Category Archives: Strategic Deterrence

“Dead Hand” Alive and Modernized?

From Friday’s news . . . .

“Russia could shift to preemptive nuclear strike doctrine — ex-chief of RVSN”

“Retaliatory nuclear strike command and control system ‘Perimeter’ has been modernized”

“Moscow. 9 November. INTERFAKS-AVN – Russia could renounce its retaliatory strike doctrine in favor of a preemptive nuclear attack on a potential aggressor, if the U.S. deploys missiles on the territory of European states, said General-Colonel Viktor Yesin, who led the Main Staff of the Missile Troops of Strategic Designation in 1994-1996.”

“‘If the Americans start deploying their missiles in Europe, we have no choice but to abandon a retaliatory strike doctrine and move to a preemptive strike doctrine,’ V. Yesin said in an interview published in the weekly ‘Zvezda.'”

“He also said the Soviet-created ‘command’ missile system ‘Perimeter’ capable of transmitting launch commands to intercontinental missiles after an enemy nuclear strike on Russia has been modernized.”

“‘The ‘Perimeter’ system is functioning, and it is even improved,’ said V. Yesin.”

“Answering the question if the ‘Perimeter’ system can guarantee a retaliatory strike in the case of an enemy preemptive attack, the general said: ‘When it is working, we will already have few means remaining – we can launch only the missiles which survive after the aggressor’s first strike.'”

“The expert also stated that ‘we still don’t have an effective response to American medium-range missiles in Europe.'”

“‘Perimeter’ (in English Dead Hand) is an automated command and control system for a massive nuclear retaliatory strike developed in the USSR. According to open information, the ‘Perimeter’ system was created as a component part of the Airborne Command Post (VKP) system under the codename ‘Link’ developed in the Soviet Union.”

“The airborne command and control post on the Il-86VKP aircraft, airborne radio relay on the Il-76RT, silo-based command missile (KR) ‘Perimeter’ and mobile KR ‘Gorn’¹ were part of ‘Link.'”

“In a crisis period three Il-86VKP would have had the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff on board.”

“‘The aircraft didn’t have passenger windows so those on-board wouldn’t be blinded by the flash of nuclear blasts. Computers and communications were located in the nose. Two electrical power generators were hung under the wings. They guaranteed long operation of all aircraft systems,’ it says in a book from the series ‘World of Russian Weapons’ published in 2016.”

“At the determined moment the Il-86VKP would launch an 8 km long antenna which not even impulses from nuclear explosions could affect. Using this antenna the aircraft would transmit commands to launch all the country’s intercontinental missiles even in the event that all underground KP [trans. command posts] were destroyed by the aggressor’s nuclear strike.”

“The radio relay aircraft Il-76RT would transmit commands to launch missiles in distant regions, including those deployed on submarines in the Northern and Pacific Fleets.”

“‘Perimeter’ and ‘Gorn’ missiles could have transmitted missile launch commands when the aggressor had already delivered a surprise first strike and destroyed communications systems. The KR, having launched into space, where no satellite or enemy nuclear explosions could reach them, would transmit radio signals from there. The missiles ‘awakened’ by them would take off and strike the aggressor.”

“The ‘Perimeter’ missiles were reliably protected on the ground by concrete silos. ‘Gorns’ deployed on missile transporters permanently on the move.”

“According to expert assessments, the ‘Link’ system, including space KR, was one of the most important factors deterring the U.S. from a nuclear attack on the USSR.”

An interesting piece bringing Perimeter back into the news. Yesin calls the system Dead Hand. But he doesn’t describe how the system is engaged, any atmospheric, seismic, and radiation sensors, or ground-based command, control, and communications link monitors that some claim allowed it to function autonomously. Others assert these elements, though considered, were never incorporated into Perimeter.

Russian military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy has pointed out that, even if the U.S. quits the INF Treaty, Washington is a long way from deploying new intermediate- or shorter-range nuclear missiles in Europe. So Yesin’s recommendation for a change in Moscow’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is premature.

¹ Command missile Gorn [trans. bugle, trumpet, etc.] had GRAU index 15Zh53 and deployed with Soviet SS-20 IRBMs.

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Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part I)

Kazan in the launching dock in 2017

Kazan in the launching dock in 2017

What follows is a translation of Maksim Klimov’s October 22 article in VPK. He writes frequently on naval issues.

“What Do You Ask of an ‘Ash’: Nuclear Submarines Keep the Fleet on Starvation Rations”

“On 25 September the lead nuclear-powered submarine of project 885M ‘Kazan’ went to sea for factory underway trials. This event didn’t go unnoticed in foreign media or ours. Taking into account the fact that the lion’s share of resources allocated to the Navy go to the nuclear submarine fleet, there’s sense in sorting out the real effectiveness of the expenditures.”

