Category Archives: Ground Troops

Iskander’s Reach

Earlier this month, the Russian Ground Troops took  delivery of their ninth brigade set of Iskander-M missiles (NATO designation SS-26 / Stone).  The new brigade will deploy east of Yekaterinburg at Yelanskiy in Russia’s Central MD.

Iskander-M TELs Delivered at Kapustin Yar (photo KBM).JPG

Iskander-M TELs

Each brigade set has 51 vehicles — 12 TELs, 12 reload vehicles, 11 command vehicles, 14 personnel support vehicles, one data preparation vehicle, and one service and repair vehicle.  So a brigade can load out 48 Iskander-M missiles.  Additional reloads may come out of the brigade’s missile storage facility.

A brigade has three battalions, each with two batteries of two launchers.

The first Iskander-M missiles deployed with the 630th Independent Missile Battalion between 2005 and 2007.  They were operationally tested with this unit which falls under the 60th Combat Employment Training Center for Missile Troops and Artillery of the Ground Troops at Kapustin Yar.

After some piecemeal deployments, Moscow got serious about Iskander-M production, investing in production capability at Votkinsk and its suppliers, and signing a contract to equip ten brigades before the end of 2017.  The MOD’s 2013 “Action Plan” through 2020 indicated that Iskander-M would be the only new weapon system to replace its predecessor completely during that time frame.

iskander-m-deployments

Iskander-M Deployments

The MOD may plan to go above ten brigades of Iskander-M given that the Ground Troops’ structure is expanding at the army level.  The existing 152nd Missile Brigade at Chernyakhovsk in Kaliningrad (part of Baltic Fleet forces) and the 448th Missile Brigade at Kursk (20th CAA) also remain to be upgraded to Iskander-M.

iskander-m-brigades-in-western-russia

Iskander-M Brigades in Western Russia

Even without leaving garrison, Iskander-M missiles in Western Russia can reach southern Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, northern Belarus, southeastern Ukraine, Crimea, northeastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan with their 500-km range. Iskander-M in Kaliningrad allows coverage of targets in southern Sweden, Poland, northwestern Ukraine, and most of Belarus.  Add a brigade at Kursk and Russian missiles cover most of Ukraine including Kyiv.

iskander-m-brigades-in-eastern-russia

Iskander-M Brigades in Eastern Russia

Iskander-M missiles in Russia’s Far East can reach targets in China’s new Northern Theater Command north of Beijing.

But the real reach of Iskander-M depends on the missile loaded on its launcher…is it the 9M723 ballistic missile with reported 500-km range or is it the 9M728 cruise missile also with reported (but more difficult to believe) 500-km range.  The latter has come to be known as Iskander-K. 

This missile is also known as the R-500 and it may be part of the Kalibr family.  If true, it may have 2,000-km or greater range — breaking the INF Treaty’s prohibition on ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500- and 5,500-km.

Iskander-K is likely already present in the first four or five brigades armed with Iskander-M.

It’s a game-changer.  Fired from near Luga, this missile covers all of Western Europe, perhaps falling shy of Paris.  In the Far East, one from Birobidzhan covers all of northern China and easily reaches Beijing.

More on the “New” Divisions

On October 21, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Russia’s three “new” divisions in the Western and Southern MDs will be the 3rd, 144th, and 150th Motorized Rifle Divisions.  The 3rd will be part of the 20th CAA and the 150th will be subordinate to a new army in the Southern MD.  The situation of the 144th isn’t as clear.  Some reports indicate it will come under the 1st TA, others say the 20th CAA.

In any event, recent press reports have forced the MOD to show the process of building troop facilities at Boguchar is under control.

Housing and other facilities for the 3rd and 150th MRDs will be completely ready by May 2017, according to Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov.  RIA Novosti reported on his recent inspection of Boguchar.  A civilian wearing two-star rank, Ivanov is responsible for military housing and base-related construction.

As noted previously, the 9th IMRB recently relocated to Boguchar from near Nizhegorod. Its transition to the west hasn’t been easy.  The 9th will become the 3rd MRD. It was the 3rd MRD between 1997 and 2008 before it was reduced to brigade status.

