Territorial defence: words and deeds.

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On February 17, 2016 a meeting on the territorial defense (hereinafter TD) was held for the first time. The event was attended by the representatives of law enforcement agencies and the heads of the executive committees of the regions and the Minsk city. The meeting was chaired by President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who made a number of statements during the event.

Only nationwide character of defense can guarantee successful protection of the state. Despite the socio-economic problems there is a need to constantly maintain readiness to defend the country. It is necessary to clarify the number of territorial forces (hereinafter TF) by region in accordance with their economic opportunities and human capacity.

The Armed Forces must be prepared for the transfer of a sufficient number of personnel to any place in Belarus.

President Lukashenka criticized local authorities for not giving enough attention to TD. The heads of local executive committees need to select command staff for territorial forces directly and to know the “opinion leaders among sergeants and privates”. At the same time the level of readiness of the local authorities heads must allow them to organize a reliable defense in their district on their own.

The system exists, but its effectiveness is another issue. The previous military exercises have identified significant shortcomings in the competence of the commanders. Aliaksandr Lukashenka expressed his doubts about the conscientiousness of the regions heads in the preparation of TD.

The instruction to equip TF with communications facilities was given. An important point is the system of material and technical support of the forces and the protection of the territorial defense facilities. It is necessary to work out a joint use of the Army, the Interior Troops, border guards, police and territorial forces, improve their manoeuvrability. Mobilization component should be given attention to in all law enforcement agencies.
TF should be prepared and equipped at the same level as the acting Army.

It is worth noting that although the formal event was dedicated to TD, the main focus was made on exactly the territorial forces, which, although the most important, still is a part of the TD system.

Event context. Such events are prepared ahead of time. Therefore, the meeting shouldn’t be considered as a sign of the presence of some extraordinary circumstances. However, it seems that not only the country’s defensive issues were the reason for the meeting. It’s necessary to remind that the day before Aliaksandr Lukashenka blew the Directorate and the officials up, accusing them of being passive and decadent.

In this regard, paramilitary rhetoric of the Belarusian leader has also a purpose to discipline top bureaucracy, cultivating in civic officials certain qualities of the military officers: subordination, unquestioning execution of orders of senior management, self-restraint and willingness to work with full dedication.

On the other hand, the object of President Lukashenka’s rhetoric is the population in whole. It is clear that the crisis is systemic and therefore protracted. At the moment the authorities are unable to offer a clear anti-crisis plan. Therefore distracting people from economic problems is a pressing problem, and the threat of destruction of the national security system can be very useful here.

But it is a debatable question, whether the society and government officials are susceptible to militant rhetoric of the President.

“Weak” points of TD. However, in addition to issues of indoctrination there is a practical need to strengthen the defense of the country, especially in terms of destruction of regional security and the absence of external allies of Belarus.

Territorial defense can be an important mechanism to ensure national security. The problem arises when a good idea starts to be implemented improperly.

During the meeting Aliaksandr Lukashenka repeatedly called TF “militia”, which is wrong, because militia is formed by volunteers.

During the Cold War in the Scandinavian countries the land forces had three components:
— field army, composed of the most qualified units and designed for mobile warfare;
— territorial army, consisting of older reservists with outdated weapons and designed primarily for trench warfare;
— militia, a voluntary paramilitary organization that operates under the supervision of the Defence Ministry and is designed to accomplish the same tasks that are assigned to our TF.

As you can see, the mixture of the second and the third component happened in Belarus. Perhaps this is due to the fact that our command considers trench warfare to have passed to history.

The idea of President Lukashenka to entrust the leadership of the TF to local civil authorities is erroneous. The requirements to civil and military leaders are radically different. The fact that the level of competence of civil servants in the field of TD organization doesn’t meet the requirements is nothing new. That’s not the problem of the officials. The point is that civilian leaders are overloaded with functions, most of which are unnecessary. In these circumstances, it’s simply physically impossible to cover all the issues.

Equipping TF with the help of the financial resources of the territories is unrealistic: in local budgets there is no money for that, and the situation is not expected to change due to the country’s current financial situation.

The talks about arming TF at the Army level are remaining just talks. Even in 2011 TF were intended to be equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons of old models. However, nothing was reported about anti-tank missile complexes, MANPADS and sniper preparation in TF. And anti-aircraft machine guns have little value as a means of air defence.

