Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Base By Any Other Name?

Medvedev with Vietnamese Counterpart Nguyen Minh Triet (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Cam Ranh was sure to be a topic for President Dmitriy Medvedev’s Vietnam trip.  But not a major one if Medvedev foreign policy assistant Sergey Prikhodko is to be believed.  Nevertheless, Prikhodko kept alive the idea of renewing some kind of Russian naval presence in Vietnam, whether called a base or a ‘material-technical support point.’  Prikhodko intimates the latter wouldn’t be anything like the former since times have changed so much.  Others will say the name it’s given is less signficant than what it actually turns out to be (if anything).

On Friday RIA Novosti quoted Prikhodko by name, on the eve of the Vietnam trip, saying:

“I don’t think we need to reestablish (in its old form) a base at Cam Ranh.”

And he claimed there was nothing concerning Cam Ranh in the documents  prepared for the visit.

Today ITAR-TASS coyly cited a Presidential Administration source (using Prikhodko’s exact words) who said Moscow is not tabling the issue of fully reestablishing a naval base at Cam Ranh:   

“Russia has material-technical support points for its Navy in many countries, you undoubtedly know them – from the Maldives on an occasional basis to Syria.  Naturally, the Vietnamese are interested in maximum capitalization on what was done by them and us.  But I don’t think we need to raise the issue of reestablishing the base.”

“It’s logical that in the framework of regular Russian Navy exercises, particularly in recent times, given our increased cooperation with European Union and NATO on antipiracy problems, this is an acute issue.  There’s nothing supernatural here.  And the fact is, in order for our ships to resupply with food and replenish in an efficient manner, they need infrastructure capabilities.”

“The idea of the base belongs to the Vietnamese side, it involves using the good groundwork and experience which Vietnam and Russia had earlier in supporting the security of navigation, supplying ships with food, with refueling.  It’s likely we’re talking about the possibilities of material-technical support of Russian ship cruises.”

“This is not the central subject (in the high-level talks), we have no enemies in this region as in past times, but to have the possibility to visit ports on regular and standard conditions wouldn’t be bad.”

“I don’t know the military’s plans in relation to this base and suppose that they don’t have any.  We’re talking about supporting the reliable functioning of our ships, including those fulfilling functions of various types of our cooperation with international organizations.”

Comparing the possibility of Cam Ranh with the existing situation with Syria, he said:

“This [Cam Ranh] is even better than the Syrian variant.  When it comes to Syria, we are always looking around at the reaction of neighbors, Israel, for example.  Here [Cam Ranh] it’s a much softer and more transparent variant.”

“There are complexities connected with ships passing the Strait of Malacca.  Therefore, on the level of public announcements, all countries in the region are interested that we should send military vessels there.”

It all seems like an awful lot of talk for something that ain’t goin’ happen . . .

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Medvedev in Solnechnogorsk

President Medvedev (photo: Izvestiya / Yekaterina Shtukina)

Thursday President Dmitriy Medvedev made his most recent foray among the troops, and expressed what sounds something like a defense of his somewhat embattled Defense Minister, and his military reforms.

At Solnechnogorsk’s Center for Retraining and Improving Rifleman Qualifications, the President decorated some officers.  According to Kremlin.ru, he said:

“Our army is changing now.  And despite the fact that all changes are difficult, they are necessary. Because we understand:  if we can’t make our armed forces modern and effective, more combat capable, better armed, if officers receive pay that doesn’t motivate them to work properly, then we won’t have a proper defense.  Therefore, everything now being done is directed at creating modern and effective armed forces.  There are both problems and good decisions here, I am following them personally as Supreme CINC and I intend to continue to do so.”

He also congratulated General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin and Admiral Konstantin Sidenko after appointing them to be permanent commanders of the new Western and Eastern MDs respectively.

At the center, Medvedev inspected the school where Russia’s snipers are trained, and inspected the weapons they use.  The school has practically every type of infantry weapon, including NATO ones.

Izvestiya and Kommersant reported that officers there still venerate the Kalashnikov’s reliability and simplicity, but lament its ergonomics and low single shot density.  A new Kalashnikov will begin testing next year, and Izvestiya imagines the officers told the President what requirements for the new weapon will be, since today’s Russian Army can afford to buy the best.  Kommersant and RIA Novosti both noted that Kalashnikov lags behind Western manufacturers, so this all sounded a little like a rerun of recent domestic production vs. foreign procurement debates.

Medvedev visited the nearby military town of Timonovo, and viewed newly built apartment blocks for Space Troops officers.  Officers already in their apartments told Medvedev they are happy with the quality of the construction.  The President also met several dozen residents, families, and military retirees.  Some of the latter who served at Baykonur but received permanent apartments in Moscow Oblast complained of losing their higher pension ‘coefficient’ when they returned to Russia, and Medvedev promised to look into this.

