Streetwise Professor

December 29, 2022

Putin’s Army Goes Back to the Future: Will Vova Admit Error?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 3:49 pm

I noted in my last post on the Ukraine-Russia War that Putin and Shoigu had announced a plan to expand the Russian military to 1.5 million personnel. Strategy Page has the details of their plan, which makes for fascinating reading. Basically, the “new” Russian military will be the “old” Russian military: the “reforms” announced with such fanfare in the past decade are being largely reversed.

The backstory: the Russian army’s performance in Georgia was pretty poor, and first under Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (“the furniture salesman”) and then his successor Shoigu made many changes in an attempt to improve its combat capability and effectiveness. One of the most important was to address the serious problem of dedovshchina –the institutionalized hazing of first year conscripts by second years. This was done by cutting the conscription service term to a year. Another was to try to move away from conscription altogether, and increase reliance on professional, volunteer “kontraktniki” especially in front-line combat units.

Further, to improve flexibility the Russians imitated the American movement towards brigades (rather than divisions) as the basic maneuver element. In doing so, they stood up brigades made up of “battalion tactical groups,” largely self-sufficient (in theory) maneuver units with organic armor and artillery.

In response to the latest underperformance, Russia is reversing major parts of response to the previous underperformance, and essentially reverting to the system that produced the previous underperformance. The draft term is being extended from 12 to 18 months: this is basically the only way to increase headcount, but risks a reemergence of dedovshchina. Moreover, the scope of conscription is being widened, partially reversing the move towards a volunteer-based military.

Brigades and BTGs are out the window. It’s back to old school divisions instead.

In other words, it’s back to the future for the Russian military.

It’s highly unlikely that this reshuffling of the deck chairs will save the Titanic that is the Russian military. After all, this same organization was tried and found wanting in a far less demanding conflict than the one currently being waged in Ukraine.

The Russian military’s problems are far more fundamental than what can be solved by tinkering with the manpower system or redrawing orders of battle. For example, this will not fix the corruption that has wreaked havoc with operations in Ukraine. Nor will it fix the clearcut logistical deficiencies. Or the profound incompetence of the officer corps at all levels. Or the obvious doctrinal failings, most notably in the employment of air power, but also at the tactical level (apropos my earlier posts on the shocking attempts to operate armor without adequate infantry).

New plan or old, the material losses in Ukraine also necessitate a virtually complete recapitalization of Russia’s military. It needs new everything–tanks, APCs, aircraft, artillery, and personal equipment from body armor to boots. But its existing designs have been shown very wanting and the failure to deploy supposedly advanced weapons like the Armata MBT betrays a belief that even the cutting edge of Russian military tech is pretty dull. Replacing old crap with new crap of the same design will just produce the same old–crappy–results.

And that’s assuming that Russia has the wherewithal to recapitalize. It likely does not. Its defense industrial base has already proved to be hollowed out and hamstrung by corruption. And to make things worse, sanctions and the conscription of larger numbers of workers will reduce capacity, especially for relatively high tech weapons that rely on Western technology. The cost will also contribute to the immiseration of the Russian populace. (Not that Putin GAF.)

All in all, these changes are rather futile. The restoration of large parts of the pre-2008 status quo suggests that the old guard is taking its revenge on the reformers, and that Putin is going along.

What Putin is doing now is a repudiation of what Putin did over the last decade plus. One wonders if New Putin will explicitly acknowledge Old Putin’s errors.

Actually, I don’t wonder. I know he won’t. But his deeds speak louder than any words he could utter.

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