Russian airborne commander insists on need for mixed-manning system

Text of report by the website of government-owned Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta on 26 April

[Interview with Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov, hero of Russia, VDV commander, by Yuriy Gavrilov; place and date not given: "Lining Up for the Beret: No End to Those Wishing To Serve in the VDV at the Enlistment Offices"]

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Vladimir Anatolyevich, I have heard that there is no end in the enlistment offices to those wishing to join the VDV [Airborne Troops]….

Vladimir Shamanov: This is how it is from year to year. The problem lies elsewhere. Unfortunately, the level of health and physical fitness of many conscripts prevents them serving in the airborne. Although we are not particularly fastidious in the demands we make of recruits, we do not retreat one step from these two sacrosanct, I would say, benchmarks. This is why there are still certain difficulties in getting our force groupings up to strength.

RG: Those who are ready for service in the regular infantry cannot meet the demands of the VDV, that is?

Shamanov: Our demands truly are somewhat higher than in the ground units.

RG: The expression "winged infantry" does not perturb you? Motorized riflemen are sometimes offended when they are in the old way called infantry.

Shamanov: Infantry is, in actual fact, a proud name. And we are proud that the VDV are called winged infantry, we employ this expression ourselves. I see nothing shameful here.

Yes, the motorized rifle subunits are today replete with equipment, they ride more than they go by foot. But at the same time I would like to say a simple thing: until the foot of a soldier steps on the edge of a trench, the mission is not considered accomplished. We should take pride, therefore, in belonging to the Russian infantry, lean on its illustrious traditions.

RG: Recruits are being put in a new uniform. It is practically the same for all of them – you can’t figure out who’s an artilleryman, who’s a missile gunner. Are you not afraid that the blue berets will in this way be taken away from the VDV?

Shamanov: No. The airborne beret is, like the striped vest, a sacrosanct attribute of our troops. No one will be giving it up. In Soviet times a special decision of the CPSU Central Committee Politburo was adopted on the beret and vest. So they are a kind of relic, for which the paras would go through fire and water.

RG: What about another indispensable attribute of the airborne service – jumps? How many times does a conscript, as the "Blue Berets" sing, fill the blue with a parachute?

Shamanov: The annual standard for the conscript soldier is 12 jumps, six per training period. Parachute training is altogether an obligatory condition of service in the VDV. Everyone – from general to primary enlisted man – jumps.

RG: You also jump with a parachute?

Shamanov: I did until my traffic accident. This was even shown on TV. I hope that by the end of the year, when the doctors lift the restrictions, I can resume my personal parachute training.

RG: The professionalization of the army formerly began with the VDV. Is there a possibility of the airborne becoming fully professional and of the way there being closed to conscripts?

Shamanov: Conscript servicemen constitute 30-35 per cent of the VDV today. One out of every three men and NCOs have a certificate from an institution of higher learning and secondary specialized or incomplete higher education.

If we are speaking of the future of the entire army, it is my firm conviction that it has in Russia to be manned mainly on the mixed principle. VDV units also have to consist of contract personnel and conscripts. Their optimum ratio is 70:30.

RG: Why not 80:20, say?

Shamanov: With the present length of conscript service, there is a 15 per cent change of personnel in the army twice a year. There is a scientifically established criterion: a subunit or military unit are performance-capable if they are at no less than 70 per cent strength.

The current rotation does not allow us to drop below 80 per cent, in any event. Even despite the fact that some number of servicemen fall sick or are absent from the lineup for various reasons, the unit remains performance-capable, all the same.

RG: The VDV fits this framework?

Shamanov: From the standpoint of strength level, yes. On e further important factor should be borne in mind here. Today up to 15 per cent of conscripts serve in their own region. When they are discharged, they replenish the mobilization reserve of the republics, krays, and oblasts. The reserve in the country is constantly being trained and renewed for the contingency of war, that is. This is why the draft cannot be abandoned entirely. This is my conviction, and we are implementing this ideology in the VDV.

RG: Which appointments in the airborne should, in your view, be held only by professionals, and to which may the conscript also be appointed?

Shamanov: It is already obvious that junior commanders need to be selected and prepared for contract service. The same goes for the manning of a number of positions in the logistic, maintenance, technical, and airborne support subunits. Earlier they were held by officers, now we are appointing professional NCOs.

The next category of contract servicemen are the specialists in the employment of this weapon or piece of equipment or the other, whose operation requires, aside from general-education, also special, know-how. Together with the squad commanding officer, the driver-mechanic and gunner, say, should be military professionals. After all, not only the technical condition but also the ability to continue operating of the combat vehicle depends on them. Considering that in the combat subunits the crew of an airborne combat vehicle consists of seven men, three persons are, then, professionals, four are regular conscript infantry: riflemen, RPG men. In a word, those who fight in a squad line on the battlefield.

It takes 2-3 years to train a good driver-mechanic. Doing this in three months in our training centre in Omsk would not work. Furthermore, by consolidating in service the contract serviceman, we are hereby lessening the burden on the draft. After all, while the professional’s first contract is lasting three years, six draft campaigns are held in the country.

One professional effectually exempts from service five conscripts, that is.

RG: But where are so many contract servicemen to come from? They are not, after all, breaking down the doors of the enlistment offices.

Shamanov: This is true, unfortunately. Only the Ulyanovsk Brigade is with us at this time close to the optimum manning level. They hold 60 per cent of the men and officer positions there.

This indicator is, generally, directly dependent on the average pay in a region. This is why in the airborne force groupings in Tula and Ryazan, from where many people travel to Moscow to work, contract servicemen constitute only 22 per cent.

RG: Does it not seem to you that former paratroopers at times do a bad turn here? Their drunken bathing in the fountains on VDV Day is not the best publicity for the service.

Shamanov: Many people are endeavouring for some reason or other to see only negative aspects in our 2 August holiday. We analysed how it all happened in actual fact. Paratroopers get together, they recall their service, they usually behave quietly. And they never brawl with one another, as some people say. But as soon as they see camera crews, it is as though the devil gets into them – they immediately climb into the fountains so that they’ll be shown on the "box". Folks in disguise attempt, in addition, to get into the ranks of the paratroopers. You start to talk with such people and you hear nonsense like: "I jumped with the D-140 parachute." There’s no way we can distance ourselves from those that dress up. But blaming the VDV for their behaviour is wrong.

Speaking as a whole, the Union of Paratroopers of Russia and all its regional organizations are concerned about the state of military-patriotic education in the country. Our people conduct classes with the youth, organize training camps for them. They themselves set an example. As I see it, the airborne community works only to improve the situation in Russia.

RG: I see that, following the traffic accident, you still have scars. How’s the recovery coming along?

Shamanov: Thank God. The injuries have mainly healed, the bones have knit together. True, I still have metal in my arm and two pins in my leg. But they’ll have been removed in the fall.

RG: You were 55 in February. Lieutenant generals are supposed to take their leave of military service at this age….

Shamanov: I have no intention of leaving the army for the time being. Specially since on 2 April the president extended my service by a year.

Figure

Some 4,600 conscripts will be sent this spring and summer to serve in the airborne units.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 26 Apr 12

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