“The ‘Borey’ —  ‘Bulava’ program is the megaproject of recent history. A lot of copy about its utility has been ripped up. According to the facts we have, six years after completing state testing of the lead boat and three years after transferring the first series vessel to the Pacific Fleet not a single firing of a ‘Bulava’ SLBM from the Pacific Ocean from ‘Aleksandr Nevskiy’ or ‘Vladimir Monomakh’ has taken place. According to media information, the lead SSBN ‘Yuriy Dolgorukiy’ doesn’t carry a combat load and, evidently, is being used as a floating stand for developing and tweaking ‘Bulava’.”

“Deterrence Deterred”

“We have to bow here to TsKB ‘Rubin’ General Director Sergey Kovalev for preserving the SSBN grouping of projects 667BDRM and BDR, which are today actually carrying out strategic nuclear deterrence missions.”

“In the current state of affairs questions arise as to the utility for Russia of having a naval component of SYaS [trans. Strategic Nuclear Forces]. The problem is all means of the ‘triad’ have their shortcomings and virtues, and the reliability of deterrence is guaranteed by covering the minuses of one with the pluses of the others. In the scope of all deterrence systems it’s sufficient for us to have just one, guaranteed untrackable SSBN. But this, undoubtedly, requires a certain number of them in the fleet’s composition. Because the foundation of strategic deterrence is not range of flight or the quantity of warheads on missiles, but inevitability of a retaliatory strike, the basis of which is the combat stability of naval SYaS.”

“There is an analogous problem with non-nuclear means of deterrence, cruise missiles and their carriers.”

“Taking into account the failure of modernization of third-generation boats a bet has been placed on the grouping of new project 885(M) nuclear subs. It would seem logical since the missile salvo of project 885 exceeds the American ‘Virginias’ and even the Western media is crying about a ‘new Russian threat’. The problem is only that there aren’t enough missiles on project 885 boats for effective deterrence, and the carrier itself is too expensive and low-volume. If we call a spade a spade, creating an effective system of non-nuclear deterrence on the basis of project 885M nuclear subs is far beyond the bounds of the state’s economic capabilities. Moreover, we still have to go to the volley point. This is precisely where the main problems begin.”

“Won’t Hold Up in Battle”

“Traditionally they say quietness is the main quality of a submarine. What does this actually mean? The foreign comparative graphic [trans. link added] of the reduction of noise in USSR (RF) and U.S. submarines is well-known. Comparing this graphic with data on the noise of subs of the first-fourth generations it’s obvious that the given levels for our fourth-generation lag U.S. Navy multipurpose nuclear submarines by not less than 10 decibels.”

“Project 885 ‘Yasen’ is the only modern multipurpose submarine which retains the propeller screw, all remaining ones have gone to water pumpjets. The reason is requirements for significant increases in low-noise speed, up to 20 knots. But as research shows, at the same noise level, the speed of ‘Severodvinsk’ and ‘Kazan’ is, obviously, much lower than that of the American ‘Virginia’ and ‘Seawolf’ [trans. SSN-774 and SSN-21 classes respectively]. And this is an extremely serious tactical flaw, the consequences of which are not fully understood by us.”

“Meanwhile now our ‘partners’ [trans. the U.S.] are developing new ways of detecting submarines. Submarine officers in Severomorsk laid down the flight track of an American ‘Orion’ reconnaissance aircraft on a map of the disposition of our nuclear submarines in the course of exercises. And all ten turning points of its route precisely followed the disposition of our submarines. In fact it didn’t even search, but went to the exact point. The ‘Orion’ went precisely to our nuclear submarine without any tacking, dropped a buoy and went to the next one.”

“The scope of threats from enemy aircraft aren’t recognized by us because domestic anti-submarine aviation is catastrophically behind the foreign level. The concept of even the newest Russian airborne search-targeting systems are from the 1970s. ‘Novella’ (‘Leninets’), as was officially announced, guarantees ‘an increase in the effectiveness of the Il-38 by four times.’ The problem is the Il-38’s capability against low-noise submarines was close to zero.”

“Evading Testing”

“Even in 2010 Rear-Admiral Anatoliy Lutskiy  wrote that it was proposed to equip ‘Yasen’ and ‘Borey’ submarines with torpedo defense systems which had technical tasks for development put together back in the 1980s. Moreover, the results of research into the effectiveness of these means against modern torpedoes attest to the entirely low probability that an evading submarine could escape destruction.”

“Since then two generations of torpedo weapons have been replaced, and there’s obviously no need to talk today about the possibility of effectively employing drifting systems of the ‘Vist’ type or the extremely expensive ‘Udar’ for anti-torpedo defense. The situation has only one solution — conducting objective testing together with new torpedo types. However, the consequences for the pair of them are obviously devastating, so simply no one will allow the testing.”

