Leadership: Losing The Past To Save The Future


April 6, 2011:  Frustrated Russian leaders are going public with statistics describing the sorry state of military reform efforts during the last twenty years. You know the leadership is serious about changing something when senior people start spouting embarrassing statistics. The chief of the army general staff (general Nikolai Makarov) has been pointing out that 11,000 officers in military schools still spend much of their time studying World War II. The world has moved on, and the Russian military leadership has not. Makarov, and many of his peers, believe that serious reform should have begun after the Americans demonstrated what modern military tech and training methods could do during the 1991 Gulf War. At the time, Russian generals dismissed the results of that war because the Americans were fighting Arabs. This absolved Russia of any responsibility for the poor performance of the Russian weapons Iraq was using. 

Makarov points out that Russia didn't really try to reform after 1991, but simply reacted to over a decade of more immediate problems. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, it had five million troops. Now it's down to about one million in just Russia (which got about half the population of the Soviet Union, and most of the territory, when the USSR dissolved). Although the Russian armed forces lost 80 percent of its strength in the last two decades, a disproportionate number of officers remained. A few years ago, the Russian military has about 1.2 million personnel (400,000 in the army itself, the rest in paramilitary units that are largely uniformed and armed like soldiers). But there were 355,000 officers in this force. That's more than one in three, and included 1,107 generals, 25,665 colonels, 99,550 majors, 90,000 captains, and only 50,000 lieutenants. With all that, some 40,000 officers positions were still vacant. The latest reorganization is eliminating 20 percent of the generals, 65 percent of the colonels, 75 percent of the majors, and 55 percent of the captains. The number of lieutenants is increasing 20 percent. The number of military organizations (about 2,500) are being cut (by 80 percent). Most of these are reserve units, Cold War relics, containing only a cadre of officers. In the event of a major war, reservists (who are no longer available) would be called up to use the stockpiled equipment (also now missing.) The Stavka (general staff) is having its personnel cut 61 percent (to 8,500), and military districts and bases are being consolidated. This eliminates thousands of officer jobs. Many generals were not happy with all these cuts, but this resistance has, so far, never got beyond sharp words and bitter regrets. But all these cuts are not enough.

The biggest change these days is that the current senior Russian generals and admirals were in their 30s and 40s in 1991, and were the victims, not the authors, of all the bad decisions made during the last two decades. The new crew accepts the fact that Russia has fallen way behind in military technology and thinking. The 1991 generals, who spent their entire careers facing the United States as the primary foe, could not accept the fact that the American military had evolved farther, and more quickly, than Russia. But the current crew accepts the fact that the Americans, and Western military professionals in general, had done a better job adapting rapidly changing technology to military use.

Makarov and his fellow generals and admirals are trying to convince the politicians to pay more attention to personnel problems than to just buying a lot of new weapons that, in too many cases, are second rate. Russian defense industries have been under attack by politicians and generals for several years now. It's already gotten to the point that the military has been allowed to buy warships, armored vehicles, UAVs and infantry equipment from Western suppliers. But Makarov warns that the best weapons in the world do little good if you have not got world class troops to operate them. Conscription has to go, and the military needs better training, more professionalism and a more open minded attitude towards what works, and what doesn't. The government is spending more on military pay, so it's really up to the generals to actually do what they say needs to be done.



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