Russia: September 5, 2000



The Russian Army has dropped from two million men in more than 200 formations a decade ago, to only 300,000 troops in 24 active formations today. The Interior Ministry has almost that many security troops, who can operate as light infantry if need be. Defense Minister Marshal Sergeyev has dissolved the main headquarters of the Ground Forces, replacing it with a main directorate. Colonel General Bukreyev was head of this directorate but was forced to retire and was replaced by his deputy, Lieutenant General Gennadiy Kotenko. The First Chechen War marked the low point for the Russian Army, and things have begun a slow improvement. In 1997, the Russian Army eliminated divisions and brigades that were effectively undeployable and created "permanently ready formations". The 24 active formations include three divisions and four brigades that are fully ready, with all equipment and at least 80% of their manpower (more often 90%). Another 12 formations are at lower strength and would need 30 days to deploy, but at least five of these are divisions which keep one brigade at the top level of readiness. Another five divisions are the third "strategic reserve" tier which would need 90 days to enter combat. The success of these reforms has been seen in the Second Chechen War (which, technically, is not yet over). The Defense Ministry deployed 60,000 troops which functioned effectively, although they suffered 1,600 dead and 4,500 wounded in the first six months of operations. The Russian military has been spending enough money to replace only 2% (or less) of its equipment each year; it should spend enough to replace 5% per year to keep everything in operational condition. The most recent weapons (T80U, BTR80, 2S19) have been found to be no more than adequate, and the older BTR60s and BTR70s have been found grossly underpowered for the mountains of Chechnya. The tactics used in the Second Chechen War involved expending huge amounts of ammunition to protect moving units, and this has reduced the stockpiles of ammunition to dangerous levels. What money is available is going to refill the ammunition bunkers instead of replacing obsolete equipment. The Russians, who have only recently discovered the concepts of logistics and keeping divisions in combat instead of burning them out and putting a fresh division into the line, have determined that they need hundreds of heavier armored recovery vehicles (but there is no money for them). Reforms are now moving forward. The Russians used their battalions as semi-independent tactical groups in the Second Chechen War, a radical departure for them. The battalions are now grouping their various independent weapons platoons (machinegun, air defense, and grenade launcher) into fire support companies. Thermobaric weapons are being introduced at company level. The fully professional force that Yeltsin decreed in 1997 remains only a goal. There are not enough contract troops to fill units, which continue to rely on conscripts. But 80% of each year group gets some kind of deferment (often by buying it from corrupt officials) and 25% of the remainder simply fail to show up. Even worse, time spent in Chechnya counts double against the 24-month conscript term, and conscripts are being discharged faster than they can be drafted. Serious shortages of company-level officers continue, and calling up reserve lieutenants and captains who received commissions as part of university educations has not helped. Pay and conditions remain bad and new tax laws will make it even harder to keep officers in uniform. The Russians plan to add 80,000 more troops, most of them in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is unclear where the extra men will come from.

The Russian Air Force has fallen on hard times. Despite the 1998 merger of the Air Force and Air Defense Force, total manpower has dropped to only 185,000 (a drop of 40,000 in two years). The hundreds of air regiments in Cold War times had fallen to 100 in 1998 and only 70 today. There are 37
air defense regiments. The Order of Battle includes:

37th Air Army (220 long range bombers)

61st Air Army (290 transport aircraft)

Moscow Air District (250 tactical aircraft and 35 support aircraft)

4th Air Army (Rostov on Don, 250 tactical aircraft and 35 support aircraft)

6th Air Army (St Petersburg, 250 tactical aircraft and 35 support aircraft)

11th Air Army (Khabarovsk, 250 tactical aircraft and 35 support aircraft)

23rd Air Army (Chita, 250 tactical aircraft and 35 support aircraft)

Independent Air Corps (Samara, 125 tactical aircraft and 20 support aircraft)

Independent Air Corps (Yekaterinburg, 125 tactical aircraft and 20 support aircraft))

Training levels are low, morale is horrible, discipline is slack, maintenance is delayed, most of the aircraft are at the end of their operational lives, and spare parts stockpiles are nearly empty. Combat pilots flew about 10 hours each last year; transport pilots 44 hours. Those pilots involved in the Chechen War flew about 100 hours last year. Overall average is only 20 hours. The romantic allure of the Air Force is gone; more than 40,000 personnel do not have their own apartments. An officer career remains popular in the rural areas as it pays better than other available jobs; city dwellers can find better jobs in the civilian economy. Shortly after the 1998 merger of the several Soviet era air forces, the Russian Air Force reached something of a high point, with 100% of anti-aircraft, 84% of tactical, and 52% of transport units declared operationally ready. This resulted from eliminating many units, older aircraft, and airfields and combining the mechanics, tools, and spare parts into fewer units. Readiness has steadily declined from this point as only 10% of needed repair work is funded. Since 1994, the Russian Air Force has received only nine new combat aircraft (five Su-30s, three Su-35s, and one Tu-160, plus eleven old bombers bought from Ukraine). The government plans to start buying more aircraft in 2005 when block obsolescence hits entire classes of aircraft. In the meantime, modernization programs are underway for the MiG-29, Su-25, Tu-95MS, and S-300 air defense missile. The Air Force is trying to sell off some of its aircraft to raise cash.

The Russian Navy is struggling to find funding and maintain combat readiness, but its greatest battle will be to prove to the government that Russia actually needs a Navy (beyond a coastal defense force). The Navy has no real role to play in the various conflicts that threaten the cohesion of the Russian state (e.g., Chechnya) and there is no significant threat of invasion of Russian beaches. Russia has no real overseas interests or facilities that it needs a Navy to protect or supply. Most of the money goes for the submarine force, but even this continues to dwindle. The Russian missile submarine force now includes two Typhoons, two Delta-Is (to be discarded next year), seven Delta-IIIs, and seven Delta-IVs. Morale among submarines has plummeted as training standards have slipped. The first new missile submarine in years, the Borey, will enter service in 2008. The SSN28 missile intended for Borey was canceled, and it will go to sea with older SSN23s. The attack submarine force is down to 29 boats, including eight Akula-Is, two Akula-IIs, eight Oscar-IIs (one of which was lost in late August), one Sierra-I, two Sierra-IIs, seven Victor-IIIs, and one Yankee-Notch. The next new submarine will be the first of the Yasen-class in 2005. This will carry SSN27s in vertical tubes and SSN15 Starfish missiles fired from its torpedo tubes. Another Oscar-II is under construction and could be finished within a year, but there are doubts that the Russians will actually complete it. There are also eighteen diesel submarines. The surface fleet is in pitiful shape. There are 80 major and 160 minor combatants, plus 24 amphibious ships and 70 minesweepers on the rolls, but very few (perhaps 10%) are combat ready. Naval pilots average 40 flight hours per year, a figure inflated somewhat by the long over water patrol flights. --Stephen V Cole


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