Category Archives: Ground Troops

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.

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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.

Anti-Ship Iskander-M?

Russia may view the Iskander-M as an effective weapon against high-value ships and aircraft carriers in particular. There is, however, no openly available information indicating the Russians have actually tested it as an anti-ship ballistic missile.

In late July and early August, the Russian Army conducted two exercises for the first time featuring notional launches of the land-based mobile 9K720 Iskander-M (SS-26 ‘Stone’) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) against ships in the Black Sea. Reports on the drills appeared on Mil.ru and government-controlled newspaper Rossiyskaya gazeta.

The 1st Missile Brigade of the Krasnodar-based 49th Combined Arms Army departed garrison in late July for combat readiness drills under the personal control of Southern Military District commander Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov. The brigade performed the Iskander-M launch drills at some point before they were reported on July 27 and August 2 respectively.

The MOD press-releases stated that the Russian forces “delivered an electronic missile strike on notional enemy ships and shore facilities” and conducted “electronic launches on notional enemy targets detected in the Black Sea and ashore.”

An “electronic” launch likely means a field combat simulation where the missile unit prepares and performs all procedures for a real-world launch without firing a live missile.

Exactly which ships the Russians used as notional targets for the Iskander-M is unknown. However, the annual NATO Sea Breeze exercise took place in Black Sea waters during mid-July. Forces from 13 alliance members as well as Georgia, Moldova, Sweden, and Ukraine participated in the multinational training. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high since Moscow seized Crimea and sent forces to fight in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The Iskander-M has the capability to attack moving targets including ships. Its 9M723 missile flies a low, semi-ballistic trajectory at Mach 6-7 with possible maneuvering in the terminal flight stage. It has inertial navigation as well as active radar or electro-optical terminal guidance. Active radar would be employed against ships at sea. However, a successful SRBM strike on a moving naval target would likely also depend on real-time inputs and updates from space-based surveillance and intelligence systems.

The deployment of the Iskander-M as a possible anti-ship system comes just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. The Kinzhal uses a modified Iskander-M missile and has also been advertised as an anti-ship weapon and “carrier killer.”

Compared to the relatively long-range Kinzhal, the 500-km declared range of the Iskander-M makes it less threatening to foreign aircraft carriers and battle groups which could remain outside its reach. However, combined with existing sea- and land-based anti-ship cruise missile systems, Iskander-M’s hypersonic speed would be a major contribution to Russia’s robust anti-access/area denial strategy on the approaches to its four fleet areas.

Non-TO&E Reconnaissance Troops

LPR-4 laser rangefinder made by the Kazan Optical-Mechanical Plant

LPR-4 laser rangefinder made by the Kazan Optical-Mechanical Plant

Russian news agency TASS noted yesterday that the Eastern MD’s 35th Combined Arms Army will train several hundred soldiers to serve as scouts in addition to their usual duties.

This ADDU training will occur during the balance of July in 35th CAA motorized rifle sub-units (battalion and below). Between 800 and 1,000 troops will learn to serve literally as “non-TO&E reconnaissance men-observers.” In English and U.S. Army parlance, perhaps scouts is close.

In a 10-day course, trainees will learn the “rules” of conducting reconnaissance, how to choose terrain, and to establish an observation post. Experienced “reconnaissance men” will teach them to detect minute changes in the situation, hide listening devices, and recognize “telltale signs” of targets day or night. Separate lessons will be dedicated to aerial recon, observation on the move, and camouflage, concealment, and deception (CC&D) measures.

The new scouts will learn to employ night vision and other optical equipment including LPR-5 laser rangefinders.

The scout-trainees will broaden their military qualifications, and they could conduct reconnaissance in cases when TO&E “recon men” aren’t attached to their forces.

The Eastern MD spokesman said the scout training is the result of the growing role of reconnaissance in recent military conflicts.

In some respects, the Eastern MD is the Russian “poor man’s district.” It doesn’t sit opposite Moscow’s major concerns — NATO, militant Islam, and Central Asia. It faces China (the threat “which must not be named”). 

At times, it seems the Eastern MD gets fewer real resources. The Kremlin has already fielded full-fledged independent reconnaissance brigades — the 96th in the Western MD’s 1st Tank Army, the 100th in the Southern MD’s 58th CAA, and the 127th in the BSF (Crimea). The Eastern MD doesn’t merit one apparently, and will have to get along with ADDU scouts at least for now.

Back in the day, Soviet divisions had a dedicated reconnaissance battalion, while armies had Spetsnaz battalions or companies.

It’s likely the requirement for more recon is another lesson the Russian military is taking from its intervention in Syria.

Upgunning Artillery

The Uragan-M1 MRL can mount 12 300-mm or 15 220-mm tubes

The Uragan-1M MRL with twelve 300-mm tubes

A year ago General-Lieutenant Mikhail Matveyevskiy asserted that Russian Army firepower will increase 50 to 100 percent by 2021. This will come, he said, by forming new missile and artillery units and reequipping existing ones.

In December, Izvestiya talked to MOD sources who provided more specifics on what’s happening in the artillery.

The Ground Troops are reinforcing artillery regiments and brigades with new 9K512 Uragan-1M heavy multiple rocket launchers, and are returning very large-caliber guns and mortars to the order-of-battle. These systems provide greater firepower and extend the reach of Russia’s artillery.

