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.