WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The Russian Defense Ministry is accelerating its plans to reduce its armed service personnel by about 17 percent, or 200,000, in the next few years.
The original goal set by Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin was to reach that goal by 2016. But hard-charging Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said earlier this month that the goal could now be met in half the time -- within four years and by 2012.
"It was planned that the Russian military would number 1 million by 2016," Serdyukov said in a Moscow press conference Oct. 8, as reported by the RIA Novosti news agency. "Our new task is to achieve this target by 2012."
Serdyukov also announced that in the same four-year time period he would push through draconian cuts in the number of commissioned officers serving in the Russian armed forces, reducing them from their current level of 450,000 to only 150,000 -- one third the current number -- by 2012.
In the nearly 17 years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the Russian armed forces have shrunk by almost three-quarters in terms of their manpower numbers, from 4.5 million to the current 1.2 million. But Putin and current President Dmitry Medvedev have been frustrated in their efforts to dramatically restructure the armed forces and make them far more professional, better trained, better equipped and far more high-tech.
Serdyukov, who has no military background, was appointed to push through the necessary reforms over the opposition of the Army Old Guard.
Trying to sweeten the bitter pill of his latest cutbacks, Serdyukov was reported by RIA Novosti as saying he was not seeking to fire many commissioned officers, but rather hoped his target could be met largely through implementing the "gradual retirement of officers whose service terms have expired."
"The scale and the context of military reforms is believed to be the major source of a long-running conflict between the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense, which intensified after the appointment of Serdyukov as defense minister," RIA Novosti said.
In June, as previously reported in these columns, Serdyukov fast-tracked four-star Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov, former head of Armed Forces Arms Procurement, to succeed tough old four-star Army Gen. Yury Baluyevsky as the new chief of General Staff, as his key ally in implementing the reforms.
UAC chief thinks MiG can win Indian Force Fighter deal
Russian aircraft manufacturers remain confident they can keep the United States frozen out of the lucrative Indian air combat aircraft market
RIA Novosti reported Oct. 3 that the United Aircraft Corp. remains confident it can beat out U.S. aircraft manufacturers in the competition to sell 126 multi-role fighter aircraft to the Indian air force.
UAC is marketing the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 in contention against rival bids from Lockheed Martin and Boeing in the United States, Dassault in France, Saab in Sweden and the Eurofighter Typhoon of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies. The contract is estimated to be worth $10 billion, RIA Novosti said.
Whoever wins the contract will supply 18 combat aircraft and will manufacture another 118 of them in India under license.
"The competition is very tough, but we have several trump cards -- the MiG-35's superb performance characteristics and the fact that Russia and India share a long-standing partnership in strategic and political cooperation," UAC chief Alexey Fyodorov said, according to the report.
Momentum appears to favor the Kremlin: Despite its heavily publicized strategic dialogue with the United States over the past year, India has embarked on a new spending spree to purchase major Russian conventional weapons systems.
Russia has also renegotiated its contract to get the old Russian vertical takeoff and landing aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov transformed by Russia's Sevmash shipyard into a regular aircraft carrier to carry a minimum of 16 MiG-29K Fulcrum-D carrier fighters, the Smerch multiple rocket launch system and an agreement to manufacture Russia's T-90S Main Battle Tanks in India under license.
The Indian Defense Ministry in March also approved a deal to modernize 70 MiG-29 fighters, for co-production with Russia of an ambitious fifth-generation air superiority combat aircraft.
Russia is so eager to win the contract, it has promised to give India's Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. all the key technologies of the aircraft and to help the Indians manufacture it themselves.
RIA Novosti described the MiG-35 as "an export version of the MiG-29M OVT-Fulcrum F," which is a highly maneuverable air superiority fighter. The plane has RD-33 OVT thrust vectoring engines to boost its maneuverability, the news agency said.
"So far, none of the participants has met the demands of the tender put forward by the Indian air force," RIA Novosti cited Fyodorov as saying.
A decision on the contract cannot be long delayed. RIA Novosti noted that India's current, Soviet-supplied air superiority fighter force is now woefully out of date, still flying such antiquated aircraft as the MiG-21 Fishbed and the MiG-23 Flogger.
The offer to turn over MiG-35 technology will also be highly tempting to New Delhi. India's own defense industry sector and government research apparatus have had a woeful record in developing their own indigenous modern combat aircraft. The Tejas, which was to have been the home-produced air superiority fighter, will not enter operational duty for at least another four years, RIA Novosti said.