Category Archives: Aerospace Defense Troops

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.

Aerospace Forces

At some point, probably next summer, the Air Forces (VVS) will cease being one of Russia’s three armed services.  The Aerospace Forces (VKS or ВКС) will take their place.  The Aerospace Defense Troops (VVKO) will likewise disappear as a branch and get rolled into the new VKS.  Russia will be left with three services and two branches (not three of each).

RF and Air Forces Flags (photo: Mil.ru)

RF and Air Forces Flags (photo: Mil.ru)

The Aerospace Forces will be responsible for all Russian air forces and air defense (and more).

This news comes on the heels of six months of studious MOD denials that such a move was even contemplated.

It began quietly on 1 December  with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s remarks to a regular military leadership videoconference.

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Shoygu discussed changing the organizational structure of the Air Forces in connection with turning VVKO aerospace defense brigades back into air defense (PVO) divisions.  He said the decision was made in mid-2013 after an analysis of mission fulfillment by the Air Forces.  He explained that:

“The goal of the changes being made is to increase the effectiveness of VVS [Air Forces] command and control, to improve the quality of the organization of everyday activity and planning for the combat employment of the troops.”

It echoed an earlier decision to reverse course on Anatoliy Serdyukov’s large composite air bases and groups and put aircraft back into more dispersed divisions and regiments.

By 10 December, Interfaks-AVN reported that the decision to replace the VVS with the VKS awaited only an official announcement.  

The news agency’s MOD source said:

“Formation of the new service [VKS] will proceed gradually, and, as expected, take several years.  In the course of this period, the forces and means entering the VKS must develop in the direction of unification and standardization of command and control, information and strike systems.”

The source also claimed the first CINC of the new service would be a general officer with experience commanding large inter-service [unified or joint] troop groupings, including aviation and PVO.  The most likely candidate — according to the source — Central MD Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy.

Then Defense Minister Shoygu made it official on 18 December when he said creating Aerospace Forces would be a priority task for 2015.

TASS reported the VKS CINC will have deputies for aviation, air defense, missile defense (PRO), and space.  It also indicated that VKS will control all current VVS aviation, including frontal and army aviation.  But its sway over the latter two — with the exception of fighter aircraft — will be “purely nominal,” and they will be employed in “coordination” with MD commanders.  Troop PVO will apparently continue to protect army formations.

Military commentator Igor Korotchenko captured the essence of VKS as a reaction to the possibility of a devastating U.S. aerospace attack on Russia:

“The main function [of VKS] is to guarantee realization of the Russian Federation’s concept of aerospace defense, proceeding from the need to counter existing plans, particularly of the United States of America, to implement the prompt global strike concept.  The Americans are planning in the conceivable future to use precision weapons, including hypersonic ones, to destroy [launch] positions and silos of intercontinental ballistic missiles, command centers, communications centers.  The fact here is that this concept will potentially be a great threat for Russia.  These new structures, the new service of the Russian armed forces will be occupied with its deterrence and neutralization.”

Such a potentially disarming threat might mobilize the military and public against America, but Korotchenko and the VKS will have to wait a very long time for it to materialize.  And if it doesn’t appear, then the deterrent worked, right?  A no-lose proposition from Moscow’s perspective.

VKS will be something of an effort to resurrect or reconstruct Soviet PVO Strany — national air defense — that was dismantled beginning in the late 1970s. Serdyukov’s reorganization of the VVS and creation of VVKO are criticized now as focused solely on saving money.  The current thinking is that all aerospace defense systems should be concentrated in a single service and single CINC with authority and responsibility for protecting the country’s aerospace borders.

The new VKS will be anything but compact, as President Putin often calls on the army to be.  They will be a sprawling enterprise that may be challenging to link and inter-connect for operations as a unified command.  If Serdyukov’s changes were too economy-minded, this one errs on the side of Soviet-style giantism. And now isn’t an auspicious time for expensive undertakings.

There are practical issues too.  How will the VKS CINC manage competing requirements for modern fighter aircraft from frontal aviation and air defense?Their number is limited and insufficient for both needs.  So creation of VKS won’t change the fact that they will be spread thinly over a gigantic landmass.

Moral of the story:  Reform, reorganization, and reshuffling never really end no matter the boss — Serdyukov, Shoygu, etc.  VKS may be the answer for a time, but they’re very unlikely to be the last word. 

