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RIA Novosti
January 5, 2009
Moscow reconsidering military-reform plans

MOSCOW. (Nikita Petrov, special for RIA Novosti) - On October 14, 2008, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced a plan for overhauling the country's Armed Forces. However, this ambitious military reform is currently being reconsidered.

On December 4, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told a live question-and-answer session that officers would not be discharged en masse. Only those officers on the verge of retirement and college-and-university graduates who have served their two-year military obligation will be discharged. Warrant officers and sub-lieutenants will receive their walking papers after serving out their contract, unless they agree to civilian jobs with higher wages.

Colonel General Viktor Zavarzin, chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, told foreign military attaches in Moscow that the government would reconsider the military-reform plans.

Army General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff, discussed the projected army reform at the General Staff Military Academy. He said a new national military doctrine would be drafted in parallel with the military reform. "They are now working actively on the document which, I think, will be more applied and specific," Makarov said.

The Russian Security Council is working on the new military doctrine. Former General Staff Chief Army General Yury Baluyevsky, who with other analysts criticized the current military doctrine for its vague and verbose provisions, now heads a board that will edit the new document.

Moreover, General Makarov said the military-reform plan had been drafted long before the August 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict. Naturally, the conflict facilitated and expedited the army reform. The Russian Army conducted a peace enforcement operation after Georgian forces attacked Russian citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

The operation's lessons show that the Armed Forces require all-out and prompt modernization, which can no longer be postponed. The problems encountered by the 58th Russian Army during the Georgian conflict convinced skeptics that the four-tier troop-control system comprising military districts, armies, divisions and regiments had to be replaced with a more rational and effective three-tier system that would comprise military districts, tactical commands and brigades.

General Makarov said a three-year experiment to assess the effectiveness of regional commands was now over. There were plans to establish the West, South and East regional commands. From now on, military districts will be vested with strategic-command functions. Each military district will become an independent operational strategic element and will control all local Army, Navy, Air Force and Air-Defense units on its territory.

Technically speaking, any military district must be able to fight small wars in its own zone of responsibility, without involving other districts. Each military district will have an assault/airborne brigade. In all, there are plans to deploy 80 brigades, including 40 general-purpose Army brigades. Each brigade will become a permanent-readiness unit and will be expanded to war-time strength.

Unlike previous decisions, cadre-strength regiments will not be abolished completely. Some of them will be converted into logistics-support centers and military-equipment depots, and will still be subordinated to military-district commanders and, if necessary, will facilitate pre-war mobilization.

All divisions will be disbanded and converted into brigades, which, in turn, could be re-deployed to other sectors. The self-contained modular brigades would be expected to fight independently of other units in preset sectors using a variety of weapons and military equipment. They will use radio-electronic warfare systems and will be supported by nuclear, chemical and biological (NBC) protection units, combat-engineer and logistics-support units and the Air Force tactical-support units mostly comprising attack and transport helicopters.

General Makarov said these units could be re-integrated into the Army similar to the U.S.-style format after all obsolete helicopters are replaced with the more advanced Mil-28N Havoc, Kamov Ka-50 Hokum (Black Shark) and Ka-52 Hokum (Alligator) attack helicopters and Mil Mi-35 Hind helicopter gunships.

General Makarov said only contract soldiers would serve on the southern theater of operations, and that they would be reinforced by conscripts in other areas. Tactical commands, an intermediate element between military districts and general-purpose brigades, must be ready to fight in any theater of battle and not just its immediate location.

In 2009, military units will be transferred to unfamiliar training centers during every strategic exercise involving the variety of military equipment used by general-purpose brigades. Forced marches along rugged and mountain terrain will also be conducted during such exercises.

It is intended to hold comprehensive training-center and headquarters exercises involving computers and topographic maps. Commanders at all levels will learn to use and control motorized-rifle, tank, artillery, surface-to-air missile (SAM), telecommunications, reconnaissance, radio-electronic warfare and combat-engineer/sapper units. They will also be trained to use Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), drone data and radio intercepts and will learn many other practical skills.

In 2009, the Defense Ministry and the General Staff will hold several comprehensive strategic exercises, including those involving Belarusian Army units in the western sector. Such exercises will be scheduled regularly.

General Makarov said not all divisions would be disbanded. The Army will retain at least one artillery/machine-gun division currently deployed on the Kurile Islands in Russia's Far East. The Strategic Missile Force's 12 divisions will be reduced to nine by 2012. Airborne divisions will also be retained. The Special Forces Command, formerly called the Moscow Air-Defense District, will become part of the Air Force and will form the mainstay of the Aerospace Command, an Air Force component.

General Makarov said the global financial crisis had affected many aspects of Russian life, including the Armed Forces. However, officers will receive housing, no matter what. And the Government will also purchase state-of-the-art weapons and military equipment despite the crisis. The 2007-2015 state rearmament program will be implemented on schedule and will equip the Armed Forces with essential weapons systems.