Iskander-M in Kaliningrad

It’s always been clear Moscow would deploy new Iskander-M SRBMs in its Baltic exclave Kaliningrad. Now it has.

Iskander-M comes to Kaliningrad

Iskander-M comes to Kaliningrad

The folks at CAST posted the news to their blog on Saturday. They were impressively attentive to the military press while yours truly remained in a slothful tryptophan-induced post-Thanksgiving stupor.

Let’s look at what CAST saw.

On November 23, KZ wrote that the next “brigade set” of Iskander-M missiles has just been handed over to a missile formation from the Western MD. The MOD paper noted that Colonel Anatoliy Gorodetskiy commands the brigade in question. That is the 152nd Missile Brigade based at Chernyakhovsk in Kaliningrad. For now, the formation is still practicing with its new equipment on the range at Kapustin Yar.

As CAST noted, this is the eleventh “brigade set” delivered to Russian ground forces.

Iskander-M SRBMs in Kaliningrad can reach targets throughout Poland, the Baltic states, even southern Sweden

Iskander-M SRBMs in Kaliningrad can reach targets throughout Poland, the Baltic states, even southern Sweden

With reported 500-km range from Kaliningrad, the Iskander-M can cover targets throughout Poland, the Baltic states, and southern Sweden. If armed with cruise missiles (SSC-8 or Russian designator 9M729), their reach is much greater. Their 2,000-km or greater range allows them to strike targets close to Paris.

Why Now? Why Not?

Iskander-M in Kaliningrad was always just a question of timing.

Since at least 2014, the Russian Army has temporarily deployed Iskander-M launchers to Kaliningrad from the “mainland” for exercises.

As CAST reported, Jane’s Defence Weekly published photographs of characteristic “tent-mobile shelters” under construction for the new SRBMs at the Chernyakhovsk base in February.

But why now? Because the missiles and associated equipment have been produced and Moscow loses nothing at this point.

The Kremlin always said it could deploy the new SRBMs to its Baltic exclave to counter Aegis BMD (Aegis Ashore) in Poland slated for completion in 2018.

There are enhanced U.S. and NATO ground deployments to Poland to assure the easternmost allies in the wake of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Perhaps relevant here is the possibility the U.S. Congress will authorize DOD development of a new U.S. intermediate-range missile to answer Russia’s material breach of the 1987 INF Treaty.

And U.S.-Russian relations are the worst since the end of the Cold War.

Next Stop Kursk

CAST adds only the 448th Missile Brigade in Kursk remains armed with the late 1980s vintage Tochka-U (SS-21 / Scarab-B) SRBM. Kursk-based Iskander-M SRBMs deployed to launch positions in southwestern Russia will easily reach Kyiv, and central and eastern Ukraine.

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What Does Modern Mean?

Is this modern?

The Russian military reports routinely on the growing proportion of “modern types of armaments, military and special equipment” entering its forces. On November 7,  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said:

“As a result, we have managed to increase the level of equipping troops with modern weapons by 4 times since 2012. Today it stands at 58.9 percent.”

Interviewed on October 31, MOD armaments tsar Yuriy Borisov stated that weapons and equipment in Russia’s permanent readiness units won’t be less than 60 percent modern at the end of 2017. The standing goal for GPV 2011-2020 is 70 percent.

The chief of the 46th TsNII recently gave the following percentages for modern armaments in the Russian inventory.

Percentage of Modern Weapons and Equipment

So Shoygu’s math above isn’t quite right — four times 16 is 64 rather than 58.9 percent modern weapons.

But what is modern? On Arms-expo.ru, military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy not long ago described how the MOD categorizes its armaments.

The RF Armed Forces have five categories of weapons and equipment:

  • 1st category — New types entering the armed forces from industry which are under factory warranty and in use.
  • 2nd category — Serviceable types in use.
  • 3rd category — Types requiring some kind of repair.
  • 4th category — Types requiring capital repair.
  • 5th category — Types to be decommissioned.

