A bad day for the Russian military

The Russian military suffered two major accidents today — a fire on the Ekaterinburg SSBN and the crash of a Su-24 on landing in Volgograd.

The submarine fire was quite serious and burned for seven hours.  The Ekaterinburg was in dry dock at the time undergoing scheduled repairs. Its nuclear reactor had been shut down and its weapons offloaded for the repair. The sub eventually had to be submerged in order to completely put out the fire, though it appears from initial news reports that the damage was limited to the outer hull as the fire didn’t penetrate to the interior.

There’s conflicting information on injuries — most news outlets are reporting that there were no injuries, but one report indicated that nine people had been taken to the hospital with injuries caused by the fire. The fire appears to have been caused by sparks emitted during a welding operation, which spread to nearby construction debris and then to scaffolding being used in the submarine’s repair. From there, the fire spread to the submarine’s outer hull, damaging the special noise-reducing rubber coating located on the submarine’s exterior between the outer and inner hull. While it seems to be too early to know for sure, early reports indicate that repair of the submarine will take at least six months.

Meanwhile, in Volgograd, a landing Su-24 on a routine training flight crashed and exploded. Both members of the crew were able to eject from the plane and survived the incident. This is the second crash of a Su-24 in the last few months. In October, a Su-24 on its way to be repaired crashed on landing in Amur oblast after overshooting the runway. In that case, the crew members were killed. It was later determined that that crash was caused by a broken chassis that caused the plane to flip over and also ruptured the plane’s fuel tank, causing a fire. According to RIA-Novosti, at least fifteen Su-24 aircraft have crashed in Russia since 2000.

These two accidents may serve as an early test for Dmitry Rogozin, the newly appointed Deputy Premier in charge of the defense industry. If he wants to show from the start that he is serious about shaking things up, he may use them as an excuse to push through a major house-cleaning of the industry, parts of which are known to have lax quality control and safety standards. Or he may continue to make strong statements that receive a great deal of media attention with little to no follow through, as he did in his previous position as Russia’s ambassador to NATO.

UPDATE: Ilya Kramnik emailed me with a correction — the rubber covering on the Ekaterinburg is not between the outer and inner hulls, but on the outside of the outer hull. There is some minor damage to communications between the two hulls.

Also, there’s been official confirmation that seven crew members and two emergency ministry personnel (i.e. firefighters, most likely) had suffered from smoke inhalation.

Medvedev’s year-end assessment and Rogozin’s arrival

Yesterday, President Medvedev gave his annual state of the country address to the Federation Council. He spoke for a fair bit about the military, although there was little new information in what he said. Mostly, he just talked about how everything was getting better all the time and according to the government’s plan. But along the way, little facts crept in that paint a somewhat different picture.

First of all, Medvedev mentions that next year, there will be 220,000 officers and 180,000 contract soldiers (including professional sergeants) serving in the military. That’s the same number of contract soldiers as were mentioned as serving at the beginning of this year. What happened to the plan to recruit 50,000 new contract soldiers every year? Furthermore, a bit of simple arithmetic will show that the supposed 1 million man Russian army is a fiction. The total number of conscripts serving right now is approximately 350,000. That means the total strength of the military is 750,000, not 1 million. Or am I missing something? And given that the fall call-up was only 136,000 (compared to 218,000 last spring), if the spring call-up is about the same, by next summer we’ll be looking at a military where over 30 percent of all posts are actually vacant. Unless an extra 100,000 contract soldiers materialize between now and then because of the coming salary increase. Somehow I don’t see this as very likely.

Medvedev’s second point had to do with progress in the modernization of military equipment and weapons. I covered this in my last post, so I don’t think there any more to say on the problems facing that direction of reform.

Next came two areas where some progress has actually been made — making the military more mobile and compact and increasing salaries and social protection for people serving in the military. While there is still much left to be desired in both areas, at least there is movement in the right direction on both counts. The military’s reorganization over the last couple of years has increased mobility and (at least theoretically) improved combat readiness. Changes in training and exercises are also positive, especially in terms of the scenarios being exercised, though more can be done on that score. Salaries and pensions are increasing substantially, starting in January.

Medvedev concluded his discussion of the military by addressing problems with housing. He mentioned progress in building apartments for those on waiting lists, though not the problems that have surrounded the actual construction of the apartments. Furthermore, and not at all surprisingly, the deadlines have continued to slip, this time to 2014. The complete resolution of the housing problems always seems to be about 3-4 years in the future, ever since Sergei Ivanov’s claim in 2006 that everyone on the waiting list will have an apartment by 2010. Of course the mass forced retirements significantly added to the queue, but nevertheless, and especially given the problems with some of the construction, I would wager that 2016 is a more realistic estimate.

