Category Archives: Shoygu’s Reforms

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.

His Greatest Achievement?

Putin chairing Military-Industrial Commission session in Rybinsk on April 25, 2017 (photo Kremlin.ru)

Putin chairing Military-Industrial Commission session in Rybinsk on April 25, 2017 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

In the most recent iteration of what is basically an annual poll, Levada asked respondents to select one answer to the following question:  “What would you call the main achievement of Vladimir Putin during his years in power?”

Some 17 percent of those polled picked “Increasing combat capability and reform of the armed forces.”  It was the top response in this year’s poll.

Below find the reaction to this response over time.

Putin's Greatest Achievement The Military.

Positive reaction to this choice scuffled along for years.  Just three percent of those polled picked it in the waning months of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s tenure as minister of defense.  It jumped, however, to 8 percent in August 2014, following the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  It reached 14 percent a year after Moscow intervened in the Syrian civil war.

External events greatly influence this particular Levada poll.

For instance, in early 2008, 21 percent of respondents said Putin’s greatest achievement was “Economic development of the country.”  Two years later, following the recession of 2008-2009, only 12 percent could agree with this.  And, seven years later, that number is still 12.

Even in mid-2009, 22 percent said Putin’s greatest trick was “Increasing the standard of living of citizens, growth of wages and pensions.”  That number now stands at 8 percent.

Unfortunately, some responses seem eternal.

Typically only 1 percent or less of those polled pick “Defense of democracy and political freedoms of citizens” or “Improving relations between people of different nationalities in Russia.”

In this iteration of the poll, 8 percent indicated that they don’t see any achievements and 4 percent found it hard to say.

The 17 percent response on the military is good news for Putin.  As for many regimes, it’s an easy place to score points with the average citizen.  Other arenas are more complicated.  But the Kremlin has successfully managed a turnaround in the perception of the armed forces.

The problem is events can erode high poll numbers.  For the Russian military, they could include things like a large-scale attack on Russian forces in Syria, widespread arrears in military pay, a submarine sinking, a huge ammo depot fire, or the death of soldiers in a collapsing barracks.  

In isolation, none is enough to dent a prevailing opinion strongly underwritten by the steady drumbeat of a Defense Ministry PR campaign.  But, over time, they accumulate and can change attitudes.  Like everything else, poll numbers that go up usually come down.

More Mobile Strategic Air Defense

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo TASS Valeriy Sharifulin)

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo: TASS / Valeriy Sharifulin)

Izvestiya reports the Russian MOD plans to increase the mobility of its strategic air defenses.  The newly-established 24th Air Defense Brigade is the model. Formed in late 2016, this Abakan-based brigade just completed its first live firings of the S-300PS on the range in Astrakhan.

The brigade deployed 100 pieces of equipment over 4,500 km for practice in repulsing a “surprise mass air attack” by the notional enemy.

According to Izvestiya, new air defense brigades are supposed to be “highly mobile formations, capable of deploying hundreds of kilometers and establishing an insurmountable barrier against aircraft, cruise missiles, and UAVs in a matter of hours.” They will be equipped with S-400 and S-300 SAMs, Pantsir-S gun-missile systems, and Nebo-M radars.  The mobile brigades will reportedly protect more territory while saving money.

Russia’s independent air defense regiments have traditionally been dedicated to particular facilities or regions.  They employ tactical maneuverability but only within the confines of a larger positional defense.

Izvestiya quotes former SAM troops commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Gorkov:

“The appearance of the S-300 and S-400 seriously changed the situation.  These SAMs gave air defense high mobility.  New brigades could be deployed on a threat axis not just by their own means of transport, but also by ships or by VTA aircraft.”

Not to mention by rail too.

Gorkov claims the idea for more mobile strategic defense dates to the early 1990s when the S-300 was widely deployed.  He states that the 14th Mobile Air Defense Division, based in Ruza to the west of Moscow, deployed as far as Rzhev, Pskov, Smolensk, and Novgorod before it disbanded.

Abakan is capital of Khakasiya in Western Siberia.  Pretty remote as possible theaters of war go.  Its closest neighbors are Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.  It’s not even on the Transsib, but it connects via Tayshet. 

A VKS Main Staff source says the next mobile air defense brigade will be Tiksi in Russia’s Far North.  Road and rail are, of course, not good options for Tiksi.

A push for more mobile air defenses is logical given the Russian military’s increased emphasis on strategic reinforcement in recent years.

Abakan may be off the beaten track, but it makes some sense because the Central MD is Moscow’s reserve for potential conflicts in the east, west, and south.

Today We Are Stronger

shoygu-and-putin-at-the-mod-collegium-photo-kremlin-ru

Shoygu and Putin at MOD Collegium (photo: Kremlin.ru)

The year-end MOD Collegium fell on December 22.  International news agencies headlined what sounded like bellicose braggadocio from President Vladimir Putin.  “We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he said according to AP.