According to Izvestiya, in 2013-2017, “seven self-propelled artillery regiments were formed in five motorized rifle and two tank divisions.” They are likely the brigades that were converted back to divisions in the last couple years. As maneuver brigades, they typically had two SP howitzer battalions and one MRL battalion (122-mm BM-21 Grad MRLs). Adding an Uragan-1M battalion is a significant upgrade.

The paper noted an independent artillery regiment was also established as part of the Black Sea Fleet’s 22nd Army Corps in Russian-occupied Crimea.

The MOD started adding heavy Uragan-1M MRLs to the reestablished maneuver divisions in late 2016. Izvestiya reported that the 275th SP Artillery Regiment (4th Kantemir Tank Division) got a “full battalion set” of eight Uragan-1M launchers. The earlier 9K57 Uragan MRL also typically deployed to artillery brigades in eight-launcher battalions. 

The Uragan-1M can fire cluster, volumetric, guided, and enhanced range munitions and use 122-mm, 220-mm, or 300-mm rockets. It has a 70-km range. Its rate of fire is faster than older MRLs because it can reload complete racks of loaded tubes instead of reloading individual tubes mounted on the launch vehicle. It may fire two salvos before maneuvering to avoid counterbattery fire.

According to the paper’s sources, the Uragan-1M’s automated command and control system and fire control computer allows the MRL to destroy targets “in real time without crew input.”

Izvestiya reported that the 45th Svir Order of Bogdan Khmelnitskiy High Power Artillery Brigade was reestablished at Tambov in 2017. It operates two battalions (eight each) of 203-mm SP 2S7 Pion guns and one battalion (eight) of 240-mm SP 2S4 Tyulpan mortars. These large-caliber systems can destroy reinforced targets and field fortifications 122-mm and 152-mm weapons cannot. Pion has a range of 47 km. Tyulpan can reach 20 km and also fires Smelchak, a Soviet-era laser-designated munition.

The MOD told the paper that artillery brigades in the Central (385th) and Eastern MDs (165th and 305th) already have Pion and Tyulpan systems.

Mil.ru has reported that the 165th Artillery Brigade has the 2S7M Malka gun.

The article notes Orlan-10 UAVs are being widely deployed with Russian artillery brigades and regiments since last year. Procurement of UAVs certainly seems to be a priority.

Izvestiya concludes, while considered less effective than precision weapons in recent years, Russia’s artillery troops and new systems are getting more attention as they work toward a one-shot kill capability.

Brigades and Divisions

Russian MOD daily Krasnaya zvezda published an interview with Ground Troops CINC General-Colonel Oleg Salyukov on March 7. Right off, the paper asked if the MOD intends to change all combined arms brigades back to divisions.

General-Colonel Salyukov address senior army officers in December

General-Colonel Salyukov addresses senior army officers in December

Recall the conversion of the army’s divisions to brigades was a key plank in former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s “new profile” reforms. But more than a few military leaders grumbled that brigades weren’t powerful enough to meet the threat of a  large-scale war.

Here’s what Salyukov had to say:

“Actually in the indicated period [2012-2017] seven combined arms divisions were formed. Compared with combined arms brigades, divisions have increased striking force and firepower, and are capable of handling combat missions on a broader front.”

“Besides this, command personnel in divisions get experience controlling large tactical formations which is essential for the next step to leadership of operational troop groupings.”

“But combined arms brigades continue to be highly mobile and self-sufficient formations. Therefore in the Ground Troops’ order-of-battle both divisions and brigades will be preserved to allow us to have balanced troop groupings which are capable of fulfilling different missions.”

The seven reestablished ground divisions include:

  • 2nd (Taman) Motorized Rifle Division — Kalininets
  • 4th (Kantemir) Tank Division — Naro-Fominsk
  • 150th Motorized Rifle Division — Kadamovskiy
  • 90th Tank Division — Chebarkul
  • 42nd Motorized Rifle Division — Khankala
  • 3rd Motorized Rifle Division — Valyuki
  • 144th Motorized Rifle Division — Klintsy

Reestablished Divisions

The map above shows four in the Western MD, two in the Southern, and one in the Central.

KZ didn’t ask General-Colonel Salyukov about a recent report that the 19th and 136th Motorized Rifle Brigades at Vladikavkaz and Buynaksk respectively will become divisions before the end of this year. That would add two to the Southern MD.

Moscow’s preoccupation with a bigger conflict with Ukraine or a major contingency in the Caucasus or further south is clear.

The 2nd, 4th, and 42nd divisions were easy to reconstitute because they’d been full-up divisions in the recent past. The others are more of a challenge.

The 90th and 3rd divisions are being put together from two brigades each. The 144th is based on one brigade. Current brigades are just a little larger than a complete regiment. So these divisions have to raise at least one or two more maneuver regiments each.

The 150th division has largely been built from scratch.

Besides significantly expanded manpower and equipment, these new divisions require substantial investment in new or renovated base infrastructure at a time when rubles for the military are harder to find.

The 19th brigade was a division until 2009. One regiment became the brigade’s backbone while two others became the 4th Military Base in South Ossetia (Georgia). The 136th has always been a brigade.