The Development of Military Strategy under Contemporary Conditions. Tasks for Military Science
General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff
Translation and Foreword by Dr. Harold Orenstein and Lt. Col. Timothy Thomas, U.S. Army, Retired
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Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov’s March 2019 address to the Academy of Military Science is titled “The Development of Military Strategy under Contemporary Conditions. Tasks for Military Science.”1 His previous presentations addressed forms and methods of warfare (2013), the general staff’s role in the country’s defense (2014), the unified management of the nation under modern conditions (2015), an opponent’s use of hybrid methods (2016), modern wars (2017), and the modern nature of armed struggle’s effect on the development of the nation’s armed forces (2018).
In this presentation, Gerasimov offers an interesting perspective on military strategy, including some startling concepts. For example, he ominously states that military science must develop and validate a system for the comprehensive/ holistic destruction of the enemy (a theme he first used in 2018), with decision-making centers and cruise missile launchers as the most important targets to be hit by strategic and operational-tactical nonnuclear weapons. He then goes on to outline important tasks for military science to research, which appear to reintroduce many of the topics he covered in earlier presentations: forecasting the possible nature of future military conflicts, developing a system of forms and methods of operations of both a military and nonmilitary nature and their employment (first and foremost, their use in strategic deterrence), and determining weapons and military equipment system trends. Other important tasks for military science are to prepare and conduct information operations, to create strategic systems to counter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to validate future radio-electronic warfare systems (and their integration into a unified system), and to study digital technologies and robotics.
With regard to strategy, Gerasimov defines the concept as “a system of knowledge and actions on preventing, preparing for, and conducting war.” Military strategy is defined as the science of “the art of leading troops.” A “task” of military strategy is to improve nuclear and nonnuclear deterrence measures, and a “role” is to coordinate joint military and nonmilitary operations. He notes that maintaining information superiority, command-and-control readiness, and the covert deployment of a necessary grouping are the most important conditions for implementing strategy. Validated forecasts of potential conflict areas serve as the input data for the forms and methods of Armed Forces employment. In future developments, he states that Russia will design ground complexes of mid- and lower-range hypersonic missiles, an interesting development for ground troops; introduce new methods of employing future weapons (especially information technologies), which corresponds to his focus on information superiority; and validate forms of countering operations in space (where Russia is studying the use of satellites as an instrument of operational art).
Gerasimov defines a “strategy of active defense” as a set of measures for the preemptive neutralization of threats to the state’s security—that is, the desire to preempt when threatened. What the essence is of such an existential threat that would require preemption is not stated. He defines Russia’s strategy in Syria as the “strategy of limited action,” where Aerospace Forces contributed the greatest share of missions to resolving assigned tasks (ground forces were not used). Syria was new in two ways, Gerasimov notes: it enabled Russia to carry out “tasks to defend and advance national interests outside the borders of Russian territory” within the framework of strategy, and it showed how to conduct postconflict work in humanitarian operations while simultaneously carrying out combat tasks.
With regard to Russian security fears, Gerasimov states that the nation needs improvements in its territorial defense system to counter an enemy’s diversionary and sabotage actions that are designed to destabilize domestic security. A more important security issue is his reference to “the validation of the creation of a comprehensive system for the protection of critically important components of the state infrastructure against effects in all spheres during the period of a direct threat of aggression, when the enemy will be striving to destabilize the situation and create an atmosphere of chaos and uncontrollability.” He stated that this is a new issue in the theory and practice of military strategy that requires further study. New approaches for better ties between military strategy and the economy, that is, financial support for required weaponry, are needed as well.
Finally, Gerasimov often uses the four terms (trends, forecasting, strategy, forms and methods) that help define the Russian method of military thought in his presentation: trends sixteen times, forecasting five times, strategy thirty-seven times, and forms and methods four times. Military science is used eighteen times. These terms hold some of the keys to unraveling the concepts that drive Russian military thought. They provide important clues to Russia’s understanding of the contemporary military environment and the type of forces it is preparing along strategic axes for potential combat.
