MOSCOW, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- On Oct. 8 a joint panel of the Russian and Belarusian defense ministries issued unexpected if not breaking news that is sure to trigger significant feedback from the public.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov revealed a new plan to cut the Russian army and navy down to 1 million personnel by 2012, and not by 2016 as previously stated. The plan, which will be heavily debated in public, mostly will affect commissioned officers, not conscripts and non-commissioned officers, despite the fact that the latter are suggested regularly as a target for cutbacks by a pro-democratic public. According to the plan, the number of serving COs will be reduced by half, from 300,000 to 150,000.
Serdyukov remarked that it was not his decision and that the changes will be made in accordance with a presidential order. The appearance is as if the draft was not suggested to President Dmitry Medvedev by the Russian Defense Ministry.
"We will not discharge any officers. The reduction will be done routinely by attrition through retiring commissioned officers who are beyond their term of required service," Serdyukov said.
There has been discussion regarding the need to reduce the CO count in the Russian army for several years. A significant disproportion has developed in recent years, as the Russian General Staff and the Defense Ministry and various other departments have too much redundant duplicating structure.
However, there's a shortage in commissioned officers at the platoon commander level, who are responsible for training conscripted junior ranks. Currently, platoon-level commander positions are only 40 percent to 50 percent filled.
The Russian defense minister has issued a directive to reduce personnel in the departments and other subordinates in the Russian Defense Ministry and General Staff by 40 percent to 50 percent, filling the newly vacated positions with civilian specialists, allowing a transfer of the former COs from the reserve.
The shortage of platoon-level commanders will be compensated for by young reserve officers, graduating from military training centers at civil higher education institutions, who will be called up to serve for three years as lieutenants.
These commissioned officers also will have the opportunity to sign another contract for an additional three to five years if they wish to continue their service. This will grant them the privilege of using the savings and mortgage system for housing and other benefits.
The idea that Russian armed forces will need 150,000 commissioned officers instead of the current 300,000 was a surprise for every analyst in any way connected to the Russian army.
Opinions differ on the Russian Defense Ministry's decision. Some experts say it will make the Russian army proportionate to those of the world's leading powers like the United States, Great Britain and France, where commissioned officers are elite decision-makers who rely on professional sergeants in the execution of orders.
An armed force would need a limited number of such commanders; therefore there are a small number of military academies in the above mentioned countries. The United States has three military academies, with officers receiving their basic education at civil colleges and universities before going on to training courses that last for six to nine months depending on the specialty, training them to successfully lead the subordinate units afterward.
It is different with the Russian armed forces. Russian commissioned officers graduate from military higher-education establishments after at least four to five years of study to become military professionals for almost the rest of their lives.
(In Part 2: A number of military experts believe a rapid cut in the number of commissioned officers is risky and could significantly decrease the Russian military's combat readiness.)
(Nikita Petrov is a Russian military analyst. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interest of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)