Category Archives: VDV

The State of VTA

News on the Il-76MD-90A program provides an opportunity to look at the state of Russia’s VTA, or Military-Transport Aviation.

il-76md-90a-prototype-prepares-for-takeoff

Il-76MD-90A prototype prepares for takeoff

The Il-76MD-90A is a new aircraft, an updated version of the venerable Il-76 transport produced by the Soviets in large numbers during the 1970s and 1980s.

According to most sources, the VTA is supposed to acquire 39 Il-76MD-90A transports by 2020 [or 2021?].  This may have been slashed to 30, others say.  Manufacturer Aviastar-SP reports it has ten of the aircraft in various stages of assembly.

The new transport was at TsAGI in Moscow recently for static structural testing. Prior to that, it conducted flight tests from the Aviastar-SP production facility at Ulyanovsk-Vostochnyy.

Besides new PS-90 engines, the Il-76MD-90A has an all-glass digital cockpit, new flight controls, navigation, and communication systems.  The airframe and landing gear have been reinforced.  It lifts 60 tons while reportedly consuming less fuel.

The original Il-76 had slightly greater cargo capacity than the U.S. C-141.  It’s critical to the mobility of Russia’s Airborne Troops (VDV) and their air-droppable equipment.  Civilian versions of the Il-76 remain in use worldwide.

At present, VTA may operate about 100 Il-76M or Il-76MD, and perhaps ten An-124 transports.  But the number of operational aircraft could be as low as 60 Il-76 variants and a handful of An-124. 

At the outset of the current GPV in 2011, the air forces hoped to procure 100 or more new and updated heavy transport aircraft.  The current inventory needs complete replacement in the 2020s and early 2030s.  But they have relatively little to show well into 2017.

Together with 39 (or 30?) Il-76MD-90A transports, VTA plans to acquire 30 Il-76MDM aircraft.  It’s a renovated Il-76MD with its original engines but the glass cockpit and other updates from the Il-76MD-90A.

Cooperation with the Antonov design bureau and its production facilities is off the table now that military-industrial ties with Ukraine have been severed. Observers once looked for Russia’s VTA to buy 30-50 An-70 transports and the same number of Il-76MD variants and updates.

They also anticipated that Moscow would buy 20 new An-124 aircraft and modernize quite a few existing ones.  No alternative for replacing the super-heavy transport has been proffered.

The PAK TA (future aircraft system — transport aviation) remains a mirage. Moscow could mobilize Aviastar-SP to renew production of the An-124, but it would require a lot of resources and time, plus the facility will already have its hands full with the Il-76MD-90A, etc.

There is also the question of VTA’s smaller transports which are ancient and in dire need of replacement.  The MOD has settled on procurement of 48 turboprop Il-112V aircraft in GPV 2018-2025 to replace some of its aged An-26 fleet.  This decision came after it abandoned efforts to get Antonov’s An-140.  The Russians reportedly will continue to develop the turbojet Il-214 medium transport despite India’s decision to bow out of the once joint effort.  But there’s little tangible in this program to date.

Shamanov’s Replacement?

Izvestiya reports today that General-Lieutenant Andrey Serdyukov is set to replace General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov as commander of the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV).

Shamanov, who will turn 60 in February, has commanded the VDV since early 2009.  But he could continue to serve beyond 60 at the president’s discretion under Russian law.

general-lieutenant-andrey-serdyukov

General-Lieutenant Andrey Serdyukov

The 53-year-old General-Lieutenant Serdyukov has been serving as first deputy commander and chief of staff in the Southern MD.  He reportedly played a key part in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

A presidential decree on the personnel change has not been issued, but Kremlin press-secretary Dmitriy Peskov did not deny plans to elevate Serdyukov when asked by Izvestiya.

Russian media sources have reported that Shamanov’s retirement post will be a seat in the new State Duma and chairmanship of its Defense Committee.  Readers will recall that Shamanov is a member of the president’s United Russia party and served as governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast.

The VDV’s 45th Spetsnaz Brigade

October 24 was the MOD’s Day of Special Designation (Spetsnaz) Subunits.  For the occasion, KZ featured the Airborne Troops’ storied 45th Independent Guards Orders of Aleksandr Nevskiy and Kutuzov Special Designation Brigade.

The 45th was a regiment as recently as 2014, but — as VDV Commander Shamanov promised — it is now a brigade.  Maybe it’s expanded in size with its upgraded status.