Address by Russian Chief of the General Staff V. V. Gerasimov, “The Development of Military Strategy under Contemporary Conditions. Tasks for Military Science”
The traditional annual conference at the Academy of Military Sciences is a platform for military specialists to exchange opinions on the most current and problematic issues of military science. The results of the conference essentially determine future trends in the development of military sciences, as a result of which they are always widely discussed, both in Russia and abroad. This year we are examining issues of the development of military strategy under contemporary conditions.
The number of actors taking part in armed struggle is increasing. In addition to the armed forces of sovereign states, gangs, private military companies, and self-proclaimed “quasi-states” are fighting.
Military strategy, as the science of “the art of leading troops,” was born at the beginning of the last century and developed on the basis of the study of war experience. Generally, strategy is “a system of knowledge and actions on preventing, preparing for, and conducting war.” At present, the types of warfare are broadening and their content is substantively changing.
The number of actors taking part in armed struggle is increasing. In addition to the armed forces of sovereign states, gangs, private military companies, and self-proclaimed “quasi-states” are fighting. Means of economic, political, diplomatic and informational pressure are actively involved, as is the demonstration of military might in the interests of strengthening the effectiveness on nonmilitary measures. Military force is employed when nonmilitary methods are unsuccessful in achieving the assigned goals.
Meanwhile, Russia’s geopolitical rivals do not hide that they intend to achieve political goals not only during local conflicts with limited goals. They are preparing to conduct wars against a “high-tech enemy,” involving high-tech means of destruction from the air, sea, and space, with the dynamic conduct of information confrontation.
Under these conditions, the Armed Forces must be ready to conduct new-type wars and armed conflicts, using “classical” and “asymmetric” methods of operation. Therefore, the search for efficient and effective strategies for waging war against a variety of enemies is acquiring primary importance for the development of the theory and practice of military strategy.
It is necessary for us to clarify the essence and content of military strategy, the principles of prevention of and preparation for war and its conduct. The forms and methods of employing the Armed Forces, first and foremost in strategic deterrence, should be further developed, and the organization of the country’s defense should be improved.
In the process of its development, military strategy has passed through several stages of evolution, from the “strategy of annihilation” and “strategy of attrition” to the strategies of “global war,” “nuclear deterrence,” and “indirect operations.”
The United States and its allies have specified an aggressive vector for their foreign policy. ... Their goal is to liquidate the nationhood of countries that are not to their liking, undermine sovereignty, and change the legally elected organs of state authority.
The United States and its allies have specified an aggressive vector for their foreign policy. They have developed military operations of an aggressive nature, such as “global strike” and “multi-sphere battle,” and are using the technologies of “color revolutions” and “soft power.” Their goal is to liquidate the nationhood of countries that are not to their liking, undermine sovereignty, and change the legally elected organs of state authority. This was so in Iraq, Libya, and Ukraine. At present, similar actions can be observed in Venezuela.
The essence of this consists of the dynamic use of “the protest potential of the fifth column” in the interests of destabilizing the situation, with the simultaneous delivery of precision weapons strikes against the most important objectives.
I would like to mention that the Russian Federation is ready to oppose any of these strategies. For the past few years, military scholars, together with the General Staff, have been developing conceptual approaches regarding the neutralization of aggressive actions by probable enemies.
The basis of “our response” is the “strategy of active defense,” which, taking into consideration the defensive nature of Russian Military Doctrine, envisions the conduct of a set of measures for the preemptive neutralization of threats to the security of the state.
It is namely the validation of the measures being developed that should comprise the activities of military scholars. This is one of the priority trends for safeguarding the security of the state. We must outstrip the enemy in the development of military strategy and move “one step ahead.”
The development of strategy as a science should encompass two trends: the development of a system of knowledge about war and the improvement of practical activities regarding the prevention of war and preparation for war and its conduct.
