Category Archives: Force Structure

Steppe and Desert Warriors

In early July, Krasnaya zvezda covered an exercise by Russia’s first light — even “superlight” — brigade. The MOD paper provided insight into the rationale and structure of this new formation. 

The MOD raised the prospect of light brigades in 2011, late in the tenure of Anatoliy Serdyukov. The concept was to build TOEs for light, medium, and heavy brigades, but the idea faded after Sergey Shoygu’s arrival. However, the Central MD is natural for a light brigade because it’s Russia’s peacekeeping and rapid reaction district. It’s the expeditionary one now too.

Capture

UAZ-3163 Patriot with 2B11 mortar loaded

The 30th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade falls under the Samara-based 2nd CAA of the Central MD. Forty-year-old North Caucasus combat veteran Colonel Dmitriy Medvedev is in command. The brigade started forming up in late 2016 largely with UAZ-3163 Patriot vehicles in place of many BTRs.

Colonel Medvedev and his acting chief of artillery

Colonel Medvedev and his chief of artillery

KZ reported the new formation is designed for action on “mountain-desert terrain” using combat experience gained in Syria. But it’s more like a desert warfare brigade. It’s lighter than the Central MD’s peacekeeping brigade — the 15th IMRB — with BTRs and BRDMs. The 30th IMRB is also lighter than Russian mountain brigades.

The new brigade’s 1st motorized rifle battalion has UAZ-3163 Patriots armed with machine guns, grenade launchers, and/or ATGMs. It received 30 of the military SUVs/pickups in early July and expected more, according to the MOD website.

Izvestiya depicts weapons mounted on UAZ-3163 Patriot

Izvestiya depicts weapons mounted on UAZ-3163 Patriot

The 2nd battalion operates the BTR-82A. About forty have been delivered this year. The brigade’s vehicle inventory is entirely wheeled. It received about 20 R-149MA1 command-staff vehicles and more than 80 enhanced ground clearance Ural trucks this year.

Mortar batteries operating 82-mm 2B14-1 Podnos and 2B9M Vasilek mortars are maneuver battalion assets. Brigade fire support includes battalions of D-30A towed howitzers, BM-21 Grad MRLs, and MT-12 anti-tank guns.

KZ described the brigade’s live fire training on the scrublands of Roshchinskiy training ground. Its artillery sub-units conducted unplanned barrage and concentrated fire on columns of “jihad-mobiles” armed with heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, or ATGMs. The paper concludes the formation learned to operate without air support or missile strikes, but only artillery fire against a mobile, maneuvering enemy in his depth to prevent him from making fire contact with its sub-units.

The Russian Army first deployed UAZ-3163 Patriots to Syria in early 2016, and has used them extensively. Light brigades with the military SUVs/pickups may appear in the Southern as well as the Central MD, according to Russian press. Mil.ru reports the Eastern MD’s 14th Spetsnaz Brigade in Khabarovsk accepted a “large delivery” of UAZ-3163 pickups in early July.

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Russia Reinforcing Mediterranean Formation

The Russian Navy is beefing up its Mediterranean presence. Recently, it announced its intent to increase the contingent from 10 to 15 ships.  This greater Med activity is both cause and effect of the navy’s effort to revivify its Black Sea Fleet (BSF), virtually moribund just a few years ago.

On June 1, TASS reported the current Russian naval force in the Med includes Proyekt 11356 frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, Kashin-class destroyer Smetlivyy, tank landing ships Tsezar KunikovNikolay Filchenkov, and Azov, Proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar, unspecified minesweepers, “anti-sabotage” boats, a tanker, and other support vessels.  So it’s unclear just how many Russian ships are in the Med right now.

Ancient Smetlivyy returned to Sevastopol on June 3.  The venerable ship has served in the BSF since 1969.

Essen fires Kalibr LACM

Admiral Essen fires Kalibr on May 31

Admiral Essen and Krasnodar each fired two Kalibr (SS-N-30) land-attack cruise missiles at Islamic State positions near Palmyra on May 31.

Other BSF units — Admiral Grigorovich, Proyekt 21631 Buyan-class missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov, and submarine Rostov-na-Donu — fired Kalibr missiles at targets in Syria from the eastern Med in 2015 and 2016.  Prior to this, the Russian Navy lacked a land-attack capability in the Med, and used surface combatants from its Caspian Flotilla to launch Kalibr missiles.  However, those weapons had to overfly Iranian and Iraqi territory to reach Syria.

On June 6, Interfaks-AVN reported that the Russian Navy will not cut the cruise missile strike capabilities of its “permanent operational formation” in the Mediterranean, according to a source “familiar with the situation.”  So there is apparently no plan for Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen, or Krasnodar to return to Sevastopol soon.  They joined the Russian Med formation in early and late April and mid-May respectively.

