Category Archives: Ground Troops

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.

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.

deputy-defense-minister-ivanov-in-boguchar-photo-mil-ru

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.

uaz-patriot

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.