An-124 Program

KZ coverage of yesterday’s MOD leadership videoconference provided a little window into what has apparently become the modest modernization program for Russia’s An-124 Ruslan heavy transport aircraft.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu proposed discussion about the modernization and repair of the An-124, saying:

In conditions where the demand for transport of super-heavy and large diameter loads in the Armed Forces is growing, resolution of this problem has taken on special importance. In the conference, we will hear proposals of the directors of Aviation Complex named for S. V. Ilyushin and the Ural Civil Aviation Plant [UZGA] regarding completion of the contract for modernization, restoration, and life extension of two An-124 aircraft, but also for the capital repair and modernization of 12 D-18T aircraft engines.

So that’s modernization of two aircraft and 12 engines (three aircraft?). Shoygu confirmed what was reported for VPK in 2018 by one-time officer and KZ journalist Oleg Falichev.

Falichev called (perhaps shilled?) for work on 12 D-18T engines. He claimed Russia’s An-124s received only two percent of funding required for their maintenance, and indicated UZGA had not “mastered” repair of the D-18T, a Soviet-era product made on the territory of Ukraine.

Recall we see various numbers for An-124s in VTA’s inventory, perhaps four or nine operational aircraft with maybe more than 20 airframes in various states of repair (or disrepair).

It’s been clear for a while that Moscow won’t try to recreate production of An-124s; modernization is supposed to allow them to serve until the 2040s when PAK TA might enter the force.

Shoygu could be right. The demand for super-heavy airlift might be growing, especially given the current state of world disorder and Moscow’s increased activism abroad. This could put a premium on the ability to deliver large amounts of cargo rapidly to great distances.

Then again, if this is the extent of the An-124 modernization program, it doesn’t sound like a high priority. It sounds like a band aid. Always resourceful, the Kremlin will find simpler ways to get the job done.

The Latest Arsenal Fire

Russia’s latest military arsenal tragedy is a new chapter in an unfinished book. What follows isn’t so much news as context you haven’t seen.

According to Interfaks-AVN, a woman died on October 10 from severe injuries received from the fire and explosions which began October 7 in Ryazan oblast. Another 15 victims are reportedly stable with serious burns, injuries, or chronic conditions aggravated by smoke inhalation.

A grass fire was inexplicably allowed to reach the ammo dumps at military unit 55443 near Zheltukhino in Skopinskiy region, and it ignited munitions in open storage. It’s unclear whether the Russian MOD’s Main Missile and Artillery Directorate (GRAU) or the Western MD is responsible for the unit at present. Neither wants to be for certain.

Interfaks-AVN indicated the arsenal (once maybe the GRAU’s 97th Arsenal) consists (or consisted) of 113 warehouses and bunkers with 75,000 tons of missiles, rockets, and artillery shells (a “large portion” of which were 152-mm high-explosive fragmentation).

Munitions from other Russian Army ammo dumps were being collected at Zheltukhino, according to Komsomolskaya pravda.

More than 2,300 people living near the depot were evacuated.

Four VTA Il-76 aircraft, and one Mi-26 and one Mi-8 helicopter were used against the fire as water tankers, TVZvezda reported. Izvestiya said five helos. In 36 fixed and 763 rotary-wing flights, they dropped 4,700 tons of water on the flames.

Izvestiya added that 650 servicemen and nearly 200 pieces of equipment — including 120 EOD personnel and 32 special vehicles (likely Uran-6 and Uran-14 robotic mine clearance vehicles) — were used to battle the fire.

Russian media reported the fire was localized on the evening of October 8 and controlled on October 10.

Kommersant reported the fire and explosions damaged 430 structures, public facilities, apartment buildings, and private homes. If not completely burned down, they have broken windows, partially collapsed roofs, and damaged walls. More than 500 families received 10,000 rubles in immediate emergency funds from the RF government.

Izvestiya relayed some (but not all) of the history of Russia’s recent arsenal fires.

