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Russia Announces New Plans for Military Reform


A researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences, the PLA’s main research institute, argues that Russia’s performance in the Ukraine war so far has revealed a range of military deficiencies, including relatively limited battlefield situational awareness, underdeveloped automation of weapons systems, and military personnel shortages. That said, the author argues that Moscow has successfully used nuclear deterrence to discourage NATO from direct military intervention.

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The Russian Ministry of Defense recently held its annual expanded meeting, which reviewed the achievements in the development of the Russian armed forces in 2022 and the progress of the special military operation in Ukraine. In light of the weaknesses exposed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the meeting announced new plans for the next step in military reform in order to improve the Russian armed forces’ overall combat capabilities, ensure the completion of the objectives of the special military operation, and effectively respond to security threats from NATO.


Strengthening nuclear forces to ensure strategic deterrence against NATO


As the buildup of Russia’s conventional forces is lagging behind, nuclear forces have become an important counterweight by which Russia maintains strategic parity with the United States and NATO.


In 2022, despite pouring a large amount of military resources into Ukraine, Russia continued to invest in its strategic nuclear triad, a pillar of national security, increasing the proportion of modern armaments in its nuclear forces to 91.3 percent. This year, the first Tu-160M strategic bomber was delivered to the Aerospace Forces, the Project 955A strategic nuclear submarine Generalissimus Suvorov joined the Northern Fleet, and the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile officially entered combat duty. In addition, Russia has further developed nonnuclear forms of deterrence, especially hypersonic weapons, as an effective complement to its nuclear deterrent, so as to achieve a dual-deterrence strategy with both nuclear and conventional weapons.


During the Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the face of the comprehensive pressure on Russia exerted by the “collective West,” Russia sent clear signals of nuclear deterrence, such as demonstrating its nuclear power through nuclear exercises, putting Russian nuclear forces on a higher level of alert, and warning that the third world war would be a nuclear one. Furthermore, in actual combat, Russia demonstrated its resolution and strength by using strategic bombers to launch cruise missiles and repeatedly firing Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, deterring NATO from direct military intervention. To ensure effective strategic deterrence against NATO, Russia plans to continue to maintain and improve its nuclear triad, which it sees as an important guarantee for its sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the strategic balance of power in the world.


Rebuilding a joint operations structure with the army at its core


The Russia-Ukraine conflict has fully awakened Russia to the fact that land warfare is still key to the outcome of wars.


At the beginning of the conflict, the Russian military tried to achieve its objectives through multi-domain joint combat operations, the central element of which was the battalion tactical group. Confronting a Ukrainian army empowered by NATO’s combat support system, however, the Russian battalion tactical groups showed weaknesses such as poor self-sustainability in combat and insufficient support capabilities. In addition, the Russian military was lacking in joint combat capabilities; on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, its various service branches and units could not coordinate effectively due to various factors.


According to reports, to streamline the chain of command on the land battlefield, the Russian military plans to rebuild a joint operations structure with the army at the core and achieve highly unified battlefield command at the tactical and operational levels, which will enable Russian troops to gain the initiative in battle through large-formation operations, a traditional advantage of the Russian army. One reform measure is the reorganization of brigades into divisions. Although a brigade is mobile and flexible, its relatively low number of personnel and limited strength mean that it cannot effectively fight a protracted and high-intensity war of attrition. The Russian military intends to restore the division system. Apart from planning to expand seven motorized infantry brigades into motorized infantry divisions and raise three new motorized infantry divisions, Russia will also create two additional air assault divisions for its airborne force, as well as five naval infantry divisions based on the existing naval infantry brigades. Another measure is to assign aerospace forces to each group army. In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Russian air force flew too few sorties, with unsatisfactory precision strike performance and limited coordination with ground forces. To address this issue, Russia plans to allocate one composite aviation division and one army aviation brigade to each group army to ensure integrated air-land operations. Third, Russia will optimize the deployment of troops in the country’s west. In response to new threats that may emerge after Finland and Sweden join NATO, the Russian military plans to create two new military districts—Moscow and St. Petersburg—and the western military district may specifically deal with threats from Ukraine.


