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.


Network-centric Warfare?

In military forces of any country, major “showpiece” exercises are designed more to show off the capabilities of the nation’s armed forces than to truly test these capabilities in any focused way. Articles about such exercises, whether they take place in Russia, in the West, or in Mozambique,  follow a common pattern. First, a month or two before the exercise, journalists publish descriptions of the coming exercise based on officially-announced plans. Then, during the exercise, there are slightly breathless accounts of the wonders of modern weaponry and tactics. If an important political dignitary (such as the president or the defense minister) visits to observe the exercise, this is covered in minute detail. Afterward, there are some official pronouncements about how all of the exercise’s goals have been fulfilled and everyone happily goes home.

Coverage of the recent spate of major Russian military exercises (Kavkaz-2009, Zapad-2009, Ladoga-2009) followed this model perfectly right up until the end. But over the last month, a number of critical articles have appeared, and not just in the independent press. This culminated in open discussion in the press of discontent among top generals with the state of military procurement and Russia’s defense industry in general that resulted in a widely publicized meeting between President Medvedev, top government officials, and defense industry chiefs.

One of the main topics that has emerged in criticism of the exercises is the gap between public statements and reality on the topic of advances in precision weapons and command and control (C2) systems. General Makarov, the chief of the general staff, was widely quoted as having stated that the main goal of the exercise was to “examine the transition to a new control system for the armed forces, based first of all on the transition to a system of network-centric warfare.” Given the list of key weaknesses of the Russian military that was published recently, this focus makes sense.

(This list includes weak intelligence and communications capabilities, low level of “automatization” in control of troops and weapons, lack of an adequate system for providing information to troops in the field, and low levels of defensibility for some types of platforms and weapons.)

One of the main goals of the Ladoga-2009 exercise, conducted in the northwestern part of Russia in September, was to test a new command system. The effectiveness of this system apparently left much to be desired. The Russian military still lacks modern electronic communications equipment. One report noted that a new personal communications system (R-169P-2) that was demonstrated at Ladoga was just coming out of testing and was not used by the actual troops participating in the exercise. (Moskovskii Komsomolets, 10/9/2009)

In many cases, soldiers did not have any kind of radios, much less advanced electronic ones. Currently, the Russian military provides one radio for each section (i.e. 10-12 soldiers). General Meichik, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Communications, recently promised that each Russian soldier would have his own personal communications device by 2011. In the meantime, many Russian soldiers continue to use mobile phones for transmitting information. According to General Meichik, these phones have special encryption equipment, but it is far more likely that they are actually just the soldiers’ personal mobile phones.

One indicator of just how far behind Western militaries the Russian military is on the communications front is that General Meichik announced that the military is about to begin developing its own internet. This announcement took place more or less on the 40th anniversary of the first message sent on Arpanet, the US military communication system that led to the development of the internet.

There is a similar lag in electronic targeting systems. The newly modernized Su-24M and Tu-22M3 bombers, which participated in the Zapad-2009 exercise, are equipped with a “specialized computer subsystem, automated targeting system, and satellite navigation.” However, this system merely doubles the targeting accuracy of regular unguided bombs. No provision for guided munitions was made in this modernization. Furthermore, this modernization has taken a very long time, as it was first introduced in 2001.

Even more interesting is the description provided by Olga Bozh’eva of an encounter at Ladoga-2009 between General Boldyrev, the head of Russia’s surface troops, and the head engineer of Izhmash — Unpiloted Systems. Looking over the engineer’s shoulder as the latter received information from a UAV on a computer, Boldyrev asked for the coordinates of a group of people visible on the screen. The response: “The program does not allow for the analysis of information while [the UAV] is in flight. Once it lands…” In other words, the latest in Russian UAV technology still does not allow for the instant transmission of  targeting information to commanders on the ground — a tactic whose effectiveness was demonstrated by US forces in Afghanistan back in 2001. (Moskovskii Komsomolets, 10/9/2009)

Despite the stated focus on network-centric warfare, UAVs were not integrated into the exercise in either an intelligence or targeting capacity. In other words, they were just there for show. The newest mobile C2 systems, such as the KShM-149MA, which provides real-time information for commanders and allows for tactical control of troops and weaponry, also seem to have not been used in either Zapad-2009 or Ladoga-2009, though one was shown to President Medvedev in Kaliningrad. At the Kavkaz-2009 exercises last summer, brigade level control systems supposedly broke down.