A major fire and explosions rocked the 31st Arsenal and the city of Ulyanovsk in 2009.

A fire and explosions at Pugachevo, Udmurtia in 2011 caused the evacuation of 30,000 people and damaged 3,000 buildings. But Pugachevo (GRAU’s 102nd Arsenal) proved a persistent problem; new fires and explosions occurred there in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2018.

There were other disasters in 2011 — at the 99th Arsenal in Bashkiria and in Ashuluk where six troops died and 12 were hurt. In 2012, there were two fires with explosions in Orenburg and one in Primorye.

Then soon-to-be ex-minister of defense Serdyukov exerted some serious control over Russian munitions storage and dismantlement. But this came too late and, along with his other problems, made him expendable to the Kremlin.

In early 2012, Deputy Defense Minister Dmitriy Bulgakov said the military planned to complete 35 modern arsenals, outfitted with hundreds of bunkers, before 2015 for 90 billion rubles. It also began explosive destruction of a large quantity of outdated munitions. Work on new ammo storage continued through 2018.

But the MOD hasn’t been able to catch up with the problem. It hasn’t offered a comprehensive assessment of the construction effort. So it’s safe to conclude it’s taking longer and accomplishing less than what’s needed.

A couple cases in point. On August 5, 2019, the ammo depot in Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk territory burned. About 16,000 people living within a 20-km radius had to be evacuated. One person died and 40 were injured.

On May 9, 2020, a grass fire ignited small caliber ammo at Pugachevo. The fire covered 15 hectares, but was put out without a disaster like previous incidents there.

Akula Update Progressing, Slowly

Russia’s effort to extend the service lives of its Akula submarines and increase their capability to the level of new Yasen-M boats is progressing, but not as quickly as Moscow planned.

The Russian Navy counts on refueled reactors and new major systems to enable project 971 Akula-class SSNs to operate at least 15 more years. This would provide needed time for construction of new Yasen-M submarines. The modernization of the Akulas, to include possible deployment of Kalibr missiles on them, will bring them closer in capability to new fourth generation Yasen-M SSNs.

Akula-class SSN Vepr returned to service in the Northern Fleet around August 5, according to an OPK source. The submarine arrived at Nerpa, in Snezhnogorsk near Murmansk, in 2012 for repairs and modernization. Vepr was originally scheduled to rejoin the fleet in 2014, but this was delayed several times.

Nice photo of renovated pr. 971 Akula SSN Vepr (K-157) from Murmanskiy vestnik

Vepr is the second renovated Akula. Kuzbass was modernized at Zvezda in Bolshoy Kamen between 2009 and 2016 when it returned to the Pacific Fleet. Kuzbass reportedly received Kalibr cruise missiles during its modernization. But that capability has not been demonstrated.

Vepr gives the Russian Navy maybe three operational Akula SSNs. Six Akulas, all 25 or more years old, are currently located at Zvezdochka, Nerpa, or Zvezda.

The Northern Fleet’s Leopard arrived at Zvezdochka for repair and modernization in 2011 , with a planned return to service in 2015. That deadline passed, as did ones in 2016 and 2018. Completion of work on Leopard is now expected in 2020 or 2021.

Volk arrived at Zvezdochka possibly as early as 2011 and repairs began in 2014. The Pacific Fleet’s Bratsk and Samara arrived in late 2014 on a heavy lift vessel via the Northern Sea Route. Serious work on Bratsk and Samara likely awaits the completion of Leopard and Volk. Volk may be ready in 2023.

Northern Fleet boat Tigr was towed to Nerpa in 2017. According to Izvestiya’s source in the Russian MOD, Tigr will be renovated, armed with Kalibr missiles, and returned to the fleet in 2023.

In mid-2019, a Vladivostok news agency reported the repair and modernization of Magadan had commenced at Zvezda in Bolshoy Kamen, although some initial work may have started in 2018. The submarine arrived at the shipyard in 2015 or even earlier. It will not to return to operational status before 2023.

