For Nakhimov’s Price

Admiral Nakhimov? (photo: Topwar.ru)

Admiral Nakhimov? (photo: Topwar.ru)

The photo above appears to be Kirov-class CGN Admiral Nakhimov (ex-Kalinin) having its superstructure dismantled at Sevmash.  Topwar.ru didn’t indicate how it came by the picture.

Blogger Aleksandr Shishkin recently offered his rationale (and that of other navy advocates) for repairing and modernizing Admiral Nakhimov.

As a shipbuilder, Shishkin says the “enemies of these monster-ships” think that the extraordinary expenditures required to renovate Nakhimov could be redirected to better use for the Russian military.  But he contends that Russia’s nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers have a disproportionate military-political effect when compared to other ways of spending this part of the MOD budget.

First, he makes a military firepower argument.

He argues that Nakhimov provides more “bang for the ruble” measured against new surface combatant construction.  He offers as an example the proyekt 20380 Steregushchiy-class corvettes of which five, with a total of 100 missiles, can be bought for Nakhimov’s price.  Two and one-half proyekt 22350 Gorshkov-class frigates can be bought for Nakhimov’s price.  Three Gorshkovs have 144 missiles. Or, for the cost of Nakhimov, one future proyekt 23560 (Lider) destroyer with approximately 136 launchers could be bought.

Shishkin projects 304 missiles on the renovated  Nakhimov — 224 SAMs and 80 cruise missiles.

That is, according to him, “twice-three times the quantity of similar and more powerful weaponry for the same money plus the possibility of using [the ship] anywhere in the world.”

Second, Shishkin argues for Nakhimov’s political effect.  Its return will keep Russia in a “firm second place” in the world navy “table of ranks” which carries a psychological impact “no one should underrate.”  Showing the flag promotes Russia as an alternative to the U.S. as the world’s lone superpower, according to him.

Nakhimov or no Nakhimov, many would argue China is the world’s second-ranked navy.

Third, the blogger maintains that reconstructing Nakhimov raises Russia’s “sense of self-worth” by showing that it can build [or rebuild] really large ships, not just patrol boats.

Fourth, he asserts that Nakhimov will be ready (2018-2019) earlier than new corvettes, frigates, and destroyers that won’t be delivered until the early 2020s.

Fifth, Shishkin says Sevmash’s work on a “first-rank” nuclear-powered ship like Nakhimov will prepare it to build aircraft carriers or to compete with Northern Wharf for destroyer contracts.

Shishkin notes that the renovation of Nakhimov costs 50 billion rubles ($1 billion), or 30 billion ($600 million) for the ship and 20 billion ($400 million) for new armaments and systems.  If this is the case, that makes Steregushchiys about $200 million, Gorshkovs about $400 million, and Liders about $1 billion per unit.

So none of this comes cheaply.

It’d be interesting to read an argument for Admiral Nakhimov addressing how the ship will figure in future Russian fleet operations and larger military strategy. How will it operate in defense of Moscow’s naval strategic nuclear forces, or in more likely contingencies short of this?

Admiral Lazarev (photo: Topwar.ru)

Admiral Lazarev (photo: Topwar.ru)

Admiral Ushakov and Admiral Lazarev remain in reserve in different states of decay and are very unlikely candidates for modernization.  Petr Velikiy will, at some future point, probably undergo the work currently being done to Nakhimov.

Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man

Last week KZ ran a piece titled “Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man.”  Easy to overlook, it turned out to be about the Black Sea Fleet’s new 127th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The article informs us that the brigade was formed after last year’s invasion.  It has the latest and greatest in weapons and equipment, including mobile EW and ELINT systems and Orlan and Leyer UAVs.  But its men, the article says, are the main thing.

The new brigade is 100 percent contract-manned, according to the article, but it is less than clear on the point.  Is it fully manned and all personnel are contractees or is it less than 100 percent manned but men on-hand are all contractees?  The article offers no other information on the brigade’s TO&E.

KZ notes that the commander and sub-unit commanders have combat experience and medals.  Colonel Aleksandr Beglyakov commands the 127th.  But there’s precious little about him.  What looks like a fragment of an Odnoklassniki profile appears below.

Beglyakov's Odnoklassniki Profile?

Beglyakov’s Odnoklassniki Profile?

If it’s him, he’s young at 37, but not exceptionally so for a Russian O-6.  He attended the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School — cradle of Russian Army reconnaissance men.  He’s completed his mid-career school — VUNTs SV “Combined Arms Academy of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”

The brigade’s recon men appear to be organized into groups like GRU Spetsnaz. At least one sergeant came from an independent Spetsnaz regiment in Stavropol. He says we are the “most polite” of all “polite people.” We come quietly, fulfill our mission, and leave quietly, according to him.

The KZ author describes another soldier as a “fifth generation reconnaissance man” — physically strong, equally skilled with weapons and modern digital systems.

