Georgia Plans New Reservist Force

The Georgian Defense Ministry has drafted and submitted to parliament a "concept" for the creation of a strong reservist force capable of supporting and augmenting the regular army in the event of a full-scale armed conflict, Radio Free Europe reports in its article Georgia Plans New Reservist Force. Although details remain unclear, several military analysts have judged the proposal realistic and effective. The same cannot be said of similar plans launched more than a decade ago under then-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Military journalist Irakli Aladashvili has calculated the cost of those attempts at 30 million laris (over $12 million).

Service in the planned reserve will be voluntary and is open to both men and women aged between 18-55. The reservist force will be divided into three categories.

The first will comprise men demobilized from the regular army -- i.e., contract servicemen with the rank of corporal or sergeant who have served for five years and want to transfer to the reserve for a further five years.

The second will be a territorial reserve established on the basis of the existing National Guard. In the event of hostilities, its members would be deployed only in their home district. Young men liable for military service may, if they choose, serve for five years in the territorial reserve instead.

The third category will consist of civilian specialists, such as civil engineers, whose skills would be of value to the army. (A comment posted on the website Georgia Today in July 2016 made the point that "should Georgian infantrymen need support from combat engineers or artillery, they have to call for assistance from bases some distance away; not overly useful if the country is ever invaded.")

The optimum strength of the armed forces reserve was set at 1,500, and that of the territorial defense force at 10,000. The Defense Ministry reportedly hopes to launch a pilot scheme in 2018.

Defense Ministry official Giorgi Tavdgiridze explained the rationale for creating the reserve in terms of the need for "the minimum number of servicemen in barracks during peace time and the ability to mobilize the maximum manpower in time of war." The reservists will be mobilized for active service for 45 days a year. (Nika Chitadze, who heads the Center for Research on Security and International Relations, has questioned whether that period is long enough to provide adequate basic training for those volunteers who have not previously performed their military service.) They will receive a salary and unspecified benefits.

According to Irakli Sesiashvili, who heads the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, the Defense Ministry has been working on the plans for a reservist force for several years. But as military analyst Vakhtang Maisaya points out, Georgia still does not have an overarching comprehensive military strategy to replace the now "outdated" one adopted after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian War and that would define the role of the reservist force vis-a-vis the regular army.

As noted above, earlier efforts under President Saakashvili to train a huge reserve force (rather than create a fifth brigade that Western military advisers had said was unnecessary and not financially viable) were less than successful. Following the abortive Georgian incursion into the breakaway region of South Ossetia in the summer of 2004, a campaign was launched to train 15,000-20,000 reservists by the end of 2005, with the ultimate objective of increasing the force to 100,000.

In December 2006, parliament enacted legislation, which took effect in March 2007, requiring all men between the ages of 27-40 to perform 18 days of compulsory military training every second year.

Some military experts, however, derided those plans as unworkable and unnecessary. Kakha Katsitadze, a former head of the strategic-planning department of the armed forces' General Staff, predicted that it would prove impossible to train that many reservists; he also said the three-week training period they are required to undergo was painfully inadequate. The General Staff proved incapable of mobilizing reservists at the start of the ill-fated incursion in August 2008, which triggered a disproportionate reaction from Russia.

Even though the idea of creating the reserve force predates the appointment of Levan Izoria as defense minister, it clearly complements the reconfiguration of the armed forces he launched late last year, and thus represents a further mature and prudent step forward. That process encompassed the reversal of his predecessor's decree abolishing conscription, and a systematic optimization that entailed the dismissal of extraneous civilian personnel and a reduction in the officer corps.

Testifying on April 11 before the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, Izoria explained that the reforms will contribute to the more effective use of the defense budget, freeing up a larger percentage for equipment and enhancing combat readiness. At present some 70 percent of total funding is spent on salaries and social benefits, compared with the maximum for NATO member states of 55 percent.

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