Category Archives: Ground Troops

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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“Training” for Zapad-2017

Rail cars carrying armored vehicles

In Military-Political Review, Pavel Kovalev takes issue with a contention that Russia will send 4,000 rail cars carrying 30,000 troops and their equipment to Belarus for Zapad-2017. That claim appeared in National Interest three months ago.

Kovalev’s rebuttal is interesting in the context of Russia’s major annual exercise. But it’s significant for what it shows about the military’s use of trains, i.e. how much they can transport. It’s particularly useful given that the MOD now provides figures on what military trains deliver each week.

Kovalev says the Russian MOD contracted for 4,162 rail cars to carry cargo back and forth to Belarus during the 2017 training year. That’s 2,081 round trips over the course of 11 months, not just before the one-week Zapad-2017 exercise which takes place September 14-20. He indicates that a military train typically has 57 rail cars, so 2,081 cars is 36 round-trip train loads.

To Belarus this year, Moscow has sent 1,000 troops and equipment for a VDV exercise on four (round-trip) trains, 1,500 troops and 200 pieces of equipment for an EW exercise on four trains, troops and equipment for an engineering exercise on two trains, and forces for a communications exercise on one train. One train is needed to serve two Russian facilities on Belarusian territory.

Estimating two trains after Zapad-2017, Kovalev concludes there are 22 round-trip train loads or 1,254 rail cars available to carry what’s required for the exercise.

Soldiers secure 2S19 SP howitzer to a rail car

Soldiers secure a 2S19 SP howitzer to a flat car

The number is virtually unchanged from the 1,250 rail cars Kovalev says were used for Zapad-2013.

Moscow announced 3,000 Russian troops and 280 pieces of equipment will travel to Belarus for Zapad-2017. So 1,254 rail cars might seem like too many. But a motorized rifle battalion with 550 personnel and 120 vehicles requires 78, according to Kovalev’s depiction below.

An MR battalion on roughly 78 rail cars.jpg

There are variations, e.g. a tank battalion might require 20-30 additional rail cars.

In the end, per Kovalev, transporting one battalion might take 80-110, or two train loads. Add to this a train with rear support including rations, ammunition, POL, medical units, etc.

Kovalev never says what 22 train loads could carry. But they might deliver a brigade, depending on the materiel needed to support it. However, he says after Zapad-2017 he won’t be surprised to read Western accounts of 100,000 Russian troops delivered to Belarus.

Russia will maintain it’s below the threshold of 13,000 troops conveniently mooting the OSCE Vienna Document’s politically-binding requirement for foreign observers on ground. But tens of thousands of Russian soldiers will almost certainly participate in related drills in the Western MD.

Kovalev’s explanation of the use of rail transport provides perspective on MOD weekly graphics showing more than 4,000 train-loads of men and equipment delivered since early July. Exactly where the MOD doesn’t say. But there are many possibilities given Russia’s dependence on its railroads and internal lines of communication.

An Ordinary Conflict

Broken glass in the barracks (photo Ura.ru)

Broken glass in the barracks (photo: Ura.ru)

Some may have seen this picture of the aftermath of a massive brawl which occurred on August 2 between 60 Tuvan contractees and 100 soldiers at the Russian Army’s 437th District Training Center (v/ch 31612). The incident says much about the Russian military effort to recruit large numbers of volunteers to serve as soldiers on contract.

The center is near the village of Yelan, 200 km east of Yekaterinburg, and belongs to the Central MD. It trains junior specialists — conscripts and contractees — to be NCOs or operate particular weapons systems.

According to Ura.ru, the Tuvans just completed three months of survival training at the center and got booze to celebrate the occasion. That particular training course comes early, so the men were relatively new contractees.

At some point, their party turned into a rampage with drunken Tuvans wielding knives and other sharpened implements and fighting 100 contractees permanently assigned to the Yelan garrison.

In the end, one officer and 13 contractees from the garrison were hurt and required hospitalization. So the Tuvans got the best of them in the melee.

What started the fight is fairly unclear. Vzglyad postulates possibilities including revanche for insults or mistreatment or a dispute between a single Tuvan and Russian officer with the rest of the Tuvans intervening for their coethnic and the garrison’s 6th company for the latter.

For its part, the MOD officially denies alcohol or knives were involved. According to TASS, several unidentified soldiers received light injuries and scrapes. But Lenta.ru point out that the MOD didn’t deny it was a large-scale fight, and it subsequently admitted that two soldiers are in serious condition.

Deputy commander General-Lieutenant Khasan Kaloyev heads the Central MD’s investigation into the disturbance. The Central MD says the disturbance wasn’t massive and calls it an “ordinary conflict.” But the district military prosecutor has opened a large investigation of his own.

