Category Archives: Ground Troops

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.

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.

Tanks in GPV-2027

According to a February 13 report from Vedomosti’s Ivan Safronov, Russia’s Ground Troops could receive 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks before the current State Armaments Program (GPV) ends in 2027. The article is paywalled, but Bmpd recapped its contents.

Nine hundred — 500 T-14 and 400 T-90M — seems quite an optimistic forecast.

T-90

According to Safronov’s story, a source close to the Russian MOD said there were three contracts between 2017 and 2019 to deliver more than 160 T-90M (Proryv-3) tanks. The first two called for 60 tanks in 2018-2019, of which 10 would be newly built, 50 would be older T-90 tanks modernized to T-90M, and 100 would be T-90A tanks from the inventory improved to T-90M.

However, an industry source said the deliveries slipped because its fire control and target tracking system needed to be finished, and the turret with its dynamic defense — the tank’s main feature — had to be tested.

These issues are supposedly resolved, and the tank is in series production. The MOD should get not less than 15 T-90M tanks in 2020.

A source close to the MOD leadership indicated that President Vladimir Putin wants to renew Russia’s tank inventory over the next five years. Currently, only 50 percent of the Ground Troops’ armored vehicles are “modern” — the lowest indicator of any branch or service of the RF Armed Forces.

Upgrading Russia’s armor will involve both new production and modernization. There may be a contract in 2020 to improve another 100 T-90s to T-90M. Deputy Defense Minister and arms chief Aleksey Krivoruchko has indicated there are 400 T-90s in the Ground Troops that could be upgraded.

State testing of the newest T-14 tank on the Armata chassis is set to begin in 2020. A Vedomosti interlocutor says there could be a state order for 500 T-14s by 2027.

Recall after debuting in 2015, the T-14 was supposed to enter state testing in 2017 but that didn’t happen.

Ground Troops are hoping for 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks to arrive by 2027, but they won’t supplant some 2,000 T-72B3 tanks as the foundation of Russia’s tank inventory, according to military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy. He adds that the T-72B3 can’t really be considered a “modern” tank without serious modernization.

For those keeping score, the T-72B3 is a 2010 upgrade of the T-72B not really improved since the mid-1980s. The T-72B3M is a 2016 modification adding Relikt reactive armor, a more powerful engine, etc. The T-90 and T-90A are early 1990s upgrades on the T-72B. The T-90M is a 2018 update with the same gun as the T-14, Afganit active protection, Relikt reactive armor, etc.

T-72B3M

Not addressed in the Vedomosti report is what (if anything) the Russian Army plans regarding the future of upgraded T-80BVM tanks. It received an unspecified number in 2017-2019. The Ground Troops often prefer its gas turbine engine over diesel for extreme cold in the Arctic and Eastern MD.

It’s difficult to assess even what happened with tanks in GPV 2011-2020. Putin and the MOD called for 2,300 tanks in 2012 even though Ground Troops procurement wasn’t a priority in that GPV. The naive assumption they’d be new ones soon gave way to realization that all tanks received were ones modernized as described above. Complicating matters further, Russian MOD descriptions of what they actually received typically lump all armor — tanks and armored vehicles — together making it virtually impossible to tell how many upgraded tanks of which type (re-)entered Russia’s forces.

Motovilikha’s Year

2S1 Gvozdika 122-mm SP howitzers leaving the factory in Perm

2S1 Gvozdika 122-mm SP howitzers leaving the factory in Perm

In September, we checked in on Motovilikha and its contract to produce 20 Tornado-S multiple launch rocket systems for the Russian MOD in 2020. Today it put out a press-release detailing its completion of state defense order work for 2019.

The enterprises of Motovilikhinskiye Plants put out more than 70 pieces of tube and rocket artillery, and spares for the MOD this year. Work on GOZ contracts finished last week.