The field of research of military strategy is armed struggle and its strategic level. With the appearance of new spheres of confrontation in contemporary conflicts, the methods of struggle shift increasingly more often in the direction of the comprehensive employment of political, economic, informational, and other nonmilitary measures that are implemented with a reliance on military force. Nevertheless, the main content of military strategy comprises issues of the preparation for war and its conduct, primarily in the Armed Forces. Yes, we take into consideration all other nonmilitary measures that affect the course and outcome of war and ensure and create conditions for the effective employment of military force. Here, it is necessary to understand that confrontation in other spheres is a separate trend of activity, with their “strategies,” methods of operation, and appropriate resources. In the interests of achieving a common goal, we must coordinate them, while not directly managing them.
Strategy should be involved with forecasting the nature of future warfare and developing new “strategies” for its conduct and the preparation of the state and Armed Forces as a whole. In this regard, it is necessary to update the list of research tasks, supplementing them with new trends of scholarly activities. Undeniably, the General Staff Military Academy, together with the Academy of Military Sciences, should be in charge of the work on these trends.
The involvement of all of the Ministry of Defense’s scholarly organizations and the scholarly capabilities of interested federal organs of executive authority is required for a more effective development of these issues. As practical experience shows, it is necessary to discuss problem issues at scholarly conferences and examine them during “round tables.” Only by doing this will new results in the field of the theory and practice of military strategy be achieved.
Operating swiftly, we must preempt the enemy with our own preventive measures, identify in a timely fashion his vulnerable areas, and create threats of causing damage that is unacceptable to him.
With the change in the nature of warfare and the conditions of its preparation and conduct, some principles of strategy are no longer employed, while others are filled with new content:
- the principle of preventing war consists of foreseeing the development of the military-political situation and the strategic situation in the interests of the timely identification of military dangers and threats and reacting to them in a timely fashion;
- the principle of preparing the state for defense beforehand is ensured by a constant high level of combat and mobilization readiness of the armed forces and the creation and maintenance of strategic reserves and supplies;
- under contemporary conditions, the principle of waging war on the basis of coordinating the employment of military and nonmilitary measures, with a decisive role for the Armed Forces, has been developed; [and]
- as before, the principle of achieving surprise, decisiveness, and continuous strategic operations is pertinent.
Operating swiftly, we must preempt the enemy with our own preventive measures, identify in a timely fashion his vulnerable areas, and create threats of causing damage that is unacceptable to him. This will ensure that the strategic initiative is seized and maintained.
Work on refining existing principles and validating new ones should continue with a consolidation of efforts of the entire scholarly community. It is necessary to develop principles of a general universal nature and principles of operation applicable to a specifically evolving situation.
These are seen to be the principal trends in the development of the theoretical tenets of military strategy. However, as the great Russian commander Aleksandr Vasil’evich Suvorov said, “Theory without practice is dead.” It is just for this reason that the practical activities of military strategy cannot be presented without its scientific validation.
The fundamental basis of the practical activity of strategy is the creation of a system for studying forecast scenarios of the outbreak and conduct of military conflicts. It is namely the validated forecasting of scenarios of possible conflicts that serves as the input data for the development of forms and methods of employing the Armed Forces. At present, an effective system of forms of employment of the Armed Forces has been theoretically developed and confirmed in practice, in which strategic deterrence operations are an important component.
Today, Washington is continuing a course to broaden a system of military presence in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders and to destroy the system of treaty agreements on issues of arms limitation and reduction, which is leading to strategic instability. Thus, in 2002 the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Its next step, after a demonstrative suspension of participation in the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, may be to reject an extension of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-3). Recently, the Pentagon has announced several times its intention to use space for military purposes. A new branch has been created for this—Space Forces, which creates the prerequisites for the militarization of the space domain.
In the final analysis, all these actions may lead to an acute exacerbation of the military-political situation and the appearance of new threats, to which we will have to respond with “mirror” and asymmetric measures.2 As a result, the validation and improvement of nuclear and nonnuclear deterrence measures is a current task in the development of military strategy. Any potential aggressor should understand that any form of pressure against Russia and its allies is futile.