“What Is To Be Done”

“We aren’t simply investing huge amounts of money in combat systems of dubious effectiveness, but also tearing them away from education, science, and rearmament of the ground forces where there is still a difficult situation with combat equipment. In the Navy betting on submarines keeps surface ship construction on a starvation diet. It has led to the stagnation of naval aviation.”

“During development of proposals for ‘Basic Directions for Development of VVST [trans. Armaments, Military and Special Equipment] to 2030’ the author raised the question of conducting proactive R&D into weapons and countermeasures for fifth-generation submarines. This is acutely important since there are a number of fundamental points regarding the appearance of a weapon which directly influence the construction of submarines. To do it ‘the old way’ is to lay down a growing lag in our submarine fleet.”

“To resolve the critical problems of the Navy’s submarine forces it’s essential firstly to conduct special testing and research exercises. Until they are completed the construction of nuclear-powered subs could be significantly reduced for the redistribution of limited financial resources to higher priority and more critical directions of defense organizational development — surface ships and aviation.”

There’s a lot to think about here. Watch for Part II.

Parlous State of VTA (Revisited)

A reader’s query for more on VTA elicited this response from yours truly. It goes beyond transport aircraft and might be worth sharing.

The An-124 was devised at a time when Moscow wanted to compete with Washington throughout the Third World. The Il-76 was more generally useful. Built to service the VDV but good for lots of uses. Just limited in what it could carry. Falichev had surprisingly little to say about the Il-76MD-90A or Il-76MDM — programs that may be struggling. As if there weren’t way too much on the plate already, VTA also has to think about a new medium transport possibly the Il-114 or Il-214 (Il-276). And lots of Il-112V to replace An-12s and An-26s.

With all the attention on S-400s, Kinzhals, and 100-megaton nuclear torpedoes, it’s easy to overlook basics of military power that can be used — things like transport aircraft. Fact is Russia having trouble coming up with the money and industrial capability to produce nuclear subs, new tanks, the Su-57, transports, etc. At least on any reasonable timetable. Hence all the media focus on wonder weapons to deter the U.S. Today’s Kremlin may very well find itself headed for the same dead end as in the 1980s — unable to find the resources for full-spectrum superpower arms racing.

This isn’t to say Russia can’t be a smart effective competitor. It definitely can, witness Syria and Ukraine. But as it continues the greater the danger its reach will exceed its grasp. Have you seen the transport ships it has used on the “Syrian express?” It’s nothing short of miraculous that an An-124 or Il-76 hasn’t crashed. But one will.

But there has to be some net assessment here — we ain’t in no great shape ourselves.

Nevertheless, Russia defense industry seems to have hit a wall in many respects. How many times can you modify the same old anti-tank gun from 1984? Each mod is only marginally more effective in combat. But it supports an illusion of progress.

Saying the Russians can’t do everything isn’t sexy but it is a necessary tonic. They can do plenty but there isn’t much focus on their problems and limitations because they themselves don’t speak about them (at least out loud and to us).

How the Third World War Begins

What would happen if the U.S. and some NATO allies decided to intervene in eastern Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with arms or by sending their own troops to the front lines?  Mikhail Khodarenok has tried to answer this question, and provides much-needed tonic for Western observers wowed by the Kremlin’s “surprise” exercises since 2013.  He is a conservative critic of the Russian MOD leadership and post-Soviet military “reforms” up to Sergey Shoygu’s tenure.  

Khodarenok argues against allowing Russian forces to be drawn into an escalating conflict because ill-conceived and continual “optimization” has left them unprepared for a conventional war against the West.

Khodarenok is editor-in-chief of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer or VPK. He’s a retired colonel, professional air defender, General Staff Academy grad, and former staffer of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was an outstanding military journalist for Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, but by 2003 or 2004, he left for VPK.

Mikhail Khodarenok

Mikhail Khodarenok

His latest for VPK is interesting, and follows in its entirety.

Script for the Third World War

Volunteers from the USA and Western Europe are interfering in the conflict in south-east Ukraine.

One has to repeat yet again:  statements, from time to time voiced by ultraliberal Russian politicians like “the problem has no military solution” and “all wars end in peace,” have no relationship to reality.  Wars end only one way — a crushing defeat for some and brilliant victory for others.  If the phrase “there is no military solution” appears, this means that one of the parties to the conflict simply has no strength for the victorious conclusion of the war.  And if some armed confrontation ends like a draw, it is so perhaps because of the complete exhaustion of military capabilities on both sides.  Of course, there are possible variants with some very minor deviations from this general line.

Begin with the immediate and future tasks of the parties to the conflict in the south-east Ukraine.

