Category Archives: Training and Exercises

Grom-2019

RS-24 Yars ICBM launched from Plesetsk

RS-24 Yars ICBM launch from Plesetsk

Recall the Russian press reported in advance that Grom-2019 would be a command and control CSX with live activity by RVSN, LRA, VTA, and Northern and Pacific Fleet forces and 16 ballistic and cruise missile launches.

According to Mil.ru, Supreme CINC Vladimir Putin participated in the exercise from the NTsUO.

Russian Northern and Pacific Fleet SSBNs fired SLBMs from the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk to the Kura and Chizha impact areas respectively.

Video showed Delta IV-class SSBN Karelia (SS-N-23 Sineva SLBM) was the Northern Fleet shooter. An SS-N-18 Stingray was supposed to be fired, so the Pacific Fleet boat had to be one of three Delta III-class SSBNs.

Media accounts indicated Northern Fleet and Caspian Flotilla surface ships launched 3M-14 Kalibr (SS-N-30A) cruise missiles against land targets at the same time.

NVO claimed more Kalibr missiles were fired from submarines and from Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea Fleet platforms. This should be considered unsubstantiated for now.

A mobile RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) ICBM was fired from Plesetsk to Kura.

Iskander crews launched cruise missiles (SSC-8 or 9M729) from ranges in the Southern and Eastern MDs. The SSC-8 was the Russian system that busted the INF Treaty.

Russian TV news Pervyy kanal provided this report on Grom-2019:

 

Tu-95MS / Bear-H bombers fired their Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) cruise missiles to Pemboy and Kura.

Mil.ru reiterated that Grom-2019 was intended to check the readiness of Russia’s military command and control organs and the skill of commanders and operational staffs in organizing command and control of subordinate forces. The MOD website reported all missions were fulfilled, and all missiles reached their targets and confirmed their capabilities.

With INF gone and New START (START III or what the Russians call SNV-III) approaching expiration in 2021, Grom-2019 might have been the first stratex of a post-arms control era. When were intermediate-range nuclear missiles used to such a degree in a stratex? Moscow may have tested its nuclear response and escalation in a world without a ban on systems short of truly strategic ones.

Grom-2019

A Russian MOD press-release outlined Grom-2019 — Russia’s annual strategic nuclear forces exercise which begins today and runs through Thursday.

Grom-2019

The MOD officially describes the activity as a “strategic command-staff exercise in the command and control of the Armed Forces.”

RVSN, LRA, VTA, and Northern and Pacific Fleet forces will be involved. Ballistic and cruise missile launches will terminate on the Pemboy, Kura, and Chizha ranges.

Pemboy near Vorkuta is typically for ALCMs; Kura and Chizha are for ballistic missiles. VTA tankers will refuel Russian bombers. 

The head of GU MVS General-Major Yevgeniy Ilin indicated activity will include 16 ballistic — Yars ICBMs and Bulava,  Sineva (SS-N-23), and Stingray (SS-N-18) SLBMs — and cruise missile firings.

The press-release said 12,000 personnel will participate in the exercise along with 213 ICBM launchers, 105 aircraft including five bombers, and as many as 15 surface ships and five submarines.

Combat Experience

When Russian President Vladimir Putin got serious about modernizing his military in 2013, he lacked something: somewhere to flex those new muscles.

It’s a “chicken or the egg” paradox. Does a country really have military power if it doesn’t use it? Or does the process of employing the country’s military create that power?

The leaders of the world’s most bellicose nations don’t feel secure until they’ve seen their troops in combat, no matter how well manned, equipped, and trained they are. Supreme CINCs like to see the effect using their military power has on others.

The Kremlin watched while U.S. and NATO forces were used in many places around the globe in the 1990s and 2000s. There were some senior Russian officers who’d done a tour in Afghanistan during the 1980s. But Moscow’s soldiers — and precious few at that — had only Chechnya and Georgia, and the results weren’t encouraging.

So Putin’s modernized forces got their first real practice annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine in 2014. And though Moscow can’t advertise, its generals and units have been fighting alongside the Russian militias in Donetsk and Lugansk ever since.

Syria served as a bigger firing range.

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015 provided not just a live proving ground for the new weapons and equipment Moscow procured. It created another opportunity for Russian officers and soldiers to acquire combat experience.

There have been various Russian media summaries capturing this, but Interfaks-AVN published one recently that seems pretty comprehensive.

According to Interfaks-AVN, the Russian MOD announced that 68,000 troops, including 460 generals, have received combat experience in Syria.

It indicated that the commanders of all four Russian military districts, all combined arms army and air and air defense army commanders, all division commanders, and also 96 percent of combined arms brigade and regiment commanders have served in Syria.