On September 25, an MOD source claimed it will return in 2021 or early 2022. It will receive a new name given that Magadan has been assigned to a project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine under construction for the Pacific Fleet.

The Akula repair program first and foremost entails refueling the nuclear reactors and restoring the hulls of the SSNs. Reactor and propulsion system components – steam generators, turbines, turbogenerators, motors, gears, shafts, rudders, and propellers – likely require major work.

The modernized Akulas probably are receiving new major ship and combat systems including command, control, and communications, navigation, fire control, sonars and non-acoustic sensors, and weapons possibly including the Kalibr anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile system. Its land-attack 3M-14 missile has a range possibly up to 2,500 km.

Despite frequent announcements that Kalibr is being incorporated, no firing of the missile from a modernized Akula has been reported. A test launch of the new system would be a normal part of combat certification for returning to operational status. Moreover, when it occurs, the MOD can be expected to publicize it widely.

Delays in the Akula repair and modernization program are endemic. In 2016, Zvezdochka’s press-service reported that the shipyard routinely had to begin repair work – dismantling the hull and equipment – while awaiting design documents. Zvezdochka also indicated it faced difficulty in obtaining new or repaired components because some original manufacturers are defunct. The shipyard has retooled and re-equipped to support the program, but making changes inside its shops has pushed the completion of the Akulas to the right.

Russian shipyards are likely at capacity with submarine repairs. Zvezdochka has been maintaining and upgrading Russia’s Project 667BRDM Delta IV-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and it modernized Oscar II-class cruise missile submarine Orel. This work has slowed progress on the Akulas. Similarly, at Zvezda on the Pacific, modernization of Oscar IIs, specifically Irkutsk — now supposed to be finished in late 2022 or 2023 — competes with work on Akulas.

Despite these challenges, Moscow is committed to returning modernized Akulas to operation to retain its capability for long-range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare while it awaits new SSNs. The first Project 885M Yasen-M SSN, Kazan, has been undergoing trials since 2017 and is expected to be delivered in 2020. The Russian Navy plans to add seven Yasen-M by 2027, but at the current pace of construction, it is unlikely to have its full complement of new production SSNs before the early 2030s.

New Dry Dock

SSK Zvezda has completed a massive dry dock at Bolshoy Kamen, reportedly four years ahead of schedule.

The Rosneft-owned facility will build ships to support Russian oil and gas extraction and transport.

The dock is 485 meters long, 114 in width, and 14 deep. It is outfitted with internal gates to create separate compartments that can be flooded independently. Besides the massive 1,200-ton gantry crane, the dock has four 60-ton tower cranes.

This image from May shows the new dock in the lower left, and the existing buildingway (also pretty new) just right of center adjacent to DVZ Zvezda. Recall DVZ Zvezda is Russia’s sole sub repair yard on the Pacific Ocean.

Shaposhnikov Trials

Marshal Shaposhnikov enroute to factory trials

Marshal Shaposhnikov enroute to factory trials

Mil.ru reports Russian Pacific Fleet Udaloy-class destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov departed Dalzavod shipyard in Vladivostok yesterday after an overhaul and modernization which took five years to complete. The original plan was three.

The 35-year-old ship will conduct factory trials in the Sea of Japan.

Below is Izvestiya’s video.

 

The destroyer’s hull and fittings were repaired and new equipment was installed, according to Mil.ru. More than 20 percent of the superstructure was dismantled and refurbished. Trunk cables were partially replaced.

Most significantly, the modernized destroyer became a land-attack and anti-surface warfare platform whereas it was primarily ASW before. It received long-range Kalibr-NK (SS-N-27 Sizzler) missiles and Uran (SS-N-25 Switchblade) ASCMs.

TV Zvezda also had a long video in which Shaposhnikov’s new armament is easy to see.

The destroyer is supposed to rejoin the Pacific Fleet’s order-of-battle before the end of 2020.