Our answer is not long in coming. Contemporary models of armaments, including fundamentally new types of weapons, are being adopted and deployed. The mass production of new models of weapons has begun in the interests of equipping the Armed Forces with them. “Avangard,” “Sarmat,” and the latest “Peresvet” and “Kinzhal” weapons have demonstrated their high level of effectiveness and successfully passed the test of the “Poseidon” and “Burevestnik” complexes. Work is planned for the creation of the “Tsirkon” sea-based hypersonic missile.
There is no doubt that we are leaders in this field in comparison with the world’s technologically developed countries. Thus, recently a decision was made on conducting scientific and design work on the development of ground complexes of mid- and lower-range hypersonic missiles.
The creation of new models of weapons will not drag Russia into a new arms race. The number of new complexes sufficient for deterrence will be created within the framework of the planned military budget.
The policies our Western partners are conducting force us to “answer a threat with a threat,” and to plan for the future delivery of strikes against decision-making centers and against launchers that make possible the combat employment of cruise missiles against objectives on Russian territory.
Military scholars should accelerate research to seek and introduce new methods of employing future weapons and validate forms of countering possible military operations in space and from space by a probable enemy.
The Syrian experience has an important role for the development of strategy. Its generalization and introduction made it possible to identify a new practical field: carrying out tasks to defend and advance national interests outside the borders of Russian territory within the framework of the “strategy of limited actions.” The principal implementation of this strategy is the creation of a self-sufficient grouping of troops (forces) on the basis of one of the branches of the Armed Forces having a high degree of mobility and capable of making the greatest contribution to resolving assigned tasks. In Syria this role was given to Aerospace Forces formations.
The most important conditions for the implementation of this strategy are gaining and maintenance of information superiority, superior readiness of command and control and all-round logistics systems, and covert deployment of the necessary grouping.
New methods of troop actions during operations have been validated. The role of military strategy consists of planning and coordinating the joint military and nonmilitary operations of a Russian grouping of troops (forces) and the armed forces formations of interested states and militarized structures of the participants in the conflict.
Post-conflict management has been developed. In Syria, a new form of employing Armed Forces formations—the humanitarian operation—has been developed and tested. In Aleppo and Eastern Guta, measures for withdrawing the peaceful population from the conflict zone simultaneously with the execution of combat tasks to destroy the terrorists had to be planned and carried out in a very short time.
Results that were achieved in Syria made it possible to identify current trends for the study of the issues of employing the Armed Forces while executing tasks to defend and advance national interests outside the borders of the national territory.
One of the trends in the development of strategy is associated with the creation and development of a unified system of integrated intelligence, destruction, and command and control forces and means on the basis of contemporary information and telecommunications technologies. This system is designated for detection, transmission of target indication, and deliverance of selected strikes against critically important targets in near-real time by strategic and operational-tactical nonnuclear weapons. In the future, military science will have to develop and validate a system for the holistic destruction of the enemy.
The next trend is associated with the large-scale employment of robotic complexes designated for military purposes, first and foremost unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV], to increase the effectiveness of resolving a broad spectrum of tasks.
Another trend was the creation of a system to counter the employment of UAVs and high-tech weapons. Here, radio-electronic warfare forces and means played decisive roles. They made it possible to select effects based on the type of target, its structure, and criticality with respect to time. The task of military science consists, first and foremost, of scientifically studying issues of the creation of a strategic system in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to counter UAVs and the validation of future radio-electronic warfare systems and their integration into a unified system.
I will emphasize: digital technologies, robotics, UAVs, radio-electronic warfare – all this should be on the agenda of the development of military science, including military strategy.
One of the characteristic features of contemporary military conflicts is the destabilization of domestic security of the state through the enemy’s conduct of diversionary and sabotage actions. It is namely for this reason that the development and improvement of a territorial defense system, its structure, and methods of developing it, and the validation of a set of measures for its constant readiness are an important trend in the development of military strategy and tasks for military science.
