would send inexperienced lads under bullets.” The army’s structure and condition was unable to deal with current tasks and once again underlined the need of an army reform.
In his report on the army reform to Russian Parliament in 2006 the president outlined recruitment and equipment as two chief areas of the reform. President Putin also spoke about recruitment and equipment at the reception celebrating his birthday. Recruitment is also the acutest issue for the society as it encompasses conscription which affects most Russian families. The equipment are is a priority for generals and military industry.
The transfer to a contract-based army has been discussed since the early 1990s. The idea was supported by the Supreme Council and the Russian president back in 1992. Vladimir Putin was personally considering suggestions on the transfer. The move was directly opposed by the military. In 2003, General Staff Gen. Vasily Smirnov said in an article that the country is in for “a planned gradual increase of a number of contract soldiers in military units on constant alert” but “other military ranks of soldiers, sailors, sergeants and first sergeants are supposed to be replaced by military men who do their military service under conscription.” In other words, conscription should stay for good, according to the generals. A program of manning selected units and the border service by contract soldiers was adopted in 2003 as a compromise with the military. Conscription was preserved in Interior Ministry troops although it was cut down dramatically. It was also agreed to aim to decrease the conscription term to one year on January 1, 2008.
Results of such largely limited transfer to a contract-based army are still contentious. Recruiting contract soldiers for military units is still going slowing and abundant in violations of the soldiers’ rights. The advertised remunerations often turn out to be inadequate. In some cases soldiers are forced to sign contracts with the army. When the program started the Russian army had 155,000 contract soldiers and sergeants. Their number will grow to 244,000 by the end of 2007 against the 280,000 which was planned five years ago.
Re-equipment of the army became the second key area of the army reform that the president outlined back in 2006. The president included the 2007-2015 State Armament Program into the country’s strategic development plan. The blueprint, however, took a lot of time to be drafted and adopted. It was going around different agencies back in November 2005 but the president signed in only one year later. As the program was drafted, the silovikis had to restrain their appetites which initially exceeded the state coffers’ capacity by 7 trillion rubles, the Defense Ministry admitted. The final draft allocated 5 trillion rubles for arms purchases for nine years, 4 trillion of which went to the armed forces and the remaining 1 trillion to other national security agencies. President Putin spoke about new armaments for the army including intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile submarines on October 18 in a live call-in TV show.
However, purchases of most armaments under the program are still fraught with difficulties. For example, eight Topol-M missiles produced by 2006 had to be stored at the factory as the military units had no launch pits for them. In another example, three mobile launchers of the same complex turned out to have no missiles as they were sent to rocket forces last spring. The FSB’s Border Service ordered armored troop-carriers at KamAZ’s factory without any program. The Interior Ministry decided to buy infantry arms from Glock, Ceska Zbrojovka, Heckler & Koch and other companies before it emerged this fall that Russia in the 1990s “lost a technology of tank guns”, which jeopardized the much publicized purchases of new T-90 tanks.
A new fully civilian agency, Rosoboronpostavka, was set up to deal with this kind of issues by a presidential decree earlier this year. The agency will start working in January as it is now being manned by 1,100 military men with adequate experience from all national security agencies. As the process is dragging on, there is a great risk that plans on the state arms order and subsequent contracts with the industry for the next year will be wrecked.
However, ongoing issues complement a fundamental circumstance that questions any plans for the army’s equipment. Purchases of armaments and military hardware have not grown dramatically although the state arms order in the past few years exceeded Russian military exports, and higher spending on defense was declared an achievement of the country’s leadership. But we should note that prices on arms are growing faster than consumer prices. The picture changes in real terms, and if we use a deflator of spending on end-up use of the state management, the nominal growth of military spending will turn out to be a slump.
General indicators of nominal army spending growth hide numerous trends. There are good grounds to say that not very successful implementation of the program in partial transfer to a contract-based army is linked to the fact that money allowances offered to potential contract soldiers have not been raised by a single kopeck during the period. At the same time, spending on “research” in this field has been raised 15 percent. Inflation came to 46 percent over these years.
But the problem is not in the cash-stripped state but rather a growing share capital expenses compared to current expenses. This approach was voiced back in 2000 by the Russian Security Council when it was chaired by incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov. The Defense Ministry has been pursuing this policy with references to “the best international experience” for the past six years while Mr. Ivanov was the defense minister. His recent statements as the head of the military and industrial commission have shown that nothing is going to be change here soon.
In real life this approach means, for example, that Russian military pilots fly very little – 12 hours a year in early 2000, 25 hours a years in 2005 and 40 hours a year in 2007 – and military sailors do not spent much time at sea as a ship or submarine spends an average day or two at sea a month. The reason is well-known: there is no fuel, or rather there is a limit on its use. According to the director of the Defense Ministry’s economy and finances service Lyubov Kudelina, the armed forces need 5.6 million metric tons of fuel every year. However, no more than 2.9 million tons is bought annually. The 2008-2010 federal budget guarantees the purchase of 3.2 million tons a year for all national security agencies, which allowed the drafters to claim that this volume will make sure that “pilots are under the norms of annual flying hours”. But this optimism has no grounds as a large part of black oil in this supply is normally spent to heat infrastructure of military camps.
The similar situation is with uniforms. The federal budget has been earmarking to the Defense Ministry 60 to 70 percent of the money needed for uniforms in the past years. In November 2003, Vladimir Putin ordered to ensure the army has all required uniforms, but the situation has not changed. In 2004, the uniform deficit came to 4 billion rubles which equals to the money left unspent in other articles of the national defense section of the budget.