But his remarks were more nuanced than it’s possible to tell from that wire service quote.

His full speech to the assembled Russian brass is available here.

Putin featured Syria prominently, and indicated that Russia will take advantage of the greater demand for its weapons and equipment because of the war.

He listed force development priorities including “precision weapons, modern communications, reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare systems” and strategic non-nuclear forces.

He noted that the SAP will be completed “by 2021,” effectively giving the military and industry all of 2020 (not just until the end of 2019) to reach its 70 percent modernization goal.  But he also mentioned “five years” to complete rearmament which sounds like 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and all of 2021.  The dates on the arms program are increasingly elastic as necessary.

Not surprisingly, Putin described a higher level of threat on Russia’s borders this year.

A complete translation of Putin’s speech follows.

“Respected comrades!”

“Today at the annual Ministry of Defense Collegium we will discuss results of work during the latest period, and determine near- and long-term tasks for the development of Russia’s Armed Forces and strengthening the country’s defense capability.”

“In 2016, the course of modernizing the army and fleet continued, rhythmically, and their reequipping went according to schedule.”

“The condition of the nuclear triad, which plays the key role in preserving strategic parity, was supported at the necessary level.  I note that the share of modern armaments in the nuclear forces is almost 60 percent.”

“The level of combat training of troops rose substantially.  The results of strategic command-staff exercise Kavkaz-2016 convincingly demonstrated this.  Its successful conduct increased the security of Russia’s southern borders, including from terrorist threats, and helped work out the organization of territorial defense in the Southern and North-Caucasus Federal Districts, including questions of supporting troops, for example their financing in wartime, that require coordination from many state organs and elements, including branches of Russia’s Central Bank.”

“I note also that four surprise combat readiness evaluations of troops took place in the course of the year.  They confirmed that units and sub-units could effectively deploy at great distances and in short periods of time to establish groupings in strategic directions. The Defense Ministry needs to analyze the results of the evaluations in detail and consider them in combat training plans for the future, and also in the organization of other measures of a similar type.”

“The potential of the Russian Armed Forces passed a stress test also in combat with international terrorists in the Syrian Republic.  The Syrian Army received tangible support, thanks to which it conducted several successful operations against militants.”

“I also note the great assistance which our Armed Forces renders to peaceful Syrian citizens.  Almost 800 tons of foodstuffs and medicine alone have already been transferred. I want to thank the leadership and personnel of the Armed Forces participating in the operation once more for their professionalism and courage.”

“Respected comrades!”

“In the coming year, the Ministry of Defense needs to concentrate on resolving the following key tasks.”

“First, to support the balanced development of all services and branches of troops, and to continue the assimilation of precision weapons, modern communications, reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare systems.”

“It is necessary to strengthen the combat potential of strategic nuclear forces, primarily missile systems capable of assuredly overcoming existing and future missile defense systems.”

“Strategic non-nuclear forces also need to be brought to a qualitatively new level, allowing them to neutralize any military threats to Russia.”

“Second.  It is important to maintain the tempo achieved in rearming the army and navy.  To control the realization of measures in the State Armaments Program and fulfillment of the state defense order effectively.”

“By 2021 we need to achieve the established indicators of troop equipping with modern weapons and equipment at not less than 70 percent.”

“We need to make note that five years is not such a long period of time for such a large-scale rearmament program.  Any delay in fulfilling its tasks can cause a break in the production chain, which is then highly difficult to reestablish. Therefore sanctions for breaking contracts should be severe to the maximum extent. Meanwhile, it is important to effectively expose causes of violations and expeditiously eliminate them.”

“I note that essential measures to resolve problematic issues in the fulfillment of the state defense order have been taken at all levels.  On the whole, we need to keep the situation with the realization of the State Armaments Program and with the state of affairs in the defense-industrial complex under constant control.  You know we discuss these issues twice a year at regular meetings in Sochi.  This has already become a tradition which has been highly useful in practical work.  This year two cycles of such meetings occurred.  They allowed us to determine joint steps in the sphere of rearmament, and to support constant working contact between the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and industry.”

“Third.  We must closely follow any changes in the balance of forces and military-political situation in the world, especially along Russia’s borders, and simultaneously introduce corrections into plans for neutralizing potential threats to our country.”

“I ask you also to synchronize these plans with updated future planning documents.  Just a few weeks ago the new Information Security Doctrine of Russia was approved, and a little earlier the Scientific-Technical Development Strategy.  The milestones given in them concern all organs of authority, including also militarized departments.”

“Fourth.  The introduction of the newest training means and programs should be among the priorities of operational and combat training.”

