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. 

Demobbing

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, they have 1,075,000. In last year’s conscription campaigns, 267,000 men were drafted. That’s 25 percent of 1,075,000.

Are conscripts 25 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 percent, how many personnel are in the 11th Army Corps? 16,000. 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.

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.

Leader in Combat Aviation?

Videoconference on help to the aviation industry

On May 13, RF President Vladimir Putin conducted a videoconference from his “bunker” in Novo-Ogarevo on support to Russia’s aviation industry in the pandemic and economic crisis. He directed his ministers to shift civilian, and possibly some military, aircraft production “to the left” to give work to struggling enterprises.

In the process, he said:

Domestic aircraft compete on equal terms with foreign analogues, with world market leaders in many of their characteristics, and by the way, in some [characteristics] — in combat aviation — is considerably superior to them.

Putin’s assessment of Russia’s place as the (or a) leader in military aviation spurred Militaryparitet.com to editorialize. The comments are worth a few moments.

Deputy PM Yuriy Borisov used the occasion, Militaryparitet writes, to ask once again for Putin to erase defense industry’s chronic debts. And nothing in Borisov’s plea smells like the competitiveness Putin claims.

The site continues:

This announcement [about Russia’s lead in military aviation] is highly interesting, but it has been repeated like a mantra for two decades already. So where is Russia outpacing its competitors in combat and military aviation?

First, Russia still hasn’t gotten its fifth-generation fighter, the Su-57, into the force. The U.S. long ago jumped ahead with its F-22 and F-35, and even the Chinese claim they have 40 series-produced J-20 fighters.

Second, Russia’s fourth-generation fighters are laggards. Not a single one has an active phased array radar. This is no longer an innovation for the U.S. The French have it. And China also asserts success in putting it on its fighters.

Third, the Indians are unhappy with Russia’s R-77 air-to-air missiles they purchased. New Delhi says they lack the range and effectiveness of U.S. AIM-120 and European Meteor missiles.

Fourth, with respect to strategic bombers, Russia is renewing production of the existing Tu-160 Blackjack. A new design PAK DA will require “remarkable patience” at a minimum and, with a long-term recession looming, it probably won’t happen at all.

Fifth, Russia hasn’t managed to put an active phased array radar on its AEW aircraft because of its almost total lack of commercial electronics and microelectronics industries.

Sixth, for transports, Russia continues to rely on the Il-76 while the U.S. introduced the C-17 with nearly double the cargo capacity in the 1990s.

Seventh, Russian unmanned aviation is a complete bust. There is the single S-70 Okhotnik, but you couldn’t see a Russian analogue to Global Hawk “even with a telescope.”

Militaryparitet sums up:

So what kind of Russian leadership in combat (military) aviation is Putin talking about every time? Russia has long been on the margins of progress in this sector, and there is no hope to get to the cutting edge “by its own efforts.” We are living in a time when you can’t do anything good without cooperation . . . .

But . . . is there all of a sudden an area where Russia is overtaking the entire world in combat aviation? If there is, speak up, please. We’ll celebrate together.

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.

Bering Patrol

Your author has been distracted since late March, but here’s an effort to regain (and possibly maintain) focus….

On April 9, the U.S. Air Force intercepted two Russian Il-38 May ASW aircraft in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutians. The Russian planes were in the Alaska ADIZ but didn’t enter sovereign U.S. or Canadian airspace.

Two random Il-38Ns

Two random Il-38Ns

According to the Russian Pacific Fleet’s press-service, the Il-38s were conducting a “flight-tactical exercise” to their max combat radius — about 2,200 km (1,188 nm).

The precise track is known only to the Russians and to NORAD. A full-range flight from their base at Yelizovo could have taken them to the Bering Strait and back, or perhaps along the Aleutian chain. Or maybe somewhere in between. The distances are great enough, however, to limit any search or loitering time.

The aircraft practiced ASW with radar and acoustic sensors and notional delivery of on-board weapons, according to the report. MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors provided air cover. An-12 Cub and An-26 Curl transports flew in a surface recce role.

“Special attention” was given to coordinating the activity of the Il-38s with the Marshal Krylov and tactical ship groups. The Marshal Krylov is an old missile range instrumentation vessel reportedly now serving as the Pacific Fleet’s command ship.

The Pacific Fleet and Il-38 aircraft have been wrapping up the winter training period with some fairly vigorous exercises.

The Russian Navy and its Il-38s are obviously interested in U.S. military systems in Alaska and how they react to ingressing aircraft. They’re also interested in U.S. subs operating in the Bering, whether headed for the Arctic or possibly tracking Russian subs based on Kamchatka.

Flying to max radius (for Il-38s which have typically been used close to home) is most curious. Perhaps it’s sensor system testing. Maybe it was the chance to train with Marshal Krylov as a tactical controller. Why not rebase and fly from Anadyr?

Russian Naval Aviation may operate as few as 20 Il-38s at this point. The Yelizovo-based 317th Mixed Aviation Regiment has an ASW squadron of probably 8 Il-38 and 4 Il-38N aircraft. The Northern Fleet probably has another 8 airframes.

All Il-38s are likely 40 or more years old, but perhaps seven were modernized to Il-38N during the 2010s. In 2017, the chief of Naval Aviation claimed to have 30 Il-38s that would be upgraded to Il-38N by 2025.

The Il-38N is the old airframe plus the new Novella P-38 system to replace the original Berkut-38. That sensor suite mounted rather awkwardly atop the fuselage increases the range of the plane’s air and surface target detection and tracking. More enthusiastic reports say it can find submarines by magnetic, wake, and IR detection, and is four times more effective in target search.