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Deputy Defense Minister Ivanov in Boguchar (photo: Mil.ru)

The MOD’s website provided a more detailed account of Ivanov’s visit to Boguchar.  It reported that, having seen the situation for himself, he demanded that the builders deliver three 5-story housing blocks for military families by spring 2017.  He continued:

“According to the contract, the construction of seven 250-apartment buildings by the end of 2017 is stipulated.  Now the readiness of the first three of them is 50%, the rest even less.  It’s essential to follow the work schedule strictly and complete the construction of these three buildings in the spring of next year.”

For their part, the builders assured that they would, and that they would finish kindergartens and sports complexes too.

Mil.ru’s version of Ivanov’s remarks is far less categorical than RIA’s simple assertion that everything will be ready next spring.

construction-at-boguchar-photo-mil-ru

Construction at Boguchar (photo: Mil.ru)

Neither RIA nor Mil.ru had as much news on the 150th Motorized Rifle Division. The former said it will be garrisoned in Millerovo, Kuzminskiy, and Kadamovskiy.  The latter reported its 5,000 troops would inhabit four unspecified garrison towns.

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.

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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.

“New” Divisions in the West

Interfaks-AVN recently summarized the impending force structure changes in Russia’s Ground Troops.

According to Interfaks-AVN, the resurrected 90th Tank Division in the Central MD (Chelyabinsk Oblast) will be ready for the start of the new training year on 1 December.

News of the division surfaced in January.  It’s not exactly “new” given that the 7th Tank Brigade at Chebarkul will be its base.

The division is in the heart of the Urals, an important military-industrial region. It has a large training range as well.  Kazakhstan’s not far off to the south.

chebarkul

Chebarkul

Officially, the division is the 90th Guards Tank Vitebsk-Novgorod Twice Red Banner Division.  It traces back to the Red Army’s 90th Guards Rifle Division formed in 1943.

TASS already reported the division is more than 70 percent manned and equipped.  To form up fully, the 90th needs at least another regiment’s worth of T-72 tanks, perhaps a motorized rifle regiment, artillery and air defense units, an array of supporting units, as well as equipment drawn from Central MD storage bases.

Interfaks-AVN reminds readers Ground Troops CINC General-Colonel Oleg Salyukov announced in January that Moscow intends to put up three “new” divisions in the west (in addition to the tank division in the Central MD).

Voronezh (Boguchar) and Smolensk (Yelnya) are possible locations for “new” western divisions.

The redeployment of the 20th CAA from Nizhegorod (Mulino) to Voronezh (Boguchar) began in 2015.  The 9th IMRB has transferred to Boguchar, and may be struggling to adjust to its new base.  It has, however, the advantage of being an extant maneuver brigade, albeit with some artillery, missile, and support units still located east of Moscow.

The 1st Independent Tank Brigade is also supposed to be based in Boguchar.  It’s the remnant of the former 10th Tank Division, which was downgraded to a regiment and then a storage base by the late 2000s.  It’s a stretch to call it an existing formation.

Another motorized rifle brigade might make its home in Yelnya.

As Interfaks-AVN notes, two of these three brigades might become divisions.

Interfaks-AVN didn’t address the Kommersant report from June describing the transfer of two IMRBs to Russia’s western border.   Citing local media coverage, the paper described how the 23rd and 28th IMRBs departed their Central MD garrisons for Bryansk (Klintsy) and Belgorod (Valuyki) Oblasts respectively. They are also candidates to become divisions.

new-divisions-in-the-west

“New” Divisions in the West

The 1st Tank Army in Moscow (Bakovka) Oblast was resurrected to be an army-level headquarters for existing formations that pretty much amount to an army. They include the 2nd MRD, 4th TD, 27th IMRB, and 6th Tank Brigade.  There’s conjecture the latter could grow into a tank division to establish the 1st TA’s credentials as an army.

garrison-at-kadamovskiy

Garrison at Kadamovskiy

The Southern MD definitely gets one of the three “new” divisions — the 150th Motorized Rifle Idritsa-Berlin Order of Kutuzov II Degree Division.  The MOD website frequently covers progress on the infrastructure of this formation.

