Category Archives: Force Structure

More on the 55 OMSBr (G)

Krasnaya zvezda wrote last week about Tuva and its connections to Russia’s military.

The paper indicated that the “organizational nucleus” of a new Tuva-based motorized rifle brigade (mountain) under Colonel Andrey Shelukhin is now working in the republic which borders Mongolia.  Shelukhin and his staff came from the 201st Military Base in Tajikistan.

It notes that the brigade’s infrastructure is under construction, and recruiting has begun.

A year ago, Shelukhin was a lieutenant colonel, and chief of staff of the 201st, according to KZ.

LTC Shelukhin (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

LTC Shelukhin (photo: Krasnaya zvezda)

Before that, he was a battalion commander in the former Siberian MD.

Data on VDV

One can’t call this news.  News not discovered or reported promptly is just data. Not less important to this mind.  But on with the story . . .

Last summer, VDV Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov told the press about pending changes in the Russian Airborne Troops’ manning and structure.  Not clear if, when, or at what level they’ve been approved.  But fait accompli is Shamanov’s style.  His influence is larger than his nominal rank and post, and he often gets what he wants.

Specifically (among many things), Shamanov claimed the VDV will:

  • Upgrade some regiments to brigades;
  • Establish a logistics brigade;
  • Raise some companies to battalions; and
  • Add a third maneuver regiment to each VDV division.
Valeriy Vostrotin

Valeriy Vostrotin

That’s all context . . . last October, chairman of the Union of Airborne of Russia (SDR or СДР), retired General-Colonel Valeriy Vostrotin gave out two data points in a comment to Rossiyskaya gazeta:

“We veterans were satisfied with the news that it’s now been decided to reinforce the VDV significantly, to increase their numbers by another 20 thousand men.  For me personally, it’s particularly pleasant that, in 2015 in Voronezh an air-assault brigade with the number 345 will be formed and the banner of the famous 345th regiment, which I once commanded in Afghanistan, will be transferred to it . . . .”

So . . . another 20,000 men for VDV, and a new brigade.  Not confirmed, but possibly on the horizon.

Today Russia’s airborne forces are thought to number about 30,000.  Down from an “on-hand” strength ranging anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 in the late 1980s or very early 1990s.  Desantura.ru gives figures like that.

Going back to 50,000 would be significant, and would add lots of contractees to the ranks.  Equipping a new formation and other new units would not be a minor undertaking either. 

Again, data not news.  May or may not happen.  But we were informed.

For Reference

Here’s a little reference material with some order-of-battle info.  Just a place to put scraps of data when they’re found.

55 OMSBr (G)

Denis Mokrushin’s blog provided heads up to the establishment of an independent motorized rifle brigade (mountain), which may stand up in, of all places, Tuva in 2015.

Tuva and Central Asia

Tuva and Central Asia

According to Mokrushin, the new 55th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain) will be based in Kyzyl, capital of the ethnic Tuvan republic located at the geographic center of Asia, not far from Central Asian nations where it might deploy in a crisis.

The new mountain brigade, part of Russia’s Central MD, will reportedly be designated not just for mountain combat, but peacekeeping duties as well.  A story from February indicated only residents of Tuva will be considered for enlistment in the 1,500-man brigade.  It will be mainly equipped with GAZ-2330 Tigr vehicles.

The 55th would be one of a handful of formations specifically created for mountain warfare, the most significant being the Southern MD’s 33rd and 34th brigades.  It will also give Russia a maneuver force in a location near its border currently lacking troops.

According to Tuva’s military commissar, contractees in the brigade will have a chance to support themselves and their families.

Tuva might best be described as remote, rugged, impoverished, and sparsely inhabited.  Its 300,000 or so people are predominately, and increasingly, Tuvan as the Russian population dwindles.

The reported plan to recruit only in Tuva means that the 55th brigade would be effectively an ethnic formation — something the Kremlin and the MOD have steadfastly resisted in regions like Tatarstan or the North Caucasus.  The brigade priest will be Buddhist.

This month, however, a military spokesman said men from neighboring Krasnoyarsk Kray, Khakassia, and Kemerovo will be recruited as well.

The report of a new brigade in Tuva appears against the backdrop of previously announced plans to add more Russian Army brigades and sign up larger numbers of contract servicemen.

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.

Army Commanders

Russia’s ten combined arms armies have new commanders (with one exception) since they were noted here in 2011.

In the first half of last year, General-Major Gurulev in the Southern MD’s 58th Army was investigated for “abetting” a crime by a former superior, Nikolay Pereslegin.  In 2005, Pereslegin reportedly “exceeded his authority” by using the labor of two soldiers while attending the GSA in Moscow — colloquially known as a “soldier slavery” case in Russian media.  For his part, Gurulev is suspected of covering the soldiers’ absence and Pereslegin’s tracks with paperwork.  Not clear where the case stands, but Gurulev remains in command of the 58th.

