Russian Forces in Kaliningrad: Implications of the newly formed 18th Guards Motor Rifle Division


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.

From Konrad’s 2020 report for CNA on the disposition of Russian forces in the Western Military District.

Implications for 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.

Divisional banner presentation March 2021

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.

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.

Here is a hypothetical diagram from a Russian military article showing operational level divisions, and a prospective counter attack against a blue force that is invading Kaliningrad/Belarus. The discussion is from an article examining the use of army aviation in providing fires. You can see on this map the blue attack points into Kaliningrad from north and south, and those heading into Belarus. I would not run off with this as a scenario roadmap, but it is useful to illustrate some of the considerations.


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.
The 11th Army Corps independent tank battalion drilling during Zapad-2017.


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, even though erroneous reports crop up frequently suggesting there will be some kind of manpower shortage. 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 decrement to overall readiness as the price of a larger force structure with better capability. 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.

Kavkaz 2020 – September 26 (final day)

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.

pinning medals

Somewhat suboptimal parade conditions if you ask me

looks a bit dusty

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


PLA troops

PLA troops

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.

Tank column

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.

Kavkaz 2020 – September 25 (Day 5)

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.

Exercise map

the big board

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

Gerasimov faces

Forpost drone feed at the command center

Forpost drone feed

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). 

S-400 engagement

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.

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Drones were used to reveal and then fix enemy positions, involving about 20 different UAS.

Orlan-10 drones at the range

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.

Airborne parachuting in

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.

56th VDV landingAirborne landedD-30 howitzers

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).

TOS battery

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.

Armored push

Armored assault

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).

Tornado-G batteries

command post launching drones at prudboy

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

BSF landing

Air defense artillery drills

BSF ships practicing air defense

Caspian Flotilla

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.

Iranian ships

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.

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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.

South Ossetia motor rifle assaultSouth Ossetia

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.

Armenian commanders

Armenian commanders

Some interesting odds and ends:

PLA at the exercise – Kapustin Yar

PLA officer holding a thing
PLA using Igla MANPAD
Gerasimov look alike, South Ossetia, resting Gerasimov face
Presidential security team with snipers and ATGMs (SPB FSO)
Some interesting vehicles on display
BMPT firing Ataka missile
BREM practicing T-90A recovery

Kavkaz 2020 – September 24 (Day 4)

September 24th featured a large exercise at Prudboy, with Airborne and motor rifle units conducting a complex maneuver, heliborne assault, flanking, artillery, and air defense. Aerospace forces continued practice at their ranges using both unguided and some guided munitions. Black Sea Fleet took center place with air defense exercises, some Kalibr fires from a submarine, while Caspian Flotilla seemed to be taking it easy compared to the previous day’s events. Ashuluk hosted a large artillery exercise with MLRS and sapper units blowing the hell out of things.

Aerospace Forces (VKS)

Tu-22M3 bombers, Su-34s and Su-24M2 (about 30 aircraft in total) conducted bombing runs at training ranges in Astrakhan oblast. These were chiefly FAB-250/500 bombs. Reconnaissance for the strikes done by Su-24MR aircraft. Flight groups were organized into pairs for tactical strikes and 4x aircraft for bombing runs. Bombing done at 1000 to 2000 meter altitudes, with air cover provided by Su-27 variants. Seems most of the units were from 4th Air and Air Defense Army.

Su-25SM3s based in Krasnodar conducted a strike against an enemy airbase, penetrating adversary air defenses, and then employing guided missiles and bombs (yes, a PGW strike for once) against infrastructure. Ten aircraft involved in total.

Su-25s 2

Airborne (VDV)

September 24th was spent loading. Probably 60x Il-76MD involved in a regimental level drop to take place at the exercise (more precise figures suggest 57 aircraft). Announced plans to drop 10 BMD-4Ms simultaneously on the 25th at Kapustin Yar using PBS-950U parachute systems and MKS-350. The 10 vehicles were loaded onto 5 IL-76MDs at Taganrog.

Loading BMD4Ms

Prudboy training range (Volgograd)

Elements of the 56th Independent Guards Air Assault Brigade (VDV) were lifted in by Mi-8AMTSh helicopters to seize a platsdarm and then enable units from motor rifle battalions to conduct a successful flanking maneuver. Backed by mobile anti-tank units, VDV then attacked an enemy command post and took up an advantageous position to defend against counterattack. They were supported by 120mm mortars, but those were brought in by truck. The exercise expanded as motor rifle units and VKS joined in, with Mi-28N helicopters providing close air support along with Su-25s. Artillery units offered supporting fires in a counter attack that included Tornado-G and MSTA-S systems. To get a sense of the scenario, what they wargamed out was VDV being lifted into the rear of an enemy, then using ATGMs and other kit to destroy key armor, stalling the OPFOR, and enabling a larger counter attack by motor rifle formations who had supporting armor, land & air based fires. MLRS and tube artillery struck enemy reserves at 15km ranges prior to the main assault which used T-90As and BMP-3s, using aerosol cover to mask their assault. Drones were used to enable artillery targeting and BDA. The T-90As themselves had a separate scenario, camouflaged and detached from the main body of forces they ran target practice against moving targets at 700-2200 meter ranges, and then used smoke screens to displace.

This exercise involved one battalion of 500 airborne, 40 pieces of equipment, supported by BMP-2s from motor rifle units and PVO-SV air defense units. The ground force consisted of a sizable element, perhaps 1500, for a total of 2000 involved in the exercise. VDV brigades have been training with helicopter-based air assault tactics since at least Vostok-2018, as they workout a new type VDV with the ability for airborne units to seize key terrain ahead of advancing motor rifle formations or enable flanking maneuvers.

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PVO-SV air defense units belonging to the ground forces used Tunguska-M1 and Verba MANPADS to destroy targets at an altitude of 2000 meters. They fired on 8x simultaneously launched targets and, get this, the timing of target launch was not announced in advance to the air defense units! It is of course comical that there would have been exercises in the past when air defense units would know exactly the time and direction of target launch, but this is progress.

Prudboi air defense units

Sniper training continued using ASVK and SVD rifles, this time at night. They used night time thermal imaging cameras to detect an enemy column, take out the vehicle’s engines and call in artillery using Strelets. Only problem with these exercises as reported from Prudboy is I’ve yet to see a picture of anyone actually wearing a night vision device. The Russian military certainly has them, its just a matter of seeing one in an exercise that is a bit of a rarity.

Ashuluk training range (Astrakhan)

Large artillery exercise, BM-21 Grads destroyed a mock enemy, supported by 2s19 MSTA-S and 2s1 Gvozdika SPA. Video showed MSTA-B towed artillery and other pieces involved, even ZU-23 guns. Just a lot of things being blown up.

BM-21s firing Kapustin Yar

Engineer-sapper and CBRN units belonging to 49th CAA mined a part of the range ahead of an expected OPFOR armored column with what read like a thermobaric or napalm based explosive of some sort. They lured enemy armor into the mined field and detonated a pyrotechnic element that essentially blocked the vehicles’ advance. About 500 soldiers participating from these units, recalling that CBRN units in the Russian military also field TOS-1A and now TOS-2 thermobaric 220m MLRS systems.

This appears to be the flame barrier used.

Engineer fireball barricade

Kaputstin Yar (Astrakhan)

They’re promising a larger scale exercise at the final phase of Kavkaz-2020 where they intend to create what is consistently referenced as an operational envelopment (operational bag). Not sure why they use this term now because the general preference has been to use “kotel” which means boiler. This range offers, according to the press release, 60km x 120km exercise area. In the course of Kavkaz they expect to use 330 mock targets and 450 realistic targets – presumably moving targets, popup, and various types of imitators. Some of the higher end targets include Saman (high speed aerodynamic imitator), Adjutant which imitates aircraft, and missile targets U-95.

Meanwhile Chinese staff are preparing for their part of the main phase of the exercise.

Chinese preparing at Kapustin YarChinese staff preparing

Black Sea Fleet

A surface action group consisting of older project 1135M Pytlivy and Bora-class corvette Samym (this is that air cushion missile corvette) repelled an air attack using SAMs and AAA. They destroyed a target simulating an incoming missile, launches conducted by 2x Grisha-class anti-submarine corvettes project 1124M (Suzdalets and Muromets).

Grisha firing

Improved-kilo 636.3 Kolpino fired a Kalibr cruise missile from a submerged position at a range of 100-150 nm (reports don’t agree) and hit a coastal range in Opuk. On the video it kind of looked like it was supposed to fire two and one failed to start. Couldn’t tell what I was looking at, but it seemed another missile sized object came out and fell back into the water. I suppose it could be the container, but not seen that before in previous Kilo launches.

Kilo firing

Another surface action group was led by Slava-class guided missile cruiser Moskva consisting of 2x Buyan-M missile corvettes (Vyshny Volochyok & Orekhovo Zuyevo) and 4x project 1241.1M missile boats (Tarantul-III class). They also fired on simulated missile targets. A naval search and strike group, which they categorize separately from just regular naval strike groups, consisting of two more Grisha-class 1124M corvettes (Kasimov & Eysk), conducted launches with OSA SAMs against simulated enemy aircraft. The air targets themselves were small in size, imitating missiles, and were dropped from the old Be-12 amphibious planes belonging to BSFs naval aviation units.

Several BSF ships also deployed to block sea lines of communication near the Krasnodar coast. 2x Bykov-class large patrol ships project 22160 (Pavel Derzhavin and Dmitry Rogachev), along with a few small anti-saboteur boats (probably Grachonok-class) worked out a scenario where they located and destroyed adversary resupply ships attempting to provide logistics to their ground units deployed on the coast. One of the Bykovs also practiced recovering a Ka-27 helicopter in distress.

Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy, Adm Nikolai Yevmenov visited Sevastopol and later Novorossiysk to inspect fleet logistics and see how things were working during the exercise, including anti-submarine and counter-sabotage units.

Caspian Flotilla

A naval tactical group composed of Russian ships and Iranian vessels, again including Gepard-class Tartarstan, 2x Buyan-M class Veliky Ustyug & Astrakhan, and Iranian fast attack craft Paykan and Joshan (Sina-class) conducted artillery fire against naval and airborne targets. Naval targets were towed, while air attacks simulated but it is unclear if they used target imitators. Onshore targets were also engaged with shipborne artillery. The 177th also did some night time target practice with 120mm Sani mortars and BTR-82A APCs.


South Ossetia – A BTG belonging to 4th base, 58th Army, continued training against an imagined diversionary group. Main event for them will be on 25th as they switch to offensive operations. 1500 personnel involved with a fair bit of armor and air defense equipment.         

South Ossetia                                       

Armenia – At the training range Alagyaz artillery units from both countries conducted live fire exercises using 2s1 Gvozdika 122mm SPA and 120mm Sani mortars. They employed radioelectronic means of targeting to destroy enemy forces at a range of 5km (fairly close but what do you want for a mortar exercise). Some language used to describe this exercise as leveraging tactical lessons from Syria, including the old ‘tank carousel’, nomadic tank, and scout tank. I’m not familiar with ‘nomadic tank’ – will have to check on that term later. Of course it is interesting that Azerbaijan chose to attack just as Kavkaz-2020 ended, considering that about 1500 Armenian soldiers are at this exercise with 300 pieces of equipment.  


They tightened up reporting on Kavkaz-2020 at this point. Fewer news stories are out other than that being driven by MoD. Suspect there are more activities but not everything is being given airtime.

Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka (he runs Rochan Consulting and used to work at Janes) for helping put some of this info together. 

Some good pictures to add from Prudboy

inside mi-8amtsh

Mad Max fury road shot – units preparing for CBRN disinfection after the exercise

Kavkaz 2020 – September 23 (Day 3)

This day seemed to focus on activities by naval infantry, coastal defense forces, and independent VDV battalions with armor support, particularly units of the 7th division. The center piece might have been exercises on the Caspian coast. Several events took place involving Russian units training in Abkhazia, S. Ossetia, and Armenia. A fair bit of activity associated with naval infantry units belonging to Caspian Flotilla. Some air operations with unguided weapons, but the day was relatively light compared to September 21-22nd


At Kopanskoy training range Mi-24, Mi-35, Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters conducted low altitude flights, rocket attacks, gun fire, etc.  Su-30SM and Su-34 aircrews destroyed more than 40 targets at different ranges as part of the day’s exercises, unguided rockets and bombs used for this one, altitude ranged from 600-1200 meters.

Airborne (VDV)

7th Guards air assault division is fielding an independent tank battalion to train in mountainous conditions. They engaged targets imitating moving tanks at 2000m. Targets appeared for brief periods of time, surprising the battalion. Another part of the training was firing while conducting flank maneuvers, and on the move. (I’m guessing this was at Prudboy range). No air drops on the 23rd, and my guess is that some of the VTA is busy with Slavic Brotherhood 2020 which is featuring parachute drops on this day. So they may be overly taxed on Il-76MD assets. It seems the drop is scheduled for the 24th as part of this exercise.