Vzglyad reports that Tuvan troops were involved in a fight with a Spetsnaz unit near Irkutsk in 2015.

The news portal also cites former Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy who said, as early as 2010, investigators first observed the phenomenon of servicemen from the same ethnic group, or from the same locality, imposing their rule on the everyday life of certain military units.

Recall a 2012 post in which a newly-demobbed soldier described something worse than dedovshchina:

“The non-Russians, Tuvans and Dagestanis, in the unit and their petty exactions were worse.  Even officers feared them, according to Ufimtsev.”

Vzglyad spoke with long-time observer of the situation inside the Russian military Sergey Krivenko, who’s also a member of the RF Presidential Council on Human Rights.

Krivenko said it’s difficult to monitor the observance of the rights of servicemen inside a closed organization like the military. But he believes the level of army violence is still very high, but significantly lower now than in the 1990s and early 2000s.

He notes that soldiers come from the same regions, republics, oblasts, and cities and unite on this foundation, then act like they are welded together in any conflict. In this way, zemlyachestvo has replaced dedovshchina to some degree.

Zemlyachestvo

Zemlyachestvo (землячество) means belonging by birth or residence to one republic, oblast, or village.

It can refer to a group of natives from one place living outside its borders. The term also describes a “foreign” community or society for mutual aid somewhere other than its members’ place of origin. It is a group of Russian Federation citizens of the same nationality (in the internal RF sense) living as a minority among people of a preponderant nationality, usually ethnic Russians.

In an American sense, think of a bunch of homeboys joining a gang to defend themselves from a perceived or real external threat.

Contrast this with dedovshchina — the rule of the “grandfathers” — senior conscripts nearing demobilization lording it over younger, newer draftees, generally without much regard to ethnicity.

Krivenko blames commanders who fail to work with subordinates arriving from various cultural levels, regions, and societies. He concludes:

“If the commander worked professionally with them, he would succeed in avoiding such excesses.”

He recalls similar problems with conscripts from the North Caucasus:

“So here our command, to avoid this, simply cut sharply the call-up from the regions of the North Caucasus. This again shows there haven’t been structural changes in working with personnel.”

Despite the presence of psychologists, sergeants, and deputy commanders for personnel work, the commander ultimately has to do everything in indoctrinating his charges properly. According to Krivenko:

“The commander answers for everything. Really now among the troops there is no one to work with personnel in maintaining discipline, in the prevention of similar violations. If the commander is good, he manages to do all this, then such incidents don’t happen in his unit.”

But some of the problem may lie with attitudes toward contractees:

“Often officers treat men on contract service like conscripts. They almost see them as serfs.”

Krivenko says officers are currently trained to deal with a mass of conscripts, not large numbers of contractees.

The commander often ends up investigating incidents and he has little incentive to find something wrong in his own unit. He asks where the newly-created Military Police are in all this since it seems to be a perfect mission for them. There is always the issue of why senior NCOs and warrant officers can’t be responsible for good order in battalions and lower-level units.

Krivenko concludes the brawl reflects the existence of a criminal attitude among some contractees on one hand, and the fact they don’t feel safe in their units on the other. It’s the commander’s task to make sure this isn’t the case.

From this incident, two broad conclusions might be drawn.

First, the whole thing is bad for Defense Minister Shoygu who, though thoroughly Russified and one of the Moscow elite, is still Tuvan. Tuva got the 55th OMSBr (G), and possibly considerable infrastructure as well, with Shoygu at the helm of the military. Troops from the 55th were almost certainly the ones involved in the fight at Yelan. It’s possible the brigade is mono-ethnic, so this would highlight recent MOD laxness on the old Soviet practice of extraterritoriality — sending conscripts and recruits far from home to serve and not overloading units with men of the same ethnicity (unless they’re Russians). One can imagine Tuvans “feeling their oats” with a Tuvan as Defense Minister and some Russians perhaps resenting their new impudence as a result.

Second, the brawl also reflects the state of the massive effort to enlist contractees. As the MOD searches for more volunteers, the more marginal the candidates are likely to be. The military may be increasingly reliant on less qualified men. It could be recruiting more non-Russians than in the past. Finally, what happened at Yelan demonstrates simply that many Russian Army contractees are professionals in name only. It’s often hard for a 24-year-old junior lieutenant to handle a platoon of 19-year-old conscripts let alone an unruly assortment of older and tougher would-be contractees.

Army Commanders

Time to update the leadership lineup for Russia’s army-level ground formations. Few commanders remain in place since last look in early 2016.

