Tag Archives: Eastern MD

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.

Non-TO&E Reconnaissance Troops

LPR-4 laser rangefinder made by the Kazan Optical-Mechanical Plant

LPR-4 laser rangefinder made by the Kazan Optical-Mechanical Plant

Russian news agency TASS noted yesterday that the Eastern MD’s 35th Combined Arms Army will train several hundred soldiers to serve as scouts in addition to their usual duties.

This ADDU training will occur during the balance of July in 35th CAA motorized rifle sub-units (battalion and below). Between 800 and 1,000 troops will learn to serve literally as “non-TO&E reconnaissance men-observers.” In English and U.S. Army parlance, perhaps scouts is close.

In a 10-day course, trainees will learn the “rules” of conducting reconnaissance, how to choose terrain, and to establish an observation post. Experienced “reconnaissance men” will teach them to detect minute changes in the situation, hide listening devices, and recognize “telltale signs” of targets day or night. Separate lessons will be dedicated to aerial recon, observation on the move, and camouflage, concealment, and deception (CC&D) measures.

The new scouts will learn to employ night vision and other optical equipment including LPR-5 laser rangefinders.

The scout-trainees will broaden their military qualifications, and they could conduct reconnaissance in cases when TO&E “recon men” aren’t attached to their forces.

The Eastern MD spokesman said the scout training is the result of the growing role of reconnaissance in recent military conflicts.

In some respects, the Eastern MD is the Russian “poor man’s district.” It doesn’t sit opposite Moscow’s major concerns — NATO, militant Islam, and Central Asia. It faces China (the threat “which must not be named”). 

At times, it seems the Eastern MD gets fewer real resources. The Kremlin has already fielded full-fledged independent reconnaissance brigades — the 96th in the Western MD’s 1st Tank Army, the 100th in the Southern MD’s 58th CAA, and the 127th in the BSF (Crimea). The Eastern MD doesn’t merit one apparently, and will have to get along with ADDU scouts at least for now.

Back in the day, Soviet divisions had a dedicated reconnaissance battalion, while armies had Spetsnaz battalions or companies.

It’s likely the requirement for more recon is another lesson the Russian military is taking from its intervention in Syria.

JO Shortage

Russia’s Eastern Military District (MD) is apparently experiencing a junior officer shortage.

The district headquarters in Khabarovsk announced this week that 227 of its contractees are set to receive lieutenant’s shoulderboards in the near future.

Eastern MD Contractees in Basic Training

Eastern MD Contractees in Basic Training

The Russian MOD site indicated that these contractees already have a higher education, and 39 have a military specialization.  Apparently, they will start serving immediately as junior officers.  The other 188 have been enrolled in military training establishments (VUZy) for an unspecified period.

Another 85 will soon be sent off for similar training.  The MD is already selecting well-prepared contract servicemen who have a higher education.

The district also intends to send representatives from its personnel directorate and military commissariats to western and central Russia to recruit individuals to serve as officers in the Eastern MD.

The MOD site reminded readers that, in May, MD commander General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin said the district needed to find officers “who were forced to resign during the optimization of the structure and size of the Russian Army” as well as contract servicemen with higher education who want to be officers.

The “optimization” of course was that of former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov.  His effort to cut bloat in the officer ranks began in earnest in 2009. While focused mainly on senior officers, Serdyukov’s knife also slashed lieutenants and captains at the base of the TO&E pyramid.  At the time, commentators reported complaints from units saying they had trouble keeping order and fulfilling routine requirements due to a lack of platoon and company commanders.

In some sense, the news about a JO shortage is surprising given that each spring the MOD gushes about young lieutenants graduating from VUZy and taking up their responsibilities in the nation’s far-flung armed forces.  It also brags about stiff competition to enter those VUZy every year. 

In another, it isn’t surprising.  Serving in the military in Russia’s harsh and underpopulated Far East is no more popular than living there for other reasons.  It’s a hardship post with little attraction for 22-year-old.

Lastly, each contractee taken to become an officer means another enlisted soldier has to be signed up for the Eastern MD.  And that’s a more difficult sell.  One is left wondering if the recruitment of contract servicemen for the Far East isn’t going so well either.

