It seems this year’s annual strategic command-staff exercise has been replaced by Strategic Maneuvers, which depending on your perspective is actually a higher level of exercise in the TVD (theater of military operations). Rather than having a OSK take charge of combat operations in a specific strategic direction, supported by units from other military districts, strategic maneuvers feature multiple military districts, and fleets – these are not held in a single strategic direction. Hence Vostok 2018 is not being done in the format of typical annual exercises rotating between the four main strategic directions.
These pictures are from Gerasimov’s briefing last week – Youtube link to the briefing
Instead the participating units will divide into two ostensible opposing forces, divided into an Eastern and Western grouping of forces. Vostok 2018 will thus feature a form of strategic exercise much closer to those practiced in the older days of the Soviet Union, more like 1935-36. For example, in 1936 the Belarus Military District divided into Western and Eastern groupings of forces to practice maneuvers against each other. Those were undoubtedly useful exercises for the Red Army until the officers who learned something got purged 1936-38, but I digress.
The two ‘teams’ so to speak will include the Central Military District + Northern Fleet, against the Eastern Military District + Pacific Fleet. Russia’s Airborne VDV, and Aerospace Forces VKS will have an important role, though unclear on how they will divide those assets between the two groupings. The exercise itself will last 11-17 September, although snap readiness checks have begun well in advance, as have preparations for MTO, and other supporting services. Perhaps best to bracket this as a August 20-September 17 timeline. Most of the action will be at five combined arms training ranges, four ranges for the Air Force and Air Defense units, the Sea of Okhotsk, Bering Sea, Avachinskiy Zaliv and Kronostkiy Zaliv (gulfs off Kamchatka).
Exhibit A from the briefing (we can see units Northern Fleet and Pacific Fleet engaging each other off of Kamchatka)
Map of forces involved
In his recent briefing Gerasimov highlighted that these exercises are well within the budgetary scope of funds allocated to the MoD for annual training, and that no additional or supplementary spending was required for Vostok, i.e. people protesting pension reform need not blame the MoD for having large scale strategic maneuvers. This is where the inflated force size ‘297,000’ publicity sought by the MoD runs into the problem of being tone deaf given social spending reforms being protested in Moscow. My suspicion is that the number comes from counting all the units stationed in CMD and EMD, plus Northern and Pacific Fleet, and select airborne divisions participating. For every battalion fielded they will likely count the entire brigade, and for a few regiments an entire division, etc.
Phase 1 September 11-12: This phase is for planning and organization of forces to be involved, includes aligning command functions, and logistics.
Phase 2 September 13-17: Exercise begins, and will include: training to conduct large scale air strikes, cruise missile defense, defense, offense, flanking and raiding maneuvers. In the Sea of Okhotsk, and the two gulfs mentioned above, forces will practice defending against aerospace attack, destroying surface action groups, and naval landing forces. Aviation will support offensive ground maneuvers, and coastal defense.
Tsygol is singled out in particular, the scenario there will involve three combined arms formation from Eastern MD, together with Chinese and Mongolian forces, engaging in maneuvers against two combined arms armies from Central MD. At Tsygol they anticipate 25,000 Russian troops, 7,000 pieces of equipment, and 250 fixed wing/rotary wing aviation. Chinese forces we know to consist of ~3,200, 24 helicopters and 6 fixed aircraft. No numbers have been given for the Mongolian forces participating, but presumably they are quite small so there’s not much to boast about in this regard.
Gerasimov also highlighted that Vostok 2018 will feature wide scale use of drones, VDV parachute jumps, use of mobile brigades, making ‘non-standard decisions’ which I take to mean planning scheme of maneuver without assembling it from preplanned drills or plays, automated command and control, together with staff planning based on lessons from combat operations in Syria. The whole thing will end with a review of forces in the field, i.e. they plan to do a Zapad 1981 style photo op with all the vehicles and what not lined up, so it will probably seem quite impressive and scary.
Perhaps more interesting is the increasing focus on logistics, mobilizing reserves to help fill out MTO units.
More photos from the brief can be found at BMPD.