Finally, in addition to Medvedev’s statement, there were also some important personnel changes announced today. In conjunction with the game of musical chairs being carried out in the aftermath of the post-election protests that began earlier this month, Sergei Ivanov was appointed to be Chief of Staff in the Presidential Administration. This freed up his previous position — deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry and military procurement, a position that has now been given to Dmitry Rogozin, who was previously Russia’s ambassador to NATO.

This appointment serves two purposes. First of all, it will (if only temporarily) quell the rumors that Rogozin was about to replace Defense Minister Serdiukov. Second, it will give Rogozin an opportunity to show his managerial qualities (if he has any). Ivanov was about as bad at the military procurement position as he was at being defense minister, so it may be that Rogozin’s penchant for strong language comes in useful in pushing for defense industrial reform. Though it’s far more likely that Rogozin will continue his tendency to make big controversial statements that generate a lot of publicity, without actually doing much of anything.



The problems facing Russia’s defense industry

A couple of weeks ago, Ilya Kramnik had Viktor Murakhovsky on his show on the radio station Govorit Moskva. Murakhovsky and Kramnik are both relatively well known experts on the Russian military and the discussion turned out to be highly informative. The whole 45 minute conversation is available here in audio form, while a Russian language transcript of the first 10 minutes can be found here.

There’s a lot of interesting material here, mostly on the state of Russian defense industry and specifically on the State Armaments Program. The key point for me comes near the end, though. Murakhovsky spells out the four top priorities of SAP 2020 as follows: 1) Strategic Rocket Forces, 2) Space Forces, 3) Air Defense and 4) Command and Control. Murakhovsky argues that these are derived directly from the military doctrine, which lists NATO and its enlargement as the most significant threat facing Russia. However, since these threats have nothing to do with the actual conflicts that Russia might be engaged in in the coming years, the army is in essence spending money on armaments that it will never use (new missiles, air defense, advanced fighter planes, etc).

The Russian military’s real needs relate to the types of war in which the Russian military HAS fought in the last 20 years — local and regional wars. For this, Russia needs to procure new tanks, armored vehicles, machine guns, better personal armor, modern artillery, PGMs, etc. But the modernization of the ground forces is last on the list of priorities for the SAP. No new tanks are to be procured until 2015 or 2016. Modern ammunition will only be procured starting in 2014. Until then, 1980s era tanks will get by with 1980s era ammunition.  This is not to say that the ground forces are not getting new tanks or other armaments. They are. But what they’re getting is new equipment based on old designs, which are not truly modern weapons by any means.

A second point made by Murakhovsky is that when MOD officials talk about goals for procuring modernized weaponry over the next 10 years, they never define their terms. There’s no denominator for the percentages. In other words, 30% modern weaponry could be achieved just by scrapping a lot of old equipment, without actually producing all that much new equipment. More seriously, there’s no list of what types of armaments are considered modern. Some officials describe systems that are based on 20-50 year old designs (Msta, Akatsiia, Gvozdika) as modern. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the MOD is implicitly defining modern equipment as any equipment that was procured in last few years, rather than equipment actually based on new designs.

Third, Murakhovsky addresses the likelihood that the SAP will actually be carried out. The problems revolve around simple arithmetic. If the total amount to be spent on rearmament over the next 10 years is about 20 trillion rubles, it is fairly simple to figure out that the MOD should be spending approximately 2 trillion rubles a year. However, the total amount spent in 2011 was 721 billion. In 2012, procurement spending may reach 1.1 trillion. And of this, only 60-65 percent goes to actual procurement of new equipment, while the rest goes to R&D and modernization of existing equipment. These are obviously quite significant sums, but the difference between the plan and actual spending is clear to see. If this persists, then the current SAP is likely to fail in much the same way as the last three SAPs failed.

In addition to the discussion of the armaments program, Kramnik and Murakhovsky also discussed the state of the Russian defense industry. A lot of the discussion focused on the successes and failures of specific companies, but several general points were made as well.

First of all, the companies that are currently in the best shape are those that were able to adjust to the post-Cold War conditions by focusing on exports. They developed modern marketing and information departments, were able to produce new designs, and were able to retain a large part of their workforce. Some examples include Russian Helicopters, Irkut, and Sukhoi, as well as several lesser known companies. On the other hand, even these companies are dependent on sub-contractors for their supply chains, and these subcontractors are often in much worse shape.

Many companies are continuing to lose skilled workers because the civilian sector can pay higher salaries. This is in addition to the disappearance of an entire age cohort (ages 30-50) who didn’t go into the field because of its lack of financing from the late eighties until the mid 2000s.