Motovilikha subsidiary ZAO Special Design Bureau (SKB) repaired more than 30 2A65 Msta-B 152-mm towed howitzers and 2S1 Gvozdika 122-mm SP howitzers, and carried out capital repair and modernization of about 20 Grad MLRS updating them to Tornado-G systems.

Msta-B towed howitzers leaving the plant.PNG

Msta-B 152-mm towed howtizers leaving the plant

Quoting Motovilikhinskiye Plants director Aleksandr Anokhin, the press-release reported the volume of GOZ work will increase “substantially” in 2020.

The item notes that Motovilikha is the developer and only producer of Grad and Smerch MLRS, modified Tornado-G and Tornado-S systems, and associated reload vehicles. It produces 2S23 Nona-SVK and 2S31 Vena 120-mm self-propelled guns, the towed Msta-B, 2B23 Nona-M1 120-mm towed mortar, and other artillery systems.

Interestingly, the end of the press-release added that:

State corporation Rostekh, OOO RT-Kapital specifically, is currently implementing a systematic anti-crisis program in connection with the Motovilikhinskiye Plants group of enterprises which aims to preserve and develop their fundamental productive competencies in their existing facilities.

So despite the year just ending, Motovilikha is experiencing a crisis. But owner Rostekh wants to keep it operating in Perm. Beyond that, who knows. RT-Kapital is a branch of the conglomerate that works with “problem” equity and consolidates and restructures debt.

Krasnoselskaya Brigade

Here’s a look at one Russian motorized rifle brigade, created for another purpose, but perhaps worth sharing. The Kamenka brigade’s appeared on these pages before but mainly because of its order and discipline problems.

The 138th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (v/ch 02511) is based in Kamenka village, Vyborg rayon of Leningrad oblast. Its full honorific name is the 138th Independent Guards Motorized Rifle Krasnoselskaya Order of Lenin Red Banner Brigade. 138th IMRB for short.

Krasnoselskaya

The brigade’s lineage goes to the 45th Guards Rifle Division. That formation participated in the liberation of German-occupied Krasnoye Selo in January 1944.

The division’s regiments (now battalions) received the Leningrad honorific for fighting to lift the German blockade of the city.

The 138th IMRB is part of the 6th Combined Arms Army and the Western Military District.

The following units are subordinate to the 138th IMRB:

  • Brigade headquarters
  • 667th Independent Guards Motorized Rifle Leningrad Battalion (v/ch 67616)
  • 697th Independent Guards Motorized Rifle Leningrad Battalion (v/ch 67636)
  • 708th Independent Guards Motorized Rifle Leningrad Red Banner Battalion (v/ch 67661)
  • 133rd Independent Guards Idritsa Red Banner Order of Suvorov Tank Battalion (v/ch 52800)
  • 486th Independent Guards Self-Propelled Howitzer Leningrad Red Banner Battalion (v/ch 67752)
  • 721st Independent Self-Propelled Howitzer Battalion (v/ch 84647)
  • 383rd Independent MLRS Battalion (v/ch 82265)
  • 1525th Independent Anti-Tank Battalion (v/ch 96459)
  • 247th Independent Guards Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion (v/ch 07727)
  • 49th Independent Guards Engineer-Sapper Battalion (v/ch 18427)
  • 511th Independent EW Company (v/ch 63704)
  • 197th Federal Postal Service Station (v/ch 48768)
  • Signal battalion
  • Material support battalion
  • Maintenance battalion
  • Reconnaissance battalion
  • UAV company
  • Radio-electronic reconnaissance company
  • Radiological, Chemical, Biological Defense company
  • Medical company
  • Commandant company
  • Fire control and artillery reconnaissance battery (chief of artillery)
  • Reconnaissance headquarters platoon (chief of reconnaissance)
  • Fire control and radar reconnaissance platoon (chief of air defense)
  • Sniper platoon
  • Instructor platoon
  • Simulator platoon
  • Training ground
  • Orchestra
  • Radio-television center

Construction of new facilities at Kamenka in 2016

Construction of new facilities at Kamenka in 2016

Today’s IMRB should have nearly 4,000 personnel compared to a nominal 2,500-man motorized rifle regiment (MRR). While the maneuver battalions are similar, the IMRB is heavier in fire support, combat support, and service sub-units [подразделения – battalion or lower]. It has two self-propelled howitzer battalions and an MLRS battalion against the single battalion of towed 122-mm D-30 howitzers in Soviet regiments.

