Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Slow Death of the Russian Army

Whatever problems the Army is having now recruiting sufficient troops, the bright side is that Russia has problems orders of magnitude worse than the Army.

Pretty soon the Pope will be able to ask how many divisions does Russia have:

Russia has a military manpower crises that is getting worse and appears to be unsolvable. There are several aspects to it. Fewer 18 year old men are available and more of them are avoiding conscription or, because of lifestyle changes are unsuitable for military service. Contract (more qualified and better paid volunteer) soldiers are more difficult to attract in part because the Russian military has a generations long reputation for being corrupt and incompetently run. The Defense Ministry response is a return to Soviet (Cold War) era methods that tolerates many ineffective units and depends on a small number of well-trained units full of troops who want to be there and be good at their jobs. In effect, the only dependable, effective and available troops are about 100,000 men belonging to airborne, airmobile, special operations and marine units.

The USSR divided their division into three different categories, Category I that had the latest weapons and were largely fully staffed, ready to go quickly--most were in Eastern Europe aimed at West Germany )where they had a relatively short drive from the Elbe River to the Rhine River, which would have crippled NATO if achieved); Category III, which about half of the divisions were, had at best 10% of personnel and old equipment in storage. In between were Category II divisions that were, I think, held at no better than 75% personnel and required mobilization to fully get ready.

I have often noted that Russia's ground forces are actually limited. The problem is that the NATO and other states on Russia's western border have armies small enough that the core 100,000 (which limits their options against a larger target) could actually pound any one of them before NATO can reinforce them.

The question then becomes whether NATO can mobilize to reverse Russian battlefield gains in the face of Russian nuclear threats.

As far as I'm concerned, the vaunted Russian battalion tactical groups shouldn't be seen as these awesome battalion-sized combined arms units that make American battalions look weak by comparison. No, because of weaknesses in the Russian army, the BTGs should be viewed as the useful portions of their brigades. I'd compare their BTGs--which leave the rest of the brigade behind in the barracks--to our brigade combat teams rather than to our battalions meant to fight within a brigade effort.

And I finally went looking for the RUSI report I've cited and found it in the Internet Wayback Machine. Here's one part on how Russia gathered troops from across Russia for the small war in the Donbas:

The wide geographic dispersion of the units involved in generating troops for the operation could be considered to reflect the typical desire of military planners to give troops experience in a combat environment whenever such an opportunity arises. But this is not the primary case for the current situation; there are indications of other reasons.

The units permanently located in the Russian MoD’s Southern and Western military districts generated the Battalion Tactical Groups for the spring phase of the operation, yet they were only able to supply Company Tactical Groups in the autumn and especially the winter periods. Some units struggled to meet even those lower requirements. For instance, the 536th Coastal Artillery Brigade had to temporarily assign some of its professional servicemen to serve in the 61st Marine Brigade to allow the latter to generate a tactical group to be sent to Ukraine.

At the same time, Siberian units have been ordered to generate much more than Battalion Tactical Groups; the 36th Guards Motor-Rifle Brigade’s contribution was of nearly regimental size, with tank, motorised-infantry and artillery battalions, plus additional, smaller combat-support and combat service-support detachments. This appears to indicate a shortage of badly needed manpower, while the fact that the Siberian units have been transported into the Ukrainian area of operations with their own organic assets – instead of just ferrying their personnel into the area – implies a shortage of military hardware in theatre. Taken together, it suggests that enabling troops to train in realistic combat environments is certainly not the only reason for the participation of such remotely located units.

The Russian problem will get worse as they abandon the Western model of volunteer troops and regularly trained reserves (because it costs too much) to go back to reserve cadre units that pull in ex-soldiers who may have been out of uniform for years.

As the initial Strategypage post recounts, that cadre method barely worked for the USSR in 1941 under assault by Nazi Germany but broke down without being tried in the 1980s when mobilization against Solidarity-era Poland was contemplated, and failed when used for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

And it is not going to work going forward, having as its only advantage that it is the only thing Russia can afford right now.

Russia is a threat because of its weak neighbors in the west (who are our friends or allies), large number of nukes, disinformation efforts, and paranoid hostility. But Russia pushed as far east as it is away from the core of European power is a secondary threat that NATO can cope with if it gets its act together. Spending 2% of GDP across the European membership of NATO, even as ineffectively spent as it is, will be enough to scrape up enough deployable combat power to defeat a Russian conventional attack.

America would be in pretty good shape if Russia was the only threat. Sadly, the Chinese military is rising and could be a far more potent threat than the Russians could ever be.

Although as I've said, I still wouldn't trade places with China. Although our naval edge has eroded a lot since I wrote that a decade ago.