Post-conflict management has been developed. In Syria, a new form of employing Armed Forces formations—the humanitarian operation—has been developed and tested.
At present we are doing much to implement measures of a military and nonmilitary nature, carried out by ministries and departments in the interests of the state’s defense. That being said, it is necessary to continue to study issues of coordinating actions of federal executive organs, distributing their powers, and managing the resolution of territorial defense tasks during the expansion of a military threat and the emergence of crisis situations. Especially urgent is the validation of the creation of a comprehensive system for the protection of critically important components of the state infrastructure against effects in all spheres during the period of a direct threat of aggression, when the enemy will be striving to destabilize the situation and create an atmosphere of chaos and uncontrollability.
This issue is new in the theory and practice of military strategy and should be studied comprehensively. The result of the work should be theoretical tenets, while in practice it should be a developed system of joint employment of the forces and means of various departments to ensure comprehensive security.
Until recently, military science studied issues of the employment of the Armed Forces in traditional spheres of conducting military operations: on land, in the air, and at sea. An analysis of contemporary warfare shows a substantial increase in the importance of the information sphere of confrontation.3 The new reality of future warfare will include a shift of military operations namely into this sphere. Information technologies are becoming one of the most promising types of weapons.
Having no clearly expressed national borders, the information sphere provides the possibility of remote, covert effects not only against critically important informational infrastructures, but also against the population of a country, directly influencing the condition of a state’s national security. It is namely for this reason that the study of issues of preparing and conducting information operations is a very important task for military science.
A priority trend of military strategy is the study of issues to increase the combat might of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. This is determined by the numerical size and quality of the Armed Forces the Russian Federation, their manning, their technical equipment, their moral and psychological condition, their level of training, and the combat readiness and combat capabilities of troops and forces. At present, the program with regard to manning the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation with contract servicemen is being implemented as planned. By the end of 2025 their number will reach 475,600. In doing so, the requirement for conscripting civilians for military service will be reduced.
Today, the officer corps of the Armed Forces is manned by trained professional personnel. All commanders of military districts, combined arms large strategic formations [ob”edinenie], and Air Force and Air Defense large strategic formations have combat experience, as do 96 percent of the combined arms commanders of units and tactical formations [soedinenie].
All services and branches of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are developing in a balanced manner and are being outfitted with contemporary weapons models in a timely fashion. The nuclear triad, which plays a key role in maintaining strategic parity, has been noticeably strengthened. The proportion of the contemporary weapons of our nuclear component has reached 82 percent.
The level of operational and combat training of troops and command and control organs has noticeably increased. Their capabilities have qualitatively changed.
A traditionally important trend is the improvement of the system of the ideological and moral-psychological stability of the population, first and foremost servicemen. It is namely for this purpose that the system of military-political work has been re-created in the Armed Forces.
Unannounced checks of combat readiness have confirmed the capabilities of troops and forces to operationally move formations and military units great distances and to reinforce groupings on strategic axes.
A traditionally important trend is the improvement of the system of the ideological and moral-psychological stability of the population, first and foremost servicemen. It is namely for this purpose that the system of military-political work has been re-created in the Armed Forces.
An important trend in the development of military strategy and the tasks for military science is the search for new approaches to the development of ties between military strategy and the economy. In the interests of preparing the country’s economy to resolve defense tasks, strategy has been called upon to answer the following questions. For what kind of possible war and in which directions should the economy be prepared? How can its survivability and stability be safeguarded? How can the economy’s structures be most advantageously placed, taking into account their protection? Stated almost 100 years ago, the thesis of Brigade Commander Aleksandr Svechin, classicist of this country’s military strategy—“the economy will be able to subordinate itself to the nature of military operations”—has become an objective reality.
I will mention that at present much is being done by the efforts of the Ministry of Defense and the defense-industrial complex. Above all, an effective system of cooperation is being built.
