The Re-Organization of the Russian Military

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

5 thoughts on “The Re-Organization of the Russian Military”

  1. I believe that the real problems are 1. demographic, and 2. political.

    The demographic problem is that Russian birth rates have been well under replacement for a generation. The supply of military age men is shrinking and will continue to do so. There has been some uptick in the fertility rates recently, but they are still below replacement, and much of the growth has been among non-russian minorities. Further, i don’t know if there has been any improvement in rates of alcholism and drug addiction which were horrendous.

    The political problem is that any organization depends upon the flow of information both down, and UP the chain of command. I doubt that the senior generation of officers and civilians (politburo) is much inclined to listen to their inferiors. This is key condition to the function of the modern US army.

    Another condition that will affect them is that their real geo-political challenges are to their south and west. They have pacified the Caucasus, but that is only temporary. Further the great eastern frontier runs on for thousands of miles from Moscow, they must position themselves to guard that frontier. It is a daunting task.

  2. Regarding the characteristics, shouldn’t the dual chain of command also be mentioned? Somebody (Norman Stone in The Eastern Front would be my guess, but I’m to lazy… er, I mean, in a hurry to get back work work to look it up) mentioned that in many units, the commander and XO were barely on speaking terms because of this; and in some sense perhaps the presence of “political officers” in the Red Army in some ways continued this hapless tradition.

  3. Tom Clancy, in one of his many examples of foresight, discussed this in one of his novels written in the 80s. I think it was the one about Afghanistan, He has a Soviet general visiting the National Training Center in California, out in the desert where war games were run using Russian tactics and equipment for the opposition force. Clancy had many interesting insights. One novel concerned a US war with Japan. George Friedman, head of wrote a book about The Next 100 Years in which he predicts a war with Japan in the future. Clancy’s version, while set in the late 80s or early 90s, is more realistic and seems to have better potential causes. In Clancy’s book, “Debt of Honor“, he also describes the first use of an airliner as a weapon. Maybe OBL was a Clancy fan.

  4. “George Friedman, head of wrote a book about The Next 100 Years in which he predicts a war with Japan in the future.”

    Japan is in a very tight demographic death spiral. If you are tracking their inability to come to terms with the Tohu quake/Fukishima disaster, you are watching a symptom of this problem.

    It is far more likely that the Japanese will seek to become an American Protectorate.

  5. OK then I’ll just retire to my Avalon Hill collection. Out pointed by Tom Clancy and Stratfor, of all things. Who’s up for game of Panzer Blitz?

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