Zapad appeared largely over and things were dying down across training ranges. There was a military police exercise at Brest, and several live fire exercises for principal surface combatants of Russia’s Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea. Otherwise, most units were preparing for closing ceremonies and returning home on the 16th.
At Brest (Belarus)
Belarus and Russian military police conducted an exercise in joint defense against a diversionary group attempting to break through to their camp, detaining opposing forces, and providing medical support to wounded. It looked a bit like a capture the flag exercise with blanks, smoke grenades and flares. The enemy diversionary group planted some kind of black jihadist flag in the MP camp and then a firefight broke out. Medical detachments got to use their Linza vehicle, based on the Typhoon-K.
A surface action group composed of Kirov-class battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy and Slava-class guided missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov were out in the Barents to conduct a live fire exercise with anti-ship missiles. Their target was an opposing amphibious landing group. The two ships fired P-700 Granit (SS-N-19) and P- 1000 Vulkan (SS-N-12) missiles respectively at a target imitating enemy ships. This appears to be the final exercise for these cruisers in the Barents and they’re returning to port.
The naval contingent with Udaloy-class Severomorsk has left port Dudinka where they conducted a port call, and cultural activities, along with various ship defense and counter-saboteur exercises. They’re not heading home though, further into the eastern Arctic, to New Siberian Islands via the Laptev Sea.
Looks like Russian units are headed back to base. A closing ceremony was held 230th Obuz-Lesnovsky Combined-Arms training ground in Belarus.
The Alexandrov Ensemble also performed a concert for Russian and Belarusian troops involved in the exercise.
Russian forces at Mulino also held a closing ceremony involving foreign contingents who participated as part of the coalition.
Seems the Russian military is headed back to their bases, bunch of reports and videos of vehicles loading onto rail wagons and aircraft headed back.
Northern Fleet ships are returning to port, including the Oscar-II SSGN (K-266 Orel and Delta IV K-51 Verkhoturye) which had originally set sail on the 11th. 14th Army Corps units are returning to base from their various exercises. A total of 8000 participants were involved in Northern Fleet activities during this event, with more than 800 pieces of equipment. They conducted a total of 6 missile launches, including P-700 Granit, P-1000 Vulkan, P-270 Moskit, Kh-35 by Bal CDCM, and P-800 by Bastion-P.
First Guards Tank Army units are heading back from Mulino, they had a few more drills on the way back, but are definitely home in time to vote in the Duma elections… Iskander-M units at Mulino are also returning to Kursk, thus confirming it was the 448th Missile Brigade of the 20th CAA, that was involved in Zapad missile strikes at that training range.
Russian units (logistics, engineering and combat and combat support troops) are packing and are heading to their permanent bases. There is no time to rest, though. On the way home, they will practice air defense operations, along with defending against sabotage and reconnaissance groups.
The head of the Main Directorate for Military Police, Colonel General Sergei Kuralenko, remarked that during the exercise MPs fulfilled 140 training-combat tasks, and provided support for 128 convoys/columns. About 2,500 military police took place in Zapad and 600 pieces of automotive equipment. These exercises involve quite a few MP units, and military auto inspection (VAI) is also part of military police. Consequently, the 2500 number is not unrealistic, but fairly reasonable given the different roles MPs play at these exercises.
Thanks to Konrad Muzyka for working on this with me like we did for Kavkaz-2020. It’s been fun covering Zapad, though a busy week and I had to take a break in the middle of it.
This day featured a smaller version of the earlier regional grouping of forces exercise (featured September 12) being played out Obuz-Lesnovsky, this time with foreign attaches watching the action. Large grouping of artillery, an armored counterattack, tactical and army aviation support. At Brest there was a large combined paradrop of Russian-Belarusian paratroopers (76th DIV) and equipment. Ashuluk featured a sizable air defense exercise, repelling a massed aerospace attack with electronic and life fire missile launches. Kaliningrad training ranges proved quite busy, there was a paradrop at Pravdisnky and a coastal defense exercise featuring the 336th Naval Infantry brigade at Khmelevka. It looks like the VDV’s 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade also made an interesting paradrop at Mulino, though otherwise the range was quiet compared to the previous day’s action.
There was yet another paradrop over the Bretsky training range, again the 76th Air Assault Division. According to the Belarusian MoD, 20 Il-76MDs delivered 400 Russian and Belarusian paratroopers with 39 pieces of equipment (a battalion worth of BMD-4Ms). They flew from Kresti, about 1000km in total, and dropped from 600m using D-10 parachutes. Belarusians were loaded at the Machulishchi airfield near Minsk, and joined the Russian transport fleet enroute to Brest, dropping with D-6 parachutes. Once the force landed, they seized initial defensive lines. Their objective was to block three bridges, preventing enemy forces from disrupting the deployment of the main Russian-Belarusian forces. Essentially they closed of ground lines of communications along an advance.
174th “Domanovsky” Air and Air Defense Forces Training Ground
A security unit from the 483rd Air & Air Defense Force Protection and Maintenance Battalion was attacked as OPFOR sought to destroy a target/facility the unit was guarding. However, Belarusians brought in armored vehicles and repelled the attack with heavy machine guns. The enemy then regrouped and sought a different way in, used UAVs to recce the area. The UAV was destroyed by a machine gun fire. Yet, the OPFOR was determined to relaunch the attack. Belarusian forces repelled the second attack, useing machine guns and grenade launchers to destroy everything that was left of OPFOR.
An Osa-AKM-equipped battalion from the 147th Air Defense Regiment was joined by a S-300PS battalion from the 377th Air Defense Regiment in engaging enemy aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs. Emphasis on camouflaging firing positions, and securing the air defense units’ equipment.
Obuz-Lesnovsky, 230th Combined Arms Training Range
At Obuz-Lesnovsky foreign defense and military attaches observed exercises by Russia’s 1st GTA and Belarusian units at the training range. Some personnel from CSTO and SCO member states were also present. A delegation of the CIS executive committee and the Secretariat of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers and a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross were invited as well.
Observers witnessed a combined-arms operation. The show was intended to demonstrate what the regional grouping of forces could do in action. First, Belarusian units stopped the forward detachments of an opposing force, which gave time for the main force to prepare defensive lines. Then a ‘joint’ artillery group (army self-propelled artillery, MLRS, and VDV artillery units) destroyed enemy artillery and command posts. This appears to consistent with other scenarios where Russian artillery attempts to attain artillery superiority, and induce disorganization, by going after enemy fire positions and C2. The enemy tried to use aviation, but this too was repelled by air defense systems. A “mixed tactical group for combating UAVs” was formed, including air defense, EW, and NCB troops (recall NCB troops have MLRS and other capabilities).
Artillery component seemed to involve over 100 weapon systems including 2S5 Giatsint-S self-propelled artillery, 2S1 Gvozdika, BM-21 Grad 122mm MLRS and BM-27 Uragan 220mm MLRSs, 2S19 MSTA-S SPA. More than 1000 salvos were launched hitting 200 targets.
Rotary aviation provided cover for defensive positions, Mi-24s and Ka-52s. Meanwhile a flight of 4x Su-34 conducted SEAD missions, though with high explosive fragmentation bombs. Have yet to read of a single SEAD exercise where actual anti-radiation missiles are used. After repelling the enemy’s attack, the joint Russia-Belarusian force launched a counterattack with T-72B3s and T-80U (also T-72B for Belarus), together with supporting artillery, and army aviation. In the end, they were able to restore their positions, retake lost ground from OPFOR, while substantially attriting the enemy force.
During Zapad, Russians tested a better means for transport and delivery of fuel, namely a new generation of fuel trucks, the ATZ-12-10-63501 fuel tankers. This vehicle is on a 9×9 chassis of Kamaz-63501 truck, with a capacity of 12,000 liters, and ability to fuel 10 vehicles simultaneously. Special polymer self-sealing coating prevents leaks even if damaged by small arms fire. There were also the newer ATs-14-63501 fuel tankers. Reportedly, logistics personnel using these vehicles can fill up a tank company with fuel within 10-15 minutes.
In general while tanks are more exciting, logistics are often the more important conversation.
Units from a special purpose VDV brigade, which has to be 45th, were deployed to correct aviation strikes (tactical air control role?), and reconnoitering the landing zone for follow on forces in advance of an airborne assault. They dropped using special parachutes Stayer, as part of the Yunker-O system ofor high-altitude paradrops. The groups flew in from Zhitovo in Ryazan and parachuted from Il-76MDs at about 8,000 meters. After they landed, additional aircraft flew in with cargo using PGS-1500 and UPGS-250 parachute systems, dropping at about 1500m: heavy weapons, ammunition, reconnaissance and destruction equipment, food. Interestingly, an An-26 then delivered forward air observers using Dalnolet and Tandem-400S systems. The Tandem system is for specialists who have no parachute training, basically they jump in tandem with a paratrooper, so these air controllers don’t have parachute certification. Equipment landed using a specialized parachute-cargo system that is equipped with GLONASS global positioning. It can be steered in any direction, or land in self-navigating mode at the desired location. In addition, they have developed a way to paradrop 82mm mortars to these units.
Also, a Silok-01 radio-suppression system was deployed to protect a command post against makeshift/commercial drones, employing improvised explosive devices. The system blocked GPS navigation, control, and data transmission to/from the drones in question. Also, R-330Zh Zhitel radio jamming was employed, although few details offered.
At Ashuluk – Russian forces created a unified air defense system, including means to detect and repel an air attack, defend Russian forces, and operate everything from a single center. Press releases generally emphasize air defense operating in a unified information space, and simulating a contested environment with opponent’s employing EW. There seemed to be a large aerospace attack/air defense exercise taking place, simulating defense against a massed missile-aviation strike (MRAU). Approximately 60 air targets generated. Su-35 and Mig-31BM units trained in being directed to enemy air targets (doesn’t say if it was via AWACS or ground control). Air defense units conducted both electronic launches and live fire missile launches against aerial targets and simulated missiles.
Tu-95MS strategic bombers conducted a test of the Western MD’s air defense system. They practiced penetrating air defense, and destroying ground-based air defense systems, along with navigation without visual orientation. This is a pretty odd exercise description given what the Tu-95MS’ role is, and its certainly not penetrating air defense or destroying ground-based AD.
Elements of the 76th Air Assault Division conducted a paradrop over Pravdinsky training range. Around 300 personnel and several BMD-2KU vehicles were involved. Only 10 Il-76s MDs were used. The Baltic Fleet’s Su-27s achieved air superiority, which allowed for military transport aviation to fly in. Su-24s also bombed OPFOR’s ground forces before the landing party arrived. Once on the ground, paras seized the bridgehead and defended it from OPFOR’s attacks, destroying OPFOR’s forward detachments.
In addition, at Dobrovolskiy, Su-24s and Su-30SMs conducted “precision” strikes (doubtful) against enemy command posts, and forces. Also looks like there was a SEAD component to this exercise. Bomb strikes conducted at altitudes from 200m to 2000m.
Khmelevka, Kaliningrad Oblast
At Khmelevka the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade assault detachments and supporting artillery engaged OPFOR’s amphibious force using 2S9 Nona 120 mm gun-mortar systems and BTR-82A APCs. This exercise was part of a larger drill practiced that day at Khmelevka with overall 1000 participants. Naval infantry units were raised on alert, deployed to the beach where an enemy amphibious attack was inbound, prepared defense positions and fired on targets imitating landing craft.
Khmelevka also featured an interesting EW exercise. Using drones, Leer-3 electronic warfare units (these systems use Orlan-10 drones), worked in conjunction with Zhitel, Borisoglebsk-1, and Lava-RP. They practiced jamming enemy radio-controlled explosives (maybe IEDs?), electronic support missions which involve detecting emitting targets, active jamming of enemy forward air controllers, and precision guided weapons. 100 troops involved with 20 pieces of specialized equipment. No photos so we have to imagine all the precision guided weapons they were able to jam.
Naval forces held an air defense exercise involving 2x Steregushchiy-class corvettes Stoikiy and Steregushchiy, and Neustrashimyy-class frigate Yaroslav Mudry. The surface action group detected an incoming enemy air attack represented by Su-24s and Ka-27s belonging to the Baltic Fleet’s naval aviation component. Ships defended themselves with EW, also employing A-190 main gun and AK-630 CIWS guns. They then shifted to artillery fire against different targets at sea and land targets imitating coastal defenses.
