Russian Military Modernization: Besieging Haze

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 107

On May 10, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting in Gorki (http://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/2193) to discuss the development of the country’s military-industrial complex (OPK). On May 13, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov – the chairman of the Military-industrial Commission (VPK) affiliated with the government – appeared before deputies of the Russian State Duma during government hour with a secret report about the conditions of the OPK. Following this, on May 17, he reported to the president about the completion of the assignment on determining the responsibility of officials in the OKP and the defense ministry (http://news.kremlin.ru/news/11257).

The meeting in Gorki should have been that very “blame storming to determine those responsible from within both the industry and state administration,” promised by Medvedev on March 18 at the expanded collegium of the defense ministry (http://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/1926). Although the participants failed to determine them at once, the following important aspects of the president’s speech should be highlighted. First, he stated that the budget appropriations for the state armament program adopted at the end of last year exceeded those for the previous program by four times. Second, he admitted that we experience a “total haze in many ways.”

It should be emphasized that in the first instance the president’s assessment in some measure differs from that of the government. The latter assessment, judging by the reports of PRIME-TASS, was established as a virtually official one thanks to Sergey Ivanov’s good graces after the VPK session on December 8, 2010. It claimed that allocation of about three times more funds were expected toward the new armament program compared to the preceding version. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not doubting it, also repeated this estimate on March 21 in Votkinsk at the meeting to discuss implementing the state armament program for 2011 – 2020 (http://premier.gov..ru/eng/events/news/14545/), and on April 20 when presenting the government’s report to the State Duma about the outcomes of his work in 2010 (http://transcript.duma.gov.ru/node/3423/?full).

Clearly, the president’s assessment is much closer to the truth when comparing armaments programs in their entirety (for all power-wielding agencies) and considering a declared increase in budget appropriations from 4.9 trillion to 21.5 trillion rubles (from $175 billion to $767 billion at the current exchange rate). It should be noted, however, that the specified increase in the defense ministry armament program was almost five-fold, or 4.9-fold to be more precise, from 4 trillion to 19.5 trillion rubles (from $143 billion to $695 billion).

Why it was necessary for the government to practically engage in disinformation over the course of at least five months is difficult to say. Maybe, it is simply not customary for the Russian government to pay attention to these small things (one cannot measure Russia by using a common arsheen), and/or this is simply an error in arithmetic. But there is a strong probability that the use of such “second freshness” numbers to some extent allowed a successful (from the standpoint of the Russian military-industrial complex) approval of the state armament program by the president. Indeed, from one point of view, an almost three-fold increase in appropriations is not that scary as the five-fold one. Nobody can tell how Putin himself, with his well-known fear of large numbers, would have treated the new armament program had he known about the five rather than the three-fold increase.

In this connection, the “total haze” mentioned by President Medvedev takes on a special meaning. Yet, if one attempts to look for answers about the nature of this haze and its origins, it then seems that all of it is the immediate result of actions of the Russian state authorities, the president and government themselves.

A case illustrating such haze, emerging virtually from scratch, is the claim by Medvedev about the state armament program for 2011—2020. This came to light only at the end of February when the Deputy Minister of Defense Vladimir Popovkin stated to journalists on February 24 that the program had been approved by the president on December 31, 2010. This came as a complete surprise to most journalists because their reliable sources in the defense ministry throughout the whole of January were claiming that this had not happened.

What compelled Russian authorities to withhold evidence of the more than 20 trillion rubles ($717 billion) armaments program’s approval over the course of almost two months is a matter of speculation. Reference to the secret nature of the decree does not seem very convincing because an official practice exists mandating publication of excerpts, narrations, and simple reports about signed classified documents. It may well be that this program was signed in early January, albeit retrospectively, so as not to formally repeat the mistakes with the signing of the two previous programs when inexplicable intermissions lasted 10-12 months before those programs were approved. The statement made by the State Duma’s Defense Committee member Mikhail Nenashev during the plenary session of the Russian parliament on January 14, 2011 indirectly supports this view: “Recently, Russia’s president approved the country’s state armament program through 2020, and a corresponding decree of the Russian government on the implementation of the state defense contracts was signed” (http://transcript.duma.gov.ru/node/3342/?full). This is if one agrees that on no account does the “recently” suggest a “two weeks ago” time frame. Unfortunately, due to the peculiar quality of the Russian parliamentary journalism or because journalists simply did not return from the New Year holidays by that time, which may be one and the same, Nenashev’s information did not cross the doorstep of the convention hall and did not end up in the press, which allowed the obvious haze in such a simple issue to persist for almost two months. Nevertheless, it is absolutely clear that the source of this haze is elsewhere.

