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Russian Army - Overview

Despite its position as the second service in the armed forces hierarchy, the Ground Forces were the most politically influential Soviet service. Senior Ground Forces officers held all important posts within the Ministry of Defense as well as the General Staff. Even after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and encouraged the policy of arms control and international co­operation, the dominant role and the overwhelming strength of the military did not significantly change. Although Secretary General Gorbachev himself proclaimed during the 27th Party Congress in 1986 a concept of " reasonable sufficiency", in 1988 the Soviet army still maintained more than 200 divisions and more than 50,000 main battle tanks. In 1989 the Ground Forces had 2 million men, organized into four combat arms and three supporting services.

One aspect of Soviet logistics philosophy that differs from the Western approach is that the Soviets do not fill units to strength with replacements the way the West does. Instead, the Soviets allowed the unit's size to shrink as a result of the casualties suffered, with the unit often being reorganized into a smaller structure. In this manner the number of companies in a battalion or the number of battalions in a regiment is redduced.

By this process, a regiment can shrink to a battalion and even to a company. While some shifting of officer and speciality personnel occars, fcr the most part soldiers in a Soviet unit stay together. Unit cohesiveness is believed to have significant psychological benefit to personnel in combat because troops that have fought together and learned to trust each other develop a sense of camaraderie and unity that has a positive effect on combat effectiveness and morale. The process also eliminated some of the psychological problems caused by feeding in new and (to the unit) untried personnel in a combat environment.

Soviet doctrine stated that at some point, a unit has been so decimated by causalities that it can no longer be an effective fighting force and must be dissolved. The Soviet norms appeared to have a set time-versus-casualty criteria for dissolution (somewhere between 40 and 60% of effective combat strength after some classified period of time probably 3 weeks or less - at a certain level of combat intensity). At the breakup point, the unit is dissolved and its personnel are sent to the rear where they, along with thecomponents of other dissolved units, reservists, and new recruits, are formed into a new major fighting unit.

Soviet divisions were divided into three categories during peacetime: Categories A, B, and C. Category A units are manned at 75 to 110% (assault) strength in both men and equipment. Soviet units outside the Soviet Union are usually stronger than Category A formations inside the Soviet Union, as in the case of the first-line Soviet units stationed in Eastern Europe.

Category B units were manned at 30 to 70% strength, the average being slightly more than 50%. Equipment is close to full strength, but less so than Category A divisions because more equipment is in storage. These divisions are deployable within 30 days of mobilization.

Category C units were manned at 5 to 30% strength and usually have only 30 to 50% 3 of their required equipment available, mostly in storage. Most of the major combat items are present, although they are older models. Some divisions in this category are missing entire regiments. Divisions in this category are not normally considered deployable until between 90 and 180 days after mobilization, although some of the Soviet divisions that invaded Afghanistan in 1979 may have been Category C units that were mobilized in 60 days.

In the event of war, the Soviets intended to fill out the divisions with reservists on mobilization to bring the divisions up to full strength. To facilitate this process the Soviets organized their reservists in three categories depending on age: the first group is under 35 years old, a second group ranges in age from 35 to 45 years, and a third group is formed of reservists from 45 to 50 years old. Some of the reservists, probably the younger age group, received regular refresher military training.

If a war broke out and a division received orders to move to its operational zone, the division left its camp at full strength, with all its soldiers and equipment. If it had less than its complement of soldiers and junior officers, it would be brought up to strength as it moves to the operational zone. The absorption of the reservists had been very carefully worked out. However, after the departure of the division, the military camp was not left empty. The colonel who functioned as deputy to the division's chief in peacetime, remained there. There too, were 6 lieutenant colonels, who were the depuiies of the regimental commanders; the deputy battalion commanders; and one-third of the platoon commanders, who now became company commanders.

Thus, an entire command staff remained in the camp. Within 24 hours this new division would receive 10,000 reserve soldiers who had been called to duty, pursuant to the mobilization order, and the military camp from which one division had only just set out is already occupied by a new one. Unquestionably, of course, the new division was inferior to the one which has just departed for the front.

The reservists who made up the bulk of the division had forgotten a lot of their military skills and have grown soft on civilian living. They would have to be whipped into shape and retrained by the permanent officer core, but their division was in being. The equipment for this new division came from the reserves of older equipment that the Soviets had put in mothballs. As Soviet units were equipped with new weapons, the previous generation is put in mothballs for the "second formation divisions." The Soviets integrated this older equipment as part of their reserve call-up planning. They planned to match the reservis ts with the equipment on which they were trained 8 or 10 years earlier. Mobilization only divisions were unlikely to be deployable even for second-line duties before 180 days after mobilization.

The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union could expect to have, 6 months after ordering mobilization, a fully mobilized and equipped ground combat army (of somewhat uneven quality) of 366 divisions, composed of 5,124,000 men. This is the only army that has a peacetime complement of 1.5 million men.

