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.

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.