The long saga continues. Will the Russian army become professional or not? It is an issue that has dogged the military long before the wall came down. Currently Russia operates a mixed system of professional and conscripted soldiers. Conscription has been described as one of the biggest human-rights scandals in Russia. In dedovshchina, or “rule of the grandfathers,” conscripts are forced to beg, steal and even donate blood to bring in money for their unit. Those who desert are so affected by the experience that they often go on violent rampages. And if that weren’t enough, there are on average over 1,000 non-combat deaths a year within the Russian military.
The problem is that however hard the authorities try and stamp out conscription, Russia’s generals are bent on keeping the system in some form or other because it is so lucrative … for them. This changed on April 17 when President Dmitry Mededev announced that he would aim to phase out conscription within 10 years. Privately, the military has been told to put up and shut up and that any general who steps out of line will be fired.
Is it an escalation in the campaign against Colonel Moammar Gadhafi or a logical way of interpreting U.N. Security Council resolution 1973? Britain and France are each sending small teams of military advisers to help the Libyan rebels. Who the Anglo-French “advisers” actually are is anybody’s guess. They may herald the implementation of a policy similar to that used in Afghanistan, where small teams of Special Forces aided local militia.
At the same time, America is lending a helping hand as NATO finds itself sorely stretched. April 23 saw the first strike by an American drone over Libya, taking out a Grad Multiple Rocket Launcher truck near the besieged city of Misrata.
The Royal Air Force’s fleet of battered 50-year-old VC10 airliners converted into tankers are so old and so decrepit that the Ministry of Defense has had to charter airliners to fly people to Afghanistan and elsewhere because the VC10s spend more time being repaired than in the air. Some sources within the RAF claim that the VC10s are at times held together with nothing more than “sticky tape and spit.”
Luckily help is at hand, in the form of the new Airbus A330-based tankers now re-branded “Voyagers” by the MoD. The first of 14 Voyagers landed at the MoD/QinetiQ test center Boscombe Down in the west of England. The RAF is keen to press them into service by 2013 rather than the original in-service date of 2014.