Russian media have claimed four of the Navy’s other seven Udaloy (pr. 1155) destroyers will be modernized. But the Russian MOD and Navy may not have committed to this yet, waiting perhaps to absorb how the process turned out and exactly what it cost. The upgraded Shaposhnikov could be a stopgap for a fleet awaiting more new corvettes and possibly frigates.

Updated Promotion List

Here’s an updated promotion list. Over 600 general and flag officers from the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Never as up-to-date as one would like, but at least it’s bargain-priced.

And make no mistake, this is a time-consuming and never-ending process. Just learned that General-Lieutenant Sergey Yudin died suddenly at 59 on June 10, 2019. So, off the list.

A couple wrinkles this time.

First, generals and admirals are in the process of being color-coded — green, yellow, red, and orange.

The “stop light” colors are a WAG at likely, uncertain, or unlikely career progression in the future.

What, you ask, are indicators of probable advancement? One is, ironically and simply, a recent promotion. An officer promoted to one-star rank is in the running for a second star, etc. But also whether an officer is in a line or staff position, his age (where we have it), and his past career progression.

Orange is for those without an identified position or post (probably some are GRU and their names are kept out of the media).

Second, a folder of photos of promoted officers (at least some so far) has been added.

New Airborne Armor Deliveries

ROC priest blesses new BMD-4M delivered in January

ROC priest blesses BMD-4M delivered in January

Russia’s VDV got its ninth battalion set of new BMD-4M and BTR-MDM armored vehicles on June 19, according to media in Pskov — home of  the 76th Air-Assault Division’s 234th Air-Assault Regiment. The tenth battalion set will reach troops in Stavropol before the end of 2020, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Here’s some info on when and where these new airborne infantry fighting vehicles and personnel carriers were delivered.

Click on the image for a larger table where you can click the links therein.

Army General Dvornikov

RF President Vladimir Putin yesterday, on the eve of this year’s delayed Victory Parade, promoted Southern MD commander, General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov, to four-star Army General rank. Here’s the ukaz, and Interfaks-AVN carried the news this morning.

Here’s Dvornikov’s ru.wiki bio.

Aleksandr Dvornikov

Here’s a quick reaction.

Dvornikov joins General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov and Ground Troops CINC Oleg Salyukov as the only other real military army generals (i.e. not converted civilians) in the RF Armed Forces.

He won’t remain in the Southern MD where he’s been for four years at that rank. So, he’s likely to replace either Gerasimov or Salyukov. More likely the latter. Salyukov turned 65 on May 21 and is ready for a sinecure. He was in charge of this morning’s parade.

Prediction: Look for Army General Aleksandr Dvornikov as the next Russian Ground Troops CINC.

Gerasimov’s 65 in early September, and his turnover is more critical and will take more time to prepare.

More difficult and perhaps more interesting — which general will take over in the Southern MD?

Not many candidates at the three-star level. Perhaps Sergey Kuralenko, currently COS / FDC in the Eastern MD, but he’s already almost 59. Maybe.

General-lieutenants are harder to gauge. Maybe Dvornikov’s first deputy, Sergey Kuzovlev will move up. Perhaps Mikhail Teplinskiy, who’s in the same post for the Central MD, and he has lots of Southern MD experience.

At any rate, the rare fourth star for a real military man is interesting.

Russia Day Promotions

RF President Putin wasn’t terribly generous with military promotions on the eve of Russia Day. For the MOD, he promoted one three-star, four two-stars, and 14 one-stars. Putin’s alternative army, the National Guard got one three-star and two one-stars.

Gennadiy Valeryevich Zhidko

Newly-minted General-Colonel Zhidko

Eastern MD Commander Zhidko got his third star, catching him up with the other Russian MD commanders.

New General-Lieutenant Arutyun Darbinyan is deputy commander of the 8th CAA. General-Lieutenant Konstantin Kastornov commands the Black Sea Fleet’s 22nd Army Corps.

