Attrition: Russia Copes With the Dregs


February23, 2007: Corruption in the Russian conscription system is leaving the military with the dregs of society. Anyone with any smarts, or money, finds a way to avoid getting drafted. Those who can afford it, bribe officials to have their sons disappear from the conscription lists. Those who can't afford it, send the kid away, far away, for a few years. The result is that, while the military is getting the number of teenage recruits it needs, the quality is dismal. Take, for example, the Russian air force. For many decades, the air force got the best, or at least most intelligent, draftees. In theory they still do. But after officials examined last years 11,000 conscripts, they reported that nearly a third were mentally unstable. Ten percent had substance abuse (drugs and/or alcohol) problems, and that fifteen percent had health problems. Not enough to keep them out of the military, but worrisome to air force doctors. A common problem was malnutrition, with many being seriously underweight. Then there were the family problems. A quarter of these recruits never knew their fathers, and three percent never knew their mothers.

This data was released partly to pressure the government to come up with the money for an all-volunteer force. The air force already has some volunteers, but few make a career of it because of all those low-life conscripts they have to deal with. An all-volunteer force would cost a lot more, since the troops would have to be paid competitive (with civilian jobs) wages. However, many air force officers and NCOs have been abroad since the Cold War ended in 1991, and seen how other nations do with all-volunteer forces, and are impressed with the more capable, and motivated troops. The Russian air force, for example, has been working with the Indian air force for decades. The Indians have an all-volunteer force, and their air force personnel are obviously more eager and competent. The Russian government wants to go all-volunteer, but it also wants to replace the aging Cold War era weapons that have not been kept going since 1991. But many air force commanders would be willing to give up some new aircraft, in order to get more capable people to fly and maintain them.




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