Streetwise Professor

September 13, 2010

More Time for Sergeants

Filed under: Military,Russia — The Professor @ 6:26 pm

The grotesquely over-officered Russian military has suspended admission of new entrants into its military academies.  These entities were churning out far too many junior officers than could be absorbed into the military: 10,000 2009 and 2010 graduates presently have no assignment.   (To put that in perspective, that is a larger number than the entire graduating classes of USNA, USMA, and USAFA over a three year period.)  Current students (and some serving officers) are being given the options of becoming non-coms, contract soldiers . . . or civilians.  Many of the academies will be transformed to train sergeants instead of officers.

This is all part of an intense culling of the officer ranks.  The military plans to cut its officer complement by 60 percent.  Already, the number of colonels has been cut by approximately 85 percent.

This is a rather remarkable transformation.  If it goes well, the Russian army will leave the 19th century (or early-20th) and enter the 21st.

But there is no guarantee that it will go well.  There is resistance within the military.  But more importantly, the creation of a reliable group of non-coms from scratch is a daunting task.  In particular, military academies oriented to training officers are ill-suited to training non-coms.  In western armies, notably the American, British, German, and French, where there is a longstanding tradition of strong non-commissioned officers providing the backbone of military units, non-coms train non-coms.  Moreover, non-com candidates are selected from soldiers or sailors or Marines with several years experience who have demonstrated potential.  The curriculum and staff of existing officer training schools are ill-suited to duplicate the tried and true training methods of the western armies.

I am skeptical that this process will go well or smoothly.  But it seems there is a plan, and that crucial elements of the plan–downsizing the officer corps, reorganizing the entire force into brigades assigned to streamlined territorial-based commands, and creating a reliable corps of non-coms–are under way.  The most problematic element is finding enough soldiers to serve in this more modern military: the plans for replacing conscripts with contract soldiers have been largely shelved, and the problems in finding and training conscripts remain severe.

Medvedev talks a lot about modernization.  In economics and politics that’s all there is: talk.  In the military sphere, however, there are tangible steps towards modernization.  This is something that bears watching going forward.

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