Murakhovskiy turns to the RF standards agency to define modern armament:

Modern armaments are defined by state standard (GOST RV 51540-2005, Military Equipment, Terms and Definitions) — modern means a type of armament which is not inferior or superior to the best analogous foreign types in its combat, technical, and usage characteristics, or does not have foreign analogues.

All of which makes timely this little expounding on a point. New doesn’t always mean modern. There is new production of old designs. But by the same token one shouldn’t doubt that old weapons can be just as lethal and effective in combat as new ones in the right tactical situation.

With the long life cycles of today’s military technology, the distinction between new and modern will remain murky.

Take Russia’s Pantsir-S gun-missile air defense system. It was designed in the late 1980s and early 1990s to replace Tunguska from the 1970s. Because of Russia’s various troubles, Pantsir-S wasn’t produced until the late 2000s, and entered service by 2012. Obviously new but how modern? Now it’s slated for modernization by 2019. The Pantsir-SM is supposed to feature increased detection and engagement range with a new missile.

OSK Cries Poor on Knyaz Oleg

A Borey-class SSBN (photo Sevmash Press-Service)

A Borey-class SSBN (photo: Sevmash Press-Service)

Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC or OSK) is reportedly experiencing a shortage of funding for Borey-class SSBN Knyaz Oleg. OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov told RIA Novosti on November 16, “Everything depends on issues of the shortage of financing which has somehow formed for us. We hope that [the launch of Knyaz Oleg] will be on schedule.”

Rakhmanov reportedly told the official news agency that the schedule for launching Knyaz Oleg has been pushed back several times.

Knyaz Oleg is the fifth Borey SSBN overall, and the second Borey-A boat. Like the first three Borey ballistic missile submarines, the Borey-A is expected to carry 16 Bulava SLBMs.

First-of-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy is assigned to the Northern Fleet. Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh are part of the Pacific Fleet.

Like Knyaz Oleg, unit four — Knyaz Vladimir — the first Borey-A is also destined to reinforce the Russian Pacific Fleet’s strategic nuclear force.

Rakhmanov’s public cry for more money is somewhat unusual and harks back to 2011 when OSK railed at the MOD for adequate financing to produce modern nuclear submarines.

Russia planned to have eight Borey boats in its order-of-battle by 2020. But with Sevmash taking six, seven, or eight years to lay down, launch, and commission them, Knyaz Oleg might be the last to reach the navy this decade. And Rakhmanov pretty clearly linked money to sticking to his SSBN production schedule.

Putin: Russia Ending Conscription

President Vladimir Putin significantly changed the script for Russian military reform on October 24 by indicating intent to end the draft in favor of volunteer contract service.

Putin We are gradually going away from conscription

Putin: We are gradually going away from conscription

That day Putin told his young audience:

“While I don’t have a ready-made answer, in the same vein if we try to develop this practice further, then maybe we’ll come up with something, but in general we, of course, should keep in mind that we are gradually going away from conscript service in general.”

“We are doing this, unfortunately, at a slower pace than planned in connection with budget constraints, but we are doing it all the same and will continue to do so. So it will be a short time when in general this question will not be acute.”

The largest questions are why, and why now. The answer to both is the impending presidential election on March 18, 2018. It will be more a coronation keeping Putin formally in power for 20 of 24 years of the 21st century (but in reality for all 24). Still there’s no doubt ending conscription will provide an extra electoral boost for Putin. Cutting the draft term from two years to one gave Team Putin a lift ten years ago.

Russia’s generalitet has always said the military will never completely abandon conscripts for contractees. It fears the difficulty of conducting a big-war mobilization without hundreds of thousands of relatively young men with pretty fresh basic military training. Just like that, however, Putin changed a fundamental assumption of his generals.

Writing for Yezhednevnyy zhurnal, the inimitable Aleksandr Golts has pointed out the MOD’s flawed addition when it comes to contractees. Literally 11 days ago, General-Colonel Mikhail Mizintsev said the armed forces have 354,000 contractees. And Defense Minister said they had 384,000 at end of 2016, so the number is actually falling. At the end of 2017, they are supposed to have 425,000.

