One of the reasons the Russian military is struggling to gain territory in Ukraine is the lack of a strong corps of non-commissioned officers or non-commissioned officers who are more important than ever for the success of the modern battlefield, US military personnel and experts I say.

In the U.S. military, non-commissioned officers — enlisted servicemen with or above the rank of corporal in the Army and Marine Corps, Air Force Staff Sergeant, and Junior Navy Officer — are trusted experts who follow the instructions on the officers’ battlefield and care for troops. But while China is working to develop a corps of enlisted leaders, Russia seems to be stuck in an older model.

“The Russians are practicing top-down, very, very difficult directives by nature – something like settled orders coming from above, which is not necessarily the best thing to do in a dynamic battlefield,” said General Mark Millie, president of the United Nations. chief of staff told the Senate subcommittee on defense of appropriations on Tuesday.

Defense Minister Lloyd Austin said Russia’s failure to “integrate air fires with their ground maneuvers” was due to a lack of lower-level leadership.

Representative Mickey Cheryl, DNJ, who served as a pilot of a Sea King helicopter in the Navy for 10 years, said Russia’s performance in the war confirms her own experience: the military does not function without an authorized non-commissioned officer class.

“I could tell you that this is certainly the backbone of the US military. And I think we saw the lack of that in the Russian army and how it affects their ability to wage this war and certainly the inability without the mission command to really have anyone other than the actual leadership with the intention of the commander, “Cheryl said.

However, others note that the Russian military has historically performed relatively well without a non-commissioned officer corps. Michael Coffman, director of the research program at CNA’s Russian Studies Program, said Russia and the Soviet Union have won wars in the past. In Ukraine, he said, the problem is not the lack of a non-commissioned officer, but the top-down decision-making structure.

The Russian military is considered tough at the tactical level and flexible only at the strategic operational level, Coffman said, leaving ownership and independent thinking to officers. At these higher officer levels, he said: “There you see that the Russian army is really structurally affected as a force in terms of its culture and mode of operation.

The Russian version of NCOs are mostly contract troops who do not have a leadership role or manage discipline like their counterparts in the US or British military, Coffman said.

“They are not responsible, you know, for adapting the unit. They are not responsible for tactics and things like that … The person in charge of everything is the officer. That is why the Russian army is an officer. The officer corps is dealing with all those issues that non-commissioned officers could, “he said.

In comparison, the US military entrusts the leadership to non-commissioned officers. Mission team has been pushed to the lowest possible rank, which means officers are giving goals – such as capturing a hill – and non-commissioned officers are figuring out how to achieve it, an army sergeant said. Major Jeremy Crisp, spokesman for the 3rd Armored Corps in Fort Hood, Texas.

“But, for example, if you run up this hill and suddenly there is an obstacle that the commander did not say in his original intention, soldiers are given the flexibility to figure out how to go around, above, below or through this roadblock. because the commander did not manage it to such an extent that non-commissioned officers and junior officers could not fulfill this mission, “he said.

Non-commissioned officers are also responsible for combat readiness, including the general well-being of their troops. In March, a senior US defense official said that Russian forces were struggling to feed their troops.

“If you don’t take care of your soldiers, they will not be happy and they will be unhappy. And that’s when single cohesion falls apart, then things like mutual trust fall apart. Then things like shared understanding disappear, “Crisp said.

A large number of Russian generals have he reportedly died in Ukraine, a rare phenomenon in recent wars. Coffman said one reason was that Russian officers were willing to lead from the front and explore battlefields on their own.

“They are military, where officers take many risks that ours would not,” he said. “Second, there are definitely aspects of Russian military culture where much of what happens to a unit depends largely on the officer and his personality and their performance. And so the officers show up on the battlefield to give their personality to the battle. “

Coffman said Russian generals believe they should do so because the military does not delegate enough powers and lacks property at lower levels. “And that’s partly because there’s no non-commissioned officer corps and there’s no culture of that kind,” he said.

In the US military, officers and non-commissioned officers are connected. Each commander has his own non-commissioned officer from platoon level to the chiefs of the service branches. Crisp, who has served in the military for 21 years, including 15 years as a non-commissioned officer, said the U.S. military would “disintegrate” without a strong corps of non-commissioned officers.

“Readiness will decrease, the ability to function will decrease, the ability to be deadly will decrease. You can’t even understand it, “he said.

Perhaps following this warning, China is working to develop its own non-commissioned officer corps as part of its efforts to turn its People’s Liberation Army into a world – class military until 2049. Staffing problems have been “one of the real challenges” for the PLA for the past 30 years, according to David Finkelstein, vice president and director of security at China and the CNA’s Indo-Pacific Security Department.

In the late 1990s, China set up its first program to develop a professional non-commissioned officer corps, but Finkelstein said it was not working as well as hoped. In 2013, the Chinese Communist Party decided it needed to “improve the non-commissioned officer system,” he said. “So they understand they have some problems.”

The PLA is a mixed force of recruits and volunteers, Finkelstein said. The recruit may choose to join the regular army and go to school to become a non-commissioned officer.

“But it’s not entirely clear how the system works for them,” Finkelstein said. “But they are very keen on the fact that they need to do better, because as they strive to fight the type of high-tech, multidomain campaigns they envision, they know they need to push the authorities to the lowest level. … And lowering power to the lowest possible tactical level is truly anathema to the PLA culture, where they have a very vertical and well-established command and control system. ”

As in the Russian military, China’s junior officers have the same responsibilities that the United States expects to deal with non-commissioned officers. But the PLA is paying attention to how other military are building their officer and non-commissioned officer corps and working hard to be better at it, Finkelstein said. “It’s really hard to change the culture of any organization, and military cultures are changing more slowly than most.”

The PLA is also “the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party,” Finkelstein said, where people who want to become non-commissioned officers or officers are seen because of their political qualities.

The PLA was probably “quite surprised by the challenges the Russians faced” in the first phase of the war in Ukraine, he said, because they have traditionally respected the Russian military and Russia’s military experience over the past 30 years, which the PLA has not.

Finkelstein is convinced that the PLA is studying how Russian forces in Ukraine are coping at a strategic and tactical level.

“Ukraine will indeed be a combat laboratory for the PLA, to the extent that they can observe and learn everything about the Russian experience.

Tara Kopp and Patrick Tucker contributed to this post.

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