This article brings us to the independent reconnaissance brigade, the ORBr — what it is, its origin, and what its future will be.

The first modern Russian Army ORBr, the 100th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade, is based in Mozdok.  It was formed in 2009 under former defense minister Serdyukov and was branded “experimental.”  There have been reports it would disband, but it apparently hasn’t.

One apparently knowledgeable observer shared this description:

“The 100th Experimental Independent Reconnaissance Brigade (Mozdok, North Ossetia) was formed in the summer of 2009 on the basis of the 85th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment [ooSpN] of the 10th Independent Spetsnaz Brigade:”

“command, air-assault battalion, reconnaissance battalion (two reconnaissance companies + a tank company), SP howitzer battalion, SpN detachment, UAV detachment, anti-aircraft missile-artillery battalion, EW company (expanding into an independent ELINT battalion), engineer company, maintenance company, material-technical support company, medical company, in the future its own helicopter regiment.”

“A mixed squadron transferred into the brigade from Budennovsk.  The helicopter sub-unit carries out missions for the ground formation and is operationally subordinate to it.  The squadron provides cover for the brigade’s armored columns, transports supplies, and conducts all types of reconnaissance.”

“The brigade’s command was formed on 1 December 2009.”

It’s a very interesting and unique brigade by Russian Army standards.  It has surprisingly robust combined arms firepower to go along with its reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities.

ORBr roots extend to Soviet times.  But it was different then.  The 25th ORBr in Mongolia had three reconnaissance battalions, a “deep reconnaissance” (SpN??) battalion, and fewer technical intelligence systems.  Its helo squadron had 20 Mi-8s and an Mi-2 for the brigade commander.  Soviet forces in Mongolia also included the 20th ORBr.  Most Russians who served in or comment on these formations are pretty adamant that they reported to the GRU.

Ten “New” Chemical Defense Regiments

Russian Soldier in Chemical Defense Gear (photo: Mil.ru)

Russian Soldier in Chemical Defense Gear (photo: Mil.ru)

In late June, Mil.ru provided comments by the Deputy Chief of Radiological, Chemical, and Biological Defense (RKhBZ) Troops, General-Major Igor Klimov. He said:

“Development of the troops of RKhB defense is currently directed at supporting conditions for an adequate response to all possible threats — radiological, chemical, and biological.”

The RKhBZ Troops are capable of completing missions for the Armed Forces and the state as a whole, according to him.

General-Major Igor Klimov

General-Major Igor Klimov

But Klimov added:

“One should note that just in 2014 alone ten regiments of RKhBZ were formed in the composition of combined arms armies.”

At the same time, the TO&E structure of the four independent RKhBZ brigades of the military districts was “optimized.”  That means, of course, reduced, cut, slashed, etc.

Klimov added:

“In 2016-2020, the composition and TO&E of formations, military units and organizations of the RKhBZ Troops will improve with the goal of guaranteeing fulfillment of RKhBZ missions for Armed Forces groupings in armed conflicts and local wars, eliminating the effects of emergency situations, and conducting research in the applied sciences (chemistry, biology, biochemistry, genetics, biotechnology).”

Mil.ru also noted that RKhBZ formations, units, and organizations will undergo a transition to new org-shtat structures as they receive new types of weapons and equipment.

The ten “new” regiments look like this:

The shift from brigades is creating regiments that aren’t really “new.”  It’s a reshuffling of existing RKhBZ units to integrate them into Russia’s combined arms armies.  They will be army- rather than MD-level assets.  

The “new regiments” are rather sparse.  Most press indicates they will have about 300-600 personnel and 100-200 pieces of equipment each.  In Soviet times, a combined arms army had several RKhBZ battalions including recon, protection, decon, flamethrower, and smoke.

TOS-1A

TOS-1A

Perhaps RKhBZ is returning to army-level control because of the growing role of thermobaric rocket launchers like the TOS-1A in Russia’s fire support plans.

Who’s Fighting in the Donbass?

Various media sources late this week reported that Kyiv’s SBU sent the United States a 30-page report detailing Russia’s role in fighting in the Donbass.

The report indicates that militia fighters in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic are led by Russian Army general-majors Oleg Tsekov, Sergey Kuzovlev, and Roman Shadrin.  In the Donetsk People’s Republic, general-majors Valeriy Solodchuk and Aleksey Zavizon reportedly lead the ethnic Russian militiamen. Russian Colonel Anatoliy Barankevich is in charge of combat training.

Sergey Kuzovlev

Sergey Kuzovlev

Roman Shadrin

Roman Shadrin

The Ukrainian report claims 15 Russian battalion tactical groups — about 9,000 men — are fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Unnamed Washington sources say this confirms what U.S. intelligence agencies believed.  But, as recently as his 26 June conversation with President Obama, President Putin insisted there are no Russian troops in Luhansk or Donetsk.