On the basis of an analysis of the experience of combat operations, scientific-research organizations are participating in the formation of weapons requirements and are monitoring their implementation at all levels of development—from preliminary design to state tests. Thus, on the basis of forecasting the nature of future warfare, military science is determining what future models of weapons and military equipment should be. Military scholars are preemptively conducting research to validate the forms and methods of their employment.
The complexity of contemporary weapons is such, that it is hardly possible to establish their production in a short time, upon the commencement of military operations. Therefore, everything necessary must be produced in the necessary quantity and issued to the troops in peacetime.
We must use all efforts to ensure technical, technological, and organizational superiority over any potential enemy. This requirement should also be a key one when assigning tasks to the defense-industrial complex for the development of new weapons models. This will make it possible for enterprises to conduct long-range planning, while scientific organizations will be oriented on the development of fundamental and applied research in military science.
The main thing for military science today is the cutting-edge, continuous, goal-oriented research to determine the possible nature of military conflicts, develop a system of forms and methods of operation of both a military and nonmilitary nature, and determine trends for the development of weapons and military equipment systems.
The expeditious introduction of the results of fundamental and applied research into the practical experience of the troops is extremely important.
The resolution of these tasks has been laid, first and foremost, upon the military-scientific complex of the Armed Forces. Recently this complex has achieved certain successes. Thus, within the framework of the scientific and research work assigned by the General Staff, a system of input data for military planning for the next mid-range period (2021-2025) was prepared. It is the basis for refining and developing documents of the country’s Defense Plan for the new period.
Our military science has always distinguished itself by its ability to see and identify problems at the stage of their appearance, and by the ability to study them in a timely fashion and find ways to solve them.
- “Razvitie voennoi strategii v sovremennykh usloviiakh. Zadachi voennoi nauki” [The Development of Military Strategy under Contemporary Conditions. Tasks for Military Science], Vestnik Akademii voennykh nauk [Bulletin of the Academy of Military Sciences] 67, no. 2 (2019): 6–11. This talk by Chief of the General Staff V. V. Gerasimov was given at the annual military-scientific conference hosted by the Academy of Military Sciences.
- Translator’s note: Gerasimov uses quotation marks around the term in the original, implying that this is not a traditional use of “mirror” in this [military] context. The Russian adjective is зеркальный, from the noun зеркало (mirror), the inference being that the response measures will both match (mirror) and asymmetrically counter any aggression or threat of aggression.
- Translator’s note: it may or may not be of significance that Gerasimov uses the term information “sphere” (сфера) rather than information “domain” (пространство), the latter normally being used when talking about confrontation on land, at sea, in the air, or in space.
US ISSN 0026-4148
General of the Army Valery Gerasimov is the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces and first deputy defense minister. He is a graduate of the Kazan Higher Tank Command School, the Malinovsky Military Academy of Armored Forces, and the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia. He served in a wide variety of command and staff positions before his current assignment, including commanding the 58th Army during combat operations in Chechnya.
Dr. Harold Orenstein taught at the U.S. Army Russian Institute in Garmisch, West Germany. During his career, he was a translator/editor/analyst with the Soviet Army Studies Office (now the Foreign Military Studies Office); a military-political affairs advisor for Central Europe at SHAPE; and a joint and multinational doctrine writer for the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate at Fort Leavenworth. He is the documents editor and has translated numerous articles for the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, and he has translated a two-volume collection on the history of Soviet operational art and several Soviet General Staff studies of Eastern Front operations. Orenstein is currently retired after serving thirty-one years as a Department of the Army civilian.
Lt. Col. Timothy L. Thomas, U.S. Army, retired, is a retired officer who served for more than twenty years as a senior analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He holds a BS in engineering science from the U.S. Military Academy and an MA in international relations from the University of Southern California. During his Army career, he was a foreign area officer who specialized in Soviet/ Russian studies. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including three on Russia: Russia Military Strategy: Impacting 21st Century Reform and Geopolitics; Recasting the Red Star: Russia Forges Tradition and Technology through Toughness; and Kremlin Kontrol.
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