Promoting the New Look for the Russian Armed Forces: the Contribution of Lieutenant-Colonel Aleksandr Kondratyev

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 113

In the summer of 2008 unidentified sources in the Russian defense ministry began to talk about a working document devoted to force structure development to 2030. The terms “new look” and “army of innovation” were both used to describe the general direction of military modernization with attention to the development of advanced technologies. Discussions of the draft preceded the outbreak of the Russian-Georgian War and addressed both technological transformation and the shift from a division-based to brigade-based organization. It focused on the technological progress of foreign militaries, especially the US in terms of redefining warfare in the information age, and warned of a widening gap between Russia’s capabilities and those of advanced states. The effort came to be associated with Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, and the newly appointed Chief of the General Staff, Army-General Nikolai Makarov, who became champions of the “new look.” Events in Georgia precluded the publication of the concept but stimulated the process of reform and transformation. Practical experience made the case for technological innovation and force-structure development more compelling. Both before and after the Georgian war, the defense ministry has used various publications to make a case for the “new look.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Aleksandr Kondratyev has been prolific in his contributions to those discussions. He holds a candidates degree in Military Science and is a member of the Academy of Military Sciences, a public organization devoted to military science and art, created by Army-General (retired) Makhmut Gareev. Kondratyev’s writings fall into three broad but interrelated areas: foreign intelligence developments, network-centric warfare, and a need for the transformation of the Russian military. Alone, or with co-authors, Kondratyev published 22 major articles between October 2007 and March 2010, the bulk of them coming after the announcement of the “new look” in the fall of 2008. In all these publications he has displayed a deep understanding of military developments abroad and in Russia.

Kondratyev began his second major area of focus in June 2008, in conjunction with the concept regarding the “new look.” His first article in this area appeared in Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, under the title “A Gamble on Warfare of the Future.” Kondratyev identified the priority as network-centric warfare. He noted that the emphasis on networks in the military sphere had actually followed their development in the civilian economies of the West by about a decade. He acknowledged the role of Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski and John Garstka in developing the concept in the US and characterized it as a revolution from a concept of platform-based warfare to network-based. Kondratyev understood the core relationship in John Boyd’s OODA Loop (observe, orient, decide, and act), the struggle for the mystery of time in a combat situation. The OODA Loop takes on a new dimension in the information age. The loop could be divided into two parts –one informational (observe and orient) and the second kinetic (decide and act) relating to both maneuver of forces and firepower. If industrial war emphasized the second (kinetic part of the loop) then the information age underscored the importance of the former, understood as C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance). Computational power and networks have made possible a quantum leap in informational flow, which has changed the informational/intellectual part of the loop. It turns intelligence into knowledge to aid the decision-makers across the entire battle space. Post-industrial kinetic means would also reshape future war. Kondratyev saw major possibilities in foreign work on lasers and nano-technologies, making them important areas for Russia to develop. Not all the issues associated with the development and employment of these systems, have been answered. Yet, Kondratyev concluded that many governments had already committed to this technological revolution reshaping military art in the 21st century. Russia could not afford to ignore this “qualitative new military potential” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, June 27, 2008).

Kondratyev considered the “new look” military in an article in December 2008, and addressed the question of whether the Russian army needed an informational revolution. Appearing in the aftermath of the Georgian-Russian War, the article highlighted the increasing complexity of operations as driving the informatization of warfare and the development of network-centric warfare. Combat experience had confirmed this point over the last decade, but Russia had not yet embarked on its own information revolution. The Russian army remained enslaved by the Soviet system of command and control and chained to echelons of command. On the other hand, the network-centric system as developed by the US and applied in Iraq and Afghanistan had pushed C4ISR down to tactical units making possible the flexible employment of all assets. The US networks were not based on the old echelons, but emphasized the brigade as the chief maneuver unit and provided information flow, up from, and down to companies. Russia had fought in a Soviet manner against Georgia, but it would not win in the future using such means. Pointing to progress on network-centric warfare in China, and the American objective of creating a global strike system which can hit any target globally within one hour of its discovery, Kondratyev says that the Russian army has no choice other than embracing the information revolution (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, December 10, 2008).