We’ve heard nothing yet about whether the 45th was deployed in a deep reconnaissance role prior to (and during) Moscow’s air operation against the various enemies of Syrian leader Assad.  It’s a pretty good bet it did and is.

KZ’s story describes at length the process of joining the brigade.  No one, it says, ends up in the 45th by accident.  All are willing volunteers, and far from every would-be VDV Spetsnaz soldier becomes one.

The very strict selection process including physical and psychological examinations begins with draftees in the Voyenkomat, and continues once conscripts reach the unit.  Besides speed, strength, and endurance tests, candidates have to “spar” in three 3-minute fights.  KZ writes:

“Here’s where the quality of determination is revealed:  this is when a candidate, taking a blow, falls, but then gets up and continues to fight to the end.”

The article reports DOSAAF helps train and identify candidates. Belgorod Oblast’s DOSAAF had an entire company of young men accepted into the 45th last year.  Brigade officers look for potential contractees when they visit VDV and other military units.  However, the article doesn’t provide a current breakdown of conscripts and contractees in the brigade.

The article does say 90 percent of its contractees conclude a second contract. The average contractee makes 35,000-40,000 rubles per month after three years. They are eligible for MOD mortgage and non-resident higher education programs.  The brigade is, KZ writes, a special kind of collective, a family, and officers and soldiers don’t want to leave it.

The article describes the brigade’s jump training.  Traditional D-10, and Arbalet-1 and newer Arbalet-2 ram-air parachutes are used.  About 25 D-10 jumps are needed before trying Arbalet.  Some 20 days of training are required on the Arbalet-2.  Troop testing for this chute was done in the 45th.  A skilled paratrooper can reportedly “plane” up to 17 km in a jump with the Arbalet.  The brigade’s soldiers make about 10 training jumps annually.

Not Much Room Left on the Brigade's Memorial Wall (photo: 45pvdv.ru)

Not Much Room Left on the Brigade’s Memorial Wall (photo: 45pvdv.ru)

Subunit commanders in the 45th remind their soldiers that, “Reconnaissance ends when the shooting starts.”  Especially deep reconnaissance.  The brigade’s primary mission is reconnoitering targets, transmiting their coordinates, and leaving without detection.

But, KZ asks Hero of Russia and deputy commander Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Seliverstov, with his 15 years of service in the 45th, can’t 21st century technology — satellites and UAVs — replace deep reconnaissance on the ground?  He replies:

“Not fully.  First, a special designation group will direct strike assets against a number of strategic targets no matter what.  Second, after air strikes and artillery preparation, a ground operation begins where special designation subunits will be first to act conducting sabotage and ambushes.  Spetsnaz always work precisely…”

“In recent years, the list of missions put on Spetsnaz has increased substantially.  Some of which I never thought about earlier will be ours.”

Seliverstov notes that the men of the 45th had to equip themselves in 2000, but are now fully outfitted by the state.

KZ writes that an independent reconnaissance detachment from the brigade took part in the operation to “return Crimea to Russia” in the spring of 2014.

The brigade has 14 Heroes of Russia, including four still serving.

A little searching turned up other articles to round out the picture of the 45th. They mostly give the brigade’s history and tend to repeat each other.

There is KZ again, from 2011.

This site gives a bio on current brigade commander Colonel Pankov.  The 47-year-old officer is, of course, career Spetsnaz.  He fought in both Chechen campaigns, and commanded Spetsnaz groups and detachments before becoming deputy commander of the 45th in 2000.  He received his Hero of Russia award in 2001.

Colonel Vadim Pankov (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

Colonel Vadim Pankov (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

This one reports that Pankov took command in August 2012 and it has some useful links.

Kubinka’s site covered the brigade’s 20th anniversary in the summer of 2014, and it has some good photos.  The brigade was still a regiment at that point.

The English wiki on the 45th is a little incomplete and a little dated.  The Russian version is more useful, and has a number of sources and links.

Don’t Publish This Story

It seems TASS, RIA Novosti, and Interfaks got orders not to report on Pavel Bakhtin’s rampage. It’s entirely possible under Russia’s increasingly controlled media regime.

Recent military-related news focused on Arctic exercises, MAKS-2015, and Tsentr-2015 preparations, but nothing about Bakhtin from the major Russian wire services.

Smaller outlets published stories about Bakhtin, and a few larger ones (lacking the reach of big news agencies) printed bare-bones reports.

