Written by Colin Robinson.
Security sector reform research is often concentrated upon questions of accountability. It is the high-profile, atrocious incidents of human rights violations which often draw attention to the behaviour of security forces. But security sector reform is generally agreed to include both efforts to improve the democratic accountability and the effectiveness of security forces. But neither objective is really fully possible without adequate information about the actual institutions under study.
Reform appears unlikely for many years in the former Soviet states of Central Asia. But when that time comes, it will be aided by accurate information. One of the more powerful and prominent states in the region is Uzbekistan, which attracted attention when it used elements of its security forces to fire upon demonstrators at Andijan in May 2005. Two years later, Burnashev and Chernykh explained some of the military dynamics in the pages of China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly. The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies (PIPSS) and the Journal of Slavic Military Studies continue to shed light on these issues, with a particularly pertinent article, by Sébastien Payrouse on training in Central Asian militaries, being issued in 2010.
In that article Peyrouse emphasised the continuing problems faced by Central Asian armies in general and by Uzbekistan in particular. These include difficulties progressing armed forces reform without upsetting the balance of the power elites or the nature of the authoritarian regime; the relationship between security forces and citizens; endemic corruption; poor living standards for conscripts; and continuation of dedovschina, the institutionalized hazing imposed on junior servicemen by their seniors. Without appeal to Communism as a unifying ideology, or having an effective KGB to enforce the will of the Party, it is very difficult to maintain an effective Soviet-style military system. However McDermott, writing in 2002, reminds us that Uzbekistan appeared to have the best readiness, equipment, and capability of all the Central Asian states.
With these notes aside, we can now go on to assess an issue that has seen very little discussion – the actual structure of the Ground Forces. Trying to assess an army sociologically requires not only a general understanding of its potentials and problems, but a more detailed picture of structures, and how they interact with forces around them. At present, a full picture is impossible, but there is now enough information to try and make a preliminary estimate.
Tracking land forces orders-of-battle in the former Soviet Union is not easy. The single most authoritative source remains the Defence and Military Analysis Team at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, currently led by James Hackett. Yet even Mr. Hackett’s team, drawing upon their worldwide networks, may not have an important force structure change in any of the 180 plus countries they monitor drawn to their attention for up to several years.
For the former Soviet Union, most of the more detailed exact listings of units, locations, and equipment are the province of the network of Russian-language researchers whose locus is undoubtedly Tomsk State University, at Tomsk in Siberia. There, Vitaly Feskov and his team have laboured long through unofficial networks to compile listings of units across the Russian Federation and beyond. Little if any of their data is drawn from official sources. While this kind of data is open and commonplace in the West, much of it remains technically classified in the former Soviet Union, and researchers have in some cases been arrested and jailed for compiling and publishing data drawn exclusively from public sources. Much of the Russian hierarchy are still adamantly opposed to this kind of openness. This kind of obstruction has led to false starts; a 2004 volume on the Soviet Union’s order of battle, surveying all five services, had to be superseded after many years’ hard work by a new series whose first volume on land forces was only published in 2013. Given this kind of difficulty even dealing with Soviet days, before 1992, readers will appreciate that data on Central Asian forces for the last ten years is patchy, unconfirmed, and subject to revisions at a later date.
For some time, the Uzbeks have maintained what are effectively five military districts. Russian specialists have repeatedly identified these districts as the South-Western, Eastern, Central, Tashkent, and Northwestern Military Districts. For fourteen years, the IISS Military Balance has continued to list four military districts, the Tashkent Command, and two operational commands. These seven commands were first listed in the 2000-01 issue; previously above brigade level the only listings were for three corps (one being the 2nd Army Corps Mobile Forces at Fergana). The two operational commands were identified around 2005 as the Motor Rifle Operational Command and the Mobile Units Operational Command. There is not enough information available to determine what functions these operational commands have, and those the military districts retain.
The number of motor rifle (mechanised infantry) brigades has fluctuated between 10 and 11 since that time. Uzbekistan began switching over to a brigade rather than divisional system after a December 1993 Presidential decree. Informed observers of the Uzbek military have long had a high degree of confidence that the Ground Forces include the 3rd, 7th, 21st, 22nd, 25th, 36th, 37th, and 48th Motor Rifle Brigades, plus the 4th Airborne, 17th Air Assault Brigade, and 23rd Artillery Brigades. What has recently become clear, due to Russian veterans’ websites, is some more data about the locations of some formations.
The estimated order of battle is below. The information varies by date, and was probably only accurate around 2010.
|Northwestern Military District||Nukus||Karakalpakstan, Xorazm Regions|
|Motor Rifle Brigade||Nukus|
|Southwestern Special Military District||Qarshi
|Qashqadaryo, Surxondaryo, Bukhara, Navoi Regions|
|3rd Motor Rifle Brigade||Navoi||Navoi Region|
|7th Motor Rifle Brigade||Kokayty||Surxondaryo Region|
|21st Motor Rifle Brigade||Xeyrabad||Surxondaryo Region|
|22nd Motor Rifle Brigade||Sherabad||Surxondaryo Region|
|25th Motor Rifle Brigade||Qarshi||Qashqadaryo Region|
|23rd Artillery Brigade||Angor||Surxondaryo Region|
|Central Military District||Dzhizak||Dzhizak, Samarqand, Sirdaryo Regions|
|Motor Rifle Brigade||Samarqand||Formed on the basis of a set of older equipment for a new Soviet division to be formed after war mobilisation.|
|Artillery Brigade||Kattakurgan, Samarqand?||Former Soviet 353rd Artillery Brigade|
|Eastern Military District||Fergana||Fergana, Andijan, Namangan Regions|
|17th Air Assault Brigade||Ferghana|
|37th Motor Rifle Brigade||Andijan|
|Artillery Brigade (Regiment?)||Former Soviet 530th Artillery Regiment|
|Tashkent Military District||Tashkent||Tashkent Regions|
|Motor Rifle Brigade||Chirchik|
Unlocated units: 4th Airborne Brigade, 36th and 48th Motor Rifle Brigades, one other motor rifle brigade, mountain infantry brigade, tank brigade, plus other units as listed by the IISS. Burnashev and Chernykh also report a motor rifle brigade at Bukhara.
Colin Robinson is a Marie Curie Scholarship candidate associated with the School of Politics and International Relations. Image credit: CC by Wapster/Flickr
 United Nations, Securing Peace and Development: The Role of the United Nations in supporting SSR, Report of the Secretary-General, UN Document S/2008/392, 3 January 2008.
 Rustam Bernashev and Irina Chernykh, Changes in Uzbekistan’s Military Policy after the Andijan Events, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2007.
 Roger McDermott, ‘The armed forces of the republic of Uzbekistan 1992-2002: Threats, influences and
reform’, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2003, 37.
 http://www8.brinkster.com/vad777, and V.I. Feskov, Golikov V.I., K.A. Kalashnikov, and S.A. Slugin, The Armed Forces of the USSR after World War II, from the Red Army to the Soviet (Part 1: Land Forces), Tomsk, 2013, 539 (in Russian).