“New Look” Russian Military: 2009 Training Year and Beyond

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 218

On November 17 the Collegium of the Ministry of Defense met to review progress on the new look for the Russian Armed Forces. To no one’s surprise, Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov gave the new look a passing grade for the 2009 training year. However, his comments about the upcoming training year suggested greater attention to the individual training of soldiers and officers. What that means in practice will decide whether the “new look” is about image or substance. Serdyukov drew attention to President Dmitry Medvedev’s positive evaluation of the “Osen 2009” exercises, the collective name for the recently completed “Zapad 2009, and “Ladoga 2009,” and said that training objectives had been achieved and represented a positive step towards the “new look.”

One of the most important steps towards forming the new look military was the creation of a new organizational basis for strategic-operational command and control. In other words, the shift away from a four-echelon command structure of military district-army-division-<wbr></wbr>regiment and the establishment of the brigade as the basic tactical unit, almost 100 percent complete with the exception of a few technical details. The Chief of the General Staff, Army-General Nikolai Makarov, emphasized the substantial improvement in deployment times achieved by the brigade reorganization, which had reduced the period of preparation to combat status form a matter of hours to one hour. This change was achieved by bringing the brigades up to full strength and eliminating the need for the unit to wait for the arrival of additional personnel. Moreover, the weapons, equipment and ammunition for each unit are not kept in remote storage areas, but have been placed with the units themselves. The emphasis is upon immediate combat power and not mobilization potential. Looking to the coming training year, Serdyukov mentioned “Vostok-2010” as the main strategic-operational exercise and emphasized that the focus of the training year will be upon raising the combat capability of the individual soldier and officer within their tactical units (Krasnaya Zvezda, November 18).

Dmitry Litovkin, the defense correspondent for Izvestiya, pointed out that since the announcement of the new look it has been clear that the transformation would involve a series of reforms over a period of time with target dates identified for their completion. The reform envisions a reduction in manpower from 1.2 million in 2009 to 1 million in 2012. The cut in manpower involves more fundamental changes in Russian military culture. Doctors, lawyers, and journalists working for the MoD will lose their shoulder tabs and become civil servants. The overall size of the officer corps is to be cut by 200,000 with the objective of increasing the ratio of enlisted personnel to officers. The sub-text for the push to form an armed force that equals world standards is that much of the current officer corps is professionally incompetent. Litovkin quotes one unidentified source from the General Staff as saying that officers who had no subordinates to command for 15 years simply do not know how to go about accomplishing a mission: they will have to be replaced. The newly created brigades are expected to be combat ready within an hour, and must be capable of conducting 45 days combat before the arrival of significant mobilization reserves (Izvestiya, November 18).

This a very profound change for an army that was based upon mass mobilization of reserves, where the military districts not only raised initial armies, but became the basis for follow-on echelons. It reflects the abandonment of not just the Soviet system, but also the tsarist system of universal conscription. To succeed, this reform must replace quantity with quality, and first of all, the quality of personnel, who are at home in an “informatized” battlefield. Litovkin understands this and sees Makarov as committed to that process. While there is much talk of new weapons, Makarov stresses that “new” misses the point. What the armed forces require are modern weapons, the equal of those in the hands of potential enemies (Izvestiya, November 18).

Within the military and beyond there are those who recognize what is required. They speak of a new and revolutionary potential associated with the “new look.” Lieutenant-Colonel Aleksandr E. Kondratev, an outspoken supporter of network-centric warfare, appreciates what is required to be modern and effective with regard to technology and manpower. In a recent article he reviewed a new book by the prominent defense intellectual, Andrei Kokoshin. Kokoshin serves in the State Duma as a delegate from United Russia and is Director of the Institute for International Security Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In his latest book, Innovatsionnye vooruzhennye sily i revoliutsiia v voennom dele (Innovation Armed Forces and the Revolution in Military Affairs [RMA]), Kokoshin takes to task the Russian thinkers who have persisted in seeing the RMA in strictly technological terms and not understanding the centrality of what he calls setetsentrizm (net-centrism), a term taken from commercial computing, but applicable to military affairs as the most advanced form of information management.

In commenting on Kokoshin, Kondratev noted the use of Lanchester models for optimizing combat potential, but points to a different path in the twenty first century when information systems will make possible not only vertical and horizontal integration, but also change the tactics of the prospective formations in open combat formation, optimize methods of intelligence activities, facilitate the harmonization and coordination of fire destruction, and bring about a leveling of distinction among command and control instances. Such changes amount to a rejection of Soviet doctrinal principles based on weapons platforms to network-centric informatization. Synergy is the watchword because it allows information management to optimize effects beyond individual platforms: “Here, indeed, the synergistic effect (2+2 =5) appears, when the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The annex to military synergy is a synergy of action in a network of armed struggle, which by the combined effect exceeds the sum of effects from the use of those same means separately” (Voenno Promyshlennyi Kuryer, No. 45, November 18).

As Kokoshin and Kondratev both assert, that this is the real challenge before the transformation to the “new look” for it requires not just modern weapons, but an entirely different mindset among military personnel.