Konstantin Kastornov

Kastornov

The director of the MOD’s Information Systems Department, Oleg Maslennikov also received a second star. The head of Pacific Fleet’s rear services became a general-lieutenant.

New general-majors include:

  • Commander, 39th Missile Division, RVSN.
  • Commander, 13th Missile Division, RVSN.
  • Commander, 127th MRD, Eastern MD.
  • Chief, Main Space Reconnaissance Center, VKS.
  • Chief, Engineering Troops, Central MD.
  • Chief, 185th Combat Training and Combat Employment Center, VKS.
  • Chief, 6th Directorate, Main Personnel Directorate (handles appointments to General Staff, central command and control organs, and higher military educational institutions).
  • Chief, Organization-Planning Directorate, Main Military-Medical Directorate, RF Ministry of Defense.

Two new rear-admirals:

  • Chief, Combat Training Directorate, Northern Fleet.
  • Chief, Organization-Mobilization Directorate, Southern MD.

No precise current posting could be found for four promotees.

Worth noting that Northern Fleet combat training chief, new Rear-Admiral Stepan Kelbas was previously deputy commander of the fleet’s 31st Submarine Division (SSBNs), and once commanded Delta IV-class SSBNs Novomoskovsk and Tula.

Demobbing [Corrigenda]

Here’s a mulligan after fouling the current authorized strength of the Russian Armed Forces on the first cut….

On May 26, Mil.ru noted the Russian Baltic Fleet’s 11th Army Corps is demobbing about 2,000 servicemen after a year of conscript service. It’s not often the MOD site gives figures on troops going into the reserves.

Troops living well in stylish Kaliningrad barracks

Troops living well in stylish Kaliningrad barracks

If 2,000 are demobbing, a roughly equal number should remain to finish the last six months of their draft terms. So the 11th Army Corps has about 4,000 conscripts. 

The 11th Army Corps is one of four large ground formations established in Russia’s four fleet areas in the mid- to late 2010s.

By way of maneuver elements, the 11th is composed of a motorized rifle brigade, MR regiment, and tank regiment. It was rumored the MR regiment would become another brigade but it hasn’t happened yet.

The 11th is supported by tactical missile and artillery brigades, a SAM regiment, and recce battalion.

Here are a couple manning scenarios for the corps:

Possible 11th Army Corps Manning

The lower level is what Russian units looked like in the 2010s. The higher represents a more standard Soviet-era organization, similar to a division numerically.

What do 4,000 conscripts mean in the grander scheme of things?

If Russia’s Armed Forces are manned at 95 percent of the authorized number of 1,130,000 1,013,628, they have 1,075,000 962,950.¹ In last year’s conscription campaigns, 267,000 men were drafted. That’s 25 percent of 1,075,000 28 percent of 962,950.

Are conscripts 25 28 percent of the 11th Army Corps’ manpower?

At the lower postulated level — about 8,800 — 4,000 draftees would be 45 percent. At the higher — about 12,600 — they would be 32 percent.

If those 4,000 are 25 28 percent, how many personnel are in the 11th Army Corps? 16,000 Roughly 14,300. Certainly conceivable and this number sounds more like a corps even if the organization doesn’t look like one.

But if undermanning persists, perhaps 80-90 percent, conscripts are a more substantial share of 11th Army Corps manpower. In a corps of 12,600 on paper, manned at 85 percent of strength (10,700), 4,000 conscripts are over 40 percent of the force. In one of 16,000 manned at 80 percent (12,800), draftees are a third.

Full insight here is lacking, but if forced to make a judgement, it seems very possible the actual manpower of the Baltic Fleet’s 11th Army Corps is lower and the percentage of conscripts in it higher than the Russian MOD would be willing to admit.


¹ President Putin’s ukaz of March 28, 2017 ticked the Russian MOD’s uniformed personnel upward from 1,000,000 to 1,013,628. Just nine months before, by ukaz, he dropped the number of MOD servicemen to 1,000,000 from 1,134,800 — where it had been since early 2008.