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The Goal of Training Exercises Is to Prevent War

Military exercises are held in order to prevent a war rather than prepare for one. If a potential enemy knows and sees that the Russian Army is constantly improving its skills and adopting state-of-the-art combat equipment and combat support systems he will hardly risk aggression against these Armed Forces and the country they defend.

Late last month, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held the Peace Mission-2014 counter-terrorism training exercises, which involved Russian units from the Eastern Military District. Seven thousand officers and soldiers from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia redeployed to the Zhurihe range, in northern Inner Mongolia, PRC, to engage extremists, who had overrun a town in the steppe and were urging the authorities to change their government system and give the radicals free rein, including the right to administer justice at will, execute infidels and impose their own form of order.

Talks with the extremists led nowhere, and the decision was made to launch a military operation against them. Russia alone contributed about one thousand troops, 130 units of combat and specialized equipment, four Su-25 ground assault planes and eight Mi-8AMTSh helicopters.

Peace Mission-2014 was not the only training exercise held last month. Somewhat earlier, the Munkh-Khet range in Mongolia hosted the annual Russian-Mongolian exercises, Selenga-2014. Russia’s Pacific Fleet, Airborne Troops, and Air Force held exercises off the coast of the Kuril Islands and on the islands themselves. Since early August, tactical reconnaissance units and paratroops from Pskov, Kostroma and Belarus have been drilled on training grounds in the Southern Military District. At the same time, Air Force and Air Defense command and staff exercises have begun in the Western and Central military districts. On the Ashuluk range near Astrakhan, SAM systems Buk-M1, Tor-M2, S-300 and S-400 are firing at a variety of targets imitating supersonic jets, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, including some that follow an unpredictable trajectory.

The Russian-Indian joint exercises, Indra-2014, are expected to begin shortly in the steppe near Volgograd. The Altai Territory will be the site where the Barnaul Division of the Strategic Missile Forces will hold its large-scale command and staff exercises. The operational-strategic maneuvers, Vostok-2014, involving all services and combat arms, are scheduled for this fall.

My Western colleagues ask me: Hasn't the Russian Army been holding too many drills? Can it be explained by the fact that your country is preparing for war?

Usually I reply that military exercises are held in order to prevent a war rather than prepare for one. If a potential enemy, even a virtual one, knows and sees that the Russian Army is constantly improving its skills and adopting state-of-the-art combat equipment and combat support systems, including automatic command and control, signals, reconnaissance, navigation, target designation, electronic warfare and cyber security systems, as well as drones, he will hardly risk aggression against these Armed Forces and the country they defend.

Let me give you a vivid example. No matter what our attitude toward Kiev’s counterterrorist – or, to be more exact, punitive – operation in southeastern Ukraine may be (let us put aside for a while its political and moral aspect), what leaps to the eye is the fact that the Ukrainian army has been suffering one defeat after another from the quasi-guerilla local militias that have crystallized into an efficient and well-knit army precisely in the course of fighting in defense of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

What is behind the setbacks of the regular Ukrainian army? There are many reasons for them, including the now obvious incompetence of the high command, which made it to the top without any of the command-and-control experience that only training exercises could generate. During the country's twenty-odd years of independence, the Ukrainian armed forces were not sent for vitally important drills to training and firing ranges, nor on long cruises and flights. The authorities did not allocate the necessary funds, fuel and lubricants. Neither did they see to it that modern combat equipment be developed and supplied to units. The result is self-evident.

Russia, for its part, has drawn a good lesson from its conflict with Georgia in August 2008, when Georgian forces attacked Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia. For some reason, the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, believed that his US-trained army wielding advanced Western combat equipment would easily defeat the undermanned Russian units. But it did not. Units of the North Caucasian Military District rushed to rescue the peacekeepers and routed the aggressor. True, the decisive factor in this victory was the valor and steadfastness of Russian soldiers and officers, rather than superiority in arms and military skill.

After the war, the government focused on the state of affairs in the Armed Forces in earnest, launching radical reforms. Necessary – and, importantly, considerable – investment was made into the effort to supply advanced WME and combat support equipment. Units in the Strategic Missile Troops, Air Defense, Aerospace Defense, Air Force, Navy and Land Forces have assumed an alert posture. Field drills, firing practice, fighter and bomber flights, long cruises and strategic submarine patrols in the ocean have become routine. The same is true of surprise readiness evaluations by the top command and various inter-service exercises, which have also become commonplace in the last two years. Now there is a comprehensive system for top-to-bottom skill upgrades and real improvement of combat readiness.

But the strategic, operational-tactical, and command and staff exercises are not only a method of keeping the Armed Forces in fighting trim, but also a demonstration of readiness to rebuff any aggression, whatever its source. And this is what preventing a war is all about.

Today we notice increased, and I would even say aggressive, US and NATO military activity near the Russian borders. US commandos shuttle in and out of the Baltic states and Poland, where they train themselves and drill local armies. The NATO summit in Wales is planning to induce NATO’s Baltic members to establish a rapid response force numbering between 4,000 and 10,000 troops, complete with military infrastructure such as arms and equipment depots located near the Russian borders. Add to this the patrol of Russia's western borders by NATO’s nuclear-capable aircraft, the deployment of US missile defenses in Romania and Poland, regular visits to the Black Sea of NATO vessels with long-range cruise missiles and missile defense systems on board, continuous NATO-sponsored training exercises in the vicinity of Russian borders, and threats to Moscow issuing from Washington, Brussels, and other European capitals; threats that come not only from NATO officials, which is explainable, but also from presidents and prime ministers.

Against this background, the issue of Russian exercises raised by my Western colleagues does not seem relevant to me. It is another matter, whether Russian combat training is up to quality standards, and whether the mastery of advanced combat equipment and combat support systems is effective. Two recent international competitions, Aviadarts-2014 and Tank Biathlon-2014, which were won by Russian pilots and tank crews, are cause for optimism.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.