Sufficient numbers of young Russian men are just getting harder to find.  It’s hard to get them to go where the military thinks they’re needed.  Meanwhile, Moscow is trying to expand its force structure. And the very bottom of Russia’s demographic hole won’t be reached until 2018. 

Another Readiness Ex

Putin and Shoygu (photo: mil.ru)

Putin and Shoygu (photo: mil.ru)

President and Glavk Vladimir Putin ordered Defense Minister Shoygu to conduct another readiness exercise yesterday.  This time in the Eastern MD, to include the Pacific Fleet.

Putin hinted he might show up in the Far East to watch.

The Supreme CINC directed that particular attention should be paid to transferring large masses of troops to assembly points, to transportation support, and to logistical and medical support.

Putin ordered Shoygu to:

“Also conduct all necessary measures relative to rescue at sea and the rescue of transportation means, including the submarine fleet.”

Apparently, the Glavk’s bitter (but important) memory of August 12, 2000 is jogged at this time of year.

He said he regards this year’s readiness checks as highly effective and extremely useful in eliminating problems.

Today Mil.ru indicated the exercise has started, and expanded a bit.  It includes not only the Eastern MD and Pacific Fleet, but the Central MD, LRA, and VTA.

The “formations and units of the Central MD’s Novosibirsk large formation” (i.e. the 41st CAA) will play a notional enemy role.

The ex aims to evaluate sub-units’ readiness to fulfill designated missions, the skill level of personnel, technical readiness, and proper outfitting with weapons and equipment.

As in others, the readiness ex will feature marches (convoys) to unfamiliar ranges far from permanent bases for two-sided tactical play with combat firings.

It will test the operational mobility of a formation (brigade) to a distance of more than 3,000 km.  Troops will move by rail, ship, and VTA.  More than 80,000 personnel, 1,000 tank and armored vehicles, 130 aircraft, and 70 ships will participate.  The drill concludes on 20 July.

Mil.ru also covered a high command videocon devoted to the ex.  Shoygu said up to 160,000 troops might be involved in one way or another.

Their Man in Pyongyang

Admiral Sidenko

Eastern MD Commander, Admiral Konstantin Sidenko suddenly became the Kremlin’s man in Pyongyang yesterday.  His visit to North Korea was kept tightly wrapped until his departure.

Sidenko will visit the DPRK from August 22-26, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is in Russia’s Far East to meet President Medvedev.

Moscow’s once close military relationship with the DPRK declined to practically zero over the past 20 years, hence the surprise of yesterday’s news.  Meanwhile, Russia cultivated military-to-military ties with the rest of northeast Asia — China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea — leaving its old ally in the cold.  Until yesterday.

The Defense Ministry’s press release says Admiral Sidenko will meet command representatives from the Korean People’s Army, and consult on questions of renewing and further developing military and naval cooperation, possibly conducting Russian-Korean humanitarian exercises, and mutual ship visits between the RF and DPRK navies.

Additionally, according to the press release, the sides will discuss the future of cooperation between their Ground Troops, the possibility of conducting joint exercises and training for naval SAR, and also the issue of providing assistance to civilians during natural disasters.

The Russian media has written little thus far on what it means to have a military delegation visit the North Korean capital.  However, AP asked Aleksandr Golts for comments, and this is how the wire service summarized them:

“Military expert Alexander Golts said North Korea’s goal in inviting the Russian military could be to assuage fears of instability as Russia is considering building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea.  The pipeline is expected to be one of the main topics of Kim and Medvedev’s talks.”

“Golts said it was highly unlikely Russia would renew arms sales to North Korea, which would not be in its interests as a participant in the six-party talks.  He also noted the low level of the Russian delegation, which is led by the commander of Russia’s eastern military district.”

One might suppose it’s equally possible the North Koreans wanted the Russian military to visit Pyongyang as part of its quid pro quo for considering a gas pipeline over its territory to South Korea.

Arms sales seem unlikely, but probably because Moscow’s no longer in the game of providing free military aid. 