Kondratyev fully recognizes that one of the key factors in the implementation of the information revolution in the Russian armed forces is the ability of the military-industrial complex to research, develop, and produce the systems at the heart of the revolution. In a highly critical piece in May 2009 he stressed the inability of Russian defense firms to produce in a timely fashion, prototype Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) with similar capabilities to those already available abroad. In late 2008, the defense ministry announced its decision to purchase six, multi-purpose UAV’s. However, the Third Annual Forum and Exhibition of UAV’s revealed that none of the models offered by domestic producers could meet the tactical-technical characteristics demanded by the military. Russian domestic UAV development remained a flight of fantasy. Short of domestic production capability, the defense ministry would need to order models from abroad. At the core of modern UAV’s are micro-processing systems. Russian firms cannot deliver what the defense ministry requires, even as the US pushes the technological envelope further. Kondratyev made the case for Russia’s purchase of Israeli UAV’s, which had been announced in April 2009. However, he pointed to that as only a first step and recommended that Russia follow the Chinese model, which had used foreign purchases as the foundation to build its domestic research, development and production capacity for UAV’s (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 27, 2009).

In November 2009, Kondratyev published a long article in Voyennaya Mysl devoted to developments in network-centric warfare abroad and to the appropriate methodology for studying those developments and applying them in military science. Prior to the article there had been a sharp debate over whether network-centric warfare represented anything new in military art. In the article, Kondratyev made the case for seeing it as part of a real revolution in military affairs (Voyennaya Mysl, No. 9, November 2009).

Kondratyev maintained a steady stream of articles devoted to foreign military developments in this area. For instance, in September 2008, one article co-authored with Colonel M. Shchukin, addressed intelligence support of urban operations by US ground forces and noted the role of UAV’s and network-centric C4ISR in the conduct of such operations from Panama, to Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the absence of UAV’s from Russian operations and the weakness of Russian command and control during the conflict in Georgia, domestic readers might pause over what American specialists pointed to as the challenges that a growing and evolving urban environment would create for such operations around the world. The diversity and the increasing complexity of the urban environment, including its human terrain, will demand even greater investments in C4ISR. American specialists expected terrorists and insurgents to seek to use urban environments to negate US technological advantages and this possibility had to be addressed (Zarubezhnoe Voyennoye Obozreniye, No.9, September 2008). In December 2008 Kondratyev published a popular article under the catchy title “In Order to Replace Private Ryan,” devoted to UAV’s and robotic systems in use and under development by the US military (Krasnaya Zvezda, December 17, 2008). Later in the same month, Kondratyev addressed the common features of the development of network-centric architecture in the US, UK, Australian, Swedish, and Chinese militaries, making the case that this was not a uniquely American development, but one already embraced by other armed forces as part of the revolution in military affairs (Voyennaya Mysl, No. 12, December 2008).

In March 2010, he shifted his focus from US military developments to provide an in-depth analysis of the Chinese approach to network-centric warfare. Using both Chinese and US sources, he addressed how the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has followed, and responded to, the development of network-centric warfare in the US. The PLA understand the importance of information flow for advanced C4ISR and are set upon developing a common picture of the entire battle space which includes five dimensions (land, air, sea [surface and sub-surface], cosmic, and electro-magnetic. The PLA has emphasized the development of what is called “integrated information-electronic warfare.” Kondratyev concludes that the US and China are engaged in a high-tech arms race in information systems and means. In China that has led the PLA to emphasize the human factor in employing such systems and has promoted increased professionalism in its armed forces. What this article poses is the real prospect that Russia will face two technologically sophisticated potential adversaries in Eurasia. If China’s military capabilities could be downplayed when they were based on mass industrial war, they cannot be easily dismissed, especially in the context of a Sino-American high-tech arms race with Russia standing on the side. How the Russian military responds to this challenge will become clearer this summer with the execution of the Vostok-2010 exercise (Zarubezhnoe Voyennoye Obozreniye, No. 3, March 2010).