Russia’s Military Scientists and Future Warfare
Since the reform and modernization of Russia’s Armed Forces was initiated in late 2008, the General Staff leadership has been persistent in its appeals to the military scientific community to meet the challenges stemming from these complex processes. An essential ingredient in this public discussion is the focus on future warfare as part of the national defense strategy, to encourage greater attention to strategic foresight. The chief of the Russian General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, has pressed this issue heavily in his public speeches and articles, since his appointment in November 2012. This past March, Gerasimov outlined a new doctrine of limited actions that conceptualizes Russia’s approaches to warfare beyond its borders—particularly, as witnessed in Syria. Gerasimov also once more raised the issue of future warfare (see EDM, March 6). These views offer insights into how Russian defense specialists see future warfare and, consequently, some of the factors driving Moscow’s strategic posture.
In November 2018, Colonel General (ret.) Leonty Shevtsov authored a review article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer examining a monograph by General Aleksandr Vladimirov. The second edition of Vladimirov’s book, Osnovy Obshchey Teorii Voyny (The Basics of the General Theory of War), was examined in detail. In one section of the review, Vladimirov’s use of Soviet and Russian military theorists is outlined, many of whom are also frequently referred to in Gerasimov’s speeches (see EDM, March 12). In particular, Vladimirov based much of his thinking about modern warfare on Aleksandr Svechin, Andrei Snesarev and Yevgeny Messner. He refers to Snesarev: “The solution to the question of the future of war—positive or negative—remains a matter of faith, not a scientifically proven fact.” He also notes that Messner had forecast, “We must stop thinking that war is when people fight, and peace when they are not fighting. You can be in war without fighting” (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, November 28, 2018).
While themes and concepts drawn from some of the leading Soviet and Russian military theorists are present in Gerasimov’s speeches, showing the roots of current military thought among the General Staff leadership, elements of the interface between military science and emerging perspectives on future warfare are clearly represented in a May 28 article on this theme in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer. Lieutenant General (ret.) Vladimir Ostankov considers the issue of Russian perspectives on future warfare and shows clearly how this is influencing Moscow’s defense posture in many areas. Ostankov is a former head of the highly influential Center for Military-Strategic Research Under the General Staff (Tsentr Voyenno-Strategicheskikh Issledovaniy Generalnogo Shtaba Vooruzhennykh Sil’ Rossiyskoy Federatsii—TsSVI GSh). It is known, for instance, that the TsVSI plays a role in the formulation of military doctrine and produces classified papers on strategy, force development and future warfare, among other issues (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 28).
Ostankov declares at the start of his article the importance high technology and modern weapons systems and their impact on shaping the views and concepts of the Armed Forces, noting that the most important aspect of strategy is to predict the nature of future wars and outline the potential of the future enemy in order to form counter measures. Ostankov then describes the main features of modern warfare as follows:
- The massive use of high-precision and hypersonic weapons and Electronic Warfare (EW) tools;
- Multifaceted impact on the enemy throughout the depth of its territory and simultaneously in the global information and aerospace confrontation;
- Strengthened centralization and automation of troops and weapons control;
- Participation in the battles of irregular armed formations and private military companies (PMC);
- The complex use of force and non-military measures implemented with the wide use of the protest potential of the population;
- The use of externally funded political forces and social movements.
The author asserts that modern warfare increasingly centers on the application of political, economic, information, and other non-military means. He suggests this has been used during Russian military operations in Syria, mixing military and non-means in its application of power. On this basis, Ostankov claims the present Russian political leadership has augmented deterrence by adopting a deliberate policy of intimidating potential adversaries (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 28).
However, Ostankov believes the dominant role in future warfare still lies in the application of kinetic force. He refers to the changing face of warfare and its implications for the future: “New technologies have significantly reduced the spatial, temporal and informational gap between troops and command and control. Frontal collisions of large groups of troops (forces) at the strategic and operational levels are gradually becoming a thing of the past. A remote contactless impact on the enemy becomes the main way to achieve the goals of the battle and operation. The destruction of its objects is carried out [across] the entire depth of the territory. The differences between the strategic, operational and tactical levels, [as well as] offensive and defensive actions are erased.” The author further argues that artificial intelligence will play a much greater role in the wars of the future, robotizing the battlefield but not entirely negating the needs for human involvement (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 28).
Drawing on Russia’s experiments in Syria with network-centric warfare capability, Ostankov asserts this has significant implication for Moscow’s planning for future wars: “Anticipating a similar change in the nature of the struggle, the military strategy develops requirements for the development of interspecific reconnaissance-strike and reconnaissance-fire complexes, determining their place in the combat system and share participation in the destruction of the enemy. No wonder that a unit has been created within the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to deal with this problem.” Analysis of the United States’ military capabilities has resulted in a “transition of Russia from the policy of deterring a potential adversary with nuclear weapons to a policy of intimidation by causing unacceptable damage with hypersonic weapons in response to any large-scale aggression” (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 28).
It appears that a combination of views on the likely nature of future warfare, analysis of Russia’s threat environment and close attention to US military capability, has resulted in a shift in Moscow to adopting a policy of intimidating potential enemies, while strengthening its own capabilities to strike with unacceptable damage below the nuclear threshold. Ostankov’s article should not be underestimated given his background in the TsVSI and his access to and knowledge of current strategic thinking. He offers insight on Moscow adopting a deliberate policy of intimidating its potential enemies, which may be important in understanding Russia’s strategic actions in a wider context.
Roger N. McDermott specializes in Russian and Central Asian defense and security issues and is a Senior Fellow in Eurasian Military Studies, The Jamestown Foundation, Washington DC, Senior International Research Fellow for the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Affiliated Senior Analyst, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen. McDermott is on the editorial board of Central Asia and the Caucasus and the scientific board of the Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies. He recently wrote The Reform of Russia’s Conventional Armed Forces: Problems, Challenges and Policy Implications (October 2011).
This article appeared originally at The Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor.