Zapad 2021 – Day 3 (September 12)

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.

Belarus

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.

Belarusian Yak-130s

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.

This appears to be the video of that motor rifle unit in action. The comms back and forth here are kind of worth listening to.

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.  

Zvezda had a good video with a sample of the different events at the range

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).

Radio-electronic warfare troops

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.

At Mulino

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.

I think this is the actual video from that helicopter event

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.

Kaliningrad

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.

Baltic Fleet

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.

Northern Fleet

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.

Orel firing

Supporting activities

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.

Engineers setting up a bridge to enable crossing of armor and motor rifle units.

Some media adds here

I think Chief of the Russian Navy Evmenov might be actually standing there to the right of the Zubr, as a camera man is kneeling at the ramp, it kind of looks like him.

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