Not a Large Formation

Russia’s current Mediterranean force is mistakenly called a squadron (эскадра) like its Soviet-era 5th Eskadra predecessor.  However, the Russian Navy says its Med presence is a formation (соединение), not a large formation (объединение).  A formation is typically naval ship division (дивизия) of 5-10 major and minor combatants with an O-6 in command.

A large formation, by contrast, is a major fleet component — a flotilla or eskadra, and it is commanded by an O-7.  Such a command typically is a stepping stone to fleet commander.

In contrast to today’s formation, the 5th Eskadra normally had 40-50 ships in the Med every day at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s.  That’s probably more than the entire BSF today.

After the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Syria’s Shayrat air base on April 7, Vladimir Pavlov wrote disparagingly of Russia’s declining capabilities in the Med.  Pavlov concluded that the brief and ill-fated deployment of Admiral Kuznetsov to the eastern Med this winter left those waters empty for the U.S. (as if the Russian carrier would have prevented American action).

Pavlov noted that the navy had to rely on “1st and 2nd rank” ships from other fleets, the Baltic in particular, to maintain its Med formation.

Things look a bit better now with two Proyekt 11356 frigates in the BSF.  The third, Admiral Makarov, is now supposed to join the fleet before the end of this year.  The fleet has its full complement of six new Proyekt 636.3 submarines.  Missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov entered the order-of-battle in late 2015.  More of them might follow.

The second Proyekt 18280 Yuriy Ivanov-class intelligence ship Ivan Khurs will reportedly go to replace Liman, which sank near Istanbul after colliding with a Turkish freighter on April 27.

The rest of the BSF surface fleet, however, is old.  Flagship Proyekt 1164 Slava-class CG Moskva will be due soon for overhaul and modernization.  Its other combatants, small missile ships, and amphibs are largely from the 1970s and 1980s.  These older ships patrol the Med, but to return to port for maintenance often after brief sorties.

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

The Russians originally formulated plans to renew a continuous naval presence in the Mediterranean during 2011-2012, primarily out of their concern with the Syrian civil war and thinking that they might intervene eventually.

The Russian Med patrols began in early 2013, and all four fleets provided ships under the Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone (Оперативное командование в дальней морской зоне or ОК ДМЗ).

At the time, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu acknowledged that overdue repairs and slow ship construction were hindering the navy and the new naval presence in the Med.  But five years hence, these problems have been overcome to a large extent.

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

TASS reported that Captain First Rank Pavel Yasnitskiy commands the Russian Mediterranean formation.

He is a 47-year-old third generation officer born in Severomorsk — the Northern Fleet headquarters, according to Ruinformer.com.  After commissioning, he served on a Black Sea Fleet destroyer before becoming executive officer, then commander of Baltic Fleet frigate Neustrashimyy.  He was to command the first Improved Sovremennyy-class destroyer Vnushitelnyy, but it was never finished. Instead, he served as chief of staff for a ship brigade.

Yasnitskiy then returned to the BSF as chief of staff for a formation.  He served as deputy chief of staff, chief of staff, and commander of Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone.

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.

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.

The 8th Combined Arms Army

Izvestiya reports this morning on the formation of a new 8th Combined Arms Army in Russia’s Southern MD.

Location of new army in Novocherkassk

Location of new army in Novocherkassk

The paper reports the new army’s staff and C3 brigade are standing up in Novocherkassk.  Units will be based in Rostov and Volgograd Oblasts.

The 8th CAA will include the new 150th MRD, also at Novocherkassk, and the 20th MRB in Volgograd.  The establishment of the new army was long rumored in the Russian media, but there was speculation it would be a tank army.

The 8th will be Moscow’s twelfth numbered army, and the third in the Southern MD.  The 49th and 58th armies are based in Stavropol and Vladikavkaz respectively.

The 8th CAA is a major reinforcement in Russia’s “southwestern strategic direction,” and comes against a backdrop of continued fighting between Ukraine and Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The 8th descends from the GPW-era 62nd Army at the Battle of Stalingrad.  It fought to Berlin.  The successor 8th Army occupied East Germany, and returned to the North Caucasus MD in 1992.  A downsized 8th Army Corps disbanded in 1998.

What They Got

reloading-iskander-m-photo-tass-yuriy-smityuk

Reloading Iskander-M (photo: TASS / Yuriy Smityuk)

Time to review what the Russian Armed Forces say they got during the last year. One can’t confirm what weapons and equipment were delivered, so Russian claims have to suffice.

This information appeared in Sergey Shoygu’s speech to the MOD Collegium on December 22 found here.  TASS recapped the speech later that day. And Krasnaya zvezda dutifully recounted some of it on December 27.

Overall, Defense Minister Shoygu reported that state defense order (GOZ) deliveries increased five percent over 2015.