T-72B3s assigned to VDV assault battalion

Training range Prudboy (Volgograd oblast)

Artillery units armed with 2s19 MSTA-S conducted live fire exercises against targets at 15km range, displacing after firing. Drones were used to help with targeting and battle damage assessment.

MSTA-S artillery at Prudboy

CBRN units armed with RPO-A Shmel employed UAS to detect and then destroy lightly armored vehicles. Another episode involved sniper training at night, stopping a lightly armored column of enemy vehicles using ASVK and SVD rifles. Using Strelets system they then targeted artillery onto the stopped column.


Training range Kapustin Yar (Astrakhan oblast)

In drone news, a joint unmanned aviation group was created composed of units fielding Forpost, Orlan-10, Electron-3, and some other systems unmentioned. Altitudes ranged from 100m to 5000m. This one is interesting as they seem to be creating a sort of drone tactical group by combining different units. 20 combat helicopters, Mi-28 & Ka-52, conducted 80mm unguided rocket strikes against targets at the range.

Training range Ashuluk (Astrakhan oblast)

More than 800 soldiers from a mountain brigade (presumably 34th), for the first time conducted training in organizing maneuver warfare at night, using NVD. Exercise consisted of maneuver, target practice at 800-1200m, use of flares. Vehicles were mostly light armored MTLB-MB. (Although none of the images showed them using NVD).

Not sure who had the NVD

where's the NVD.

Military Police and Spetsnatz repelled an attack by diversionary groups against a transport column carrying munitions. Exercise scenario: adversary forces sought to intercept and pilfer a resupply unit being escorted by MPs and Spetz. They’re testing the new Namotka-KS next gen radio station, providing two way digital communications. Also some limited air operations, Su-30SM and Su-25SM using unguided bombs in response to a simulated attack on ground forces.

MPs at Ashuluk

Black Sea Fleet & 7th Division units in Krasnodar

VDV units belonging to Novorossiysk’s 7th Division, presumably the 108th  regiment repelled a landing by enemy marines from the Black Sea at Raevsky training range in Krasnodar. They were supported by Mi-28 helicopters. An enemy marine brigade (wonder who that could be) attempted to seize a platsdarm via amphibious assault. Reconnaissance detachments using Orlan-10 UAS detected their positions, while Mi-8s airlifted several airborne units to counter them. Blocking fire was executed with artillery support from D-30 122m howitzers and 2s9 Nona-S mortars. The units tank company of T-72B3s engaged enemy forces under cover of artillery fire, along with VDV ATGM units armed with Konkurs. Su-27s also engaged in providing air cover. The final element of this event was a river crossing by VDV units to engage remaining adversary forces.

171st naval crossing171st tank bttn defending

more vdv

Naval infantry units began loading onto LSTs: Azov, Novocherkassk, Tsezar Kunikov (Ropucha class). Presumably 328nd Naval Infantry Battalion. They will conduct an amphibious landing at Taman Peninsula.

Caspian Flotilla & 177th Naval Infantry Regiment

Coastal defense forces armed with Bal CDCM conducted simulated electronic launches against a naval target (ship) in the Caspian Sea. They also ran reload drills, displacement and evading counter battery fire. Buyan-M class missile boat Uglich served as the OPFOR target.

At training range Adanak, in Dagestan, the 177th naval infantry regiment dismounted from Mi-8 transport helicopters, tying down adversary forces. They were supported by Mi-35s. Reconnaissance units assigned to the 177th naval infantry regiment identified targets using Orlan-10 drones, setup an ambush, and surprised an enemy armored column. They also cleared mines, clearing a corridor to advance. About 700 soldiers from the regiment are participating in exercises at this range with BTR-82AM, BM-21 Grad, D-30 Howitzers, and 120mm Sani mortars.

Naval Infantry carrying Orlan-10

A different detachment of naval infantry conducted an amphibious landing at Zelenomorsk, Dagestan on the Caspian coast. The landing was supported by small artillery boats, and other ships of the Caspian Flotilla, along with Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopters. Assault units dismounted from Mi-8 helicopters, while a recon detachment parachuted in behind the supposed OPFOR. This event involved 500 naval infantry, 24 ships/boats, and two FSB coast guard patrol ships, along with 40 pieces of armored equipment.

Iranian fast attack craft Paykan and Joshan (Sina-class) supported the Russian landing with artillery fire, they worked jointly with Russian Gepard-class (11661.1) Tartarstan, Buyan-M class Veliky Ustyug & Astrakhan. The Tartarstan then destroyed an enemy cruise missile which was being imitated by a Saman target, using its Osa-MA2 SAM complex, while smaller artillery boats Astrakhan and Uglich fired on naval targets (presumably with artillery).

Caspian flotilla landing 3MLRS firingZelenomorsk nav infantry landing

A special detachment of PDSS, typically consisting of combat divers, and specially trained personnel who defend facilities against opposing diver units, conducted counter-diversionary training. The crew of Grachonok-class «Юнармеец Дагестана» detected enemy divers using its sonar suite, then two detachments of PDSS took them out. OPFOR was also played by light-divers who could use any tactic they wanted to try and approach their targets.

South Ossetia – Tactical group belonging to 4th military base (58th CAA) in South Ossetia conducted a march to training range Dzartsemi. During the march they were ambushed by an OPFOR (simulated by a recon battalion belonging to the Russian base). Exercise focused on scouting, discerning ambushing forces, air defense while on the move. About 1000 Russian soldiers and 300 pieces of equipment are participating in S. Ossetia exercises as part of Kavkaz-2020.

South Ossetia 4th base BTG

Abkhazia – Joint Russian-Abkhazian training continues on training range Tsabal and the Black Sea coast. Practice includes defending territory from amphibious assault. The exercise will conclude with multiple live fire and combined arms maneuver events. Equipment involved ranges from T-72B3, BTR-82AM, to Shturm ATGM, 2S3, BM-21, D-30, 120mm Sani mortars, Ka-52, Mi-8, and Mi-8AMTSh.

recon units in Abkhazia

Armenia – Training continues with drones to provide situational awareness and a common operating picture of the two countries’ forces involved in the exercise. Artillery units from both countries engaged targets, and assessed battle damage using UAS. A separate exercise involved MPs stopping diversionary groups at the training range Alagyaz, Armenia.

Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping gather and compile some of the information.

In the interest of catching up (there’s a lot taking place 24-26th)  I’m nixing some of the other activities of I might post from CMD/WMD other areas. Well, except damage to the Kazanets project 1331M anti-submarine warfare ship of the Baltic Fleet. Which has nothing to do with this, but it did hit the Ice Rose cargo ship a few days ago near a bridge.

Damage to Kazanets

Kavkaz 2020 – September 22 (Day 2)

Sorry this is far behind, but its been a busy week and a lot of activity taking place on the first couple of days in the exercise. The thrust of Day 2 is a fairly high op tempo of exercises at Ashuluk, Prudboy, and Kaputsin Yar. Much of the focus is on air defense, but ground units are also conducting a host of exercises to find, fix, and finish enemy formations, training on recon-fire contours. Naval units and coastal defense units are conducting live fires against targets at sea, while support units are practicing with deploying layers of EW defense against enemy drones, comms links, etc. The airborne conducted some smaller air lift exercises and paradrops, there a lot of helicopters involved in this exercise. It is difficult to tell how many, but it looks like the rotary aviation component is increasing year on year between these strategic command-staff exercises. 

Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka who helped me compile some of the information for this. 

Just a nice shot to get things started.



Most of air power for the exercise is logically coming from 4th Air and Air Defense army. They’re serving as OPFOR, providing helicopters as cover, transport aviation and the like. They also appear to be conducting training with 6th AAD. There was an incident on the 22nd when a Su-35 accidentally shot down a Su-30M2 from the 1st mixed aviation regiment, 1st air division, 6th AAD. The crew ejected and appears to be fine. They were training in Tver over airbase Hotilovo with 6th AAD. The Su-35S (6th) was dogfighting with the Su-30M2 (4th), it was supposed to conduct photographic simulated gunfire, but instead unloaded a burst of live 30mm into the aircraft. According to some expert views on blogs (BMPD), the problem was not that the cannon was loaded, it is never unloaded according to standard operating procedures.

This looks like the aircraft that was shot down.



At the Raevsky training ground, personnel of the anti-tank battery of the 108th Guards Air Assault Regiment (7th Division) worked as an anti-tank reserve and engaged targets using Konkurs ATGM. Elements of the 7th Mountain Air Assault Division and (again) 56th Air Assault Brigade were loaded up onto Il-76MDs for an air drop on the 23rd.

VDV ATGM units

Airborne units in Volgograd and Krasnodar trained loading BMD-2KU on Il-76MDs. They then shifted to Taganror and Ulianovsk. A portion of troops was parachuted into an unknown training ground, presumably as a smaller exercise of the larger airlift to come.

Western MD

At Mulino there was a two sided BTG exercise at the training range, with T-80s, BMP-2s, practicing the fine art of digging in and shooting at targets. About 800 personnel and 200 pieces of equipment.

Engineers belonging to Tamanskaya motor rifle division enabled a river crossing for other units using PP-2005M, a different unit represented OPFOR, creating simulated fire to oppose the crossing. Small exercise, 150 personnel. Meanwhile there was firearms training in Lengingrad oblast by a reconnaissance battalion, as part of the Krasnoselkoi MR brigade assigned to the 6th army.

Baltic Fleet          

A naval infantry battalion of the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade was loaded up onto Korolev, Kaliningrad and Minsk Project 775/II LSTs and sailed towards the Leningrad Oblast where they conducted amphibious landings onto the Gogland Island. After that the battalion transited to the Lomonosov port and then to the Kirillovsky Training Range. There they dug in, set up defensive positions and “proceeded to solve the assigned tasks.” Snipers belonging to the fleet conducted night time live fire exercises later that day.

Southern MD

Prudboy – 56th Air Assault Brigade – Zvezda says the personnel of the brigade carried out the movement of two batteries of D-30 howitzers, 120 mm Sani mortars, and GS-17 automatic grenade launchers. They also used автомобилей-багги и УАЗ «пикап». Indeed, Zvezda states they undertook operations as ‘units of a new type’. A scenario was worked out in which the paratroopers destroyed an armed formation, air support provided by Su-27, Su-30SM. The 56th is working at Prudboy with a motor rifle brigade from the 8th CAA, which is the 20th MRB (the only MRB within the 8th CAA). It seems that they defended their positions from air attacks (eight targets were engaged) using Verba MANPADS, Tunguska-M1s and Strela-10s in conditions of a WMD use by opposing forces. Later, the reconnaissance units of both brigades were sent out to destroy “sabotage groups of illegal armed formations”, which were discovered using modern reconnaissance equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles. This operation was supported by BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and T-90A tanks of the 20th MRB. It seems that both brigades established a secure connection between staffs secured by EW troops to ensure stable and reliable C2 in the dense electromagnetic environment.

Fun for everyone

Airborne assault

Prudboy also hosted an exercise of motor rifle recon units and VDV airborne, where they worked jointly to find enemy forces, ahead of the main ground formations. The concept behind the training is that 1st drones detected enemy forces. Then recon units were directed to their locations, presumably to fix the target. They were supported by a motor rifle unit with BMP-3s and T-90As. The sequencing here is worth noting.

Recon units

The use of the Borisoglebsk-2 system (mentioned quite a bit in counter-drone exercises) by presumably 19th EW Brigade suppressed the control signals of opposing forces UAV and prevented them from conducting optical and signal reconnaissance. It seems they are pairing EW troops, communications troops, and a VDV assault brigade to create a screen against enemy drones. This is an interesting combination of units. Again at Prudboy (lots of action there) an NCB subunit deployed a smokescreen to conceal some of the units deployed there. The unit involved in this operation is possibly the 39th NCB Regiment that stations around 10 km from Prudboy. It also provided anti-CBRN services to ground troops (anti-contamination zones, disinfection, etc). Equipment included RHM-6, ARS-14KM, DDU-1, TDA-2K.


Zvezda says that elements of Iskander-equipped units from Krasnodar Krai and North Ossetia arrived at the Kapustin Yar training ground. These are the 1st Missile Brigade, 49th CAA and 12th Missile Brigade, 58th CAA. Movement via rail. Will conduct both electronic (reportedly already happened) and real launches. At Ashuluk units changed their starting positions many times, repelled an attack by a conditional sabotage and reconnaissance group, and camouflaged the launchers from modern reconnaissance means of a potential enemy. Reportedly 50 pieces of equipment are involved so one full brigade.

