Science, Science, and Science – Gerasimov’s 2018 speech

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Scientific hotspots and an old story

Valery Gerasimov held his first speech at the yearly assembly of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences five years ago. It soon became (in)famous as the “Gerasimov doctrine” (see also my comment here), and only recently Mark Galeotti, the inventor of the term, admitted he consciously mislabeled his blog post in 2014 when looking for a catchy title.

Some weeks ago, the Voenno-Promyshlenny Kur’er (Military-Industrial Courier) once again featured a speech of Gerasimov’s, in an article called “Scientific Hotspots.” While this marks the first time that it wasn’t Gerasimov himself who authored the transcript, it nonetheless resembles a genuine piece of his thinking. Unsurprisingly, his description of the global security situation suits Russia’s siege mentality.

According to the Chief of the Russian General Staff, the United States is still the leading world power, and unwilling to cede its dominance to a multipolar system. In what he tellingly describes as a “conflict” without further ado, Washington, and its allies supposedly mainly rely on non-military means: Gerasimov emphasizes that, besides the oft-thematised political, economic and informational instruments, the U.S.-led alliance also employs diplomatic, scientific and cultural measures. Even sports are weaponized, he claims, in what could be understood as a hint to the exclusion of Russia from the last Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. That is not to say that military means are not part of the picture – and should duly not be forgotten. In Russian eyes, the prevalence of local conflicts like the one in Syria underlines the importance of armed forces’ ability to wage war with present-day characteristics. Modern conflict, from Russia’s top brass point of view, is determined by nigh-borderless battle spaces, transcending territorial boundaries as well as those of domain. Likewise, it is no longer sequential with alternating phases of combat and recovery but conducted without pause. Being able to employ highly mobile forces and precision ammunition in concert with extended electronic warfare capabilities is regarded as vital by the Russian MoD. Furthermore, and in tune with a number of speeches since 2013, Gerasimov once more points out that the improvement of command and control (C2) technologies and procedures deserves particular attention.

Modernize me – an army in reform

Gerasimov’s more novel and thus most interesting arguments touch on issues such as the renewal of Russia’s military posture, automatisationrobotisation, and various new military and weapon technologies.

He addresses the possibility of co-occurrence of high-intensity conflicts in more than one strategic direction. (Strategic direction is a Russian term describing a part of a theater of war, where large-scale operation take place) Like last year, Gerasimov once again underlines the importance of nuclear as well as non-nuclear deterrence capabilities. Russia, conscious of its technological disadvantages to the West has made great strides to develop cutting-edge military equipment and weaponry across different sectors. While commenting on the renewal of Russia’s nuclear arsenal (see Bernhard’s comment here), Western observers would thus be well-advised also to recognise the significant improvements in C2 capabilities, and automatisation of targeting and fire control processes in the Russian armed forces. Illustrating this progress, Gerasimov predicts a time reduction from target acquisition to its destruction by factor 2 to 2.5.

Gerasimov, aiming to improve military governance, also revealed the intents of reassembling the military districts: It favours reserves and the airmobile forces (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska-VDV), the later meant to be quick reaction forces. The armed forces’ ground forces, marines, and VDV now mostly rely on kontraktniki (contract personnel) and career soldiers to fill the ranks of two battalions of a given regiment or brigade, while the third is mostly staffed by conscripts. This appears to be based on lessons learned from the conflict in Ukraine, where hastily formed Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) struggled against Ukrainian army regulars, despite material superiority. The revised personnel composition of the ground forces is supposed to translate into two main advantages: an improvement in BTGs’ inherent combat value as well as an improved ability to form larger task groups with little or no lead time. Additionally, electronic warfare units and UAVs are now organically embedded with all deployable forces. Improvements to military infrastructure have been announced: General Dmitryj Bulgakov, Deputy Minister of Defence, gave the example of airfields being upgraded with centralized fueling systems, the need for which has been made evident by the Syrian campaign.

Further issues covered in Gerasimov’s speech were the increased use of robotics and high-precision weapons systems, both similarly covered on previous occasions, and the increasing relevance of warfare in space as one explicitly directed against means of communication and navigation.

Science in the field

Most strikingly may be the fact that Russia purposely deployed at least parts of its scientific and teaching staff from military academies and the MoD to Syria, to refresh the knowledge of military scholars and make scientific findings even more relevant. The task for military sciences is to describe future challenges, develop scenarios for the inevitable future conflicts. Also, the introduction of fundamentally new weapons systems like hypersonic cruise missiles, lasers, and other needs scientists to determine their most effective use in future combat. The Russian general staff counts on the scientific support, by its academies and departments as the Russian Academy for Military Sciences. Gerasimov paraphrased Kant, as “science should be the servant going ahead of its mistress with a torch, not the one carrying the trail of her gown.”

Same procedure as every year

It is worth keeping in mind that Gerasimov’s speech in front of Russia’s the Academy of Military Sciences performs three primary functions. First and foremost, it is a symbolic gesture of respect and an effort to improve ties between the Russian general staff and the country’s foremost military scientists. Second, it provides Gerasimov with an opportunity to present his views on the current political-military situation. Third, serves to put the limelight on the process of modernization going on within the armed forces. This seems of particular importance given that since his 2016 speech (“On the experiences from Syria”) Gerasimov has continually talked about lessons learned from the combat experience Russia acquired in the Syrian conflict, where it is bolstering the Assad regime. Despite financial restrictions, scientific support has grown, and it seems that Russia drew a host of lessons from recent conflicts that aren’t openly visible just yet.

Gerasimov’s 2013 speech aimed to get the old guard brass on the bandwagon for his tough reforms. The 2018 edition is a direct and predictable continuation, making sure everybody stays on board.

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Disclaimer: This article has been written as part of a research project on the “Gerasimov doctrine” by the author together with Hanna Grininger. The opinions voiced in this article belong to the author and do not reflect the position of as a whole. Authors bear responsibility for the correctness of their statements, the data provided and the originality of the content.

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About the Author
Christoph Bilban

Christoph Bilban


Christoph holds as MA in political sciences and an BA in slavonic studies. He is a reserve officer and currently working for the Austrian National Defence Academy. His works for neither reflect the opinion of the National Defence Academy nor the Republic of Austria.

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