Infantry: May 22, 2001

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While the Russian ground forces have a long history of battlefield success, the last forty years have been a largely continuous string of mistakes and disasters. After World War II, there was a lot of reform and restructuring based on lessons learned in the Great Patriotic War (as World War II is called in Russia.) As the World War II veterans began to retire in the late 1960s and 70s, a flood of new, untried in combat, equipment entered service. Just how bad things were could be seen in the few times the ground forces were used. The invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979 and Chechnya in 1994 all produced embarrassing failures by the troops. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many in the ground forces vowed to reform. But the attempts at reform have been a mirage. The shortage of money and exodus of many of the more competent professionals led to a number of serious problems. The lack of new equipment meant that more time is spent keeping the old gear operational. Massive quantities of older weapons were simply abandoned. Much of the newer stuff is non-operational, and useful only as a source of spare parts. No money meant less training, especially large scale maneuvers. But training at the small unit level suffered as well. There was not enough fuel to run the armored vehicles. Officer training was also cut. Many of the Soviet era officer training institutions were closed, they were too expensive to run. Even before the Soviet Union collapsed, there were efforts to build an NCO corps. The Soviet system relied heavily on officers for supervision of the troops. The attempts to build an NCO corps faltered in the 1990s, again because of lack of money and efforts to retain a lot of officers in active service. This was done because many of the tradition minded senior officers still saw the possibility of rebuilding the army. This would need lots of officers. But the result was a lowering of the quality of the officer corps. There were still a lot of good officers around, and when they were given a free hand, as happened in Chechnya in the late 1990s, innovative new training and tactics were developed. But the government preferred to keep the good officers in a few elite (ie, reliable as well as effective) units. These included the paratroopers divisions and some air mobile units. The other divisions tended to concentrate their best troops in a few battalions. This only ten or twenty percent of a division would really be combat capable. This is why the war in Chechnya saw individual battalions or regiments from a large number of divisions being sent into action. The most recent reforms call for reducing the manpower levels and upgrading the training of the remaining units. Money would also be available to design and buy new equipment. Senior officers don't expect to see this plan pay off for another ten or fifteen years. In the meantime, the best they can do is try and halt the slide.

 


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