Is Such a Ship Needed?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has concluded another week of meetings with military leaders and defense industry officials.  Some significant statements appeared in the media, but none more interesting than those from Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin.  He, of course, oversees the defense industries, and serves as Putin’s deputy on the government’s Military-Industrial Commission (VPK).

Rogozin contends the new state armaments program (GPV) will include innovative weapons systems rather than modernization of existing platforms.  He buries Navy hopes for a modern aircraft carrier, and — worse for the Navy — he’s down on big ships that make great targets.  And he expounds at length on transport aircraft programs (which his son Aleksey now directs as vice-president of OAK).

Dmitriy Rogozin

Dmitriy Rogozin

Vesti asked Rogozin what will or won’t be in the next GPV.  He answered:

“We are gradually moving away from the modernization of old types of armaments, although, we must say, modernization is just as normal as the development of new types.  But there can’t be an endless amount of modernization.  Let’s say, three-four times, not more.  Otherwise this stops the development of new weapons systems. Therefore the new program of armaments is, in essence, an innovation program which includes completely new approaches. Above all, it is the development of smart weapons, and automated command, control, communications, and reconnaissance systems. We’ll have modern troop communications, which has always been a weak point.  We’ll have robotic systems, we have almost completed development of new unmanned vehicles, both ground and air.  And, of course, a strong renewal of our satellite network is in progress.  High-quality navigation, reconnaissance, and many other things.”

Asked if the Navy was favored over the Ground Troops in the current arms program, Rogozin responded:

“No, we won’t have some kind of imbalance, that is something favoring the Navy, favoring the Aerospace Forces or favoring new smart systems.  This is the emphasis of the new program of armaments.  The Navy will receive new ships.  Today we are stressing ‘muscular’ ships — frigates, corvettes of near and distant ocean zones, that is what doesn’t provide a great target for the enemy, but nimble, maneuverable, and capable of responding just like a large ship.”

Vesti inquired about delaying investment in new aircraft carriers and strategic bombers.  Rogozin answered:

“If we talk, let’s say, about aircraft carriers, then technologically and technically today Russian defense industry is capable of developing a ship of such displacement.  But it’s a question for the military whether such a ship is needed.  After all, we have to remember that, unlike the United States, we are not a great maritime power, we are a great continental power, and we have several other priorities.  As far as a strategic bomber goes, we have completed unique work at the Kazan Aircraft Plant, reestablished, but on a new technological basis, electron beam welding that is needed to develop the titanium fuselage on which the technology of the Tu-160, our great strategic bomber, was always based.  And we will recreate this aircraft, undoubtedly, on a new technical basis, with new electronics, new weapons, but this doesn’t mean that we have abandoned plans to develop the future aviation system of long-range aviation [PAK DA].  Work on it is beginning, as on the future aviation system of military-transport aviation [PAK VTA], and on a medium military-transport aircraft.  Decisions were made recently in Sochi.  We will produce it, and we’ll have it around 2023-2024.  At the end of this year, we are planning for a small, light transport aircraft to fly.  For our army, which is compact, it’s important to have the possibility of being instantly redeployed to another theater of military operations where some threat is growing. In this way we’ll repulse any aggression by potential enemies not with great numbers, but with the great skill and mobility of our Armed Forces.”

Moscow’s made a start in this direction, but Rogozin might be exaggerating its progress.  More interesting is his intimation that the MOD is making trade-offs in the process of cobbling together GPV 2018-2025.  Are large (and expensive) ships out in favor of neglected military transport aircraft?  Rogozin rails against “endless” modernization but, practically in the same breath, insists the MOD won’t forget about PAK DA as it prepares to produce updated Tu-160 bombers.  Perhaps someone will remind him there are things besides modernization which interfere with the development of new weapons.

Shocking

Yesterday RIA Novosti pointed out something easily overlooked.  On May 11, the head of the MOD’s Main Directorate of Combat Training (GUBP) announced in Krasnaya zvezda that the Russian Army will reintroduce the honorific “shock” [ударная] — as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Shock Army [ударная армия].