For the Kiev leadership the immediate, and future, and enduring goal for the historically foreseeable future is only one thing:  restoration of the territorial integrity of the country by any means, primarily military ones.  The strategic mission is to wipe the armed formations of the south-east from the face of the earth.  Waiting for negotiations, for changes in the constitution of Ukraine in the right way for the unrecognized patches of territories, for federalization of the south-east — all this is from the realm exclusively of suppositions and imaginary games. Carthage (i.e. the separatist south-east) must be destroyed — and this thesis, without any doubt, will be dominant in all Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy.  To hold other views today among the [Maydan] Square elite means immediate political suicide.  Still Kiev doesn’t have the forces and means to solve the problem militarily.  But this doesn’t at all signify the Ukrainian leadership’s refusal of a policy of crushing the south-east by military means.

It’s necessary to say directly that, on the whole, the external and internal political missions of Ukraine in the south-east are clear and logical.

It’s more complicated with the unrecognized south-east.  Everything here is much foggier.  It’s possible to demand self-determination for these territories, but what then?  How can people live on this piece of land if it is practically impossible to guarantee the economic, financial and any other independence for the south-east (or more precisely, two torn off and extremely curvy pieces of Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts)?  Demanding federalization is also theoretically permissible, but official Kiev will never, under any circumstances, grant it.  Return to [Maydan] Square?  But so much blood has already been shed, the scale of destruction of the region’s infrastructure is simply astonishing, and the gulf between the parties to the conflict is so great that this is hardly possible without subsequent pogroms and mass shootings of insurgents by Ukraine’s central government.  In general, a complete zugzwang — what to do is not clear to anyone, and the next move can only worsen the situation.  It seems that the political line of the south-east, in these circumstances, can be only one thing — hiding behind a verbal veil and temporizing.  And then, maybe, something will happen.

In this regard, it doesn’t due to forget one important circumstance.  In predicting the future, futurists of all stripes mainly use the very same method.  From the point of view of a representative of anti-aircraft missile troops, as the author was in the past, —  this is the hypothesis of a rectilinear and uniform motion target.  A significant part of the forecasts is based on this postulate.

But there is the “Black Swan” theory.  Its author — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, wrote about it in the book “The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable. ” The theory considers difficult to predict and rare events that involve significant consequences.

In other words, it is impossible to describe the processes of the real world with only mathematics, employing even the most advanced models.  From a certain point anything and everything can go contrary to predictions, extremely askew.  It seems that the unspoken political line of the south-east — to wait is built on this.  And then it will become apparent.  Is it good or bad — only time will tell.

Today in the south-east of Ukraine a cease-fire regime is in effect.  But all parties to the conflict seem to realize that this is not the end, but rather only a pause before the summer campaign.

We now turn to hypothetical scenarios of the developing situation in the south-east of Ukraine (we emphasize — scenarios exclusively from the realm of hypotheses and assumptions).

How does the war in the south-east present itself from the point of view of military art?  Essentially, two Soviet armies are fighting.  One is a 1991 model (it is the armed forces of Ukraine), the other is a somewhat modernized version of the same Soviet army — better trained in an operational-tactical sense, manned by more competent specialists, and commanded better.  And the armed confrontation is currently playing out solely on the ground — with only the forces of combined arms units and sub-units.  The south-east doesn’t have its own air forces, and Ukraine’s — formerly small — air forces have gradually dwindled to nothing in the course of the conflict.  Practically no serviceable aircraft and trained pilots remain for the [Maydan] Square. Volunteers for the south-east on their TO&E air defense equipment helped the development of such a situation a lot.  Sometimes vacationers in their planes acted fairly quietly and unnoticed for the same purpose.  But from the point of view of military art, the armed confrontation in the south-east is all just a somewhat modernized variant of World War II in its final stage.  Neither this nor that side has identified new weapons and military equipment or new techniques and methods of conducting armed warfare.

As is well-known, volunteer-vacationers are fighting on the side of the south-east. With their TO&E weapons as a rule.  But now suppose such a variant (again, purely hypothetical, why not), that volunteers and vacationers from the USA and Western Europe began to arrive in the ranks of the armed forces of Ukraine, also with their TO&E weapons.

Let’s begin with the air forces.  Suppose F-15, F-16, F-22, A-10, “Panavia Tornado,” E-8A, E-3A began landing on the airfields of Kharkov, Poltava, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye.  Previous identification markings and side numbers painted over, and marked in their place is the trident and yellow-blue banners of Ukraine.  Prior to this, many flights to Ukrainian airbases delivered fuel and the most modern aviation weapons.

Three CSGs (carrier strike groups) are deployed on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria which has prostituted itself politically for the past 140 years.  The typical composition of each is one nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, two-three guided missile cruisers, three-four guided missile destroyers, three-four nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Armored and mechanized divisions of volunteers from the West outfitted with “Abrams,” “Leopard,” “Leclerc” tanks, “Marder” and “Bradley” BMPs, modern artillery are unloaded in the area of ​​Mariupol, Pavlograd, Izyum, and Lozove.