Moreover, as Interfaks-AVN noted, the Chief of the General Staff just announced the 150th will be part of a new combined arms army.  But there aren’t good existing candidates to fill out a new army short of denuding the 49th CAA.

The foregoing leaves us a general sense of what’s happening on Russia’s western frontiers, but not specifics.

Nevertheless, let’s draw preliminary conclusions. 

First and foremost, the changes in ground force structure — transferring existing formations or raising entirely new ones — are massive undertakings at a time of budget stringency and while the rearmament program mostly continues.

Potential divisions — the 9th, 23rd, and 28th IMRBs — are manned and equipped, but probably lack adequate facilities.  Also, it’s unclear exactly which units (air defense, artillery, EW, recon, logistics, etc.) they left behind in Mulino, Samara, and Yekaterinburg.

Less likely candidates for division — the 1st TB and Yelnya — lack facilities, troops, and armaments.  Reconditioning equipment from long-term storage isn’t a trivial task.

Fleshing out the structure described above is a big enough job, but the Russian “pivot to the west” also entails finishing the 150th MRD and the CAA to which it will belong, and possibly adding another TD to the 1st TA.

Returning to where this began, the Russian Army still has to fill out its 90th TD in the Central MD at the same time.

The General Staff, Ground Troops’ Main Command, and Western MD should have more than a few sleepless nights thinking about how to make all this work.  But it’s job security.

Trouble Brigade

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Russian MOD has pretty much accomplished two things.

First, it has generally improved service conditions for the average officer and soldier.  More money is available for this purpose than at any time since 1992.  It is financing military construction on a broad front.

Second, it has conducted a concerted and successful campaign to suppress almost all negative information about the armed forces.  It has driven once vigorous Russian military journalism to its lowest ebb.  It’s no surprise since President Vladimir Putin has done the same to civilian journalism.

Still, a Gazeta.ru piece by Vladimir Vashchenko from 29 September is reminiscent of the best in Russian military journalism.

welcome-to-boguchar

Welcome to Boguchar

Vashchenko writes (not for the first time) about v / ch 54046 — the 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Visla Red Banner Order of Suvorov Brigade.  The 9th IMRB for short.

Recall that the 9th IMRB — along with the rest of the 20th CAA — is relocating from Nizhegorod to Boguchar in Voronezh Oblast.  Boguchar wasn’t picked out of a hat.  It’s a strategic point on today’s map.  For Russia, it’s the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine.

boguchar-map

The 9th adds significant ground power to Russian forces near pro-Moscow Lugansk.

Vashchenko writes about the deaths of several of soldiers in the brigade over recent months.

On 24 September, a 35-year-old contractee killed himself.  He was an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion.  His suicide was precipitated primarily by family problems.

Earlier in September, another serviceman died after a fight with some locals, according to official reports, but a source tells Vashchenko he was run over by an officer driving under the influence.

In July, a junior sergeant was found dead.  He previously had a conflict with an officer and had already requested a transfer.  His death is under investigation by the GVP and GVSU.

In April, a conscript died just 23 days before his demob date.  With no evidence of a crime, his death isn’t being investigated.

Another conscript died in the spring of last year, but Vashchenko could unearth no details about what happened.

Vashchenko writes that social networks of mothers with conscript sons report Boguchar has a bad reputation as a formation where officers extort money from their young charges.

The author talked to several men who serve, or served, in the brigade.  Some came to him after reading his August story about Boguchar.

One told of sleeping two men to a couch because of the lack of proper bunks.  He also had to buy his own uniforms.  A friend in his unit had to pay to go to the infirmary about a problem with his knees.

An emotional ex-soldier told Vashchenko, “It’s a ‘hole,’ not a unit!”

Another claimed the brigade keeps two sets of medical records.  One for inspections indicating all soldiers are perfectly healthy, and a second set detailing their true maladies.

He told Vashchenko that anti-terrorist drills in the brigade were a joke.  Its perimeter was porous, and it never passed.  A man acting the part of suicide bomber walked around the brigade and could have “exploded” several times.

He said the brigade’s command made sure to intimidate the troops before inspections to ensure none would tell their guests about real conditions in the formation.