P.S.  Various reports on VKS provided some indication of deployments in 2015. What is currently the VKO brigade (or will become a PVO division) in Novosibirsk may receive the S-400 this summer.  Shoygu said the MOD will put an air and air defense army (AVVSiPVO or АВВСиПВО) in the Arctic.  More recently, TASS reported an S-400 regiment will be deployed on Novaya Zemlya.

What’s It Cost? (Addendum)

There’s reason this week to return to the issue of what the S-400 system costs. Specifically, what it might cost China.

Vedomosti reported Wednesday that Russia has signed a deal with China to sell it the S-400 / Triumf.

The business daily’s defense industry source claims the agreement inked by Rosoboroneksport and the Chinese military will send off not less than six battalions of the advanced SAM system for more than $3 billion.

That would be at least $500 million per battalion (against the previously ventured guess of about $320 million).  Or in excess of $80 million per TEL.

The Russian Defense Ministry has consistently maintained that the S-400 won’t go abroad before 2016.

Vedomosti notes China’s last big purchase was 15 battalions of S-300PMU-2 completed in 2010.

RIA Novosti pretty quickly reported that an official of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) said an S-400 contract hadn’t been signed with China as yet.

Rosoboroneksport and Almaz-Antey just declined comment.

S-400 Deployments

S-400 Firing (photo: Interfaks-AVN / Andrey Stanavov)

S-400 Firing (photo: Interfaks-AVN / Andrey Stanavov)

Last week Interfaks-AVN wrote that the Russian military just received two “regimental sets” of S-400 / Triumf SAMs.  They make numbers seven and eight.

One became the fourth “regimental set” of the 4th Aerospace Defense Brigade around Moscow and the other is bound for the 1st Aerospace Defense Brigade on the Kola near Northern Fleet headquarters at Severomorsk.

The Kola brigade is the first in the Western MD to have the S-400.  It falls under the Western MD’s 1st Air Forces and Air Defense Command.

The other three of the eight are the 3rd (Kaliningrad), 7th (Novocherkassk), and 12th (Nakhodka) Aerospace Defense Brigades.

Almaz-Antey General Director Yan Novikov told the Interfaks-AVN that, for the first time, the Defense Ministry will get three S-400 “regiments” in a single year in 2014.

TASS reported even earlier last week that Almaz-Antey will deliver the ninth “regiment” will before the end of December.  It will be the first three-battalion regiment, and is destined for Kamchatka, or the 14th Aerospace Defense Brigade (Yelizovo).

In September, the commander of PVO and PRO for VVKO, General-Major Andrey Demin told TASS that 12 “regimental sets” of S-400 and 72 Pantsir-S would be procured by 2020.

The Next S-400 “Regimental Set”

On 14 February, Krasnaya zvezda covered the arrival of a new Pantsir-S battalion in VVKO’s 4th Air Defense Brigade north and west of Moscow.

In a bit of sidebar, the brigade’s commander indicated the next S-400 “regimental set” (sixth overall) will be deployed in his formation. Recall at the end of 2013, Russian media reported two “sets” (six and seven) were delivered to the military.

Pantsir-S (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

Pantsir-S (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

The new two-battery unit of six Pantsir-S vehicles came from Ashuluk, following its first live fire exercises.  Before this, the battalion was in Gatchina, near St. Petersburg, for initial training.

Colonel Valeriy Varentsov (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

Colonel Valeriy Varentsov (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

According to its commander, Colonel Valeriy Varentsov, the 4th Brigade has four SAM regiments deployed in Yaroslavl, Tver, Kaluga, and Moscow regions.  It received its first Pantsir-S battalion a year ago, and it is part of the S-400-equipped SAM regiment at Dmitrov.

Colonel Varentsov notes the Pantsirs remain under factory warranty, so Tula-based developer KBP maintains them.  His troops will take that responsibility at some future time.

Varentsov expects another two-battalion “regimental set” of S-400 SAMs, which just performed live firings at Kapustin Yar, to arrive in his brigade soon.

One might guess the new S-400s will deploy with existing regiments northwest of Moscow near Klin or Solnechnogorsk, or southwest near Naro-Fominsk.

Varentsov said, for the first time, his brigade is getting S-400s on the MZRT-7930 8-wheel chassis from the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Factory, instead of the previous tractor / trailer configuration.  Its prime mover was apparently built by the Bryansk Automobile Factory.

The brigade expects S-500 deliveries in 2015, and a fully new inventory of armaments by 2020.  Varentsov hinted he’d like Baykal-1M command post vehicles.

