Although the anniversary of the Red Army is over, however, there is much information to think about. For example, the size of the Belarusian army.
On February 23, 2018 the Ministry of Defence of Belarus has presented infographics on the state of the Armed Forces. According to it the number of servicemen is 46,482. We will discuss this figure.
The background of the issue. At first it is worth recalling how the strength of the Belarusian army in recent years has changed. So, on April 4, 2016 Defence Minister of Belarus Andrei Raukou, speaking in the House of Representatives, said that the staff of the army was 64,932 people as of March 1, 2016. Including: 14 502 officers, 6 850 warrant officers, 25 671 soldiers and sergeants, 3 502 cadets, i.e. 50,525 military personnel, and 14,407 civilian personnel. Earlier in October 2015, Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated that the Belarusian army numbered 65,000 people. In 2012, the National army had 48,000 troops and 14,000 civilian personnel. By February 2014, the Armed Forces had been reduced to 59,500, including “more than 46,000 military personnel and about 13,000 civilian personnel”.
If we compare the declared number of servicemen in 2016 and in 2018, it turns out that the army size has decreased by 4043 people. There were official reports on the optimization of rear and service structures, due to which the number of combat components was increased. So some cutbacks are possible, but they are not visible.
The development of the situation. For example, the call for military service: if in the spring of 2014, 6,500 people were drafted into the Armed Forces for military service and 1,000 more for service in the reserve, in the autumn of 2017 the figures were 7,500 and 1,500 respectively. In total, in the period 2015-2017, the average recruitment rates for the army amounted to more than 7 thousand for military service and 1-2 thousand for service in reserve during each campaign (twice during the calendar year). Thus, the number of people in compulsory service has not at least decreased. The percentage of people recruited with higher education is not known – but these people are recruited for 6 or 12 rather than 18 months. Therefore, in theory, a situation, when their numbers have increased dramatically, is possible. That, given shorter service time, can result in the need to call for more conscripts to join the army. But according to the established practice, the majority of persons with higher education are sent to the reserve service.
Further, admission to military educational institutions: in 2015 more than 450 people were admitted to the Military Academy, almost 250 to the military faculties of universities and more than 70 people went to study in Russia; in 2017, 558 cadets were admitted to the Academy, 101 cadets were sent to study in Russia, the available figures for the military departments of higher educational institutions remained the same.
In theory, they reductions could happen due to a reduction in the number of servicemen in the contract service. But again, the observed tendency of a number of military units recruiting exclusively servicemen of the contract service indicates the opposite. Moreover, there are not so many contract servicemen (soldiers and sergeants) — maximum 10 thousand of people. However, the share of contract servicemen in the total number of servicemen is growing, although insignificantly.
In recent years, the military department has taken a course to reduce the number of civilian personnel. However, it is unclear how large the reductions have been.
How the size of the Army was estimated? The first question that arises concerning the published information on the size of the Army by the Ministry of Defence on February 23, 2018 is whether this size is standard or actual one? Probably, the latter. Further, how the number of servicemen was estimated? Are cadets of military training institutions included in the published number? On the one hand, they are students. But from the point of view of national legislation — military men. Next, there is a question about the inclusion / non-inclusion in the number of military personnel of persons who serve in the reserve. The servicemen are people who pass military service (on conscription and under contract). It is not clear whether military personnel of the Department of Transportation Support of the Ministry of Defence of Belarus are included in this number. Most likely not, because according to point 6 of the “Regulations on the Transport Troops of the Republic of Belarus”, the number of transport troops, including the Department, is established by the President of the Republic of Belarus and is not included in the Armed Forces.
The size of the Ministry of Defence apparatus is also an interesting issue. Although it is mainly comprised of servicemen, it is not the army, but a body of the government – an administrative-bureaucratic structure. In the conditions of a normal system of state administration, the military department must be “demilitarized” and consist mainly of civil administrators. The fact that most military officials (including the minister) wear uniform is an atavism of the Soviet past. It is high time to get rid of it in order to improve the overall situation in the field of defence.
Conclusion. On February 22, 2018 Aliaksandr Lukashenka described the number of servicemen of the national army as 70 thousand people. Earlier, the Belarusian leader did not distinguish between the actual military personnel and civilian personnel, calling the total number (the standard, and not actual one, which can be significantly less due to staff shortage).
Accordingly, relying on the figures announced by President Lukashenka and proceeding from the fact that nothing is known about the massive reduction of civilian personnel, it can be said that the regular number of military personnel is about 56 thousand people. Including the Ministry of Defence apparatus and not including those serving in the reserve and in the Department of Transportation Support. Thus, for 2016-2017 the number of servicemen could increase by 5 thousand people. At the same time, the shortage varies between 3-5 thousand officers, warrant officers and contract soldiers.
A number of indirect signs testify to the fact that the number of servicemen is growing, not decreasing. For example, the commissioning of housing facilities in military garrisons, which were not used for 10 years or more.
Another interesting sign here is the delivery of battalions of modernized BTR-70MB1 to the Army for the needs of the Special Operations Forces. This armoured personnel carrier is hopelessly outdated, has a number of unavoidable design flaws and its combat value is not high. For many years these vehicles had been stored, because there was no need for them, and it was not possible to sell them. And suddenly they were taken out of stocks, a modernization project for them was developed and in November 2016 the vehicles successfully completed the state tests. This means that the decision on this was made in 2015. The decision on the modernization of the BTR-70 was preceded by a change in the organizational and staff structure of the brigades, where it was planned to send the old-new equipment. Otherwise, there was simply no need in the BTR-70MB1.
In addition, the check of the combat readiness of the army, which ended in early February of this year, testifies to the increase in the number of permanent readiness forces by approximately 3,000 servicemen in comparison with the period before the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
What’s next? The increase in the Army size is an adequate response to the continuing security crisis in the region. However, in addition, it is necessary to pay attention to the current priorities for the combat training of the mechanized units of the National army. In addition to the traditional all-arms battle, this is the conduct of military operations in an urbanized area and special actions. This sooner or later puts the question of the reorganization of mechanized brigades. Which can proceed in two directions: increase in the size/number of tank units and the inclusion of light infantry units in the brigades for operations in the wooded area. Which objectively requires an increase in the number of each of the 4 current mechanized brigades by 600-800 people.
Such a “mix” may seem not traditional for modern Belarus. But in the world the brigade groups were used quite widely. A classic example is the Frontier War of 1966-1989, led by South Africa against its neighbours and SWAPO. In Europe, Serbia is an example. By the way, it is the closest partner of the official Minsk in the field of military security on the continent besides ex-USSR states.