Category Archives: Ground Troops

Contract for Tornado-S MLRS

Tornado-S

According to Kommersant, Perm-based ZAO Special Design Bureau (SKB) received a contract worth 6-7 billion rubles ($93-$108 million) to produce 20 combat systems for the Russian MOD. The paper’s sources say the contract is for Tornado-S multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and transport-reload vehicles. The equipment is to be delivered in 2020.

The 12-tube, 300-mm Tornado-S (9K515) MLRS is a “deeply modernized” version of the Smerch. It reportedly features GLONASS satellite navigation, automated fire control, and 9M542 PGMs. Unlike earlier systems, Tornado-S gives specific flight profile data to each rocket. Its effective range is 120 km.

Tornado-S first entered the inventory in late 2016. Smerch was accepted for service in 1989.

The new 9K515 weapons system includes the 9A54 launch vehicle and 9T255 transport-reload vehicle.

Tornado-S and TZM

The 20 systems in the contract likely include 16 launch vehicles (two battalions of eight) and four transport-reload vehicles (two per launch battalion).

The Russian MOD is using new Tornado-S MLRS to build a heavy rocket launcher brigade at the district level in each of its four MDs. In Soviet times, each MD (front) disposed of its own rocket launcher brigade, typically four battalions of 18 40-tube, 122-mm BM-21 Grad systems.

Those “brigades” look like this now:

  • Western MD…Tver…79th Brigade…three battalions of Tornado-S…12 launchers.
  • Southern MD…Znamensk…439th Brigade…??? battalions of Tornado-S…??? launchers.
  • Central MD…Shchuchye…232nd Brigade…two battalions of 220-mm Uragan…16 launchers.
  • Eastern MD…Novosysoyevka…338th Brigade…2-3 battalions of Uragan…16-18 launchers.

But these are more like rocket battalions than the brigades of old days.

The first Tornado-S deployments began in 2017 in the Western MD and continued in the Southern MD in early 2019.

It seems likely the Tornado-S systems due in 2020 will go to the Central or Eastern MD before the Western or Southern get more.

Kommersant detailed the poor financial status of ZAO SKB. Its parent, long-time sole producer of Russian MLRS Motovilikhinskiye Plants is bankrupt. SKB was split away to keep creditors at bay. The rest of Motovilikha is supposed to retool to make civilian products. The growing problem of insolvency in Russia’s OPK is worthy of a look.

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New Tank Regiment?

RG gave us the scantest info. The Russian Army is upgrading an independent tank battalion to a regiment in Smolensk oblast, in the Western MD. The new regiment will belong to one of the 20th CAA’s motorized rifle divisions.

It reportedly will be outfitted with T-72BA tanks, BMP-2 AIFVs, engineer and repair-recovery vehicles, air defense, and recce.

According to RG, the 20th CAA is the largest “large formation” [объединение — anything above a division] in Russia’s armed forces. It is deployed along Russia’s western border in Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Kursk, and Smolensk oblasts.

Then one has to scrounge. There’s info of varying quality and completeness available. Sometimes you find something like this or this.

The new tank regiment will be part of the 144th Motorized Rifle Division, based in Smolensk and Bryansk oblasts. The 144th at present may look like this:

  • Headquarters (Yelnya, Smolensk obl.)
  • 448th Motorized Rifle Regiment (Klintsy, Bryansk obl.)
  • 182nd Motorized Rifle Regiment (Zaymishche, Bryansk obl.)
  • 254th Motorized Rifle Regiment (Klintsy)
  • 228th Tank Regiment (Klintsy)
  • 856th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment (Pochep, Bryansk obl.)
  • 1259th SAM Regiment (???)
  • 673rd SAM Battalion (???)
  • 148th Reconnaissance Battalion (Smolensk)
  • 1281st Anti-Tank Battalion (Yelnya)
  • 295th Engineer Battalion (Yelnya)
  • 686th Signals Battalion (Smolensk)
  • 1032nd Material Support Battalion (Pochep)
  • 150th Medical Battalion (Pochep)
  • UAV Company (???)
  • EW Company (???)
  • Radiological, Chemical, Biological Defense Company (???)

