Category Archives: VDV

Kachalkin on VTA Prospects

General-Lieutenant Viktor Kachalkin

This week marked Military-Transport Aviation’s 80th anniversary, and VTA (or ВТА) Commander, General-Lieutenant Viktor Kachalkin made a variety of comments regarding the branch’s future.

Now relatively little’s been said about this subject.  VVS CINC, General-Colonel Zelin insists VTA’s a priority, but hasn’t ventured numbers or dates for new aircraft.  His deputy, General-Lieutenant Sadofyev’s alluded vaguely to modernization of existing aircraft and acquisition of 50 percent new aircraft.  But nothing more specific.  If VTA is the red-haired stepchild of the Air Forces, at least the VDV loves VTA – loves to hate it, that is.  General-Lieutenant Shamanov and other VDV officers never tire of saying that shortfalls and shortcomings in air transport are turning their branch into no more than elite ground troops.

At any rate, on to what Kachalkin said . . . he hopes new An-70 and deeply modernized Il-76MD90A transport aircraft will enter the VTA inventory starting in 2014.  The latter is an updated Il-76MD with new PS-90A-76 engines.  It also goes by the name Il-476.  In the more distant future, VTA looks toward buying a new An-124-300 variant.  The VTA commander believes all this will translate into “dozens” of new aircraft by 2020.

Kachalkin also plans on the “deep modernization” of existing transports into Il-76MDM and An-124-100 variants.

In a Krasnaya zvezda interview, he sums it up this way:

“If the volumes of new aircraft and deep modernization of the existing aircraft inventory announced in the program [GPV-2020] are assessed, then the growth in VTA capabilities is obvious.”

Later he adds:

“Despite the fact that the service life of the greater part of the current VTA aviation inventory is figured at 2020-2030s, the percentage share of new aircraft will grow steadily.  In this context, the mobility of the Armed Forces will increase overall.”

In his KZ interview, Kachalkin mentioned the impact of the “new profile” on his base structure.  VTA now has only one first rank air base at Tver, which is home to multiple aviation groups using basing locations at Pskov, Orenburg, and Taganrog.  As recently as late 2009, the VTA commander spoke of first rank bases at Tver and Orenburg, and second rank ones at Pskov and Taganrog.

Kachalkin indicated an aviation group of not less than 15-20 VTA aircraft will take part in the upcoming Tsentr-2011 operational-strategic exercise.

A couple contradictory points worth noting were also made this week . . .

Deputy Air Forces CINC, General-Major Viktor Bondarev predicted An-70 purchases in 2012-2013, according to RIA Novosti.  The wire service also reminded readers that Defense Minister Serdyukov has said not before 2015-2016.  One guesses Kachalkin split the difference with 2014.

Shamanov on the VDV’s GOZ

General-Lieutenant Shamanov (photo: RIA Novosti / Petr Chernov)

Last Thursday VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov returned to a bit of media spotlight for the first time since returning to duty following serious injuries in a collision with a truck last fall.

Shamanov said the VDV’s part of the state defense order (GOZ) isn’t necessarily proceeding well.  But he claims the BMD-4M was ordered.  He lobbied for a piece of the Arctic defense mission.  And he repeated past calls for his own helicopters.

RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported Shamanov saying he’s satisfied “on the whole” that the rearmament of the VDV:

“. . . is going according to the strict parameters which were established.  First of all, this concerns the modernization of BMD-1 and BMD-2 and ‘Nona’ self-propelled artillery with automation means.”

But he added:

“The issue of fulfilling the 2011 state defense order for 10 BMD-4M and for 10 standardized ‘Rakushka’ armored personnel carriers, built on a BMD-4M base, is not completely resolved.  The thing is Kurganmashzavod didn’t give a guarantee it would produce them.  Presently, Kurganmashzavod’s financial situation is causing concern.  There are no guarantees that, if all the money comes, the order will be met.” 

Last year Shamanov said the firm was developing and producing the first BMD-4M models on its own to the tune of 200 million rubles.

Still he hopes the problem with fulfilling the 2011 GOZ for the VDV will be resolved soon.  He said there are negotiations, and the problem should be resolved in week or two.

The VDV Commander indicated he’s sending the Genshtab a proposal under which his branch would participate in defending Russia’s Arctic shelf jointly with the Ground Troops.

He told journalists he gave his deputy, General-Major Aleksandr Lentsov,  the task of developing options for VDV units to work with the Ground Troops and Navy in the Arctic.  Shamanov invited the commanders of Naval Infantry brigades and Ground Troops’ air-assault brigades to the VDV’s operational conference in Ryazan the week before last.

Shamanov opined that establishment of an inter-service grouping for the Arctic is “fully possible” but how it might happen remains a topic of discussion.

The press services said Shamanov resurfaced his previous calls for a helicopter regiment co-located with the VDV brigade in Ulyanovsk or division in Pskov.  He said he plans to submit two variants of such a proposal to the Genshtab when it is finished.  