Medal for 3rd Shock Army Veterans

Medal for 3rd Shock Army Veterans

General-Lieutenant Ivan Buvaltsev indicated that units will compete for the right to bear the title “shock.”  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu will award the name to the most combat capable formations (divisions, brigades) — motorized rifle, tank, naval infantry, airborne, air-assault, but also units and sub-units.  They will receive a distinctive heraldic emblem.

Commanders of Russia’s military districts and armed services and branches have nominated 78 formations, units, and sub-units.  An MOD commission will inspect them this month before the final selection.  It isn’t exactly clear how many will win the title.

Honorific names are traditional in the Russian military.  The moniker Guards might be the most ubiquitous.  It was a Tsarist title abolished by the Bolsheviks in 1918, but reinstituted by Stalin in 1941 to inspire divisions in the dark early days of the Great Patriotic War.  Honorary names are passed down to preserve the lineage of different units.  Common for divisions and brigades, they are less frequently awarded to regiments, battalions, etc.

Udarnaya [ударная] is the adjective from the verb udarit [ударить] meaning to hit, strike, bang, beat, shock, etc.  So you’ll see the translation “strike army” sometimes.

Shock armies were big in the Soviet defeat of the Wehrmacht.  They were much heavier in tanks and artillery than regular armies, and had tank and mechanized corps in them. They had organic air support.  They served as reinforced armies on the main axes of fronts, and were built to break through enemy defenses.  In short, there’s no army in today’s Russian military approaching the size — the men and equipment — of the wartime shock armies.

There were five Soviet shock armies by late 1942.  Three belonged to the reserve of the Headquarters Supreme High Command [Ставка ВГК].  One was on the North-West Front, and another on the Volkhov Front.  The latter — General-Lieutenant Andrey Vlasov’s 2nd Shock Army — was encircled and destroyed trying to lift the siege of Leningrad in the first half of 1942.  Vlasov was captured, and he collaborated with the Nazis by heading the so-called Russian Liberation Army.

What the Russian MOD intends in resurrecting the shock army (shock division, shock regiment?!) only time will tell.  But it’s probably not for nothing.  The armies (divisions, battalions?!) so designated might be beefed up.  Those chosen for the honor likely won’t surprise us.  Look for them in the southwest opposite Ukraine and northwest opposite the Baltic countries.

Where Conscripts Serve

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

Russia is in the throes of its spring military draft running from April 1 to July 15. The MOD will induct 142,000 young men into the armed services and units of other “power” structures, i.e. Natsgvardiya, MChS, etc.  Last spring the military took 155,000.  The increasing number of contract soldiers is steadily reducing the requirement for conscripts.

A close look at the draft may allow for some surmises (perhaps insights) into how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are composed.  But patience during a bit of discourse will be required.

The media in some regions have reported about where their young men will serve. 

  • In Rostov Oblast — Russia’s sixth most populous region, 5,000 men will be drafted. According to the Don24.ru portal, fully 75 percent will serve somewhere in the Southern MD.  Sixty percent — or 3,000 — will serve in the Ground Troops.  Some 600 will go to VKS units.  Rostov will send 134 to the Navy, and 15 to the Kremlin’s elite Presidential Regiment.  No word on the destination of the remaining 1,251.
  • Russia’s seventh most populated territory Bashkortostan will send more than 5,100 men to the military, reports Bashinform.ru.  The Ground Troops will get 2,500 of them.  The Natsgvardiya gets 565, RVSN 560, VDV 180, and MOD “units of central subordination” 170.  No indication about the other 1,125 or so.
  • In Tatarstan — eighth by population — Gazetadaily.ru indicates that 4,000 conscripts will be sent to troop units.  Some 1,668 will be in the Ground Troops,  516 to the VKS, 440 Natsgvardiya, 320 Navy, and 280 RVSN.  Assignments for 776 were not identified.
  • Udmurtiya will send 1,100 of its citizens into the military this spring.  This includes 528 for the Ground Troops, 121 VKS, 55 Navy, 44 VDV, 99 RVSN, 88 Railroad Troops, and 55 Natsgvardiya.
  • In Vladimir Oblast, 1,790 men are being drafted.  The region ranks 31st in population.  Portal Vladtv.ru reports 501 are going to the Ground Troops, 233 to the VKS, and 260 to “units of central subordination.”  No word on the remaining 796 men.
  • Karachayevo-Cherkesiya will send off 500 new soldiers.  It is 76th by population.  The Riakchr.ru portal indicates that 70 men are bound for the Ground Forces, 6 for VDV, 131 VKS, 189 Natsgvardiya, 78 Railroad Troops, and 15 MChS.  Fifty of the troops for VKS will serve in nearby military-space units — the Krona space monitoring facility near Zelenchukskaya specifically.
Physical exams in Barnaul

