A changing military

Roger McDermott, on Medvedev’s Ambitious Military Reform Plans (excerpt):

Russia has announced its most ambitious, systemic military modernization program since the collapse of the USSR, scheduled to deliver a more efficient and combat-ready military by 2020. These plans betray breathtaking confidence. They will include 955 Borey-type submarines, armed with the Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile; ground-based modernized Topol-M ballistic missiles that will completely replace conventional Topols; modern tanks for the army (for instance, the T-80 Chernyy Orel [Black Eagle]); air defense systems (the S-400 surface-to-air missile system); and fifth-generation Russian fighters (series deliveries of the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose Su-35 fighters are due to begin in 2011) (Izvestia, October 20).

Perhaps even more ambitious are the plans to upgrade all units and subunits to the category of permanent combat readiness units (at the moment the ratio of combat to general readiness units is one to five). There is little public discussion of how these plans may be negatively affected by the sliding price of oil and the economic crisis currently faced by Russia, which until recently has been played down by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. There are elements of these reforms, however, that have been underestimated by Western commentators and are worth noting. They are a result of Russia’s experience in the war with Georgia in August: the shift to a brigade-based organization and a rapid reaction system that takes existing airborne troops and remolds them to provide more rapidly deployable troops from each military district. Taken together, these reform plans suggest that the Kremlin envisages using conventional warfare to resolve future crises.

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