Admiral Sidenko is a lower level visitor, but it’s traditional for Moscow to send proximate regional commanders on such visits.  MD commanders can be precursors to General Staff Chiefs and Defense Ministers, and higher-profile military relations generally.

It’s almost impossible to know when the DPRK is involved, but this first interaction in nearly ten years automatically means something’s afoot.  The participants themselves probably don’t know where a bit of diplomatic, economic, and military activity will lead.

Galkin Promoted

A thing rare in recent times was announced today . . . the promotion of a general officer.  In this case, Southern MD Commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Galkin picked up his third star. 

President Medvedev’s decree on General-Colonel Galkin was dated June 11, according to RIA Novosti.

Large, well-publicized general officer promotion ceremonies used to be the norm, but no longer. 

Recall one of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s objectives was turning the “bloated egg” of the officer corps into a pyramid.  As part of this, he planned to trim 1,100 generals to 900. 

Of course, Serdyukov had to walk back part of his decision on cutting officers this year, but generally it’s clear that lots of O-6s now occupy billets once held by one-stars.  Army commanders routinely two-stars in the past now wear only one.  And MD commanders who typically wore three, have been wearing only two . . . at least until now. 

Galkin joins Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin at the three-star rank. 

Galkin’s promotion shows the team has to be rewarded for doing the heavy lifting of establishing the “new profile.”  Three-star rank also extends his statutory retirement to 60. 

Central MD Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Chirkin and Eastern MD Commander, Vice-Admiral Konstantin Sidenko are both older than Galkin.  They are likely serving on extensions right now, and might be better candidates for retirement than promotion.  But another star can’t be ruled out.  In Chirkin’s case, the recent arsenal explosions in his AOR won’t help him.

Aleksandr Viktorovich Galkin is especially strongly linked to General Staff Chief, Army General Nikolay Makarov through his service in the former Siberian MD in the 2000s.  Bakhin and Chirkin are also “Siberians” with ties to Makarov.

Some details on Galkin:  He was born March 22, 1958 in Ordzhonikidze (now Vladikavkaz), North-Ossetian ASSR.  He graduated the Ordzhonikidze Higher Combined Arms Command School in 1979, and served in motorized rifle command posts up to chief of staff and deputy commander of a battalion in the GSFG.  He was a battalion commander in the Far East MD.  In 1990, he completed the Frunze Military Academy, and served as a motorized rifle regiment commander in the Transcaucasus, and chief of staff and deputy commander of a motorized rifle division in the Far East MD.  On completing the General Staff Academy in 2003, he served as deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army (Novosibirsk), and chief of staff and first deputy commander of the 36th Combined Arms Army (Borzya).  In 2006-2007, he commanded the 41st.  In 2008, Galkin became deputy commander, then chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Siberian MD.  In early 2010, he became commander of the North Caucasus MD, and the renamed Southern MD early this year.

“New Profile” in Transbaykal

Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye’s Viktor Litovkin wrote recently about his Defenders’ Day press pool visit to the 212th District Training Center (OUTs or ОУЦ) in Peschanka, and to the 29th Combined Arms Army in Chita.  Formerly part of the Siberian MD, they’re now in the Eastern MD or OSK East.  Litovkin set out to see how the military’s “new profile” has been implemented in the four years since he last traveled to Transbaykal.

Litovkin said the army’s future “junior specialists,” i.e. better trained conscript sergeants, aren’t just using simulators, and there’s lots of live action on OUTs ranges and training grounds.

Simulators at Peschanka (photo: V. Litovkin)

The majority of trainees were in training for a minimum of 8 hours a day, not including individual training and PT time.

OUTs Chief, General-Major Sergey Sudakov is new himself, but says much has changed at the center.  He says they’ve gotten new simulators, training buildings and barracks have been renovated, and the mess hall’s been outsourced so conscript-trainees no longer have to pull KP.

Four years ago, the Siberian MD listed 5,970 personnel without housing, but now only 120.  Those without apartments have been taken off the local books, and all their data’s been sent to the Defense Ministry’s Housing Support Department in Moscow. 

