Russian MOD activity plan for 2013-2020 published

The Russian Ministry of Defense recently published its activity plan for the rest of the decade. Everyone who can read Russian should go look at the handy summary in table form. There’s a lot of information there. I’ll try to pick out some of the highlights here.

The first section covers personnel. Here we find out concrete plans for the number of contract soldiers per year. The numbers are as follows: 2013: 241,000; 2014: 295,000; 2015: 350,000; 2016: 400,000; 2017 and thereafter: 425,000. I assume each figure is for the end of the year specified, though this is not clearly indicated. Contract soldiers are broken out into several categories. Submariners and paratroopers are to be fully staffed this year; Sergeants, combat units, special purpose brigades, and naval infantry in 2014; reconnaissance and artillery specialists in the Airborne Troops in 2015;  various types of technical personnel in 2016, and positions tied to using complex and expensive weapons and equipment in 2017. Perhaps equally interesting are the goals for 2013 for those areas not fully staffed. Here we have sergeants and positions tied to using complex and expensive weapons and equipment at 75%, combat units and special purpose brigades at 60%, naval infantry at 40%, technical positions at 30%, and  reconnaissance and artillery specialists in the Airborne Troops at 25%. Furthermore, there’s yet another official admission that many military billets remain unfilled, with an announced target for filling all billets of 82% by the end of 2013 and 95-100% by the end of 2014.

The second section deal with modernization of armaments. Here it’s probably easiest to just reproduce the table, with the labels translated.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
submarines 47% 47% 51% 53% 59% 63% 67% 71%
surface ships 41% 42% 44% 47% 54% 59% 65% 71%
airplanes 23% 30% 37% 45% 55% 59% 67% 71%
helicopters 39% 54% 63% 71% 76% 79% 81% 85%
ground forces missile systems 27% 64%* 64% 82% 100% 100% 100% 100%
artillery 51% 52% 53% 55% 59% 67% 73% 79%
armored vehicles 20% 25% 37% 44% 56% 67% 75% 82%
multipurpose automobiles 40% 44% 48% 52% 56% 60% 65% 72%
Overall modernization 19% 26% 30% 41% 48% 59% 64% 70-      100%

* This is almost certainly a typo and should read 46%, given the overall progression of 18-19% improvement per year in ground forces missile systems.

The plan also has some information that sheds light on the extent to which existing weapons and equipment are in working order. Targets for 2013 by branch of the military are 65% for ground forces, 55% for the air force, and 56% for the navy. These can be taken as the highest bound of equipment in working order at the present time. The goal for 2020 is to reach 80-85% for each branch. There are target dates for the start of serial production of various major platforms. New tanks and armored vehicles are to enter production by the end of 2015, new aircraft (unclear which type, but probably the T-50), air defense systems and corvettes by 2016 and the new destroyer by 2018.

There’s also a whole section on new infrastructure, that indicates plans to improve residential facilities at 100 military bases per year in 2014-2016 and 50 per year thereafter. There are more specific plans listed, including for construction of cafeterias, parks, and sports halls. The plan calls for the construction of three new ranges in 2013-14 and the modernization of over 200 existing ranges by 2017.

The plan includes a very interesting section on improvements in control systems, with plans for the establishment of a national defense control center by December 2014, combat control center at branch headquarters in 2015, at military district headquarters in 2016, and at the unit (i.e. brigade or division) level in 2017.

Military education plans for 2013 include 70 students at the General Staff academy, 790 at the service academies, and 15,680 at the various military institutes and schools. Five new presidential cadet schools are to be established by 2016.

Military preparedness is also expected to increase, with the number of at-sea days per year for naval crews set to more than double — from 60 in 2013 to 125 in 2019 (after reaching 100 in 2016). Annual flight hours for air force pilots are also set to increase, though at a slower rate, from 100 in 2013 to 125 in 2020 for tactical aviation, from 110 in 2013 to 150 in 2018 for military transport aviation, from 70 in 2013 to 130 in 2020 in army aviation, and from 70 in 2013 to 120 in 2020 for naval aviation. Tank drivers are to go from 250km per year in 2013 to 500 in 2017, while armored vehicle drivers drive 350km  this year and 1000 by 2017. The number of annual parachute jumps for airborne  troops are to double, from 6 in 2013 to 12 in 2020. And modern uniforms are to be provided to all soldiers by 2016.

There’s also a section that details progress to be made on solving the housing question. The final 33,400 apartments for retired officers on the waiting list since before January 2012 are to be handed out this year. Another 19,800 apartments will be provided by the end of 2014 to those who joined the waiting list after that date. Starting in 2014, the plan is to provide one time payments to retiring officers in lieu of actual apartments. As for providing members of the active military with housing, progress is expected to be slower, with 100% fulfillment of the plan not reached until 2018.

I don’t think all of these targets in various fields will be met on time. But more importantly, the MOD has produced a public document that creates a set of metrics and expectations for progress over the next seven years. This is something that experts and Russian society can use to see how well the MOD is doing for years to come. It should serve this purpose much better than previous vague statements along the lines of “70 percent modern armaments by 2020” or “we will solve the housing problem by year X.” At the same time, there will inevitably be pressure on MOD officials to fudge the numbers down the road to make sure the activity plan appears to be on track, regardless of the actual circumstances. Only time will tell whether this tendency will overwhelm the potential value of honest record keeping and public accounting for keeping the military reform process on track.

Putin spells out national security strategy

As part of his campaign for the presidency, Vladimir Putin has been publishing a series of articles on various themes. Yesterday, he turned to national security and specifically the Russian military. Since the full text is available in English, I won’t spend much time describing what is in the article, but will just comment on some themes that caught my attention.

I have to say, of all the articles Putin has published as part of his electoral program, this one is one of the best. It’s not a terribly high standard, given that at least one of them was found to have been plagiarized from other sources, but still.

The first part of the article provides one of the best justifications I have seen for the military reform that the government undertook starting back in the fall of 2008. Had this statement been made this clearly and forcefully back then, I think Putin, Serdiukov and company might have had an easier time convincing the expert community that they knew what they were doing. (Back then, the reform was rolled out without a clear plan or explanation, which generated a lot of criticism.) I’ve been a fan of the main ideas behind the reform effort from the start, so I’m glad to see this all spelled out so clearly by Putin (or, more likely, his ghostwriter). Here are the key points justifying the reform:

But previous experience proved that the potential for developing the military system inherited from the Soviet Union had become depleted….

It was not possible to build up the military simply by adding personnel and equipment partly because it didn’t solve the inefficiency problem and partly because the country lacked both the human and financial resources. Most importantly, that system did not meet contemporary and long-term requirements. We could eventually have lost our entire military potential, and we could have lost our armed forces as an efficient mechanism.

There was only one way out. We had to build a new army. We had to establish a modern and mobile army which could maintain permanent combat readiness.

This is followed by an equally clear discussion of accomplishments to date. These primarily have to do with changes in organizational structure, including the transition from brigades to divisions and from military districts to unified strategic commands.


The section on future tasks focuses primarily on procurement. The list of priorities is worth quoting:

Our number one priorities are nuclear forces, aerospace defence, military communications, intelligence and control, electronic warfare, drones, unmanned missile systems, modern transport aviation, individual combat protection gear, precision weapons and defence capabilities against such weapons.

In terms of specific platforms and weapons, the list for the next decade reads as follows:

Over 400 modern land and sea-based inter-continental ballistic missiles, 8 strategic ballistic missile submarines, about 20 multi-purpose submarines, over 50 surface warships, around 100 military spacecraft, over 600 modern aircraft including fifth generation fighter jets, more than 1,000 helicopters, 28 regimental kits of S-400 air defence systems, 38 battalion kits of Vityaz missile systems, 10 brigade kits of Iskander-M missile systems, over 2,300 modern tanks, about 2,000 self-propelled artillery systems and vehicles, and more than 17,000 military vehicles.

Parts of this are more believable than others. Given that the military still isn’t sure what tank it wants to build, the 2,300 modern tanks number is particularly unlikely. And I have doubts about 600 modern aircraft and 50 surface warships (unless we count patrol boats and the like). Targets for helicopters, submarines, air defense systems and missiles are more likely to be achieved.

The social dimension

The biggest problems with the reform effort to date have been with the social dimension of reform. This dimension is given an extensive amount of attention in the article. The increase in salaries that came into effect in January is expected to solve the recruitment problem. We shall see.

Putin also made a new proposal to create the Russian equivalent of a GI Bill for soldiers to help with admission to and payment for a university education. This could prove attractive to less wealthy families who otherwise would have little hope of paying the bribes that are often necessary to gain admission to a Russian university.

At the same time, it’s not encouraging that the fiction of a million man army is being maintained. According to the article, there are  220,000 officers and 186,000 contract soldiers and sergeants currently serving in the military. The total number of conscripts serving at present is 350,000. That means the total force is around 750,000, rather than one million. To put it another way, 25 percent of all billets in the Russian military are currently vacant, although this is not being acknowledged. That’s a big problem. The only way to solve it is to step up recruiting of contract soldiers. Again, we shall see if the higher salaries help with that. If it works, then the plan to have 700,000 professional soldiers in place might be achievable, though almost certainly not by the target date of 2017.

Then there’s the housing issue. Putin again makes promises that the issue will be solved, this time by 2014. That’s a year later than previous statements. The deadlines for providing apartments to all active and retired officers who are owed one have been pushed back year after year, so I wouldn’t hold my breath on this.