Foreign experience. During the war in the east of Ukraine it was decided to create volunteer battalions as the basis of territorial defense. They were equipped with light firearms, supported by heavy machinery or artillery of the Ukrainian army if necessary. In practice there appeared difficulties in coordinating volunteers and soldiers. The military support was often late. There was not enough secure transportation for territorial battalions personnel. A battalion, in principle, turned out to be too small a unit during collisions with a rather numerous enemy. These forces proved ineffective to defend unequipped positions. There were no skills for conducting counter-subversive struggle. Sappers and mining tools were strongly needed.

The Croats formed volunteer regiments from individual companies and battalions on the basis of Yugoslav territorial defense system. But their effectiveness was less than the Croatian command expected due to inadequate training and lack of heavy weapons.

Ukrainian and Croatian experience shows that a basic unit of land forces should be able to carry on the functions of fire support, mining, demining, counter-subversive struggle. That is why it should be staffed with appropriate specialists.

Where to go. Inclusion of gunners, snipers, scouts in the TF battalions quickly “inflates” them to almost regimental staffs. To have a regiment in each administrative district is neither possible nor necessary. It makes sense to replace the current organizational TD system in which one administrative region forms an area of a more flexible TD. It is necessary to enlarge some areas of territorial defense, combining them with its neighbours, and to divide them into 3 categories. The first one: consisting of several predominantly rural areas with a population of about 100 thousand people. They form a battalion (about 20 battalions in the country). The second invcludes a large city and the surrounding rural areas and forms the territorial defense regiments (Polatsk-Navapolatsk, Orsha, Mazyr-Kalinkavichy, Svetlahorsk, Zhlobin, Pinsk, Baranavichy, Lida, Maladzechna, Salihorsk-Slutsk, Barysau-Zhodzina-Smalavichy). The third group consists of Minsk, Babruisk and regional centers with suburban areas. They should form brigades (several of them in Minsk). The average number of territorial troops is 0.7% of the population of the territory. It can fluctuate. The consolidation of TD areas should ideally run in parallel with the reform of the administrative-territorial structure of the country to keep a vertical management system. If keeping the current division it would be required to identify those local bodies of executive power and state administration which will be defined as governing within

Greater attention should be paid to the fortification. In each city should be defined the buildings which due to their design features can be used as centers of resistance. It is also necessary to have prefabricated fortifications of ferroconcrete structures. It is not necessary to invent anything, as everything was already designed in the Soviet times.

Ideally, the formation of TF units should be based on the voluntary principle. But firstly, the number of possible volunteers isn’t clear. It is obvious that, at least initially, there won’t be many of them. Secondly, because of the existing political regime in Belarus, the idea that there will be 120 thousand armed and trained volunteers in the country is able to bring half of the country’s top leadership to a heart attack. Half-hearted solution would be to bind the DOSAAF organizations to the TF system.

It makes sense to arm the TF with large-caliber weapons, including the obsolete models of anti-tank missiles and man-portable air defense systems; the mass training of snipers is also required. For the latter, the pre-war Soviet experience of OSOAVIAKhIM can be used.

It seems that the TF tasks are closer to the tasks of the MIA than the Ministry of Defence. The organization of the police department itself is able to be the basis for the deployment of TF if necessary. There are two structures in the MIA that can act as a “skeleton” for the TF organization: Internal Troops and the Department of Protection. It is advisable to think about their possible merger. As a result a certain number of management positions can become free, which would make it possible to staff trainers for TF.

The TF weapons must be stored in units forming districts to ensure rapid arming of soldiers. There are essentially two options: storing at home and or in the nearest arsenal building. In the latter case, the question arises with the presence of an appropriate infrastructure. The Defense Ministry doesn’t have it, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs does: in each regional center there are bodies of police, security units of the Department, in large cities there are parts of the Internal Troops. The problem can be solved by “compacting” their weapon rooms or arranging additional space.

The MIA has shooting ranges as well as training staff. And most importantly it has sergeants and officers who, after additional training, will be suitable for managing the TF units. Besides, more than 3,000 people demobilize annually after passing military service in the Internal Troops. Part of which has NCO training. Thus, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has a qualified (in theory) reserve of specialists.

TF should be kept in permanent units that are involved in training on a regular basis. People need to know each other and have experience of working in a team.
The TF should be managed by experts rather than hastily prepared civil servants. Funding

for regional forces must be centralized. The attitude towards them as a cheap alternative to the regular army should change. For example, 13 thousand Estonian Defence League will receive this year 58 million euros, of which 7.5 million will be spent on the purchase of ammunition.

Consolidation of TD areas and reassignment of the TF to the MIA will require transforming the military commissariat into the organs of dual subordination of the MIA and the Ministry of Defense, as well as reviewing the entire system of management of territorial defense at the basic level.

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