Seven year after the start of the second Chechen war we can say that the counterterrorism operation in North Caucasus, which triggered all army reforms in the 2000s, is finished. As one may judge, the number of militant groups still fighting in Chechnya is scarce. They are not numerous, and FSB and police force eliminate them systematically. Almost all notorious war-lords have been killed. As President Putin promised, conscripts are no longer sent to take part in hostilities.
The president also pushed through a political decision to cut the conscription term to one year. But manning the armed forces with contract soldiers has failed. President Putin said in 2007 that the armed forces were not going to be further decreased apart from the central bureaucratic agencies after some officers and warrant officers retire. In other words, the annual need of new soldiers – both contract and conscripts – will stay at the same 550,000 to 600,000 annual level in the next few years. However, the number of 18-year-olds in Russia will fall from current 1 million to 600,000-750,000 due a drop in birth rates in the 1990s. Considering the current percentage of those fit for the military service, as little as two-thirds of 18-year-olds, or 400,000 to 500,000 people, will be in the army. The risk that the army won’t have enough soldiers is well-grounded. In this critical situation generals may suggest as allegedly the only way-out going back to the two-year conscription but certainly without restoring deferments abolished in 2006. Social and political consequences of this move are impossible to predict.
But this is just one problem in the military field that the country will have to deal with in the years to come. The reform does not come down to recruitment and equipment of the armed forces. Vladimir Putin said in his presidential address in 2006 that back in 2000 “the whole structure of the armed forces was inadequate to the current situation”. But in terms of restricting and drastic modernization of armed forces as an organization nothing significant has been achieved in the past eight years. President Putin has failed to come up with brand new benchmarks for the army reform.
Army Reform: Timeline
2000 The new wording of The Concept of National Security of Russia and The Military Doctrine of Russia are adopted. The State Commission on Army Structuring is abolished.
2002 The 2001-2010 States Armaments Program is drafted. The Foundations of the Russian State Policy in Military Organization through 2010 is adopted. The document orders to draft a federal program of the transfer to a contract-based army to start the transfer from constant alert military units and those on military duty and cut conscription time from two to one year. The president endorses a suggestion to declassify the budget’s defense spending.
2006 The Defense Ministry adopts a plan to create three regional headquarters to replace the existing military districts. Only strategic missiles troops are to be left out of the reform. The 2007-2015 State Armaments Program is passed. Bills are adopted to set conscription period at one year abolishing a number of socially important deferments.
2007 The 2008-2010 budget is adopted classifying spending on defense and national security.
Defense Ministry Knows Better What’s the Main Thing in Russia
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly underscored in his speeches that the army reform is following the right direction.
2000 “The army does its professional and civil debt well. Here comes a question of how officials on different levels respond to the defenders of the Motherland.” (At a session on social welfare of the military)
2001 “We can’t allow a further decline in the quality of strategic and combat training. Otherwise, the army may turn into a military school where they know very well how to fight but can’t.” (At a session at the Defense Ministry)
2002 “One of the priorities is the continuation of the army reform and the transfer to a contract-based army with a shorter conscription term.” (From an address to the Federal Assembly)
2003 “Under the adopted plans, we will keep manning land, airborne and marine forces of constant alert with contract soldiersâ€¦ The conscription term is to fall to one year in 2008.” (From an address to the Federal Assembly)
2004 “A transparent military economy is a must for the reform.” (From an address to the Federal Assembly)
2005 “By the end of 2015, we are to have 70 percent of the funds spent on the army and fleet’s development and 30 percent on current maintenance.” (An opening address to a session of the Russian military headquarters)
2006 “We must have armed forces able to combat in global, regional – and even if necessary – in several local conflicts at a time. (From an address to the Federal Assembly)
2007 “What is the main thing in life? The Defense Ministry knows better. We will be speaking about love, women, children, family and about Russia’s acutest problem – demography. (From an address to the Federal Assembly)
Vitaly Tsimbal and Vasily Zatsepin
The basic conclusions: the movement to a volunteer military is proceeding in slow motion, if at all, and increases in the prices of defense goods are rising rapidly, meaning that the actual rate of increase in Russian military hardware is smaller than the rate of increase in ruble expenditures on the military. I also found the information regarding the niggardly allocations of fuel for training and operations to be quite illuminating. 40 hours of flight time a year is something of a joke. Fighter jocks can’t attain or retain proficiency on such little time in the cockpit. Such information makes recent stories (which I regard as hype, given the procurement track record) of Russia planning to leapfrog the F-22 and F-35 through development of its own stealthy aircraft appear risible; even if (and it’s a huge, huge if) Russia succeeds in developing planes equal to or better than the Raptor and JSF (and I am sure the security services are doing their best to steal the technology as we speak), the differential in pilot quality will make any putative Russian technological advantage moot. As the American Air Force and Navy Air have proved over the years, superior pilot quality and training trumps modest superiority of opposing aircraft. A Russian pilot in a modestly superior plane but with only 40 hours per year in the cockpit will not beat a US fighter jock with multiples of that flying time.
One more remark about the Russian-Indian effort to develop a rival to the F-35 JSF. India has had a helluva time developing its own indigenous military hardware. Its tank and aircraft programs have been disasters. Over-budget, delayed, and plagued by quality problems. So, this announcement of a joint Russian-Indian program seems to be yet more hype.