Now, however, there are rasporyazhentsy (распоряженцы), those officers, warrants, or sergeants at their commanders’ disposition, in all, more than 200 waiting for permanent apartments outside Transbaykal.  But only 2-3 per month are getting a “letter of happiness” from Moscow saying they’ve been allocated housing, and, in many cases, it’s not in the location they wanted.

The rasporyazhentsy were once commanders and chiefs but now they muster every morning to get orders from their former subordinates.  They don’t get anything serious to do.  They pull assistant duty officer for a unit once a week, or carry out a major’s orders for less than half their old pay.

Medic Senior Sergeant Zhanna Litvinenko is a rasporyazhenitsa who’s waited two years for an apartment in Rostov-na-Donu or Krasnodar Kray.  While waiting to return to “mainland” Russia, she lives on “bare pay,” without supplements, of 16,900 rubles, of which 3,200 pays for her dorm room.

Litovkin visited the officers’ dormitory to see what’s changed since 2007.  He describes familiar noisy corridors with common toilets, showers, and kitchens for officers and their families.  The building’s been renovated, old wooden window frames and the boiler have been replaced, kitchens updated, and showers divided so men and women don’t have to use them on alternating days.

One Captain Rinat Abubekirov and his wife say the load on officers has grown sharply now that there are fewer of them.  The tank training regiment had 140 officers previously, now 98, in a company, there were 7, now 5, and the number of additional duties is unchanged.  A company commander is now a captain, rather than a major as in the past.  Abubekirov has been an O-3 for five years, and no one can tell him when he might make O-4.

Litvinenko and the Abubekirovs in the Officers' Dorm (photo: V. Litovkin)

Training their conscript charges has changed.  Instead of six months, they now have three to do it.  The trainees’ education level varies greatly now — from higher education to some who didn’t finish high school.  Many conscripts arrived in poor health, and the severe Transbaykal winter doesn’t help either.  Minus forty isn’t rare, and -30° (-22° F) is the norm.  They are just not physically or psychologically prepared.  Nevertheless, OUTs Commander Sudakov says fewer are sick this winter than last.

Then, Litovkin turns to the Chita-based 29th Combined Arms Army commanded by General-Major Aleksandr Romanchuk, where the NVO editor says he sees “solid changes.”  All its units are fully manned and permanently combat ready.  In what’s become a fairly common refrain, Romanchuk believes his army’s combat potential exceeds that of its predecessor [the Siberian MD]. He said he and his deputy spent a month at the General Staff Academy learning the new automated command and control system.  He said his best subordinates can earn 100,000 rubles per month in bonuses.

Litovkin says there are questions about the introduction of new equipment in Romanchuk’s command.  It would be good if its tanks and combat vehicles could be replaced quicker.  There are no UAVs or PGMs.  The army relies on T-72B1, BMP-2, Strela-10 and towed air defense guns, and self-propelled Akatsiya and Msta-B artillery.

Litovkin concludes that, while no one believes Mongolia or China will threaten Russia’s borders today or tomorrow, this army needs to train in a real way, with equipment from the 21st century, not the last one.

But this, he continues, is not even the greatest problem.  He was told at every level that it’s simply not possible to make yesterday’s schoolboy into a good specialist in a year.  The commander of the 29th CAA’s 200th Artillery Brigade, Colonel Dmitriy Kozlovskiy, told Litovkin this spring he’ll lose 70 percent of his personnel.  New gun commanders, gunners, radiomen, and reconnaissance, topographic, and meteorological specialists will arrive and in less than a month they’ll need to work like crews, platoons, and batteries, like a unified combat mechanism.  They will learn and leave the army, and the process will begin again.

Sounds like a Russian O-6’s plea for professional enlisted and NCOs . . . .

Litovkin finishes with a story from Romanchuk.  He tells of a tank gunner conscript who hit his target [a 1 — an excellent in Russian training terms] on his 39th day of service.  He said he just did everything as he was taught, and as he did on the simulators.  In times past, according to Romanchuk, tank gunners got to fire live rounds only after serving six months, and this guy scored a 1 on his 39th day.  But Litovkin asked how his buddies did.  Romanchuk answered 2s and 3s.