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Thursday, November 23, 2017, 15:50 (GMT+7)
Russian military reform programs to 2020

In recent years, to advance its position in international community as a global power, Russian Federation has been pushing for a major reform in its military, primarily focusing on military doctrine, chain of command and force structure. This is a comprehensive reform which has drawn significant attention from observers.

Military Doctrine Reform

From Russian policymakers’ perspective, military doctrine is a crucial document which has direct impact on national security. The document includes fundamental principles for building Russian armed forces and strategic approaches for national defense in any circumstance. Therefore, the amendment in military doctrine this time around is considered as the most important factor in Russian military reform.

Grounded in the National Security Strategy to 2020, on February 5, 2010, the then Russian President Medvedev ratified the new Russian military doctrine, which identified NATO’s ambitions were the greatest threat to Russian national security. The new doctrine expressed the role and impact of military power in global environment; announced the transformation of Russian military operations from passive defense to proactive defense and proposed combined approaches to protect national security such as: preserving the right to use preemptive nuclear strike and seeing space as a primary battle domain in the future. It also clarified that the outcome of future conflicts will not rely on the number of troops, armored vehicles, missiles or aircraft anymore, but depend on new weapon systems, leadership abilities and the will of soldiers on the field. In addition, the doctrine suggested that Russian military operations should evolve from combined arms warfare to joint combat activities with advanced military assets.

Rearmament Program to 2020

Russian Rearmament Program is a major project which seeks to develop and procure most advanced weapon systems and equipment for the military. The main focuses are “smartizing” weapon systems and equipment; developing integrated Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) and electronic warfare platforms to ensure the interoperability, coordination and data links at all command levels, starting from tactical units.

At the same time, the project places emphasis on developing compact, light and portable combat systems, especially those employed in reconnaissance and command procedures; reducing Radar cross-section (RCS) for weapon systems, equipment and military infrastructures at all radar frequencies; improving the maneuverability of military units; rebalancing the ratio between load capacity of delivery systems and their weaponry’ weight and size; prioritizing the development of “smart” weapons and equipment; reducing maintenance costs for weapon systems with the introduction of integrated backup devices or new type of weapons which do not require maintenance or technical services.

Russian T-72B3 main battle tanks first appear at the Military Parade on the Red Square, May 9th 2017 (photo: Reuters)

The rearmament program also aims for preserving Russian strategic deterrence with an appropriate quantity of nuclear weapons; ensuring its conventional forces be capable of defeating any land and sea-borne invasion. Besides, the project proposed a new set of procedures for military procurement and acquisition in which the Ministry of Economic Development will coordinate all military contracts under the principle of contract-bidding, and the Ministry of Defense will be the only contractee. In addition, the program includes shared construction projects which integrate military infrastructure into national transport, communication and supply systems and develop a joint and concentrated logistic, technical and mobilization system for the military and other forces.

The primary goal of this rearmament program is replacing 70%-80% of the current weaponry of Russian military with new weapon systems and equipment. Before the military reform, this number was only 10%. In late May, 2010, the ratio between maintenance and procurement budgets for Russian Army was 30/70. By 2020, Russian armed forces will be completely equipped with new weapon systems.

Reforms in chain of command and force structure

One of the most prominent elements of Russian military reform is the transformation from 4-level (military districts – army – division – regiment) to 3-level chain of command (military districts – army – brigade). After the reform, Russian Army and Navy command structure were reduced to 4 military districts(1) and Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command.

Also, in military administrative reorganization, all military units in a military district are under the authority of a military district commander who has the highest responsibility for regional security. The unified combination and placement of armies, navy fleets and air defense – air force units under the command of a commander enable newly formed military districts to significantly improve their combat abilities, allowing them to minimize respond time in case of emergency and enhance their combined strength in combat. Besides, in strategically important areas, joint combat groups were established. These groups include regular units capable of shifting their combat readiness into high postures in a very short notice.

The administrative reform has also significantly reduced the number of military units since 2008. Accordingly, the number of army units decreased from 1,890 to 172 (90% reduction); similarly, in the air force, navy, strategic missile force, space force and airborne force, the figures are 48%, 49%, 34%, 15% and 17% respectively. Notably, to achieve an optimized number of personnel, the Russian military has downsized its officer corps from 300,000 to 150,000. In 2012, the number of general was reduced from 1,170 to 866; with regard to ranks from major to colonel, among 134,215 active members, only 40,614 left; and the number of captains was also cut down from 90,000 to 40,000. Besides, Russian Ministry of Defense also completely removed the rank of warrant officer. However, this demobilization has proven to be excessive and ineffective. According to military experts, this was an unsuccessful effort and caused several drawbacks in Russian Armed Forces such as: insufficient number of junior officer for the army and navy, severe shortage in junior technical personnel; and 80% of contracted NCOs did not want to extend their service. To address these issues, Russian government decided to recall about 70,000 junior officers and 55,000 warrant officers. According to this plan, by late 2017, there will be about 220,000 junior officers, 50,000 NCOs and warrant officers, 425,000 contracted soldiers and 300,000 conscripted troops in Russian Army.

Reform in social welfare for military members

In recent years, Russian government has paid a lot of attention to enhancing wage, housing condition and professional training for military members. According to this, on November 7, 2011, the then Russian President D. Medvedev signed “Law on salary and allowance for military members”, greatly improving the wage and salary system in Russian Armed Forces.

According to this law, active military personnel are entitled to several types of allowance such as: monthly allowance based on working skill level, extra pay for operating in special conditions and covert actions. As for contracted personnel, beside normal salary like conscripted soldiers’, every month they are also eligible for extra pay for operating in special conditions, in hazardous environments and high working performance. In addition, there are several other benefits such as: financial reward for completing tasks with high distinction, annual material benefits, pay grade promotion, extra pay for serving in conflicts outside Russian territory, participating in anti-terrorist operations, and operating in harsh environments (Arctic, desert, mountainous areas).

Besides, professional training for military members is also a primary focus. From 2013, before joining active duty, contracted soldiers, including reservists, have to attend a four-week professional training course under an intensive curriculum. Similarly, before their posting, military officers have to join extra courses at special training centers.

According to military analysts, the current Russian military reform has achieved certain successes, and its result has clearly been shown in the Russian anti-terrorist campaign in Syria since September 30th, 2015. In this mission, Russian Armed Forces have proven their joint combat capabilities, especially in rapid power projection to a battlefield far away from Russian territory, successfully accomplishing anti-terrorist operations in a limited time window in a completely new strategic environment. The campaign in Syria clearly demonstrated that Russia has reclaimed its position as a global power with growing influence, and its armed forces have become truly a symbol of strength and a crucial element in maintaining world peace and global security.

Senior Colonel Le The Mau


(1) – Russian Military Districts are: (1) Western Military District includes former Moscow Military District, Leningrad Military District and Baltic Fleet; (2) Southern Military District includes former North Caucasus Military District, 4th Air Defense – Air Force Command, Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla; (3) Central Military District includes Western territories of former Siberian Military District, and former Volga-Uran Military District; (4) Eastern Military District includes: former Far East Military District, some parts of former Siberian Military District and Russian Pacific Fleet.

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