Most previous army commanders moved to deputy MD commander slots.

Here’s an updated map of Russia’s armies.

Ten Armies

Army Headquarters MD / OSK Commander
6th CAA Agalatovo Western General-Major Sergey Kuralenko
20th CAA Nizhnyy Novgorod Western General-Major Aleksandr Lapin
49th CAA Stavropol Southern General-Major Sergey Sevryukov
58th CAA Vladikavkaz Southern General-Major Andrey Gurulev
2nd CAA Samara Central General-Major Igor Seritskiy
41st CAA Novosibirsk Central General-Major Khasan Kaloyev
36th CAA Ulan-Ude Eastern General-Major Mikhail Teplinskiy
29th CAA Chita Eastern General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Romanchuk
35th CAA Belogorsk Eastern General-Lieutenant Sergey Solomatin
5th CAA Ussuriysk Eastern General-Major Aleksey Salmin

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.

VDV Gets Army’s Air Assault Brigades

Mil.ru reported today on President Putin’s 11 October ukaz transferring administrative and operational control of air assault brigades in Ussuriysk, Ulan-Ude, and Kamyshin from Eastern and Southern MD Commanders to General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov and the VDV.

The MOD website says the decree is No. 776; it doesn’t appear on Kremlin.ru yet, but may later.

Mil.ru reported VDV commissions are already surveying the condition of weapons, equipment, and facilities in the three brigades, and converting their training program to match that of the VDV.

Shamanov announced that this change, and others, were pending back in early August.

Combat Readiness Percentages

Conscript on His Mobilnik (photo: Reuters

Conscript on His Mobilnik (photo: Reuters)

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s editorial has the title above.  It’s sub-titled “An Unprejudiced Look at Military Reform.”

Here’s what it says.

“One of the most serious accusations against the former defense minister and former chief of the General Staff is the low combat readiness of armed forces units and sub-units caused by the military reform they conducted.  And the basic argument is the fact that only 15 of 35 combined arms brigades of permanent combat readiness are manned at 100%, the rest have personnel deficits from 20 to 30%.”

“There’s some truth in this.  If you figure the number of servicemen in the force structure — 220 thousand officers, 186 thousand contractees, 320 thousand conscripts and 50-60 thousand VUZ cadets — then the million required by the president’s decree has in no way been gathered.  But the main cause of this is by no means military reform, but the demographic situation in the country for which neither Serdyukov nor Makarov can answer.  And increasing conscript service, as proposed by some [Duma] deputies, can’t patch this hole.  And only those who contrary to Suvorovist science trained to fight the old way with numbers, and not skill, can talk about combat readiness relying just on arithmetical calculations.”

“Many concepts are part of combat readiness.  And not just manning.  Among its components, in particular, are the presence of modern combat equipment and combat support systems in the force, high operational-tactical qualifications of officers, their combat experience, skill and training of personnel…  The military reform of Serdyukov and Makarov, it seems, managed to deal with the last indicator.  We’ll cite just one fact — the average flying time of Russian Air Forces pilots reached 125 hours per pilot in 2012.  And squadron commanders flew 175 hours, and at Vyazma air base — more than 215 hours.  If you remember just several years ago our pilots had an average flying time of 30-40 hours, some of them generally 5-7 hours a year, and they got lost in the sky over the Baltic, then who would dare say that our military aviation is suffering from a lack of combat readiness.”

“The picture is approximately the same in the Ground Troops where soldiers and officers literally don’t leave the training grounds, conducting integrated tactical and operational-tactical exercises jointly with the Air Forces and Air Defense, with the Naval Infantry — if they’re on maritime axes.  They can’t complain about low combat readiness even in the Navy, whose ships, earlier tied to the piers, today ply the waters of the world’s oceans year-round, joining in the struggle against pirates in the Gulf of Aden.  They don’t complain of boredom in the VDV where over the past year more than 65 exercises of varying scale and intensity have been conducted, together with 1,150 combat training events, including more than 800 section- and 270 platoon-level combat firings, 73 company and 14 battalion tactical exercises.  Including with USA spetsnaz on American territory.  Additionally, the blue berets completed several tens of thousands of parachute jumps…  If these are not indicators of combat readiness, then what kind of percentages can you talk about?!”

“One more indicator of combat readiness is the evaluation of strategic nuclear deterrence forces which President Vladimir Putin recently carried out.  Launches of ground, naval and air-launched missiles were conducted then with high accuracy.  And the Supremo directed them from the Unified Central Command Post created in the framework of the reform this very year.”

