Russia's Research Squadrons

The Russian Ministry of Defence plans to significantly raise the scientific potential of the national army, which is expected to take place through the acceleration of R&D activities in the majority of the existing branches of Russia’s armed forces, and the establishment of special research squadrons and scientific institutions.

This will take place as part of the recently approved state program, which is known as “On the development of military science in Russia and the conduction of R&D activities in the field of defence during the period of 2016-2018”, which aims to create conditions for the development of military science in Russia.  

In recent years, the development of military science has become a priority for the Russian Ministry of Defence. The government plans to close the science gap that developed in this field between itself and Western countries after the collapse of the USSR and the massive cuts in the national army during the 1990s.

Research squadron in the Moscow region.
Research squadron in the Moscow region.

In the case of scientific institutions, military units that were stood down after the collapse of the USSR due to a series of economical and political crises in Russia, are now being resurrected.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, five such research institutes will initially be established in different parts of the country. A significant increase in that number is anticipated over time.

While the new scientific institutions will specialize in R&D activities in different spheres, the highest priorities will be on aerospace and military aviation sectors. These activities will be conducted under the control of the Military Scientific Committee of the Russian Armed Forces, which is headed by Lieutenant-General Stanislav Suvorov.

Most of the R&D activities to be conducted in the newly established scientific institutions will be classified, and their developments will directly support the needs of the national army.

Research Squadrons
In addition to military scientific institutions, the development of military science in Russia will also take place through the establishment of special research squadrons. According to Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, eight research squadrons have already been established on the bases of different military branches of the Russian army.

These new research squadrons include young talented scientists from some of the leading universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Rostov and the Far East.

Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu
Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, funding of the research squadron activities will be sourced from the national military budget, which is set at RUB 3,5 trillion (US$100 billion) for the current year (at 4.2% of GDP, this is a record figure in the history of Russia and the USSR).

According to Minister Shoigu, the exact number of research squadrons to be established in Russia has not yet been finally determined, and much will depend on the results of scientific work of the newly established squadrons. It is planned that each of these new squadrons will specialize in scientific and research activities in a particular scientific sphere, such as military aviation, biotechnology, laser technology, management of IT systems, the design of navigation software, and some others.

Particular attention will be paid to the design of new ground handling approaches for Russian military aviation, as well as modernization of submarines and warships.

According to an official spokesman for the Russian General Staff, in the case of aerospace, scientific researchers will focus on the design of a new generation of optical telescopes based on laser technologies, as well as the establishment of communications with military spacecraft and satellites. There are also plans to develop new cyber systems to prevent cyber attacks on the websites of Russian state agencies and corporations, the number of which has significantly increased in recent months.

Officer teaches soldiers in one of the research squadrons in Voronezh region.
Officer teaches soldiers in one of the research squadrons in Voronezh region.

Research activities for the Russian navy are also receiving attention. As part of these plans, soldiers from research squadrons will participate in the design of a second vessel of the Yantar scientific project.

According to Alex Burilichev, head of the General Directorate of deep-water research at the Russian Defense Ministry, the second vessel will receive even more advanced onboard research systems than those installed on its first vessel. These advanced systems will allow better analysis of the ocean surface and sea floor.

Built at the Russian Admiralty Shipyards, the new vessel will be on duty in the Pacific Ocean, and its official commissioning is scheduled for the end of 2016.

According to Yuri Demyshev, Captain of First Rank and head of the department of scientific work of the Naval Polytechnic Institute (one of Russia’s leading naval research institutions), scientists of the institute together with the soldiers of research squadrons plan to focus on the design of next generation electric propulsion motors, electronics, integrated command and control systems, high-precision geodetic equipment, and laser navigation systems. Chemical and biological protection of Russian warships is also on the research agenda.

Russian President Putin visits a research squadron in the Moscow region.
Russian President Putin visits a research squadron in the Moscow region.

Soldiers as Researchers
The number of soldiers who aspire to serve in research squadrons, is 25 times more than needed. At the same time, many of the soldiers who served in research squadrons during their 1-year draft of military duty, hope to sign military service contracts so they can continue serve in the Russian army.

According Russian Ministry of Defence plans, the scientific potential of the country’s armed forces has become an acute need due to planned renewal of the Russian military equipment and armaments by at least 70% by 2020. According to Minister Shoigu, purchases of new weapons and combat equipment will require more skilled soldiers and officers in all branches of the Russian army.

Valery Gerasimov,  Chief of the General Staff and Russia’s  First Deputy Minister of Defence, will oversee the new research squadrons.
Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff and Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Defence, will oversee the new research squadrons.

This increase in scientific potential in the Russian armed forces will also involve the training of reserve officers through the establishment of military departments in major state universities of Russia.

Despite these great strides to reinstate scientific research, some of Russia’s leading defence have criticized the idea of research squadrons, considering it an attempt of the state to compensate for a lack of skilled officers in the national army.

It is seen as an attempt by the state to raise the prestige of military service in Russia, however salaries of officers in the Russian army are generally lower than those in the U.S. and Canadian armies, which means that the Russian army still experiences a lack of skilled officers with higher levels of technical education.  

According to Vladimir Stepanichev, a retired colonel and a former senior researcher of one of Russia’s military research institutions, the Russian army lacks the necessary infrastructure and material-technical base for conducting effective research activities. He says the majority of even the most talented soldiers, who studied in Russia’s leading technical higher education institutions, do not have the needed experience or basis for serious research activities, which means the implementation of these announced state plans may face serious difficulties.  

Eugene Gerden, a former deputy director in the Russian Ministry of Defence, was responsible for fighting cyber crimes (08-09).