Big Red Car here. Nothing to do today so I did a bit of research on the Russian military. Back in the day of the USSR, The Boss had an assignment to take a look at some forward deployed Russian Army units in Germany. They had this crazy tour of East Berlin limited to officers who were paratroopers or Rangers and who were taller than 6’3″. They visited the areas of East Berlin that the Russians had not rehabilitated.
They also met with similar aged Russian officers. It was a staring contest. The Boss was not impressed with the Russian company grade officers though they could really drink vodka.
So, how does the Russian Army stack up as a military force?
Let me bottom line it from the start: The Russian Army is not very good and the American Army would beat them like a rented mule if it ever came to a fair fight. Of course, professional soldiers do not want a fair fight.
Recent Russian Army History
The Russian Army is the successor to the armed forces of the USSR and dates back only to 1994. It has been organized and reorganized several times through the years.
Organizationally there has been a lot of confusion as to whether it is a territorial force, a border security force or a force intended to project force outside of its own territorial footprint.
The Russian Army has historically tied to specific geographical and governmental subdivisions. This is not the way an expeditionary force would be organized.
Organization for combat
As a result of what is continuing organizational chaos, the Russian Army is not currently configured to fight as divisions, corps, armies or army groups. In World War II when fighting the Germans they exhibited more cohesive structure which allowed them to campaign as large units.
The Russian Army is essentially a series of regimental sized units (3-5 battalions) which are designated by the predominant arm or capability (infantry, mech infantry, armor, artillery, signal, engineers). This makes it very difficult to undertake large combined arms battles as the higher headquarters finds itself fighting a bunch of regiments which have not fought together before. This tends to create a massing of units — particularly armor and artillery — which provide attractive targets for friendly air and standoff weapons.
Massing 900 tanks — as the Russians have done in the Crimea — invites destruction by air and pinpoint deadly weapons which can be guided remotely via drones, satellites and lasers.
The individual Russian unit is about 70% conscript and 30% contract or professional soldiers. The conscripts — draftees — are in the Russian Army for about a year. Previously they served 18 month hitches. This single fact unmasks a huge vulnerability as units cannot be adequately trained and attain combat readiness when personnel are changing so rapidly.
The capabilities of the current volunteer American Army v the 1960’s – 1970’s draftee Army demonstrates this fully. Volunteers fight better than draftees. The Boss experienced this first hand as he served at the nexus between the draft and the volunteer army. The current American Army is the most combat experienced field force on the planet. That is why it is so critical not to flush all that combat experience — particularly at the company grade level — by an ill-advised contraction as contemplated in the President’s recent budget submission to Congress.
Because of the high number of conscripts, the Russian Army is very top heavy with officers. The officers are better trained than the individual soldier and this training is supposed to be harnessed by dramatically increasing the number of company grade officers. This has also caused a lack of development of competent senior NCOs — non-commissioned officers, sergeants. NCOs run an army and officers command an army. If you have good sergeants, you have a good army.
This is a huge strength of the American Army as its NCOs are very well educated, experienced and trained.
The Boss’s Father — 95 years old and the toughest son of a bitch you ever met — was a NCO in World War II and got a battlefield commission as an officer. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major.
When told by his Battalion Commander in Italy he was being commissioned a Second Lieutenant, the Old Man balked. The Battalion CO, an Infantry Lieutenant Colonel, asked The Old Man why he didn’t want to be a Lieutenant. The Old Man asked the Battalion CO how the vacancy had come to be. The CO said the incumbent had been killed in action. The Old Man said: “That’s why, sir.” He ultimately was forced to take the battlefield commission and ran a Cannon Company. He shot it out across valleys, at river crossing and at mountain passes with Kraut 88’s. It was very important to get the first shot off.
The Brits say it takes two generations to make a good sergeant.
The Russian Army has inferior weapons when compared to the American Army. On paper, they seem to have excellent weapons but when tested they are inferior. Their tanks which were used by the Iraqis in Kuwait were clearly inferior to the American’s. They have a very tenuous and delicate technology. Where the American Army can put a laser on a target and guide a weapon to the target, this is not a sustainable capability of the Russian Army.
The American weaponry — due to Iraq and Afghanistan — is battle tested.
The Russians believe in mass production of simple weaponry and this was very effective against the Germans in World War II. The Germans had better tanks and maneuver capabilities. The Germans routinely beat much larger Russian armor formations until the sheer mass of the Russian tank production overwhelmed the Germans late in the war.
The American Air Force is so vastly superior to the Russians that the Americans would expect to sweep the skies clear of enemy aircraft in the first week of any shooting war. The Russians know this and have concentrated on anti-aircraft capabilities. The Americans will follow the Russian rockets home and destroy them.
The Russians are not a tactically creative army. The Germans never were really beaten tactically by the Russians and even the Russian ventures into Chechnya and Afghanistan show little tactical creativity. In the US Army, at the platoon level, Lieutenants are taught to shoot, move and communicate. At the company level — a Captain commanding three maneuver platoons and weapons support — the entire fight is one of maneuver as this is the smallest unit in which the commander cannot see his platoons when the fight is joined. [It is also the best job in the Army, like being a Chinese feudal warlord. The Boss was a company commander more than once and would join up today if he could get an airborne company.]
In the Northern German Plains in the late 1970s, we fully expected the Russians to pick a fight. We were all geared up to destroy any armored personnel carrier that had an antenna because the Russians, when decapitated, could not fight when leaderless.
The Russians favor overwhelming force which requires ponderous assembly and vulnerability in the assembly areas. Americans expect to fight and win when outnumbered 3:1 and to be able to go on the attack with only local superiority if they can control the skies and rain down artillery and close air support on the enemy’s positions. The Russians are quite doctrinaire and the Americans are more daring. Part of the American daring is the result of mastering the sea, air, land battle at the highest level and the combined arms fight at the lowest level.
The Russians are not good at the combined arms fight — infantry, armor, artillery, close air support. This is the modern battlefield wherein the Infantry “finds them and fixes them” and then brings the wrath of God down upon them. When General Powell was asked how the first Iraq war was going to be fought, he famously said: “First we’re going to cut them off, then we’re going to kill them.” This was a cocktail of maneuver and combined arms, a great American strength and a current Russian shortcoming. As it turned out, it was also prescient. The cutting off was done with bold strokes like moving the 101st Airborne Division, commanded by Gen Binford Peay current Superintendent of VMI and a great warrior chieftain and educator, in the longest airmobile operation in the history of warfare and then slaughtering the Iraqi armor at the Kuwait Airport in the largest armor encounter since Kursk.
When the Iraqis woke up that morning to find the Screaming Eagles had set up shop between them and retreat, the game was almost over. The firepower of an American division, even an airborne/airmobile division, is awesome.
The bottom line is this — we are likely headed on a collision path with the Russians. It may be in Europe when they decide to test NATO. It is likely coming.
We need to be ready to fight and win. We have absolutely nothing to worry about from Russia with a population of 145,000,000 and a large army but one that cannot fight a modern war like the Americans.
We have to let the Russians know that if they want a fight, they just may get one. It is time to lean forward in our saddles. That will ultimately be the low cost solution.
Tyrants only understand cold steel. Putin is a tyrant and a punk.
This is not the right time to contract our military forces.