After Nearly 150 Years Russia’s Non-Commissioned Officers Are Again Professionals Only

384,000 Russian soldiers are now enlisted men, including all of the sergeants and corporals

During the Cold War one consolation the Americans always had was that if the war went hot (but not nuclear) and millions of Soviet troops poured eastward across Europe at least they had a professional non-commissioned officer corps and the Soviets did not.

The Americans figured they had fewer troops in their all-volunteer army but at least they would be better led. The Soviets on the other hand were maintaining such a gigantic army it could never be properly staffed by enlisted corporals and sergeants alone.

Instead the Soviets trained a portion of their draftees to fill many of these roles. Considering draftees brief terms of service this meant the Soviets were continiously locked in a cylce of releasing much of their non-commissioned officers (unter-oficer or “underofficer” in Russian) and training up new ones.

We don’t know how a war between two such forces would have went, and now we never will because as of 2017 Russia’s NCO corps is now made up of enlisted professionals only:

According to Shoygu, the armed forces are manned at 93 percent of their authorized strength, and 384,000 contractees are in the ranks.  The NCO ranks are fully professional for the first time.  Apparently, the military no longer relies on conscripts hastily turned into sergeants.

This marks a huge break with the old model army achieved just a decade after the far-reaching Serdyukov reforms were launched in 2008.

Actually in the critical years leading up to WWII the Soviet army even trained draftee officers. At the time the Soviet military was growing at such a pace that even numerous platoons were led by “junior lieutenants” who were merely fresh conscripts rushed off to special officer courses for 3 to 6 months.

Same iconography, but this is a new, far different institution now

The growing professionalization of the military harkens back to a different, even older tradition. The Russian military which defeated Napolen was composed of “lifers” who were conscripted to serve for 25 years or until death, whichever came first.

The common (largely illiterate) sergeants of this army were chosen from its most experienced soldiers, while its (largely literate) sergeant-majors were the sons of soldiers brought up in military schools.

Ideally the Russians (if they could afford it) would like to field an all-volunteer military, but going back to an all-professional NCO corps for the first time since levies were introduced in 1874 is quite the revolutionary change already.

And the 384,000 enlisted men Russia employs still outnumber the entire British armed forces by a factor of 2 to 1 even without the 400,000 draftees.