Category Archives: Ground Troops

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.

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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.

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.