The fact that all of these problems were described openly in the Russian press, and that President Medvedev has responded by publicly chastising the Russian defense industry as a whole, is a sign that the issues that have prevented the revival of that industry (despite an increase in orders in recent years) have finally come to the forefront. It is possible that Medvedev’s criticism is a signal and the next year will be devoted to reforming the Russian defense industry, much like the past year has been devoted to reforming the structure of the military. This may turn out to be a harder task, as private and semi-private companies will undoubtedly prove less willing to follow orders and even a revitalized industry will find it difficult to find the expertise to build new high-tech weapons as quickly as it may be desired by top leaders.

Upgrading the Air Force

Friday’s NVO ran an interesting story on the procurement problems facing the Russian Air Force. The picture painted by the report contrasts starkly with the glowing promises made by Alexander Zelin, the Commander in Chief of the Russian Air Force, in a series of interviews back in August. The key points can be summarized as follows:

As a result of attrition of old aircraft combined with a lack of new acquisitions, the Russian Air Force currently has fewer than 500 combat airplanes that are capable of flight. From 1994 to 2003, the Russian Air Force did not receive any new combat airplanes. From 2004 to 2009, the Russia Air Force received only three new combat airplanes — one Tu-160 strategic bomber and two Su-34 strike aircraft.

This contrasts with General Zelin’s claims that by 2020 fully 70 percent of Russia’s aircraft will be new or modernized. New types of aircraft have faced numerous production delays. Sukhoi’s PAK FA, the next generation of  Russian strike aircraft, is a good example. Design on this aircraft began in 2002, with a goal of beginning test flights of a prototype aircraft in 2007. In 2007, it was announced that there would be a delay, but three prototype aircraft would be constructed and flying by 2009. As I write this in late October 2009, official estimates indicate that one prototype may be ready for flight in 2010, though  continuing problems with engine design may lead to further postponements.

The Su-34 strike aircraft has faced similar problems. The introduction of this new aircraft, originally designed in the 1980s,  has been mired in delays. The first test flight of the prototype took place back in 1990, but due to lack of financing and construction problems the first unit did not actually enter service until August 2007. Since then, mass production of the aircraft has been continually pushed back and few have actually entered active service. Given this history of construction delays, the goal of having 70 Su-34s in the air force by 2015 and 200 by 2020 appears more and more unrealistic.

Most of the numerous modernization programs for existing aircraft that have been mentioned by air force officials over the years have either never happened or have been ineffective in improving the aircrafts’ capabilities. For example, the recent modernization of  SU-24, SU-25, and SU-27 aircraft was mostly focused on new electronics, while retaining old armaments developed largely in the 1970s and not really suitable for combat against more advanced opponents. Furthermore, new electronics may not help if the aircraft in which they are placed have a limited lifespan due to age and suffering from limited maintenance and exposure to the elements during the 1990s.

All of these problems with modernization and procurement are the result of a broken and decaying military industrial complex. In the 1990s, the physical plant of most Russian defense industry enterprises decayed as the result of a lack of financing. At the same time, most of the best-qualified specialists retired, were laid off, or left for other fields with better economic prospects. Because of the lack of qualified personnel, defense enterprises have had difficulty keeping to production timelines and the end products have often had significant defects. This has been a particular problem with advanced weapons and weapon platforms, such as aircraft and combat ships. (The most well-publicized example is the Bulava SLBM, which has repeatedly failed test launches due to substandard components.)

The end result is that, much like the Russian Navy, the Russian Air Force is facing the likelihood of further decay in its capabilities, to the extent that its commander in chief is raising the possibility that in the near future it will not be able to fulfill the missions delegated to it by the General Staff.

The New Model Army: Still Equipped with Soviet-era Weapons

A recent article in NVO again makes the point that Russia’s military reform effort has so far failed to come to terms with the Russian military’s lack of modern weapons and equipment. Back in March, Defense Minister Serdyukov noted that only 10 percent of the Russian military’s weaponry can be considered modern, which actually represents a signifcant decline from 2003.  The “new” weapons and equipment that are currently entering service in tiny quantities are based on Soviet designs and do not meet the demands of modern warfare.

Major weapons systems, such as the Iskander ballistic missile and the 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzer, are equipped with inferior targeting and communications systems. The T-90A tank lacks an on-board computer control system. Some also believe that its armament is inadequate for modern warfare. Finally, Russian infantry combat vehicles and armored personnel carriers are inadequately armored. Attacks on these vehicles with modern artillery was the main cause of casualties among soldiers entering South Osetia during last year’s war with Georgia.

While military R&D was restarted during the Putin presidency, the results of these efforts are still some years away from entering production, much less entering service in the Russian military. New tanks, artillery, aircraft, ships are all projected to be ready to enter service in 3-5 years, and even then in very small quantities. Mass production is still as much as ten years away.

As Roger McDermott recently pointed out, the Russian military has made a decision to focus on reforming personnel before it gets to equipment. As I have argued previously, this was not just a smart decision, but the only feasible one if reform is to have any chance of succeeding. But this does not mean that modernization of equipment can be put off indefinitely.

If the Russian government wants to have an effective military in 5-10 years, it needs to prepare now by beginning the process of rebuilding its defense industrial complex. If it waits another few years, whatever expertise that exists in the field will disappear with the retirement of the remaining holdover Soviet-era engineers and managers. Recent steps to license the production of French naval assault ships may be an indicator that this process is now beginning. We shall have to wait to see if similar steps are taken for equipment for other services.

In the meantime, it remains clear that even if the transformation of military structure and personnel currently under way is completely successful, because of its obsolete equipment the Russian military will still be some way from becoming a fully effective warfighting force. It will certainly provide no real competition to NATO militaries.

The Future of Russian Tanks

In the last month, the Russian media has started to cover the equipment modernization aspect of military reform, after virtually ignoring this topic for the previous nine months. I have already addressed the modernization of the Russian Navy. In this post, I want to briefly touch on the significance of the announced changes in the Russian tank fleet.

In July, the Ministry of Defense announced that they will reduce the total number of tanks in active service in the military from 23,000 to 2,000. (And down from an astonishing 65,000 at the end of the Cold War.)  These will be based in two separate tank brigades and more than 20 tank battalions that will be incorporated into other brigades.  The two separate brigades will be located in Siberia and Moscow.

The implication is that Russia has decided that it will no longer seek to be prepared to fight large scale land wars of the kind that formed the core of Soviet military planning during the Cold War. Instead, Russian military planners are planning to develop a rapid response army that is well prepared to fight in smaller regional conflicts, while depending on its nuclear arms to deter any potential aggression from major adversaries.

This means that planners are finally taking to heart some of the lessons that became apparent as early as 1994, at the start of the first Chechen war. This was when a column of unprotected tanks entering Grozny was destroyed by individual Chechen fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades.  While the weakness of  unprotected tank columns facing enemies using guerrilla tactics were recognized by Russian military observers at that point, the military did virtually nothing about it, neither in terms of changing tactics or modernizing equipment, for another 15 years. This continuing weakness became apparent during the war with Georgia, when the 58th army’s tank columns were heavily damaged by Georgian artillery. Some Russian analysts have in fact argued that Georgia’s Soviet-made T-72 tanks, equipped with thermal imaging equipment and superior West European navigation and communications systems, were superior to Russia’s T-72s and were only defeated in battle because the Georgian military could not provide their armored units with close air support. In other words, even the best tanks are largely useless without helicopters backing them up.

Nevertheless, Russia’s tanks do need to be upgraded to improve their communications, targeting, and manueverability. The reduction in numbers makes this modernization possible. The newest T-90s, of which there are around 300 in service, are equipped with thermal imaging sights and superior armor when compared to the T-72, its immediate predecessor. There are also efforts underway to modernize the T-72 to increase its speed and manueverability, though designs aimed at making the T-72 comparable in armor and firepower to the T-90 have not been accept by the Russian military. All of these measures can be seen as interim steps as the Russian military prepares to begin procuring a new generation battle tank in the next five years.

All in all, the announcement that the number of Russian tanks will be reduced by a factor of ten and those remaining modernized is another piece of evidence that Russian military leaders have finally prevailed on planners in the general staff to abandon their focus (left over from the Cold War) on planning to fight major land wars. The Russian military is being redesigned to fight small wars against opponents who may employ guerrilla tactics. Until now, this assessment was primarily based on evidence related to the restructuring of the force as a whole. It is now being confirmed by the choices military planners are making about equipment.