The modernization of the industry has not really begun, because the three-year federal program dedicated to this task has yet to be adopted. It is difficult to understand how the State Armaments Program can be fulfilled without the modernization of the defense industry. Until this program is adopted, it will be difficult to recruit workers with the necessary qualifications, or to modernize the equipment of many defense sector companies.

One topic that was not addressed was the extent to which the defense industry’s problems are caused by government’s refusal to allow some defense sector companies to fail. The creation of vertical sectoral holding companies has been described by some analysts as an effort to make the better-performing units support other units that are effectively bankrupt. This may be a reasonable solution if the goal is to minimize social disruption to the companies’ remaining employees, but it inevitably drags down the more successful units and makes the production of needed technology more expensive. I would have been curious to hear Murakhovsky’s take on this problem.

Of course, no one can address all the problems that face Russian defense procurement in one 45 minute radio show. The topics that were addressed make clear the depth of the problems facing Russia’s defense industry and reinforce the sense that concrete procurement targets should continue to be taken with a grain of salt.


Problems of Post-Communism, November 2011 Table of Contents

Volume 58 Number 6 / November-December 2011 of Problems of Post-Communism is now available on the mesharpe.metapress.com web site athttp://mesharpe.metapress.com.

This issue contains:

The Media Market and Media Ownership in Post-Communist Ukraine: Impact on Media Independence and Pluralism  p. 3
Natalya Ryabinska
Business as Usual?: Gazprom’s Pricing Policy Toward the Commonwealth of Independent States  p. 21
Karel Svoboda
Developing a Parliamentary Seniority System: A Case Study of Slovenia  p. 36
Uroš Pinterič
Social and Political Transnationalism Among Central Asian Migrants and Return Migrants: A Case Study of Kyrgyzstan  p. 48
Vanessa Ruget, Burul Usmanalieva

New pay structure approved

On December 5, the Russian government approved the new pay structure for the Russian military. As before, the pay structure consists of two main parts: position pay and rank pay, with a 2:1 ratio between these two parts. In addition, there are various bonuses, such as danger pay, hardship pay, additional pay for working with classified materials, etc. I won’t cover the bonuses here, as the government decree did not address these topics.

First, rank pay

Military rank

Monthly pay




Army general or admiral (4 stars)


Brigadier Colonel general or admiral (3 stars)


Lt. general, Vice admiral (2 stars)


Major general, Rear admiral (1 star)


Colonel, Captain 1st rank


Lt. Colonel, Captain 2nd rank


Major, Captain 3rd rank


Captain, Captain lieutenant


Senior lieutenant




Junior lieutenant


Chief warrant officer or midshipman


Warrant officer or midshipman


Master sergeant or chief ship petty officer


Senior sergeant or chief petty officer


Sergeant or petty officer 1st class


Junior sergeant or petty officer 2nd class


Private 1st class (efreitor) or senior seaman


Private or seaman


And position pay:


Monthly pay (rubles)

First Deputy Minister of Defense


Deputy Minister of Defense


Commander of a service (ground forces, navy, air force)


Head of a chief directorate, commander of a branch of the armed forces (rocket forces, VDV, etc)


Deputy head of a chief directorate, commander of a combined army


Head of a directorate


Deputy head of directorate


Department head


Deputy department head


Head of a group in a department


Senior officer in a directorate


Officer in a directorate


Corps commander, directorate head at unified strategic command HQ


Division commander


Department head at unified strategic command HQ


Brigade commander, department head in combined army HQ


Regiment commander


Senior officer at unified strategic command HQ


Senior officer at combined army command HQ


Officer at unified strategic command HQ


Officer at combined army command HQ


Battalion commander


Company commander


Platoon leader


Squad leader


Contract soldier initial pay




What does this translate into? The starting salary for a contract soldier is $6000 a year, compared to an average salary in Russia of $9000 a year in 2010. That’s not bad for a starting salary. Anyone with a position of squad leader or above is pretty much guaranteed to be making more than the average Russian salary, and this is before bonuses. A company commander (typically a captain or major) will be making 50 percent more than the average salary. Plus, of course, housing is provided (though the quality of the housing may be quite poor in some locations).

So it seems to me that the Russian government has now followed through on its stated intent of making service in the Russian military financially attractive. Time will tell how this will impact on the recruitment and retention of contract soldiers and junior officers. Also, we will have to see whether the budget can handle the additional expense. But it certainly seems to be another step in the right direction for the reformers.

An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 3: joint projects and future prospects)

And here’s the conclusion to the three part series on Russian-Indian defense cooperation, written last summer. New posts return next week.