Physical exams in Barnaul

In Moscow Oblast — the RF’s second most populous region, 5,970 young men will be conscripted this spring and summer, according to Regnum.ru.  More than 80 percent of them will serve their year in units in the Western MD.  News outlets in two of the oblast’s major cities have reported on this year’s spring callup:

  • Odintsovo.info reports that Odintsovo’s levy for spring 2017 is 311 men.  Of them, 140 will serve in the Ground Troops, 62 in VKS, 30 in “units of central subordination,” 15 RVSN, 13 VDV, and 10 Navy.
  • In Podolsk, 274 men will be drafted.  Pro-Podolsk.ru states that 130 will head to the Ground Troops, 101 to VKS, 19 Navy, 17 Natsgvardiya, and 7 VDV.
Issuing gear in Orenburg

Issuing gear in Orenburg

There are, of course, other ways to peel the conscription onion.  Klops.ru reports that the Navy’s Baltic Fleet will receive 5,000 draftees this spring and summer.  The MOD’s Krasnaya zvezda states that Kaliningrad Oblast will draft 1,200, and send 80 percent (960) of them to the Baltic Fleet naval or ground units.

Mil.ru indicates that the Northern Fleet will get 2,500 conscripts.  Some 800 will come from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts.  Each region is drafting 1,000 men.  The new Northern Fleet personnel will serve their year ashore in motorized rifle, air defense, supply, and aviation-technical units.  The most fit among them will go to the fleet’s naval infantry brigades.

Unlike the past, there seems more tendency to let conscripts serve close to home. “Extraterritoriality” used to be the rule when Soviet and Russian draftees would be sent far from their native areas just to discourage AWOLs.  Particularly notable is the induction of young men from maritime regions into their nearby fleets.  Or men from Pskov or Ulyanovsk to be conscripted into local VDV units.

Data on the contribution of various regions to the draft is summarized in this table. It is not large enough for grand conclusions with high confidence, but perhaps for some conjectures. 

Let’s look first at what we’ve heard recently about how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are put together.  President Putin’s March decree stated that the armed forces have 1,013,628 uniformed personnel.  However, Defense Minister Shoygu indicated the previous month that only 930,000 soldiers — including 380,000 contractees — were actually in the ranks.  The remaining 550,000 presumably included 220,000 officers, 50,000 warrants, and 307,000 conscripts who entered the service in the spring and fall of 2016.

But that math isn’t quite right; this would give the armed forces 27,000 more men on hand than Shoygu said.  Either the total is higher than 930,000 or one (or some) of the other numbers are lower.  In early 2017, the MOD admitted that it was short of officers and pilots.

Next we have to examine the even murkier claims about the size of Russia’s armed services.

We’ll start where the clarity is greatest.  The RVSN commander said last year his troops will remain around the 60,000 level.  VDV are generally put at 35,000 or 45,000.  The Navy is usually estimated at 130,000-150,000 men.  While they are ranges, they aren’t extreme.

Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces are the problems.  It may be easiest to start with the latter.  One sees reports of the VKS at 190,000 and at 430,000 (?!).  The Ground Troops range from 220,000 to 400,000 depending on the source.

It might look like this:

Armed Service Low Medium High
Ground Troops 220,000 310,000 400,000
Aerospace Forces 190,000 310,000 430,000
Navy 130,000 140,000 150,000
RVSN 60,000 60,000 60,000
VDV 35,000 40,000 45,000
“Units of central subordination” 295,000 70,000 -155,000
Total 930,000 930,000 930,000

Let’s look at the three ways of allocating 930,000 personnel.  The “low” estimates almost certainly leave too many in the MOD’s “units of central subordination.”  The “high” estimate for each service doesn’t even fit a force of 930,000.

The “medium” estimate looks like it might be fairly close to reality, with some adjustment.  The 310,000 for VKS seems a little high, although the new service was created in 2015 by merging the old VVS and VVKO each with roughly 150,000 personnel. Still, it may be less, perhaps 280,000 now.

Russian Federation Armed Forces manpower might be distributed like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent
Ground Troops 340,000 37%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30%
Navy 140,000 15%
RVSN 60,000 6%
VDV 40,000 4%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8%
Total 930,000 100%

The real issue could be the distribution between the two largest services, Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces.  There might be more in the former and somewhat fewer in the latter.

So what does the latest allocation of conscripts tell us?

About 42 percent of conscripts in this unscientific sample are headed for the Ground Troops.  It seems to make sense because this service likely still has a heavy concentration of draftees.  Some 19 percent are going to the VKS.  Again, not surprising since the VKS almost certainly relies more on contractees than conscripts.  Approximately 6 percent are bound for the Navy.  It has reportedly almost stopped using draftees for afloat duties leaving a smaller requirement for personnel to work in billets ashore.  The RVSN and VDV still rely on conscripts but have significant numbers of contractees in their ranks. They are getting 8 and 3 personnel from the levy, respectively.  “Units of central subordination” are receiving 9 percent of those drafted this spring and summer.

It looks like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent Conscript Allocation
Ground Troops 340,000 37% 42%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30% 19%
Navy 140,000 15% 6%
RVSN 60,000 6% 8%
VDV 40,000 4% 3%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8% 9%
Total 930,000 100%

The allocation of new conscripts is not a great proxy for showing how manpower is distributed in the Russian armed services.  But it isn’t a bad one.  It allows for some assertions that could be researched and tested in the future:

  • The Ground Troops have a higher number of conscripts in their ranks than a strictly proportional distribution of draftees would provide. 
  • The Aerospace Forces and Navy have fewer conscripts than their proportional shares.
  • The RVSN, VDV, and “units of central subordination” have conscript numbers that fit a proportional distribution in line with their share of MOD manpower. 

The sample size, of course, is small and the existing data incomplete. A significant percentage of conscripts lacked an identified service assignment.

His Greatest Achievement?

Putin chairing Military-Industrial Commission session in Rybinsk on April 25, 2017 (photo Kremlin.ru)

Putin chairing Military-Industrial Commission session in Rybinsk on April 25, 2017 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

In the most recent iteration of what is basically an annual poll, Levada asked respondents to select one answer to the following question:  “What would you call the main achievement of Vladimir Putin during his years in power?”

Some 17 percent of those polled picked “Increasing combat capability and reform of the armed forces.”  It was the top response in this year’s poll.

Below find the reaction to this response over time.

Putin's Greatest Achievement The Military.

Positive reaction to this choice scuffled along for years.  Just three percent of those polled picked it in the waning months of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s tenure as minister of defense.  It jumped, however, to 8 percent in August 2014, following the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  It reached 14 percent a year after Moscow intervened in the Syrian civil war.

External events greatly influence this particular Levada poll.

