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Russia plans to create a new arm, the Special Operations Forces
Media have reported this news many times, but the Defense Ministry refuses to comment on them. The Russian Security Council admitted that it was discussing the structure of the new arms and a decision will be adopted in the first half of 2005. The creation of the SOF as a separate arm shows that the authorities have admitted, after ten years of anti-terrorist efforts in Chechnya and around it, that the united forces of the Defense Ministry, the FSB and the Interior Ministry cannot defeat the international bandit structure. The country needs specially trained forces above all to combat terrorists, as well as to carry out reconnaissance and sabotage operations in the enemy rear and seize its staffs and command centers, missile bases and launchers. These are the tasks for which the spetsnaz of the Main Intelligence Service (GRU) and the Airborne Force and border districts have been trained in the 60 years since WWII. The Russian authorities and the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff seem to accept the view that Russia will not need to fend off a direct military threat as long as it has nuclear missiles. Spending through the nose on the development of war theatres and creation of powerful groups of forces in endangered areas is not a priority. Instead, we must prepare to repel primarily new challenges of the 21st century, including international terrorism, transborder crime, drug trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, missile technologies, munitions and explosives, and operations conducted by separatist, radical religious-nationalist and extremist organizations. Tank and motorized divisions, missile forces and artillery of the reserve of the Main Command cannot be used to fight these threats. What we need are mobile Special Operations Forces armed with special light weaponry and arms and special combat control systems and trained in the fulfillment of these tasks. The trouble is that Russia has such forces, but there are too many of them and they are subordinated to different commands. They include the GRU and the Airborne Force, spetsnaz of the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and the Main Directorate of Penitentiaries. In fact, all military districts have six spetsnaz units (former separate units of the Airborne Force), the fleets have four spetsnaz units, and the Caspian Flotilla has a unit too. Their training, armaments, equipment, tasks and communication systems differ from each other, which explains the disorganized nature of their operations in Chechnya and other regions where they have been used, as well as unjustified losses and rather low, compared with the demand, effectiveness. The next task after creating a joint command for these forces (the SOF Command) will be to elaborate common methods and standards for their training, arms and equipment, using the experience of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya. But this entails problems; the biggest of them is financing. The mindless unification of all spetsnaz units under a common command will not be enough. The SOF will need military transports and helicopters to become truly mobile and maintain permanent readiness. Military experts know that Russia does not have the ability to airlift one airborne division now. During last year's Rubezh exercise, it took nearly a fortnight to airlift one airborne battalion with its far from heavy weaponry. Where will the country find the money for the new Il-76MD or its analogues? The 2005 budget does not stipulate such allocations and Russian aircraft manufacturers will hardly complete such an order quickly. Another problem is concerned with special weapons and combat control systems. The SOF will need soundless sniper rifles and submachine guns, unmanned air vehicles, reconnaissance, theatre visual control, targeting,orientation and navigation systems, including using satellites and AWACS planes, as well as tapping, listening and electronic warfare equipment, and secret telecommunication systems, above all in the private to unit commander link. The forces will also need light and comfortable uniforms and footwear, and small but high-calorie rations. The Russian army has all of this, as individual examples at exhibitions have proven. The SOF will need large batches of these ingredients, which means money and industrial facilities. And lastly, which units will form the core of the SOF? The airborne units, which would be logical, as mass parachuting behind the enemy lines is not envisaged in the near future? But the airborne troops (or Marines) will hardly agree to change their name. Traditions, legends and even myths mean very much for the Airborne Force and it will hardly give them up even in the name of creating a new arm. Maybe the spetsnaz of military districts and fleets should be integrated into a new structure? But would it be logical to integrate spetsnaz and the airborne units, whose conduct different missions? What other units can be incorporated in the Special Operations Forces then? These are very serious questions that require serious analysis, which is probably being done. The creation of the SOF will be a serious, fundamentally new and very positive element of the military reform. But it should be carefully considered from the military and economic standpoints. Many challenging problems have been tackled in Russia of late, including the transition of permanent readiness units to contract service, the housing certificates program for servicemen, and the mortgage-accumulation system. But all of them have a common drawback: they attempt to solve serious national defense problems cheaply. This is why the housing problem in the army and navy has not been solved, even though the first attempt was made 15 years ago. One can only hope that thesame fate will not befall the Special Operations Forces.
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