In the first link above, Yuriy Barash, a Ukrainian observer, maintains in 2017 the 144th began forming up its 182nd MRR, 228th TR, and 1259th SAM Regiment as well as anti-tank, material support, and medical battalions. It had not started forming up the 254th MRR or the specialist companies, according to him.

T-72

So does the 228th Tank Regiment already exist? No and yes.

If Barash’s TO&E for the 144th isn’t wrong (but it could be), the 448th MRR and 856th SP Artillery Regiment appear to be its only fleshed out and combat-capable units. In 2017, he held only 40 T-72s in the division (the tank battalion of the 448th).

CAST, however, suggested that the 144th has an independent tank battalion that will be upgraded to a regiment, to become the 228th TR.

There are also discrepancies regarding the locations of different units.

Welcome to following Russia’s OOB.

Here’s the moral. Saying you have a division on your western border is one thing;  actually having one is something else. 

Expected in 2019

On June 4, Sergey Shoygu told the Russian Defense Ministry collegium the armed forces will receive 400 new or modernized armored vehicles before the end of this year. T-90M, T-72B3M, and T-80BVM tanks and BMP-1AM infantry fighting vehicles are among the systems to be delivered.

T-90M

T-90M

Interfaks-AVN reported that the T-90M was developed through the Proryv-3 [Breakthrough-3] R&D program — a deep modernization of the T-90 fielded in the mid-1990s. The T-90M has a new turret, 125-mm main gun, remote-controlled 12.7-mm machine gun, and digital fire control.

The Pacific Fleet’s Troops and Forces in the North-East are supposed to get more updated MiG-31BM interceptors, T-80BVM tanks, and BMP-2M IFVs, according to Interfaks-AVN.

Big Star for Salyukov

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin signed out his Defenders’ Day promotion list yesterday with something unexpected.

Putin handed out the four-star rank of army general for the first time in a while. To Ground Troops CINC Oleg Salyukov.

Salyukov wearing general-colonel

Salyukov wearing general-colonel

Russian media outlets say Putin gave army general to Rosgvardiya chief Viktor Zolotov and Deputy Defense Minister Pavel Popov in 2015. But we’re not talking about cronies and creatures of Putin or Defense Minister Shoygu.

We’re not talking about Shoygu himself, who got his four-star rank as a politician and bureaucrat.

And we’re not talking about Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, FSB man and associate of former defense minister Sergey Ivanov. (Pankov’s a fascinating and separate story. He’s the longtime éminence grise of the MOD. One might bet he’s always been Putin’s reliable spy in the high command. He’s also been officially retired from military service for some time.)

So here’s the short list of current Russian Armed Forces four-stars:

  • Army General Valeriy Gerasimov obviously. He became Chief of the General Staff when Shoygu became Minister of Defense. Gerasimov got his fourth star less than four months later — February 20, 2013.
  • Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of Material-Technical Support Dmitriy Bulgakov has been at his post since 2008. He became army general on February 23, 2011.

It’s safe to conclude then that Putin’s been quite parsimonious with the “big star.”

Recall Russia’s gone back and forth on four stars. For some time, army generals actually wore four stars. Now they wear a single “big star” like marshals, but on different epaulets.

The Russian army general rank, however, is equivalent to a full U.S. General (O-10) wearing four stars.

The last Ground Troops, Air Forces, and Navy CINCs to wear four stars were Vladimir Boldyrev in 2010, Vladimir Mikhaylov in 2007, and Vladimir Masorin in 2007.

So why promote Salyukov to four-star? It doesn’t buy him more service time; by law, he still has to retire in 2020. He’ll be 65 on May 21, 2020.

We should note also that Gerasimov will be 65 on September 8, 2020 and old man Bulgakov on October 20, 2019.

But like all Russian laws, the law on military service tenure can be ignored or changed easily if Putin wants.

A little more about Salyukov. He’s a tanker. He served in the old Kiev MD as a junior officer, and then the Moscow MD. He was deputy commander of the 4th Kantemir Tank Division. After the General Staff Academy, he went to the old Far East MD in 1996, serving from division commander to commander of the district in 2010.