He talked with representatives of the management company contracted to maintain these buildings for the Defense Ministry.  They said residents complain mostly about poor drinking water, and Governor Boris Gromov said this was because of old pipes that he promised to replace.  Medvedev gave Timonovo a positive evaluation, calling it: 

“A good town, normal level of support.”

This was Medvedev’s first trip to see the troops in a while, and he seems like he generally doesn’t go too often or too far to observe them.  He watched the naval portion of Vostok-2010 in July, and visited Alabino in May.

Another Bulava Success

Bulava Launch (photo: ITAR-TASS)

At 0510 MSK today, Dmitriy Donskoy successfully launched the second Bulava SLBM of 2010 while submerged in the White Sea.  That makes two in a row, and 7 successes in 14 attempts overall. 

A government Military-Industrial Commission (VPK) source told ITAR-TASS the 15th test could occur in early December and will be the first from new Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy.  The source attributed the successes to a tightening of control over the production and state acceptance processes.  He also warned it’s too early to relax:

“Two successful launches don’t signify that it’s possible to accept ‘Bulava’ into the arsenal.  A great deal will depend on testing in 2011.”

A member of the state commission that investigated the Bulava failures told RIA Novosti that these successes show Bulava had assembly problems.  And he said testing will continue in 2011.

RIA Novosti noted that, perhaps most significantly, this year’s Bulava tests came from a submerged boat.  In 12 tests prior to 2010, there had not been a single successful underwater launch.

Strategic Forces Training

Russia fired two SLBMs and an ICBM today.  Pacific Fleet Delta III SSBN Saint Georgiy Pobedonosets launched an SS-N-18 (RSM-50) SLBM from the Sea of Okhotsk.  Northern Fleet Delta IV SSBN Bryansk fired a Sineva (RSM-54) SLBM from the Barents Sea. 

And a crew from the Vladimir Missile Army’s Bologoye Division launched an SS-25 (RS-12M/Topol) ICBM from Plesetsk.

An RVSN spokesman said this launch allows Russia to extend the service life of this grouping of SS-25s to 23 years or until about 2015, and to conduct a planned replacement of these missiles without overburdening the military’s budget.

Yesterday Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 bombers launched weapons on ranges in Irkutsk and Komi as part of an Air Forces exercise.

According to some reports, the Navy may test fire the Bulava SLBM for the second time in 2010 tomorrow.

Goodbye GRU Spetsnaz, Hello Army Spetsnaz

Writing in last Friday’s Stoletiye.ru, Rossiyskaya gazeta correspondent Sergey Ptichkin says that, practically on its 60th anniversary, GRU Spetsnaz have landed in a most unexpected place – the Ground Troops.  His piece is full of bitter sarcasm.

Ptichkin concludes:

“The GRU Spetsnaz brigades have transferred into the Ground Troops structure.  Several units have disbanded altogether.  Ranks for duties have been lowered.  Now a senior lieutenant will command a reconnaissance group, and that’s the ceiling.  All warrant officers have been dismissed – there’s no longer such a rank in the army.  And it’s strange that professional sergeants haven’t magically appeared in place of full-grown warrants.  The issue of halting parachute training for reconnaissance men is on the agenda.  Really, why parachutes if they’ve become ‘pure infantrymen?’  They can deliver them to any rebellious village in the mountains or forests on trains or in KamAZes.”

According to Ptichkin, professional Spetsnaz believe:

“. . . it’s simply impossible to train an eighteen-year-old boy into a genuine reconnaissance man-saboteur in one year.  In Afghanistan, Spetsnaz soldiers were sent out only after a year of intensive combat training.  That is real service, when a professional military reconnaissance man was born even at the very lowest level, began a year after callup, but now they’re dismissed into the reserves where they forget everything they learned after a few months.”

Ptichkin recalls the GRU Spetsnaz’ anniversary ten years ago.  Even though their relations with the Spetsnaz were tense, the Defense Minister and General Staff Chief came and paid their respects.

But this year:

“Neither the Defense Minister, nor the Chief of the General Staff, not even their current chief – the Ground Troops CINC came.”

“Many veterans and even serving officers consider this day a quiet farewell to the GRU Spetsnaz, born 60 years ago.  It’s possible something more mobile, combat ready, and effective will take its place.”

So he’s thrown Putin and Medvedev’s own description of the kind of army they want back at them.  Of course, the Spetsnaz have always considered themselves the ultimate fighting force.

Ptichkin says the Defense Minister didn’t even issue a traditional order of recognition for the day of Spetsnaz troops.

“There is still the symbol of military reconnaissance – the bat [literally, ‘flying mouse’].  But very soon it’ll be possible to boldly replace this silent night hunter on the emblem with a grey field mouse.  A sweet and inoffensive ground-pounder.”

