Category Archives: Ground Troops

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.

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Iskander-M in Kaliningrad

It’s always been clear Moscow would deploy new Iskander-M SRBMs in its Baltic exclave Kaliningrad. Now it has.

Iskander-M comes to Kaliningrad

Iskander-M comes to Kaliningrad

The folks at CAST posted the news to their blog on Saturday. They were impressively attentive to the military press while yours truly remained in a slothful tryptophan-induced post-Thanksgiving stupor.

Let’s look at what CAST saw.

On November 23, KZ wrote that the next “brigade set” of Iskander-M missiles has just been handed over to a missile formation from the Western MD. The MOD paper noted that Colonel Anatoliy Gorodetskiy commands the brigade in question. That is the 152nd Missile Brigade based at Chernyakhovsk in Kaliningrad. For now, the formation is still practicing with its new equipment on the range at Kapustin Yar.

As CAST noted, this is the eleventh “brigade set” delivered to Russian ground forces.

Iskander-M SRBMs in Kaliningrad can reach targets throughout Poland, the Baltic states, even southern Sweden

Iskander-M SRBMs in Kaliningrad can reach targets throughout Poland, the Baltic states, even southern Sweden

With reported 500-km range from Kaliningrad, the Iskander-M can cover targets throughout Poland, the Baltic states, and southern Sweden. If armed with cruise missiles (SSC-8 or Russian designator 9M729), their reach is much greater. Their 2,000-km or greater range allows them to strike targets close to Paris.

Why Now? Why Not?

Iskander-M in Kaliningrad was always just a question of timing.

Since at least 2014, the Russian Army has temporarily deployed Iskander-M launchers to Kaliningrad from the “mainland” for exercises.

As CAST reported, Jane’s Defence Weekly published photographs of characteristic “tent-mobile shelters” under construction for the new SRBMs at the Chernyakhovsk base in February.

But why now? Because the missiles and associated equipment have been produced and Moscow loses nothing at this point.

The Kremlin always said it could deploy the new SRBMs to its Baltic exclave to counter Aegis BMD (Aegis Ashore) in Poland slated for completion in 2018.

There are enhanced U.S. and NATO ground deployments to Poland to assure the easternmost allies in the wake of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Perhaps relevant here is the possibility the U.S. Congress will authorize DOD development of a new U.S. intermediate-range missile to answer Russia’s material breach of the 1987 INF Treaty.

And U.S.-Russian relations are the worst since the end of the Cold War.

Next Stop Kursk

CAST adds only the 448th Missile Brigade in Kursk remains armed with the late 1980s vintage Tochka-U (SS-21 / Scarab-B) SRBM. Kursk-based Iskander-M SRBMs deployed to launch positions in southwestern Russia will easily reach Kyiv, and central and eastern Ukraine.

New 36th Army Commander

On October 14, Mil.ru announced the appointment of General-Major Mikhail Yakovlevich Nosulev as the new commander of Russia’s 36th Combined Arms Army in Ulan Ude.

General-Major Nosulev

General-Major Nosulev

Born in Labinsk, Krasnodar in 1964, Nosulev was commissioned out of the Ulyanovsk Higher Tank Command School. He served with a Soviet tank army in the GSFG as a junior officer.

Nosulev commanded a regiment of the 42nd MRD during the Second Chechen War, according to BaikalFinans. He was deputy chief of staff of the 58th CAA during Russia’s Five-Day War with Georgia in August 2008. Most recently, he was chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Southern MD’s 49th CAA.

He apparently replaces General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko who just last month conducted bilateral exercise Selenga-2017 with Mongolian Army units in the Gobi Desert.

Where Kovalenko is headed is anyone’s guess. However, it’s possible he might remain in the Eastern MD and take command of the Ussuriysk-based 5th CAA. Its commander, General-Lieutenant Valeriy Asapov, was killed on September 23 while serving as senior military advisor to the Syrian Army.

More Airborne

The Russian MOD has announced that the Eastern MD’s 83rd Independent Air-Assault Brigade will conduct the first large-scale parachute drop in its history on October 18.

Recall the 83rd transferred from Ground Troops to VDV control almost exactly four years ago. It apparently spent the interval preparing and training to be more airborne than air mobile.

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

According to the MOD, the Ussuriysk-based brigade will drop combat equipment and personnel. It will proceed to a standard scenario involving seizure of a notional enemy airfield. About 2,000 troops and 400 pieces of equipment will be deployed.

Ussuriysk

Ussuriysk

In the evolution’s second phase, the brigade’s airborne and air-assault battalions will conduct a march with a pontoon bridge crossing and combat firings in a mobile defense.

The MOD didn’t indicate how many troops will parachute into the exercise. But the 83rd likely now has a parachute battalion to air-drop from Il-76 transports. VDV air-assault brigades traditionally also have two air mobile battalions. When the 83rd arrived from the army in 2013, it likely had three air-assault battalions.

The ex-army 56th ODShBr in the Southern MD may also have a parachute battalion already, but it seems less likely that the 11th in Buryatia has one.

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.

“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.