Russia’s "Effective Army" Plans to 2025
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has outlined the country’s military modernization achievements in the context of the ongoing drafting and internal discussion regarding the new State Armaments Program to 2025 (Gosudarstvennaya Programma Vooruzheniya—GPV). Shoigu put forward a vision of greatly enhanced military capabilities, but he has moved beyond simply promising more military hardware and modern systems. Rather, he indicated that, over the next decade, Russia would invest in modernizing and expanding military infrastructure. Despite the country’s economic challenges, it appears that state planning will not downgrade defense spending in favor of other aspects of governmental budgeting. As the drafting of the GPV to 2025 moves into its final stages, following considerable delay, the underlying message is greater emphasis on force multipliers linked to high-technology assets and further expansion of infrastructure (Moskovskiy Komsomolets, April 21).
The GPV to 2025 experienced numerous delays linked to concern over spending levels following the precedent set by the GPV to 2020—which hiked expenditures to 19.3 trillion rubles ($346 billion). The recent suspended animation for the new GPV reflects divisions between the defense and finance ministries (see EDM, September 15, 2016; October 6, 2016), domestic fears that the state cannot afford to continue such investment levels in national defense, as well as a number of related economic and security factors. This general background stems from the downturn in the Russian economy that resulted from declining global oil prices, sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea (with its knock-on impact based on losing access to the Ukrainian defense industry), and the ensuing dispute between the defense and finance ministry. Amidst the GPV drafting process, Russia has been involved in the conflict in Donbas, it deployed forces to the Syrian conflict, and it faces an increasing stand-off with the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This has meant additional recalibration of the requirements for the GPV to 2025; in other words, the delays are about politics more than economics (see EDM, March 14). The lengthy process will, therefore, only see its final resolution in summer of 2017, with governmental approval scheduled in the fall.
The Russian defense minister stands at the forefront of defending the interests of the military against the arguments by officials in the finance ministry. And Shoigu has used multiple platforms to advance the cause of maintaining realistic levels of defense spending to successfully modernize the Armed Forces. One such platform is the regular meetings of the defense ministry’s collegium. Normally, the collegium has been used to update officials as well as representatives of government bodies, the defense industry, and various interested organizations on the progress made in modernizing the military. But on April 21, Shoigu addressed this body with an eye toward longer-term financial issues. Specifically, he spoke about the completion of state tests of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate, the plan for the Northern Fleet to 2020, the development of ground-based space infrastructure for the Armed Forces, the GPV to 2025, and the success of the new Military Police (Mil.ru, April 21).
Shoigu certainly tried to impress his audience with a number of apposite military statistics to support the theme that the modernization remains highly relevant for Russia: these ranged from numbers of newly formed units to reporting on advances in contract personnel levels. According to Shoigu, earlier this month, the 14th Army Corps was created. The number of contract personnel serving in the Navy reached “95 percent,” with the Ground Forces boosted by 100 percent contract manning of all battalion tactical groups. He also mentioned the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its use in combat operations in Syria. Shoigu noted the first combat use of Russian cruise missiles and said the Navy will be further strengthened by introducing greater numbers of these precision-strike systems. Turning to the GPV to 2025, Shoigu admitted likely budgetary constraints compelling “capital construction,” but he declared that spending will continue to introduce new weaponry and equipment and develop military infrastructure. This effort will involve strengthening the nuclear triad, building more infrastructure, and laying 24,000 kilometers of fiber-optic communication lines. Regarding the latter, he confirmed that the future Russian Army will depend on more high-technology assets and approaches to modern warfare (Mil.ru, April 21).
These themes and their fiscal aspects were explored during an extensive interview by Deputy Defense Minister Tatyana Shevtsova in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer. “Sequestration” and “budgetary constraints” were much in evidence, but Shevtsova delivered a reassuring message based upon improved planning and greater efficiency in defense planning. In discussing defense sequestration, Shevtsova highlighted the important role played by forming the budget to fulfil the development plans for the Armed Forces, enhancing financial efficiency to implement the “effective army program,” and monitoring the use of the funds to carry out the state defense order. However, the use of monitoring mechanisms and a range of measures to improve the efficiency of fiscal planning and implementation seem to offset any negative impact of small levels of sequestration (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, April 19).
Such efficiency themes in Shevtsova’s interview are consistent with many of Shoigu’s public statements, lending credibility to the idea that future defense spending will support ongoing transformation toward a more high-tech force capability. Indeed, given Russia’s positive assessment of its use of cruise missile systems in Syria, the defense ministry has swung behind investing in large numbers of precision-strike systems in the future. Moreover, it has raised the prospect that this will also reduce reliance upon Russia’s nuclear deterrence (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, April 19).
Shoigu’s comments also suggest more airfields will be built to support long-range aviation. Naval infrastructure will be similarly boosted. And the Russian military will build greater numbers of precision-strike systems for air and coastal defense as well as to provide more effective offensive capabilities. No outward evidence exists that belt tightening will mitigate Russia’s existing aspirations to build a formidable military capability to meet modern challenges (Lenta.ru, TASS, April 21).
Something quite significant has changed in Russian defense planning and in smoothing out the financial planning features of the state arms procurement agenda; it stems from correcting the historical defense planning deficiency rooted in the absence of military statistics. The defense ministry is in the early stages of correcting this weakness, allowing much greater confidence in planning cycles, spending efficiencies, and monitoring progress in implementing modernization programs. Moscow is becoming smarter in prudent defense spending and planning, with implications for a move away from the former Soviet legacy force and toward a credible and usable force in the future.