Category Archives: Command and Control

Simmering War

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Russian news agencies marked the 15th anniversary of the Unified Group of Troops (Forces) — OGV(s) or ОГВ(с) — in the North Caucasus on September 23.

The OGV(s) was, and is, the inter-service headquarters established at Khankala, Chechnya to command all Russian “power” ministry (MOD, MVD, FSB) operations at the start of what became the second Chechen war in 1999.

The war that would bring Vladimir Putin to prominence and the presidency, and preoccupy him during his first years in power.

The ITAR-TASS headline proclaimed:  “The OGV in the Caucasus has killed more than 10,000 fighters over 15 years.”

Fighters means insurgents or terrorists from Moscow’s perspective.

That’s a lot.  On average, even through today, over 600 per year, or at least a couple every day.  Earlier this year, a news headline read “Russian MVD has killed more than 350 fighters in 4 months.”

Six Killed in Makhachkala (photo: ITAR-TASS)

The body count isn’t the only metric.

The MVD noted that OGV(s) units have conducted more than 40,000 “special measures,” destroyed 5,000 bases and caches, confiscated 30,000 weapons, and disarmed 80,000 explosive devices.

The Hero of the Russian Federation has been awarded to 93 MVD servicemen in the OGV(s) (including 66 posthumously).  More than 23,000 MVD troops have received orders and medals.

And the disparate North Caucasus insurgency still simmers.

Putin’s Arctic Chimera

Pronouncements on plans for stronger Russian military forces in the Arctic have been studiously ignored on these pages.

For two reasons . . . first, one can’t write about everything, and second (because of the first), one has to focus on a few significant topics.

The Russian military in the Arctic hasn’t been one of them.

Putin on Franz Josef Land in 2010 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Putin on Franz Josef Land in 2010 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

President Vladimir Putin’s interest in the Arctic made news in 2007 when a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag on ocean floor under the North Pole.  The Kremlin wanted to stake a symbolic claim to the lion’s share of the Arctic’s potential underwater wealth.

The vast, frozen region may indeed have large percentages of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and oil deposits.

More than a few observers see Putin’s concern with the Arctic as an effort to extend Russia’s hydrocarbon export-based model of economic growth.

The friend-of-Putin state oligarchs running Gazprom and Rosneft would certainly like the Russian treasury (and military) to underwrite their efforts to get at Arctic resources and line their pockets with more cash.

But the capital investment and technology required would be staggering. Canadian expert Michael Byers has been widely quoted:

“We’re talking about the center of a large, inhospitable ocean that is in total darkness for three months each year, thousands of miles from any port.”

“The water in the North Pole is 12,000 feet deep and will always be covered by sea ice in the winter.  It’s not a place where anyone is going to be drilling for oil and gas.  So it’s not about economic stakes, it’s about domestic politics.”

It’s an easy place to show Russia’s leader defending national sovereignty and interests.  The news stories and press releases track with an established Kremlin narrative about hostile Western powers trying to grab Russia’s natural bounty.

All of which brings us back round to the military in the Arctic.

During  Serdyukov’s tenure, the Ministry of Defense first raised the prospect of basing two army brigades there.  In September, Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy and other ships sailed the Northern Sea Route into the eastern Arctic.  And late in the year, Putin himself was prominent in giving the order to build, or re-build, various Russian military bases in the Arctic.

But things have a way of taking ridiculous turns.

On 17 February, an unidentified source told ITAR-TASS that the MOD and Genshtab have proposed forming a new Arctic unified strategic command with the Northern Fleet as its basis.  The source claimed this Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command (SF-OSK or СФ-ОСК) would be a new de facto MD, even if it isn’t called one.

The Northern Fleet and major units and formations based in the north would be taken from the Western MD, and put into new groupings deployed in the Arctic, including on Novaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, and Franz Josef Land.  Ouch.

SK-OSK is supposed to be inter-departmental too, with FSB Border Guards added.  The whole thing would report to the MOD, Genshtab, and, at some point, the NTsUOG.

The proposal is reportedly with Putin now, and a decision is expected in the coming months.

To make matters more interesting, Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov was cool, perhaps even balky, when confronted by the possibility of an “Arctic OSK.”

He told media representatives last Friday that his troops need no additional knowledge, and his equipment no additional preparation, for service in Arctic conditions.  He would not comment on possibly losing a large part of his current command.  According to RIA Novosti, he said only, “When there are directives, we will fulfill them.”

ITAR-TASS last week also reported on a company-sized anti-terrorist exercise in the Northern Fleet.

Northern Fleet Anti-Terrorist Training (photo: Mil.ru)

Northern Fleet Anti-Terrorist Training (photo: Mil.ru)

But there’s no “Al Qaida in the Arctic” yet.  Only Greenpeace.