Seems there was another fleet defense exercise in Baltiysk for special purpose PDSS units. PDSS prevented diversionary forces from penetrating the Baltic Fleet base during a loading operation. They practiced patrolling in speedboats along Kaliningrad’s maritime channel, deploying divers, and UUVs.
The 14th Army Corps continued their multi-day battle with enemy forces engaged in an amphibious assault on the Kola Peninsula. This time the training was at a range in the Kandalaksha region south of Murmansk, i.e. more on the White Sea coast which tells us it was the 80th Arctic Motor Rifle Brigade whereas the earlier training was by the 200th MRB. The exercise featured a massed artillery strike against opposing forces with 2s1 Gvozdika and mortars, practicing maneuver defense, laying ambushes, and camouflaging equipment. Units fired at targets at a range of 100m-3000m with ATGMs, and various RPGs.
Meanwhile the rest of the corps were on the offensive near Pechenga, and on the Sredniy and Rybachy peninsulas. A total of 3,000 troops are involved and 500 pieces of equipment. This describes the overall set of exercises taking place, emphasis placed on jointness, ground force coordination with air power. The counteroffensive phase is the final part of the exercise, earlier they trained in positional and maneuver defense at Pechenga and Kandalaksha, along with coastal defense against an amphibious landing at Sredniy.
Bastion-P Coastal Defense Cruise Missile batteries based on the island of Alexandra Land (Franz Josef Land archipelago), conducted launches against an enemy surface action group. Strike conducted against a target at sea, maximum effective range. Target coordinates relayed by the AdmiralGorshkov-class frigate, Admiral Kasatonov. Kasatonov was doing its own training in targeting surface combatants, but with simulated electronic launches. The target struck was being observed by Il-38, and the strike confirmed by the aircraft. Here is the twist, the Bastion-P battery did not belong to the Northern Fleet, it was a Baltic Fleet coastal defense unit that was delivered to Alexandra Land some weeks ago in advance of this exercise.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping me put some of these writeups together.
This day featured the main event at Mulino, a large-scale iteration of maneuver defense by a coalition grouping of forces, luring the opposing force into prepared fire cauldrons, degrading them, counterattacking with massed fires and strike systems through the depth of their lines, and then conducting a counteroffensive. The exercise featured the 31st Air Assault Brigade, extensive air support and bombing from VKS Aerospace Forces, attack helicopters, drone strikes, large concentrations of supporting artillery (SPA and MLRS), extensive minewarfare, and use of combat engineer-sapper units. At other ranges there were notable paradrops, including a night drop by the VDV’s 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade. Three Iskander-M launches took place at different ranges, SRBM and cruise missiles fired. Meanwhile the Northern Fleet continued its battle against an unidentified force of marines which had made an amphibious landing on Kola Peninsula.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping put together a number of the events and activities here, and as a second set of eyes in case I miss something.
The 106th VDV Division which had a battalion packed and ready to drop for a few days now finally deployed. Best guess it was 137th Airborne Regiment. The opposing force was deploying reserves into the fight, and coalition command decided to call upon operational-tactical airborne. This seems to be the current designation for parachute regiments. They dropped at two different sites near Zhitovo with 300 paratroopers and 30 BMD-4M infantry fighting vehicles, aboard 21 x Il-76MD transport aircraft (together with 20 Indian paratroopers). Paradrop took place at about 800-1100 meters, with air cover provided by Su-35S.
A battalion from the 104th Air Assault Regiment of the 76th Airborne Division conducted maneuver defense operations at the training ground. An OPFOR of 1500 attacked Russian positions, which were being defended by an airborne BTG. They were initially met by a BMD-4M equipped air assault platoon. The subunit moved back to prepared lines, luring OPFOR into an ambush. The OPFOR stood no chance against BMD-4Ms and the 2S25 Sprut self-propelled tank destroyer/light tank. An air defense component of the exercise included 9K333 Verba engaging aerial targets.
At Mulino, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast – Main Event
The overall scheme for events at Mulino involves a coalition grouping of forces holding a defensive line against an enemy offensive which had pushed 80km into coalition territory, and then mounting a large counteroffensive. This was another case of maneuver defense, and a ‘perforating’ attack with fires against the enemy forces at a tactical-operational level. In the first phase of the event, they goal was to pull the OPFOR’s initial echelons into an operational envelopment, and deflect their air attack. Then deploy airborne units and commit mobile reserves. In the second phase, the Northern Coalition attempted to disrupt the opponent’s system of command and control (disorganize), attain superiority in fires, and reduce their combat potential via a concentrated strike across the entire operational depth of their forces – using recon-fire and recon-strike complexes (its contours or loops, not complexes, whoever wrote this is using older terms). In phase three, the Russian-led coalition’s goal was to crush OPFOR, deploying tactical and tactical-operational airborne units, bypassing parts of their force, and seizing populated sectors. The exercise also tested elements of combat service support and logistical elements, resupplying the force with ammunition, maintenance, etc.
Putin was there, looking at the event through a pair of binoculars while Gerasimov explained things. In Zapad-2017 he was there on the 5th day, like during most strategic command-staff exercises, but this time they had the main event earlier. Notably they keep him sequestered due to covid, forcing everyone to quarantine well in advance, so spotting him in a command center filled with people is actually a rare sight these days.
Belarusian T-72B tank units (a reinforced armored company) practiced maneuver defense, together with Russian motor rifle detachments, forcing the opposing force to suffer attrition and attack with their main body of forces in an unfavorable direction. This tactical scenario has been repeated several times in Zapad now, armored forces retreating from forward defense positions under the cover of smokescreens to avoid being decisively engaged, only to take up a new defensive line. This tactic is called ‘rolling.’ Their goal is to lure the opponent into a fire cauldron (or pocket), which is also heavily mined. The fire pocket is a prepared sector, where artillery and other units can decimate an opposing force from multiple directions with direct and indirect fires, while minelayers block mobility. This exercise featured mining to block the opponent’s advance using GMZ-3 minelayers, and heliborne mining via Mi-8MT. There’s mention of a different type of formation employed, mobile tactical groups, which sounded just like BTGs, except these were reinforced by BMPT Terminator units. These were supported by mine clearing vehicles and TOS-1A MLRS.
The 31st Air Assault Brigade together with a Belarusian tank battalion tactical group (19th Mechanized Brigade), as part of a joint operation. The airborne operation is referenced as 31st deploying a “mobile strike echelon.” Objective: prevent breakthrough by opposing coalition forces, fill the gaps or reinforce key areas that might be overrun. This time they deployed 12 Mi-8AMTSh transport helicopters (although in total airborne operations at Mulino involved 32 Mi-8 variants), with cover from 14 Mi-24, Mi-28N, Ka-52 attack helicopters. They brought in Sarmat-2 ground mobility vehicles so that forces could rapidly seize key positions, and as has become commonplace D-30 122mm howitzers for artillery support. Helicopters airlifted Sarmat-2 light ground mobility vehicles, whose attack helped disrupt opposing forces. These light units were working in conjunction with an air assault battalion mounted on BMD-4Ms, and a Belarusian tank BTG fielding T-72B1s.
Russian (31st) and Kazakhstani (35th Air Assault Brigade) forces had a separate training exercise in an urban environment. After attacking the enemy with 4x Sarmat vehicles and attack helicopters, they assaulted buildings, engaging in urban combat. Assault-engineer units created entrances through walls, demined buildings, and prepared it to be demolished. A battery of D-30 towed 122mm howitzers, brought in by the Mi-8s, provided support for this event. Also they had 82mm mortars, and two units with Kornet ATGMs. This event was a planned battle in the city, featuring about 300 paratroopers from Russia and Kazakhstan, with 10 helicopters supporting.
Russian Aerospace Forces executed a massed aviation strike against enemy forces at Mulino, involving more than 60 aircraft. Su-24MR reconnaissance, 12x Su-25SM3 attack, 16x Su-30SM heavy-multirole, 6x Su-35S air superiority, 16x Su-34 and 6x Su-24 tactical bombers, along with 6x Tu-22M3 bombers. Essentially tactical-operational, and long-range aviation. Su-24MR conducted strikes and reconnaissance of enemy targets, then Su-35S engaged in air-to-air combat against enemy fighters. Enemy air defense, deployed in starting positions, was destroyed with 48 high-explosive fragmentation bombs delivered by Su-25SM3. Judging from exercise depiction they were unguided, but using SOLT-25 navigation system with thermal imaging. Four flights of Su-34s were also in support, destroying important targets further behind enemy lines with 24x 500kg bombs. Bombing done at 600-1200 meters. 6x Tu-22M3 from 22nd Hvy Bomber Division flew sorties, dropping 1500kg bombs in pairs on enemy command centers from an altitude of 1000-2000m (that’s a 3300lb bomb to us colonials). They based out of operational airfields in Saratov and Kaluga regions.
Several types of drones were used, including Orion, Forport, Orlan-10, and Lastochka. Not sure if the story is right, claims they used 120mm laser guided mortar munitions called Gran, but from Lastochka which is a very small UAV. Videos show use of KAB-20S small guided bomb from Forpost-R. They also employed Orlan-10 with unguided munitions called ‘Mirotvorets.’
Artillery fires and strike systems
According to the MoD release, 12 battalions of MSTA-S participated at Mulino, more than 140 self-propelled systems in the 152mm caliber. Number seemed a bit off, maybe organizationally 12 battalions were involved, but 12 battalions would total 216 SPA not 140. A specialized recon-fire complex, by the name of Zemledelie, was employed against enemy reserve forces. Zemledelie is a 122mm (ISDM) engineering distance mining system – essentially a multiple launch rocket propelled mining system – able to put down a minefield of 600×200 meters at a range of 15km. This vehicle has been making appearances in greater numbers, they had quite a few more at Zapad than in Kavkaz-2020. About 10x TOS-1A Solntsepek 220mm thermobaric MLRS systems were involved in the exercise as well. They were used in conjunction with Zemledelie against enemy columns and reserve units. Interesting combination of distance mining and thermobaric MLRS.
An Iskander-M battalion (4 TELs – maybe 448th?) deployed 50km from Mulino executed a grouped missile strike against enemy command points and other critically important targets. They used both the 9M723 SRBM and 9M728 cruise missile. So, this is a different unit than at Luzhsky, for what may be a total of 3 Iskander launches on this day.
The Iskander-M launch near Mulino was a 2x SRBM launch, video surfaced later.
They rolled out Uran-9 and Nerekhta UGVs. Uran-9 features 4xAtaka ATGMs, 12x RPO PDM-A thermobaric grenade launchers, a 30mm autocannon, and PKTM machine gun. Basically, its armed to the teeth. It had test reports from Syria which suggested the vehicle had a long way to go in development to meet requirements for reliable distance operation, fidelity in sensors, and other issues. So, it’s got a ton of weapons, but functionality is a different issue. As far as big UGVs go, it is probably the ED-209 of the bunch. Nerekhta is quite small and can have different combat modules, but standard loadout is 12.7mm machine gun and 30mm AG-30M grenade launcher. Also, they displayed 3-4 B-19 vehicles, a BMP-3 platform with Epocha combat module (57mm autocannon, Kornet ATGMs, and smaller caliber ATGMs Bulat). B-19 BMP variant looked neat, except that there was clearly scoring and burn marks on the side of the turret from its own Kornet ATGM fire, looks like it needs minor tweaks.
Combat engineers setup a dummy tank battalion in defense, along with dummy Buk and S-300 units. This allowed them to lure enemy forces into attacking the wrong sector, and similarly mislead an enemy air attack against a dummy air defense battalion.
They also setup another fire wall using trenches filled with flammables – multiple rows at a 1.5km length. A different article said 1km length, but who’s counting. This time engineers activated the fire wall across three different lines using highly flammable liquid. There was also a VIED exercise, simulating the kind of up armored technicals and suicide bombers encountered in Syria.
At Luzhsky training ground
Several Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft scouted the area for ground targets, then transmitted the data and coordinates to a follow up flight of 4 x Su-34s via a closed communication channel.
An Iskander-M launch of 9M728 cruise missile took place at the range, most likely by the 26th Missile Brigade. It was used to strike targets at ranges of 100km, just as the crew had practiced via simulated electronic launches a few days beforehand.