Russian Military Reform and Russia’s Regional Dominance

In recent months, Roger McDermott has written some of the most incisive analyses of the Russian military. His analysis of the significance of the reorganization of the Russian General Staff was one of the first indicators that the military reform started by the Defense Ministry last October was something more than the usual empty talk we had come to expect. Subsequent analyses detailed the problems bedeviling Russia’s air force, the potential impact of last winter’s financial crisis on prospects for reform implementation, and the manpower crisis facing the military as a consequence of the reduction in the length of service for conscripts. In recent articles, McDermott has with great precision described the weakness of the Russian military, arguing that this weakness was one of the main factors that made Russia’s leaders finally realize that reform was absolutely necessary.

Given these analyses, I found McDermott’s most recent analysis somewhat surprising. Once again, he is right on in criticizing most analysts’ penchant for underestimating the objectives and progress of the reform program or dismissing it entirely. As he quite accurately states, “this is no public-relations campaign…. The Russian military is changing fast; few are able to perceive the sheer breathtaking scale of these changes…” And finally, the goal of the reform “is to produce mobile, permanent-readiness formations capable of intervention within a readily short period,” which will “enhance [Russia’s] capability to project power within its near abroad.”

At the same time, McDermott spells out the challenges facing the reformed Russian military in the near future, including an “ailing defense industry” that is having immense trouble producing the new weapons the Russian military will need to replace its aged Soviet relics, difficulties in establishing a reformed military education system, and the length of time needed to create the “culture of promoting individual initiative embodied in the NCO concept.” I could add some other difficulties, including most critically the manpower crisis inherent in a plunging population of young adults, especially when combined with inadequate pay for the professional soldiers slated to replace the existing conscript force.

Given the excellent analysis throughout the piece and in McDermott’s previous work, I find his conclusions rather puzzling. The key paragraph in full states:

While any comment on the policy implications is premature, it is likely that the Russian conventional armed forces will emerge in the next few years as an unrivaled dominant force within the former Soviet space; capable of sudden, decisive intervention, with minimal damage to the country’s international credibility.

I’m not sure how this is possible, given all the problems he has spelled out above. The current transformation will certainly create a military that is more effective than the current one. But it will still lack modern communications equipment and other basic items such as night vision equipment both for tanks and for individual soldiers. It will take at least a decade to restore the air force to a fully functioning state. Without effective air cover, future interventions in the region may have some of the same problems that plagued the 58th army in the early stages of last summer’s war in Georgia. And as McDermott notes, it will take time for personnel to get used to the new command structure.

Now it may be that the Russian military will emerge as “an unrivaled dominant force” in its region, but if so, this will mostly be because of the weakness of its neighbors, not because of its own strength. What’s more, this is a position it already held before any reforms began, as shown by the ease with which it defeated the Georgian military last year. But other neighboring countries with relatively weak military forces may prove much harder to invade successfully, if the country is large enough or its forces choose to fight a guerrilla campaign. This is why Russia will not find it easy to invade countries such as Ukraine or Kazakhstan, even if its leaders may want to do so. As for Central Asia, China may have something to say about Russia becoming an unrivaled dominant force in that region.

I read the doctrine behind the Russian military reform as focused not on increasing Russia’s ability to invade other countries, but on make it more capable of rushing ready forces to potential areas of instability in the North Caucasus or elsewhere along its long land border.  Some may see this view as naive, especially in light of the new Russian law on military missions abroad. However, that law seems to me to be more of a prevenative warning to Georgia and Ukraine, rather than a signal that new military actions aimed at neighboring states are forthcoming.

I am also confused by McDermott’s statement that the military reform “will not contribute to improving interoperability with NATO forces for future peace support operations. ” It seems to me that an increase in mobility and readiness for the bulk of Russia’s military forces can only help interoperability. Furthermore, Russian forces haven’t done so badly working together with NATO and EU forces in recent years in the former Yugoslavia and in naval anti-piracy operations off the Somalian coast. The lack of political will (on both sides, to some extent) to engage in further cooperative operations of this type seems to be much more of a block to cooperation than a lack of military interoperability.

