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Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

martes, 15 de abril de 2014

¿Cuánto valen las FFAA rusas?

Modernization Leaves Russia’s Military Improved but Limited

By Richard Weitz, on 
With Russian forces still massed on the Ukrainian border and the world watching to see whether President Vladimir Putin will try to seize more Ukrainian territory, a key question is how effective Russia’s military machine has become after a half-decade of modernization efforts. The takeover of Crimea proceeded competently, with little bloodshed, but any attempt to occupy more territory in eastern Ukraine would likely be met with resistance. Russia would probably still win due to the weak state of the Ukrainian armed forces, but the true strength of the Russian military remains uncertain.

Although Russia’s defense budget started rising in the mid-2000s, the Russian military’s surprisingly poor performance during the August 2008 war with Georgia served as a critical catalyst empowering reformers to modernize Russian military tactics and procedures. The war highlighted such weaknesses as the slow reaction and mobilization of the Russian army, failures in Russian technical equipment, a lack of air-ground coordination and problems with communications.

Following the war, the Russian government announced further increases in defense spending, though it will take several more years for most of Russia’s military equipment to be modernized. Between 2008 and 2013, the government raised military spending by a third and drastically reformed both the armed forces and defense industry to tackle post-Cold War decay.

Media covering the Russian military occupation of the Crimea remarked on how new its ground equipment looked. The Russian navy and air forces have also been acquiring new systems and modernizing older ones. In addition, the Russian armed forces have transitioned from a mass mobilization army designed to wage another world war against the West to a smaller combat force in more flexible formations. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that Russia now only has about 845,000 military personnel as well as a potential reserve of 2 million people with recent military service. On paper, life in the army has become more attractive. Since January 2012, salaries for most military personnel have roughly tripled, and housing and education benefits have also increased. The number of long-term professional enlistees has been rising relative to the share of conscripts. There are now some 230,000 contract officers; by 2021, this figure will more than double to 500,000.

The Kremlin’s main priority has been to strengthen Russia’s strategic nuclear forces to ensure that they can negate any NATO missile defenses. But another priority has been to raise the readiness level of the conventional forces so that they can be mobilized and deployed more rapidly to respond to local conflicts. The Defense Ministry has begun conducting regular “snap” drills, in which the military command must mobilize large numbers of troops without advance notice, to ensure constant combat readiness. The ones conducted so far have included some of the largest exercises in Russia’s post-Soviet history.

In the Crimea campaign, the Russian military demonstrated that it is more capable of acting decisively and effectively in its post-Soviet space than the force that fought in Georgia six years ago. For example, the recent operation shows better economy in using force. Unlike previous interventions in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Georgia, the Crimea operation involved fewer than 10,000 special forces. Their mobility, speed, equipment and behavior were sharply different from those of the Russian forces seen in Georgia in 2008 or in the North Caucasus. At the same time as the Crimea operation, Russia's military also staged unprecedented maneuvers all along the Ukrainian frontier that experts say showed a new level of speed, agility and tactical integration among the different branches.

Nonetheless, we should be cautious not to exaggerate the extent of Russia’s military recovery. First, the Crimea campaign employed mostly contract soldiers and not Russia’s less well-trained and less effective conscripts. Russia's special forces are known to be rigorously trained, well-equipped, highly disciplined and effective in carrying out rapid covert operations, including seizing facilities. The same cannot be said about Russia’s other units.

Second, no actual combat took place in the Crimea campaign, so the Russian forces' fighting capabilities were left untested. Furthermore, not only did the local population offer no armed resistance, but many helped Russian forces surround Ukrainian bases, making it difficult for Ukrainian troops to consider opening fire.

In addition, Russia’s military modernization is excessively ambitious, at a time when Russia’s revenues from natural resources are threatened by the economic slowdown and Western sanctions. Actual defense disbursements have already fallen short on some spending pledges, and finance ministers have repeatedly warned that high defense spending squeezes out other essential spending on healthcare, education and infrastructure.

The post-Crimea sanctions have also deprived the Russian armed forces of opportunities to engage in joint exercises with NATO countries and threaten to block further Russian planned purchases of Western military equipment. Russia’s defense industry leaders shrug off these threats, claiming they can offer adequate domestically made substitutes, but this is questionable. The government has offered defense companies low-interest loans, tax rebates, assistance in obtaining critical components for major weapons systems and other support to help them meet the demands of the modernization drive. However, Russia’s defense industry has never recovered from the collapse of the Soviet military-industrial complex, which prioritized the flow of resources to military production. Defense production has repeatedly fallen behind schedule due to problems finding adequate managers and from defective parts provided by sub-contractors. And by alienating Ukraine, Russia risks losing one of its most important defense industrial partners.

Corruption and mismanagement also continue to place an enormous burden on defense spending. In May 2011, Russia's chief military prosecutor acknowledged that as much as a fifth of the state’s defense spending was stolen. The government has become more outspoken about fighting these evils. In July 2013, Putin complained about delays in meeting rearmament deadlines. Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister who oversees defense production, has equated corruption in the defense sector to treason. A new law stipulates that the heads of defense corporations that cause major delays or other problems through mismanagement will be heavily fined and barred from defense production for up to three years.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry has the impossible task of staffing a million-man army at a time when Russia is experiencing serious demographic problems. Despite recent improvements, Russia still has a high death rate and low birth rates, resulting in a population growth rate of -0.02 percent this year. In order to ensure an adequate number of qualified conscripts, the ministry needs to draft 550,000 to 600,000 people annually, roughly the number of young men who turn 18 each year. Furthermore, Russian youth suffer from elevated health problems, including self-induced ones from excessive alcohol consumption and widespread drug use. After subtracting draft dodgers and those unfit for service from the available pool of draftees, the numbers fall well short of those needed to meet the 1 million goal.

Russia does not need a million-man army to seize more Ukrainian territory. But despite Moscow’s efforts to modernize its military, persistent challenges, now exacerbated by Western sanctions, continue to present barriers to Russia’s ambition to return to superpower status. For now Russia remains a regional power, still able to bully its unfortunate neighbors, but not to threaten another Cold War.

Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a World Politics Review senior editor. His weekly WPR column, Global Insights, appears every Tuesday

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