The historical Russian (using the USSR and Czarist Russia as a proxy for Russia) military generally featured the following characteristics:
1. A heavy emphasis on conscripts, with all males who had any sort of connection or means of escaping service, doing so, since the conditions were horribly and brutally bad
2. A “shell” organization of units with only a few active duty soldiers, to be filled out by reservists at mobilization
3. A vast inventory of equipment of various vintages (i.e. old tanks, planes, artillery) that the reservists would use when called up for service
4. In the old “Soviet” military, many of the soldiers were from regions where they did not speak Russian and communication was often poor. This may be partially mitigated today by the fact that many of these former republics of the Soviet Union have now split off into separate countries and are no longer part of the Russian military organization
5. The Russian navy faces particularly difficult conditions because each of the fronts has to operate independently because they are not interconnected, or make vast sea voyages in order to join forces. This contributed to the defeat at Tsushima in 1905, for example
These concepts began to falter after the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet empire. The lightning US victory against conventional forces in the various Iraq wars and the Russian military’s poor performance in the military conflict against Chechnya led the Russians to consider new methodologies.
The inaugural issue of “Modern War“, which is a new magazine (to begin in September, 2012) by the publishers of the excellent magazine “Strategy and Tactics“, covers the reorganization of the Russian military and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the field. They sent me an issue (since I used to be a subscriber) and I hope it will be on the newsstand soon if you have one near you.
The article is called “Russia’s Ongoing Military Reorganization” by Bruce Costello. It describes the following changes to the historical Russian model:
1. Russian forces are to be kept in a state of rapid readiness, fully mobilized, equipped and ready for battle
2. The number of units will correspondingly be significantly reduced
3. Unnecessary equipment and non-fighting organization ranks (officers) will be eliminated (or reduced, in the case of officers)
4. There will be four OSD (Operational Strategic Districts) which will jointly command the land, sea and air units in those districts rather than being independently managed (the rocket forces will remain centrally controlled)
5. The brigade will be the unit size of choice, and reconnaissance will be embedded in the unit along with sufficient communication gear to meet the mission
6. The Russians are moving to purchase foreign arms where needed, such as a French amphibious ship, a dramatic departure from former practice
7. There is to be more of an emphasis on professional troops rather than conscripts. There are various sources on the effectiveness of this move from a conscript army to a professional army, but apparently the goal is to have 1/3 of the troops as conscripts (rotating out every 12 months) with the remaining 2/3 professional and long serving soldiers. The article didn’t emphasize this transition enough, from my perspective, since it is a crucial element of the change-over.
As a keen student of military history it is very odd seeing Russia moving to a semi-professional army staffed in a “ready” mode. It also is unusual that they are considering buying foreign arms since the Soviet Union was able to manufacture pretty much everything at the height of the USSR (although the former Czarist Russians and inter-war USSR did purchase foreign equipment, particularly for ideas on home grown designs). Times change, and these changes are reaching even historically consistent organizations such as the Russian military. It is difficult for me to remain neutral on these changes if they make the Russian military more effective; the Russian military has historically not been deployed in alignment with the interests of the US or the West. Note their current backing of odious Assad in Syria, a reaction to their client Gaddafi meeting his end thanks in part by the backing of NATO and their air and sea assets.
Cross posted at LITGM