ITAR-TASS’ coverage of the Spetsnaz anniversary also clearly identified them as subordinate to the Ground Troops, CINC General-Colonel Aleksandr Postnikov, and his Chief of Reconnaissance, Deputy Chief of Staff for Reconnaissance, Colonel Vladimir Mardusin.

The press service said Mardusin indicated that:

“. . . at present, army Spetsnaz are organized in independent brigades of special designation, which exist in every military district, and battalions in several combined arms formations of the Southern Military District.  Within the formation of the new profile of the armed forces, independent brigades of special designation were transferred to the Ground Troops and are in direct subordination to military district commanders / unified strategic commands.”

Izvestiya’s Dmitriy Litovkin predicted the GRU Spetsnaz’ transfer from the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to the Ground Troops last November on the day of military intelligence (6 November).  This was after the 67th, 12th, and 3rd Spetsnaz brigades were disbanded, and even the 16th was in danger of the same.

Igor Korotchenko told Litovkin:

“It’s possible to judge what’s happening in the GRU only through open information.  For example, one of the results of the reform is taking the force component from the GRU and resubordinating Spetsnaz to the military district commanders.  Only space, radioelectronic, and agent reconnaissance, and also the analytic service remain in today’s ‘Aquarium.’”

Just a reminder, this would mean they were taken even before the six old MDs were reformed into 4 MDs / OSKs.  The poor performance of the GRU generally and the Spetsnaz specifically in the 2008 Georgian conflict may have provided impetus for the change.  Litovkin and others have reported that the GRU and Spetsnaz received an ‘unsatisfactory’ for their efforts in that brief war.   Meanwhile, subordinating Spetsnaz to warfighting MD CINCs on different strategic directions would seem to make sense, the angst of the GRU, its officers, and veterans notwithstanding.

We should, however, get back to the original Ptichkin article.  It has a lot of interesting stuff you might want to peruse.  Some is hyperbolic though, so take it with a grain of salt . . .

He describes all details of their formation from 24 October 1950.  The Spetsnaz were subordinate to the General Staff (GRU) because they were first and foremost strategic, and strategic nuclear, warfighting assets designed to disrupt U.S. and NATO capabilities – nuclear weapons, logistics, transport, communications, etc. – in deep rear areas, including even North America.

And, according to Ptichkin, they were supermen capable of singly accomplishing missions not even combined arms sub-units could handle.  And the Spetsnaz were more secret than Soviet nuclear weapons; not even all generals or marshals knew about more than their general outlines.

Everything changed with Afghanistan and glasnost.  Every power structure wanted its own special forces.  And the GRU Spetsnaz were thrust into the forefront of a war they weren’t created for.  But through the skill of their commanders they adapted and were successful.  Ptichkin claims a single Spetsnaz detachment could pacify an entire province.  And, according to him, if the Spetsnaz had been unleashed fully, the Afghan war would have been won and the country under Soviet control by the mid-1980s.

He says Tajikistan in 1992 proves this isn’t a fantasy.  The 15th Spetsnaz brigade under Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, one of the accused in the Chubays’ assassination attempt, was given a free hand there and pacified the country. 

Ptichkin says Spetsnaz weren’t so involved in the First Chechen War, and the results were bad of course.  But they were used more extensively in the Second Chechen.  And he claims the Chechen Spetsnaz battalion under Sulim Yamadayev prevented Georgian saboteurs from blowing the Roki tunnel in August 2008.

And so, says Ptichkin, for 30 years, Spetsnaz have fought in places they weren’t intended to be, but have fought beautifully anyway.  Instead of landing in he main enemy’s rear areas, they are sitting on their own territory prepared, in extreme circumstances, to be sent to the next hot spot in the CIS, and not further afield.

As proof of how they’ve been used, it’s interesting to note the holiday press which says 8 Spetsnaz became Heroes of the Soviet Union in 40 years, but 44 have become Heroes of the Russian Federation in less than 20 years.

Popovkin on OPK, IVECO, Mistral, and Bulava

Speaking to journalists at Euronaval-2010 today, First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said the Russian Navy needs modernization more than the other armed services.  And defense industry needs modernization badly.  Popovkin noted:

“Many industry representatives came to the exhibition with the military.  At the exhibition we always need to examine what’s best in the world, have talks, and look at where we aren’t up-to-date.”

 “Without reequipping the Russian defense industrial complex it’s impossible to produce modern equipment.”

 “Our task is not to buy foreign equipment, but technologies on the basis of which we would be capable of organizing production in Russia.  We, unlike some other countries, are not secretly copying examples, but openly we say we’re prepared to pay for technologies, to buy licenses for production of this or that equipment.  The main condition is the transfer of production to Russian territory and the transfer of technologies.”

Is Popovkin slamming China?  Is China copying secretly or actually quite brazenly?

