Category Archives: Military Operations

Army-Level Spetsnaz Training

Mil.ru often highlights counter-sabotage training by Russian forces, particularly RVSN mobile missile regiments on combat patrol. It frequently relates how “anti-terrorist sub-units” prevented a notional act of sabotage by hostile elements or naval base personnel foiled an attack by “submarine sabotage forces and means.”

But on May 29, the MOD site posted doubly rare news — a brief mention of a tactical sabotage exercise by a Spetsnaz group subordinate to the 20th CAA

Here’s what Mil.ru wrote:

Spetsnaz of Western MD combined arms army sabotaged riverine base facilities of notional enemy in the course of training in Tambov oblast

For the first time the special designation group of Western military district (WMD) combined arms army sabotaged riverine base facilities of the notional enemy in the course of a tactical-special exercise in Tambov oblast.

According to the design of the activities, servicemen conducted a covert landing on the shore, eliminated sentries, and also mined the territory and energy facilities of the notional enemy. In the framework of the exercises spetsnaz also practiced landing on the shore in boats without SCUBA, and airdrops with the D-10 parachute system.

More than 100 special designation servicemen of the WMD combined arms army participated in the exercise.

The earlier announcement that Spetsnaz are now part of a WMD army (the 20th) indicated the contingent is about 100 men, i.e. a Spetsnaz company or group. It also said the sub-unit would train with the 16th Spetsnaz Brigade in Tambov.

An airdrop with D-10 parachutes

An airdrop with D-10 parachutes

The scenario of sabotaging an enemy riverine base is fairly elementary, especially because it was likely a daylight evolution. Had it been conducted at night, Mil.ru would have said so.

More challenging future training scenarios for the independent Spetsnaz company will probably feature long-range reconnaissance and the destruction of enemy tactical nuclear weapons, precision strike systems, C3, and logistics in support of 20th CAA objectives.

COVID-19 Update (3)

Here are the Russian MOD’s numbers on coronavirus infections in the military through May 8. It’s important to follow the official figures, accurate or not, just to compare with other data and events.

On May 6, irresponsible and ridiculous as it may sound, Defense Minister Shoygu came close to claiming that the Russian Armed Forces are turning the corner on COVID-19:

“Our military medics have been doing great work in battling coronavirus. As a result the number recovered exceeds the number of sick. We understand this could and should be the same plank, shelf, I don’t what else to call it. But to defeat it is possible only when the quantity recovered is more than the quantity sick. Every day.”

Mr. Shoygu seemed to be fumbling toward asserting that the MOD is flattening its infection curve. But epidemiology and even his numbers don’t really support the contention. Even assuming they are true and accurate. Shoygu may be confused by the military’s reporting on those in contact with infected people who didn’t contract the disease.

The Russian MOD ended the training year for pre-military cadets on April 30, and seemed to drop reporting on their cases but then resumed a few days later. New positive tests among VVUZ students appear to have leveled off. But again it’s all about who gets tested and how accurate the test is. And students deemed healthy presumably went home after April 30.

With the number of cases the MOD has reported, it’s hard to believe there have been no deaths from COVID-19 in the military.

The next test for the Russian MOD will come when it starts bringing young men into military commissariats and sending new conscripts out to their units later this month. Draftees are supposed to be tested and free of coronavirus, but we’ll see how this goes.

On the larger picture, the Russian government on May 8 reported 188,000 cases with just over 1,700 deaths — a mortality rate of just 0.9 percent. Russia is being ultraconservative in estimating causes of death. Most countries report rates of four, five, or even seven percent. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin — the public face of Russia’s response to the crisis — says Russia’s COVID-19 infections may be double that official 188,000 number.

Meanwhile, President Putin continues to be distant from all this, having turned his famous manual control into remote control.

Remote control

Independent pollster Levada reports Putin’s approval has dipped to 63 percent, the lowest since before Russia’s seizure of Ukraine and war in eastern Ukraine.

COVID-19 Update (2)

Catching up two days of COVID-19 in Russia’s military . . . . Here’s the latest inelegant spreadsheet.

The Russian MOD added numbers for those who recovered from the infection (highlighted in green). Pre-military schools no longer have pupils in isolation. They apparently didn’t turn positive.