For instance, in early 2008, 21 percent of respondents said Putin’s greatest achievement was “Economic development of the country.”  Two years later, following the recession of 2008-2009, only 12 percent could agree with this.  And, seven years later, that number is still 12.

Even in mid-2009, 22 percent said Putin’s greatest trick was “Increasing the standard of living of citizens, growth of wages and pensions.”  That number now stands at 8 percent.

Unfortunately, some responses seem eternal.

Typically only 1 percent or less of those polled pick “Defense of democracy and political freedoms of citizens” or “Improving relations between people of different nationalities in Russia.”

In this iteration of the poll, 8 percent indicated that they don’t see any achievements and 4 percent found it hard to say.

The 17 percent response on the military is good news for Putin.  As for many regimes, it’s an easy place to score points with the average citizen.  Other arenas are more complicated.  But the Kremlin has successfully managed a turnaround in the perception of the armed forces.

The problem is events can erode high poll numbers.  For the Russian military, they could include things like a large-scale attack on Russian forces in Syria, widespread arrears in military pay, a submarine sinking, a huge ammo depot fire, or the death of soldiers in a collapsing barracks.  

In isolation, none is enough to dent a prevailing opinion strongly underwritten by the steady drumbeat of a Defense Ministry PR campaign.  But, over time, they accumulate and can change attitudes.  Like everything else, poll numbers that go up usually come down.

Taking Stock of Russian Acquisition

Novyye izvestiya interviewed Ruslan Pukhov last week.  He has some perspectives on Russian military procurement we’ve heard before, and some we haven’t.

NI asked the CAST director if the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Shayrat would hurt Russia’s exports of air defense systems.  He said no, for all the obvious reasons.

More interestingly, Pukhov said air defense equipment typically represents 10-20 percent of Russia’s annual arms exports.  This could rise in coming years, he stated, due to future sales of the S-400 to “China and other countries.”

Ruslan Pukhov

Ruslan Pukhov

Asked how Russian weapons have performed in Syria, Pukhov responded:

“The Syrian campaign has made a good advertisement for Russian arms, particularly for new types of Russian combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-35 and especially Su-34) and helicopters (Mi-28N and Ka-52), but also for precision munitions — cruise missiles and aircraft ordnance.  Therefore it’s possible to expect growing interest from foreign buyers and growing sales in these segments.  The negative side one can draw from the actions of the Russian grouping in Syria is, first and foremost, the insufficient capability of its technical reconnaissance systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles and space systems.  The quantity of precision weapons is still insufficient.  The precision arms themselves in a number of cases require additional development.  There is still a lot of work ahead, but the main thing is that the Syrian campaign has allowed for revealing these deficiencies and partially eliminating them.  Meanwhile the cost of acquiring this priceless experience has been relatively low.”

Of course, the cost is only low if you’re not in the crossfire in Syria.

NI asked Pukhov if Russian weapons are better today or are they still based on old Soviet ones.  He answered:

“There is progress, but a large part of equipment, including what is being produced and bought now, still depends precisely on the Soviet legacy.  The weapons systems of a really new generation (the T-50 fighter, ‘Armata’ tank, new generation armor) remain in development and still haven’t gotten to the serial production stage.  But we have to understand that the creation of new generation armaments in any case involves many years – the cycle is 10-15-20 years from the start of R&D to the real achievement of combat capability in series models in troop units.  Considering that in Russia significant financing of defense and the OPK began only after 2005, and on a really large-scale only after 2010, then you really can’t expect any other result.  If there’s success in financing at the necessary level, then after 2020 the arrival of platforms and systems of a really new generation will begin.”

And how have economic problems and sanctions affected the OPK?

“The crisis still doesn’t directly affect the OPK.  Even with a sharp contraction in federal budget revenue and eight years of economic stagnation, state defense order financing has been preserved at a high level, and it will begin to drop only from 2017.  But not because of economic difficulties, but in connection with saturating the troops with new and modern equipment.  From another side, sometimes the conditions of GOZ price formation turn out so severe for enterprises that it sometimes leads to GOZ contracts being fulfilled at the limit of profitability.”