Changing its approach and substantially increasing the number of military personnel


The “New Look” military reforms carried out in recent years by the Russian military focused on transforming an army designed for large-scale conflicts and dependent on mobilization into a lean, mobile standing army that could win future local wars and armed conflicts. To this end, Russia reduced the number of its military personnel to about one million. However, the country has a territory of more than 17 million square kilometers that spans 11 time zones, and a one-million-strong standing army is barely able to perform mobile homeland defense and foreign garrison duties. Security threats such as NATO’s eastward expansion, turmoil in the Caucasus, and the territorial claims of the United States’ Asia-Pacific allies, moreover, have increasingly spotlighted the Russian military’s insufficient manpower .


In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Russian military has found it difficult to complete combat tasks simultaneously on multiple fronts. Experience has shown that it is difficult for a lean army to satisfy the demands of high-intensity attrition warfare. Therefore, Russia has taken measures to significantly increase the number of military personnel.


It has, first of all, enlarged its combat forces. In August 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree, which would come into effect on January 1, 2023, to increase the number of combat personnel by 137,000 to 1.15 million. Another increase has been announced at the expanded meeting of the Russian Ministry of Defense, with the number of troops set to rise to 1.5 million, including 695,000 soldiers serving under contract—almost twice the current number. Second, Russia plans to change its conscription policy, raising the lower limit of the conscription age from 18 to 21 and the upper limit from 27 to 30. Citizens may choose to enter contract service from the first day of military service. Third, Russia has found it necessary to improve the national defense mobilization system. In response to problems revealed by the recent partial mobilization, such as the enlistment of unqualified personnel and the lack of equipment and materials, Russia intends to take measures such as improving the system of military service enlistment and the system of stockpiling combat equipment and material resources to ensure that enlisted personnel match the needs of combat missions and that they achieve combat effectiveness as quickly as possible.


Speeding up efforts to remedy deficiencies such as insufficient information-related capabilities


At present, as a result of insufficient information-related combat capabilities, the Russian military has continued to follow the traditional tactics of mechanized warfare in the special military operation.


In light of this, the Russian army is not only actively adjusting its strategy and tactics and taking a cautious approach, but is also speeding up efforts to remedy its deficiencies, with a focus on improving its information-related combat capabilities. First, it aims to increase the informatization level of command and communication systems. Measures include expanding the coverage of automated command and control systems, with priority given to equipping combat units below the battalion level with automated command system terminals and new-generation software-defined radios, and actively introducing artificial intelligence technology to enhance the efficiency of combat systems. Second, the Russian military seeks to improve battlefield situational awareness. This primarily involves equipping combat units at the squad and platoon levels with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and integrating them into a unified battlefield reconnaissance network, with real-time transmission of information through secure channels, which will greatly enhance the efficiency of the reconnaissance-strike loop. A third task is to accelerate the development of intelligent combat equipment such as UAVs—with a focus on strategic drones, integrated reconnaissance-strike drones, and loitering munitions—and expand the production of precision-guided munitions, especially precision-guided artillery shells.


In addition, in response to prominent logistical problems besetting the Russian army in the early stages of operations and mobilization, Russia has emphasized the role of the Military-Industrial Commission and concentrated its efforts on meeting the material and technical needs of the special military operation. Building on that—and upholding the principle that “there are no small matters on the battlefield”—Russia aims to provide its troops with advanced medical kits, body armor, and other equipment. At the same time, it will further optimize the system of outsourcing in logistics support and improve the military’s own capabilities of mobile equipment repair and maintenance, reestablishing repair units at all levels of the army to ensure that support capabilities meet the needs of the battlefield.


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Cite This Page

代勋勋 (Dai Xunxun). "Russia Announces New Plans for Military Reform [俄罗斯提出军队改革新计划]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in PLA Daily [解放军报], January 12, 2023

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