Press sources said he requested the same thing at this time last year.  The Ground Troops-dominated Genshtab apparently frowns on an idea that would eat resources and possibly duplicate the capabilities of the army’s own air-assault brigades.  For his part, maybe Shamanov benefits by repeatedly laying down a marker indicating that the VDV lacks something he considers essential.

VDV on Amphibs

By way of follow-up . . . late last May, VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov told the press his forces have embarked in Black Sea Fleet ships for joint training since the Georgian conflict.  Yesterday RIA Novosti reported on such a joint exercise.

More than 1,500 airborne troops and nearly 100 pieces of equipment are participating in tactical exercises with BSF ships near Novorossiysk.  The VDV are from the 108th Guards Airborne-Assault Regiment, 7th Airborne-Assault Division.

Specifically, the VDV spokesman said:

“On Wednesday nearly 30 airborne combat vehicles and other combat equipment loaded onto large landing ships of the Black Sea Fleet and debarked in a designated coastal area at the Rayevskiy range near Novorossiysk.”

Exercises will continue until tomorrow.  Reconnaissance company personnel will airdrop near Rayevskiy today.  The drop was delayed by bad weather, according to the VDV spokesman.  Two battalions conducted mountain combat training yesterday, and will conduct night firings today.

RIA Novosti didn’t indicate which BSF ships are carrying the VDV.  But Ropucha II-class LST Azov and Alligator-class LST Nikolay Filchenkov were active in the first days of this month during an inspection by Navy CINC, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy.  The ships worked with the BSF’s Naval Infantry Brigade at the Opuk training range.

How’s It Look for VDV?

On Monday, Voyennoye obozreniye took a look at the VDV and their rearmament needs.  It notes they’ve received virtually nothing new since the USSR collapsed, and what new equipment has arrived came in small amounts.

The composition of the VDV has shrunk from 65,000 personnel in seven divisions to about 35,000 in four divisions (Novorossiysk, Tula, Ivanovo, and Pskov) today.  Its airborne combat vehicles include BMD-1, BMD-2 Budka, BMD-3 Bakhcha, and BMD-4 Bakhcha-U, armored personnel carriers include BTR-RD Robot and BTR-3D Skrezhet.

Here’s a RenTV video about the Bakhcha and Bakhcha-U.

Artillery includes ASU-57, ASU-85, 2S9 Nona-S, 2S25 Sprut-SD, and howitzers 2A18 D-30 and 2A18M D-30A.

In January 2007, then VDV Commander, General-Colonel Aleksandr Kolmakov said the troops would soon be getting BMD-4, 2S25 Sprut, BTR-D3 Rakushka, KamAZ-43501, D-10 and Arbalet parachutes, and new infantry and special weapons.  In 2010, the Defense Ministry reportedly said it was buying Italian-made IVECO LMV combat vehicles for its “winged infantry.”

According to VO, the press says VDV has gotten more than 300 BMD-4 since they were accepted for service in 2004.  The BMD-4M, however, basically remains in testing, and only 10 of them are being used in the VDV.  Its future with the airborne troops might be in doubt.  Last December, VDV air defense sub-units got their first Strela-10M3 self-propelled anti-aircraft systems.  They will replace aged ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns.

VO concludes the VDV need to reestablish both their air and ground mobility.  VTA has degraded and can’t support airborne operations large enough to seize and hold strategic or tactical objectives in enemy rear areas, or to destroy enemy government and military command and control systems:

“As it was in the USSR, so it is in the RF, airborne troops are really used like the best trained motorized rifle units — for example in Chechnya, Ossetia.”

For off-road mobility, VO says VDV need Tigr, Vodnik, dune buggies, and ATVs.

It argues VDV divisions need their own fixed- and rotary-wing aviation, including multipurpose, transport, strike, and reconnaissance aircraft and UAVs.

The missions of the VDV need to be formulated like Spetsnaz, so they aren’t used like regular infantry.

Finally, VO says the VDV need to be fully professional, with career personnel, and pay twice the country’s median wage.  It can’t be done with today’s contractees who are mostly lazy and drunk, but this is the fault of the army’s reformers, according to VO.

Then, VO concludes, the VDV would be a real elite of the Russian Army.

Shamanov Returns to Duty

VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov reported for duty today a little more than three months after his BMW was slammed by a truck on the highway between Tula and Moscow.

Shamanov was discharged from Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital in late December, and has been on rehabilitation leave in Sochi since then.

Also injured in the accident, then-acting commander of the Tula-based 106th Airborne Division, Colonel Aleksey Naumets remains in the hospital in satisfactory condition after more surgery.

The Tajik national who rammed into Shamanov’s service vehicle admitted his guilt in the accident.  He remains in custody while the investigation and court proceedings continue.

20 Percent Undermanning and Declining Contract Service

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin writes this morning that the results of the fall draft are still being tallied, but the General Staff has already announced that several regions didn’t meet their conscription plans.  And so, for the first time in recent years, the Armed Forces is facing undermanned conscript soldier and sergeant ranks, while the number of contract soldiers continues its decline.