Ashuluk – air defence exercise involved S-400, Buk-M2, Pantsirs with Su-30SM fighters as interceptors. In the intro to the article on this part of the exercise, Zvezda talked briefly about “massive missile and air strikes” (массированные ракетно-авиационные удары) and how they can achieve political-military objectives without resorting to ground combat. They were employed against about 20 aircraft Su-34, Su-24M, Su-30SM, MiG-29SMT that sought to destroy radar stations, positions of anti-aircraft missile forces and air bases. Aircraft conducted low-level flying ops at altitudes of 50 meters with a rounding of the terrain up to 20 kilometers, at a speed of 200 to 2,000 kilometers per hour. Basically, we have OPFOR low-altitude penetration training here. First response was to direct Su-30SM to intercept in a coordinated air defense and tactical aviation exercise. The launches against aircraft were simulated electronic, but reportedly 15 high-speed target missiles were destroyed. The same mix of aircraft was then destroyed an airfield of the imaginary enemy and columns of advancing sabotage and reconnaissance formations. (people who think low altitude penetration against Russian VKS is a good idea should pay attention to these trainings).

Pantsir-S1 firing Ashuluk


S-400 firing Ashuluk

Division of labor looked this: From 400 meters 2 Su-30SMs destroyed an air defense missile system using штурмовые авиационные бомбы. A Su-34 then struck the airfield itself. After that Su-24s attacked aircraft that were still on the ground. Su-30SM and MiG-29SMT destroyed a mock-infantry convoy that was on the march.

There was apparently a concurrent brigade-level air defense exercise going on at Ashuluk with a grouping of troops (forces) of the 49th combined-arms army of the Southern Military District. Zvezda does not explicitly mention this exercise to be a part of Kavkaz, but in the text, it states “The preparatory measures preceding the strategic command post exercise”. Plus, it is in Ashuluk. The brigade-level exercise relates to the 77th Air Defense Brigade which fields S-300V4 and some other units that field Pantsir-S Tunguska, Shilka, Strela-10, Tor, Buk-M3 and Osa. S-300V4 repelled a massive missile strike of a simulated enemy, ensuring the safety of the command post of the headquarters of the army formation.

Meanwhile air defense units from Rzhev’s air defense division (Western MD) have deployed to Ashuluk, practicing with S-300PM2 to repel a massed air attack, simulating complex EW conditions. Launches were electronically simulated and actual fires conducted as well. 6 training targets simulating enemy aircraft were used, including high-latitude Strizh-M, hypersonic Favorit, and low-altitude aerodynamic Armavir-MVU. I get the sense they increasingly have higher availability of different types of target drones and missiles to train with. Part of the exercise is Western MD units redploying there to unknown surroundings.

Western MD units S-300 firing at Ashuluk

On top of that, at Ashuluk they are running a ground blue on red exercise. According to the plan of the exercise, the enemy formation (“blue”), the 34th MRB (mountain), reached the Volga and, having established a crossing, began the transfer of troops to take a bridgehead on the right bank. The task of the opposing forces (“red”), 205th MRB, was to block the actions of the enemy making the crossing and defeat him. Before that, the 34th “marched” 800 km and repelled an attack by a recon-diversionary force. It seems they wanted to check how the 34th that’s earmarked for mountain ops, will handle offensive and defensive operations in the desert conditions. At Ashuluk the 205th MRB attacked 34th at night using a wider front than usual due to nature of the desert terrain. The 205th commander determined the routes of advance without making contact with the enemy, flanked them with the use of envelopes and detours (с применением охватов и обходов), supported by tactical air assault forces.

Getting dem RPGs downrange

However, the defending side was also actively preparing for a mobile defense. So, assigned to the tank battalion, Orlan-10 conducted reconnaissance of the combat formations of the “Reds”. The obtained data made it possible to obtain a real picture of the battle formation of the advancing enemy. Using this information, 20 T-72B3 tank crews marched to the mission area, where they worked out the tactics of maneuverable defense, undertaking several rapid counterattacks at night.

The engineering divisions also contributed to the preparation of the Blue’s defensive bridgehead by defusing anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices. While doing that, the engineering patrols repelled the attack of the conditional sabotage and reconnaissance group. However, the “red”, having received intelligence information about the preparation of the “blue” defense of the bridgehead, decided to disrupt their plans with mortar fire. Fires at the bunkers and warehouses of the “blue” were carried out by 120-mm mortar complexes 2S12A “Sani”, 82-mm mortars 2B14 Podnos, as well as heavy self- 2S4 Tyulpan.

Around 30 helos are deployed near the Ashuluk. Not only do they provide airlift for personnel and materiel, but also, they delivered the first strike. This is a standard mix of Mi-8AMTSh, Mi-35, Mi-26 for lift/combat support and more than 10 Ka-52 and Mi-28N. Roughly 50 aircraft support operations across the Southern MD. These include An-2 aircraft, An-26 transport aircraft, Yak-130 combat training aircraft, Su-30SM and MiG-31 fighters, and Mi-8 helicopters. They approach their respective areas of responsibility from different directions, different attitudes in other to hide from radar stations. Some of the crews performed the flight with the identification systems turned off at extremely low altitudes, in dense combat formation and using radio interference (EW).

A Pantsir-S1 unit reportedly “destroyed” 20 targets. They were used when air objects flew near the conditional air border and did not respond to dispatch. The role of OPFOR was fulfilled by An-2 aircraft, flying at an altitude below 50 meters and a speed of less than 200 kmh. Some of the aircraft flew in tight order at minimum intervals and distances, making it as difficult as possible to detect each of the air targets (An-2 is not really a demanding target).

50 mobile field command posts were established to ensure stable, integrated C2, using among others APE-5K. At least some of those field command posts are protected by a mix of Pantsir-S1s, Igla MANPAD, Zhitel and Krasukha-S4 jamming stations. These provide a multi-level complex protection against UAVs.


More than 50 UAVs were deployed. They provide objective control over the actions of troops (forces) and transmit data to command posts of groupings of troops. They also provide calculations, reconnaissance, assess levels of radiation, chemical and biological threat. in modern combined arms combat. They are also used to assess and adjust artillery fire.

Black Sea Fleet

Bal and Bastion coastal defense systems were employed against ships seeking to conduct amphibious operations on the Krasnodar coast. What they are talking about is the employment of the 11th Coastal Missile Brigade that’s permanently stationed in Utash (Krasnodar Territory).  They fired one missile each and destroyed “a grouping of ships.” After conducting fires, they regrouped, rearmed and were deployed to a new staging area.

Bastion-P launch

Did they hit things? 

target hit

Missile corvettes «Р-60» «Буря» and Ivanovets «Р-334» «Ивановец» Tarantul-class, Project 1234, simultaneously fired (one each) a P-270 Moskit anti-ship missiles at targets. Second phase was an anti-ship strike by Su-24M and Su-30SM. Other ships worked on ASW tasks (sank a sub with a torpedo) and conducted an amphibious landing. Naval aviation practiced resupply at sea to corvettes such as Vasily Bykov, seems to be done with Ka-27PS.

BSF missile corvette firing 2

Caspian Flotilla

These units conducted naval artillery fire against land targets on the island of Chechen, with the help of drone ISR. They then ran a counter-diver exercise. Their main training will be live fire exercises and coordination with ground units.

Central MD

CMD exercises may/may not be relevant. Worth noting anyway since they are taking place in parallel. Artillery units belonging to the 90th TD near Chelyabinsk destroyed an enemy formation using BM-21 Grad, 2s3 Akatsiya, and MSTA-B. Orlan-10 provided reconnaissance, paired with Strelets tatical system – basically recon-fire contours being exercised at 8-15km. 500 personnel.

A drone detachment of the 41st CAA practiced reconnaissance and targeting with Orlan-10s. Emphasis on forested terrain and searching for fortified positions. Some details about having a thermal imaging camera on the drone etc. using a drone as relay for longer range flights. 300 personnel and 30 pieces of equipment.

Interesting exercise by air and air defense units, utilizing S-300 variants, Nebo-M radar, conducting a march 100km from their bases. Deploying and camouflaging equipment. They will conduct a joint training against enemy tactical aviation, OPFOR will be represented by 11 aircraft, a mix of Su-34s, Mig-31s, and Su-24MRs. They have an EW unit with them as well.

201st in Tajikistan

201 Motor Rifle in Tajikistan
201st in Tajikistan

Odds and ends

  • According to some sources, a number of Chinese personnel that were sent to participate in Kavkaz utilize Russian kit, including presumably T-72B3s. Equipment transferred to them on 14 Sep so they only had one week to “master” it.
  • Belarusians deployed at Kapustin Yar already conducted offensive and defensive operations “as part of a coalition group of forces on Russian military equipment” and presumably under the Russian command.
  • About 1000 Russian motor rifle troops in Tajikistan training at two ranges, implementing recon-fire contours, using drones, combined arms maneuver with armor, IFVs, APCs, and artillery.
  • Do you remember a recent story on Konkurs destroying a T-90A? Apparently, another incident took place involving a truck catching fire.
  • Units in Transnistria are running drills, fairly small battalion of 350 active there. 30 pieces of equipment.

From the Caspian Flotilla I think. You don’t want to miss this guy literally throwing grenades into the water.

This one has a specialized anti-diver grenade launcher, no hand throwing for him
Dune buggy elephant walk

Kavkaz 2020 – September 21 (Day 1)

The thrust of the opening day consisted of deploying to training ranges, conducting demining operations for ships leaving port, air defense against a presumed aerospace assault, and fixing internal lines of communications – bridges, pontoons, etc. assuming they had been blown. This phase is a contested deployment, focusing on logistics, marching, and air lift. Engineers and combat service support units get much of the work since their component of these exercises starts right at the beginning and never lets up. These summaries are typically a day behind, since it is difficult to summarize events that have not happened.

General comments: The latest overview indicated that special attention will be paid to countering cruise missiles, UAS, conducting electronic-fire operations against the depth of the adversary’s lines, quick transitions from one type of operation to another, and establishing a complex/dynamic situation in terms of training conditions.

Strela-M10 firing at Prudboi

Military transport aviation belonging to Russian Aerospace Forces rebased to forward operating airfields. A total of 60 IL-76 transports are involved. Undoubtedly there will be VDV Airborne operations as part of the exercise, which has already been announced. Expect sizable drops.

Around 3,500 Airborne (VDV) soldiers will be involved in Kavkaz-2020, pulled from three participating airborne units. They will parachute and be airlifted in via other means, usually these combine air drops, helicopter air lifts, repelling and the like. Airborne assault detachments will parachute in from units belonging to Novorossiysk and Kamishin, while rotary aviation will bring in units from Ulianovsk . They will continue experimenting with the concept of ‘new type’ airborne. I first observed these force structure experiments during Vostok-2018 and have written about them in 2018. The main VDV range will be Kaputsin Yar, secondary is Prudboi (Volgograd) where more than 1000 airborne units will deploy from more than 50 aircraft, together with their equipment. There will be drops in two zones, in parallel, from altitudes ranging 600-900 meters. They will be dropping BMD-4Ms along with other variants using new parachute systems that include PBS-950U and MKS-350.

Also, there will be an airlift operation early on with Mi-26 and Mi-8AMTSh bringing in D-30 howitzers, utility vehicles like Niva Kotenok, Eskadron, Pikap and Pecheneg. Air assault units from Novorossiysk will repel a simulated amphibious assault by enemy marines at Raevski training range.

Western MD

Leningrad Oblast – 5,000 troops and 200 pieces of equipment belonging to the CAA based in the area (presumably 6th) have begun qualification checks in core competencies, knowledge of new equipment, readiness, and begin live fire exercises.

Mulino training range – a tactical-battalion training began with armor and motor rifle detachments belonging to the Kantemirovskaya division. These include T-80U, MSTA-S, BMP-2, BTR-82A and MTLB (standard kit assigned to the regiments of this division). They plan to execute about 30 different scenarios from repelling an enemy offensive, to destroying fortified positions. This B-T training includes about 800 soldiers with 200 pieces of equipment.

Baltic Fleet – Minesweepers Alexander Obukhov (Alexandrit-class) and Pavel Khenov conducted mine clearing exercises with other ships of the BF, and concluded a ship assistance exercise with one of the oceanographic research vessels. Meanwhile other units assigned to the Leningrad naval base conducted counter-diversionary operations, hunting divers and the like. The bulk of early activity seems to concentrate on minesweeping, counter-diversionary actions, and deployment of naval infantry.

Southern MD

VDV loading

Motor rifle units belonging to the 58th CAA, together with South Ossetian units, were raised on alert and deployed to Dzartsemi training range. This battalion tactical group will train using drones, short range ISR kit like SBR-3, plus Strelets reconnaissance and communication system. This exercise seems to consist of three company sized tactical groups, backed by South Ossetian forces. The adversary forces will be simulated in later phases by detachments from a Russian military base. Emphasis is being placed on organizing a reserve to defeat VIEDs and using sniper teams (seems to be gleaned from Syria). In total South Ossetia will host 1500 soldiers, and 300 pieces of equipment.