When the MD system was reduced to just four MDs, Salyukov returned to Moscow for a four-year stint as deputy chief of the General Staff. In May 2014, he became Ground Troops CINC. His official bio says he’s a combat veteran, but it’s unclear where he was actually under fire.

P.S. Here’s the latest official photo of Salyukov.

Salyukov sporting big star

Salyukov sporting “big star”

Army Commanders

general-major andrey kolotovkin receives the 2nd caa standard

General-Major Andrey Kolotovkin receives the 2nd CAA standard

Seven new Russian combined arms (or tank) army commanders have been appointed since early 2017. Five old ones remain in place.

Eighteen months ago, only three were at post they held 18 months prior to that (i.e. in early 2016).

But two — General-Lieutenants Kuzmenko and Sevryukov — have now served in the same spot for three years or more.

The current rundown of armies, headquarters, MD/OSK, and commanders looks like this:

1st TA…Bakovka…Western…General-Major Sergey Kisel.

6th CAA…Agalatovo…Western…General-Lieutenant Andrey Kuzmenko.

20th CAA…Voronezh…Western…General-Major Andrey Ivanayev.

8th CAA…Novocherkassk…Southern…General-Lieutenant Sergey Kuzovlev.

49th CAA…Stavropol…Southern…General-Lieutenant Sergey Sevryukov.

58th CAA…Vladikavkaz…Southern…General-Lieutenant Yevgeniy Nikiforov.

2nd CAA…Samara…Central…General-Major Andrey Kolotovkin.

41st CAA…Novosibirsk…Central…General-Major Yakov Rezantsev.

36th CAA…Ulan Ude…Eastern…General-Major Mikhail Nosulev.

29th CAA…Chita…Eastern…General-Major Roman Berdnikov.

35th CAA…Belogorsk…Eastern…General-Major Sergey Chebotarev.

5th CAA…Ussuriysk…Eastern…General-Major Oleg Tsekov.

Kisel replaced General-Lieutenant Avdeyev who went to head the Combined Arms Academy. Ivanayev took the place of General-Major Peryazev who moved to the MOD’s Main Combat Training Directorate. 

There’s been considerable churn in the 2nd CAA. In early 2017, General-Major Zhidko was its commander. In less than two years, he served as chief of staff, first deputy commander for the Russian group of forces in Syria, deputy chief of the General Staff, and Commander of the Eastern MD.

General-Major Rustam Muradov replaced the meteoric Zhidko before being replaced himself by General-Major Kolotovkin. Muradov is now a deputy commander of the Southern MD.

General-Lieutenant Zavizon was relieved by Rezantsev. Zavizon is probably in Syria, or, less likely but possibly, even eastern Ukraine.

Followed by Nosulev, General-Major Kovalenko went to the unusual post of deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet for ground and coastal troops.

General-Major Poplavskiy became a deputy commander of the Central MD when Berdnikov replaced him.

Tsekov took over the 5th CAA after General-Lieutenant Asapov died in a mortar attack in Syria in 2017.

general-lieutenant asapov's grave

General-Lieutenant Asapov’s grave

An observer has noted a flag from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic on Asapov’s grave. According to some, he commanded the DNR’s “1st Army Corps” at one point. He reportedly also saw combat in Chechnya and Abkhazia as well.

Airmobile Groups

An airmobile group

The Ground Troops of Russia’s Southern MD are resurrecting airmobile groups. Recent Mil.ru press-releases have highlighted them. Though clearly still developing, they are far enough along to advertise them.

Shortly after the December 1 start of Russia’s new training year, Southern MD Commander General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov declared that every battalion, regiment, brigade, and division in his AOR will establish and train airmobile groups.

He continued:

“Up to 40 helicopters of various designations — strike, combat-transport and transport — must support the completion of the combat-training missions of each company tactical group.”

Forty helos is a stiff requirement even for the Southern MD with a brigade plus two independent regiments of rotary wing air support.

