Russian Military Prepares for Vostok 2010
Preparations are intensifying ahead of the Russian operational-strategic military exercise, Vostok 2010, scheduled for June 29 to July 8 in the Siberian and Far East military districts involving more than 10,000 servicemen under the command of Army-General, Nikolai Makarov, the Chief of the General Staff. This reveals the ways that the newly formed brigades will be tested, confirming the focus on developing network-centric warfare capabilities, and exposes critical problems facing the manning system. It is equally clear that Vostok represents a key test for the ongoing "new look" military reform initiated by Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov.
In mid-May, Colonel-General Aleksandr Postnikov, the Commander in Chief of the Ground Forces visited practice ranges in the Far East and Siberian military districts and finalized planning for the exercise. According to Postnikov, brigades will be moved across large distances from the European part of the country to the Russian Far East, including aviation and air defense units. This signals interest in whether the slowness in deploying brigades during similar exercises in 2009 has been adequately redressed. Postnikov also noted that commanders at all levels will be assessed in directing units using new automated command and control as well as "communication, navigation, reconnaissance, and radio electronic warfare" systems (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 18). It appears that the exercise is partly aimed at convincing the country's leadership that the "new look" has achieved significant progress towards adopting network-centric approaches to warfare.
Nonetheless, there are some features of the preparations for this exercise that warrant closer inspection. On May 25, Valery Sheblanin, the Siberian Military District Spokesman, said that a mobilization exercise was underway within the district linked to the forthcoming Vostok 2010. Approximately 200 district, army and brigade level commanders participated, with the emphasis placed upon troop control, use of new technology, and training soldiers within the restructured brigades for modern warfare (Interfax, May 25).
An enlarged meeting in Ryazan of the elite airborne forces (Vozdushno Desantnye Voiska -VDV) military council recently summarized the results of the winter training period and set tasks for the summer period. Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov, the Commander of the VDV, said that the airborne forces conducted two regimental tactical exercises last winter, and one divisional command staff exercise. Shamanov reported that the command staff exercise witnessed the 76th Airborne Assault Division using an automated command and control system for the first time. The VDV commander confirmed that subunits from the 31st Airborne Assault Brigade will play a key part in Vostok 2010, closely followed by a command staff exercise for the 98th Airborne Division (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 28).
Moreover, the force elements participating in the exercise denotes the seriousness attached to it by the Russian military and government, in what is a very sensitive location due to its proximity to China. A defense ministry source stated that servicemen from the host military districts will be joined by others, reflecting the need to rehearse moving troops quickly across the country, and will involve the air force (Voyenno Vozdushnye Sily -VVS) and VDV, as well as the Northern and Pacific Fleets. Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Troops will also participate (Krasnaya Zvezda, May 12). The same source added that offensive and defensive operations will be rehearsed. Meanwhile, a General Staff representative suggested that the exercise will examine the planned reduction of the six military districts to four and the forming of operational-strategic commands (ITAR-TASS, May 30).
Although defense officials stress the importance of the exercise, they are remarkably silent on the nature of the scenario. Given the location of the exercise, it is most likely to involve a scenario linked to a future crisis with China. Reporting on the force elements earmarked for the exercise suggests that Vostok's scenario may center on a military intervention in the Russian Far East by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), with an initial defensive response using units from the VVS and VDV as a holding motif while partial mobilization occurs, followed by offensive operations and the involvement of naval platforms drawn from two fleets. In a real crisis with China, the Russian conventional forces could not guarantee air superiority or use advanced cluster munitions to stop or delay advancing PLA divisions. The only military option in such circumstances would be early use of tactical nuclear missiles. The presence of the northern and Pacific Fleets during Vostok raises the question as to whether the scenario will include rehearsing a nuclear attack on PLA divisions (ITAR-TASS, May 30).
Vostok 2010 will test the combat capability and combat readiness of the new formations in the ground forces. Yet, the timing of the exercise coincides with the summer discharge of conscripts reaching the end of their twelve month term of service. Such an unpleasant coincidence has not stood in the path of proceeding with the exercise. Vera Reshetkina, Head of the Khabarovsk Committee of Soldiers' Mothers has reportedly received vast quantities of letters alleging that commanders of military units are blocking the discharge of drafted soldiers. The problem is that in February the top brass and defense ministry leadership finally admitted that the experiment with contract personnel had failed, and consequently their numbers would soon be reduced. As General Makarov noted, Moscow would like to have a professional army, but the state simply cannot afford it. Serdyukov's reform, therefore, cannot be presented as an effort to form such a volunteer force structure. Instead, biannually the brigades face the upheaval of those completing their service being discharged: in other words half of the manning within these brigades becomes entangled with new recruits. Faced with this potential embarrassment, the General Staff appreciated that those conscripts due to be discharged are now desperately needed during Vostok 2010, despite retaining them involving an evident flagrant breach of the law on conscription (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, May 24).
Indeed, even before Vostok 2010 has been staged, these issues expose deeper underlying problems facing the "new look." If it is necessary to temporarily flout the law on the term of service in order to boost combat readiness, it might foreshadow an increase to the length of service, possibly to eighteen months (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 18). Moreover, the adoption of network-centric warfare, which remains in its very early stages and will likely require sustained funding over at least a decade, contradicts preserving a manning structure that is so obviously reliant upon conscripts.