The Valdai Club asked me a couple of weeks ago to comment on the achievements of Russian military reform to date. Here’s what I said:
One of the main premises of Russia’s Military Reform involved eliminating the mass mobilization army and replacing it with one focused on permanent readiness, and getting rid of the units that just had officers and equipment but didn’t have any soldiers available for mass mobilization in times of war.
Another aspect involved the concerns about the coming demographic decline in the number of 18 year-old men available for the draft due to the decline in the birth rate after 1991. That led to a decision to increase the number of contract soldiers relative to the number of conscripts. That was the manpower side.
In terms of organization the main focus was on increasing efficiency, eliminating duplicate structures, generally making the organization more efficient, and decreasing the number of command layers, so that army units could react more quickly when an order was issued in Moscow.
Also, there was a recognition that the Russian military needed to shift from being prepared to fight NATO and Europe towards dealing with more local and regional conflicts.
The assessment of the results of the Reform depends on structural changes or personnel issues. The mostly completed Reform of the organizational structure has been very successful. It’s reformed. It’s been fulfilled. It seems to work well enough, and it is certainly more efficient than the old system.
On the manpower side, the jury is still out. In January of this year, the salaries of contract soldiers increased quite a bit, and so the question is whether that will be sufficient to attract enough people to serve. Everything that had been done up to that point had not really worked.
As for the modernization of equipment, that is just starting, and it will also take the longest, just because it takes a long time to build such amounts of equipment. So it’s really too early to tell.
It’s virtually impossible to achieve all the goals outlined in the State Armament Program, but I think it is possible to come close. A lot will depend on the ability of the Defense Ministry to reform the industry by, for example, streamlining a lot of these big holding companies. Some of them work very well, but there are enterprises that are inefficient, or don’t really do much and are almost bankrupt. A lot of those need to be shut down, but that would be a big change in how the defense industry operates. Whether they are able to do that is still an open question, as is the extent to which the military and the government can control this process.
And corruption is still one of the biggest stumbling blocks. There’s still so much money that gets wasted in various ways.