The Russian MoD confirmed that a unified air defense system had been created in support of Zapad. It includes all forces, units, and assets tasked with early warning, and repelling air attack. These assets are controlled from one C2 center. The use of an automated control system makes it possible to identify and distribute air targets. Engagement should also be automatic. Air defense units drilling at Ashuluk operate within a highly contested electronic warfare environment in conditions of radio suppression and radio jamming in various frequency ranges. Interestingly, one of the Pantsir units showed by the Russian MoD came from the Kirov Oblast, which is not known to field any SAM regiments. It is plausible that the system was withdrawn from storage and put into operational use? Perhaps this is a mobile reserve air defense unit?
At Brest, Belarus
45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (VDV), together with airborne units from Belarus and Kazakhstan, conducted a night time paradrop at the training range from 3 x Il-76MD at altitudes of 1500-1900m. About 90 reconnaissance paratroopers from the 45th, 60 from Belarus, and 20 from Kazakhstan. Russians used Arbalet-2 parachute system flying out of Kubinka, Belarusians used D-4 parachutes coming out of Machulishi. After landing, paratroopers practiced diversionary actions behind enemy lines, raiding, reconnaissance, and destroying objects in the enemy rear.
Saboteurs seized areas where the Baltic Sea Fleet ships were moored. Elements of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade (Northern Fleet) and the 313th PDSS were sent in to recapture the area and neutralize the threat. They were deployed onshore through fast boats. The diversionary forces were blocked at the pier and “destroyed”. Altogether 50 personnel, 10 pieces of equipment, a Ka-29 and Ka-27 helicopter involved. The abovementioned detachment worked to prevent the breakthrough of underwater saboteurs to ships that were being loaded with weapons at the naval base.
14th Army Corps continued a second day of exercises on the Kola Peninsula, together with airborne units which had been deployed to reinforce them. They continued defending the coast against an enemy marine force which had been landed via amphibious operation. The focus this day was on the Sredniy peninsula, with 100 pieces of equipment and 800 troops. T-80BVMs completed a 100km march together with motor rifle units mounted on MT-LBs, and then practiced firing at different types of targets, backed by 2S1 Gvozdika SPA, and man portable Kornet ATGMs. Exercise involved employing camouflage, providing combat engineer support, and elements of air defense.
Meanwhile back at the Arctic expeditionary group which had sailed up the Yenisei river, PDSS units continued to train in countering diversionary operations and providing security for the small naval group that been sent there. Exercises took place along the river and at the port of Dudinka. They included Udaloy-class Severomorsk, which had been docked there for several days, along with Rapucha-class LST Georgiy Pobedonosets, and tugboat Pamir.
Russian aerospace forces had a busy day, conducting strikes in support of exercises, intercepting enemy air attacks, engaging in various opposing force scenarios and working in conjunction with ground-based air defense. This seemed to be a finale day for exercises in Belarus, with the focus on Obuz-Lesnovsky, exercises featuring defense with artillery and air support, counteroffensives, heliborne operations with VDV troops to recapture a settlement. Tank and attack helicopter based exercises at Mulino, heavy day for various armor drills, and a fair bit of rotary aviation employed. Baltic Fleet conducted a large amphibious landing, simulating both amphibious attack and coastal defense. Northern Fleet practiced anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship warfare with SSGNs, and a large coastal defense exercise led by 14th Army Corps on the Kola peninsula.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping me put a number of these together. We were worried with less media coverage there would not be as much to write about, but that seems to have been less of a problem than earlier imagined. Apologize for any awkward sentences, there’s a lot to cover and not much time for good editing to be had here.
VKS Aerospace Forces – Air defense units and Western MD tactical aviation repelled an enemy air attack, the exercise involved 10 different tactical episodes where units trained in intercepting air targets, attacking ground forces, and bombing fortified positions. Enemy forces were played by Su-35S, Su-34, Mi-8, Mi-28N, Mi-35, Ka-52. Su-30SM and Mig-31BMs in the role of interceptors, destroying enemy air targets which were attempting to conduct a massed aviation strike (MRAU). A total of 40 aerodynamic targets were destroyed, imitating enemy cruise missiles and aircraft. The way this is written I think the MoD release got a few items mixed in terms of the size of OPFOR. If the OPFOR is composed of real aircraft then naturally they use simulated electronic launches (except in that rare occasion when a pilot accidentally arms his 30mm in a training dogfight, like back in Kavkaz-2020).
In a different set of exercises Su-35S crews intercepted Su-30SMs at about 10,000 meters. Su-30SMs played the role of opposing forces. Each enemy aircraft had to be detected by radar, presumably ground based since no mention of AWACS, and this is a combined exercise with air defense components of VKS. Su-35s sortied from Ryazan, simulating electronic launches at beyond visual range 100km+
Near Smolensk, there were a series of strikes by Su-34s and Tu-22M3s, which appeared different than the exercise in Belarus discussed later in this post. They dropped bombs from relatively low altitudes of 1000m against underground command centers, cement bunkers, and other types of ground targets. Su-30SMs provided fighter cover. Approximately 20 aircraft belonging to tactical and long range aviation employed in this event.
At Ruzhansky – (210th Air Force and Air Defense Forces Aviation Range)
Reconnaissance discovered a large grouping of opposing forces along with their airfield with aircraft. Air support was called in to destroy it. Altogether 20 Russian and Belarusian aircraft flew in and dropped 50 bombs, launched 130 unguided missiles, firing 850 30mm rounds. The first to appear were Belarusian Su-30SM fighters, which carried out additional reconnaissance over the area and established air control. Then bombers and combat helicopters arrived to destroy the enemy. The strike package included Belarusian Yak-130s, Mi-24s, but also Russian long-range aviation’s Tu-22M3s. An image of a Su-24 with fuel tanks deploying flares was published by the Belarusian MoD, which confirms that Russia deployed these in support. A CSAR mission was also conducted after a helicopter was presumed to have “crashed.” A pair of Mi-24s provided air cover for combat search and rescue.
At/around Domanovsky in Brest – (174th Air Force and Air Defense Forces Training Range)
Subunits of the Belarusian 147th Air Defense Regiment (equipped with Osa-AKM air defence system) conducted two tactical episodes at the range. They provided anti-aircraft cover for ground troops, shielded them from air attacks of a simulated enemy. The second episode involved a live-fire exercise with missiles engaging high-speed small-sized and low-altitude air targets. The regiment deployed two batteries to the range with each battery assigned three targets. The first one simulated a high-speed target (200-400 m/s) flying at an altitude of 1-4 km. The second and third targets simulated OPFOR fire support helicopters hovering at a low altitude.
An air assault battalion from the 38th Air Assault Brigade made a march from Domanovo to Brest training range. During the march, they crossed be Mukhovets River east of Brest. Their objective was to flank opposing forces and cut off potential escape routes. The 38th riverine operations seem to have been linked to the one conducted the previous day by the Russian company from the 15th MRR. They too crossed Mukhovets and flanked the opposing force from an unexpected direction, occupying the necessary area and blocking escape routes. Not clear if this took place on the 12th or 13th of September.
During the night of 12/13 September Belarusian, Russian, and Kazakh paras did a night jump from Il-76s over the Brest range. First Russian were dropped to secure the landing site. The second wave followed with Belarusian and Kazakh subunits. The drop included elements of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade (Belarus), 76th Airborne Division (Russia), and the 35th Airborne Assault Brigade (Kazakhstan).
At Obuz-Lesnovsky (230th Combined Arms Training Range)
On the last day of the defensive phase of Zapad, Lukashenko paid a visit to this training ground, while Russia sent deputy minister of defense Evkurov. Officially, Belarus has stood up a motor rifle battalion as a part of force generation activities in support of Zapad. They might be staggering final events, having the big joint activity with Belarus on Day 3 at this range, and then the Russian one at Mulino on Day 4.
On the ground, units subordinated to the regional grouping of forces (RGF), which included elements of the Russian 4th Tank Division, 76th Air Airborne Division, Kazakh 35th Airborne Assault Brigade as well as Belarusian mechanized formations (and a newly stood up Belarusian motor rifle battalion) conducted an air assault. The scenario was first a joint force repulsing an enemy attack, setting the conditions for an effective counteroffensive, and defeated the enemy. This seemed like a fairly set-piece scenario for the regional grouping of forces, but it was a big show day for 4th Tank division and its T-80U counterattack, supported by Belarusian forces. Also they lit the range pretty well with all sorts of towed artillery, SPA, and MLRS. More than 100 pieces of artillery were used, including 2S1 Gvozdika, 2S5 Giatsint-S, and MSTA-S, BM-21 Grad and BM-27 Uragan MLRS.
OPFOR tried to conduct a counterattack with armored vehicles, but was stopped in part by a 400-meteter multi-row firewall. This is essentially engineer-sapper units (1st GTA) blowing up a ton of flammable liquid in an anti-tank trench. Engineer units then used UR-77 and UR-83P demining vehicles to clear a path for a counteroffensive. Counteroffensive followed with what seems to be all ground units deployed. Artillery, TOS-1As thermobaric weapon systems, VDV forces and elements of the 4th Tank Division, and T-72B3, T-80U. Also media claiming something called a T-90UBKh, but I think this a typo. The counter offensive was naturally a success, restoring the forces original positions.
Another part of this day’s events featured heliborne operations, lifting units into a captured settlement. The mock settlement was kind of a village, basically a set of rural looking dwellings. Airborne units surrounded the settlement with BMD-4s, then troops rappelled from Mi-8 helicopters (seem they can simultaneously deploy 5 soldiers from a helicopter via rope systems). Ka-52s supported the airborne operation, while soldiers cleared the village.
Aviation was also busy. This included Mi-24s from 50th Mixed Aviation Base Belarus and Ka-52s from Russian army aviation. Russia also deployed Tu-22M3s and Su-34s, flying from homebased airfields. The latter (4x Su-34) conducted SEAD missions against enemy air defense and traditional bombing missions. Belarusians also deployed their Su-25s and Yak-130s for ground support roles.
Since the start of Zapad, an EW group from 1st GTA has been busy suppressing radio signals of opposing forces using active jamming stations: R-934BVM “Borisoglebsk-2”, R-330Zh “Zhitel”, R-378BVM. EW units conducted a radio-electronic strike against enemy lines of communication (radio), and suppressed about 100 enemy targets which were capable of radio-electronic effects (translation a bit rough here).
Back in Russia
Luzhskiy – Approximately 30 tank and artillery crews from elements of the 6th CAA fired at targets out of direct line of sight ~6km, from established firing positions, while conducting reconnaissance at night. A couple of battle drills mentioned: tank carousel, roving tank, and tank-scout. Tank carousel is well known from Syria, where tanks cycle through a firing position in order to sustain fire on a target at a sustained rate. Roving, or maybe nomadic tank is a better term for it, (shrug on translation here) is when a tank shifts between several firing positions to confuse a force as to the actual disposition of the defenders and where they’re concentrated. The tank fires from each spot moving along a route to make it seem like there is a much larger armored unit there. Tank-scout I’m unsure about. At Luzhskiy there are about 2000 troops and more than 500 pieces of equipment, including 4 aircraft and 10 helicopters.
Over what appeared to be a Mulino training ground, Mi-35s and Mi-24s helicopters provided air support and cover for ground units. They delivered strikes against manpower and armored vehicles. Attack helicopter crews employed Shturm-V and Ataka-M ATGMs and S-8 unguided rockets. The mode of attack was based on a ‘helicopter carousel’: helicopters created a circle style battle formation, which allowed for continuous delivery of fire on opposing forces’ positions. With that approach, they engaged communications, command posts and communication routes. Also, possibly during the same event at Mulino, Mi-28N, Ka-52, Mi-35 and Mi-24 attack helicopters conducted aerial reconnaissance, launching rocket strikes against ground targets, while providing air cover for ground forces. This could be a description of the abovementioned exercise. Helicopter crews arrayed themselves into pairs, and squadrons, employing terrain masking at low altitude flight.
Elements of the 4th Tank Division (possibly a BTG) conducted an ambush, thwarting an enemy offensive. Separated from the main forces, camouflaged T-80 tanks opened volley fire at the advancing enemy columns (opposing forces were represented by moving targets). Tank crews worked out hitting targets at distances from 700m to 2.2km, and then deployed smokescreens to displace from their positions.
An NBC subunit cleaned up a mock chemical attack. According to the exercise plan, two crews of the RHM-6 CBRN reconnaissance vehicles found a “contaminated” area, determined the type of contamination, and the substance used. Terrain samples were then transferred to a headquarters. All the equipment in the contaminated zone was disinfected by ARS-14KM vehicles. The NBC unit also created an aerosol curtain to camouflage friendly forces. The thermobaric detachment used RPO-A Shmel thermobaric grenade launchers to destroy enemy forticications.
Air defence units belonging to the 44th Air Defence Division, together with the Baltic Sea Fleet’s ships and naval aviation component repelled an enemy airstrike. Combat crews deployed to areas from which they were supposed to provide air cover, readying S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. There they sought to detect and destroy air and ballistic targets represented by real airframes. The air situation was complicated by massed ‘raids’ conducted by Su-30SM and Su-24s and the presence of an An-26 military transport aircraft. These aircraft imitated an enemy air force across a range of altitudes and speeds. The exercise simulated Russian air defense systems operating in an EW-contested environment.
During the exercise, the simulated enemy force delivered cruise missile strikes with a density of up to seven targets hit per minute. The Fleet’s Su-27s took to the skies in order to intercept enemy cruise missiles, together with air defense systems (launches simulated electronically of course). The interesting part here is that each year you see more air crews training in cruise missile interception. The Baltic Fleet ships involved in this drill also made electronic launches at air targets. In total, more than 10 aircraft were involved in the exercise. The grouping of naval and ground forces was represented by four air defence battalions, and seven ships of the Baltic Fleet. On the whole it doesn’t sound like OPFOR was particularly large, but interesting to see greater integration with naval forces performing AD missions.
At Pravdinsky Training Range
Attack of OPFOR was stopped by elements of the 11th Army Corps with air support. Fighters achieved air superiority. Su-34s aircraft struck the positions of the “enemy”, its command posts, and weapons and logistics depots. Mi-24s, Su-24s and Su-30s were also involved in ground support operations. Concurrently, artillery delivered concentrated mass fires on targets and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles.
Consequently, favorable conditions were created for the transition from defense to offense. The enemy was struck by a tank subunit using the “tank carousel” technique. On top of that, the use of artillery and frontal aviation effectively defeated the identified “enemy.” Elements of the 76th Airborne Division are at Pravdinsky as well, but unsure what role they fulfil.
At Khmelevka, Baltic Fleet (336th) and Northern Fleet (61st) naval infantry units conducted an amphibious landing. Chief of the Russian Navy, Nikolai Evmenov, was present at this event personally. NF naval infantry had to seize a platsdarm and then enable the rest of the forces and equipment to land. BF naval infantry played the defenders in this scenario. First, supporting ships conducted artillery strikes along the coast to suppress defending fire positions. Then Su-30SMs and Su-24s from the Baltic Fleet provided strike support for the landing. Looks like first Raptor high-speed patrol boats unloaded groups of combat engineers to help clear a path through supposed mines on the beachhead, and set signals to designate the landing area for arriving forces. Looks like 4x Rapucha-class LSTs then unloaded naval infantry, more than 40x BTR-80 in total. This is a sizable amphibious landing for Russian forces. Along with the LSTs deployed two large aircushion landing craft (LCACs), the Zubr-class ships (Pomornik) Mordoviya and Evgeniy Kocheshkov. Looks like LCACs delivered the support units, 2s9 Nona mortars and a R-149 command vehicle.
SF and BF naval infantry then practiced their respective tasks, assault vs coastal defense. BF units were raised on alert, deployed to the area where they detected an incoming amphibious landing and began to setup positions. They defended the coast with Nona mortar systems, BM-21 Grad, and their BTR-82A APCs. Photos suggest Shilkas used on the beach as well. Altogether, about 10 ships involved in this event, more than 200 pieces of equipment, and approximately 2000 troops.
Project 1131M small anti-submarine ships Kabardino-Balkaria and Aleksin in conjunction with Ka-27PL ASW helicopters searched for a supposed enemy submarine in the Baltic Sea. Working on detection, classification, etc. they eventually found and sunk a hypothetical enemy submarine using a mix of RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers and torpedoes. Crews also practiced in live fire artillery exercises against small sea going and aerial targets.
14th Army Corps held a sizable exercise at Pechenga, simulating a defense against enemy forces on the Kola peninsula. Approximately 300 pieces of equipment including T-80BVMs, 2S1 Gvozdika and 2S3 Akatsiya SPA, venerable MT-LBs, ATGM units, and various air defense systems belonging to PVO-SV like Tunguska. They also had drones and naval aviation supporting. Su-24s from the fleet’s mixed aviation regiment joined in to conduct bombing runs against enemy forces. The exercise included practicing how to camouflage forces, better known by everyone as the dreaded maskirovka. Also electronic warfare, jamming and creating false targets. The exercise helped test signals and communications equipment, in total involving about 2000 troops from the Northern Fleet.
Northern Fleet surface combatants formed a surface search and strike group, essentially a surface action group whose primary mission is anti-submarine warfare. Seems these were small anti-submarine warfare ships, (project 1124M Grisha-class corvettes) Snezhgorsk and Yunga, working with Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft, and Ka-27PL ASW helicopters to search for enemy submarines with sonar buoys.
Meanwhile the Northern Fleet’s SSGN that had sortied on 11th September, an Oscar-II class submarine K-266 Orel, conducted a live fire exercise using P-700 Granit. The submarine fired submerged against a target imitating a large surface combatant at over 100km from its own position.
Military transport aviation (VTA) prepared to deploy airborne forces, a total of 60 crews including Il-76 and An-26. They began loading VDV units at airfields.
VDV units at Strugi Krasnyie trained with indirect fire from BMD-4M, seemed like they were talking about firing airburst fragmentation munitions using predetermined coordinates from Orlan-10 drones.
Klyazma River – Western MD engineering units built a floating brigade across the Klyazma River in the Vladimir Region. OPFOR destroyed ground lines of communication, which forced the engineering units to restore a crossing over a river using heavy mechanized bridges TMM-3M2. Mi-28Ns provided air cover.
September 11 featured a large joint exercise at Pravdinsky, representing the main tenets of maneuver defense. Air defense, EW, and tactical aviation units practiced intercepting enemy cruise missiles, drones, and penetrating strike aircraft. Airborne units were training and positioning for more active phases of the exercise coming up. A panoply of interesting reconnaissance and targeting activities, using KRUS Strelets to enable recon-fire/recon-strike loops. Northern Fleet forces sortied a SSGN and SSBN, conducting simulated fires against enemy surface action groups. Meanwhile the Baltic Fleet ran an amphibious landing exercise, and live fire exercises with CDCMs.
I took a break on Sunday which put me a bit behind, but got to see my football team lose their first game of the season. Of course that was more of a dynamic event with a motivated OPFOR.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka who helped me put some of these items together, it always easier with another person looking.
VKS Аеrospace Forces
Tu-22M3 and Su-34 aircraft conducted bombing runs on a training run near Smolensk (Dorogobuzh?). They bombed ground targets, denoting armored vehicles, concrete shelters, camouflaged and fortified underground command posts. Ground targets were struck from a height of around 1,000 m. Air cover provided by Su-30SMs. Altogether 20 long-range and tactical aviation aircraft were involved in this operation. (sadly no pictures)
After their deployment to operational airfields in the Ryazan region, Su-35s were sortied to intercept 10 air targets here played by Su-30SMs. The latter were detected by radio-electronic troops of the WMD. Before the OPFOR Su-30SMs entered a zone of air defense responsibility, they were ‘engaged’ by simulated electronic launches at a distance of over 100 km.
Mig-31BM units belonging to 6th AAD Army intercepted enemy aircraft at medium altitudes. These were simulated by Su-24M bombers operating as the opposing force. They then detected a group of enemy drones which could not be identified on IFF. The Migs broke up into pairs to engage enemy drone systems, preventing a hypothetical strike against Russian powerplants.
VDV Airborne– Strugi Krasnye
This proved a really interesting battalion level exercise on 10th/11th. 76th VDV division deployed 600 paratroopers with 50 pieces of equipment. Air cover provided by Su-30SMs, Ka-52s, and Mi8AMTSh helicopters, along with air control with A-50U AWACS and Il-22-SURT. Paratroopers seized an enemy airfield, marched to another mission 100km away. on their way they also practiced overcoming minefields. Looks like they had 50 BMD-4M, BTR-MDM Rakushka, and some lighter vehicles as well, along with air defense systems (Stela-10MN, ZU-23-2, Igla, Verba). Part of the activity included the column practicing repelling an enemy attack.
The 51st parachute regiment & 234th air assault regiment are from 106th division, while the 237th air assault are from 76th division. 51st is holding left flank, 237th is holding far right, a reinforced 234th is holding the main line in the center and defending against an attack on the right. The exercise is using stand in numbers under the system of exercise number -10 = actual unit number i.e. 61st – 10 = 51st regiment.
Separately, 106th VDV from Tula were airlifted by military transport aviation (VTA) from Ryazan region to Ulianovsk. Earlier at Dyagilevo airbase the 106th had assembled a full BMD-4M battalion for loading aboard transport aircraft to be paradropped. They will be doing a drop with 300 troops and more than 30 BMD vehicles at Zhitovo, using 23 x Il-76MD.
At Savasleika in Nizhny Gorod region, the 31st Air Assault Brigade which is based in Ulianovsk, began practicing rappelling from helicopters. This unit is training with using Mi-8AMTSh to airlift D-30 howitzers, and new ground mobility vehicles, Sarmat-2, which packs 3 people, 12.7mm MG and AGS-17 30mm Grenade launcher. 31st usually experiments with force structure and new tactics, air lifting equipment, and the like.
6th CAA at Mulino – Military Police destroyed an enemy diversionary group which attempted to penetrate the army’s command post. OPFOR was being played by Spetsnatz units, their mission was to sabotage the enemy command post and place mines in the area. Defending forces consisted of security and MPs, using blank rounds and smoke charges to simulate combat conditions. Snipers belonging to a motor rifle detachment practiced stopping light enemy vehicles and armor with ASVK and SVD rifles, firing at the engine blocks. They then used KRUS Strelets to relay the coordinates of enemy units to supporting artillery.
Radio-electronic warfare (EW) troops practiced disabling groups of enemy drones, forcing 20 UAS to land. In this exercise enemy drones planned to conduct strikes against military infrastructure with the aid of UCAVs. Radar units detecting incoming drones at different altitudes, then relayed their coordinates to those operating Borisoglebsk-1 and Zhitel EW systems. EW units then disrupted drone communication and navigation systems.
At Luzhsky – Western MD rotary aviation (most likely army aviation units based in Leningrad region) practiced a new tactic for destroying enemy forces with Mi-8, Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters. Pairs of helicopters would predeploy and sit masked on cleared positions in the forest. They then would await enemy forces to break through, takeoff from their hidden positions, and destroy targets (this one is new to me). They’re describing hit and run tactics using terrain masking.
Ashuluk training range – S-400s and Pantsir-S1 units belonging to Western MD are training at this range in repelling aerospace attack, namely defending against MRAU (Massed Missile-Aviation Strike), destroying cruise missiles simulated by target imitators, enemy drones, and tactical aviation. Air defense units will work in concert with tactical aviation.
Pravdinsky and Khmelenvka – Drone units using Orlan-10, Forpost are being used extensively as part of the exercises taking place in Kaliningrad, along with UGVs like Platforma-M. These are being employed to find and fix targets, conduct battle damage assessment, armed reconnaissance, and also to clear paths through minefield.
At Pravdinsky, there was a large exercise integrating units from the Army Corps, VKS air defense, and the fleet’s land based naval aviation components. With support from artillery and aviation they fortified a defensive line with the goal of then conducting a counterattack. The scheme includes ‘complex’ defeat of an opponent’s forces, which in practice means a set of coordinated strikes from different elements of the joint force being deployed. Ground forces used self-propelled artillery (2s3 Akatsiya) and Uragan 220mm MLRS, also BM-21 Grad, in conjunction with drones for ISR. Su-30SMs conducted strikes against enemy targets in depth, such as command posts, logistics dumps. The fleet’s Su-24s and Su-30SMs struck with unguided FAB-250s.
Meanwhile a pair of Su-27s assigned to the Fleet’s tactical aviation units at Chkalovsk practiced intercepting enemy cruise missiles with air-to-air missiles. Not sure if it was part of the same exercise, but sounds like this was all one large activity.
