February 2, 2014

Russian Armed Forces in 2014 – A Short-term prognosis

A column of Russian tanks drive during a rehearsal for the Victory parade on Moscow's Red Square May 5, 2014. Russia celebrates victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
A column of Russian tanks drive during a rehearsal for the Victory parade on Moscow's Red Square May 5, 2014. Russia celebrates victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)

By and large the last year’s prognosis can be considered accurate. The events in the Russian armed forces in 2013 unfolded mainly as we predicted – some elements of army reform introduced during the

01.02.2014, Kaarel Kaas
In: “Russian Federation 2014. Short-term Prognosis.”, Karmo Tüür, Viacheslav Morozov (Eds.), “Politica” series, University Press of Estonia, Tartu, 2014. Pp. 36-40.
www.ut.ee/ABVKeskus/sisu/prognoosid/2014/en/pdf/RF… By and large the last year’s prognosis can be considered accurate. The events in the Russian armed forces in 2013 unfolded mainly as we predicted – some elements of army reform introduced during the tenure of the previous Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov were reversed and rolled back, but the core changes made since 2008 (the official starting point of current reform effort) have remained intact.
One suggestion made in the short-term prognosis for 2013 proved to be wrong, though. The headquarters of the Russian Navy is still located in Saint Petersburg and has not been moved back to Moscow as we so boldly predicted.
Developments in 2013
The most important developments in 2013 can be described as “things that did not happened”. Current Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff army general Valeriy Gerasimov have not revoked the key structural elements of the army reform. The Russian military is currently still on the track that leads away from Soviet-style mass army based on mobilization – and towards a force structure, which is primarily manned by enlisted personnel (contract-based soldiers and non-commissioned officers, kontraktniki) and thus constitutes a high-readiness standing army.
Russian armed forces still have the operational structure with brigades as key units, operational command and control is still based on four Joint Forces Strategic Commands – both are fundamental changes introduced under Serdyukov.
But at the same time a number of Serdyukov-era decision were indeed partly or fully annulled. Maybe the most prominent of those policy reconsiderations concerns a military procurement: on 26th of December Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a degree, which effectively prohibits the import of defence-related goods (including weapons and vehicles) and services from foreign countries. The needs of Russian armed forces and services will be exclusively catered by Russian military-industrial complex.
That is a 180-degree turn compared to Serdyukov’s rhetoric – even if that rhetoric was not fully reflected by practice – “if the domestic industry cannot cope, we will simply shop abroad” and the refusal to order a number of Russian weapon systems on the grounds that they were technologically inferior compared to the Western analogues. Form Russian military industry’s viewpoint it is a New Year’s Eve present as the amount of money involved is vast – Russian State Armament Programme for 2011-2020 (Gosudarstvennaya programma vooruzheniya 2011–2020, GPV) is forth approximately 20 trillion roubles (ca € 446 billion). But, for example, for the French there’s little cause to celebrate as one has every reason to conclude that the contract for building Mistral-class amphibious assault ships for Russian Navy will be limited to two vessel currently under construction (due to be commissioned with Russian Navy in 2014 and 2015 respectively).
There were other, more peripheral in nature, corrections of previous year’s decisions as well: the abolished institution of warrant officers (praporshchik’s and michman’s) was re-introduced; military higher education system partly gained its former shape; some bits and pieces of support services and maintenance (catering, repair works of vehicles), outsourced to the private sector by Serdyukov’s team, are by now again the responsibility of operational military units.
And as a largely symbolic gesture Shoigu ordered the re-establishment of two eminent Ground Forces units – The 2nd Guards Motor Rifle “Tamanskaya” Division and The 4th Guards “Kantemirovskaya” Tank Division. During Serdyukov’s “reign” both aforementioned divisions were disbanded – a move which was regarded as a sacrilege by the officer corps.
In another structural adjustment three air assault/airborne brigades, previously under the command of The Ground Forces, were brought under the jurisdiction of The Airborne Troops (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska, VDV). Thus the current VDV organizational structure includes four divisions (both airborne and air assault), four brigades (both airborne and air assault) and a special forces (spetsnaz) regiment.
But Shoigu’s and Gerasimov’s main achievements during their first year in office (both of them were appointed to their current offices in November 2012) can be described as A) re-establishing trust and normal working relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces and B) raising the training and combat preparedness levels in the armed forces by organizing unexpected combat alerts and snap exercises.
Predictions for 2014
In 2014 Russia’s defence budget will continue to increase rapidly – despite the unimpressive performance of Russian economy and budgetary deficit.
In a federal budget for 2014-2016 defence expenditure (as stated in the chapter “National defence” in the Russian federal budget) in 2014 will amount to 2.49 trillion roubles (€ 55.55 billion, 3.4 percent from GDP) – an increase of 18.4 percent compared to 2013. It is about to grow further to the level of 3.38 trillion roubles in 2016 (€ 75.41 billion, 3.9 percent from predicted GDP at 2016).
Some of the funds will be spent on the increasing the level of enlisted personnel (kontraktniki) in the armed forces. The aim set by President Vladimir Putin is to have 240,000 in armed forces by the end of 2014. (The corresponding figures for 2012 and December of 2013 were 186,000 and ca 200,000 respectively.) By 2020 the number of kontraktniki should reach already 499,000 or almost half of the officially declared 1 million men strength of Russian army.
Recruiting additional personnel should help to plug the caps in the table of organization – the average manning level of armed forces units stands currently at 82 percent. The first to reach fully-manned and -staffed status by the end of 2014 should be the units of Airborne Troops, naval infantry and spetsnaz. It is doubtful, however, that the Russian authorities can meet their initial targets.
In addition to the growing number of enlisted personnel the generous military budget will facilitate a steady flow of new weaponry into the operational units. Russian GPV is a vast undertaking and thus describing it here would be a vain attempt. It is worth to mention, however, that the combat apabilities of Russian Navy will increase significantly during 2014 – even if the arrival of new vessels and weaponry is lagging behind the schedule. The year’s highlight for the navy will be the receiving of the first Mistral-class vessel, Vladivostok and the third Borei-class (Project 935) ballistic missile submarine Vladimir Monomakh.
The second major contributor from the influx of money will be the air force with a couple of regiments worth new airframes arriving into units.
Regionally – in the context of the Baltic Sea security environment – Russian Armed Forces will continue to increase its conventional military capabilities in the wider Baltic Sea area: in 2013 the second missile brigade re-armed with Iskander-M missile systems became operational in Kaliningrad oblast, bringing the number of Iskander-brigades in region to two (the first one, 26th Missile Brigade based in Luga, in Estonia’s immediate neighbourhood achieved operational readiness by the end of 2012).
Those two units in combination with long-range air defence systems (S-400’s based in Kaliningrad and S-300PMU2 Favorits based in the vicinity of Saint Petersburg) will seriously alter the balance of forces in the Baltics.
By the end of 2014 a Russian Air Force base in Lida, Belarus, will house at least a squadron (10-12 planes), but possibly to squadrons (20-24 planes) of modern Su-27SM3 fighter planes. Russian Air Force deployed its first planes to Lida during the last months of 2013.
Secondly, by the end of 2014 an army aviation – meaning, helicopter – base next to Latvia’s border in Ostrov, Pskov, will achieve initial operational readiness with at least 10-12 newest Mi-28N helicopter gunships. By the end of 2015 the latest it will house a full army aviation regiment (20–24 helicopter gunships).
Those deployments in combination with the strengthening of the Baltic fleet and the units of Russian Ground Forces in Baltic Sea region will contribute considerably to rising tensions between Russia and the Baltic states as well as with NATO.

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