Joint Projects

In addition to purchases, Indian and Russian defense industries are working on a range of joint projects, some of which have already resulted in very successful products. As India increasingly shifts from importing to domestic manufacture of military hardware, joint production is likely to replace sales as the main driver of Russian-Indian defense cooperation.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is considered by some experts to be the fastest and most accurate cruise missile in the world. It has a range of 290km, can be used against ships or land targets, and can be launched from ships or land. Air and submarine launched versions are currently under development, with a design complete for Russia’s Amur diesel submarine. The missile is currently in service on Indian frigates and destroyers, as well as in the Indian army on mobile launchers. The air version will be installed on Indian aircraft by 2012. A faster and more accurate BrahMos II missile will be ready by 2014 and will be installed on the Kolkata class destroyers. It will be capable of speeds up to Mach 6. BrahMos version III, designed to be highly maneuverable and capable of steep dives, is currently under development. The BrahMos is not currently used by the Russian military, though version II may be equipped on the next generation Russian destroyers (project 21956) that are currently being designed. It is available for export, with Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia involved in negotiations for a potential purchase.

A project to jointly develop a multi-role transport aircraft is in initial stages, with costs being split evenly among Rosoboronexport, UAC, and HAL. A joint venture was registered in India in December 2010. Developers believe that a prototype aircraft may be built in 6-8 years. It will be modeled on the Il-214, with a range of 2500km and a payload of up to 20 tons. The goal is produce around 200 aircraft, with 30 percent available for export.

India’s HAL is cooperating with Sukhoi on the development of a new fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which is slated to join the Russian and Indian air forces in the second half of this decade. This plane will be highly “stealthy” and highly maneuverable. Its top speed will exceed 2000 km per hour, with a maximum range of up to 5000 km. Its ability to take off and land on short runways make it a potential candidate for the development of a carrier-based naval version. A contract to produce a joint design for a two-seat version of the plane was signed in December 2010. The contract calls for Russia to procure 200 single-seat and 50 twin-seat aircraft, while India purchases 50 single-seat and 200 twin-seaters. HAL is to design the computer and navigation systems and most of the cockpit displays. It will also modify Sukhoi’s single-seat prototype into the twin-seat version. Currently, three single-seat prototypes are undergoing flight tests in Russia and may join the Russian air force as early as 2013. The Indian prototype is expected to be ready by 2015. The total value of the joint project is estimated at over $35 billion.

Future Prospects

Military cooperation between Russia and India is obviously very strong. The partnership has moved beyond arms sales and licensing of Russian designs for production in India to joint ventures that promise to link the two countries’ defense industries into close cooperation for the foreseeable future. At the same time, some recent problems with the relationship may be a harbinger of a long-term decline in Russian arms sales to India. The delays and cost overruns that have plagued the conversion of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier into the INS Vikramaditya have been the most significant source for Indian complaints in recent years. The problems seem to have been worked out and Indian navy officials have recently stated that they have no complaints at this point.

At the same time, there have been problems with the timely provision of spare parts and resulting difficulties in repairing and servicing Russian-manufactured equipment by the Indian military. For example, half of India’s upgraded MiG-21s, which were modernized between 1996 and 2006, are already in disrepair and the backlog at Russian repair facilities has led the Indian air force to decide to cannibalize some of its existing aircraft rather than having all of them fixed. As a result, the modernized MiG-21s are to be retired by 2018, rather than the originally planned 2025.

The reform of the Russian military has also caused some problems, including the recent and sudden cancellation of the Indra-2011 military exercises that included both naval and ground forces components. It appears that these exercises were canceled because of organizational chaos in the Russian military. In addition, the Russian air force has so far refused to conduct joint exercises with India, possibly because of fears that Indian pilots flying Russian-built aircraft would outperform their Russian counterparts.

India’s desire to maintain a diverse set of suppliers has recently had some negative effects on Russian suppliers. Most significantly, the MiG-35 was not included among the finalists for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft competition. Since this loss leaves MiG with no guaranteed orders for the MiG-35, it is now unclear whether this jet will be built at all. Similarly, India recently decided to purchase six C-130 transport aircraft from the United States, rather than Russian Il-76 planes.

Finally, whereas in the initial stages of its military expansion, India was focused on procuring armaments that were cheap and easy to use, its foreign purchases are now largely limited to the most advanced technology. Simpler weapons and platforms, such as smaller ships and aircraft, are now largely built in India either to domestic designs or under license from foreign designers. As a result, Indian demand for foreign military hardware is likely to shrink over time. If Russia is to remain competitive on this shrinking market, it will have to provide its most advanced equipment and to expand joint design and production. The fact that it has been willing to do so with the Su-30MKI and T-50 fighter jets is a sign that Russia greatly values its partnership with the Indian military. India also values the partnership, since Russia is the only country currently willing to jointly develop military hardware with India. So despite the above-mentioned bumps in the road, it seems likely that Russian-Indian defense cooperation is likely to become stronger over the next decade.