In addition, we should make note of the volunteer units and sub-units (also manned by vacationers from the USA and Western Europe), electronic warfare, communications, unmanned aerial vehicles and so on, and so on.  Do not forget also about the volunteer logistics and technical support units, without which modern war is unthinkable.

Now a question.  How long would the armed formations of the south-east hold out if a qualitatively different enemy entered the war, if a hail of modern aviation weapons — anti-bunker bombs, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, air- and sea-based cruise missiles showered down on LNR and DNR formations and units?  If the order-of-battle were attacked by the newest armored combat vehicles and artillery?  And the action of all this military splendor was supported by American intelligence of all types which has not even a close analogue in the world?  And the planes of the volunteers of the West chase after every BMP, gun, and tank of the units and formations of the south-east, separately bomb every trench, firing point, and mortar position taken.  And destroy the target with margins commensurate with the size of the trench itself.

We’ll repeat the question:  how long can the armed formations of the south-east hold out?  A day?  Two?  A week?  The answer is unfortunately:  several hours would be good.

Of course, the elder comrades — the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation — of the volunteers of the south-east can support them.  And precisely at this moment — please get shaved(1) — the Third World War has begun.

Such a version of events is the crystal dream of the current Ukrainian leadership. But Anglo-Saxon blood is too dear to shed for the future happiness of some half-wild Ukrainians.  Therefore, such a version of developing events is still to be assessed as the game of a warmed-over imagination.

And if you still continue to fantasize and try to imagine how the development of such a conflict in the South-West Strategic Direction [YuZSN] might look, if all interested sides take part in it under this or that flag.

We say directly — the success of armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons is obvious in this case.  It certainly will be on the side of the West.  Unfortunately, the modern Russian Army is still less than qualitatively different from its Soviet predecessor of the 1991 model.  And there is not very much of the latest weaponry, meeting the highest demands of the XXI century, in it.

For example, at this time, we do not have a single operational large formation [объединение] of the air forces (which by the way are no longer themselves a service of the Armed Forces), equipped with modern aircraft with supplies of the newest aviation weapons for the conduct of at least 30 days of combat actions.

The Black Sea Fleet today, to our great regret, is a branch of the Central Naval Museum.  On the ships of the BSF it would be possible to study the history of Soviet shipbuilding in the 1960-1970s.

Yes, and combined arms formations and units, if you collected everything that is on the territory of the former SKVO(2), you would get not more than 1.5 army corps (by Western standards).  You clearly couldn’t form a 1st Ukrainian Front from the available set of forces and resources.  There are no operational reserves on the district’s territory.  That is, the formations and units clearly do not have the strength for operational-strategic missions on the YuZSN.

To understand the sharpness of the situation, let’s add just one thing:  if there are four-six specialized EW aircraft on every American carrier, then we don’t have a single similar aircraft in our entire air forces.

One should note still one more very important point — the operational outfitting of theater of military actions in the South-West Strategic Direction hardly meets the tasks of conducting combat actions successfully.  The airfield network, the quantity and quality of roads and railways far from fully meet the demands of pursuing armed confrontation.  It suffices to note that some railroads pass through the territory of Ukraine, and the famous quadrangle in which there are generally no railways lies precisely on the YuZSN.  In a word, the first railroad parallel to the front line goes through Ukraine, and the next — only through Volgograd.  And as is well-known, where the railway ends, and so ends the war.

As for the quartering of formations, units, and sub-units of the RF Armed Forces on the YuZSN, they are located mainly in the dispositions of the Soviet-era North Caucasus Military District.  In those days, this district was deep in the rear with a small set of reduced-strength and cadre units and formations.  The situation in this respect has changed a little since 1991.  But now the neighboring country of the district with the most militant and anti-Russian mood is modern Ukraine.

A fully legitimate question arises:  what did you do the last 20 years?  This period in the life of the Russian Armed Forces awaits its impartial historian. Still one can say the following concisely.  All force in the 1990s and 2000s, maybe, went into continuous organizational-staffing measures(3).  Meaning:  form, then disband the very same, then restore it, disband it again, but incidentally with the aims exclusively of optimizing and improving the organizational structure, zeroize military science and education, cut military academies to the root under the well-meaning pretext of relocating them, scatter valuable cadres in the course of continuous cuts and reformations.  Just two words — “reform” and “optimization” — in their harmful effect on the life of the Armed Forces are comparable, perhaps, only with the consequences of delivering a series of MRAUs (massed missile-air strikes).

Perhaps, if we look at the matter critically, nothing qualitatively new was created (in any case this is debatable).  We have essentially marked time for more than 20 years, while other countries have made a breakthrough in military affairs.  If any positive trend has been noted, then it is only with the arrival of Sergey Shoygu in the Ministry of Defense.