The use of airpower then set conditions to transition from defense to counteroffensive with motor rifle (BMP-3) and armor (T-72B3), thereby preserving the force. Artillery fires in this exercise were further coordinated with operations by Mi-24 helicopters operating at low altitudes. To simulate enemy fires they used flares, and target imitators. PVO-SV units practiced air defense with Tunguska and Igla systems. Countermine systems also engaged using UR-77 to blast corridors through enemy mine fields. A detachment was airlifted by helicopters, presumably to the rear or flanks of the opposing force. About 300 pieces of equipment, 5000 troops, and 20 aircraft are involved in this exercise at Pravdinsky. The description in this exercise reflects an increasing focus on maneuver defense in Russian military discussions, and lays out its central precepts – engaging a superior force to degrade them, retreating to reserve lines to avoid being pinned, massing artillery and airpower against them as they concentrate, which sets the conditions for a counteroffensive – and preserving the force with minimal losses.
Brest training range – Russian forces together with Belarusian units began digging in to prepare their positions against air attack. They trained in repelling enemy reconnaissance groups, snipers prepared positions, and others setup security posts. Also at Brest there’s a whole discussion about topographers belonging to the tank regiment deployed there using systems like Kaleidoscope (and 1T134M) to create full 3D maps of the area, with accurate measurements. This helps artillery units and those in predetermined positions have a much better sense of the area and fire with greater accuracy.
Recon units penetrated behind enemy lines, and employed KRUS Strelets targeting systems. Their goal was to find enemy armor concentrations, command and control points, fuel and ammo dumps, along with railroad hubs for unloading equipment. With Strelets they were able to relay coordinates to supporting artillery and aviation for strikes.
Elements of the 96th Reconnaissance Brigade deployed three different types of reconnaissance drones (namely quadrocopters) to ascertain the positions of an enemy force. This allowed them to make a detailed map of the terrain of the area where the conditional enemy forces were located. Quadrocopters were flown to 100 meters, which allowed them to deploy without detection. Data was then transmitted to fire systems to destroy targets.
Elements of a Belarusian SOF unit (unclear which) returned home from Ivanovo where they practiced with the 98th Airborne Division. Belarusian SOF unit conducted a riverine operation combing with seizing an island. The attack on the island (retaking it from diversionary groups which had seized it), was carried out from several directions. The first group of divers were deployed to a splashdown area by a Mi-8MTV-5 helicopter. The second group landed on special wing-type parachutes and immediately entered into a battle. Some ‘militants’ tried to escape from the island in a motorboat, but they were destroyed using a combat drone.
Northern Fleet – As part of its Arctic expeditionary group NF practiced destroying an enemy surface action group in the Barents. Ships involved include Sovremenny-class destroyer Admiral Ushakov, Gorshkov-class frigate Admiral Kasatonov, coastal defense cruise missile batteries fielding Bal (SSC-6) and Bastion-P (SSC-5). CDCMs deployed from their bases to firing positions along the Kola peninsula. Bal CDCMs fired together with Admiral Ushakov against targets 100km from the coast. Meanwhile Admiral Kasatonov, and Bastion armed CDCM units, conducted simulated electronic fires against naval targets, and worked on coordinating the targeting process.
Two nuclear powered submarines got underway, K-266 Orel (Oscar-II), and K-51 Verkhoturye (Delta IV). PDSS units helped protect the submarines against enemy diversionary groups during their departure. Minesweepers conducted counter-mine operations to help get the submarines clear, forming two minesweeping groups including Elnya, Soloevetskiy Yunga, Yadrin, and Kotelnich. Also looks like a NF Mig-31BM intercepted a Norwegian P-3S Orion over the Barents, most likely there to conduct intelligence on Russian submarines departing from their bases.
Baltic Fleet – A battalion of Bal CDCMs conducted simulated electronic strikes against an enemy amphibious landing groups. The training involved deploying to launch points, setting up and camouflaging equipment, reload drills, and securing the launch site.
Elements of the Baltic Sea, and Northern Fleet conducted a bilateral amphibious operation on the Khmelevka Training Range. Respectively, these are the 336th and 61st Naval Infantry Brigades. The latter has been training with the Baltic Sea Fleet naval infantry throughout the entire August. The exercise was observed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Admiral Nikolai Evmenov. The 61st Naval Infantry Brigade was first deployed to seize a bridgehead and ensure that equipment landed for a deeper an offensive into unfamiliar territory. The 336th Naval Infantry Brigade was tasked with defending beach areas.
A detachment of fire support ships first delivered an artillery strike along the coast to suppress 336th artillery positions. Engineers were then brought by Raptor fast-attack craft first to clear and mark lanes for follow on forces. After the engineers cleared a lane, several BTR-80/82 vehicles were deployed to the shore from the four Project 775 large landing ships. In the meantime, Evgeniy Kocheshkov Project 1232.2 Zubr LCAC with Nona 120mm mortars and R-149MA1 command and staff vehicles.
Specialists in EW provide cover for command posts and important industrial facilities, along with electronic support functions like reconnaissance and identifying transmitting targets. They will emphasize counter-UAS, using experience gained dealing with enemy drones in Syria. There are approximately 300 EW specialists and 50 pieces of equipment involved in Zapad, including Krasukha-S4, Krasukha-2.0, Zhitel, and Borisoglebsk.
Combat service support (MTO) components will practice repair, evacuation, providing field service, etc. A repair and maintenance battalion has been deployed from Western MD’s independent MTO brigade. Prior to the active phase of training, MTO units will train in repairing vehicles, using 20 different types of equipment (KET-L, BTS-4, B3EM-K, TRM, MTO-UB-2). Also mobile repair stations with cranes, for example BAKM 1040 BK, which can lift 4.95tons. More footage to follow later in the exercise.
The first part of the exercise usually involves practicing components of active defense, deflecting a massed missile-aviation attack, and engaging a superior ground force. There are flanking movements, airborne raids, counterattacks. Much of the opening day consisted of ground formations practicing maneuver defense against a superior force, airborne units conducting a night paradrop w/equipment, air defense and tactical aviation working in concert to repel an aerospace attack, and ships getting underway from their bases. Kaliningrad had a significant exercise, and there were a number of combined arms events at Mulino, along with training ranges in Belarus. Interesting support activities, setting up communications network, deploying medical units, engineers building command posts, firing positions, fortifications, etc. There are strong hints that tactical missile strikes are soon to come, and a mixed type artillery group will be formed to conduct coordinated fires later in the exercise.
Working with Konrad Muzyka to put some of this together – less information available on training activities than during past years.
Western MD tactical aviation (6th Air and Air Defense Army), began combat air patrols at forward airbases in Ryazan and Tambov regions, Su-35S and Su-30SM crews. The Su-35s involved is possibly the 790th Fighter Aviation Regiment. This development was a part of a larger deployment of combat aircraft and helicopters to operational airfields. This involved the entire range of Russian combat and logistics airframes including Su-35S, Su-30SM, MiG-31BM, Su-34, Mi-8s, Mi-35s, Ka-52s, and Mi-28Ns. Once deployed, they will practice delivering massive airstrikes on command posts and infrastructure of the “enemy”, repelling a massed missile airstrike using air bombs, guided and unguided air missiles, as well as cannons.
Kaliningrad – an exercise involving a BTG with considerable artillery support, with engineers first preparing fortifications and reserve firing positions. The main force conducted maneuver defense using BMP-3s, setting ambushes, and counterattacking the opposing formations. Tank detachments practiced luring enemy units into an ambush and retreating to prepared firing positions. Special attention paid to maintaining communications in a contested electronic environment, assuming the opponent was using EW against the unit. This exercise featured 1000 troops, 70 pieces of equipment, including T-73B3, BMP-2/3, 2s3 Akatsiya, BM-21 Grad, BM-27 Uragan, Tunguska-M1. Looks like Su-24s involved as well.
At Mulino, VKS air defense units composed of S-400 and Pantsir-S1 setup air defenses for the ground force formations. Once they reached the designated areas near Nizhny Novgorod, they repulsed a massive air strike of a mock enemy. More than 50 targets were detected in the entire range of heights and speeds. The exercise only involved electronic launches. Another detachment of air defense units is in Ashuluk, Astrakhan. This range is going to be used as part of the exercise even though it is not listed. Their job is to work with tactical aviation in repelling air attack, intercept cruise missiles (simulated with target imitators), and deal with enemy drones.
Armor units at Mulino (20th CAA) trained engaging enemy forces in defensive battle, using smokescreens T-72B3s withdrew under enemy fire, and repositioned their main force along echeloned lines. Description suggests Russian armor practicing maneuver defense, engaging to degrade forces, withdrawing to avoid being pinned, and repositioning again along new defensive lines to reengage at 1500km (pretty short range for a tank). There was some staple language regarding “nonstandard” approaches in tactics, creating new methods for training and preparations. They’re continuing the discussion on using new forms for training tank, motor rifle, and engineering units.
Military police subunits destroyed a sabotage and reconnaissance group of the mock enemy during its attempt to attack the command post of the 6th Combined Arms Army (6th CAA) (WMD). Simulated enemies, here played by WMD Spetsnaz, attempted to infiltrate the command post, mine its key facilities, and disrupt the operation of the communications system. So far there has been little information about the presence of units belonging to the 6th CAA in Zapad. At the Mulino Training Range, only one BTG from the 138th MRB is present.
Some 600 paras (one full BTG) and an unclear number of equipment (BMD variants, and Nona artillery – its a bit murky on how many) from the 76th Air Assault Division (possibly the 104th Air Assault Regiment). This was supposedly the Russian VDV’s first battalion sized night airdrop, using NVG equipment. Their task is to seize an enemy airbase, then defend it against counterattack during daytime. Supposedly they made a 100km march to Strugi Krasnye Training Range. The exercise description is a bit unclear, the vehicle numbers, distance to range, and troop numbers don’t quite add up. The 76th Air Assault Division is quite busy. It has three BTGs forward-deployed, one in the Kaliningrad Oblast and two in Belarus (Brest and Baranovichi). The BTG is Brest is without heavy equipment.
A battalion from the 137th Airborne Regiment of the 106th Airborne Division is getting ready to conduct a full battalion airdrop with 30 BMD-4Ms. This is the first time the battalion will conduct such a drop. Altogether 15 Il-76 MD transport aircraft are involved in the operation. They will fly from Dyagilevo in the Ryazan Region to Ulyanovsk-Vostochny and then back to Zhitovo landing site in the Ryazan region when the drop will occur.
Elements of the 98th Airborne Division along with a Belarusian SOF unit (unclear which – perhaps 5th Spetsnaz Brigade?) concluded a three-day special forces exercise. They practiced joint reconnaissance operations in unfamiliar terrain or destroyed objects of a conditional enemy. They also did joint jumps including over a town. Specifically, after the jump, they bypassed obstacles, installed anti-tank mines and seized designated areas. Operations were done in full gear. The active phase of the exercise finished on 9th September. Units are now ‘restoring their combat capability and are awaiting further instructions’. They may be utilized again soon. Altogether 40 Belarusians and 350 Russians were involved in this exercise.
Signal and electronic warfare units belonging to the Western Military District deployed digital communication systems, automated C2 systems, satellite uplinks. The system is supposedly concealed from enemy electronic warfare, and defended against enemy drones. Emphasis placed on 4 echelons: mil district command, joint formation, combined arms formation, battalion level. About 1500 personnel involved, 600 pieces of equipment, communications stations R-160-0.5 and digital complexes P-240I-4 Pereselenets.
Military topographers at Mulino training range created 3D topographical models of the battlespace to enable navigation systems. They used geodesic-navigational systems PNGK-1 and topographic systems PtsTS, to build a 3D model of the battlefield. Meanwhile military training specialists (about 200) have setup a complex target environment, with 15,000 targets, echeloned across Mulino training range at a depth of up to 20km.
Engineers belonging to 20th CAA setup fixed field and mobile command points, with camouflage and fortifications. These were dugout with excavators, then power supply provided using ED-1000 and ED-100 generators. Medical detachments have also been deployed, including МОСН units (special purpose medical detachments). CBRN specialists belonging to 1st Guards Tank Army conducted measurements and surveilled the environment using new RKhM-6 equipment. As has often been the case, there is a strong role for aerosol camouflage units, using TDA-M smokescreens to create an aerosol masking for movement of ground forces.
