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Understanding the Russian war machine

Huge commands were set by the Soviet Union just for being prepared in case of rapidly mobilizing thousands of divisions. However, Russia has been left with this command structure since the collapse of the Soviet Union while under the communist system, there was no way to pay for it.

russian war machine
The Russian officers most likely tend to stay in their initial field for their whole career which allows them to potentially achieve a particular level of expertise above that of the United States in any particular field for example. (Photo source: Reuters)

By Vaibhav Agrawal

It is not really possible for overstating the effect World War II had on Moscow’s military thinking that the surprise invasion during operation Barbarossa had led them in a state of being completely unprepared during the cold war.

Huge commands were set by the Soviet Union just for being prepared in case of rapidly mobilizing thousands of divisions. However, Russia has been left with this command structure since the collapse of the Soviet Union while under the communist system, there was no way to pay for it.

A lot of these benefits are being tried to be maintained by Moscow but with further privatization such as capitalism and housing in general, it turns out to be highly expensive for the government although this has left them with a large ratio of enlisted personnel to officers. Several attempts were made by Russia for fixing this up and the new look reforms of 2008 were the most successful of all. This reform led to the shrinking of the size of formations from divisions to brigades thereby removing the requirement for a large number of officers down the ladder.

Most Moscow divisions turned into brigades that stand as the next step down while the regiments further step down to battalions and this took that officer ratio down to most of the western armies. However, Moscow seems to be reintroducing some divisions once again the 20th, 47th and 127th motor rifle divisions. For instance, one possible rationale could be their desire to have further combat power in various regions for deterring NATO in the west and threats in the Pacific to the east but unless they have the capability to completely man the units and make them up that is even a lower possibility with the Ukraine war, Moscow could be getting into this issue again.

Russia carries out things differently. They are completely aware and have extensively studied the way which most of the Western armies emphasize NCOS and they reject it. Their system consists of smaller staffs which provides their officers with more direct experience of leading and commanding their respective units while also a focus is created by the system on becoming an expert in their field, unlike the Western armies.

The Russian officers most likely tend to stay in their initial field for their whole career which allows them to potentially achieve a particular level of expertise above that of the United States in any particular field for example. However, this also offers certain downsides. The ever-increasing importance of joint warfare and combined arms which makes use of all the aspects of fighting background, sea, cyber and air together for maximizing the capability is and lethality deliberately needs knowledgeable officer in all aspects of warfare in order to completely take an advantage of this, so that said, pros and cons stand for each system.

Another big difference on the other hand in the choice is that Russia currently operates smaller deployable manure units at the battalion level which are often called as battalion tactical groups. These are their basic units which have the capability of independent action along with a bit of everything necessary. Other air defence artillery support, tanks etc, the BTGs are formed in an ad-hoc manner from motor rifle brigades or tanks or regiments making use of the most combat-ready and capable equipment.

The above-cited can be compared to the United States that uses much larger brigade combat teams while once again each approach carries certain pros and cons with it. The Russian Federation had noticed that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the wars it was fighting has been smaller and thereby resulting in the the overkill of large brigade-sized manoeuvre units and turning out ineffective.

On the other hand, there exist other pros but also there are several cons such as the lack of ability of acting in a strategic role and such as complicating logistics. That role gets further accelerated to higher command and also to the general staff.

The BTGS stand with a more narrow focus as they are rigid and less flexible towards adapting the changes in the battlefield conditions as compared to the larger brigade combat teams.

Coming to mapping the Russian armed forces the currently bifurcated into five districts Southern, central, eastern, western and northern, that is the recently added one. Each of these districts are made up of one Army Corps and a few combined arms Army with exception of the central district that stands effectively landlocked because of no other nation threat approaching from north and so, there’s no potential need for a coastal defence.

Typically, each of the field Army consists of around three tank brigades or motor rifle or divisions. These are again the main formation from where the battalion tactical groups are crafted. They also are equipped with one command and control brigade, air defense brigade, artillery brigade and other battalions such as chemical, nuclear, biological, engineers and logistics protection etc.some independent units are also there in the district which are not under any field Army.

Intriguingly, the northern district was just elevated to the status of military district nearly 20 years back. Earlier, it was considered as a part of the northern fleet of the Russian navy while before that was just a part of the western district due to the remote location and also the fact that Finland was a neutral country. The district has only one naval infantry, two motor rifles and three total combat brigades. However, as of now, Finland has applied for joining NATO in response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. It would now be a point to see how Russia will be growing the district and possibly developing new combined arms armies as well.

The growing importance of the Arctic has been recognised by Moscow. Melting ice at the Arctic has enabled the extraction of vast wealth of oil gas along with other resources and also opened up new shipping routes. Several nations are now investing in the Arctic from the US increasing arctic exercises to Canada building new ships to operate in the region to Denmark creating their joint arctic command.

(Author is a Mumbai based journalist covering defence & aerospace. He can be reached on vaibhavmag1@gmail.com. He Tweets https://twitter.com/VaibhavMAGViews expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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