By now, there have been a number of articles analyzing Nikolai Makarov’s speech at the General Assembly of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences. At the risk of repetition, let me add my two cents to the discussion.
A fundamental critique of the military’s academic establishment
It seems to me that the most important part of the speech is Makarov’s clear statement that Russian military science had failed to provide the Russian military with methods for adapting to the new forms of warfare being used by the armies of all other major world powers. Between the advent of network-centric warfare in the early 1990s and the announcement of Serdiukov’s miltiary reforms in 2008, there was no effort to introduce modern information management systems into the Russian military. Instead, the various military academies and institutes continued studying the old wars, assuming that in the future, the Russian military would be called upon to fight World War II yet again, and what’s more, do it with World War II era technology and tactics.
In the speech, Makarov took several digs at the head of the Military Academy, 87 year old General Makhmud Gareev. In particular, he arrived late, missing Gareev’s opening speech. In other circumstances, this might be seen as a symptom of his tight schedule, or could even be blamed on Moscow traffic. But given that the bulk of Makarov’s speech was focused on criticizing the Academy’s performance under Gareev’s leadership, there can be no doubt that this was a deliberate snub. Furthermore, Makarov made a snide comment about the Academy continuing to conduct research on topics such as guerrilla warfare during World War II, which he argued had been studied sufficiently and could not contribute to the future development of the Russian military. Makarov went on to note that the problems weren’t limited to the Academy, but were common to most military academic institutes.
The result of this academic failure was seen in the Russian military’s performance in the 2008 war with Georgia. As he has in the past, Makarov argues that this was the proximate cause of the start of radical military reform. In this speech, he notes that the problems made evident by Russian performance in this conflict required drastic measures even though the military’s academic establishment had failed to provide a theoretical basis for the reform. The result was a rather explicit confirmation that the leadership is seeking to transform the Russian military into a modern army that will use highly trained forces and the latest technology to engage potential enemies. Of course, the road from here to there will be long and potentially uneven, but as I’ve argued before, at least the will is there.
To this end, I have to disagree somewhat with Aleksandr Golts’ skepticism on this account. While he is happy with Makarov’s speech, he argues that until this speech, he was not sure that Makarov supported the new approach. It seems to me that Makarov has all along been the chief proponent of radical reform among the military’s senior ranks. This is why Serdiukov appointed him to be essentially his right-hand man, and why he is one of the few senior officers who were not retired during Serdiukov’s house cleaning.
New training for new technology
The second key point made by Makarov in his speech related to the introduction of advanced information technology into the Russian military and into its training regimen. Makarov pointed out that currently, if the staff is prepared, it takes 5-6 hours for a brigade commander to make a plan on how to conduct combat operations and to send out orders to his subordinates. It then takes another 5 hours for the field officers to make their decisions on the basis of these orders and pass them on to their subordinates. Using digital technology and modern information management systems, he argued that it takes Chinese commanders just 20 minutes to do what Russian commanders require 10 hours to accomplish.
In order to train Russian officers to use such methods, the Ministry of Defense purchased two simulator training systems that are able to simultaneously train 3000 soldiers each. These systems will be based in Nizhny Novgorod oblast and will allow the military to train an entire brigade, from commanders all the way to infantry soldiers. The actions of each soldier will be videotaped and analyzed, with the goal of examining the extent to which soldiers are able to take initiative and use creative thinking to carry out their orders and achieve their individual and group goals. In the German system, soldiers are only allowed to train on actual equipment after they have passed the simulator training. Makarov noted that the goal of the Russian army is to have all ground forces brigades pass through such training.
Makarov’s arguments on this topic lead to a couple of thoughts. First of all, the purchase of training systems from Germany indicates yet another potential avenue for cooperation with NATO. While Makarov went out of his way to note that the software and training programs used at this facility will be purely Russian, the shift to a German-designed simulator-based training system will undoubtedly help promote interoperability between Russian and NATO forces, potentially pointing toward greater cooperation at some point in the future.
Second, note the comparison to China. Russian military types may have gotten used to comparisons to advanced NATO countries, but arguing that China is much better at warfighting than Russia is a calculated move designed to show just how backward Russia is in network-centric warfare.
Finally, if the Russian military is going to get serious about shifting to high-tech network centric warfare, it’s going to need to have soldiers and officers that have the know-how to make use of such technology. And that means getting away from conscripting the dregs of society. Which brings us to Makarov’s final key point.
The contract soldiers strike back
Makarov made two important statements about manpower in this speech. First of all, he argued that the recent announcement that the number of officers in the military will be increased from 150,000 to 220,000 does not mean that the army will simply hire back 70,000 of the recently retired officers. That had been the assumption when Serdiukov first made the announcement about the increase in the total number of officers a few weeks ago. Makarov, instead, argued that the new officers will primarily be technical specialists and will not be those who were recently laid off.
Second, he reiterated Serdiukov’s recent announcement that the number of contract soldiers will be increased to 425,000. The type of contract soldiers the military will seek to attract will be fundamentally different than in the past. Rather than trying to press conscripts to sign a contract to stay on for another three years, they will focus on hiring soldiers who are capable of mastering the complex technology with which Makarov hopes to equip the Russian military. To this end, salaries for contract soldiers will be 2-3 times higher than in the past (25,000 rubles/month).
Makarov noted that the General Staff has studied the experience of East European states such as Poland, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic in shifting from conscription to a contract force. Soldiers in these countries receive $1100-1200/month in salary and housing allowance. The Russian military hopes to reach this level of pay in the foreseeable future as well. (Note the use of East European states as a model. This is yet another calculated effort to provoke the more hidebound generals.)
Furthermore, he made it clear that the contract soldiers will form the core of the Russian military, with conscripts making up no more than 10-15% of the total force. This is a very interesting statement that has not gotten the attention it deserves. If there are 425,000 contract soldiers and 220,000 officers, and 15% of the total force is made up of conscripts, some simple arithmetic indicates that the total force will consist of 760,000 soldiers and officers, of whom 115,000 would be conscripts. In other words, Makarov was implicitly indicating that the Russian military is going to a) give up on the million man army and b) drop its target of having 200,000+ conscripts. Both of these developments are inevitable given Russia’s demographic situation for the coming decade, but so far the military leadership has stuck to its manpower goals despite the obvious impossibility of reaching them in the near future.
So what we have is a slightly oblique statement of a fairly radical vision of reform. Makarov is betting on a smaller, more high tech military. Furthermore, his presentation was calculated to put down the military’s old guard, as symbolized by the Military Academy’s 87-year old director. In the coming months and years, we shall see to what extent he is able to implement this vision.