Training events in Belarus
Baranovichi Air Base – Russian Su-30SMs from the 14th Fighter Aviation Regiment based in Khalino airfield in Kursk began joint combat duty with their Belarusian counterparts. Belarus keeps some Mig-29s and up to four Su-30SMs at this base.
Brest Training Range – Elements of the Russian 15th MRR of the 2nd MRD Division conducted a river crossing operation over Mukhovets River, east of Brest. Some 10-13 BMP-2s were involved, suggests a company-level operation. A subunit from the Belarusian 6th Mechanized Brigade could have also been engaged in this exercise. Other elements of the 6th Mechanized Brigade conducted maneuver defense with a reinforced mechanized battalion against a superior enemy force. Under cover of air and artillery strikes, the servicemen reached the main defensive line. Reportedly they also exercises new forms and methods of combating unmanned aerial vehicles.
The 174th Domanovsky Air and Air Defense Forces Training Ground – Belarusian elements of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade conducted reconnaissance in wooded areas, discovering the OPFOR base. An airborne assault company carried out a raid on the base eliminating and capturing some forces.
The remaining elements of the conditional illegal armed group tried to break through one of the blocking lines using a UAV to reconnoiter escape routes. Opposing forces pushed forward in combat vehicles, but were destroyed by Belarusian units. In the meantime, an air defense platoon engaged light aircraft and helicopters of the opposing forces with MANPADS and Zu-23-2 anti-aircraft guns.
Advanced elements of the Russian 76th Air Assault Division along with the leadership headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus conducted reconnaissance of the Brest and Obuz-Lesnovsky (this is Baranovichi Training Range or the 230th Combined Arms Training Range) ranges, examined the sites for the forthcoming landing of the operational-tactical assault force. The Russian MoD states that during the active phase of Zapad paratroopers from Russia and Belarus will practice airborne assault including airdropping personnel and equipment, destroying a simulated enemy in the landing area, holding forward lines to ensure successful action of the main grouping of troops. This means that we can expect some airborne drops around Baranovichi and Brest in the coming days.
Also in Belarus, subunits of the regional military police department and the military automobile inspection of the Western Military District went on duty. Russian military police, together with units of the military commandant’s offices of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus will ensure security and carry out round-the-clock patrolling and protection of exercise sites, command posts, as well as ensure the observance of law and order and military discipline in the areas where troops are stationed.
There are several Northern Fleet exercises under way which are billed as a separate set of activities involving 8,000 servicemen, 800 pieces of military equipment, 120 drones, and 50 ships. These exercises will take place in Murmansk region, Barents, Kara, and Laptev Seas, along Frantz-Josef Land and New Siberian Islands. They’re aimed at defending sea lines of communications like the northern sea route, protecting strategic economic infrastructure, and training to command an expeditionary Arctic group whose job is to destroy diversionary groups/terrorists (basically retake key objects captured by opposing forces). However, the Northern Fleet will also be involved in exercises with the Baltic Fleet, as part of Zapad-2021. Zapad and capstone training events within other military districts are not easily separated. The Northern Fleet’s announcement that it will begin practical exercises as part of training with this Arctic expeditionary group, is coincidentally on September 10th, when Zapad-2021 also formally begins. So, why include all this? Why not? It’s hard to see a Zapad exercise without any Northern Fleet component to it, and NF activity is always interesting.
So what’s does the Northern Fleet have in progress? A minesweeper exercise with units from the Kola Flotilla, enabling ships and submarines to leave their naval bases. A small naval group led by Udaloy-class Severomorsk, along with a Ropucha-class LST (Georgiy Pobedonosets), and tugboat (Pamir) has sailed down the Yenisei River to the port of Dudinka (arrived September 7th). There they conducted a training in retaking the port from a diversionary group (61st Naval Infantry BDE). Its interesting they call this expeditionary, because in truth the Northern Fleet does not have an easy time operating in the Central and Eastern Arctic. It’s one thing getting out of the Kola peninsula and out to the Barents, its another to operate along the length of the Arctic or northern sea route.
Some 15 combat and support ships left ports in Kaliningrad and Baltyisk, entering their designated operating areas in the Baltic Sea. There they will conduct anti-submarine warfare, air defense, counter-mine warfare, as well as firing missiles and artillery at targets. It is a mixed grouping of ships including LSTs, (suggesting prep for amphibious operations), corvettes (looks like all the Steregushchiy-class are out), anti-submarine ships, minesweepers, missile boats, a kilo-submarine, and auxiliaries.
Diesel-electric Kilo-class submarine (project 877 B-806 Dmitrov) served as OPFOR, firing 4 training torpedoes against targets which were meant to simulate the Baltic Fleet. The torpedoes were later recovered.
Other nations’ forces training on Russian equipment
This post will briefly provide an exercise overview, and some coverage of preceding events on September 6-9. Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka (Rochan Consulting) for helping me collect some of the activities, and contribute to the writeups. We teamed up for Kavkaz-2020, which worked out well, and will try to repeat that here for Zapad-2021. Unfortunately, so far there’s been less coverage of this exercise available in the Russian press and official MoD releases than in previous years.
Technically this is a Strategic Command-Staff Exercise (СКШУ), but it has been re-designated a Joint Strategic Exercise (ССУ), most likely because it involves Belarus and a number of other countries. According to the Russian MoD the total exercise participant count is 200k, but no more than 6400 under any single operational command which is their supposed loophole under the Vienna Document. Belarus has claimed that its component taking place on Belarusian soil will be a total of 12,800, with 2,500 Russian troops involved. In Russia there are at least 9 training ranges and an additional 5 in Belarus, plus a training sector most likely around Grodno. Northern Fleet seems excluded from the described scope of activity, but clearly has a component in this exercise and is starting major activities on the same day. However, the real numbers of Russian forces involved in Belarus appear quite larger as units have been deploying there since July. Actual size of the exercise seems to vary depending on who is talking about it. Zvezda featured a map which shows 15 Russian training ranges, as opposed to the officially released 9. That’s not including Northern Fleet participation.
A further 2,000 coalition forces from 7 countries also participating, most probably at Mulino. Seems India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Sri Lanka are involved with small contingents. These coalition elements began training on September 6, Russia is supplying the exercise equipment. Earlier in August a joint exercise with China in China’s northwest called Interaction2021 was relabeled as part of the overall Zapad-2021 series of events. Russian forces deployed to China for that event in early August. Technically Zapad has been taking place for several months since forces have been deploying in July to various training ranges.
Because of the time scope its not possible to cover all the days of events preceding September 10, and some of the associated events playing out in other districts, so choices have to be made – will be keeping this largely to Western Military District, Belarus, and some activities of Northern Fleet JSC.
A Western coalition comprised of three states/forces seeks to wrest Belarus (Polesie) away from its alliance with Russia (Central Federation) by force, conduct regime change in Minsk, and annex Western parts of the country. Western coalition consists of Nyaris, Pomorie, and Polar Republic. These seem to represent Lithuania, Poland, also parts of Latvia, and likely NATO coalition forces deployed in Poland. They are opposed by the Northern Coalition composed of Russia and Belarus. After failing to achieve its objectives via indirect means, the Western coalition declares an ultimatum demanding complete withdrawal of Russian forces (Sept 1). Subsequently, they conduct missile and air strikes in Belarus/Russia (likely MRAU Sept 2-5), and then on Sept 6-10 they cross the border penetrating to a depth of 150km into Belarusian territory. Northern coalition forces defend their positions, a Regional Grouping of Forces (joint formation of Russian & Belarusian forces) attempts to repel the aerospace attack and mount a defense. Central Federation forces have deployed 11th tank and 51st Army into Belarus (11th probably representing 1st GTA, 30th represents 20th CAA), meanwhile 51st army is a stand in for 41st CAA. Whats the method here? Exercise army number -10 = actual army it represents.
Timeline: Looks like preparatory drills at training ranges September 6-9, formal opening ceremonies have been held on Sept 9. During the first three days on Sept 10-12 the exercise focuses on deploying forces, logistics, and mounting defensive combat operations (usually parrying aerospace attack, deploying forces under fire, airborne flanking raids, counterattacks and strikes, etc.), then Sept 13-16 emphasis is on destroying the opponent (establishing fire cauldrons to degrade opponent forces, setting conditions for counteroffensive, then conducting a counteroffensive to restore status quo ante bellum, and attaining war termination). Exercise completes by September 16th, and by Sept. 30th Russian forces are supposed to return to their bases.
September 6-9: Brief round up
An Iskander-M battalion in Leningrad Oblast deploys to a training range, simulates electronic strikes against opponent command posts deep behind enemy lines, in coordination with drones (presumably for targeting), conducts reload drills.
Northern Fleet’s naval infantry (about 200 troops and 20xBTR-80) trained in loading equipment onto 3 Ropucha-class LSTs belonging to the Baltic Fleet in Baltiysk (Korolev, Kaliningrad, Minsk) , and 1 Ropucha-class LST that came down from the Northern Fleet (Olengorskiy Gorniyak).
At Mulino reconnaissance units practiced integration between KRUZ Strelets reconnaissance complex, using laser rangefinders, then relaying coordinates to Msta-SM2 self-propelled artillery (500 troops and 70 pieces of equipment involved). In a separate exercise Grad BM-21 batteries were used with MSTA-S SPA, and mortar units to destroy enemy targets at ranges up to 20km, along with practicing displacement and counterbattery fire. Orlan-10 drones and Strelets systems used for targeting. Heavy artillery like 203mm Malka also training at Mulino and Liada, along with BM-30 Smerch MLRS systems at a range of about 50km. They’re practicing coordinating the use of long range MLRS and 203mm artillery ahead of a planned employment of an artillery grouping of forces that essentially combines different types – as was seen last year during Kavkaz, the final event included simultaneous strikes by SRBM, long range MLRS, and artillery units.
Units belonging to one of the 6th CAA motor rifle brigades practiced a combined arms operation – defensive battle against an attacking opponent, using T-73B3, BM-21 Grad, 2S1 Gvozdika, and Sani mortars. Motor rifle units in this fight were supported by Ka-52 helicopters from army aviation units, and Orlan-10 drones for ISR.
Other trainings of note: Engineer-sapper units in Voronezh and Belgorod practiced overcoming minefields, using KMT-7 counter-mine systems. At Mulino sappers used Uran-6 demining UGVs, and liberated a town together with military police. Light reconnaissance units conducted a 100km march using Tigr vehicles, to sever an opponent’s lines of communication and detect their formations using Eleron drones.
A separate training in Pskov features Mi-28N attack helicopters against an enemy command point (10 helicopters). Exercise appeared to be largely unguided rocket fire against fixed targets. Western MD tactical aviation was used to intercept enemy reconnaissance aircraft with Su-30SMs, in coordination with air defense systems and radar. In one briefing map they showed opponent forces fielding Global Hawks. There was a series of drills for Kaliningrad’s mixed aviation regiment with about 20 aircraft of different types, ranging from air combat for Su-30SM units, to strike missions for Mi-24s, and ASW for Ka-27s. S-400 ADS units belonging to the Baltic Fleet conducted air defense exercises uses Su-27s and Su-30SMs to imitate opponents, operating in a contested EW environment. At Luzhsky, Pantsir-S1 air defense units trained in repelling an aerospace attack by a squadron of enemy strike drones. PVO-SV units at Mulino (Strela-10, Osa, Tunguska-M, Igla) similarly practiced air defense, with Ka-52 and Mi-8 AMTSh helicopters serving as the opposing force. Also Western MD air defense units are deploying to Ashuluk, Astrakhan.
Several tactical formations in Kaliningrad have been reorganized into a restored 18th Guards Motor Rifle division. The plan to establish this division was telegraphed at least two years in advance. After much neglect, Kaliningrad began seeing modernization, infrastructure investment, and a slow force structure expansion after 2016. Russian ground forces have been converting many of their brigades back into divisions as the main tactical formation, though quite a few appear to have 3 instead of 4 maneuver regiments in practice. The news has been covered elsewhere in BMPD and Konrad Muzyka took a stab at it earlier, so I’m not the first to write on this, but hope this will be a more comprehensive update.
The map below from Konrad’s report for CNA, published in 2020, is useful for this discussion. I think Konrad did a good job in that report and it features great maps.