“The full action of sanctions began to be felt from 2015.  Because the non-supply of a number of components from Ukraine and Western countries already caused a shift in the completion of a number of programs, the most well-known instances are connected with the construction of project 11356 and 22350 frigates, but also project 20385 corvettes, on which Ukrainian gas turbines and German diesels, in turn, were replaced.  In addition, sanctions complicated the purchase of Western-produced equipment by Russian enterprises, and, most importantly, its licensed maintenance. And as practice has shown, analogues from China and other countries don’t always meet the quality standards we need.  By 2018, the import substitution program will allow for covering 80-90% of imported items, and finally, imports will be replaced by 2020.”

More Mobile Strategic Air Defense

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo TASS Valeriy Sharifulin)

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo: TASS / Valeriy Sharifulin)

Izvestiya reports the Russian MOD plans to increase the mobility of its strategic air defenses.  The newly-established 24th Air Defense Brigade is the model. Formed in late 2016, this Abakan-based brigade just completed its first live firings of the S-300PS on the range in Astrakhan.

The brigade deployed 100 pieces of equipment over 4,500 km for practice in repulsing a “surprise mass air attack” by the notional enemy.

According to Izvestiya, new air defense brigades are supposed to be “highly mobile formations, capable of deploying hundreds of kilometers and establishing an insurmountable barrier against aircraft, cruise missiles, and UAVs in a matter of hours.” They will be equipped with S-400 and S-300 SAMs, Pantsir-S gun-missile systems, and Nebo-M radars.  The mobile brigades will reportedly protect more territory while saving money.

Russia’s independent air defense regiments have traditionally been dedicated to particular facilities or regions.  They employ tactical maneuverability but only within the confines of a larger positional defense.

Izvestiya quotes former SAM troops commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Gorkov:

“The appearance of the S-300 and S-400 seriously changed the situation.  These SAMs gave air defense high mobility.  New brigades could be deployed on a threat axis not just by their own means of transport, but also by ships or by VTA aircraft.”

Not to mention by rail too.

Gorkov claims the idea for more mobile strategic defense dates to the early 1990s when the S-300 was widely deployed.  He states that the 14th Mobile Air Defense Division, based in Ruza to the west of Moscow, deployed as far as Rzhev, Pskov, Smolensk, and Novgorod before it disbanded.

Abakan is capital of Khakasiya in Western Siberia.  Pretty remote as possible theaters of war go.  Its closest neighbors are Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.  It’s not even on the Transsib, but it connects via Tayshet. 

A VKS Main Staff source says the next mobile air defense brigade will be Tiksi in Russia’s Far North.  Road and rail are, of course, not good options for Tiksi.

A push for more mobile air defenses is logical given the Russian military’s increased emphasis on strategic reinforcement in recent years.

Abakan may be off the beaten track, but it makes some sense because the Central MD is Moscow’s reserve for potential conflicts in the east, west, and south.

Korolev on New Submarines

At today’s launch of Russia’s first proyekt 885M or Yasen-M SSN Kazan, Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev said the third Yasen-M, Krasnoyarsk, will be launched in 2019.  But he didn’t mention the second, Novosibirsk.

According to RIA Novosti, Korolev also indicated that the sixth Yasen-M (seventh Yasen overall) will be laid down this summer, and will be named Ulyanovsk.

Korolev also said the first modernized proyekt 955A or Borey A SSBN Knyaz Vladimir will be launched this summer.  It will be the fourth Borey overall, and will carry the improved Bulava-M SLBM.

At the launch ceremony for Kazan, the Navy CINC reported that:

“Last year we reached the same number of underway days which existed before the post-Soviet period.  That is more than 3,000 days at sea for Russia’s submarine fleet.  It’s a wonderful indicator.”

While launch is a very significant milestone in submarine production, Kazan still faces a lengthy period of pierside fitting out, factory trials, and state testing.