Nothing here is meant to suggest senseless and tragic incidents don’t occur everywhere men and women are under arms for the state. They do.  The U.S. has more than its sad share.  What’s different is that everywhere (except Russia) it’s the lead story on TV news, it’s front page in the largest national papers, etc.

Here’s the basic story . . .

On 26 August, Corporal Pavel Bakhtin took his automatic weapon and killed his sleeping company commander and two other soldiers.  He wounded three more (one of whom later died) before turning the gun on himself.  Some sources claim that a fifth victim died.

Pavel Bakhtin

Pavel Bakhtin

That day, 18-year-old Bakhtin — just about three months shy of demob — was a sentry for the 331st Parachute Regiment (of the Ivanovo-based 98th Airborne Division) at a field camp near Pesochnoye on the border between Yaroslavl and Kostroma Oblasts.  After duty, Bakhtin went back to the guard house without returning his weapon, and unleashed it on his comrades.

With the apparent perpetrator dead and his victims dead or seriously injured, it’ll be hard to get what happened and why.  Nevertheless, a criminal case is open.  The investigation focuses on Bakhtin’s “personal motives” for killing his fellow servicemen.

Lifenews.ru reports maybe Bakhtin flipped out because Senior Lieutenant Andrey Voronchikhin punched him in the chest half a dozen times for removing a plate from his bullet-proof vest.

Sobesednik.ru cites human rights advocate Ella Polyakova who says men like Bakhtin are usually driven to a point where they commit such a crime.  She reports that the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers has received complaints of abuse from the Kostroma-based regiment.

Komsomolskaya pravda writes that soldiers in Bakhtin’s training company in Omsk say they knew he “wasn’t right.”  He couldn’t carry a weapon there.  They imply he had some kind of “psych file” at Omsk that got lost and didn’t follow him to his permanent unit in Kostroma.

But there are contradictory accounts saying Bakhtin’s friends claim he was a good guy who had no problems in the army.

Gazeta.ru reports that the VDV is apparently testing (or re-testing) the mental fitness of soldiers in the Kostroma regiment.  The web site also suggests the regimental command may have leaned hard on conscripts to sign up for voluntary contract service to make its quota.  Some troops and family members assert that officers forced conscripts to sign up, and even kept them standing at attention on the parade ground for hours until 30 men joined up.

The possibly belated psych testing seems akin to checking to see if newly renovated and re-occupied airborne barracks are safe to inhabit.  Conscripts and contractees are supposed to be assessed prior to induction.

The VDV is an elite branch of service.  It gets the pick of the best available conscripts in Russia’s twice-a-year draft.  Not to mention top choice of candidates for contract service.  This kind of crime is supposed to happen in other services, not in the airborne.

The Bakhtin case may illustrate what NG suggested in 2014: Russia’s military is pressing too hard and too fast.  Pressing to fly lots of aircraft and losing some, pressing to stretch its budget and not paying its electric bills, pressing to build military housing and facilities that are sub-standard, pressing to reach 425,000 contractees by 2017 and putting the wrong people in the ranks.

Data on VDV

One can’t call this news.  News not discovered or reported promptly is just data. Not less important to this mind.  But on with the story . . .

Last summer, VDV Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov told the press about pending changes in the Russian Airborne Troops’ manning and structure.  Not clear if, when, or at what level they’ve been approved.  But fait accompli is Shamanov’s style.  His influence is larger than his nominal rank and post, and he often gets what he wants.

Specifically (among many things), Shamanov claimed the VDV will:

  • Upgrade some regiments to brigades;
  • Establish a logistics brigade;
  • Raise some companies to battalions; and
  • Add a third maneuver regiment to each VDV division.
Valeriy Vostrotin

Valeriy Vostrotin

That’s all context . . . last October, chairman of the Union of Airborne of Russia (SDR or СДР), retired General-Colonel Valeriy Vostrotin gave out two data points in a comment to Rossiyskaya gazeta:

“We veterans were satisfied with the news that it’s now been decided to reinforce the VDV significantly, to increase their numbers by another 20 thousand men.  For me personally, it’s particularly pleasant that, in 2015 in Voronezh an air-assault brigade with the number 345 will be formed and the banner of the famous 345th regiment, which I once commanded in Afghanistan, will be transferred to it . . . .”

So . . . another 20,000 men for VDV, and a new brigade.  Not confirmed, but possibly on the horizon.