Airmobile groups have been established in the Volgograd-based 20th MRB. According to Mil.ru, they have spent a month on the Prudboy range training for tactical air assaults, employing helicopter fire support, landing on different terrain day and night, and using night vision goggles.

The 150th MRD in Rostov oblast has airmobile groups. Mil.ru reported on Mi-8AMTSh Terminator helos flying in support of them. The site indicated that the groups are outfitted with the RPG-7B, AGS-17 Plamya grenade launchers, 2S12 Sani mortars, Igla (SA-18) MANPADS, and Belozer satellite comms.

Mil.ru showed the 136th MRB’s airmobile groups with buggy-like light vehicles.

Airmobile group with ATVs

Airmobile groups sound like platoons, so several groups will probably constitute a company-sized unit for divisions or brigades.

In Soviet times, combined arms armies also had airmobile battalions.

Russian divisions and brigades won’t own helos to support airmobile groups. The MD commander, leading the joint strategic command (OSK) in his AOR, will task his air force component to support them.

Some Soviet divisions and armies had organic squadrons and regiments with Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters.

New Russian airmobile groups may not become named TO&E elements, but remain motorized rifle platoons or companies with training sufficient to be designated “airmobile capable” — if only parenthetically.

There’s significant history to this story. The Russian Army lost ownership of its aviation in 2002 when the General Staff gave it to the air force. But, in 2010, all theater air assets came under control of the OSK commander — a Ground Troops general. Then, in 2013, the army surrendered its three air-assault brigades to the Airborne Troops.

So the formation of airmobile groups may be, at least partially, about Russian ground pounders reclaiming some air support and airmobile missions from the other services.

Vertical envelopment wasn’t forgotten in Russia, it just became the exclusive province of the VDV, and to a lesser extent Spetsnaz and Naval Infantry, for a while. General-Colonel Dvornikov appears to be leading the charge to reinvigorate air mobility as a facet of the Russian Army’s tactical doctrine.

Return of Independent Spetsnaz Companies

Tayfun-K armored vehicle

Tayfun-K armored vehicle

On December 19, a Mil.ru press-release reported that a special designation (Spetsnaz) sub-unit has joined one of the Western MD’s two combined arms armies. It’s easy to guess the unnamed army is the 20th CAA pointed at Ukraine in Russia’s south-west strategic direction.

Russian armies lost their independent Spetsnaz battalions/companies at some point after 1992. They were a luxury no longer affordable in the 1990s and 2000s. But Soviet combined arms and tank armies always had one or the other, but most often a company.

The independent company of special designation (orSpN or орСпН) was typically formed and trained in a Spetsnaz brigade (four battalion-sized units called special detachments) before assignment to a large formation. The independent Spetsnaz company had over 100 personnel organized in a command element, four Spetsnaz groups (grSpN or грСпН), and communications group (group effectively being a platoon). The commanding officer was a major (O-4) or promotable captain (O-3).

The mission of the orSpN, in support of the army commander’s objectives, is long-range reconnaissance and operations behind enemy lines to destroy or disable his tactical nuclear weapons and precision strike systems, and disrupt his C3 and logistics.

Independent Spetsnaz brigades (obrSpN or обрСпН) are assigned an echelon above armies, i.e. districts/fronts.

Here’s what Mil.ru said:

“An independent special designation sub-unit has entered the order-of-battle of a combined arms army of the Western Military District.”

“The servicemen are going through additional training with the brigade of special designation in Tambov oblast. The reconnaissance men need to complete an enhanced course of combat, fire, special, engineer, medical and other training.”

“The groups are being armed with AK-74M assault and VSS ‘Vintorez’ sniper rifles, Stechkin and Shpagin pistols, and ASVK ‘Kord’ sniper rifles.”

“The sub-unit is also outfitted with specialized ‘Tayfun-K’ and ‘Tigr’ armored vehicles, unmanned aircraft to conduct aerial reconnaissance, and also steerable ‘Malva’ and ‘Arbalet’ parachute systems.”

Obviously, this isn’t one-off. Look for Spetsnaz companies to appear in the TO&E of other Russian armies if they aren’t there already.