Finally, there is the question of international credibility. Even if McDermott is right in that Russia will soon be able to militarily dominate its neighbors, there is no way that it will be able to do so without grave repercussions to its standing in the international community. The international reaction to Russia’s response to last year’s Georgian attack on South Ossetia was quick and severe. One might say that there were few lasting consequences for Russia, but things might be very different if attacks on neighbors were a) unprovoked and/or b) came to be seen as part of pattern of belligerent action on Russia’s part.

Russia’s New Model Army: Radical Reform in the Russian Military

Last August, the Russian army undertook its first offensive action on foreign soil since the end of the Afghanistan war in 1989. After the initial outburst of patriotic fervor faded, the Russian military did not have long to bask in the glory of its first definitive military victory in many years. In early October, the civilian leadership of the Ministry of Defense announced a radical restructuring of the armed forces, one that, if enacted in full measure, would completely change the military’s structure and mission capabilities for the foreseeable future. More than nine months have passed since the initial outlines of this reform were announced. This memo will describe the reform’s main goals, the military’s reaction to it, and the extent to which it has been implemented. It concludes with a discussion of the likely trajectory of the reform process.

A Radical Break

On October 14, 2008, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced that, over the next four years, the Russian military would undergo a radical restructuring. The main elements of the reform were to include the following:

  • A cut in the total number of military personnel from 1,130,000 to one million, including a cut in the total number of officers from 355,000 to just 150,000. The General Staff would be particularly affected, with 13,500 of its 22,000 personnel positions slated for elimination;
  • Remaining officers and contract soldiers will see a significant pay increase over the next four years. The hope is that this will help retain officers, aid in recruiting contract soldiers, and reduce incentives for corruption;
  • Henceforth, all military units will be considered permanent readiness units and be fully staffed with both officers and enlisted soldiers. The previous practice of maintaining numerous units staffed only by officers will be eliminated. Prior to the reform, only 17 percent of all units were fully staffed.
  • The existing 140,000 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) will be replaced by 85,000 professional sergeants trained over the next three years;
  • The four-tiered command structure will be replaced with a three-tiered structure, with the brigade serving as the basic unit;
  • The military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) will be cut in size and subordinated directly to the civilian defense minister (it was previously under the control of the chief of the general staff);
  • Numerous overlapping military institutes and medical facilities will be consolidated.

This reform was made possible, as Pavel Baev has described, by the removal of many top military commanders at General Staff headquarters, including Chief of the General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky in the summer and early fall of 2008. These commanders were replaced by generals sympathetic to Serdyukov’s reform agenda or beholden directly to the defense minister for their careers.

These reforms amount to the complete destruction of Russia’s mass-mobilization military, a legacy of the Soviet army. Such a change was completely anathema to the previous generation of Russian generals, who continued to believe that the Russian military had to be configured to protect the country from a massive invasion from either Europe or China. This perception explains the military leaders’ reluctance, for two decades, to dismantle key aspects of the old Soviet army and, most especially, its vast caches of outdated and unneeded weapons overseen by an equally vast number of officers with very little battlefield training and no combat experience. These officers and weapons are the remains of an army designed to fight NATO on the European plains and have served no functional purpose since the end of the Cold War.

However, this reality contradicts the culture and interests of Russia’s military elite, who were educated to regard the Soviet army as a world-class military that could match any adversary, including (and especially) the United States. For them, the transformation of the Russian military to a smaller and more mobile force, equipped to fight local and regional conflicts, primarily against insurgents and other irregular forces, is damaging to morale, prestige, and future funding. It was thus inevitable that they would resist these reform efforts at all costs.

Past reform efforts have foundered because they were opposed by the military’s top leadership. As president, Vladimir Putin understood that military reform could not succeed unless the power of the generals was taken away first. He did this gradually, putting civilians in charge of the Defense Ministry and then breaking the power of the General Staff. Once Baluyevsky and his immediate subordinates were replaced with Serdyukov’s supporters, the plan could proceed. But the intensity of resistance to reform among top generals was such that, even then, Serdyukov felt he could not announce the ultimate goal of the reform: the elimination of the mass mobilization army left over from the Soviet Union.

The Counterattack

Immediately after the announcement of the reform program and in the months that followed, traditionalist figures in the military and analytic community did their best to derail the reform. They were helped in this effort by the Defense Ministry’s poor handling of the rollout of the reform package. Rather than putting out a complete reform package, various aspects of the reform were announced piecemeal over a period of two months. These announcements usually did not take the form of official documents; reform measures were simply mentioned in speeches and interviews by top civilian and military officials such as Serdyukov and the new chief of the general staff, Nikolai Makarov. Many of the details mentioned in the various speeches contradicted each other, and the extent and sources of financing for the reform were left unclear.