Today Russia’s airborne forces are thought to number about 30,000.  Down from an “on-hand” strength ranging anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 in the late 1980s or very early 1990s.  Desantura.ru gives figures like that.

Going back to 50,000 would be significant, and would add lots of contractees to the ranks.  Equipping a new formation and other new units would not be a minor undertaking either. 

Again, data not news.  May or may not happen.  But we were informed.

VDV Gets Army’s Air Assault Brigades

Mil.ru reported today on President Putin’s 11 October ukaz transferring administrative and operational control of air assault brigades in Ussuriysk, Ulan-Ude, and Kamyshin from Eastern and Southern MD Commanders to General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov and the VDV.

The MOD website says the decree is No. 776; it doesn’t appear on Kremlin.ru yet, but may later.

Mil.ru reported VDV commissions are already surveying the condition of weapons, equipment, and facilities in the three brigades, and converting their training program to match that of the VDV.

Shamanov announced that this change, and others, were pending back in early August.

Surprise Inspection

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Complete coverage of General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov’s remarks on the surprise inspection and readiness exercise can be found on Radio Voice of Russia or Mil.ru.

According to the newly-minted army general (four stars), the General Staff planned the inspection on the Defense Minister’s order.  It evaluated command and control organs, formations, and units of the Central and Southern MDs, VDV, VTA, and the 12th GUMO.  It was the largest of its kind in 20 years. 

The inspection began at 0400 on 18 February when operational and unit duty officers received packets with General Staff orders to go to higher states of combat readiness and carry out combat training missions.  This, Gerasimov said, required moving and transporting forces to exercise areas and “unfamiliar terrain” far from their permanent deployment locations.  The inspection included 7,000 soldiers, several hundred pieces of equipment, and 48 aircraft.

The General Staff Chief emphasized that the inspection was a complete surprise to command and control organs and troops to allow for objectively the combat readiness of formations and uncovering problems.

He praised the readiness and performance of sub-units of the VDV’s 98th Air-Assault Division (Ivanovo) and the 4th Air Forces and Air Defense Command (Southern MD / Rostov).  What was likely a battalion tactical group of the 98th loaded in twenty Il-76 transports and flew to Shagol outside Chelyabinsk, marched 100 km under difficult conditions (-20° C / -4° F, broken terrain, deep snow cover) to Chebarkul, and conducted its combat training.  For its part, the 4th VVS and PVO Command’s aircraft conducted bombing exercises with good or excellent results.

There were, however, “a number of systematic deficiencies in the state of combat readiness and lever of personnel training.” 

In practically all evaluated elements, duty officers showed weak skill in transmitting orders via automated combat command and control systems.  They weren’t certain how to receive the order to go to higher readiness.  In the VDV and the 201st Military Base, it took too long to send signals to subordinate troops.

In the Central MD’s 28th Motorized Rifle Brigade, training center graduates, drivers, and mechanic-drivers showed a low level of training.  Tank and BMP crews usually got only satisfactory in firing exercises.  Young officers just graduated from military schools exhibited poor knowledge of weapons and equipment.

Equipment generally performed reliably, given the weather conditions and its age.  Some of it required repair in the field, and, according to Gerasimov, this demonstrated the expedience of the Defense Minister’s decision to reestablish maintenance units.  But they need more training, spare parts, and improved organization.  Factory repair is more problematic:

“Sufficiently efficient work by repair factories and industrial enterprises is a serious problem for the troops.  Equipment coming from capital or medium repair, even under a service guarantee, often breaks down in the first months of its use in line units.  An analysis of deficiencies discovered is currently being conducted.”

Interesting, where does the fault lie?  The factory or troops and young officers who don’t know how to use or repair it?

Gerasimov admitted and lamented that nearly two-thirds of aircraft (in units being drilled?) is out of repair.  He called effective resolution of this problem the most important joint task of command and control organs and industry.

Gerasimov called the BMD-2 both obsolete and worn-out at 20 to 25 years old, or even more.  At 14.2 metric tons, he said the BMD-4M’s weight is at the limit for air transport, and an Il-76 can only carry three.  The General Staff Chief cited repair problems with Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters, Su-25, self-propelled Msta artillery, and R-168-5un radio.  He indicated the still experimental Volk armored vehicle doesn’t meet 12 of its TTZs and won’t undergo repeat state testing.

Gerasimov said the Defense Minister has decided inspections like this will now take place on a regular basis.