Six of 16 military medical centers rapidly built exclusively for coronavirus opened today in Podolsk, Smolensk, Volgograd, Novosibirsk, Ussuriysk, and Orenburg.

New MOD medical center in Smolensk

New MOD medical center in Smolensk

The other eight are supposed to open by May 15. Each center can accommodate about 100 patients.

Russian Defense Minister Shoygu told the MOD Collegium yesterday that his department has an inventory of nearly 7,000 hospital beds and capacity for 30,000 patients “under observation.” His deputy Timur Ivanov said the MOD has also formed seven 100-bed mobile hospitals out of independent medical battalions and companies.

Ivanov also stated that the MOD is buying 300 ventilators for 450 million rubles. They are due for delivery before May 15.

The RF government’s “operational staff” reports 106,500 Russians have been diagnosed. That’s 7,099 new cases in 24 hours.

Now RF Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is positive for COVID-19. Who else in the Russian elite will turn up with the virus?

COVID-19 Update

When I started tapping these keys for Russian Defense Policy 3,792 days (two or maybe three computers) ago, I couldn’t have guessed my 1,000th post would be about an infectious disease bedeviling our planet (Russia included). But it is about that.

And despite COVID-19, I’m taking a moment to congratulate myself for that nice, round 1,000 number.

The posts don’t come as frequently right now, so who’s to say if or when there’ll be a 2,000th. Even harder to imagine, what would or will it be about?

But enough of that . . . . COVID-19. The RF MOD issued another bulletin today on the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. Let’s track the numbers as long as they last. Can’t help suspecting they’ll be less than forthcoming eventually (or disappear altogether). Here’s a link to an inelegant spreadsheet.

The Russian military is giving numbers for servicemen, VVUZ (higher military, i.e. commissioning, school) cadets, pre-military (Suvorov, Nakhimov, etc.) students, and MOD civilian workers.

Highlighted in red on the spreadsheet are significant day-to-day jumps. The Russian military school population is getting hit pretty hard. VVUZy cadets testing positive went up by 262, and, sadly, young pre-military school patients went up 85.

The Suvorov and Nakhimov schools seem like a pretty good deal for many Russian parents, but perhaps not so much now.

Today Defense Minister Shoygu ordered the obvious. The conscript cohort demobbing this spring must be released into the reserve while protecting them against contracting the virus as they make their way home. The trick of course is how. No specifics.

Yesterday, belatedly, he ordered that the academic year in VVUZy and pre-military schools will end early, on April 30. Why not immediately one wonders.

COVID-19

The Russian MOD has released official numbers on coronavirus cases in the armed forces.

From March through April 26, according to the MOD, 874 Russian servicemen tested positive for COVID-19. Four are in critical condition, including one on a ventilator. Fifteen are in serious condition. The rest are asymptomatic.

The report says 314 troops are in military hospitals, and 175 in isolation at their duty stations. Six are in civilian hospitals, 379 in isolation at home.

The first announcement of infections in the Russian military appeared on April 14. However, rumors of cases in the armed forces were reported in Russian media as early as April 1.

Izvestiya's COVID-19 map

Izvestiya’s COVID-19 map

There are another 779 positive cases in Russia’s higher military educational system. Of these patients, 304 are in military hospitals, 354 in isolation at their duty stations, 9 are in civilian hospitals, and 112 in isolation at home.

In Russia’s extensive pre-military educational system, there have been 192 cases. Of them, eight are in MOD hospitals, 15 in isolation at their schools, 9 in civilian hospitals, and 160 at MOD sanatoriums.

In the MOD’s civilian workforce, there have been 245 cases treated. There are 25 in MOD hospitals, 33 in civilian hospitals, 175 in isolation at home, and 12 in MOD sanatoriums.

Combat Experience

When Russian President Vladimir Putin got serious about modernizing his military in 2013, he lacked something: somewhere to flex those new muscles.

It’s a “chicken or the egg” paradox. Does a country really have military power if it doesn’t use it? Or does the process of employing the country’s military create that power?