Golts concludes:

“Of course, it’s not excluded that once again military men have become confused in their own lie. Removed from any kind of control, they are at will to announce any data — it’s impossible to check it anyway. Meanwhile, Mizintsev is not simply a general. He is chief of the National Center for RF Defense Command and Control. They assure us that data on the condition of the Armed Forces flows right to him in real time. So, perhaps, he told the truth.”

For more on the Russian military muddle over contractee numbers, see also Denis Mokrushin’s entertaining “2×2=5. Maybe Even 6.”

Golts believes the number of contractees stalled at the 2015 level, with the 90,000 added since then cancelled by a similar number declining to renew their contracts after three years. So, he continues, one has to think the conditions of service in the army aren’t as attractive as depicted on MOD brochures. Contract pay hasn’t increased since 2012 (but inflation has by 44 percent). And the chance of injury or death in a “hot spot” like eastern Ukraine or Syria has gone up.

Regarding the reduced requirement for conscripts in the current draft campaign, Golts puts it down to the fact that the Russian Federation is at the very bottom of its demographic trough right now.  In 2017 and 2018 respectively, only 638,000 and 633,000 18-year-old men are available.

As a result of all this, Golts sees Russian Armed Forces manning at about 850,000 (250,000 conscripts, 354,000 contractees, 220,000 officers, and 30,000 military school cadets). This is well below President Putin’s recently authorized 1.13 million. The missing 160,000 or so troops has to affect Russia’s combat capability, according to him. He expects the generalitet to close gaps in the ranks with reservists to create leverage to convince Putin the draft must be preserved.

But maybe Putin isn’t even serious about ending the draft anyway.

Command Rokirovka

Rokirovka (рокировка) appears often in the Russian press. Borrowed from chess, it means castling in the strictest sense. In political and administrative terms, it’s when people shift places in an organization or hierarchy.

The Russian military seems poised for a command rokirovka.

The rokirovka might have begun with General-Colonel Viktor Bondarev’s abrupt departure from the Aerospace Forces (VKS) to accept an appointment to the Federation Council. With over five years as the CINC of Russia’s air forces (and its air defense, missile defense, and space forces now as well), Bondarev is just shy of 58. A three-star, he could have served to age 65.

Senator Bondarev

Senator Bondarev

It’s interesting that he would leave just now. But entering the upper chamber of Russia’s national legislature provides immunity from prosecution.

Observers were confronted then with the surprising prospect that General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin — an army general — might be the leading candidate to replace Bondarev. Others seem like distant challengers at best. But we’re still waiting for the shoe to drop on Surovikin. Bondarev joined the FC on September 19, yet his picture remains on Mil.ru as CINC of VKS.

The complicating factor is that Surovikin’s been away from his permanent post as commander of Russia’s Eastern MD while commanding the Group of Russian Forces in Syria since early summer.

To give the VKS to Surovikin, the Russian MOD will have to settle on new commanders for both posts.

Syria is toughest. Although winding down, Moscow can’t send just anyone. It might send General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev back. He commanded the group for the last part of 2016. Perhaps the original commander — General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov — might return from his post in the Southern MD. Commander of the Central MD General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy could go.

General-Colonel Zhuravlev

General-Colonel Zhuravlev

We can’t say who’ll be picked, but the choice is complicated by Defense Minister Shoygu’s announcement that the endgame has begun. The Kremlin won’t jeopardize its final push there.

A new Eastern MD commander is easier. Here are some possibilities:

General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev…only 52…deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander, then briefly commander of the Russian Group of Forces in Syria…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Southern MD…deputy chief of the General Staff.

General-Lieutenant Viktor Astapov…55…VDV officer…commanded a division, then an army…deputy commander of Southern MD…now chief of staff, first deputy commander of Western MD.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Chayko…46…chief of staff, first deputy commander of 20th CAA…commander of resurrected 1st Tank Army…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Eastern MD.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin…53…commander of 20th CAA…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Eastern MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Russian Group of Forces in Syria.

General-Lieutenant Mikhail Teplinskiy…48…VDV officer…Hero of Russian Federation in First Chechen War…chief of staff, first deputy commander of 20th CAA…commander of 36th CAA…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Southern MD.

