Not Enough Men or Transports

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Another large-scale Russian military “surprise inspection” has concluded, and military commentator Ilya Kramnik has placed it, and other exercises, into perspective for Lenta.ru.

Interpreted as a prologue to war in Europe by some, the Kremlin-directed “surprise inspections” are the logical continuation of a process in recent years.  It is the process of developing strategic mobility through deployment exercises, according to Kramnik.

The latest six-day “surprise inspection” focused on deploying and redeploying forces in Russia’s Arctic regions, but President Vladimir Putin expanded it into a nation-wide exercise.

Kramnik focuses his analysis first on the Kaliningrad exclave.  Russia has practiced its defense of this region since the mid-2000s on an expanding scale. But the first large-scale drill in Kaliningrad, Kramnik says, was Zapad-2009.

Kaliningrad is where the pattern of special attention to troop mobility developed. In “surprise inspections,” military units from almost every armed service and branch were delivered by ground, rail, sea, or air transport to unfamiliar ranges in that region to conduct training missions.

The pattern has repeated in each of Russia’s “strategic directions.” Although Kramnik doesn’t describe it as such, it is, in effect, the establishment of expeditionary forces within the Russian military intended for internal transfer and use on any of Russia’s borders (or beyond them).  

If mobility questions play a key role in Kaliningrad, Kramnik continues, they are dominant when it comes to the Arctic.  All Arctic deployments depend on Navy and Air Forces transport capabilities.  Then he writes:

“It relies first and foremost on reestablishment of infrastructure which supports, if necessary, the redeployment [переброска] of troops by sea and by air and not requiring large numbers of personnel for daily service and security.  13 airfields, radar stations, repaired ports and other facilities allow forces to return quickly ‘in a threatening period.’  And to control the surrounding sea and air space a rather sufficiently compact grouping based here on a permanent basis.”

Kramnik concludes that Russia is confronting its weakness — armed forces not large enough to garrison its immense territory.  This increased attention to strategic maneuver is a means to compensate for an insufficient number of troops.  He takes a comment from Viktor Murakhovskiy:

“Today we don’t have a single self-sufficient grouping on any of our [strategic] directions.  This is the main reason for the great attention the Armed Forces leadership allocates to the potential for redeploying forces.”

Mobility, guaranteed by a developed railroad network, and in distant and isolated TVDs by the world’s second largest inventory of military-transport aviation, should support the potential for Russia, if necessary, to “swing the pendulum” — effectively maneuvering forces between different TVDs, Kramnik writes.  The capacity provided by the civilian airlines and fleet can also add to this.

But besides men, Russia also lacks enough transport aircraft.  

Kramnik writes that while attention has gone to constructing and reconstructing airfields and finding personnel to service them, the VTA’s order-of-battle is in critical condition, especially in terms of light and medium transports.  The average age of the An-26 inventory is nearly 35 years; the An-12 more than 45 years.

Events of the last year in Ukraine ended what were already difficult talks with Kyiv about building the An-70 and restarting production of the An-124.  Meanwhile, much of the Antonov Design Bureau’s competence has degraded, according to CAST Deputy Director Konstantin Makiyenko.

So today, Kramnik says, Russia has at its disposal only one serial VTA aircraft — the modernized Il-76, developed 40 years ago with serious limits on the weight and dimensions of military equipment it can deliver.  It will be supplemented by the Il-112 (light) and Il-214 (medium) transports, and by a “future aviation system transport aviation” or PAK TA.

The very same reported PAK TA that generated hysterical press here, then here, and here by promising to land an entire armored division of new Russian T-14 / Armata tanks overnight, anywhere in the world.  From an aircraft industry at pains to duplicate large but old designs like Antonov’s?  Obviously, a sudden outbreak of irrational Soviet-style giantism.

In the end, Kramnik concludes that VTA needs a high priority or Russia will have trouble moving combat capable groupings to the Arctic and Far East.  New aerial tankers are needed as well.

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