Russia's twelve ground armies

Russia’s twelve ground armies

The Russian Army expanded from seven to ten ground armies in 2010 by resurrecting or adding the 6th, 49th, and 29th CAAs.  More recently, it went to 12 by standing up the 1st TA and 8th CAA.  The process of filling out these armies with personnel and equipment is likely a challenge for their commanders.

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

1st TA…Bakovka…Western…General-Lieutenant Aleksey Avdeyev.

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

20th CAA…Voronezh…Western…General-Major Aleksandr Peryazev.

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

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

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

2nd CAA…Samara…Central…General-Major Gennadiy Zhidko.

41st CAA…Novosibirsk…Central…General-Major Aleksey Zavizon.

36th CAA…Ulan Ude…Eastern…General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko.

29th CAA…Chita…Eastern…General-Major Yevgeniy Poplavskiy.

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

5th CAA…Ussuriysk…Eastern…General-Lieutenant Valeriy Asapov.

After his long tenure in the Transbaykal, General-Lieutenant Avdeyev replaced General-Lieutenant Chayko as commander of the new 1st TA.  Chayko is now Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Eastern MD.

General-Major Zhidko was acting commander of the 2nd CAA, but he now appears to be permanent.

General-Major Chebotarev replaced Avdeyev in the 29th CAA.

Only General-Lieutenants Kuzmenko and Sevryukov and General-Major Kovalenko remain where they were 18 months ago.

General-Major Yevgeniy Nikiforov

General-Major Yevgeniy Nikiforov

Numerous former army commanders made the next traditional career step as deputy MD commanders.  Currently, they include General-Lieutenants Tsilko, Romanchuk, Gurulev, Seritskiy, Kaloyev, Solomatin, and Turchenyuk.

Others may have fallen off the promotion track.  General-Colonel Tonkoshkurov got his third star at the General Staff’s Main Organization-Mobilization Directorate (GOMU). He’s likely to remain a long time, but it’s usually a terminal post.  General-Lieutenant Yudin is the chief of the Organization-Mobilization Directorate (OMU) of the Western MD staff. General-Lieutenant Salmin is now reportedly serving in some capacity under Admiral Avakyants in the Pacific Fleet.

The jump from one- to two-star rank is not so difficult for these senior Russian officers. They’ve already held important field commands.  It’s expected that they should make general-lieutenant.

Their third star, however, is not so routine. They have to be tapped, or in line, for more significant responsibilities.  Responsibilities that are strategic or operational-strategic in essence or that concern the defense of the entire country.  

Besides MD commander, some include chief, chief of staff, or deputy chief of an armed service, chief of a major service branch, or chief of an MOD or General Staff main directorate.

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.

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.

Future Firepower

In this slow news season, Russia’s chief artilleryman has provided something to keep us going.  

The missile and artillery firepower of Russian Ground Troops could double in the near future.  New Iskander-M brigades are likely to be fielded through 2020. 

general-lieutenant-matveyevskiy

General-Lieutenant Matveyevskiy

Today General-Lieutenant Mikhail Matveyevskiy told RIA Novosti that the “combat possibilities” of Missile Troops and Artillery (RViA or  РВиА) will increase by a factor of 1.5 to two by 2021.  He said Russia will establish and equip new missile and artillery “formations and units” (i.e. divisions, brigades, regiments).

Matveyevskiy also told the news agency:

“In 2016, the development of the new generation Tornado-S multiple launch rocket system with increased range, accuracy, and more powerful warheads was completed. Volley fire Tornado-G systems, with automated target direction capability, continued to enter MLRS sub-units [i.e. battalions, batteries].  Anti-tank sub-units are outfitted with new Khizantema-S anti-tank guided missile systems with a unique capability to penetrate the armor of all modern tanks at night and in low visibility conditions.”

General-Lieutenant Matveyevskiy indicated that the rearming of missile brigades with Iskander-M SRBMs is “proceeding on a planned basis,” and deliveries are synchronized with the construction of facilities to support their deployment.

According to a January 4 Mil.ru press-release, Matveyevskiy said “by 2020 all existing formations will be fully rearmed with the Iskander-M missile system.” This item also noted that defense enterprises are currently working on improvements to the Iskander-M as well as a unified trainer for crew commanders, drivers, and other specialists.

Through last year, nine missile brigades have received the Iskander-M.  The 448th and 152nd are likely candidates to be ten and eleven in 2017.  The rejuvenated 1st Tank Army and a new army in the Southern MD might be twelve and thirteen at some point. And that still leaves the possibility of fielding four more Iskander-M brigades (numbers 14-17) before the end of 2020 if the current pace of two per year continues.

By way of reference and comparison, the Soviet Army had roughly 40 SRBM brigades at one point or another.