The experience with previous armaments programs showed that attempts to improve the quality of their development by procrastinating their approval lead nowhere. Feverishly “finalized” programs are not executed anyway. The reason for this lies in the special nature of the program target planning – a quite hazy process worth emphasizing. Indeed, any court (if, of course, it is not the Basman court) would acquit the developers of the armaments programs for their underperformance,  classifying them as exercises in futility – Russian state armaments programs cannot be executed in principle. This fact somehow continues to escape the understanding of the interested public, possibly because of the unique combination of a decennial depth (or horizon) of planning with its five-year periods – the system adopted for such programs since the Soviet era. The fundamental inoperativeness of this mechanism is much clearer in the case of lesser time frames, for instance in the case of the annually revised two-year programs. Obviously, by the time the first conditional program (planned two years earlier) is completed, it will have been replaced by another version of the program for already one year, which, in turn, is doomed to underperformance by the very same logic.

Unfortunately, both in the mass and professional media one can often hear that a new armament program is adopted due to the failure of the old one, which is absolutely wrong. A new program is adopted because it is time to adopt it. In Russia, this is done once every five years. As the development of the new program starts several years before the end of the first half of the preceding program, developers have no opportunity to take into account the outcomes of its execution. How this affects the quality of Russian armaments programs does not require an explanation, it seems. End results are visible to an unaided eye, despite the traditional cloak of state secrets. This is possibly why Russian authorities found it expedient not to draw attention to the fact of approval of the new state armaments program: indeed, at this juncture this may well damage political ratings.

In terms of its goals and feasibility, the new armament program is also fairly hazy. It is commonly known that its major target values come down to the share of new equipment in the armed forces (30 percent and 70 percent by 2016 and 2020, respectively). The justifications for these indicators, not to say anything about the feasibility of their attainment, are fairly dubious if one considers the observation by the former Deputy Minister of Defense, Vladimir Popovkin, in his interview on March 2 (http://vpk-news.ru/articles/7182) and again in “Izvestiya” on March 11 (http://www.izvestia.ru/armia2/article3152606/) that in Russia “the share of modern means in the inventory of weapons and military equipment for strategic nuclear forces is about 20 percent while it does not exceed 10 percent for general duty forces. To compare: this share is 30 percent to 50 percent in the leading foreign militaries.”

If his data on the conditions in leading foreign militaries is correct, it suggests that Russia will have to reach their levels already by 2016 and essentially surpass them by 2020. Apparently, no simple question came up in the minds of any developers of Russian armaments programs for 2011—2020 and state officials who pushed or approved the program: why, after all, the share of new arms and military equipment in the world’s advanced countries does not exceed 50 percent? And would not Russia rupture itself in its half-absurd race over this out-of-a-hat 70 percent by 2020?

Here, it is instructive to recall that the official defense ministry Krasnaya Zvezda in December 2010 went much further, claiming that the ministry’s efforts “are aimed at the implementation of instructions of the president of the Russian Federation to bring the share of modern armament models to 30 percent by 2015 and to 70 percent to 100 percent by 2020” (http://www.redstar.ru/2010/12/29_12/2_01.html), which “would allow the armed forces to neutralize any military threats to the Russian Federation  and become a real government tool of active policy in the areas of its priority interests.”

Unprecedented in the recent history of Russia, the disciplinary measures in respect to a number of heads of OPK’s largest enterprises and military officials of the defense ministry for thwarting the execution of the 2010 state defense contracts, as reported by Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov to President Medvedev on May 17 are a long-overdue step in the right direction, however entirely insufficient. The hazy system should be made fully transparent.