Two More S-400 “Regimental Sets”

S-400 Launch Position (photo: RIA Novosti /  Mikhail Mokrushin)

S-400 Launch Position (photo: RIA Novosti / Mikhail Mokrushin)

Almaz-Antey announced delivery of two S-400 “regimental sets” to the Defense Ministry at Kapustin Yar on 25 December.  That makes six and seven to date.

No official word on their eventual place of deployment, but Zvenigorod, outside Moscow, was first mentioned back in 2011, and again this fall.  No one has hinted at a location for number seven.

The producer says it fulfilled its contract for serial production in 2013, and is fully meeting its obligation to manufacture “two-three regimental sets” per year.

S-400 Test Firing (photo: Almaz-Antey)

S-400 Test Firing (photo: Almaz-Antey)

The company’s press-release said the launchers were vibration-tested during a march over various road and terrain conditions at different speeds.  Then Almaz-Antey specialists and combat crews transferred them from traveling mode and conducted test launches against “low-flying, high-speed and ballistic targets.”

In late November, President Putin said two S-400 regiments were fielded this year when they were still, apparently, at KY.  He promised three in 2014.

Perhaps these “regimental sets” make a total of 14 S-400 battalions against a long-ago stated goal of 56 battalions under the current state armaments program.

Lobby for PVO Strany

Military reorganizations never stop, they just continue at a barely perceptible pace.

Organizational changes start with a campaign for a realignment.  The campaign to form Aerospace Defense Troops (VVKO) started five or six years before they officially stood up on 1 December 2011.

A new campaign is beginning.  Some are arguing VVKO didn’t get everything they need.

Four KPRF Duma deputies who are members of the legislature’s Defense Committee propose upgrading the VVKO from a branch (род) to a service (вид).  That’s symbolic, but not most significant.

More importantly, they say VVKO should control all ground-based air defense assets currently operated by the Air Forces and commanders of Russia’s four military districts (MDs).

Izvestiya reported the story.

Changes the KPRF deputies envisage would almost turn today’s VVKO into a new Soviet PVO Strany — National Air Defense (sans interceptor aircraft) as it existed between 1954 and the 1980s.  Troop PVO (Ground Troops) and Navy PVO would remain separate.

The KPRF deputies argue the vast majority of PVO assets need to be under a unified command to provide effective air defense for Russia.

Vyacheslav Tetekin, former conscript SA-5 operator and Africa expert, said:

“In military affairs the most dangerous thing is when there is no responsibility:  there is no one to make decisions, and no one to bear responsibility.  Until the time when all PVO and VKO resources are transferred into an independent command, we can’t be sure our country is defended against strikes from space and from the air.”

His colleague Aleksandr Tarnayev, former communications officer and KGB military counterintelligence operative, suggested, rather absurdly, that none of this means big changes, just resubordinating units, and replacing emblems on gates.  Units don’t even have to move, unless they need to redeploy to main strike threat axes.

But it is certainly a big change for air defense units that have reported to MDs for the last couple years, or to the Air Forces for an even longer time.

Taking strategic- and operational-level air defense from MD commanders would reduce their capabilities as unified, combined arms warfighters in regional and local conflicts.

Military expert Viktor Murakhovskiy told Izvestiya the idea of VVKO as a service has been discussed before, and the change would cost trillions of rubles:

“This is the idea of creating a unified air defense system for the country like in Soviet times.  For this we would need to combine all VKO brigades and SAM brigades under a single command.  But we would need to understand that to create a seamless defensive field over the country’s entire territory requires a huge amount of money, and the question arises, are these outlays so necessary or is it better to direct them in a different course.”

Murakhovskiy begs a couple good questions.  Is there an existential national air defense threat that justifies taking funds from other pressing military needs?  Is a U.S. (and NATO?) strategic air operation against Russia possible or probable?

VPK editor-in-chief Mikhail Khodarenok told the paper he believes VVKO needs interceptors and there’s not enough money now to create such a full-fledged service:

“In the Soviet system of PVO, for interceptors alone there were 70 regiments — almost 3 thousand aircraft.  But if we divide current aircraft between the Air Forces and PVO, we get two absurd services.  In the future such a division is justified because the Air Forces’ mission is supporting troops, and PVO’s mission is protecting the country’s important administrative and industrial centers from air strikes.  But this is the future in 20-30 years.”

A Duma hearing on VVKO scheduled for 6 November won’t have much affect on the military’s structure.  But this is how major reorganizations have started in the past.  Just don’t look for results soon.