Russia Looks East and Sees Storm Clouds
Attention to both combat capabilities and combat-readiness by senior officers in Russian military forces echoes comments made by retired Army-General Makhmut Gareev in early March during a conference organized by the Academy of Military Sciences on the lessons of the Great Patriotic War and their relevance to current defense and security issues. Gareev delivered the main report in the presence of the Chief of the General Staff, Army-General Nikolai Makarov, and other senior military leaders. Gareev speaks with great authority on this issue, having served as a young officer when the war began. Speaking to officers born after that war, Gareev faced the daunting task of convincing them of the relevance of that war's lessons for contemporary defense and security problems. He began by referring to Prime Minister Putin's admonition to not forget Russian military traditions, because the experience of many generations of officers can assist in solving contemporary military tasks.
In the context of the creation of the "new look" army, the transition to brigade-based formations and the development of network-centric warfare, Gareev focused on the relationship between the military and civilian leadership at critical times, specifically during the immediate pre-war period. Gareev criticized Stalin's leadership prior to the German assault. On the one hand, he wanted to avoid war at all costs that summer. On the other hand, every indication suggested that war was imminent. Stalin chose to accept the covert mobilization of Soviet forces in some military districts, and kept the frontier districts in a peacetime regime of summer training. Soviet mass media continued to stress the peaceful relations between Moscow and Berlin in the days before the attack. Regarding his famous press release, in which the Soviet government declared that it had no intention to attack Germany and was not engaged in any mobilization activities, and asked Berlin to clarify the intent of its deployments along the Soviet border, Gareev said that diplomats might have seen the statement as a ploy to force Germany to reveal its hand, but he warned that a critical aspect was missing. The foreign ministry and the General Staff never had any classified discussions about this issue and so the military districts and the navy were not warned about the imminence of war until after the first blow was struck. This is relevant in any situation when war is imminent, but it addresses the larger issues of civil-military relations. Gareev understands that Stalin would not have tolerated any such discussions between a foreign minister and the General Staff. Stalin controlled all channels of communication, which ran through his party-state apparatus. His basic point, however, is that the General Staff has every right to expect precise political guidance in order to make sound strategic decisions. This requires the political leadership understanding the impact of the tasks assigned upon operational military decisions.
Gareev highlighted two other war-imminent situations. He stated that Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, the Chief of the General Staff, opposed military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 at a session of the Politburo. In response, Yuri Andropov, the then-head of the KGB and a member of the Politburo, told the Marshal: "We here make policy. Your job is to accomplish the military tasks assigned." Political direction was no better at the start of the first Chechen War, when the government set the task for deploying forces to disarm bandit formations. What transpired was the bloody first battle for Grozny, where hastily-assembled composite units were surrounded and suffered heavy casualties. In both Afghanistan and Chechnya, the governments blundered into wars that they did not want, because they failed to understand the implied tasks that followed from the initial order, and failed in their political guidance to take into account the real situation on the ground.
Turning to the current Russian National Security Strategy, Gareev noted that it addresses the primacy of non-military means in resolving Russia's national security problems, but points out that there is really no effective central control of these means and the result is uncoordinated policy. This might leave the military with the task of salvaging a bad situation. In this context Gareev considered the issue of combat capability and combat readiness. The current military reform program is intended to achieve greater combat-capability (boesposobnost'). However, scant attention has been paid to combat-readiness (boegotovnost'). The first relates to arming, organizing, and training the forces for combat. The second concerns their readiness for actual combat, which means the capacity to respond to attack and go directly into combat. In 1941, the Soviet armed forces were undertaking measures to increase their combat capabilities, but they were not ready for the immediate conduct of combat operations, and forward deployed forces paid for that oversight. A similar situation existed in 1994 during the initial military intervention in Chechnya. Competent intelligence can provide some warning of possible attack, and in that context the investment in combat readiness pays its highest dividends in the initial period of war.
He also commented on the nature of future war. Admitting the difficulties associated with this task, he made a number of observations relevant to the current direction of the reforms associated with the "new look" armed forces. First, Gareev took to task those who depicted future conflicts as being "non-contact warfare," a term used by the late Major-General, Vladimir Slipchenko, to describe sixth generation warfare dominated by precision-strikes, electronic warfare, and information technology. To those who criticized Russian operations during the Russia-Georgia War in August 2008 for not being a "non-contact war," he states that the means used complemented the political and military context of the war and suggested this was based on achieving military and political goals without triggering foreign intervention. Reflecting on Soviet military theory in the 1930's, Gareev noted the positive development of both the deep operations concept and the creation of the industrial base to provide the means to arm such forces. "If we speak about the operational strategic dimension, then we have to admit that our theory and practice has a completely confused understanding of the initial period of war and how troops should act in the case of surprise attack by the enemy" (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, March 9).
Gareev noted the progressive nature of the development of the concept and capabilities associated with network-centric warfare, but warned that Russia does not yet have the means to conduct such operations. He also warns against seeing network-centric operations as a substitute for the conduct of ground combat. Russia fought the war that it did in Georgia, because it matched both the strategic circumstances and its political goals. New concepts do not negate that necessity.
Moreover, he said that the new Russian military doctrine refers to the use of forces in local wars, armed conflict, and anti-terrorist operations, but he warns that such conflicts will not be limited. They can evolve into large-scale regional wars in terms of forces deployed, and the areas involved in such conflicts. He warns that a serious gap exists in how we think about future war in theory and the actual technical basis to conduct such warfare. In part, this is a consequence of the lessons derived from looking at operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as models for future conflicts. These were one-sided conflicts, where only one combatant possessed modern means. Future wars are more likely to involve both sides deploying such means. That places before the Russian state and its military key tasks, which Gareev describes in the following manner:
"In our view, the most important task for the Russian armed forces is to create its own precision-strike weapons and the necessary technological base to support the conduct of network-centric warfare. Similarly, we must work out and implement more active and decisive methods of strategic and operational-tactical action to impose upon the enemy those actions, including contact warfare, which he most seeks to avoid" (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, March 9).
While this appears to describe a conflict with the United States, and its NATO allies, Chinese military modernization makes it also relevant for defense in the east. On March 5, addressing the defense ministry collegium, President Dmitry Medvedev, set the training focus for 2010. He spoke of increasing the combat readiness of the conventional forces in their new organizational structure, which will require the creation of multi-service groupings. He also said that he will personally observe Vostok 2010, conducted this summer by the Siberian and Far Eastern Military Districts (Vedomosti, March 9).
Taken together, this focus on the eastern strategic direction and the attention to combat readiness suggests both progress in military reform, and increasing concern over the possibility of hostilities from that direction.