On the joint venture (JV) with Italy’s IVECO, Popovkin said:

“A JV for producing these armored vehicles on RF territory has been created.  Next year it will begin production.  The first vehicle will come out at the end of 2011.”

“Essentially, this is final assembly.  Nevertheless, we are planning that more than 50 percent of the components in this vehicle should be of Russian manufacture.”

Popovkin said Russia is now in talks on the specific model:

“We’ve presented specific requirements.  Why?  We have our own weather conditions, different employment tactics, therefore the base model will be developed taking Russian conditions into account.”

 ITAR-TASS noted the JV will put out vehicles needed for both the Defense Ministry and the MVD.  Licensed assembly of several hundred units of IVECO’s LMV M65 annually could occur at one of Russia’s automotive factories.

Popovkin also said Russia’s tender for amphibious assault ships has been announced:

“We’ve announced the tender for the purchase of amphibious assault ships.  Two ships will be built abroad.  Technology transfer for the construction of the rest is planned.”

It sounds like Popovkin’s decided a Russian shipyard can’t win the competition for the first two units.  Are Russian builders just competing for units 3 and 4?

Asked about the number of Bulava launches in 2010, Popovkin said:

“We’re acting sequentially, step by step, therefore it’s impossible to say now the exact number of launches in 2010.  The main task now is to conduct the next launch.  Based on it, we’ll determine our future plans.  Until we get reliability of 98-99 percent, we won’t put this missile on combat duty.  The missile’s reliability is determined not just by launches, but also by a whole series of testing work.”

Meanwhile, a Defense Ministry source has told ITAR-TASS the second Bulava launch of 2010 will occur on 29 October.

Two More Perspectives on Serdyukov Flap

Defense Minister Serdyukov (photo: RIA Novosti)

A couple more interesting ones today . . . .

Calls for Serdyukov to resign seen as an effort to stop the ‘revolution from above’ . . . journalist Mikhail Leontyev told United Russia’s website:

“Serdyukov is a very severe man.  He’s conducting a very severe reform.  The very logic and mission of reform is merciless in relation to many people.  Serdyukov himself and others understand this, but this is not a reason not to renovate the army.  Reform is being conducted from аbove and by a man who’s a stranger to the army.  Moreover such a task was set from the beginning so it would be exactly like this.  Because they won’t ever do anything to ‘their own.’  In essence, the system is resisting.  Many would want to stop military reform at the current stage but this is stupidity.  Therefore a rumor beneficial to a large number of people is launched that they’re removing Serdyukov.”

Serdyukov almost a victim of his own success when it comes to making military officers focus exclusively on military affairs . . . Aleksandr Golts writes in today’s Yezhednevnyy zhurnal:

“The entire business, in my view, consists in the fact that a new revolution is ripening in the armed forces today.  They are removing officers, almost to the very top, from the heavy responsibility of distributing finances.  Unit commanders and district commanders alike henceforth don’t need to answer for the work of a boiler or cafeteria, or for guaranteeing electricity to the district’s troops.  Civilian departments — Oboronservis, Rosoboronpostavka and the like — will be occupied with supporting the troops with all essentials — from ammunition to the most complex armaments.  Military reformers set as their goal to put an end forever to commanders as ‘big business managers.’  In the course of decades, the commander was hardly evaluated by senior chiefs according to how he trained his unit for action on the battlefield.  They evaluated him according to whether he succeeded in building the cafeteria or bathhouse ‘efficiently,’ that is without allocating the necessary resources.  All this submerged commanders in tangles of corrupt relationships.  Besides lumber and bricks, the officer could pay his debts with the help of a natural resource which was at his disposal — a free work force.  If in Soviet times this system was somewhat limited by party control, then in the 1990s, when the state didn’t have any money at all to support its gigantic military machine, military units were practically condemned to self-support.  As a result, now officers have come to be brigade commanders and deputy army commanders who know perfectly how to ‘operate,’ but not to command.  This is not their fault, but their misfortune.  And the Defense Ministry is creating a special system for retraining senior and higher officer personnel [to learn or relearn their strictly military business].”

“But far from all military leaders are inspired by the prospect of perfecting troop command and control, and combat training methods day and night, meanwhile having at their disposal only that money that came to their personal bank card from their salary.  Many long ago became accustomed to side profits which now seem like their base pay.  In the minister’s innovations, they see the main threat to their interests.  And, as we’re seeing, they aren’t standing on ceremony.”

No, they aren’t standing on ceremony.  They’re using the opportunity to come after the guy who dared threaten their profitable arrangements.  Who knows how widespread this kind of corruption is, but it certainly exists and those benefiting don’t want it to end.  Similarly, one can only guess to what extent Serdyukov’s been successful instituting his civilian control over Defense Ministry financial flows.  And no one should assume the civilian hands on these flows will be any cleaner.