By Maksim Yeniseyev
TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is planning to enact a new military doctrine by January 14, the 26th anniversary of the founding of its armed forces.
The new doctrine is expected to increase the effectiveness of military reforms and help strengthen ties with Uzbekistan's neighbours, according to political and military leaders.
Uzbekistan, the most populous Central Asian country, has the region's most powerful military. It ranks among the top 50 worldwide, according to the Global Firepower 2017 study.
That said, military modernisation is essential, according to officials and analysts who recognise the challenges to Uzbekistan's security.
Uzbekistan shares a 137km-long border with Afghanistan and was the birthplace of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), whose members have joined insurgencies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
The military "does not meet the demands of [this] rapidly changing era", President Shavkat Mirziyoyev told parliament on December 22.
Mirziyoyev began the process of shaping the new doctrine in January 2017, and it worked its way through the government over the course of the year. The senate approved it December 20.
"The document is based on the legislative acts of the republic and the norms of international law," the Uzbekistani senate press office said in a statement summarising the chamber's December 20 session.
"It strengthens and develops Uzbekistan's practise of an open foreign policy and the [country's] emphasis on developing constructive relations with its immediate neighbours and ensures the transparency of the country's defence policy."
Uzbekistan adopted its previous military doctrine in 1995 and has not changed it since.
The outdated document "ranked terrorism and extremism last among sources of danger and devoted far more attention to the region's nuclear-free status", Tashkent-based political analyst Valerii Khan told Caravanserai.
"Taking into account the specifics of our country's geo-strategic situation, as well as the evolving military and political situation in the region, [we] reviewed the tasks and structures of units of the armed forces," Mirziyoyev told parliament December 22.
"[We] created a National Guard and are taking comprehensive measures to provide the military with new weapons and modern military technology," he said.
Measures to modernise the military include developing a domestic defence industry, reforming the training system and boosting troops' benefits, he said.
One innovation seems to invoke the adage that an army marches on its stomach.
For the first time, Uzbekistan is planning to bring a professional food service to the military. Until now, all units have been responsible for preparing their own meals.
The army demonstrated the intended food service to journalists at one of the units in Tashkent Military District on December 28. It plans to expand the pilot project throughout the entire military.
"Special attention is being paid to providing comprehensive and high-quality food," the Defence Ministry said in a statement December 28. "The dining halls in military bases and institutions have been equipped with the latest technologies."
"Good nutrition contributes to the health and physical development of troops, increases the body's tolerance for various burdens and exerts a significant positive impact on the combat readiness of troops," the statement said.
Mirziyoyev signed a resolution on improving food service for troops on November 24. It proposes to outsource the work to private companies.
"The ... army extensively used the Soviet system of 'task orders' in the kitchen," Tashkent resident and former conscript Sobir Matkarimov told Caravanserai. "Soldiers would rotate the task of preparing food."
"Frequently [preparing meals] was a punishment for disciplinary infractions," he said. "That all detracted from combat training. It's great that draftees no longer have these obligations."