Getting Weirder

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s “government hour” performance before the Federation Council (or Senate), the upper house of Russia’s national legislature, is interesting for several reasons.

Shoygu in the FC

But nothing is more interesting than Shoygu’s brief, unexpected paranoid tirade against RF citizens audacious enough to want to know what their military is doing.

Shoygu described the “information space” as a TVD in its own right. One in which the RF Armed Forces have suffered 25,000 computer infrastructure attacks from abroad in three years. “All attacks,” he reported, “are neutralized.” Of course.

The countries of the West, he said, are purveyors of “fake news” that Russia interfered in America’s elections, conducted hacker attacks, covered up combat losses, and the like.

But it gets weirder. Shoygu says:

In our country a pro-Western opposition battalion, regularly trained abroad, scoops it [“fake news”] up. Hiding behind media laws, its activists try to infiltrate military facilities, hunt down relatives and witnesses. They thrust themselves into hospitals where our wounded lie, into cemeteries, into wakes. They photograph entrances and exits of our closed bases and upload them on the Internet. You can imagine the account they would be brought to in the countries of the West.

This sphere requires further legislative regulation.

Whoa. Surprising even after 20 years of Putin and ever tightening manual control. Are the gates of those bases really state secrets? No, this is all perfectly legal and normal in a Western democracy. Truly bizarre.

Of course, Mr. Shoygu is intensely irritated by Bellingcat, CIT, etc. and their success in uncovering Russian deeds and misdeeds in Ukraine, Syria, or Libya. He certainly can’t accept that this is independent civic activism. Instead he believes their researchers and investigators are paid Western agents.

As Kommersant indicates, however, Russian journalists believe the Defense Minister’s words are really aimed at them. Shoygu doesn’t like them writing about Russian troops fighting and dying in Ukraine. He doesn’t care for their reporting on Russian SSO troops or mercs in Syria or Libya. Or GRU assassination squads in Europe.

Shoygu would like to squeeze military journalism down to nothing. So nothing untoward ever gets publicized. He’d be happy if the MOD’s official channels were the sole source of information on the Russian military.

Russian Union of Journalists chairman Vladimir Solovyev had this response:

One could understand the minister if someone, somewhere inadvertently exposed military secrets or related something the military department didn’t like. But on the other hand, according to the law on media, journalists have the right to fulfill their duty and write about what they believe is necessary in order to inform the public about situations including those connected with the military department.

It gets better:

[If] some people infiltrate, like Western agents, then this is the business of the FSB and counterintelligence, not the journalistic community. It’s understood that representatives of Western special services can come to us posing as journalists. It’s not a secret that representatives of our special services worked and work abroad posing as journalists. It happens.

Chairman of Putin’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights until last October, Mikhail Fedotov also reacted:

Our Constitution gives every citizen the right to freely search for, collect and distribute information. This doesn’t apply just to journalists. If we’re talking about limiting the right of journalists to search for information, then change the Constitution. It’s the second chapter, and I want to recall the words of President Putin about how this chapter has to operate in unchanged form for several decades longer. Because it affects everyone.

If Sergey Shoygu has complaints about journalists, there are many different authorities to sort them out. There are courts, there is the Public Collegium for Press Complaints. It’s always possible to go there.

Mass Counterfeiting

Overlooked in recent days was new RF Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov’s announcement about the “mass use” of counterfeit materials and parts in Russia’s OPK.

Igor Krasnov

Krasnov

Interfaks-AVN reported Krasnov told fellow prosecutors at a “broadened collegium” in Moscow:

The mass use of counterfeit materials and parts by OPK enterprises is a cause for special alarm. Considering the strategic character of this problem, it’s necessary to carry all planned oversight measures to their logical end.

We know “logical end” means arrest and convict people, don’t collude with them. 

Krasnov continued:

. . . the condition of legality dictates the need to increase the oversight component in strengthening financial discipline, reducing the indebtedness of OPK enterprises for unmet obligations and increasing the quality of military products.

Krasnov claimed during the past year military prosecutors uncovered more than 44,000 legal violations in the OPK.

TASS reported Krasnov directed military prosecutors to ensure MOD officials responsible for “military acceptance” respect relevant laws and exert control over the fulfillment of GOZ work.

Counterfeiting in Russia’s defense industry isn’t novel. It just doesn’t get much attention. There are likely egregious cases of counterfeit equipment that never surfaced. But a few have:

  • An official in the MOD’s 1st TsNII (Shipbuilding) said in 2018 that counterfeit parts were hampering Russian efforts to build its own ship engines to replace those once bought from Ukraine and Western countries.
  • As late as the first half of the 2010s, torpedo maker Dagdizel was “recycling” parts from old dismantled weapons for “new” torpedoes.
  • Several managers at Zvezdochka were arrested in 2015 for using fake parts in the repair of Indian Kilo subs.
  • An experimental Ka-60 helo crashed in 2010 due to faulty tail rotor parts made by an unauthorized “underground” manufacturer.
  • The MiG-29SMT fighters sold to Algeria and returned in 2008 is just the most famous scandal. Some “new” parts on those planes were stamped in the early 1990s.

Some recent glaring example of counterfeiting in Russia’s OPK must’ve sparked the new Prosecutor General’s comment but we just haven’t learned about it yet.

Situation Normal, Pretty Much

Shoygu addresses the Collegium

At the MOD Collegium on March 20, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu pretty much acted like there’s not reason for concern.

With pandemic set to sweep across Russia (everywhere else too), Mr. Shoygu outlined the MOD plan to manage coronavirus. Most of his publicized remarks still focused on the country’s military security and the “increased presence” of U.S. forces, ships, and planes on Russia’s borders.

Shoygu claimed no COVID-19 cases in the Russian Army. The MOD has stopped sending “military delegations” abroad and it won’t host foreign officers. He mentioned vague plans to keep Russian troops close to their garrisons.

Russia’s spring draft won’t be postponed. It will begin as normal on April 1 and end July 15. Conscripts will be tested for coronavirus before they go to their units, and “isolated” during their first two weeks there.

How about testing young men before they answer the summons at the military commissariat? The draft is good news for men being demobbed. Not so good for their replacements.

Recall the Russian Army is a place where barracks and units have been decimated by illness in the recent past. Sixty percent of disease there is respiratory (as is COVID-19). The MOD’s medical establishment is often corrupt and probably just average on its best day.

So much for health security . . . . The Collegium turned to the 2020 plan of activity for the Southern and Eastern Military Districts. After describing U.S. efforts to dominate Russia’s “south-west strategic direction” and the Black Sea, Shoygu said the Southern MD got 1,200 new and modernized weapons and equipment in 2019, and will get nearly three times that many in 2020.

The Defense Minister said the Southern MD will stand up a motorized rifle division and two “missile troops and artillery” brigades. Perhaps the Russians will upgrade one of the Stavropol-based 49th CAA brigades to division status. 

“Missile troops and artillery” is the formal name for the artillery branch of the Ground Troops. It seems likely one artillery brigade will be established at the district level and another for the 8th CAA. 

After detailing U.S. striving to control the Asia-Pacific region as well as Russia’s Sakhalin and Primorye “operational directions,” Shoygu indicated the Eastern MD got 1,300 major items of equipment in 2019, and will get 1,350 including 502 new ones (so 848 modernized) this year.

He said the Eastern MD will get motorized rifle and tank regiments (probably just one of each) in Primorye. They will likely round out the 5th CAA’s 127th MRD, created recently out of the 59th MRB.

127th MRD at Sergeyevka

127th MRD at Sergeyevka

Shoygu also said the Eastern MD will participate in nine international training events in 2020. The MOD also remains adamant that the 75th Victory Day celebration will go on no matter what. Not sure how that squares with health security. Sounds like mixed messaging by the MOD.

Improved Kilo for Northern Fleet?

This week featured the normal ramp-up for Submariner’s Day (March 19).

According to Interfaks-AVN, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev stated on March 16 that the Northern Fleet will receive a new project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine in 2021. The Improved Kilos are Kalibr LACM (SS-N-30A) shooters that Admiralty Wharves have busily built for the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets since the early 2010s.

Admiralty is currently at work on units 3-6 for the Pacific Fleet. A unit beyond number six has been postulated for the Baltic Fleet. But if Moiseyev’s Northern Fleet is to get an Improved Kilo in 2021, it’ll have to be one forecast for the Pacific (probably Magadan). Moiseyev said his fleet is preparing a crew for the boat this year.

Not as much a news story, Moiseyev said (again per Interfaks-AVN) that Northern Fleet submarines are widening their training and patrol areas.

In his briefing dedicated to the impending holiday, the Northern Fleet’s commander said:

It’s become normal practice for us when we have more than a dozen submarines of various classes at sea working on different tasks.

Visiting our garrisons you can’t but notice that many piers are empty. This says yet again that submarine crews are occupied with carrying out missions — they are improving their at-sea training, fulfilling combat training tasks, carrying out combat duty or combat patrol. 

Recently the Northern Fleet has significantly broadened the regions in which we are occupied with planned combat training.

Moiseyev reminded his audience that, in 2019, Delta IV-class Tula and Borey-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy fired SLBMs and crews of Delta IV-class Karelia and Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk “confirmed their readiness to operate as designated . . . .”

Vice-Admiral Moiseyev reported reconstruction of piers and shore facilities at Gadzhiyevo (SSBNs and SSNs) is complete and similar work is focused on Zaozersk (Severodvinsk and SSGNs).

Worth stating the obvious. Empty piers could also mean that sub numbers are low or some subs are under repair.

The Interview

Sorry not Rogen and Franco…Kevin Rothrock (The Russia Guy) asked me to talk a bit on his podcast. He laid out some really good questions and issues.

You might want to follow him and his insightful guests….

Capture

Gun Trucks on the Southern Border

Before the end of 2022, the Russian Army is supposed to field “sub-units” (battalions, companies, etc.) of gun trucks with its forces in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, an MOD source has informed Izvestiya.

KamAZ and Ural trucks will get armor and machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, or even ATGMs. They’re intended for fighting terrorists in armed pickups.

Izvestiya writes that gun trucks are a response to the increased threat to Russia and its allies in Central Asia as the U.S. departs Afghanistan. Moscow frequently cites concern that terrorists in Afghanistan will “break through” into Tajikistan or Russian Federation territory.

ZU-23-2 mounted on truck bed

ZU-23-2 mounted on truck bed

The paper notes that armed trucks have been effective against anti-Assad insurgents operating their own “gun wagons” (тачанки) or “jihad-mobiles.” In Middle East conditions, these armed trucks appear suddenly and attack defended positions with devastating results. As such, they’re a problem for even well-equipped regular armed forces.

Izvestiya quotes one expert:

Against “gun wagons” it’s desirable to have the very same “gun wagon,” but a more powerful one. Maneuver war and rapid movement are characteristic for militants: they pop up, shoot, fly off and so forth. It’s necessary to fight them with no less mobile means, and preferably better protected ones. The problem of equipping our army with armored trucks has been acute for a long time. Unfortunately, we’ve faced a peculiar paradox, we have either completely unprotected vehicles or heavier armored personnel carriers [BTRs].

BTRs aren’t much better protected than armored trucks, he continues, but they’re heavier and more expensive. Trucks can actually be armed better with several machine guns, grenade launchers, AA guns, and ATGMs. Trucks are faster as long as they aren’t on broken terrain or deep mud. In Central Asia’s steppes and deserts, they can go on or off road. They’re cheaper to produce and repair, and have twice the range of BTRs. 

Izvestiya writes that “gun trucks” have a long history. Soviet and Russian forces used them in the GPW, Afghanistan, and Chechnya.

The report on gun trucks is interesting. But Izvestiya doesn’t mention that the Russian MOD has been experimenting with its own unarmored “jihad-mobiles” for some time.

2S41 Drok

2S41 Drok

Similarly, the paper makes no reference to putting fire support on wheeled vehicles. Uralvagonzavod mounted a 120-mm gun (2S40 Floks) on a 6×6 Ural-4320 truck in the mid-2010s. KamAZ put an 82-mm mortar (2S41 Drok) on its four-wheeled Tayfun K-4386 (aka Tayfun-VDV). UVZ claims there are contracts to produce them. But it seems they won’t reach the troops soon.

Bears Leaving Hibernation

RAF Typhoon intercepts Bear F

RAF Typhoon intercepts Bear F

Russia’s Tu-142 / Bear F ASW aircraft are waking up at the end of the winter training period. The Russian media highlighted four evolutions recently.

We probably haven’t seen a surge in long-range naval surveillance flights like this in some time. Possibly not since Soviet times. 

On March 7, two Bear F flew a patrol into the Atlantic. A Russian Northern Fleet spokesman said the aircraft were refueled over the southern Norwegian Sea during the 15-hour flight. The aircraft trained over waters near Spain and Portugal before returning home.

On March 6, three Pacific Fleet Bear F over the Sea of Japan practiced locating, tracking,  and attacking a notional enemy submarine.

On March 4, at least one (probably more) Bear F aircraft was refueled over the Black Sea. TVZvezda provided this video. Northern Fleet air crews trained at the Russian Navy’s Combat Training and Combat Employment Center in Yeysk during the week.

On 26-27 February, two Bear F flew a mission south of the Faeroes and Iceland, possibly to gain contact on U.S. or British subs enroute to ICEX 2020.

At present, there are likely about 24 Tu-142 aircraft in the Russian Naval Aviation inventory. One air group or squadron of 12 each (possibly as many as 15) in the Northern and Pacific Fleets. The former at Kipelovo-Fedotovo and the latter at Mongokhto.

Tu-142 Bear F bases

In the late 1960s, the Tupolev design bureau developed the Tu-142 on the blueprint of the Tu-95 / Bear bomber with a range of roughly 10,000 km.

The Bear F has carried various ASW systems including surface search radars, airborne acoustic detectors, Korshun search-targeting system, magnetic anomaly detectors, IR direction finders, gas analyzers, and Korshun-K. The Korshun-K system is found on the Tu-142MK. The Tu-142MZ is distinguished by its newer NK-12MP engines.

The Bear F, while aged in most cases, has been a reliable aircraft. It’s suffered three known crashes, the last in 2009 occurred in the Strait of Tatary.

The current fleet was produced mainly in the late 1970s and 1980s. A number, perhaps most, of them received capital repairs in the late 2000s and 2010s.

The oldest Russian Bear F are likely 40-45 years old. The youngest perhaps 30. But relatively restricted flying hours have helped keep them in the air. Flying them hard, however, would stress the limits of the force. 

The Russian Navy is reportedly thinking about acquiring civilian Tu-204 or Tu-214 airliners for conversion into new ASW aircraft but this would be expensive and hasn’t advanced beyond the requirements stage yet.