Reconfiguring Supply and Logistics in the Russian Military

The reconfiguration of the Russian military’s supply and logistics system was the third major innovation tested during the recent Vostok-2010 exercise. (The first two–improvements in force projection and changes in the command structure–were discussed in my previous post.) The essence of this reform, initially announced only a short time before the exercise, was the merger of the Rear Services of the Armed Forces and the Armaments Department of the General Staff. As previously organized, the Rear Services was comprised of departments for medicine, transportation, fuel, food, clothing, leisure,  personnel, etc. In other words, it included all logistical support components except armament. As a result, there were frequent situations where one department that needed to transport equipment to the troops had to coordinate with a different department that would actually provide the transport. General Makarov noted that not infrequently, this resulted in situations where needed equipment could not be delivered to the armed forces in a timely manner.

The recent reform created the position of Deputy Minister of Defense for Logistical Support, filled by General Dmitry Bulgakov, the most recent commander of Rear Services. He is in charge of all logistical support, including the provision of weapons and equipment. The Railroad Troops, which were previously a separate branch of the armed forces, will be reorganized and put under General Bulgakov’s command as well. The Armaments Department remains under the leadership of General Vladimir Popovkin, but will now be responsible solely for carrying out the State Armaments Program and interacting with the defense industrial complex.

The idea of this reform is to create two branches in the direction of the military, one involved in military planning per se while the second focuses on infrastructure and logistics. The idea is that soldiers in permanent readiness units will spend all of their time working on their actual military duties, without having to spend time on logistical issues such as cooking and doing laundry for the unit. This second branch will consist of 10 logistics brigades — one for each army.

Several innovations for this second branch were tested in a special exercise that immediately preceded Vostok-2010. One of the more interesting changes was the introduction of outsourcing for such banal but vital activities as feeding the troops and doing their laundry. This is the model used by many NATO militaries. According to reports from the exercise, this initial experiment with outsourcing was a success, with higher quality and a greater variety of food than in the old system.

This system is already in place in 99 units, serving 141,000 personnel. The goal is to have a total of 180,000 personnel shifted to this model by September 1, with another 160,000 people added by the end of the year. The cost is estimated at 6.5 billion rubles per year. Permanent readiness units are being shifted first, in order to maximize their soldiers’ training time, though the plan is to have all units shifted to outsourcing for food by 2015, except for those based in remote locations.

There are still questions about how this model would work during deployments, as the system currently being introduced is designed primarily for use at military bases. The civilian contractors being hired are not currently capable of traveling with the military units. To serve soldiers’ needs while on deployment, the Russian army has introduced a mobile unit for food and cleaning service. This is essentially a set of ten trucks carrying 20-ton containers that can be set up in 2.5 hours to provide cooking, laundry, and shower facilities, as well as bathrooms and a mess hall. So far, only one such unit has been procured, though there is a plan to purchase 48 units by the end of this year, at a cost of 200 million rubles per unit. Given the shift to outsourcing for cooking and cleaning, it’s somewhat unclear who will staff these units once the shift is complete…