“And last.  The effectiveness of employing Russian weapons in Syria opens new possibilities for the development of military-technical cooperation.  We need to use them to the maximum extent.  We know what kind of interest foreign partners are showing in modern Russian armaments.”

“Respected collegium participants!”

“One of the most important directions of military organizational development is increasing social support of servicemen.  You know how much has been done in this relation in recent times.  For example, since January 2012 the line for housing in the Defense Ministry system has been reduced 2.8-fold.  In 2016, 27 thousand servicemen were provided service housing,  and almost 20 thousand permanent housing.  Within the mortgage-savings system, 14 thousand servicemen obtained apartments.”

“It is necessary also to remember:  concern about personnel, and strengthening the social guarantees of soldiers and officers is important, the most important investment in the indoctrination of the young generation of defenders of the Motherland, and guarantee of the prestige of military service and the authority of people in uniform.”

“Respected comrades!”

“On the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, and on commanders at all levels, lies the special responsibility for the qualitative modernization of the Armed Forces.  I believe that in the future you will do everything necessary to achieve high results in combat training.”

“I want to thank the leadership and personnel of the Armed Forces for the precise fulfillment of established tasks, and for their conscientious service.”

“Allow me to wish you further successes.”

After Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s lengthy remarks, Putin concluded the session.

“Respected Sergey Kuzhugetovich, respected comrades!”

“In recent years, much has been done to increase the country’s defense capability. But, it stands to reason, much is still not enough.  The minister just spoke about this when he formulated tasks for 2017 and coming years.”

“We need to do much along the lines of strengthening the nuclear triad, perfecting the BMEWS system, in the Aerospace Troops [sic], still more at sea, and in the Ground Troops. We need to perfect reconnaissance and communications systems.  We still have much to do.”

“However today, given a very large number of factors, including not only military ones, but also our history, geography, and the internal condition of Russian society, it is possible with certainty to say:  today we are stronger than any potential aggressor.  Any.”

“At the same time, I would like to turn your attention to the fact that, if we were to allow ourselves for one minute to relax, to allow even one substantive failure in the modernization of the army and navy, or in troop training, the situation could change very quickly given the speed of events transpiring in the world.  We may not even notice.  Therefore, a very great deal depends on the continuation of our work, which began and has been conducted in the course of recent years.”

“I count greatly on you working in a coordinated manner, and being responsible for work assigned to you.  And, working in such a way, we, certainly, will fulfill all tasks which stand before us in the most important sphere of strengthening Russia’s defense capability.”

“I want to thank you again for your service in the past year and wish you success in the coming one.”

“All the best to you.”

“Thank you.”

So Putin wasn’t exactly bragging that Moscow is the biggest bully in the world, but rather claiming that, given Russia’s history and geography as well as its recent military modernization, the Kremlin can now be sure of repulsing any attack on its territory.  Assertions about evil U.S. and NATO intentions notwithstanding, what aggressor has designs on Russia today?  

Putin’s contention is a little abstract, lacking as it does any particular scenario or temporal context.  But it isn’t really as sinister as it sounded in Western media.

More to the point than Putin, however, is Maxim Trudolyubov’s conclusion from his recent op-ed:

“. . . Russia — with its renationalized economy and aging population — is now incapable of competing on equal economic and political terms with other major powers may have led the Kremlin to believe that it can compete only by other means — namely by displaying no hesitation at using force or covert influence to claim Russian greatness again.”

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.

Defense Procurement in Decline?

Is the Russian MOD’s procurement declining?  It’s difficult to say, but a quick survey seems to show it hasn’t, at least not yet or by much.

buk-m3

Buk-M3

Although Russian procurement data is far from independent and probably far from complete, what Moscow claims was procured for the military is still useful. Below find a side-by-side comparison of what the MOD says it bought in the third quarter of 2015 and in the third quarter of this year.

The reporting comes from Krasnaya zvezda for 2015 and 2016, and from TASS and Bmpd.

3rd-quarter-comparison

Year-on-year in the third quarter, procurement of aircraft and helicopters appeared down.  Purchases of air-delivered ordnance were higher in 2015 because the MOD needed to replenish stocks of missiles, rockets, and bombs expended in Syria.  Deliveries of ICBMs and ships were lower in the quarter just completed.  But the navy received substantial numbers of new cruise missile systems.

The MOD reported that 62 percent of the state defense order (GOZ) was complete in the third quarter.  It also said the armed forces’ inventory of weapons and equipment is now 48 percent modern.

This week Sergey Chemezov, head of government-owned defense industrial conglomerate Rostekh and friend of Putin, echoed the president’s recent warning to firms to plan for a time without large military orders.  Chemezov said Rostekh believes GOZ procurement will peak in two years and be no more than 50 percent of its total output by 2025.

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.