The MOD said 87 percent of frontal aviation crews, 91 percent of army aviation crews, 97 percent of transport aviation crews, and 60 percent of strategic Long-Range Aviation crews have gotten combat experience over Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry added that it’s reducing its contingent in Syria now.

These are, of course, pretty remarkable claims, but one wonders: does Russia have 460 general officers in combat command positions from which they could be sent for a tour in a war zone?

Airmobile Groups

An airmobile group

The Ground Troops of Russia’s Southern MD are resurrecting airmobile groups. Recent Mil.ru press-releases have highlighted them. Though clearly still developing, they are far enough along to advertise them.

Shortly after the December 1 start of Russia’s new training year, Southern MD Commander General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov declared that every battalion, regiment, brigade, and division in his AOR will establish and train airmobile groups.

He continued:

“Up to 40 helicopters of various designations — strike, combat-transport and transport — must support the completion of the combat-training missions of each company tactical group.”

Forty helos is a stiff requirement even for the Southern MD with a brigade plus two independent regiments of rotary wing air support.

Airmobile groups have been established in the Volgograd-based 20th MRB. According to Mil.ru, they have spent a month on the Prudboy range training for tactical air assaults, employing helicopter fire support, landing on different terrain day and night, and using night vision goggles.

The 150th MRD in Rostov oblast has airmobile groups. Mil.ru reported on Mi-8AMTSh Terminator helos flying in support of them. The site indicated that the groups are outfitted with the RPG-7B, AGS-17 Plamya grenade launchers, 2S12 Sani mortars, Igla (SA-18) MANPADS, and Belozer satellite comms.

Mil.ru showed the 136th MRB’s airmobile groups with buggy-like light vehicles.

Airmobile group with ATVs

Airmobile groups sound like platoons, so several groups will probably constitute a company-sized unit for divisions or brigades.

In Soviet times, combined arms armies also had airmobile battalions.

Russian divisions and brigades won’t own helos to support airmobile groups. The MD commander, leading the joint strategic command (OSK) in his AOR, will task his air force component to support them.

Some Soviet divisions and armies had organic squadrons and regiments with Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters.

New Russian airmobile groups may not become named TO&E elements, but remain motorized rifle platoons or companies with training sufficient to be designated “airmobile capable” — if only parenthetically.

There’s significant history to this story. The Russian Army lost ownership of its aviation in 2002 when the General Staff gave it to the air force. But, in 2010, all theater air assets came under control of the OSK commander — a Ground Troops general. Then, in 2013, the army surrendered its three air-assault brigades to the Airborne Troops.

So the formation of airmobile groups may be, at least partially, about Russian ground pounders reclaiming some air support and airmobile missions from the other services.

Vertical envelopment wasn’t forgotten in Russia, it just became the exclusive province of the VDV, and to a lesser extent Spetsnaz and Naval Infantry, for a while. General-Colonel Dvornikov appears to be leading the charge to reinvigorate air mobility as a facet of the Russian Army’s tactical doctrine.

Strategic Maneuvers

Russian General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov told foreign military attachés this week that Vostok-2018 is not a strategic command-staff exercise (KShU) like other major annual drills of past years. He called Vostok-2018 strategic maneuvers.

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Gerasimov explained:

“This is the distinction: strategic exercises, as a rule, are conducted with one military district in one strategic direction under the Genshtab chief’s leadership. Maneuvers are on several strategic directions, take the participation of several military districts, in this case the Central and Eastern military districts, Pacific and Northern fleets, units of central subordination [usually Moscow-based MOD or other headquarters-level elements — ed.], and are conducted under the RF defense minister’s leadership.”

He said the choice of maneuvers is not sensational:

“It’s nothing special, their turn just came up. This is the annual training cycle for the RF Armed Forces, and this year they decided to combine two military districts.”

“There’s no other subtext.”

The Genshtab chief said such large-scale maneuvers have never been conducted on RF territory. Closest in scale, he noted, was the Soviet-era Zapad-81 exercise in the Belorussian, Kiev, and Baltic Military Districts and the Baltic Sea.

But Vostok-2018 will be much larger than its distant predecessor. Counting all personnel in the Central and Eastern MDs, the Russian MOD says 297,000 troops will take part. Tens of thousands of armored vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, and UAVs will be used.

Gerasimov concluded:

“‘Vostok-2018’ will exceed ‘Zapad-81’ in spatial scale and depth of regrouping.”

Moscow will proclaim that Vostok-2018 is not related to current international events and situations, but these “strategic maneuvers” are, in fact, a rehearsal for mobilization, deployment, and operations in a multi-theater, if not global, war.