He said officers looked at soldiers like cattle, cattle that gave them money once a month.  Soldiers were abused if they didn’t pay “for the company’s needs” on time.  They even had to pay 500 rubles to receive their demob.

The command used certain soldiers to “supervise” others and keep them in line. One group were troops from the material support battalion.  They ran the brigade’s canteen which was really a mobile “trading post” for the financial benefit of unit commanders.

Vashchenko’s interlocutor says his service in Boguchar dissuaded him from signing up as a contractee.  He sums it up:

“I believe the army certainly has to be harsh, at times even cruel, just not like there.  You know under pain of death I wouldn’t go into battle or on reconnaissance with a single one of our officers.  And this given that I served after getting a higher education, but imagine what happens with kids of 18 who don’t yet have a strong psyche.  To me the army and conditions like Boguchar turn little boys not into real men but into scum and vermin that follow a one-way road — prison, alcoholism or drug addiction.”

Vashchenko also talked to Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia.  She traveled recently to Boguchar and called the situation “monstrous” with men living in tents and 4,000 personnel relying on a single water source.  But she hasn’t received complaints about abuses in the brigade.

A Different Take

On Topwar.ru, Roman Skomorokhov offered a spirited refutation of Vashchenko’s article on the 9th IMRB.  He writes that he visited the brigade six weeks ago.  According to him, Vashchenko simply repeats lies and throws mud on the army.

Skomorokhov claims security is good, and it’s not possible for an intruder to wander around the base.  Conditions are not ideal, he admits, but it’s not like the 1990s.  Boguchar is a hardship post at the moment, but one that is vitally needed to defend Russia’s southwestern frontier.

Moreover, Skomorokhov says, those now living in tents will be housed in newly-built barracks before winter.

There are injuries and deaths (outside of combat or training) and crimes in every army.  So what’s different about the Russian case?

The difference is a pervasive effort to suppress reporting of such incidents, or explain them away if they do make it into the news. Considerably more energy is expended on this now than ten years ago.

The brigade wants to keep incidents in the brigade.  The military district wants to keep them in the district.  The MOD wants to keep them in the MOD.  The Kremlin wants to keep them from gaining traction in the foreign media.  Remember the case of Andrey Sychev

Russians don’t want anyone to think their armed forces are not as modern, not as lethal, not as scary, not as well-financed, or not as orderly as they present them.  And this Potemkin village mentality has served them well.

The problem is, when fooling the bosses or the outside world about what is really happening, one also fools oneself.  And one is found out eventually.  

Look at the Baltic Fleet.  Its entire command was purged in June for this reason.  The MOD announced that high-ranking fleet officers were dismissed for: 

“. . . not taking all essential measures to improve the housing conditions of personnel, the lack of concern about subordinates, and also misrepresentations of the real state of affairs in reports.”

The Kremlin is not stupid.  It has always had its own channels of information inside the Russian military.  What does it do with what it learns?  The Baltic Fleet case might have been nothing more than serving notice on the rest of the military to clean up its act.  

Tanks a Lot

gabtu-chief-general-lieutenant-shevchenko

GABTU Chief General-Lieutenant Shevchenko

Some data on Russia’s armor programs appearing in the media prior to Tank Troops’ Day (11 September) didn’t get too much notice.

RIA Novosti interviewed the chief of the MOD’s Main Automotive and Armor Directorate (GABTU), General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Shevchenko on 9 September.

General-Lieutenant Shevchenko noted that the MOD plans to “modernize” new Tigr armored vehicles, and not just by mounting a 30-mm gun.  They will, not surprisingly, go by the name Tigr-2.  But no other details.

Shevchenko confirmed Uralvagonzavod’s announcement that it has delivered more than 1,000 T-72B3 tanks.  He also indicated that the MOD will receive 300 improved T-72B3. The improved T-72B3, he says, will have a better engine and better defensive and targeting systems.

Some number of Russian T-90 tanks nearing the end of their service lives will be modernized under the “Proryv-3” program, according to the GABTU chief.  The resulting tank is supposed to be superior to the original T-90.