And somebody should be responsible for it — at least in terms of an objective analysis of the situation.  Let’s examine try the defense ministers in recent years – from Pavel Grachev to Anatoliy Serdyukov.

Which of them could be called “a prominent builder of the Armed Forces of modern Russia?”  Or write the line in their performance appraisal:  “A talented military theorist, who made a significant contribution to strengthening the defense power of the state?”  Finally, he “developed, established, introduced, and adopted weapons into the arms inventory?”

Try to include the following lines in their testimonials:

“Extraordinary concentration, inquisitive mind, analytical skills, ability to make correct, forward-looking conclusions;”
“Creative mind and a remarkable memory, ability to quickly grasp a situation, to foresee the development of events;”
“Has a rich combat experience, broad erudition, high operational-strategic training, gave all his strength to the training and education of military personnel, to the development of military science;”
“Distinguished by deep knowledge of matters, persistent daily work, high culture and personal manners;”
“Dedication to affairs, high professionalism, intelligence.”

Having presented a line on the [MOD] leaders noted above, we can say — almost nothing suits, however.  Or its suits, but not much.  In the best case, all the enumerated persons were occupied with only one thing — “merge-unmerge,” and then cut.  But court of history is impartial — no matter how so-and-so puffed out his cheeks or furrowed his eyebrows in the past, it is not at all the generals for special assignments from his inner circle who will write his testimonial for him.

By way of conclusion.  What do Russia’s Armed Forces do in the event of such a development of the conflict?  Threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons?  Meaning:  if you do not stop, we will strike at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, the series of hydroelectric power stations on the Dnieper River in order to create a flood zone and destruction.  But this, as is well-known, is a double-edged sword.  And there are not so many long-range tactical nuclear weapons delivery vehicles.  After all, with our own hands we destroyed the class of missiles most needed for the defense of the country — RSMD(4).

Of course, all the above described and enumerated is no more than speculation, fantasies, and hypotheses.

But there can be only one exit from the Ukrainian crisis — under no circumstances should the Russian Federation Armed Forces be allowed to be dragged into the conflict in the south-east.  Our country, the army and navy, needs to note objectively that we are still not ready for large-scale armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons.  If you sort out all the criteria of the state’s readiness for war (Armed Forces training, preparation of the country’s economy, the preparation of the country’s territory to support the RF Armed Forces, preparing the population for defense), then most of them have very substantial problems.

And it’s necessary to strengthen the country’s defense capability at a forced (downright Bolshevik) tempo, and create Russian Armed Forces which meet the highest standards of modern warfare.  And the first thing is to stop the nervous organizational-staffing(3) delirium.

A post-script to Khodarenok’s opus:  where does he leave us?  

A frozen conflict [a draw — to use his term] is, of course, a win for the Kremlin.  At least through the medium term.  

If the West intervened militarily in the conflict as Khodarenok hypothesizes, both sides would have to make dangerous decisions about working up the conventional escalation ladder.  Moscow might conceivably back away from eastern Ukraine if given a serious bloody nose.  Along the way, the U.S. and EU might also go “nuclear” economically by revoking Russia’s membership in the SWIFT international money transfer system.  

But if, as Khodarenok suggests, the West trumps conventionally, Moscow could consider a game-changing resort to nuclear weapons. With probably only messy endings in store for him anyway, Putin might have fewer compunctions here than the U.S. or NATO.  He would have fewer choices too — escalate again or lose the war (and his grip on power).  Would Russian military men be willing to use nuclear weapons over eastern Ukraine or to save Putin?

There is, of course, an alternative more likely to be chosen by the West:  Cold War-style containment of eastern Ukraine and Russia. It’s a less dangerous, but slow and frustrating process placing much of the burden of nation-state building on pro-Kyiv Ukrainians themselves and on the West’s willingness to finance the emergence of a viable country in contrast to the Russian-backed statelets in the east.  However, this long road is open everywhere to Russian meddling, and frontline NATO allies would require lots of tangible reassurance.

Whatever the policy course, it isn’t clear to this author that the U.S. and the West possess the same fortitude to pursue it that they did in the 1940s and 1950s.  They don’t have the same cohesion in decisionmaking.  Not many are willing to view what happens in Ukraine as a top policy concern.  The U.S. is tired and distracted. Putin’s Kremlin, however, has already defined Ukraine as an immediate and vital interest.


(1) Refers to Alexander the Great having his men shave before battle.
(2) North Caucasus Military District.
(3) A term used in the Russian workplace for reorganizations entailing closure of some entities, establishment of new ones, physical relocations, and personnel transfers and cuts.
(4) Medium and shorter range missiles — covered by the INF Treaty.