“Yes, the reform according to the prescriptions of the ex-minister and the ex-NGSh has many deficiencies and mistakes.  ‘NG’ and ‘NVO’ wrote about them not once or twice.  We hope the new Defense Ministry leadership will rectify and correct them.  But not one more or less serious army dared test the combat readiness of our country’s armed forces after August 2008.  And no percentages can refute this fact.”

Yes, Serdyukov and Makarov are to blame for the mistakes of army reform.  Primarily for moving too fast across too broad a front without without adequately understanding the situation and consequences of their actions.  In some sense, this was their task — to break the logjam on military reform.  And that some people in Serdyukov’s team were venal didn’t help matters.

But NG’s right to argue they aren’t to blame for undermanning that leaves only 15 maneuver brigades at full personnel strength.  That’s a number not different from Putin’s first and second terms, the 1990s, or the late Soviet period.

NG’s also right to point to higher levels of training activity as an unalloyed good thing from Moscow’s perspective.  It’s a start.  It’s a function of having money and fuel, and a political leadership willing to allocate them.  But it’s only a necessary condition for building a modern army.  Sizeable Russian forces are probably ready to leave garrison when ordered.

The sufficient condition goes deeper.  Are those formations and units armed, equipped, supported, as well as trained to execute the missions their leadership envisions (and ones it doesn’t)?  It’s simply much harder to tell if they are ready for battle, if they will be capable in combat.  Much depends on the situation and scenario into which they’re thrown.  If, as NG alludes, Georgia should test the Russian Army’s readiness, it would perform better than in 2008.  It would probably do better in a new North Caucasus counterinsurgency.  But these cases are on the low intensity side of the warfare spectrum.  But perhaps they’re the most likely places where the Armed Forces would be employed.

But let there be no mistake, training activity doesn’t equal combat readiness, and combat readiness doesn’t equal combat capability.  It is significant and necessary, yes, but not sufficient.  One has to know a lot more about the condition of the forces and what goes on in those exercises.

Zelin’s Update (Part III)

In the middle part of General-Colonel Zelin’s incredibly long NVO interview, he reacts to Defense Minister Serdyukov’s high command changes and other structural realignments over the last couple years.  He also shares thoughts on the state of VVS training.

Zelin speaks to interviewer Viktor Litovkin like a 58-year-old three-star who’s surprised to have stayed at his post as long as he has.  He speaks like he isn’t concerned about being retired.

Asked what he and his Main Staff do now that the VVS operate under the four MD / OSK commanders, Zelin responds that plans to create an automated C2 system (ASU) haven’t quite gotten there.  He talks and is online with the district commanders often.  But, he says:

“The main thing is combat training remains with the VVS Main Command. Organizational development (stroitelstvo or строительство) of the service and combat training.  And without combat training what kind of employment can there be?”

There were, he continues, arguments and unresolved issues:

“But during the decisionmaking I proved my point of view, my vision of present problems, sometimes they had to agree, sometimes they had to listen on several issues, but, since now decisions have been made, we have to fulfill them.  To get to work.”

But he grouses a bit more.  He sounds like a man with responsibility who lacks authority.

The ASU isn’t working, but service central command posts (TsKP or ЦКП) were eliminated.  Regardless, Zelin says he has to organize and control training.  Every day 70-80 units have aircraft flying, and they have to be tracked.  They can’t just be given a mission and forgotten.

Asked about the newly-established Aerospace Defense (VKO) Troops, Zelin claims interestingly, that only PVO brigades in Russia’s central industrial region — the old Moscow AD District, KSpN, or OSK VKO — went over to them.  He says MD / OSK commanders got the rest, and he equips and trains them for regional commands to operate.  His view seems to be VKO is limited to strategic and theater MD.  You can’t, he opines, have PVO without air defense aviation integrated into it.  According to Zelin, a single national system of air defense, including Troop Air Defense, is needed, but a decision’s been made and it’s left but to fulfill it.

Before talking more about training, Zelin reiterates that a single system of net-centric strategic C2 and decisionmaking is the goal, but they aren’t quite there.

He seems envious of the large-scale, largely automated airspace control systems he’s seen in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

On training and flight hours, Zelin says he’s got no problems with material support (i.e. POL), but problems addressing aircraft service life support [ресурсное обеспечение].  He states frankly he worries about maintenance provided (or not) by civilianized, outsourced Oboronservis affiliate Aviaremont.  There is plenty of money for maintenance, but those responsible aren’t getting it done.  While the Glavkomat has heartache about aircraft serviceability:

“Our other structures for some reason are responsible only for financial flows.”

Zelin was asked earlier if 130 flight hours was the VVS goal.  He says last year pilots got 340,000 hours, or 90 per pilot.  That makes roughly 3,800 pilots, if they’re shared evenly (they’re not).  Eighty percent of young pilots got not less than 100. In some cases, it was harder and they got a little more than 50.  Zelin adds this is still better than the 1990s.