As the new combat training year in the Russian armed forces began on December 1, senior officials outlined the priorities for the year ahead, while reflecting soberly on annual training results in 2009. The main change envisages concentrating on the individual skills of officers and soldiers, shifting away from brigade-level exercises to focus instead on the tactical-level and consequently reducing the overall total number of exercises. This attempt to replace quantity with quality has been characterized by some commentators as a gamble in the pursuit of higher standards. Lieutenant-General Valeriy Yevnevich, the chief of the main combat training directorate and a career paratrooper was surprisingly candid during a press conference on November 30, noting the weaknesses that were exposed during the past year (Interfax, November 30).
Despite the upheaval caused by the transition to the new brigade-based structure and the movement of combat equipment from one part of the country to another, an intensification of training occurred. During the 2009 training year there were 15 brigade tactical exercises, 161 battalion level and 760 company level as well as 8,000 combat firing exercises, 600 special and 280 command staff exercises. The airborne forces (VDV) carried out 35,000 jumps more than in 2008 and pilot training in the air force increased flying time to 55 hours per person. Three nuclear submarine crews in the Northern Fleet were graded as excellent, while over 140 new regulation documents were developed for the ground forces, VDV, naval infantry and requirements were agreed for establishing courses in sub-units. The main combat training directorate has also rapidly developed a program for training military police and is currently devising an evaluation package to be used in tactical to strategic exercises (Interfax, November 30).
Yevnevich referred to the “lessons learned” from the Georgia war and claimed that Russian forces “can operate autonomously at their assigned manning levels immediately after receiving a combat mission.” A similar claim was recently made by the Chief of the General Staff Army-General Nikolai Makarov, who told the defense ministry collegium on November 17 that permanent readiness forces can now respond to an order to deploy within “one hour.” While such statements are calculated to market the “new look” armed forces and shore up support for the future reform agenda, they also signal an underlying confidence in the improvement of combat capabilities (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 3; Interfax, November 17).
At the start of 2009, the defense ministry maintained 296 training ranges, among these many were used at half capacity and only 36 percent functioned in support of permanent-readiness formations and units. In May 2009 the defense ministry decided to “optimize” the training facilities, and subsequently Yevnevich confirmed that resources can now be directed towards equipping 108 ranges with high-technology technical training and range equipment (www.mil.ru, December 3). The directorate is also abandoning the one year training system in the ground forces and VDV, reducing it to five months, while preserving the one and two year systems in the air force and navy.
He also highlighted new demands being placed on Russian troops: modularity, mobility and the self-sufficiency of actions in formations and sub-units in different theaters of operation. Combat training covered several mission types, including counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. “Unfortunately, as in past years, two-thirds of inspected formations and military units were graded only as ‘satisfactory,’” he admitted. Yevnevich confirmed that despite the intensification of combat training the level of individual skills among servicemen is not high. He said this was most clearly revealed in tactical and weapons proficiency, loading armament and equipment on rail transport and insufficient command and control skills among newly appointed commanders. Some units were graded as “unsatisfactory,” including one of the brigades in the Volga-Urals military district (MD), mainly as a result of the length of time taken to load railcars for transportation to Belarus during the operational-strategic exercise Zapad 2009. “Unsatisfactory” was also awarded to two ships in the Northern Fleet and another brigade in the North Caucasus MD. Yevnevich specified the main weaknesses in the 2009 combat training year as the “poor leadership skills among officers commanding sub-units” and a number of issues linked to making long-range troop redeployments. He also spoke of “the inability of some officers to be fully in command of sub-units and to use initiative in decision-making in extreme conditions” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 3).
Yevnevich detailed the priorities for the future development of combat training:
1. Introducing an automated combat training process management system and similar systems to improve performance monitoring and analysis of the results of combat training measures.
2. Improving field training by using mobile, radio-controlled sets of range equipment providing a multi-variant display and non-linear disposition of targets in creating the target situation, as well as light modular structures in building field training facilities
3. Integrating the provision of military training property into the overall logistical support system in the armed forces.
4. Transferring some of the functions for servicing and maintaining training facilities to outside organizations (outsourcing) on a competitive basis, and supplying industrially manufactured targets to the troops (www.mil.ru, December 3).
Nonetheless, on December 1 the new NCO training center opened at the Ryazan VDV School for preparing junior command personnel, covering 17 military specialist areas in a course lasting 2 years and 10 months. The plan was to admit 2,000 entrants annually, with the first batch this year limited to 1,700. On November 30, Yevnevich said that it would open with only 300 cadets, while it reportedly managed to start with 254 (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 31; Ezhednevny Zhurnal, December 3; Interfax, December 1). The first of these new NCO’s will enter units in 2012, and on the present figures their numbers are woefully inadequate. Yevnevich and other senior defense officials recognize the importance of developing a new generation of commanders at officer and NCO levels with an emphasis on “leadership” and “initiative,” yet recruiting, training and retaining these in sufficient numbers will prove vital to longer term force transformation. This is worrying the defense leadership, and the lack of future junior level commanders might compel another rebooting of the overall size of the Russian armed forces where quality will be a greater factor than quantity.