General-Lieutenant Yevgeniy Ustinov…57…VDV officer…combat veteran of Afghanistan…deputy commander of former Leningrad MD…commander of 6th CAA…deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff and first deputy commander of Central MD.

No matter who gets the Eastern MD, these generals are worthy of notice. They’ve punched the right tickets, and if they don’t advance now, they will later. But Zhuravlev seems most ready and he has the third star customary for MD commanders. But inside-trackers have a way of getting side-tracked in the Russian military. It could happen to Zhuravlev.

A wild card scenario might be built around 59-year-old General-Colonel Aleksandr Galkin. He’s serving as assistant to Shoygu after a long tenure as commander of the Southern MD. It might not be safe to rule him out appearing in Syria or the Eastern MD.

Some generational change could be coming to the top Russian MOD posts typically occupied by army generals. The Chief of the General Staff — Army General Valeriy Gerasimov — has been in place since late 2012. He’s 62.  Ground Troops CINC — General-Colonel Oleg Salyukov — is also 62 this year.

The current MD commanders might really hope for Gerasimov’s job. General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov in the Western MD and General-Colonel Dvornikov in the Southern MD would seem to have the best shot, with the runner-up becoming Ground Troops CINC instead. A little older, General-Colonel Zarudnitskiy in the Central MD could be the odd man out.

Moves by the MD commanders would open spaces for the rising group of mostly two-stars introduced earlier.

The future of the commander of Airborne Troops — General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov — is a bit uncertain after his car crash last month, even though he’s only 55. If available, his post might be attractive to the three youngish generals with VDV backgrounds highlighted above.

But this entire rokirovka might unravel if General-Colonel Surovikin doesn’t move to the VKS for some reason. Still major command and leadership changes, driven inexorably by the passage of time and aging of the incumbents, are coming to Russia’s military.

New 36th Army Commander

On October 14, Mil.ru announced the appointment of General-Major Mikhail Yakovlevich Nosulev as the new commander of Russia’s 36th Combined Arms Army in Ulan Ude.

General-Major Nosulev

General-Major Nosulev

Born in Labinsk, Krasnodar in 1964, Nosulev was commissioned out of the Ulyanovsk Higher Tank Command School. He served with a Soviet tank army in the GSFG as a junior officer.

Nosulev commanded a regiment of the 42nd MRD during the Second Chechen War, according to BaikalFinans. He was deputy chief of staff of the 58th CAA during Russia’s Five-Day War with Georgia in August 2008. Most recently, he was chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Southern MD’s 49th CAA.

He apparently replaces General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko who just last month conducted bilateral exercise Selenga-2017 with Mongolian Army units in the Gobi Desert.

Where Kovalenko is headed is anyone’s guess. However, it’s possible he might remain in the Eastern MD and take command of the Ussuriysk-based 5th CAA. Its commander, General-Lieutenant Valeriy Asapov, was killed on September 23 while serving as senior military advisor to the Syrian Army.

More Airborne

The Russian MOD has announced that the Eastern MD’s 83rd Independent Air-Assault Brigade will conduct the first large-scale parachute drop in its history on October 18.

Recall the 83rd transferred from Ground Troops to VDV control almost exactly four years ago. It apparently spent the interval preparing and training to be more airborne than air mobile.

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

According to the MOD, the Ussuriysk-based brigade will drop combat equipment and personnel. It will proceed to a standard scenario involving seizure of a notional enemy airfield. About 2,000 troops and 400 pieces of equipment will be deployed.

Ussuriysk

Ussuriysk

In the evolution’s second phase, the brigade’s airborne and air-assault battalions will conduct a march with a pontoon bridge crossing and combat firings in a mobile defense.

The MOD didn’t indicate how many troops will parachute into the exercise. But the 83rd likely now has a parachute battalion to air-drop from Il-76 transports. VDV air-assault brigades traditionally also have two air mobile battalions. When the 83rd arrived from the army in 2013, it likely had three air-assault battalions.

The ex-army 56th ODShBr in the Southern MD may also have a parachute battalion already, but it seems less likely that the 11th in Buryatia has one.