Who are the Russian officers identified by name?

  • Oleg Tsekov commands the Northern Fleet’s 200th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade — it’s a long way from eastern Ukraine, but his troops wouldn’t be easily missed like forces in the Southern MD. He once served under Southern MD Commander, General-Colonel Aleksandr Galkin.
  • Sergey Kuzovlev was, at last report, chief of staff of the Southern MD’s 58th CAA. He’s known by the call sign Tambov. He fought in both Chechen campaigns, and he commanded the 18th IMRB in Khankala before his current staff assignment.
  • Roman Shadrin is another Chechen vet, Hero of Russia, and Ural Cossack activist turned United Russia politician.  He did time with the MVD VV and served with Russian “peacekeeping” forces in South Ossetia.
  • Valeriy Solodchuk commands the VDV’s 7th Air-Assault Division in Novorossiysk.  He was previously chief of staff for the 98th Airborne Division and commanded its 217th Parachute Regiment.
  • Aleksey Zavizon is deputy commander of the 41st CAA in the Central MD.  Prior to that, he commanded the 136th IMRB in Dagestan and the 201st MB in Tajikistan.  He was also chief of staff, deputy commander for the 4th (Kantemir) Tank Division.
  • Anatoliy Barankevich served widely in the Soviet Army and fought in both Chechen wars before retiring in 2004.  He went to South Ossetia, became its defense minister, and directed the defense of Tskhinvali during the August 2008 five-day war with Georgia.  He fell out with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and presumably resumed his free-agent status.
Valeriy Solodchuk

Valeriy Solodchuk

Aleksey Zavizon

Aleksey Zavizon

Anatoliy Barankevich

Anatoliy Barankevich

It would be an understatement to say these six Russian military men have a good deal of experience — command experience, combat experience, Caucasus experience.  They represent a particular subset of Russian commanders who’ve long served on the country’s borders and in its hinterlands.  They seem like men with little compunction when it comes to pushing Russia’s sway outward over non-Russians.

Day of Russia Promotion List

On the eve of the Russia Day holiday, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree promoting 29 senior MOD officers:  2 to three-star general-colonel, 5 to two-star general-lieutenant and vice-admiral, and the balance to one-star general-major.

The three-star promotions included Andrey Kartapolov, Chief of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate and Andrey Serdyukov, Deputy Commander, Southern MD.  Both were quick promotes with only three and two years respectively at their former rank.

The two-star promotions included GOMU First Deputy Chief Yevgeniy Burdinskiy, Deputy Commander of the Eastern MD for Material-Technical Support Anatoliy Lbov, Deputy CINC of the Navy for Armaments Viktor Bursuk, Northern Fleet Commander of Submarine Forces Aleksandr Moiseyev, and Baltic Fleet Chief of Staff Sergey Popov.

Other promotees included:

  • two RVSN missile division commanders (both have the RS-24 / Yars ICBM in their formations);
  • a new commander of Troops and Forces in the North-East;
  • one motorized rifle brigade commander;
  • deputy commanders for material-technical support in several services and branches;
  • chiefs, deputy chiefs, or department heads for several military-educational institutions;
  • the strategic nuclear forces directorate chief in the NTsUO.

You’ll find the updated promotion list here.

Better Talk About Your Problems

Army-2015 (photo: Mil.ru)

Army-2015 (photo: Mil.ru)

Last week the Russian MOD put on an extravaganza.  Army-2015 was a huge public exhibition of the latest and greatest Russian military technology and equipment.  It was a major patriotic event designed to boost the average Russian’s pride in his or her armed forces.

Army-2015 was not intended as a forum for discussing the Russian military’s deficiencies and difficulties.  However, the venerable BBC Russian Service interviewed four well-known commentators attending the show about this very issue. It’s a topic no longer easy to find in the Russian media.

The BBC turned first to State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Tetekhin from the KPRF who pointed to the Pentagon and its penchant for airing the U.S. military’s problems to identify and resolve them.  Tetekhin said Russia very much lacks similar discussions in its legislature and military ranks.

Army-2015 (photo: Mil.ru)

Army-2015 (photo: Mil.ru)

The British broadcaster asked these observers to name weak points in Russia’s military which — in their opinion — need to be fixed immediately.  The experts listed five:

  • The development and production of modern armaments suffers from a lack of personnel and the “incompleteness of the material base.”
  • The size of the armed forces is insufficient, and manning is difficult because of a lack of men.
  • A lack of follow-through in reforms, arbitrariness in decisionmaking.
  • Insufficient modern weapons, including UAVs, and the slow pace of reequipping the army.
  • The need for large expenditures to continue reform — to stop it is impossible, but great resources are needed to complete it.

