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The Russian Army after 1991

During the period from 1991 through 1993, unprecedented and revolutionary political, economic, and social changes engulfed and destroyed the Soviet Union and gave birth to the new Russian Federation. In large measure, the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its immense defense burden conditioned by Russian resolve that it could never permit a recurrence of the predicament in 1941. Frustrating Soviet defeat in the prolonged Afghan War, which sapped the national will, exacerbated the devastating long-term effects of the crushing weight of massive military expenditures produced by an arms race that Russians finally perceived could not be won due to the Soviet Union's weak economic and technological base. Accordingly, the Revolution of 1991 replaced the Soviet State with a Russian Federation that lacked the strength of its Communist predecessor.

Understandably, the army of the new Russian Federation brought with it many of the traditions and biases of the former Soviet Army. In addition to playing a key role in the formulation of a new military doctrine, the Russian Army and General Staff continued to perform the vital role of applying foresight and forecasting to determine the nature of future war and the defense needs of the Russian State. They did so through careful analysis of key defense issues and careful study of recent and ongoing military conflicts, in particular the Persian Gulf War.

The twin imperatives of determining State doctrinal requirements and the General Staff 's appreciation of the nature of future war provided context for Russian military theory and force structuring since 1993. In accordance with the draft military doctrine, the Russian Federation announced in May 1992 and in subsequent official pronouncements that the new Russian State mandated a peacetime military establishment of about 1.5 million men. Although unattainable for a variety of reasons, this establishment was to consist of two types of forces, permanently ready forces and mobile, rapid-reaction forces, backed up by a one million-man strategic reserve. Economic and geographic constraints dictated that permanently ready forces would deploy in limited numbers along critical axes to serve as covering forces in the event of war.

Mobile reserves, structured flexibly to respond to any crisis, would deploy within the depth of the state to assist ready forces in repelling aggression, while strategic reserves would mobilize and deploy in the event of major war. Given these doctrinal requirements, the most critical question facing the General Staff was determining the size, form, and shape these forces take in peacetime. The General Staff also continued to define the nature and requirements of future war.

The debate within the General Staff over the nature of future war represented a dynamic and virtually seamless continuation of the debates that dominated the 1980s. The General Staff concluded that future war would be fragmented and nonlinear and would be dominated by increasingly lethal, high-precision weapon systems. This warfare would place a premium on combat flexibility at all levels and exploitation of the time factor in decision making, planning, command and control of forces, and battlefield communications.

The Russian Ministry of Defense attempted to structure its forces in accordance with these doctrinal constraints and theoretical discussions. The General Staff indicated that all new force structures and future strategic deployment as a whole had to satisfy four functional and interrelated components essential to conducting modern military operations. It identified these components as information, ground, air, and logistical support. The information component combined mobile command, control, and communications with reconnaissance and radio-electronic combat in a traditional headquarters structure. Beneath this headquarters were tailored building blocks of combined-arms subunits and units that could be flexibly configured to meet precise combat requirements. The air component provided vertical capability, and the logistical component was designed to sustain relatively independent combat in nonlinear circumstances.

Force tailoring for maximum flexibility predominated within this paradigm as the Russians created what may be termed a Division 2000 force structure. While the components principle was clearly applicable to all types of forces during the transition to whatever new force structure emerged, they were most applicable to a corps, brigade, and combined-arms battalion force configuration. However, continuing economic and budgetary problems and extreme turbulence in the Russian Armed Forces (particularly in recruiting) inhibited the institution of these changes. Moreover, Russian failure in the first Chechen War only compounded the problems, although it reinforced Russian resolve to solve both the Chechen and force-structure dilemmas.


According to the General Staff 's construct as of 2005, the highest level of the force structure will likely consist of unified commands, or operational-strategic groupings organized on a geographical basis, each of which will ultimately consist of from three to five corps and associated air and supporting forces. Within these commands, permanently ready forces will consist of divisions (perhaps corps), light motorized rifle brigades, mobile fortified regions, and mobile covering brigades. Mobile forces will consist of two operational-strategic force components: immediate reaction forces and rapid deployment forces. The former will be light forces with a strong air component capable of deploying within one to three days after alert, and the latter will contain heavier combined-arms formations (probably corps) capable of reinforcing IRF forces within three to seven days.

In the near term, the nucleus of immediate reaction forces will comprise 5 airborne divisions, 8 separate airborne brigades, 6 light motorized rifle brigades; the reaction forces will be supplemented by naval infantry battalions, air assault battalions, and reconnaissance-diversionary forces. The air component will include bomber aviation, fighter ground-attack aviation, and helicopter regiments; surface-to-air missile brigades will provide air defense. Helicopter regiments and air transport divisions will provide mobility support, and a mobile signal center exploiting satellite communications will form the upper end of the information component.

The rapid deployment force were to provide tailored heavier support to IRF elements. It will likely include several mobile corps of from three to five brigades (tank, mechanized, or motorized rifle, depending upon battalion mix, and at least one light motorized rifle battalion), at least one tank and one motorized rifle division during the transitional period, a large air component, and enhanced mobility and communications support.

Economic necessity dictates that the new corps and brigade structures are likely to be truncated in form and often experimental during the immediate future. In the interim, remaining motorized rifle and tank divisions and their component regiments will take on some of the characteristics of corps and brigades, particularly in terms of diverse attachments, and the Russians will field a wide variety of test brigade structures, some separate, some within corps, and some, perhaps, also within divisions.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:47:12 ZULU