Category Archives: VDV

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.

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VDV Commander Injured

Russia’s Airborne Troops Commander — General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov — was hurt in a September 15 car crash, but the extent of his injuries is not exactly clear. Russian news media reported the accident, but the MOD has not.

General-Colonel Serdyukov

General-Colonel Serdyukov

The accident occurred near Pechenga in Murmansk Oblast. The video shows Serdyukov’s motorcade speeding up the middle of a two-lane highway led by a police escort before his van gets clipped by a car headed in the opposite direction. The driver of that vehicle reportedly died.

According to most accounts, Serdyukov was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and reported to be in satisfactory condition.

One of Serdyukov’s deputies, General-Major Vladimir Kochetkov, was a passenger in his van along with two other VDV servicemen.

Lenta.ru reports that Serdyukov suffered serious head injuries and fractured vertebrae. It says Kochetkov has multiple fractures. 

Recall that former VDV commander Vladimir Shamanov was injured in a serious late 2010 crash, and spent several months recovering before returning to duty. The retired Shamanov chairs the State Duma’s Defense Committee.

The 55-year-old Serdyukov took over command of the VDV in October 2016. The fast-burning career airborne officer held important field commands in the VDV and Ground Troops before serving as chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Southern MD between 2013 and 2016. He is apparently no relation to disgraced former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov.

More on the Conscription Campaign

The Russian military press has published relatively little on this spring’s draft which is set to end in just a few days.  There are, however, data points worth examining against what was written here.

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with their paperwork in hand

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with paperwork in hand

On June 21, Mil.ru noted that Russia’s Western MD is getting 48,000 of this spring’s conscripts.  That’s a pretty enormous 34 percent of all draftees.

Mil.ru also reported the Black Sea Fleet has gotten 1,700 of 2,600 new men it’s expecting.

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

We already heard that the Baltic and Northern Fleets were getting 5,000 and 2,500 conscripts respectively, putting the Navy over 10,000 without counting the Pacific Fleet’s share.  If we guess the latter gets 3,000, this puts the Navy at 13,000 for the spring campaign.  That would be nine percent of all draftees, not the predicted six percent.  A similar number from last fall would make 26,000, and conscription would account for perhaps 19 percent of Navy manpower.  

On May 21, the Russian military indicated that 8,000 draftees were going to the RVSN.  That’s six percent of the spring cohort rather than the estimated eight.  About 26 percent of RVSN personnel might be conscripts.

The MOD website reported on May 7 that the VDV will take more than 6,000 draftees.  That gives the Russian airborne four percent of the current allocation of conscripts, about as predicted.  A roughly similar number in the fall would mean the VDV are 30 percent conscript-manned.

Mil.ru added:

“Few conscripts are fortunate enough to get to serve in VDV sub-units.  The competition for those wishing to serve in the VDV in some military commissariats reaches 30 men per spot.”

The VDV get to pick the best available young men:

“The main selection criteria for the VDV are excellent health and physical preparedness, a high level of neuropsychological stability, [and] positive social and moral characteristics.”

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.