The “strategic maneuvers” beginning on September 11 will be a military effort not attempted by Russia. They are designed to show average Russians that rubles spent on the military (not on health care, science, education, infrastructure, or pensions) are well used. As a RUSI commentator puts it:

“Putin’s narrative for the past decade has been that hardship is necessary in the short term, enabling the resurrection of Russia as a great power. The demonstration that Russia can conduct exercises at a scale comparable to the Soviet Union is presented as proof that the privations of recent years have allowed genuine and substantial progress in revitalising Russia’s military.”

Despite the skepticism often expressed on these pages, Russia’s military has been revitalized over the past five years. Big questions remain, however.

Can Russian conventional forces really stack up with their peers (U.S., NATO, China) in the unlikely event of conflict? Will they in ten or twenty years? Is it even necessary given Moscow’s nuclear modernization efforts? Have privations in favor of the military eroded the economic, social, and political bases of Russia’s potential greatness?

Anti-Ship Iskander-M?

Russia may view the Iskander-M as an effective weapon against high-value ships and aircraft carriers in particular. There is, however, no openly available information indicating the Russians have actually tested it as an anti-ship ballistic missile.

In late July and early August, the Russian Army conducted two exercises for the first time featuring notional launches of the land-based mobile 9K720 Iskander-M (SS-26 ‘Stone’) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) against ships in the Black Sea. Reports on the drills appeared on Mil.ru and government-controlled newspaper Rossiyskaya gazeta.

The 1st Missile Brigade of the Krasnodar-based 49th Combined Arms Army departed garrison in late July for combat readiness drills under the personal control of Southern Military District commander Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov. The brigade performed the Iskander-M launch drills at some point before they were reported on July 27 and August 2 respectively.

The MOD press-releases stated that the Russian forces “delivered an electronic missile strike on notional enemy ships and shore facilities” and conducted “electronic launches on notional enemy targets detected in the Black Sea and ashore.”

An “electronic” launch likely means a field combat simulation where the missile unit prepares and performs all procedures for a real-world launch without firing a live missile.

Exactly which ships the Russians used as notional targets for the Iskander-M is unknown. However, the annual NATO Sea Breeze exercise took place in Black Sea waters during mid-July. Forces from 13 alliance members as well as Georgia, Moldova, Sweden, and Ukraine participated in the multinational training. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high since Moscow seized Crimea and sent forces to fight in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The Iskander-M has the capability to attack moving targets including ships. Its 9M723 missile flies a low, semi-ballistic trajectory at Mach 6-7 with possible maneuvering in the terminal flight stage. It has inertial navigation as well as active radar or electro-optical terminal guidance. Active radar would be employed against ships at sea. However, a successful SRBM strike on a moving naval target would likely also depend on real-time inputs and updates from space-based surveillance and intelligence systems.

The deployment of the Iskander-M as a possible anti-ship system comes just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. The Kinzhal uses a modified Iskander-M missile and has also been advertised as an anti-ship weapon and “carrier killer.”

Compared to the relatively long-range Kinzhal, the 500-km declared range of the Iskander-M makes it less threatening to foreign aircraft carriers and battle groups which could remain outside its reach. However, combined with existing sea- and land-based anti-ship cruise missile systems, Iskander-M’s hypersonic speed would be a major contribution to Russia’s robust anti-access/area denial strategy on the approaches to its four fleet areas.

More Airborne

The Russian MOD has announced that the Eastern MD’s 83rd Independent Air-Assault Brigade will conduct the first large-scale parachute drop in its history on October 18.

Recall the 83rd transferred from Ground Troops to VDV control almost exactly four years ago. It apparently spent the interval preparing and training to be more airborne than air mobile.

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

According to the MOD, the Ussuriysk-based brigade will drop combat equipment and personnel. It will proceed to a standard scenario involving seizure of a notional enemy airfield. About 2,000 troops and 400 pieces of equipment will be deployed.

Ussuriysk

Ussuriysk

In the evolution’s second phase, the brigade’s airborne and air-assault battalions will conduct a march with a pontoon bridge crossing and combat firings in a mobile defense.

The MOD didn’t indicate how many troops will parachute into the exercise. But the 83rd likely now has a parachute battalion to air-drop from Il-76 transports. VDV air-assault brigades traditionally also have two air mobile battalions. When the 83rd arrived from the army in 2013, it likely had three air-assault battalions.

The ex-army 56th ODShBr in the Southern MD may also have a parachute battalion already, but it seems less likely that the 11th in Buryatia has one.