Pacific Fleet Patrols

Pobedonosets Concludes Patrol (photo: Mil.ru)

Pobedonosets Concludes Patrol (photo: Mil.ru)

On 29 December 2014, Pacific Fleet Delta III-class SSBN Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets returned home from a combat patrol, according to Mil.ru.  

The MOD site reported that the submarine arrived in Vilyuchinsk after completing missions at sea.  The chief of staff of Pacific Fleet submarine forces greeted its commander and crew with a traditional roast pig.  Mil.ru said Pobedonosets will be ready to fulfill new tasks after replenishing its stores.

34-year-old Pobedonosets is one of only three (two operational) SSBNs in the Pacific Fleet order-of-battle.

It conducted an inter-fleet from the Northern to the Pacific Fleet in late 1983. From 1993 to 2003, it was laid up at Zvezda shipyard for extended “medium repair” due no doubt to a lack of funding at the time.

Then-president Dmitriy Medvedev visited Pobedonosets in 2008.

The submarine fired SS-N-18 SLBMs during strategic forces exercises in 2013, 2012, 2010, and 2009.  The 2013 shot occurred while the SSBN was on patrol and came from the Sea of Okhotsk, according to the VladNews agency.

The Russian Navy conducted only five SSBN patrols in 2012, according to a FOIA response obtained from U.S. Naval Intelligence by Federation of American Scientists scholar Hans Kristensen.  He concludes five were not enough for Moscow to resume continuous SSBN patrols as its Navy CINC promised  in mid-2012.  They would be 73-day patrols end-to-end.

It seems likely Pobedonosets spent 40-50 days in the Sea of Okhotsk or not far off Kamchatka in the extreme northeastern Pacific.

Podolsk Returning to Port in 2014 (photo: Eastern MD Press-Service)

Podolsk Returning to Port in 2014 (photo: Eastern MD Press-Service)

35-year-old Delta III-class SSBN Podolsk patrolled in 2011, VladNews reported. PrimaMedia indicates that Podolsk fired an SLBM, conducted other training, and possibly even an abbreviated combat patrol in mid-2014.

Russianforces.org noted it was the first launch from Podolsk in more than a decade; all other recent Pacific Fleet firings came from Pobedonosets.

32-year-old Delta III-class SSBN Ryazan inter-fleeted in 2008, launched an SLBM in 2009, but has been inactive undergoing repair since 2011.

So the fleet’s old two-submarine SSBN force performs the arduous job of maintaining some kind of Russian strategic patrol presence in the Pacific. There’s some evidence for maybe four Pacific Fleet SSBN patrols in the last four years.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Fleet awaits the inter-fleet of Borey-class SSBN hulls two and three, Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh, in the fall when, the Navy hopes, their new base facilities will be complete.  They are already officially Pacific Fleet assets but based temporarily  in Gadzhiyevo.

Two additional Boreys (for a total of four) are intended for the Pacific at some point.  But, in the meantime, the aged Pobedonosets and Podolsk will apparently conduct occasional patrols.

Russia 2030

Global Trends 2030:  Alternative Worlds

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds

The NIC has released its latest Global Trends publication.  Hat tip to Newsru.com and Igor Korotchenko for taking note of it.  As usual, and rightly, the document focuses more on “megatrends,” and less on individual countries.  Nevertheless, here are excepts of its forecast for Russia.

Under the “Changing Calculations of Key Players,” the NIC says:

Russia’s strategic calculations will depend to a great extent on whether Russian leaders decide to increase Russia’s integration into the international system and mitigate the threat of future armed conflict or whether they choose to continue Russia’s relative isolation and mistrust of others, exacerbating interstate tensions. Russia has serious concerns regarding the threat posed by a rapidly expanding China, particularly Beijing’s growing appetite for natural resources which could eventually encroach upon the Russian Far East and Siberia. Russian leaders believe that they need to be wary of the potential for the US and NATO to intervene in a conflict involving Russia and one of the former Soviet republics.”

The section on military trends has the following:

Nuclear Disfavor vs. Nuclear Renaissance. Nuclear ambitions in the US and Russia over the last 20 years have evolved in opposite directions. Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US security strategy is a US objective, while Russia is pursuing new concepts and capabilities for expanding the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategy.”

The following appears in a textbox entitled “Russia:  Potential Global Futures.”

“Russia’s role in the world during the next two decades will be shaped by the rising challenges it faces at home as well as in the global environment. Russia’s economy is its Achilles’ heel. Its budget is heavily dependent on energy revenue; efforts to modernize the economy have made little progress; and its aging of the workforce will be a drag on economic growth.”

“Russia’s population is projected to decline from almost 143 million in 2010 to about 130 million in 2030. Although Russia’s fertility rate is similar to that of many European countries and aging populations are also a drag of European economies, life expectancy is about 15 years lower for Russians than for Europeans: since 2007 the size of the Russian workforce has been declining and it will continue to do so for the next two decades.”