By 1996 the ground forces included in their armaments some 19,000 main battle tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces, 600 surface-to-surface missiles with nuclear capability, and about 2,600 attack and transport helicopters. At that time the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation were estimated to number approximately 670,000 officers and enlisted personnel. Of that number, about 170,000 were contract volunteer enlistees and warrant officers, and about 210,000 were conscripts.

Presumably, the remaining 290,000 were commissioned officers, suggesting that some 43 percent of ground forces personnel were officers. This extraordinarily high percentage reflected both the Soviet and Russian tradition of giving little authority to the enlisted ranks, as well as the vestiges of the much larger military cadre inherited from the Soviet army. Much of this bulge is made up of senior field-grade officers and generals who no longer are needed in a smaller military but who are too young to retire. In the mid-1990s, this situation was one of the most difficult personnel problems facing the ground forces command.

The issue of gradually replacing Russia's ineffectual conscription system with a volunteer force brought heated discussion in the defense establishment. The semiannual draft, which set about 200,000 as its regular quota, was an abysmal failure in the post-Soviet era because of evasion and desertion. During evaluation of an initial, experimental contract plan, in May 1996 Yeltsin unexpectedly proposed the filling of all personnel slots in the armed forces with contract personnel by 2000. In 1996 some units already were more than half staffed by contract personnel, and an estimated 300,000 individuals, about 20 percent of the total nominal active force, were serving under contract. At that time, more than half of new contractees were women.

Military service became particularly unpopular in Russia in the mid-1990s. Under conditions of intense political and social uncertainty, the traditional appeal to Russian patriotism no longer resonated among Russia's youth. The percentage of draft-age youth who entered the armed forces dropped from 32 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in 1995. The Law on Military Service stipulates twenty-one grounds for draft exemption, but in many cases eligible individuals simply refuse to report; in July 1996, a report in the daily Pravda referred to a "daily boycott of the draft." In the first half of 1995, about 3,000 conscripts deserted, and in all of 1995 between 50,000 and 70,000 inductees refused to report. According to a 1996 Russian report, such personnel deficiencies meant that only about ten of Russia's sixty-nine ground forces divisions were prepared for combat.

The two most compelling reasons for the failure of conscription were the unfavorable living conditions and pay of soldiers (less than US$1 per month at 1995 exchange rates) and the well-publicized and extremely unpopular Chechnya operation. The Russian tradition of hazing in the ranks, which became more violent and was much more widely reported in the 1990s, also has contributed to society's antipathy toward military service.

On 07 April 1995 the Duma passed a bill which altered the Law on Military Service in Russia. Changes extended the length of required military service from 18 months to 2 years from 01 October 1995 and act retroactively for those drafted in 1993-1994. Only about 19,000 of the approximately 230,000 troops scheduled for discharge in December 1994 were released on time. The bill also introduced universal conscription of young men graduating from institutes of higher learning.

By 1997 the total strength of the ground forces was at an all time low of 400,000 men and officers. Regulations for conscription provided easy loopholes to escape it to over 70 per cent of the eligible age group. In 1996, only 13 per cent of the eligible age group were conscripted, the majority proving themselves "unfit" to serve and the rest successfully prolonging student deferral, or bribing their way out. The deferment allowed to students also meant that only those with minuscule career chances who serve. As of the late 1990s a quarter of draftees had not completed secondary education, and a fifth had a criminal record.

At the outset of the Chechen campaign in December 1994, the Russian Army had no money and little support. The army had not conducted a regiment or division-scale field training exercise in over two years and most battalions were lucky to conduct field training once a year. Most battalions were manned at 55% or less. The Russian Army invaded Chechnya with a rag-tag collection of various units, without an adequate support base. When the Chechens stood their ground, the state to which the Russian Army had sunk became apparent to the world.

To the extent that the Chechnya conflict of 1994-96 was a fair test of combat capability, Russia's armed forces were far from fighting form, even by their own evaluation. As they received pessimistic assessments of the current and future situation, Russian policy makers faced a complex of other adjustments.

According to the resolutions of the Security Council meeting of 11 August 2000, the major reform measures of the general purpose forces will be accomplished by 2006. By that time these forces will have over 800,000 servicemen, for a total reduction of 400,000 troops [possibly as soon as 2003]. The army would lose 180,000 men.

In November 2002 Russian defense minister Sergei B. Ivanov, outlined a package of military reforms. By 2007 soldiers, paratroopers and marines in the most combat-ready units - 10 divisions, 7 brigades and 13 regiments - would all be professionals. Under earlier plans supported by the uniformed leadership, the transition to a contracted, rather than conscripted force would not begin in earnest until 2011.

The Russian armed forced totalled approximately 1.2 million troops by the end of 2006. Plans were implemented to reduce the length of mandatory service for personnel from 2 years to 18 months in 2007, and down to 1 year in 2008. Russian planners also outlined plans for the military to be comprised of 70% volunteers by 2010.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2015 20:02:03 ZULU