Dealing with defense industry

The last third of the article deals with new demands that the military and government are placing on Russian defense industry. There’s not much there that hasn’t already been said by various officials elsewhere over the last year. After starting with the usual statements on the importance of domestic defense industry and their modernization, Putin once again makes clear that the military is not going to just accept what they’re being sold. As he puts it, “It is unacceptable for the army to become a market for morale-sapping obsolescent weapons, technologies and research and development, especially if it is being paid for out of the public purse.”

Modernization is to come in a number of ways:

  • The acquisition of foreign technologies with the aim of improving domestic production in the future.
  • Providing greater financial predictability for defense industry by placing state defense orders for a 3-5 (or even 7) year period.
  • Increasing transparency and competition among defense industry companies.
  • Privatizing state-run defense industrial companies.
  • Creating synergies between the defense and civilian economic sectors in order to spur innovation.

The parts about privatization and competition are interesting, as they seem to contradict efforts made in the previous Putin presidency to nationalize many of these same companies through the creation of quasi-state owned sectoral holding companies.  Is this an implicit admission that the government made a mistake then?

All in all, some reasonable grand plans for Russian defense industry, but few specifics on how they might be carried out. And that can probably double as an assessment of the article as a whole. The vision is clearly there. But the question still remains: can the vision be implemented successfully given Russian realities? Or will corruption, the intransigence of the old guard, and just plain old inertia stymie this vision? The jury is still out on that question.

Medvedev’s military priorities for 2010

In his recent annual address,  President Medvedev focused on top priorities for the military in the coming year. These priorities can be subdivided into three categories: personnel, education, and procurement.

In the personnel realm, he lauded the government’s success at increasing funding for the construction of housing for officers and soldiers and called for the backlog in this realm to be eliminated over the next three years. He also called for the establishment of a new salary scale for members of the military, asking for a law to this effect to be passed by 2012. Earlier, the defense ministry had stated that salaries would be increased earlier than this, so this time frame may represent the recognition that funds for an earlier increase are not available.

In the area of education, Medvedev noted the establishment of three centers for officer education, which will focus not just on professional training, but also on the inculcation of patriotism. He also mentioned the establishment of seven presidential cadet schools, one for each federal district, and the importance of establishing a corps of professional sergeants.

But perhaps the greatest emphasis was placed on the procurement of new weapons systems and platforms in the context of a fundamental reform of the military’s procurement system. He called for the heads of defense industry facilities to increase the quality of production while decreasing costs. How this might be done was left as an exercise for the managers and for military analysts.

The range of new weapons and platforms that will enter service in 2009 was described with great specificity, however. They included 5 Iskander ballistic missile systems, 300 ballistic missiles, 300 tanks and armored vehicles, 30 helicopters, 28 combat aircraft, 3 nuclear submarines, one corvette, and 11 satellites.

Michael Balabanov provides further details, noting that the tanks and armored vehicles can be subdivided into 63 T-90A tanks, 120 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, and a range of infantry fighting vehicles: 60 BMP-3M,  40 BTR-MD Rakushka, and 40 BMD-4. The helicopters would include 6 Ansat light multi-purpose helicopters, 12 Mi-28H attack helicopters, 3 Ka-52 “Alligator” attack helicopters, and 9-10 Mi-8 transport helicopters. The missiles will be more or less evenly split between 16 Sineva nuclear missiles for Delta-IV SSBNs and Topol-M and RS-24 ICBMs. Given the continuing test failures of the Bulava SLBM, there are currently no plans to purchase any of these for the active military.

The 28 combat aircraft would consist primarily of MIG-29SMT fighter planes, which were built for the Algerian air force but rejected in 2008 due to quality concerns. I guess they’re considered good enough for Russian needs, even if they have too many defects for Algeria. There are also plans to procure 4 SU-34 bombers, 2 Su-27SM fighter planes and 2 Su-25UBM close air support aircraft. Note that there seem to be no plans to purchase more of the newest types of aircraft, such as the Su-34, Su-35 or MIG-35. Or more specifically, there are such plans, but it seems that none will be completed next year.

The focus here is primarily on purchasing tried and true systems for the ground forces and the air force. The Navy will get just one Steregushchii class corvette and three nuclear submarines that represent merely the completion of ships that have been under construction for years. This means that completion of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate will be delayed yet again and that the completion of further Borei-class SSBNs may be suspended pending the outcome of coming tests of the Bulava missile.

But even the army and air force will get few or none brand new systems — the new equipment will still be based on late Soviet designs that have been around in one way or another for the last 10-15 years. In some cases, these designs have been somewhat modernized, but the military will have to continue to wait, and perhaps for a long time, for the new generation of weapons and equipment.