Beyond what the Russian military procured, Shoygu had interesting remarks on other issues.  They are grouped more coherently below than in the original, to preserve the reader’s patience.

Modernization, Serviceability, and Manning

Shoygu announced that Russia’s “combat possibilities” increased 14 percent in 2016. From what to what, he didn’t say.  “Combat possibilities” is a Russian measure of how forces are equipped, divided by other key factors like manning, readiness, training, and morale.

Service modernization percentages are:

  • Navy up to 47 percent.
  • Aerospace Forces (VKS) up to 66 percent.
  • Ground Troops — 42 percent.
  • Airborne Troops — 47 percent.
  • RVSN — 51 percent.

(N.B.  Percentages reported at the end of 2015 were 39, 52, 35, 41, and 51 respectively.)

Arms and equipment in “permanent readiness” units are 58 percent modern, according to the defense minister.  The in-service rate of equipment in these units is 94 percent (up 5 percent from 2015).

Serviceability of VKS aircraft is 62 percent.

According to Shoygu, the armed forces are manned at 93 percent of their authorized strength, and 384,000 contractees are in the ranks.  The NCO ranks are fully professional for the first time.  Apparently, the military no longer relies on conscripts hastily turned into sergeants.

Force Structure Changes

New equipment allowed for force structure expansion in the Ground and Airborne Troops. According to TASS, Shoygu reported that nine new formations, including four motorized rifle and one tank division, appeared in the former.  In the latter, three reconnaissance battalions, six tank companies, and EW and UAV companies were established.

Navy

In 2016, the Russian Navy received 24 ships and support vessels, and the Proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarines Velikiy Novgorod and Kolpino for the Black Sea Fleet.  The surface vessels included a Proyekt 22870 rescue ship, a Proyekt 19920 hydrographic ship, Proyekt 11356 frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, and Proyekt 12700 mine countermeasures ship Aleksandr Obukhov.

The Navy acquired 100 Kalibr (SS-N-27 / Sizzler) and Oniks (SS-N-26 / Strobile) cruise missiles.  These missiles are carried on new Proyekt 636.3 subs and Proyekt 11356 frigates.

In early December, logistics chief Army General Dmitriy Bulgakov said 19 of the 24 ships delivered were auxiliaries.  And Admiral Essen fouled its screws while mooring before departing for its Black Sea homeport.  The third Proyekt 11356 Admiral Makarov did not reach the fleet, nor did the first Proyekt 22350 Admiral Gorshkov frigate, or the initial Proyekt 11711 LSD Ivan Gren. Another less than impressive year of naval construction.

Aerospace Forces

The air forces received:

  • 139 aircraft, including Su-35S fighters and ten Yak-130 trainers.  Eight Su-30SM fighters went to Crimea, two to Rostov-na-Donu, and others to the Northern and Baltic Fleet.
  • Unspecified numbers of new Mi-28N, Ka-52, Mi-35M, Mi-26, Mi-8AMTSh-VA, and Mi-8MTV-5 helicopters.
  • Four regimental sets of S-400 SAMs, 25 Pantsir-S gun-missile systems, and 74 radars.
  • Two modernized Tu-160M and two modernized Tu-95MS strategic bombers.

Ground Troops

The Ground Troops reportedly received 2,930 new or modernized systems allowing for two missile brigades, two SAM brigades and two SAM regiments, one Spetsnaz brigade, 12 motorized rifle and tank battalions, and three artillery battalions to be reequipped.

Besides two brigade sets of Iskander-M, they obtained 60 Tornado-G MRLs, 70 modernized Grad-M MRLs, and 20 Msta-SM SP howitzers.  They acquired 22,000 communications systems bringing that equipment to 49 percent modern. More than 100 BTR-82AM joined Western MD forces.  They also received ten new EW systems.

eleron-3sv-uav-package-for-ground-troops

Eleron-3SV UAV package for Ground Troops

The armed forces procured 105 systems with 260 UAVs.  These included more than ten new Orlan-10 and Eleron-3 UAVs.  They formed 36 units and subunits. The Russian military now operates 600 systems with 2,000 UAVs, compared with only 180 old systems in 2011.

Airborne Troops

The Russian airborne got 188 new or modernized vehicles, including 60 BMD-4M and BTR-MDM, 35 BTR-82A, 40 modernized BREM-D, 2S9-1M SP mortars, and more than 6,000 D-10 and Arbalet-2 parachutes.

At his final MOD teleconference of the year, the defense minister said 764 armored vehicles and 88 artillery systems of all types were acquired in 2016.

rs-24-yars-icbm

RS-24 Yars ICBM

RVSN

Russia’s strategic missile troops placed four RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2 or SS-29?) ICBM regiments on combat duty in 2016, according to Shoygu.  RVSN Commander General-Colonel Karakayev earlier said 23 Yars mobile and silo-based missiles were put into service.