The IMRB’s anti-aircraft and anti-tank capabilities are organized in battalions. They used to be single batteries in old MRRs. Most of today’s combat support and service is provided by battalions compared with companies in Soviet times. The old MRR relied more on support and service from the division level.

The 138th IMRB’s motorized rifle battalions have about 500 personnel with about 100 men in each of three companies operating ten MT-LB light armored vehicles. A battalion probably has 31 MT-LBs. The MT-LB is also the prime mover for other sub-units, so the brigade has a significantly larger total inventory, often put at 159 in all. For example, artillery battalions have eight each and anti-tank gun batteries have six.

The 138th is one of several MR brigades primarily using venerable MT-LBs rather than more modern BTRs or BMPs. The 25th near Pskov is another. Others are in mountainous areas of the North Caucasus or in the Eastern MD. The Russian Army may like the MT-LB’s performance in the marshy terrain of Leningrad oblast. At any rate, it’s a simple, reliable armored vehicle that the MOD still has in large numbers.

For integral fire support, each motorized rifle battalion has a battery of six towed 120-mm 2B16 Nona-K gun-mortars in two firing platoons of three weapons. The battalion has a man-portable 9K115 Metis ATGM battery of three platoons of three launchers. The battalion has an air defense battery organized similarly with three platoons of three hand-held 9K38 Igla SAMs.

The 138th IMRB’s tank battalion is outfitted with 41 T-72B3 tanks, ten tanks in each of four tank companies.

The brigade’s two SP howitzer battalions are organized in traditional fashion – 18 152-mm 2S3 Akatsiya systems in three batteries of two platoons with three guns each. The MLRS battalion with 18 122-mm BM-21 Grad systems is similar with three batteries, two platoons of three vehicles.

The brigade’s anti-tank battalion has two batteries of six towed 100-mm MT-12 Rapira guns and six 9P149 Shturm-S ATGMs. The batteries have two firing platoons with three weapons. The anti-tank guns are towed by MT-LBs, and the ATGMs are mounted on MT-LBs.

The brigade SAM battalion has three launch batteries of four 9K332M Tor-M2 SAMs. It has a battery with two launch platoons of three 9A34 Strela-10 SAMs, and probably a battery (two three-vehicle platoons) of older remaining 2S6 (9K22) Tunguska gun-missile systems.

Overall, the 138th IMRB is a pretty average formation that hasn’t been particularly favored with equipment upgrades or modernization.

Contract for Tornado-S MLRS

Tornado-S

According to Kommersant, Perm-based ZAO Special Design Bureau (SKB) received a contract worth 6-7 billion rubles ($93-$108 million) to produce 20 combat systems for the Russian MOD. The paper’s sources say the contract is for Tornado-S multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and transport-reload vehicles. The equipment is to be delivered in 2020.

The 12-tube, 300-mm Tornado-S (9K515) MLRS is a “deeply modernized” version of the Smerch. It reportedly features GLONASS satellite navigation, automated fire control, and 9M542 PGMs. Unlike earlier systems, Tornado-S gives specific flight profile data to each rocket. Its effective range is 120 km.

Tornado-S first entered the inventory in late 2016. Smerch was accepted for service in 1989.

The new 9K515 weapons system includes the 9A54 launch vehicle and 9T255 transport-reload vehicle.

Tornado-S and TZM

The 20 systems in the contract likely include 16 launch vehicles (two battalions of eight) and four transport-reload vehicles (two per launch battalion).