Mukhin harks back to Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s recent Duma session, where he admitted that the army’s demand for soldiers is not being fully met.  The exact quantitative deficit is a secret, but Mukhin says even a crude estimate tells him the military is at least 20 percent undermanned.

The Armed Forces now officially have less than 500,000 conscripts, 181,000 officers, and 120,000 contractees (800,000 in all, roughly), although approved manning is 1 million.

Mukhin concludes:

“It goes without saying, undermanning affects their combat readiness.  And measures taken to resolve the problem, let’s say it directly, are hard to call adequate.”

A retired VDV general tells Mukhin contractees in the Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division (VDD or ВДД) dropped from 20 percent of personnel to 12 percent in 2010.  The outflow was due to low pay of 11,000 rubles per month against an oblast average of about 18,000. 

Mukhin forgets to mention that the 76th VDD was the cradle of “Pskov experiment” with contract service in 2003.  It led to the wider Federal Targeted Program, 2004-2007, which General Staff Chief Makarov declared a failure early last year.

The Pskov-based 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade recently received a Defense Ministry order not to extend professional contractees, and to replace them with conscript soldiers and sergeants from training sub-units (i.e. guys who’ve been in the army all of three months).

Mukhin’s ex-general says:

“We don’t have to say what Spetsnaz brigades do.  Namely, as before, they carry out not training, but combat missions in North Caucasus hot spots.  You can’t train a good Spetsnaz soldier in a year even, much less three months.  I don’t want to be the prophet of doom, but this means the likelihood of casualties will grow in a combat situation.”

A good article by Mukhin.  His general’s words will likely be borne out.  Anyone who followed both Chechen wars can see the Russian Army lining itself up to relearn the bitter lessons of those conflicts when it comes to choosing between professionals and draftees.

Oil on a Fire?

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin recently pointed out that Russian soldiers are still busy performing ‘noncore’ tasks [i.e. essential housekeeping chores unrelated to combat training].  And this is happening despite frequent Defense Ministry trumpeting about success in eliminating ‘nonmilitary’ work from the troops’ daily regimen.

Helping out during the recent snow and ice storms is just the most recent example.  Mukhin says the army was pressed into this municipal task in Khabarovsk, Nizhniy Tagil, and Chelyabinsk.  Suburban Moscow air defenders in the OSK VKO fueled mobile power generators and operated field kitchens during the bad weather.  Reservists were called up to cope with heavy snow in Tatarstan.  Military units were also pressed into service against forest fires this summer. 

None of this is particularly surprising.  Many governments would turn to the army in similar circumstances.  But it shows that Russia’s local and regional governments lack the depth of resources to provide the services customarily expected at those levels of administration in most countries.  And, of course, they don’t have part-time soldiers in a national guard structure that can be mobilized by the governor in an emergency.

More interesting, however — to return to Mukhin’s article — a Kremlin source told his paper that an unpublicized order had gone out from the PA to the Defense Ministry on the eve of the New Year’s holidays saying that troops should prepare for “active participation” in resolving any kind of “emergency situations” (ChS) arising in the country.  And the order implied both natural and “social”  [i.e. man-made] emergencies.

Ready to Help the Police (photo: Nezavisimaya gazeta / Aleksandr Shalgin)

An NG source in the Defense Ministry said VDV unit and formations throughout Russia were in “full” combat readiness, and at “hour X” were ready to come to the assistance of police and the MVD’s Internal Troops (VV) in the event of disturbances in the capital or other major cities.

KPRF Duma Deputy and former Black Sea Fleet Commander, Vladimir Komoyedov put it in this context:

“There’s nothing bad about the army coming to help people, to help clean up disasters.  In the days of the USSR, soldiers also harvested crops, cleaned up man-made disasters, and separated ethnic groups who were fighting.  But our leaders have proclaimed the principle that the army is outside politics.  The troops should be occupied with their business — combat training, ensuring military security — and that’s all.  But it isn’t happening like this…  Now once again signs of instability are appearing — and no longer just in Russia’s south, but also in the entire country.  And we no longer have an army at all.”

The VDV spokesman felt compelled to respond right away to this story.  He told RIA Novosti the VDV is not in “full,” but rather “permanent” combat readiness for any missions assigned by its command.  And he noted that VDV sub-units are not specially trained for the mission of securing law and order.

But he didn’t say they couldn’t or wouldn’t give it a try.

RIA Novosti reminded readers of mid-December riots in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Rostov-na-Donu.  About 5,000 took part in an unsanctioned nationalist rally on Manezh Square adjacent to the Kremlin to protest the reported murder of an ethnic Russian by a man from Kabardino-Balkaria. 

The use of the VDV for an internal contingency is unlikely, but certainly conceivable.  It would probably be a last-resort measure.  And its effect on any situation might be unpredictable. 

In the right circumstances, the VDV might handle themselves professionally.  In the wrong circumstances, they might be like oil on a fire.