Prudboi range near Volgograd – maneuver formations including T-90A, BMP-3, BMP-2, MSTA-S, and supporting helicopters have begun to deploy to the training range. The march included BMDs belonging to VDV units. There was an interesting deployment combining a detachment of EW troops, communications unit from a motor rifle regiment, and an airborne VDV unit (presumably force protection), which put in place an encrypted communications system and EW defense against enemy drones. EW units used Borisoglebsk-2 to jamm supposed enemy unmanned systems.

Ashuluk training range: 30+ helicopters shifted to Kaputsin Yar and Ashuluk in Astrakhan, including Mi-35, Ka-52 and Mi-26. They will be moving VDV and airlifting units later on in the exercise. Combined arms elements of the 49th will deploy there to practice combat in desert conditions. These will include T-72B3M, BTR-82A, and MSTA-S artillery. Air power and combat aviation will support the live fire exercises taking place there, operating for an airbase at considerable distance from the range.

Kaputsin Yar – Roughly 10 Battalions of S-400, S-300PM, Pantsir-S1s belonging to the 4th AAD deployed for exercises. PVO-SV was represented by Buk-M2/M3 and Tor-M. Also a new mine clearing device demonstrated at the range, UR-15 based on a BMP-3 chassis. This is a rocket propelled mine clearing system.

Air Defense units preparing to depart

Air defense units, together with an airborne detachment based in Volgograd region, conducted an air defense exercise countering single and multiple targets. These seemed to consist of Verba MANPADS, Tunguska-M1, and Strela-10. The exercise consisted of striking objects at 6km altitude, and up to 8 simultaneous aerodynamic targets at a time. A total of 48 targets were hit.

Engineer troops supporting 49th CAA in Kuban region restored 10 bridges which were destroyed by a hypothetical adversary. There is a video of one such exercise where it does look like they use something to blow the center of the bridge. Engineers employ the TMM-3M2 mechanized bridge laying system, while being covered by airpower belonging to the 4th AAD. Military transport aviation also lifted an engineer regiment from Kuban to Astrakhan, where they deployed electricity generators, camouflage for command and control points, and conducted a demining exercise. In a different exercise engineers from what was probably the 11th Engineering Brigade setup a pontoon bridge 500m in length across a river, repaired a railroad bridge, while working with air defense units to counter an adversary air attack.

Russian units claimed to have established a multi-level system of reconnaissance, integrating drones (Orlan-10, Tachion, Forpost), with the tactical-operational Strelets system, and GLONASS satellite enabled navigation (well GLONASS-GPS from what I saw written inside the vehicle systems). Drones mark targets for fires and strike systems (recon strike-recon fire loops), while Strelets enables mobile reconnaissance units to employ both new and legacy reconnaissance systems. Ironia, a tactical level EO complex deployed among Spetz units in the Southern MD, supposedly permits all weather reconnaissance.

Armenia – About 20 helicopter crews worked jointly with units from Armenia, using Mi-8MTV and Mi-24P helicopters. Their exercise component is being held under the leadership of MG Tigran Parvanyan. Seems the Armenians have the lead on this part of the exercise, with about 1,500 troops and 300 pieces of equipment.

Abkhazia – Units from Southern MD, total of 1,500 soldiers and 500 pieces of equipment, were raised on alert and marched to the training ranges Tsabal & Nagvaloy. They were provided air cover by helicopters from 4th AAD aviation, who helped transport some of the forces, and air defense units from Abkhazia. Their exercise plan for the week includes coastal defense, tank and artillery live fire exercises, and countering diversionary groups. Repelling an amphibious assault appears to be one of their main exercises.

Units in Abkhazia moving out

Black Sea Fleet

BSF boiler plate announcement is that they have about 20 ships participating, including Slava-class guided missile cruiser Moskva, the frigate Pytlivy (1135M), two Buyan-M corvettes, three LSTs, four missile boats (Tarantul-class), and a specialized Bora-class missile corvette (air cushion). Coastal defense detachments have moved to training ranges, including Bal, Bastion, and Bereg specialized artillery units. Naval aviation will also have a significant role. Much of the fleet seems to be busy with demining operations, seems minesweepers in several fleets are engaged in the first phase of the exercise, assuming the adversary has conducted offensive mining. Their focus is contact and non-contact mines, imagining a large mine field. These exercises also mention leading several ships, and a submarine through the supposed mine field.

BSF Corvette

Other ships formed a naval search and strike group (they’re using корабельная поисково-ударная группа (КПУГ) for this description, consisting of four small ASW corvettes (Grischa III class), engaged in anti-submarine warfare. Ka-27PL and Be-12 naval aviation assisted in the hunt, while the 636.3 Kilo ‘Koplino’ served as their opponent.  

BSF units include: Vladimir Emelyanov and Ivan Antonov Project 12700, Valentin Pikul Project 266ME, and Vice Admiral Zakharyin Project 02668 minesweepers. Additional assets: Moskva Project 1164, Pytlivyy Project 1135M, Orekhovo-Zuyevo and Vyshniy Volochyok Project 21631, Tsezar Kunikov, Azov, Novocherkassk Project 775, Naberezhnye Chelny, Ivanovets, Shuya, and R-60 Project 1241, and Samum Project 1239 will take part.

Naval infantry units have been raised on alert, deploying to board three LSTs (Azov, Novocherkassk, and Cesar Kynikov). Phase two will include amphibious landing on the coast of one of the training ranges assigned to the fleet, located in the Taman peninsula.

Caspian Flotilla – Units also departed port while conducting a demining exercise. Their challenge is getting the surface action group to deploy from its naval base under the assumption that it is being subjected to offensive mining. Meanwhile detachments of the Naval infantry regiment assigned to the flotilla, based in Dagestan, have begun marching to their planned training ranges of Turali and Adanak. They will deploy command and reconnaissance points, take up firing positions with BM-21 Grads and D-30 howitzers. Their task is coastal defense and artillery support, while the naval infantry units practice deploying along the coast – total includes 400 pieces of equipment, along with 40 ships (combat and support), and 3000 troops. Ship count seems excessive, Caspian Flotilla is not exactly that big of a force.

Coastal defense units preparing to defend a beach

Central MD

Artillery units belonging to the 2nd CAA conducted live fire exercises with MSTA-S self-propelled artillery in Orenburg oblast. Orlan-10 drones provided reconnaissance and target identification. Fires were conducted up to 24km range. The units trained both using automated systems for targeting, and manual correction of fire, accounting for wind, pressure, etc. 500 troops in total and 50 pieces of equipment. Meanwhile air defense units belonging to the same army conducted training with Verba MANPADS.