“However, Russia’s greatest demographic challenge could well be integrating its rapidly growing ethnic Muslim population in the face of a shrinking ethnic Russian population. There are now about 20 million Muslims in Russia, comprising about 14 percent of the population. By 2030, that share is projected to grow to about 19 percent. Russia’s changing ethnic mix already appears to be a source of growing social tensions.”

“To enhance its economic outlook, Russia will need to improve the environment for foreign investment and create opportunities for Russian exports of manufactured goods. Russia’s entry into World Trade Organization (WTO ) should provide a boost to these efforts and help Moscow to diversify the economy: by one estimate Russia’s membership in the WTO could provide a substantial boost to the economy, adding 3 percent to GDP in the short term and 11 percent over the longer term.”

“Russia’s relations with the West and China are also likely to be a critical factor in determining whether Russia moves toward becoming a more stable, constructive global player during the next two decades. We see three possibilities:”

1. Russia could become more of a partner with others, most probably, in a marriage of convenience, not of values. Russia’s centuries-long ambivalence about its relationship with the West and outside is still at the heart of the struggle over Russia’s strategic direction.”

2. Russia might continue in a more or less ambivalent relationship with the other powers, but over the next 20 years this path would likely be a more troublesome one for international cooperation if Russia rebuilds its military strength and must contend with an increasingly powerful China.”

3. Russia could become a very troublesome country, trying to use its military advantage over its neighbors to intimidate and dominate. This outcome would be most likely if a Russian leader were facing rising public discontent over sagging living standards and darkening economic prospects and is looking to rally nationalist sentiments by becoming much more assertive in the Near Abroad.”

There’s not a lot new here.  But it can’t go without comment.

Are the Russians really not integrated into the “international system?”  Or do they obstruct because they don’t like the outcomes of the “system’s” operation?  Moscow will probably never (at least not for a long, long time) agree with Western views on mitigating a future armed conflict, especially in a former Soviet republic.  Russia always evinces more worry about the U.S. and NATO despite the claim of its “serious concerns” about a threat from China.

One can’t be sure what’s meant by “pursuing new concepts and capabilities” for nuclear warfighting.  The Russians are active developing their strategic nuclear forces for two reasons.  First, conventional force problems.  Second, U.S. ballistic missile defense.  Both require ensuring their deterrent is viable, now and somewhat down the road.

Yes, it’s the economy stupid (and demographics too).  It’s hard for anyone to say what will happen with Russia’s economy, but the latter’s pretty much destiny at this point.  Russia will need more than a better foreign investment climate and WTO to improve its long-term economic prospects.  If years of windfall hydrocarbon revenues don’t do it, perhaps open politics, impartial rule-of-law, and serious anti-corruption efforts might be the path to a modernized, diversified, and stronger economy.

Are Russia’s external relations with the West and China critical in its  behavior as a “global player?”  Or does that behavior stem more from the country’s internal evolution or lack thereof?

The three possibilities look pretty familiar — pretty good Russia, not as good Russia, and bad Russia.  We’ve had the first and second mostly, and a taste of the third occasionally, over the last 20 years.  And elements of one and two, or two and three, can occur at the same time.

Overall, the Russian discussion in Global Trends 2030 is disappointing.

Putin on Nuclear Forces and Aerospace Defense

Today’s meeting on implementing GPV-2020 (the third thus far) was devoted to nuclear forces and aerospace defense.  However, President Vladimir Putin had little specific to say, at least in his published remarks.

He obligatorily noted how VVKO and especially SYaS bear “special responsibility” for Russia’s security, territorial integrity, and global and regional parity and stability.

VKO, the president said, must not only be in permanent combat readiness to defend military and state command and control facilities against a potential enemy’s attack, but also “provide clear and effective coordination with other services and troop branches.”

In other words, lots of air and aerospace defense assets don’t belong to VVKO, and their job is to integrate them into a network.

On the nuclear side, Putin said Russia isn’t looking for an arms race but rather to ensure “the reliability and effectiveness of our nuclear potential.”

To reequip SYaS and VKO, the Supreme Glavk indicated Russia intends to allocate a “significant part” of the total resources for GPV-2020, but, again, nothing more specific.  By 2020, SYaS is supposed to have 75-80 percent modern weapons systems, and VVKO not less than 70 percent.

And that’s all we learn about the meeting.  Or almost all.

Kremlin.ru provided a participant list that’s a bit interesting.  Many officials and industry leaders you’d expect attended.  But some were noticeably absent — missile designers from MIT, missile builders from Votkinsk, and the RVSN Commander.  Surprisingly, the general director of the Makeyev design bureau was present.