Russia’s Arctic is enormous, and it is likely to be increasingly important, but not necessarily as the next big theater of war.  Naturally, Moscow wants to prepare for contingencies, but it’s already prepared and positioned as well as the few other regional players.  The money, time, and attention might be better spent on more palpable threats.  But, as Byers pointed out, the Arctic seems to be good politics.

Promotion List

It appears the best way to get the latest promotion list out is now Google Docs.  This conclusion follows a number of frustrating gyrations.

These promotions came in President Putin’s decree signed out 12 December 2013 and published in Krasnaya zvezda.

New Deputy Defense Minister

General-Colonel Pavel Popov

General-Colonel Pavel Popov

On 7 November, President Vladimir Putin appointed General-Colonel Pavel Anatolyevich Popov to be a Deputy Minister of Defense.  Popov had been an assistant to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.

Popov’s the latest in a series of Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) generals to come to the Defense Ministry.  They all served alongside Shoygu for many years.

Popov’s page is up on Mil.ru.  But his bio is better on the MChS site.  The 56-year-old Popov was commissioned an army lieutenant in 1978.  He served in the GSFG and the Far East MD before switching to Civil Defense in 1990.  He headed a couple MChS regional centers as well as the Civil Defense Academy before becoming a deputy to Shoygu at MChS in 2008.

Popov specialized in C2 and developed the crisis command and control center at MChS, according to Izvestiya.  He’ll replace departed Dmitriy Chushkin, who had responsibility for C2 issues.

As Shoygu’s assistant, Popov was already responsible for standing up the new National Command and Control Center for State Defense (NTsUOG).

Overall, Shoygu now has two first deputies and eight deputies.

Lobby for PVO Strany

Military reorganizations never stop, they just continue at a barely perceptible pace.

Organizational changes start with a campaign for a realignment.  The campaign to form Aerospace Defense Troops (VVKO) started five or six years before they officially stood up on 1 December 2011.

A new campaign is beginning.  Some are arguing VVKO didn’t get everything they need.

Four KPRF Duma deputies who are members of the legislature’s Defense Committee propose upgrading the VVKO from a branch (род) to a service (вид).  That’s symbolic, but not most significant.

More importantly, they say VVKO should control all ground-based air defense assets currently operated by the Air Forces and commanders of Russia’s four military districts (MDs).

Izvestiya reported the story.

Changes the KPRF deputies envisage would almost turn today’s VVKO into a new Soviet PVO Strany — National Air Defense (sans interceptor aircraft) as it existed between 1954 and the 1980s.  Troop PVO (Ground Troops) and Navy PVO would remain separate.

The KPRF deputies argue the vast majority of PVO assets need to be under a unified command to provide effective air defense for Russia.

Vyacheslav Tetekin, former conscript SA-5 operator and Africa expert, said:

“In military affairs the most dangerous thing is when there is no responsibility:  there is no one to make decisions, and no one to bear responsibility.  Until the time when all PVO and VKO resources are transferred into an independent command, we can’t be sure our country is defended against strikes from space and from the air.”

His colleague Aleksandr Tarnayev, former communications officer and KGB military counterintelligence operative, suggested, rather absurdly, that none of this means big changes, just resubordinating units, and replacing emblems on gates.  Units don’t even have to move, unless they need to redeploy to main strike threat axes.

But it is certainly a big change for air defense units that have reported to MDs for the last couple years, or to the Air Forces for an even longer time.

Taking strategic- and operational-level air defense from MD commanders would reduce their capabilities as unified, combined arms warfighters in regional and local conflicts.

Military expert Viktor Murakhovskiy told Izvestiya the idea of VVKO as a service has been discussed before, and the change would cost trillions of rubles:

“This is the idea of creating a unified air defense system for the country like in Soviet times.  For this we would need to combine all VKO brigades and SAM brigades under a single command.  But we would need to understand that to create a seamless defensive field over the country’s entire territory requires a huge amount of money, and the question arises, are these outlays so necessary or is it better to direct them in a different course.”

Murakhovskiy begs a couple good questions.  Is there an existential national air defense threat that justifies taking funds from other pressing military needs?  Is a U.S. (and NATO?) strategic air operation against Russia possible or probable?

VPK editor-in-chief Mikhail Khodarenok told the paper he believes VVKO needs interceptors and there’s not enough money now to create such a full-fledged service:

“In the Soviet system of PVO, for interceptors alone there were 70 regiments — almost 3 thousand aircraft.  But if we divide current aircraft between the Air Forces and PVO, we get two absurd services.  In the future such a division is justified because the Air Forces’ mission is supporting troops, and PVO’s mission is protecting the country’s important administrative and industrial centers from air strikes.  But this is the future in 20-30 years.”

A Duma hearing on VVKO scheduled for 6 November won’t have much affect on the military’s structure.  But this is how major reorganizations have started in the past.  Just don’t look for results soon.