The Russian MOD is using new Tornado-S MLRS to build a heavy rocket launcher brigade at the district level in each of its four MDs. In Soviet times, each MD (front) disposed of its own rocket launcher brigade, typically four battalions of 18 40-tube, 122-mm BM-21 Grad systems.

Those “brigades” look like this now:

  • Western MD…Tver…79th Brigade…three battalions of Tornado-S…12 launchers.
  • Southern MD…Znamensk…439th Brigade…??? battalions of Tornado-S…??? launchers.
  • Central MD…Shchuchye…232nd Brigade…two battalions of 220-mm Uragan…16 launchers.
  • Eastern MD…Novosysoyevka…338th Brigade…2-3 battalions of Uragan…16-18 launchers.

But these are more like rocket battalions than the brigades of old days.

The first Tornado-S deployments began in 2017 in the Western MD and continued in the Southern MD in early 2019.

It seems likely the Tornado-S systems due in 2020 will go to the Central or Eastern MD before the Western or Southern get more.

Kommersant detailed the poor financial status of ZAO SKB. Its parent, long-time sole producer of Russian MLRS Motovilikhinskiye Plants is bankrupt. SKB was split away to keep creditors at bay. The rest of Motovilikha is supposed to retool to make civilian products. The growing problem of insolvency in Russia’s OPK is worthy of a look.

New Tank Regiment?

RG gave us the scantest info. The Russian Army is upgrading an independent tank battalion to a regiment in Smolensk oblast, in the Western MD. The new regiment will belong to one of the 20th CAA’s motorized rifle divisions.

It reportedly will be outfitted with T-72BA tanks, BMP-2 AIFVs, engineer and repair-recovery vehicles, air defense, and recce.

According to RG, the 20th CAA is the largest “large formation” [объединение — anything above a division] in Russia’s armed forces. It is deployed along Russia’s western border in Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Kursk, and Smolensk oblasts.

Then one has to scrounge. There’s info of varying quality and completeness available. Sometimes you find something like this or this.

The new tank regiment will be part of the 144th Motorized Rifle Division, based in Smolensk and Bryansk oblasts. The 144th at present may look like this:

  • Headquarters (Yelnya, Smolensk obl.)
  • 448th Motorized Rifle Regiment (Klintsy, Bryansk obl.)
  • 182nd Motorized Rifle Regiment (Zaymishche, Bryansk obl.)
  • 254th Motorized Rifle Regiment (Klintsy)
  • 228th Tank Regiment (Klintsy)
  • 856th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment (Pochep, Bryansk obl.)
  • 1259th SAM Regiment (???)
  • 673rd SAM Battalion (???)
  • 148th Reconnaissance Battalion (Smolensk)
  • 1281st Anti-Tank Battalion (Yelnya)
  • 295th Engineer Battalion (Yelnya)
  • 686th Signals Battalion (Smolensk)
  • 1032nd Material Support Battalion (Pochep)
  • 150th Medical Battalion (Pochep)
  • UAV Company (???)
  • EW Company (???)
  • Radiological, Chemical, Biological Defense Company (???)

In the first link above, Yuriy Barash, a Ukrainian observer, maintains in 2017 the 144th began forming up its 182nd MRR, 228th TR, and 1259th SAM Regiment as well as anti-tank, material support, and medical battalions. It had not started forming up the 254th MRR or the specialist companies, according to him.

T-72

So does the 228th Tank Regiment already exist? No and yes.

If Barash’s TO&E for the 144th isn’t wrong (but it could be), the 448th MRR and 856th SP Artillery Regiment appear to be its only fleshed out and combat-capable units. In 2017, he held only 40 T-72s in the division (the tank battalion of the 448th).

CAST, however, suggested that the 144th has an independent tank battalion that will be upgraded to a regiment, to become the 228th TR.

There are also discrepancies regarding the locations of different units.

Welcome to following Russia’s OOB.

Here’s the moral. Saying you have a division on your western border is one thing;  actually having one is something else.