The general and his army
The first few work days after the New Year holiday saw Prime Minister Vladimir Putin redistribute powers among his cabinet members. According to the official website of the Russian government, he has entrusted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin with responsibility for industry and the defense-industrial complex, the state arms program, the state defense order, and development programs in the defense, nuclear, and rocket and space industries. Rogozin also will be responsible for oversight of the export of commodities, information, work, services and intellectual products that might be used to develop weapons of mass destruction, their delivery vehicles, or other types of weapons and military equipment.
As we can see, his responsibilities are extensive and highly complex. He is facing numerous hurdles. The national defense industry is in a bad shape. The relationship between the military and arms suppliers is fraught with problems. The Armed Forces lack the advanced military equipment and combat support systems they need now and will need in the future. Will the young, aggressive and ambitious politician succeed where his predecessors have largely failed? It’s hard to say, although some hope can be found in his past record as ambassador to NATO in Brussels, where he vigorously defended Russia’s national interests (earning the respect of Russian elites), and as a special presidential representative on anti-missile defense and negotiations with the U.S. and NATO.
Given that the problems in the defense industry have been building up for decades, they cannot be solved in a matter of two months or even two years. Of course, the job required – and still requires – an active and talented man like Dmitry Rogozin. That being said, even a very able general (commander, manager, leader, whatever) does not make the battle. Rogozin will need an army (team) of brothers-in-arms to tackle these complex issues, the majority of which are interlinked with the general state of affairs in our homeland.
To begin with, the defense industry, which has been neglected for practically the entire post-Soviet period, is badly in need of a technological and technical upgrade. Only 10% of its machine tools are up to modern standards, and you cannot make hi-tech or precision military products on equipment dating back to the early 1970s. The government has allocated three trillion rubles to be spent on the defense industry’s technological upgrade over the next ten years. Dmitry Rogozin and his colleagues from the Ministry of Economic Development, the Finance Ministry and other related agencies will have to ensure that the money is spent in a rational and efficient way.
This one big problem encapsulates numerous smaller ones, including fighting corruption, determining real prices for technology purchases and the resulting defense products, relieving industrial plants and design offices of excess rented space, and many other things, without which the industrial overhaul will be impossible.
Training highly skilled personnel for the defense industry is another urgent and long-neglected problem. Currently the average age of its employees is above the retirement age. Only recently has this number started to inch downward. Without top-notch specialists – designers, engineers, technicians and fitters – we will be unable to retake the lead in the manufacture of state-of-the-art weapons. Nor is it possible without the latest science, including materials science. What incentives can the defense industry offer to entice graduates of the Moscow State Technical University, Moscow Aviation Institute, Moscow Power Engineering Institute, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and other leading universities? For the time being, high salaries are out of the question. But there are other benefits, such as assistance in purchasing housing or fostering public respect for their profession, as was the case in the Soviet period. And again, this is the responsibility not just of Dmitry Rogozin but of many public institutions and even the media.
He can achieve a lot by encouraging others to follow his example. But he cannot solve this problem single-handedly without the assistance of government agencies and public opinion, which is sharply divided in this country.
Yet another problem is the worn-out state of production assets and extremely low labor discipline, which have caused many disasters and fatal accidents, including the fire that destroyed the ballistic missile submarine Yekaterinburg while in dry dock at Roslyakovo shipyard, Murmansk Region. But Rogozin alone is unable to fight lack of discipline, the permissive attitude toward technical and technological defects and other negative things that have beset the industry lately.
He needs a team of like-minded people, professionals and top-notch organizers, who have an insight into the problems of the defense industry and the armed forces and can competently address them, utilizing their knowledge of this country’s economic and financial capabilities. It will take time to select a team of skilled managers, but there is some certainty that Rogozin will cope. At any rate, the non-bureaucratic style that he embodies, shuttling from one ailing defense plant to another, inspires hope that the president and the prime minister were right to put this dynamic and ambitious politician in charge of the defense industry.
For Rogozin himself, this is a political challenge and a real chance to go down in Russian history as one of the outstanding organizers and reformers of the defense industry. A worthy career for a worthy man.
Viktor Litovkin is Executive Editor of the Independent Military Review.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.