From Republic.ru, Jan. 17, 2023, https://republic.ru/posts/106874. Complete text:
The unexpected reshuffle in the leadership of the [Russian] “special military operation” (SMO) [see Vol. 75, No. 1‑2, pp. 3‑7] has propelled General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov to the position of new commander [of Russian forces in Ukraine]. Meanwhile, [now-former SMO commander] Sergei Surovikin, on whom prowar bloggers until recently pinned their hopes for early victories of the Russian Army, was demoted to [Gerasimov’s] deputy. Proestablishment commentators immediately found a new darling and started to explain that the strategic operations the Kremlin is planning require coordinated action by not only between the branches and services of the Armed Forces, but also between formations of other security and law-enforcement agencies – namely, the National Guard, the Internal Affairs Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB), etc. According to them, such coordination can only be ensured at the level of the General Staff chief. Other commentators tend to believe that [the reshuffle] was the result of behind-the-scenes fighting between the main participants in the operation. [They said] Yevgeny Prigozhin [head of Russia’s Wagner private military company – Trans.] had placed his bet on Surovikin and at the same time organized the harassment of other generals, including Valery Gerasimov and [Col.] Gen. Aleksandr Lapin, who has just been appointed to the post of Ground Forces chief of staff.
At the same time, commentators are ignoring a far more relevant fact: The reshuffle shows that since the start of the SMO, Russia’s military-political leadership continues to experiment with its organization system. At first, not even a unified command was established (at least, nothing was officially announced about it). Official reports said that during the first several months of combat operations, they were led by the command of each of the four military districts. Each general was in charge of large combined units pulled from his district. The Air Force and the Navy answered to their own command.
That must have been the reason for creating a hitherto unknown body – the joint staff of branches of the Armed Forces involved in the SMO – we only learned of its existence from media reports about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin visiting it. The joint staff’s very existence showed that the idea of an “integrated operation,” with an effective command and control system, which includes large combined units of the Ground Forces, the Navy and the Air Force, was never implemented. This means that military units and large combined units of various branches of the Armed Forces had their own command and control, logistics, supply and communication systems, and the joint staff itself was created to coordinate their combat operations. Needless to say, such “coordination” takes time.
Granted, in April 2022, foreign media reports (which were not officially confirmed) said that Gen. Aleksandr Dvornikov had been appointed commander of the entire grouping [of forces in Ukraine]. Finally, on Oct. 8, 2022, Gen. Sergei Surovikin was officially appointed commander of the joint grouping of forces. And now, three months later, there has been another shakeup. With Gerasimov’s appointment, command has passed (or returned) to the General Staff [of the Russian Armed Forces]. The wording of the Defense Ministry’s official explanation is extremely ambiguous, to put it mildly. The ministry claims that [the reshuffle] was related to “the expansion of the scale of missions accomplished in the course of [the SMO]; the need to ensure closer coordination between branches and services of the Armed Forces; and the need to improve the quality of all types of support, as well as the effectiveness of command and control of troops (forces).” It follows from this that the previously created “joint staff” was not very effective, to say the least.
Convoluted command and control instead of network-centric warfare.
What is happening now is a specific consequence of a more general problem: Russia has failed to put in place a clear-cut military command and control system. From all indications, the functions of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff have not been coherently separated in the Russian Armed Forces. For example, the Chief Administration for Combat Training is part of the Defense Ministry, while the Chief Organization and Mobilization Administration is part of the General Staff. This explains some of the difficulties that arose in the course of “partial mobilization” [see Vol. 74, No. 38, pp. 3‑6]. It turns out that the call-up of reservists was handled by General Staff officials, whereas their training was organized by Defense Ministry functionaries.
Such disarray in the command structure is compounded by the desire to preserve archaic military culture at any cost. This applies in particular to the requirement that any order by a superior commanding officer be carried out completely and unconditionally. This state of affairs was aptly described by [Valery] Zaluzhny, commander in chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, when he characterized his opponent, Sergei Surovikin: “The Soviet Army welcomed and enforced one concept: the commander (who is the central figure – A.G.). But being a commander and being a leader is not the same. With all due respect to Mr. Surovikin, if you look at him, he is an ordinary Petrovite commander from Peter the Great’s time.*** You look at him and understand that either you complete the mission or you’re f*cked.”
However, the situation in modern warfare changes so rapidly that meticulously following orders formulated in advance may result in failure. The requirement that an order be carried out unconditionally deprives Russian Army officers of initiative, personal responsibility and the ability to make independent decisions. However, independence in accomplishing a combat mission is the key to success in network-centric warfare, which is currently a core concept in Western military planning. After all, this concept posits that thanks to the revolutionary advancements made in the military (satellite reconnaissance and communication, the use of drones, [etc.]), each combatant constantly receives exhaustive information about the situation on the battlefield, and on that basis makes independent decisions. According to [media] reports, the Russian Army is having problems applying this concept in practice. This is hardly surprising. The concept of network-centric warfare is in principle incompatible with archaic military culture oriented toward a mass mobilization army where diligently following orders is far more important than independent decision-making.
However, with the best will in the world, military culture cannot be changed overnight. Its locus is the officer corps. [Former defense minister] Anatoly Serdyukov’s military reform was stopped precisely when it initiated changes in military education and training. Readers are reminded that Serdyukov and his subordinates decided to reorganize all higher military schools (there were 68 in 2008) into 10 educational and scientific centers (by branches and services of the Armed Forces). Plans called for concentrating leading researchers in corresponding branches of the military science [in those centers]. This offered a chance for cadets and [commissioned] officers to be educated and trained in the most advanced methods of warfare. The reformers acted on the assumption that after receiving a basic military education, graduates of an educational and scientific center would subsequently acquire new knowledge without having to leave their duty stations for very long. In their opinion, to be promoted to a higher position and rank, an officer would have to complete a relatively short training course and acquire new knowledge and skills in a specific area (the length of service alone would not be enough).
Finally, and most importantly, the program of basic professional military education was to be radically revised. It was to be based on fundamental scientific disciplines, with much lower priority being given to the acquisition of specific military skills. Foreign experience shows that skills in using even sophisticated military hardware and equipment – [such as] warships, aircraft [and] missiles – can be easily acquired at special training centers. Furthermore, the reformers intended to prioritize humanities, primarily the study of foreign languages, in officer education programs. In short, the focus was on such qualities for commanders as the ability to constantly update their knowledge and hone their skills, [and] understand the world around them, as well as their place in it.
At that point, following Serdyukov’s dismissal [see Vol. 64, No. 44‑45, pp. 3‑6], the reform was reversed. In an effort to meet the military top brass halfway, the Defense Ministry decided to preserve a number of military academies as independent educational institutions. The military educational institutions that had been made subordinate to the Defense Ministry’s education department on Serdyukov’s watch returned to the jurisdiction of the chief commands of the corresponding branches of the Armed Forces. Pursuing their departmental interests, these commands began to demand that higher education institutions provide students not with fundamental knowledge but primarily with so-called “practical skills.”
The first of these skills is unquestioning obedience. At the same time, because the number of large combined units was substantially reduced between 2009 and 2012, there was a surplus of lieutenants, who were appointed to NCO positions. However, the appearance of new undermanned combined units led to a shortage of officers. Fast-track officer training programs were launched. Whereas in 2012, 8,000 people were admitted to military educational institutions, in 2022 the intake was around 13,000. In 2019, the period of basic education was reduced by one year, [from five] to four years.
With mass mobilization and plans to increase the size of the Armed Forces [see Vol. 74, No. 51-52, pp. 16‑17], there is an increasing need for junior officers. And this is unlikely to help improve the quality of command.