Implicationsfor force structure in Kaliningrad
What does this mean? The 11th Army Corps will likely go from fielding 6 motor rifle battalions to 10, and from the currently deployed ~2 tank battalions, with 4 planned post-2019, to 6 tank battalions in total. I will try to offer some brief background on these plans, and recent history of force modernization in Kaliningrad. The short of it is that while this is a notable expansion of the force structure in Kaliningrad, it was long in coming, and folks should not be shocked by the outcome. Best to discuss it now, before the newly recreated 18th division makes its debut in exercises during Zapad-2021.
On December 1, 2020 the commander of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, Aleksandr Nosatov, announced that the division would be formed within the 11th Army Corps. There were rumors that a division level formation was returning to Kaliningrad, and it became almost self-evident that this was the plan once the Russian MoD began establishing a separate tank regiment earlier in 2019. On March 2nd, 2021 Kartapalov formally presented the division’s new banner, so they moved fairly quickly towards getting this off the ground. The division legacy harkens back to its creation in 1939, seeing action in WWII and receiving the Guards honorific in 1942. The 18th besieged Konigsberg in 1945.
After several reformations, it eventually ended up as the 79th Motor Rifle Brigade, which is the unit they used to remake the division again. There and back again is the story of Russian force structure. The brigade’s kit will form two motor rifle regiments, and they will use the command/support elements to form the core of the division. The 7th separate motor rifle regiment does not look like it will be part of this division, and remain more of a coastal defense force backing the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade. This discussion will not include the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade, 561st Naval reconnaissance center, 69th Naval Engineering Regiment, or the EW center there, i.e. the focus of this post is on the ground force reorganization within the Army Corps.
Implications for force structure? Ten motor rifle battalions instead of six will net around 2,000 more personnel, with a BMP-2/BTR-82A/MT-LB mix that averages out to 500 per battalion. The 11th separate tank regiment, plus three tank battalions (6 total), gives us almost 190 tanks, and ~40 BMPs supporting that regiment. Also, more self-propelled artillery battalions, as they already received the better part of a battalion of MSTA-S. By the looks of it the division will not include the 244th artillery brigade or the 22nd air defense regiment. They’re currently listed as part of 11th Army Corps, not the division. The 11th AC will need to assemble a mix of 2S19, 2S3s, and towed artillery in the interim to setup those arty battalions. Right now they have a battalion’s worth of 2S3 Akatsiya (18), most of a 2S19 MSTA-S battalion in the tank regiment, and several BM-21 Grad companies. It is possible one of the PVO-SV air defense regiments will join the division.
The 79th brigade appears to be split into 79th motor rifle regiment, with basically one seeder battalion right now, and another regiment is already being listed as the 9th motor rifle regiment with what looks closer to two battalions. The 11th tank regiment is being stood up with about two battalions filled. A batch of 30 T-72B3s had already arrived to get this unit started. The 7th independent motor rifle regiment appears like its going to remain independent, and even though I see it frequently listed as having a tank battalion – I do not believe this to be the case. This unit is primarily armed with BMP-2s, mortars, and Grad MLRS. Update: in April they renamed these motor rifle regiments the 275th and 280th, receiving the legacy of the regiments which originally belonged to the 18th division.
Why the change? Different reasons have been floated in the press, but the most logical is that brigades are for mobility, whereas divisions are larger static formations to hold down a front. Some articles describing this decision lay out the argument that existing forces were not sufficient to defend Kaliningrad against an attack from several vectors, i.e. Poland, Lithuania, and the coast. Also, that it is in response to increased U.S. force posture in Baltics. That could be true, and this could be your typical security dilemma outcome, or they were going to turn these units into a division anyway when the money/personnel side of the equation made sense. If we assume the 11th Army Corps is around 8,500 personnel right now with the division partially filled at about 50%, that total number could go north towards toward 10,500-11,000, not including coastal defense, or naval infantry units. I expect this to be a 3 maneuver regiment division, unless the 7th is brought in later. This is probably a conservative estimate depending on what happens with division support regiments as they still have to bring in a bunch more artillery and air defense.
A bit of background
Soviet forces based in Kaliningrad were a large combat grouping centered around the 11th Guards Army. This formation was disbanded in the 1990s during a period demobilization and consolidation. Kaliningrad is mythologized as a fortress or bastion, but the forces there have historically suffered from lower readiness, and it has proven to be one of the last groupings to receive modernized equipment. Consider that 11th Army had over 800 tanks deployed in Kaliningrad, whereas after then force was considerably downloaded in the 1990s, and the ‘New Look’ reforms, the 11th Army Corps had on hand a single independent tank battalion with 41 tanks in it. They were dated T-72B1s with some BAs mixed in.
The Baltic Fleet is the runt of the four main fleets in the Russian navy. It has historically suffered from low readiness, poor attention to infrastructure investment, and dated kit. As an anecdote, I submit this 2013 story of a drunk soldier who took a BMP-2 to buy cigarettes, ran off the road, got it stuck in a ditch, then while he was getting a second BMP to tow it out the first one caught fire because he did not turn off the power block. Things have turned around since 2016, but this formation has only recently begun to benefit from the wave of modernization across the Russian armed forces.
In June 2016 there was a mass firing of 50 high ranking officers, including squadron, and brigade commanders. The purge was quite public. The fleet’s condition had declined, state of housing was poor, and the forces demonstrated poor readiness in exercises. Kaliningrad was more an outpost, and less a dreadfort. The commander at the time, Kravchuk, was tasked with creating a joint military grouping capable of defending this operational sector as part of the overall Western strategic direction. The money was seemingly embezzled or misspent. Either way, things did not begin to turn around until after 2016.
Since then, Russian forces in Kaliningrad began receiving new kit:
Two air defense regiments in the 44th Air defense division received S-400 battalion kits, although it looks like there might still be a couple S-300PS battalions left there as far as I know. This update has been long in progress, since 2013 if I recall.
Aerospace Forces (VKS) received some newer Su-30SM, Su-27P, and upgraded Su-24MPs as part of the 34th Composite Aviation Division.
The 22nd air defense regiment got fully upgraded with Tor-M2s, along with the other regiments under the 44th air defense division.
In 2018 the 152nd Missile Brigade began the transition from Tochka-U to Iskander-M, which now appears complete.
In early 2019 the 11th separate tank regiment was announced. This first looked like it was being created out of the existing independent tank battalion in the 79th, but then became clear it was in addition to, with 30 T-72B3s arriving to start the first battalion.
In 2020 the 224th Artillery BDE received BM-27 Uragan in place of the BM-21 Grad. Some news reports suggested it was BM-30 Smerch, but I’m skeptical. That’s a fairly high-end/low availability capability in the Russian ground forces. They also took delivery of Crysanthemum-S ATGM tank destroyers for an anti-tank battalion.
The coastal defense forces’ 25th independent coastal defense missile brigade currently fields 1-2 battalions of Bastion-P (SSC-5), and one battalion of BAL (SSC-6), soon to receive another battalion of Bastion-P. This is a bit murky, I can’t quite tell if they have three battalions increasing to four, or two turning into three. Since INF’s demise, different Russian news sources have been reporting various new ranges for Bastion-P, including 600km now. This is unsurprising, as the range of the missile always appeared to be understated, especially depending on flight profile. So you can pick your range for some of these systems, and Iskander-M is being advertised as having anti-ship functionality, just as all the anti-ship missiles can perform ground strike.
Back in 2014 Kaliningrad was a creaky military outpost awaiting improvements even though some popularized wargames showed it contributing a host of battalion tactical groups to an invasion of the Baltics. Reorganizing around a division will give the enclave a much stronger ground force, but its more significant implication is the addition of more artillery and MLRS systems, which will allow the units based there to ‘interdict’ with fires and strike systems ground lines of communication without leaving Russian territory. The air defense and anti-ship component has seen significant upgrades, along with sensors, like over the horizon radar, and greater functionality for strike systems (ability to strike targets on land or at sea). It’s going to get a bit dense in Kaliningrad with all those units, and in the event of a military contingency it will be pretty hard to ignore or leave a formation this large along one’s flank, especially now that there is a tank regiment that can conduct maneuver without having to support motor rifle regiments (which have their own dedicated tank battalions.)
Invariably when considering force expansion plans people ask two questions: can they afford it, and do they have the people? The defense budget is quite large, with substantial purchasing power, and not expected to meaningfully decline. Russia’s problem is defense industrial capacity, less the money allocated to procurement/modernization. So yes, they can afford the kit. There is also no shortage of people demographics-wise, even though erroneous reports crop up frequently suggesting there will be fewer young Russians available for conscription. If anything, availability should increase until 2033, but there is a limit on overall resources, which results in choices between capability, capacity, and readiness. Therefore, the active force is not growing in total size even as larger formations get announced. That is a choice on prioritization. Contract servicemen cost money. Consequently, we are seeing a significant decrement to overall readiness as the price of a larger force structure with better capability. Formations expand, but they’re not effectively manned. So, this shift to divisions ultimately yields a partial mobilization structure, and it will prove to be the case in Kaliningrad as well.
P.S. FOI has a new report out on the Baltic Fleet by Jonas Kjellén that folks should check out.
Final day, ceremonies, and departures. Deputy minister of defense LTG Yunus-Bek Bamatgireyevich Yevkurov (former head of Ingushetia) was there to oversee the events. Looks like Col General Aleksandr Dvornikov, commander Southern MD, pinned medals on all the gloriously victorious participants of Kavkaz-2020 and oversaw the concluding exercise ceremony. A parade formation marched past in awkwardly dusty conditions.
Somewhat suboptimal parade conditions if you ask me
Col General A. Dvornikov had some comments through his PAO. It’s unusual for a Southern MD exercise to go on without countless press releases with direct quotes from Dvornikov. The release highlighted use of automated C2 systems, and including experience learned from recent military conflicts – especially Syria. Nothing exciting got said beyond emphasis on the timeliness of decision making thanks to new C2 technology deployed across the force, along with training in combat service support, logistics, etc. In short, he naturally thinks Southern MD did great and the level of combat readiness has gone up considerably, but the final grade will be given by MoD leadership (Gerasimov/Shoigu).
I’ll find time to put out an assessment of what I think we saw at Kavkaz-2020. Thanks to Konrad Muzyka who helped look through additional media sources to put some of this material together. He runs a blog, does Russian mil analysis, and used to work at Janes. His company is called Rochan Consulting – worth keeping an eye out for his work as I’m sure he will make good contributions to the field.
A shot of multinational participants there
A few return to base reports for September 26-28. Motor rifle units and VDV are headed back, some are making a 200km road march to bases that relatively close to the training ranges. The rest are heading to be loaded on rail for the trip home. Airborne units that were airlifted far from their garrisons are being loaded back onto transports for return flights. 49th is heading back to rail heads, as some have long trips of 800km or more. Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla also reported a return to base, as did 177th Naval Infantry Regiment.
Of course soon as they left its time for other units to take over the ranges as part of their exercise regiment. 11th Army Corps PVO-SV detachments, belonging to Baltic Fleet, arrived at Kapustin Yar for air defense exercises on the 28th. The other military districts are all holding notable exercises, too numerous to cover, and will continue through the fall. There are certification checks as well, perhaps Grom nuclear exercise to follow, etc.
Some narrative construction: Russian MoD highlighted that observers from Germany and Denmark were able to visit events at Kapustin Yar, Prudboy and Ashuluk. Also Germany, France and Romania conducted overflights with An-30 observation aircraft. This is all part of their effort to structure a narrative that obligations under the Vienna Document were observed, Europeans allowed to see the exercise etc. and supposedly happy with the access they were given.
Special note to my colleague Ben Hodges regarding our conversation on Brian Whitmore’s Power Vertical earlier in the year. We discussed the likelihood that there might be a Russian offensive during Kavkaz-2020. I said that nothing exciting was going to happen during Kavkaz-2020, Ukraine would not be invaded, and there would be no Russian offensive from Crimea to seize access to water supply for the peninsula. I still hold that assessment, as I did in 2018, when these fears last cropped up.
Perhaps on a sad note –
Concert at 4th military base in Armenia (58th CAA) concluding the combined exercise between Russian-Armenian forces. The day after this Azerbaijan will begin offensive operations in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The main event took place this day. Large airborne parachute drop from Il-76MDs, a heliborne operation with more than one helicopter regiment involved, combined artillery – MLRS -Iskander strike with numerous arty battalions, and a host of air defense exercises at Kapustin Yar. Tactical and rotary aviation involved in support, several air strike exercises at Ravesky and Kapustin. Coalition forces conduct a massed air and artillery strike, flank maneuvers, double envelopment, and destroyed OPFOR. Prudboy hosts a large artillery exercise, meanwhile the Black Sea Fleet finally makes an amphibious landing, while Caspian Flotilla does another one of its own. Separate exercises take place in Abkhazia, S. Ossetia, and Armenia.