The defense minister said the armed forces got a total of 41 new (intercontinental-range) ballistic missiles (presumably both land- and sea-launched), bringing Russia’s strategic nuclear triad to 60 percent modern.

The balance — 18 missiles — could be Bulava SLBMs.  They might be for Borey-class SSBN hull four Knyaz Vladimir, along with a couple spares for practice launches.

 Syria

Regarding use of the Syrian war as a proving ground, Shoygu said:

“162 types of modern and modernized arms were tested in the course of combat operations in Syria and showed high effectiveness.  They include the newest Su-30SM and Su-34 aircraft, and Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters.  Precision munitions and sea-based cruise missiles employed in combat conditions for the first time confirmed their tactical characteristics.”

Deficiencies were revealed which did not appear in the course of range testing.  The purchase of 10 types of arms has been stopped until [deficiencies] are eliminated.  As a result, we have significantly increased the quality of equipment that guarantees the reliability of its employment in battle.”

P.S.  TASS added that, in 2016, the Southern MD got 350 pieces of armor, other vehicles, missiles, artillery, communications, EW, engineering, and special equipment items. Crimea in particular was reinforced with the S-400, Pantsir-S, Su-30SM, and Bastion (SSC-5 / Stooge) coastal missile launchers, which fire Oniks (SS-N-26 / Strobile) cruise missiles.

Charge of the “Superlight” Brigade

Izvestiya reports that Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu is organizing some “superlight” army brigades.  It’s an interesting turn given that his widely discredited predecessor Anatoliy Serdyukov also looked at forming light motorized rifle brigades based on wheeled vehicles. Perhaps the latter’s mistake was that the vehicles weren’t necessarily Russian-made.

Shoygu’s “superlight” brigades will use the UAZ Patriot — either the SUV or Pickup variant.  The SUV is referred to as a jeep at times.  An earlier model — the Hunter — actually resembles a jeep.

uaz-patriot

UAZ Patriot

uaz-pickup

UAZ Pickup

uaz-hunter

UAZ Hunter

The intent, reportedly based on Syrian combat experience, is for these “superlight” motorized rifle brigades to slip around or through heavier enemy forces to conduct raids at distances of several hundred kilometers.

According to Izvestiya, the UAZ Patriot or Pickup is supposed to carry up to seven soldiers (a highly dubious proposition), their weapons and gear, as well as additional fuel, supplies, and ammo.  It will be armed with either a 30-mm AGS-30 automatic grenade launcher or Kornet or Konkurs ATGMs, as well as a 12.7-mm Kord machine gun.  The brigade’s mortar batteries are supposed to have 82-mm 2B14 Podnos mortars mounted on the UAZ vehicles.

An MOD official familiar with the developments told Izvestiya the formation of the “superlight” brigades has begun, and they will appear “soon” in the Southern and Central MDs.  They will have less personnel and equipment than traditional MRBs, but will be more mobile and maneuverable.  The “superlight” brigades will also have one battalion in BTR-82s as well as artillery and MRL battalions.

Izvestiya got a comment from Vladislav Shurygin:

“These battalions are being developed from the experience of combat actions in Syria.  In a day, the typical motorized rifle battalion equipped with armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles can complete a march of not more than 100 km. But an MRB in the UAZ Patriot can go several hundred kilometers in a day.  Moreover, acting in small groups, motorized rifle platoons and companies in pickups can slip through enemy forces and deliver quick strikes.  But these battalions are only effective in desert, steppe, and semidesert terrain.  In forests and forest-steppe, automobile-mounted infantry loses out to infantry in BMPs and BTRs in combat capability.”

Izvestiya notes that, in 2009, Serdyukov put the 56th Independent Air-Assault Brigade in the UAZ Hunter, but the experiment was quickly abandoned.  The MOD official says they were needed and worked well in the Volgograd steppe, but it was difficult to fit personnel and equipment in the Hunter.  Soldiers, he said, sat cheek to cheek in very cramped conditions.  That brigade returned to its venerable GAZ-66 trucks.

The same problem is likely with the UAZ Patriot and Pickup.  They look like four-seaters.

This sounds like a sweet little deal for UAZ.  It is part of the larger Sollers automobile manufacturing group, itself owned by Russian steel conglomerate Severstal.

It’s odd there’s no photo of an UAZ Patriot or Pickup military prototype when the first “superlight” brigades are reportedly almost ready to appear.

And there is also potential competition.  The Military-Industrial Company (VPK) has its Tigr light armored vehicle with a 30-mm gun or Kornet or Konkurs ATGM launchers mounted.  The Tigr, however, is a larger, heavier, and much more expensive vehicle.

GAZ might make something comparable to the Patriot or Pickup.  GAZ already makes the BTR-82.  Like VPK, GAZ is owned ultimately by Oleg Deripaska.