That “incompleteness of the material base” sounds like defense industry is missing skilled workers, part and component suppliers, and sub-contractors who traditionally supported big arms makers. Moscow was compensating for this with foreign purchases, but it is now preoccupied with arranging for domestic import substitution.

Tetekhin expressed his concern about who will design Russia’s future weapons systems.  The skill of those working in R&D today is “an order lower” than the previous generation, he says.

For Konstantin Sivkov, the main problem is that the armed forces aren’t large enough.  He says they need to be 50 percent bigger to defend the country. More modern weapons answering modern requirements are also needed.

Igor Korotchenko sees the lack of drones — tactical to strategic and strike variants — as Russia’s most important military shortcoming.  He also complained of changing priorities and arbitrary decisions made by new defense ministers, especially regarding arms purchases.  As a remedy, he calls for permanent deputy defense ministers and service CINCs.

They tried virtual life tenure for deputy defense ministers and CINCs in Soviet times.  Didn’t work out too well.  It was a true recipe for arbitrariness and stagnation.

Lastly, the BBC quotes Konstantin Bogdanov, who gives us the most thorough summation of where the RF Armed Forces are today.  It’s worth quoting verbatim:

“The first and main problem is the unfinished state of the military reform, launched at the end of the 2000s, and repeatedly changed in its particulars. Both under Serdyukov and under Shoygu.”

“The second problem is connected to the still not overcome so-called ‘procurement holiday of the 1990s.’  The fact is a significant part of equipment, which should have been withdrawn from the inventory at the start of the 2000s and replaced with new models, is being replaced only now.  Fifteen years at a minimum have been lost.”

“This led, in particular, to an entire range of industrial enterprises, to use a sports analogy, ‘getting out of shape.’  Over the course of a long time, they couldn’t support the delivery of necessary equipment and armaments with the required characteristics and production costs.”

“This situation is being corrected somewhat, but at the end of the 2000s it was completely outrageous.”

“The manning problem is connected with the demographic hole.  They have to drag people into the army, I wouldn’t say with a lasso, but with a very sweet cake — pay.”

“There is yet another problem — the need for large infrastructure outlays.”

“Abandoned military garrisons in the Arctic, the construction of new bases there.  But this is not just a problem in the Arctic, attention is just riveted on it.  […] Airfields are being reestablished, military bases reestablished, which were abandoned at the end of the 1990s.”

“This is enormous money, and how all this will look under difficult financial conditions is hard to say.  The army is eating lots of resources, but it has gone halfway and stopping here wouldn’t be right.”

Impatient Putin

Once flagship of a robust Russian military press, NVO isn’t what it was.  What is after 15 years of Putin?  But NVO still has moments.  Its 22 May editorial is one.

Putin at 15 May Meeting

Putin at 15 May Meeting

NVO writes that recent Roskosmos failures overshadowed President Vladimir Putin’s mid-May meetings with Defense Ministry and defense industry leaders on the GOZ and GPV.  Still the 9 May Victory Day parade on Red Square showed much has been done to rearm Russia.  But much doesn’t mean every problem has been solved.  Rather, NVO contends, problems in the realization of GPV 2011-2020 and GPV 2016-2025 are “snowballing.”

The paper offers cases in point:

  • The fifth generation T-50 (PAK FA) fighter didn’t fly over Red Square even though it’s supposed to be in serial production already. The impatient Putin gave Russian designers just five years to field the T-50 while the Americans took 14 years from first flight to first delivery with the F-22 and 12 with the F-35.
  • Only a short time — two years — has been allowed for serial production of the new Armata tank.  The Soviet T-64 took 10-15 years from the start of testing until all development work was finished.  The call for Armata tanks and other armored vehicles on the same base in 2015 is just a “wish.”  Serial production won’t begin earlier than 2018.
  • There are delays in other key military programs — S-350 Vityaz, S-500 Triumfator-M, and missile defense systems (no specifics provided).

Then NVO reels off a list of weapons the Russian military needs that, the editorial asserts, aren’t exactly rolling off assembly lines:

  • Transport aircraft;
  • UAVs;
  • Air-launched missiles;
  • Air ordnance;
  • Artillery and fire control systems;
  • Space systems.

Regarding the final bullet, the paper notes that “even a huge investment of budget resources still won’t save Roskosmos from its systemic crisis.”

NVO concludes:

“On the whole, fulfillment of GPV-2020 and GPV-2025 has been summoned to restore Russia to military parity with NATO, if only the Russian economy can withstand the strain.  If not, the history of the USSR may be repeated.”

Some will quibble about particular systems NVO claims Moscow will have trouble fielding, but the general point remains:  far from everything needed by a military neglected for 20 years is being successfully procured.  There are more than a few independent Russian economists who say Moscow’s current high level of defense spending is damaging an economy already challenged by lower oil prices and Western sanctions.