The leaders of the world’s most bellicose nations don’t feel secure until they’ve seen their troops in combat, no matter how well manned, equipped, and trained they are. Supreme CINCs like to see the effect using their military power has on others.

The Kremlin watched while U.S. and NATO forces were used in many places around the globe in the 1990s and 2000s. There were some senior Russian officers who’d done a tour in Afghanistan during the 1980s. But Moscow’s soldiers — and precious few at that — had only Chechnya and Georgia, and the results weren’t encouraging.

So Putin’s modernized forces got their first real practice annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine in 2014. And though Moscow can’t advertise, its generals and units have been fighting alongside the Russian militias in Donetsk and Lugansk ever since.

Syria served as a bigger firing range.

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015 provided not just a live proving ground for the new weapons and equipment Moscow procured. It created another opportunity for Russian officers and soldiers to acquire combat experience.

There have been various Russian media summaries capturing this, but Interfaks-AVN published one recently that seems pretty comprehensive.

According to Interfaks-AVN, the Russian MOD announced that 68,000 troops, including 460 generals, have received combat experience in Syria.

It indicated that the commanders of all four Russian military districts, all combined arms army and air and air defense army commanders, all division commanders, and also 96 percent of combined arms brigade and regiment commanders have served in Syria.

The MOD said 87 percent of frontal aviation crews, 91 percent of army aviation crews, 97 percent of transport aviation crews, and 60 percent of strategic Long-Range Aviation crews have gotten combat experience over Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry added that it’s reducing its contingent in Syria now.

These are, of course, pretty remarkable claims, but one wonders: does Russia have 460 general officers in combat command positions from which they could be sent for a tour in a war zone?

Airmobile Groups

An airmobile group

The Ground Troops of Russia’s Southern MD are resurrecting airmobile groups. Recent Mil.ru press-releases have highlighted them. Though clearly still developing, they are far enough along to advertise them.

Shortly after the December 1 start of Russia’s new training year, Southern MD Commander General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov declared that every battalion, regiment, brigade, and division in his AOR will establish and train airmobile groups.

He continued:

“Up to 40 helicopters of various designations — strike, combat-transport and transport — must support the completion of the combat-training missions of each company tactical group.”

Forty helos is a stiff requirement even for the Southern MD with a brigade plus two independent regiments of rotary wing air support.

Airmobile groups have been established in the Volgograd-based 20th MRB. According to Mil.ru, they have spent a month on the Prudboy range training for tactical air assaults, employing helicopter fire support, landing on different terrain day and night, and using night vision goggles.

The 150th MRD in Rostov oblast has airmobile groups. Mil.ru reported on Mi-8AMTSh Terminator helos flying in support of them. The site indicated that the groups are outfitted with the RPG-7B, AGS-17 Plamya grenade launchers, 2S12 Sani mortars, Igla (SA-18) MANPADS, and Belozer satellite comms.

Mil.ru showed the 136th MRB’s airmobile groups with buggy-like light vehicles.

Airmobile group with ATVs

Airmobile groups sound like platoons, so several groups will probably constitute a company-sized unit for divisions or brigades.

In Soviet times, combined arms armies also had airmobile battalions.

Russian divisions and brigades won’t own helos to support airmobile groups. The MD commander, leading the joint strategic command (OSK) in his AOR, will task his air force component to support them.

Some Soviet divisions and armies had organic squadrons and regiments with Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters.

New Russian airmobile groups may not become named TO&E elements, but remain motorized rifle platoons or companies with training sufficient to be designated “airmobile capable” — if only parenthetically.

There’s significant history to this story. The Russian Army lost ownership of its aviation in 2002 when the General Staff gave it to the air force. But, in 2010, all theater air assets came under control of the OSK commander — a Ground Troops general. Then, in 2013, the army surrendered its three air-assault brigades to the Airborne Troops.

So the formation of airmobile groups may be, at least partially, about Russian ground pounders reclaiming some air support and airmobile missions from the other services.

Vertical envelopment wasn’t forgotten in Russia, it just became the exclusive province of the VDV, and to a lesser extent Spetsnaz and Naval Infantry, for a while. General-Colonel Dvornikov appears to be leading the charge to reinvigorate air mobility as a facet of the Russian Army’s tactical doctrine.