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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian military's joint strategic command: A taste of things to come

RIA Novosti

23:01 26/10/2010 RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik - Russia's defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, announced that the four new military districts and joint strategic commands, which are to replace six pre-existing military districts, have been established ahead of schedule.

The creation of these four new districts is not news, nor is the fact that they are to be headquartered in St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg and Khabarovsk.

These changes go further: permanent strategic commands will control these new districts' forces, resources and all troop branches.

Strategic nuclear forces and forces currently subordinate to the center, for example, the Airborne Force and the Space Force, will remain as they are.

In the past, only ground forces came under direct control of military district commanders, with joint commands only established in wartime.

A presidential decree, signed in July, gave a deadline of December 1, 2010 for a complete overhaul of the command chain. By September 1, the Western military district had been set up, with the West joint strategic command establishing control over the district's ground forces, air-force and air-defense units, as well as over those of the Baltic and Northern Fleets.

All joint strategic commands have now been established and are becoming operational, say top Defense Ministry officials.

Turning these commands into fully-fledged entities will take some considerable time. Russia's officer corps also needs to be overhauled.

Dr. Alexander Sharavin, director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, said it will take years before these joint strategic commands are fully operational.

"Any command center has to tackle an extremely broad range of issues. This requires skilled personnel. Russia virtually lacks the experienced specialists needed to run such multi-profile entities," Sharavin said.

"Accumulating the required experience will take years. A new generation of officers used to working in this new system, who work together intuitively, has yet to emerge," Sharavin added.

This new format also requires a new approach to training officers for the headquarters and General Staff.

Under the traditional officer-training program, the only serious insight into the workings of other services or branches was provided by the General Staff Academy, which turned out military leaders and top-level staff officers.

Today, there is an increasing need to coordinate the operations of diversified groupings at much lower levels than the General Staff.

Moreover, senior officers, due to serve with these new entities, should have an idea of civilian dimensions to managing the armed forces and foreign policy.

This presupposes military personnel taking on an enhanced role in the work of parliamentary committees and the Foreign Ministry. This is already the case in the West, where generals and admirals commonly have the opportunity to gain diplomatic experience and work in close cooperation with civilian authorities, in both its legislative and executive branches.

This practice was not widespread in either the Soviet or the Russian armed forces. If they are to create truly modern armed forces, the country's leaders and senior defense officials need to overhaul the entire system of military education and military service.

The rather painful problem of providing joint strategic commands with new equipment deserves particular attention. If these diversified, inter-branch troop groupings are to be properly managed, they need to be entirely re-equipped.

This involves the delivery of up-to-date systems, including advanced operational and strategic automated control systems, telecommunications networks, radio-electronic reconnaissance aircraft, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)-type planes, communications satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of relaying multi-channel online data.

A number of other systems, from platoon- to top-level ones, to assess the combat theater are required, but these are currently in short supply.

These systems are under development, and the roll-out of "smart" advanced and present-generation weapons across the forces is a government rearmament priority. There are also plans to acquire an entire range of state-of-the-art automated control systems for the available stock of military equipment across all units.

This will all take a lot of time to accomplish. Therefore, the question of whether these new operational command units are in place and functioning within the Russian army can be answered in the affirmative. They are up and running.

But it will be at least a decade before they can attain their full potential, and then only if they make steady progress in this direction.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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