As a result, reform opponents did not have to focus on the substance of the reform and were initially content to criticize the various inconsistencies of and secrecy surrounding the program. The majority of the substantive criticisms focused on fears that the government would not be able to provide officers forced to retire with the apartments that were legally guaranteed to them. This became a focus of reporting on the reform efforts, especially in the aftermath of the serious downturn in the Russian economy after the collapse of oil and stock prices in the late fall of 2008. Analysts repeatedly stated that given the country’s budget deficit, it seemed virtually impossible for the government to build or buy the tens of thousands of apartments necessary to fulfill the obligations to retiring officers.

At the same time, some critics argued that, if implemented, the planned reforms would destroy the Russian army as a functioning military force. They argued that only a mass mobilization army would be able to withstand an attack by China in the Russian Far East. In their analyses and interviews, these experts calculated the necessary size of the Russian military based on either the area of the Russian Federation or the length of its border. Given Russia’s size, this method allowed them to justify a numerically large army, though they never questioned why Russia would need to defend its land border with Kazakhstan or what role the military would play in protecting its vast interior land area.

Staying the Course

Despite this criticism, the Defense Ministry’s civilian leadership has pressed ahead with their reform plans. Furthermore, both President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have expressed their support for Serdyukov and his reform plans on several occasions in the last six months. In the first round of personnel cuts, several hundred generals and other senior officers were dismissed in the first months of 2009. The transition to a brigade-based structure commenced on schedule, with 46 of the 90 new brigades formed by the end of June. The rest are expected to be formed by December 1. This means that, as far as retaining the mass mobilization army is concerned, the point of no return has already been reached.

Serdyukov has continued to systematically remove opponents of the reform from their positions, including the heads of the medical service, the military housing agency, and the Navy’s chief of staff. The removal in April of Valentin Korabelnikov, the head of military intelligence, was particularly critical, as the GRU was traditionally independent of the Defense Ministry and was seen as the last bastion of opposition to Serdyukov’s reform program.

At the same time, Russia’s financial troubles have had an impact on the implementation of reforms. In April, the relocation of the naval headquarters from Moscow to St. Petersburg was postponed. The deadline for reducing the number of officers was extended from 2012 to 2016, giving the government more time to arrange for apartments and to finance pensions for thousands of retirees. The two-year program for professional sergeants, which had been planned to start in February, was delayed until September, likely because there was not enough time to recruit the requisite personnel or develop a training program in time for a February start. This delay will inevitably result in more time passing before the transition from NCOs to professional sergeants can be completed.

These delays, however, appear to be mere bumps in the road for the military reform juggernaut. After almost two decades of false starts and unfulfilled promises, the current iteration of military reforms seems destined to fundamentally change the Russian military.

The Future of the “New Model Army”

Given recent developments, it appears that, sometime in the next 3 to 5 years, Russia will have a more or less functional modern professional army, one that is able to fight effectively in the kinds of conflict in which Russia has actually engaged over the last twenty years. The new structure will allow the military to be more effective in fighting small wars on difficult terrain against adversaries that are likely to combine traditional military tactics with irregular warfare. This is the main, if unstated, goal of the reform. It is thus not surprising that the reforms have left the paratroopers largely untouched; they are a force that is already effective at the tasks for which the new military will be designed.

Largely missing from the discussion among either proponents or detractors of the reform effort has been the question of how to make this “new model army” more effective. While the elimination of the mass mobilization model and the move to professionalization are excellent first steps, there has been very little discussion of the extent to which the new Russian military will still be equipped with old Soviet weapons. The various rearmament programs promulgated by the government in the last ten years have all shared one feature: none has come close to even partial implementation.

Once the initial conflicts surrounding the personnel reforms are resolved, the Russian military will have to deal with the fact that the country’s military industrial complex is no longer capable of producing modern weaponry in the quantities necessary to reequip the Russian military in a timely manner. In the short term, it will have to shed its insistence on buying only domestic military hardware and make more purchases from abroad, such as the unmanned drone aircraft it recently purchased from Israel. In the long term, it will have to reform and modernize its defense industry, a project that may also require foreign assistance.