VDV and VKS sections shifted to Kapustin Yar since the main exercise takes place there, with VVP watching, and most of the forces are pulled in for the show.
Thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping put some of the info together.
Kapustin Yar (Astrakhan)
This one is the big show piece event, since VVP is personally at the range to observe the activities of the day. A ‘coalition’ scenario got wargamed with forces from other countries participating in a large counter-offensive that destroyed OPFOR. Land and air delivered fires effected a massed strike against the enemy, they achieved superiority in firepower, while airborne forces landed to delay enemy reserves from being brought into action. With large flanking strikes long two axis the coalition created a double envelopment, then executed a large strike that forced enemy forces to surrender. Lots of things got blown up, some new gear and vehicles were on display for VVP, like TOS-2, etc.
Gerasimov explaining things
Forpost drone feed at the command center
Air defense units fielding S-400, S-300V4, Buk-M3 ran an exercise using the latest high velocity targets designed to simulate enemy tactical-operational missiles and aircraft. Again, we have Saman, Adjutant and U-95 targets listed. Maybe 10 launches or so. Meanwhile PVO-SV units used 35 missiles and 7000 rounds in their air defense exercise against 55 targets of various types. Units consisted of Pantsir-S, Stela-10M, Stela-S MANPADS and something they called ‘Izvoz’ (don’t know that one, might be bad copy by the press release).
2x battalions of Iskander-M conducted launches using 9m728 cruise and 9m723 SRBN missiles. According to the scenario they executed a massed strike against enemy critically important objects. The force included one battalion with Tockha-U, and a battalion of Tornado-S (300mm MLRS). They fired 2 cruise, 3 Iskander-M ballistic missiles, and 3 Tochka-U. Tornado-G MLRS employed some new warhead that detaches from the missile and parachutes directly over the target (presumably an airburst weapon). The massed strike included 9 self-propelled artillery battalions and 8 MLRS battalions. That’s quite a bit. So we’re talking 3x missile (12 TELS), 9 MLRS + 9 SPA. One artillery battalion was dedicated to counter-battery fire, eight focused on the massed strike.
In the videos we can see a timed launch of 3x 9m723, 2x9m728 and 4x Tornado-S 300mm MLRS. Actually I think we’re promised Tornado-S, but we are getting BM-30 Smerch 300mm – either way, same effect.
Drones were used to reveal and then fix enemy positions, involving about 20 different UAS.
VDV component –
57x Il-76MD transports flew in two columns to Kapustin Yar from Taganrog and Ulianovsk. The aircraft were about 30 seconds flight time apart, and holding 3km separation between the two columns which were heading for a pair of landing zones. The idea is to reduce the time for unloading VDV paratroopers. Together they dropped 900 airborne, 118 pieces of equipment, including 10x BMD-4M. Altitude was about 600-900 meters.
Mi-8 with Ka-52 escorts airlifted Tigr vehicles belonging to Airborne units, along with VDV troops who rappelled from 20-25 meter heights onto the field. Another VDV heliborne operation, with some Ka-52 strikes as well on targets at 2.5km ranges. Mi-8, Mi-26, and Mi-24 helicopters were involved in a large operation airlifting more than 1170 paratroopers belonging to a VDV brigade (56th Air Assault BDE) and Pakistani special forces. Initial forces loaded on Mi-24s seized the landing zone, mobile reserves were delivered by Mi-26s using Typhoon vehicles. Mi-8s lifted in D-30 howitzer batteries. All together they brought in 40 pieces of equipment using more than 80 helicopters and ~1200 troops.
VKS executes a ‘massed’ air strike with 78 aircraft, LRA (long range aviation) and tactical aviation. We have the whole Sukhoi family of Su-34, 30, 27, 25, 24, 24MR and Tu-22M3 bombers. This is in effect their aerospace assault. First Su-27s ran an airsweep at 1500 meters ahead of the strike. Presumably recon aircraft Su-24MR went in second, followed by two squadrons of Su-25s which penetrated air defenses, and two flights of Su-24Ms whose job it was to work with reconnaissance capabilities and Strelets targeting system to strike air defense systems Then 4 flights of Su-30SMs also struck the air defense systems. Su-34s followed with strikes against critically important objects and armor columns. Seems the strikes were largely with unguided bombs at fairly low altitude. Two squadrons of Tu-22s brought in 1500kg bombs to drop on command and control points. More than 20 Su-25SM3 were involved, flying from an airbase near Volgograd to drop FAB-250s. The rest dropped more than 100 bombs, flying from 4 different airbases. These strikes were made at 200-400 meters. In total about 60 aircraft participating from 4th AAD. Presumably the rest were Tu-22M3s or some other aircraft to make for 78 total.
TOS-2 220mm thermobaric MLRS systems were used for the first time with TBS-M3 rockets. This is a wheeled chassis successor to TOS-1 using Ural as opposed to the T-72 chassis. Supposedly it has better range in terms of missiles, and a more advanced fire control system. More importantly it has its own crane for reloading and does not need a specialized transporter-reloader vehicle. Also it has some personal EW protection system. Another battalion, composed of 9x TOS-1A destroyed an enemy motor rifle battalion, guessing most of the fires came from these systems while TOS-2 was wheeled out so VVP could see something new and interesting. While we’re on the subject, a different unit of motor rifle troops used RPO-PDM thermobaric launchers (successor to RPO-A Shmel I think) to destroy enemy targets and fortifications at a range of 800 meters (pretty good for a short range system).
The newest Uran-14 firefighting UGV also got used to douse damaged equipment. Allegedly it can be remotely controlled over 1km+ that would be impressive since Uran-9 in Syria had a lot of trouble with distance remote operation. Uran-6, another UGV, was used from mineclearing.
Engineer-sapper units created a flame barrier 2km in length to prevent an enemy armored assault, combined with an anti-tank trench that they had dug earlier. They also used a 122mm mine laying system to deploy a minefield at range. A different unit used minelayers, GMZ-3, to cover one of the flanks with a separate minefield. This tracked minelayer uses a much more modern nav system, which allows them to get precise coordinates on the minefield being put down and the work of each vehicle (6 in total) as they lay the field. Supposedly they can lay the minefield at a speed of 6-16 km/h.
Armenian forces are at this range conducting a joint flanking maneuver with Russian units, with 8x Mi-28Ns, and 4x Su-25s supporting. They must be part of the larger air strike scenario that played out on this day. Belarusian forces also involved in this exercise, working jointly with Russian units. The Russian component included elements of 20th CAA from Western MD, which could be serving as reinforcements in this scenario. They were not identified.
Prudboy training range (Volgograd)
MLRS batteries from units belonging to Southern MD executed a large strike using more than 20 Tornado-G 122mm systems at about 20km range. They destroyed a supposed adversary force consisting armored vehicles and artillery. Within about 20 seconds they discharged more than 500 rockets, targeting provided by drones belonging to a motor rifle drone detachment (looked like Eleron-3).
Medical specialists practiced medivac with Mi-8AMTSh helicopters, and restoring combat capacity among front line units.
Ashuluk training range (Astrakhan)
Western MD air defense units belonging to 6th Air and Air Defense Forces Army in Leningrad oblast are returning home via rail. They finished their live fire exercises against various targets including Favorit (hypersonic missile), Strizh-M (high altitude), and Armavir-MVU (low altitude aerodynamic).
Raevsky training range (Krasnodar)
Air defense regiment belonging to 4th AAD trained in defending a command point from an enemy missile strike. S-400s and Pantsir-S1s conducted electronic launches from prepared positions, and while ‘on the move’ so to speak, with quick stops to prepare for the engagement. Part of the exercise was focused on the transition from moving to quickly engaging an incoming missile strike in an EW contested environment.
A sizable exercise involved elements of the 7th Mountain Airborne Division, setting up defensive positions in higher terrain to prepare for an enemy landing. This event offered an opportunity to test integration between Ratnik infantry combat system and BMD-2KU C2 vehicle.
Black Sea Fleet
Black Sea Fleet units conducted a landing near the banks of Vityazevo (Vityazevskaya Spit). This is on the Russian Black Sea coast near Krasnodar. Su-34s and surface combatants (11 ships) conducted strikes against coastal defense forces and enemy ships to prepare the beach for landing. Minesweepers cleared an opening for the amphibious landing group (project 02668 Vice-Admiral Zaharyin, and 2x project 266ME – Kovrovets & Valentin Pikyl). Nearby 10x Su-25M3s destroyed an enemy airfield to deny the adversary air support. They used recon info from a detachment that was deployed earlier into the area to determine which buildings to engage.
BSF amphibious landing
Air defense artillery drills
Buyan-M missile corvettes Veliky Ustyug & Grad Sviyazhsk worked to eliminate the effects of chem/bio use by an adversary at sea (interesting exercise). OPFOR employed a drone with a capsule containing chemical agents. They planned to attack the Russian navy with this chem agent, I guess this is the sort of adversary which has drones and chemical weapons, but not anti-ship missiles. The Russian ships shot down the drone, but the chem agent got into the air and slimed the ship surfaces, so the crew had to get on their hazmat suits, seal the ship, and clean the surfaces.
Iranian ships trained with Russian counterparts in providing assistance to vessels suffering combat damage, followed by a joint search and rescue for sailors overboard. The event involved tug SB-738, several Russian diver boats project 23040 (RBK-946 and RBK-933). The Iranian attack boat Paykan served as the victim, simulating combat damage after suffering an air attack from OPFOR.
Naval infantry conducted a landing at Zelenomorsk supplemented by floating cranes used as transports. Mi-8s lifted the initial naval infantry assault in, followed by units on ships. Some combination of BTR-82As and infantry delivered via two transports (VTR-79, VTR-139). About 600 naval infantry unloaded supported by 16 ships altogether. They had air and combat helicopter support. The exercise is interesting because Russian forces continue to find ways to adapt ships in order to provide sea lift or amphibious landing capacity.
A battalion of Buk-M3s at Zelenogorsk training range in Dagestan defended against an enemy aerospace attack. These units detected incoming enemy missiles aimed at the naval infantry forces at the range, destroyed them before they got near the target area, and then displaced from their firing positions.
Abkhazia – Tank crews belonging to Russian and Abkhazian units, using T-72B3s, employed a tactic called ‘tank trident’ which allowed them to inflict maximum damage to naval forces belonging to an adversary more than 1km out at sea. Basically it seems to be just firing from covered positions and quick displacement against naval targets. Other units defended ground lines of communication and airspace surrounding in the more mountainous section of Abkhazia, using motor rifle, artillery, and air defense units.
T-72 practicing fire and displacement through berms
South Ossetia – Motor rifle elements from the 4th military base practicing at the training range Dzartsemi (58th CAA) conducted a counter offensive. BMP-2s in the center, T-72B3 armor on the flanks, creating ‘tank wedges’ to break through enemy lines. Reserves destroyed enemy VIEDS. About 1500 soldiers and 300 pieces of equipment involved, fairly standard motor rifle kit: T-72s, BMP-2s, Tunguska-M1s, Strelas, 2s3 Akatsiya SPA, and 120 mm Sani mortars. This exercise uses a lot of references from the Syrian war and may be the only actual ‘counter-terrorist’ exercise taking place against a simulated force of ISIS-like opponents. I recognize this is S. Ossetia in Georgia but nonetheless they’re reporting implementation of tactical maneuver terms largely born from the Syrian experience and they’re not doing that elsewhere.
Armenia – At the Alagyaz training range Russian Mig-29s and Armenian Su-30SMs conducted strikes against a supposed adversary armored column (who knew on Sunday Armenia would find itself in a real war with Azerbaijan, where its Su-30s are essentially the country’s highest valued aerospace assets). The exercise included low altitude flight (1500-3000 meters at 300-800km/h), more than 50 electronically simulated launches, training against radar detection, and procedures in the event of an emergency/equipment failure. Army aviation units executed a heliborne landing using about 10 Mi-8MTV helicopters as a separate exercise at the range. These same helicopters were used to train in medivac of wounded. Other trainings included rebasing to reserve airfields.