Everyone in Uniform

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Ministry of Defense looks more and more like MChS.

Shoygu’s apparently decided to put his senior civilian officials in uniform.

Tsalikov and Borisov Sport New Civilian Uniforms With Light Colored Epaulettes (photo: Mil.ru)

Tsalikov and Borisov Sport New Civilian Uniforms With Light Colored Epaulettes (photo: Mil.ru)

Deputy Defense Ministers Ruslan Tsalikov and Yuriy Borisov were photographed in their new apparel during last week’s conference on the results of the most recent surprise readiness evaluation.

Tsalikov gets to wear four army general stars given his title as “Actual Privy Councillor 1st Class.”

At the tank biathlon in Alabino, Tatyana Shevtsova and Anatoliy Antonov were caught wearing theirs at the right edge of this photo.

Antonov and Shevtsova in Uniform (photo: Rbc.ru)

Antonov and Shevtsova in Uniform (photo: Rbc.ru)

Like Tsalikov, Shevtsova (who somehow managed to hang on after Serdyukov’s demise) also wears four stars based on her civilian rank.

It looks a bit like either the USAF or the starship Enterprise has come to visit.

At any rate, Izvestia wrote about the new uniforms.  It notes the zippered jackets look like MChS, and are supposed to be more comfortable work-a-day attire for civilians and military men alike.  But one anonymous senior officer said the material feels like overalls, and he’s generally not won over at this point.

More on the Inspection

Inspection Report Delivered in Central Command Post

Inspection Report Delivered in Central Command Post

More reaction to the results of the inspection . . .

Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye editor Viktor Litovkin expressed surprise at “the military’s absolute openness” in allowing journalists to attend General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov’s report on the results of the exercise.

Litovkin noted the 98th Air-Assault Division’s 227th Parachute-Assault Regiment participated in the exercise.  Su-25 and Su-24 aircraft flew from 4th Air and Air Defense Command bases at Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Morozovsk, and Marinovka.

201st Military Base Commander, Colonel Sergey Ryumshin attributed his problems in communicating to the Russian military in Tajikistan using old local phone lines, which are often out of order.  Gerasimov ordered the chief of the Main (?!) Directorate of Communications to sort out the problems.

Litovkin added that part and system malfunctions kept five Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters from the 2nd Air and Air Defense Command’s 565th Aviation Base from joining the exercise.  Su-25 ground attack aircraft from the 4th Command’s 6972nd Aviation Base returned home without dropping ordnance. 

Two Msta-S artillery systems were out of order in the Central MD’s 28th Motorized Rifle Brigade.  Oleg Sidenko [sic] was there to answer for this.  He said there are defects in 900 Msta-S systems.  Siyenko, you’ll recall, is General Director of Uralvagonzavod, owner of Uraltransmash.  The latter has a contract to maintain the Msta-S, but needs to buy new components from sub-contractors.  Siyenko indicated he wants his enterprise to take over Oboronservis affiliate Spetsremont, currently responsible for Defense Ministry armored vehicles.  He said UVZ can’t constantly make repairs “on the fly.”

Litovkin reported 100 R-168-5un radios in the 58th Army are inoperable.  Specialists call these systems from the Yaroslavl Radio Factory unreliable.

However, an earlier NVO article, by Oleg Vladykin, points to the positive; 20 VTA transports were able to operate successfully. 

Vedomosti’s Aleksey Nikolskiy summed the inspection up this way:

“In Soviet times such evaluations were conducted so often that every officer fell into them at least once every two years, says retired Colonel Viktor Murakhovskiy.  Unsatisfactory results after so many years without normal combat training don’t surprise the expert, in his words, such an inspection is very useful and will give the Genshtab a picture of the true condition of combat readiness.  The reason such a large quantity of equipment is out of order is also fully clear — organizational chaos has ruled in the realm of equipment repair in the troops in recent years, the expert says.  Therefore Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s decision to return repair sub-units which were liquidated in the course of the transition to outsourcing should be implemented as quickly as possible.”

Yes, it’s not surprising, and the honesty is the first step toward improvement.  But we should remember the civilian side of the Serdyukov-led Defense Ministry really didn’t, and wasn’t supposed to, worry too much about what the troops could do in strictly military terms.  That was properly the responsibility of the General Staff.  Shouldn’t it be criticizing itself too?  Shouldn’t it have come forward about problems earlier?

And one has to wonder, in the relatively short period of time since Serdyukov announced the outsourcing of most army maintenance, how much outsourcing was actually done?  Certainly some, but certainly not all of it.  Nevertheless, Serdyukov’s scheme is certainly bearing the brunt of the blame.  A proper question might be how capable were those repair sub-units before Serdyukov supposedly swept them all away?  Probably not very.

Army General Gerasimov promised surprise inspections and exercises will occur regularly now.  It’ll be interesting to see just how routine they become.