Regarding the Armata armored vehicle family, Shevchenko reported that the “experimental” lot of T-14 tanks will conclude initial field trials in 2016 and move into state testing.  This will be completed in 2017 and followed by formal state acceptance of the T-14.

t-14-tanks-enroute-to-red-square-photo-ria-novosti-yevgeniy-biyatov

T-14 tanks en route to Red Square (photo: RIA Novosti / Yevgeniy Biyatov)

Shevchenko added that the Armata BMP (T-15) and BREM, or armored recovery vehicle (T-16) also remain in preliminary testing and will finish state testing next year.

Similarly, the Kurganets family — BMP, BTR, and BREM — from Kurganmashzavod as well as the wheeled Bumerang BTR from Arzamasmashzavod are on the same schedule.

kurganets-bmp

Kurganets BMP

Asked about the impact of Russia’s difficult economic situation and “corrections” in the GOZ on these programs, the GABTU chief said:

“Testing of ‘Armata,’ ‘Kurganets’ and ‘Bumerang’ is fully financed, and we will give it priority because they are the base for the future.”

Of course, paying for testing is one thing.  Ordering a production run is another.  The Russian Army will eventually have to make some choices between these new armored vehicles.  It won’t be able to afford all of them.

Shevchenko added that these vehicles are being tested in arctic, mountain, and desert conditions.  Other army systems (artillery, air defense, etc.) will be mounted on the same chassis.  Robotic armored vehicles are in the works.  He said the MOD doesn’t have a requirement for a wheeled tank.

Contractees in BTGs

General Staff Chief, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov held a press conference with Russian news agencies on 14 September.  The just-completed Kavkaz-2016 strategic exercise was the main, but not the only, topic.

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Gerasimov’s Press Conference

Interfaks-AVN captured Gerasimov’s comments on one particular subject of interest.

Army General Gerasimov said:

“Contractees are substantially increasing the combat capability of sub-units and military units.  In our districts, including the Southern Military District, battalion tactical groups [BTGs], which are fully manned by contract service soldiers, have been created.  There are now 66 of such BTGs, at the end of 2016 there will be 96, next year 115, and the year after [2018] 125.”

Every BTG, Gerasimov noted for the media, has 700-800 men, and reinforced BTGs have 900.  As a rule, each Russian regiment and brigade has two BTGs, he said.

What is a BTG?

A BTG is a motorized rifle or tank battalion of 2-4 companies with attached ATGM, artillery, reconnaissance, engineer, and rear support platoons making a fairly self-sufficient ground combat unit.

These were some brief but significant comments from Gerasimov. What do they tell us?

BTGs are supposed to be completely manned and fully combat ready. Gerasimov didn’t say that regiments and brigades typically have at least a third maneuver battalion which may not be completely manned or combat ready.

To simplify our math, let’s say Russia’s Ground Troops today comprise 36 maneuver (motorized rifle and tank) brigades.  We’ll leave out the longstanding 2nd Motorized Rifle Division and 4th Tank Division, as well as the future 150th MRD.

Those 36 brigades equate to a nominal 108 (36 x 3) maneuver battalions.  If there are 66 BTGs now, then two-thirds of the 108 are organized in essentially ready-to-fight packages.

Ninety-six would get close to 100 percent BTGs by the end of this year.  But adding another 30 (66 + 30 = 96) in less than four months seems almost ridiculously difficult.

The 115 (96 + 19) and 125 (115 + 10) figures for 2017 and 2018 would be much easier.

Battalions composing current divisions (or new divisions and brigades in the process of forming up) certainly account for some number of BTGs above 108.

It’s unclear how many airborne (VDV) or naval infantry BTGs there might be. Gerasimov seemed to be talking strictly about Ground Troops.  Between them, VDV and naval infantry might have 30+ battalions already organized into BTGs, or candidates to become BTGs.  But we don’t know if or how they factor into Gerasimov’s current or future number of BTGs.

Gerasimov’s comments have value with regard to contract service.  Sixty-six BTGs at 800 men each account for 52,800 professional enlisted.  And 125 would be 100,000. Those numbers represent a fair portion of a Russian Army of 300,000 considering that there might be 60,000 officers, and there will always be conscripts.