Talk of a new medium-range ASW aircraft is heard from time to time. The Beriyev-designed A-40 Albatros amphibian was once a possibility. Now the Il-114 is often mentioned. However, no clear move to replace the aged Il-38 inventory is evident.

The Rest of Government Hour

It’s worth wading through the rest of Russian Defense Minister Shoygu’s “government hour” address to the Sovfed to compare this speech to previous data points. His future remarks can be put in some kind of context against this baseline.

Shoygu in the FC

Shoygu

First, Shoygu briefly illustrated the condition of the Russian Army in 2012.

He said “modern” equipment amounted to only 16 percent of the total. Serviceable equipment (i.e. operational, not needing repair or overhaul) 47 percent.

The Defense Minister said Serdyukov-era cuts in officer corps created 61,000 rasporyazhentsy (распоряженцы) on which the MOD had to spend 32 billion rubles annually. These semi-unemployed officers occupied 28,000 service apartments and others occupied housing rented by the MOD at commercial prices.

So the rasporyazhentsy problem was a bigger one than the MOD ever let on. It was hardly discussed after 2012 until the MOD reported it solved in late 2019.

But back to Shoygu. He indicated 107,000 Russian servicemen needed apartments in 2012. There were only 186,000 would-be professional contract soldiers in the ranks. The air forces were short some 2,300 pilots. The MOD had 1,300 unneeded military towns on its books costing five billion rules to maintain. Only 21 percent of Russians thought the army could defend the country and only 28 percent considered the army prestigious.

Then he described major points in the Supreme CINC’s (Putin’s) May 2012 decrees:

  • The share of “modern” weapons would be 70 percent at the end of 2020.
  • Not less than 50,000 contractees would be recruited each year for five years (436,000 by the end of 2017?).
  • Social protection of servicemen in housing and pay would be raised.
  • Military-patriotic indoctrination of young people would be organized.
  • Prestige and attractiveness of military service would be increased.

In answer to those pointed, Shoygu claimed the share of “modern” MOD systems is now 68.2 percent and will be 70 percent by the end of this year.

Strategic nuclear forces are more than 87 percent “modern.” He must be counting just missiles and warheads because many delivery systems (i.e. bombers and SSBNs) can’t really be called modern.

Serviceable equipment is 94 percent. More than 1,400 aircraft and more than 190 ships, boats, and support vessels were procured. The “combat potential” of the RF Armed Forces has more than doubled since 2012, according to Shoygu.

However, some weapons and equipment Mr. Putin wanted by 2020 won’t be delivered. Putin’s list in 2012 looked like this:

  • 400 ICBMs and SLBMs.
  • 8 Borey SSBNs.
  • About 20 multipurpose submarines.
  • More than 50 surface ships.
  • Nearly 100 military satellites.
  • More than 600 aircraft.
  • More than 1,000 helicopters.
  • 28 regimental sets of S-400.
  • 38 battalions of Vityaz SAMs.
  • 10 brigades of Iskander-M.
  • More than 2,300 tanks.
  • About 2,000 SP artillery systems.
  • 17,000 military vehicles.

The eight Borey SSBNs and 20 other subs obviously won’t happen. Vityaz SAMs are just starting to reach the force. The tanks were supposed to be new T-14s but became modernized T-72B3Ms at best.

Other items did arrive: ICBMs, airplanes, helos, S-400s, Iskanders, etc.

But back to the speech. Russia, Shoygu said, is countering U.S. missile defenses with:

  • Experimental combat duty of the Kinzhal ALBM.
  • Flight testing of the Tsirkon ASCM / LACM.
  • First regiment of Avangard HGVs on SS-19 Mod 4 ICBMs.
  • The Peresvet laser system.
Russian Peresvet laser for point defense of ICBM bases

Peresvet laser for point defense of ICBM bases

Defense Minister Shoygu recounted the “great experience” gained from the Syrian civil war.

He said every military district commander, staff officer, army and air army commander, division, brigade, and regiment commander has received combat experience in Syria. Ninety percent of flight crews and 56 percent of air defense personnel participated in combat there. Russia now has some pilots with 200 combat flights, according to Shoygu.

It’s clearer than ever that Moscow intervened in Syria not simply to raise its international profile, but also to have a place to test its weapons and train its personnel under real-world conditions. 

Shoygu said the military has 225,000 conscripts and 405,000 contractees. The army’s sergeant ranks are fully contract as are Spetsnaz, Naval Infantry units, battalion tactical groups, and operators of complex systems.

Interestingly, no figure on the Navy afloat which is supposed to be virtually all contractee. This raises the official contractee number from 384,000 to 405,000. The number’s been steady just shy of 400,000 for the past four years.

Since 2012, some 775,736 servicemen have been housed per Shoygu. This includes permanent housing for 244,107, service housing for 226,712, and “real market rate” compensation for 304,917 renting on the local economy. Since 2014, 37,312 have used subsidies to buy or build in “places of their choosing.”

Odd he didn’t mention the military mortgage program which, since 2009, has been a key plank of solving the army’s housing problem.

Congratulating himself for reviving the Young Pioneers in the form of Yunarmiya, Shoygu castigated 12 regions where local authorities aren’t supporting this organization. He said he knows some Senators aren’t sponsoring their own Yunarmiya detachments.

Beyond the 1,300 in 2012 mentioned at the outset, Shoygu said the MOD has transferred 1,800 military towns to the regions. But this is, of course, not always a boon for the recipients. Sometimes the former garrison towns are a big burden.

Shoygu said about 90 percent of Russians “trust” the army, while “negative evaluations” have declined by 4.5 times.

It’s not obvious what polling the Defense Minister is referencing. Polls usually ask, “Can the army defend Russia in the event of a real military threat from other countries?” If that’s not trust, what is? Even Levada’s poll from 2010 showed 63 percent of the nation believed it definitely or most likely could.