Russian military science contributes in many ways to planning concerning a range of defense and military issues. The political-military leadership attaches primary importance to efforts to research and examine future warfare in order to help the state prepare for and invest in the development of force structures required to operate in such likely conflicts. Russian military officials do not view such processes as abstract, as evidenced by the chief of the General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov’s, annual speeches to the Academy of Military Sciences (Akademii Voyennykh Nauk—AVN). These addresses are frequently used to appeal to the AVN to innovate and develop new approaches to future warfare. Some important insights into the ideas and perspectives emanating from the AVN concerning the warfare of tomorrow are revealed in a recent article in Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, authored by AVN Professor Sergei Chvarkov. Chvarkov’s article examines the nature, aims and likely diversity of future armed conflicts.
Chvarkov’s consideration of the theme of future warfare places this in the context of the science of war (nauki o voyne), asking if this is a necessity or fashion. The author notes that in recent years the leaderships of the defense ministry and the General Staff have set specific goals for Russian military science: these include examining the main trends in global military thought, international development, and the future of Russia as well as considering Moscow’s geopolitical role in relation to the science of war. Chvarkov argues that “war is essentially multifaceted; an assessment of the totality of factors that make up its nature requires an integrated approach”.
The author references numerous examples of the main developments in warfare by providing historical examples, and argues that more recently, since the conflicts in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the international security system has degraded. He advances ideas in relation to the ratio of military and non-military means in modern warfare that echo elements contained in Gerasimov’s February 2013 speech to the AVN. “It should be noted the ‘intensification’ of military confrontation between the regular army and irregular armed groups (Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.) However, the principles and goals of building the state’s defense policy in peacetime remained the same, despite the fact that, in the modern world, society actually lives in a state of preparation or directly war in one or another sphere—information, economic, political, demographic, territorial, etc.”.
In turning to consider in more detail the means and methods involved in modern warfare, the author highlights the critical roles played by information operations and cyber warfare. Chvarkov suggests that these combined could, in some circumstances, pose a threat to the existence of a state or even its national identity: “The effectiveness of impacts through cyber weapons can be many times higher than the effectiveness of physical destruction using conventional weapons. Moreover, threats in the information environment are difficult to retaliate against unlike nuclear weapons, which are both the main deterrent and guarantee of peaceful relations of the leading states of the world.” Chvarkov notes the difficulty in defending against such attacks. He suggests that in future wars, robotic systems and the massive use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) may combine effectively but concludes this will not essentially change the character of war itself.
Chvarkov recognizes that modern war is a complex socio-political-economic phenomenon, which demands thorough analysis, review and evaluation of all its facets. He warns against technological determinism, and suggests that despite new advances in technology, the human element in armed conflict in the future will remain essential. A recurring theme in his article is his reference to mixing military and non-military means in future wars: “Today it is quite difficult to say which weapons system is defensive and which one is offensive. One way or another, it depends on the situation, conditions, goals and consequences of its application. In this regard, the most obvious task of science is to equip the state’s military-political leadership with a collection of tools to meet the threats and not only to rely on military and non-military measures to deter and repel aggression. First of all, [this will require new] technologies and anticipation of these threats in various conditions, fields and environments”.
The Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniy author sees future warfare blurring specific goals, though the main aim will remain unchanged: “the destruction, weakening, deprivation of sovereignty, will to resist, enslavement of the adversary state, etc. Over the long term, armed struggle is likely to remain the primary and radical means of achieving the main goal; and for its confident party, it will require the involvement of other instruments of the ‘symphony orchestra.’ ” The successful side in such future conflicts will rationally distribute efforts across three key areas: “information (cybernetic and psychological [mental]), combat (kinetic—fire, nuclear and other defeat) and public (readiness of society and people to war).” In Chvarkov’s view, the winner in such wars will be the actor gaining information superiority over the enemy. He concludes, “But today we can confidently say: in order to win the war of the future, you need to be prepared for it politically, economically, demographically, technologically and informationally, and society must be ready for it”.
While Chvarkov’s article offers insight into the thinking and analysis provided by the AVN to the political-military leadership, and seems to imply that armed conflict in the future will look quite different from contemporary warfare, there is clear evidence of the continuity of some aspects—such as the emphasis placed on the role of the Ground Forces and, specifically, reliance on the tank. According to Vedomosti the State Armaments Program (Gosudarstvennaya Programma Vooruzheniya—GPV) to 2027 plans to procure 500 T-14 Armata and 400 T-90M tanks. These are, perhaps, optimistic targets, but they underscore the continued role assigned to heavy armor in Russian military planning. The likely themes of continuity in the GPV to 2027 are probably mixed with areas of innovation, reflecting the ongoing work of Russia’s foremost military scientists.