Units belonging to an aviation regiment within the 14th Air and Air Defense Army executed night ops training. Included ten helicopters of Mi-8AMTSh-V and Mi-24 variants. Meanwhile support units belonging to the specialized mountain units of the 41st CAA, mounted on horseback, provided 2 tons of supplies to motor rifle detachments at training ranges (using 80 horses).

Armored regiments, belonging to the 90th Guards tank division, conducted a two-sided tactical exercise. Units from two regiments battle each other, looking to work out “non-standard” solutions, deception, maneuver, ambush, flanking, etc. Exercise consisted of 500 troops – sizable for an armored wargame. There were also artillery and ATGM exercises taking place. It seems the units of the 90th have been involved in a host of exercises, unclear if they well were underway or if this counts as being part of Kavkaz 2020, but difficult to ignore.

Odds and ends:

  • 350 soldiers from the Transnistria contingent (a motor rifle battalion) deployed to establish a field camp
  • Su-25SM belonging to the Russian military base ‘Kant’ in Kyrgyz Republic conducted strikes against a simulated adversary command post
  • Eastern MD drone operators conducted recon exercises, spotting targets for MSTA-S artillery at 15km range

Nobody managed to crash or shoot anything down on day 1, that comes on day 2. There is a dogfight, and someone forgets to unload the ammunition from a Su-35.

Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka, who helped me compile some of the info. There’s a lot of news, data, press releases etc. and it is difficult to get through alone.

Here is the UR-15 mine clearing system

However, what was really exciting is this concert, that foreign participants had to sit through.

Overview: Kavkaz-2020

Kavkaz-2020 strategic command-staff exercise began yesterday. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Col General A. Fomin gave a briefing on September 9th on the upcoming exercise, below is an overview gleaned from the briefing on the plan for Kavkaz-2020 with a few thoughts and additions.

Planned dates: Exercise – September 21-26

Main purpose: assess the ability of the Russian armed forces to successfully repel an attack by a mock state adversary, and conduct offensive operations in the Southwestern strategic direction, stress test the system (military and key civilian ministries) in handling a conflict that escalates from local war to regional war, and improve the capacity for multinational operations which is less of a concern in Zapad/Vostok (this is my addition).

Practical preparations began in March, involving staff talks with participating states. In July a surprise inspection took place of Southern and Western MD troops, select formations of the Central MD, Airborne VDV, plus naval infantry from Northern and Pacific Fleets. This snap readiness check included 149,755 personnel, 26,820 pieces of equipment, 414 aircraft, and 106 ships (combat and support).

Exercise brief

Phase 1 – 3 days: Planning phase, also coordination between military contingents of the different participating countries. The adversary is a ‘terrorist organization’ backed by a mock enemy state, so this phase of the exercise will naturally focus on repelling aerospace attacks, conducting reconnaissance, search and defensive actions, etc. The planning slide suggests this phase involves executing a strategic operation, and repelling an adversary aerospace operation.

Phase 2 – 2.5 days: Destruction of the adversary, localization of the conflict along different vectors, post conflict operations. This phase includes practicing command of a multinational group of troops in joint combat operations, wargaming operations involving land forces, aviation, air defense, the Black Sea fleet and the Caspian Flotilla in applying massed strikes, and offensive operations against a mock adversary. Total exercise run time: 5.5 days

Components involved: command and control, units from the Southern Military District, some elements of the Western Military District, Airborne VDV, LRA (long range aviation), VTA (transport aviation). Central MD must also be involved since they mention it regularly.

The numbers: Fomin’s briefing gave 80,000 total participants, which includes maneuver units, logistical and technical support, the National Guard, Civil Defense, and Ministry of Emergencies. It seems that the way they are counting these increasingly includes civilian agencies supporting, or subordinated to Military District leadership under the exercise parameters. One wonders if they stay consistent with follow on numbers, or if the figures will jump after the exercise when they report the totals. Since there are likely to be concurrent exercises and drills in other districts, they may not account for all of them.

Training ranges and exercise areas: Kaputsin Yar, Ashuluk, Prudboy, Adanak, Rayevsky, aviation ranges – Arzgirsky & Kopansky. Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Countries invited: Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar, Pakistan. Azerbaijan was invited to participate in maneuvers on the Caspian Sea alongside Iran. It seems Azerbaijan’s participation is being ‘considered’ still, while Iran appears on board. My understanding is that India withdrew because it did not want to participate in events with China, over the fighting in Lakhdah.

Fomin tried to explain that the number of troops under a “single operational command” will not exceed those stipulated by the Vienna document. Basically, it seems the Russian MoD is arguing this time that they are having 6+ smaller exercises. That doesn’t make much sense, since the whole point of the exercise is to see how well the Joint Strategic Command of the Southern MD can take in forces from other districts. There is no front level standing command, so he must be referencing combined arms armies. Doubtfully the Vienna Document can be circumscribed in this manner. I suspect it doesn’t have any language splitting strategic from operational commands, or even remotely suggesting you can have 80k troops as long as it is under different operational commands at the time.  

Only thing odd in this briefing is that the return to base timeline seems a bit lengthy, October 30. Probably some other events, certifications, etc. planned for that time period between Sept 26-October 30th. Unfortunately the camera man couldn’t figure out that the slides were more important than filming the backs of people’s heads so it was difficult to see the full slides at the briefing.

Bonus, Ukrainian MoD issued a slide with their version of events. Caveat emptor, it but it looks generally right, only thing of interest here are the individual vectors/directions portrayed.

Russian policy on nuclear deterrence (quick take)

This is my quick take on the recently released Russian policy on nuclear deterrence. Others like N. Sokov or O. Oliker had good posts that I would recommend.

This policy clarifies some points, but I found it misleading at the same time. The document is self-contradictory in places, and inconsistent with other authoritative writing on this subject, with more uncertainties than clarifications. I see the military doctrines as more useful. The policy on nuclear deterrence they released is best read as the foundations for Russian thinking in the context of strategic nuclear weapons and nuclear war (not local, regional, large-scale war or non-strategic nuclear weapons). This policy offers clarity on Russia’s strategic nuclear force posture, which was not particularly controversial, but in my view is intentionally ambiguous or uncertain on the more interesting questions. It will not settle any debates.

This document speaks about ‘sderzhivanye’ (containment, typically translated as deterrence), and steps gingerly around views on the role of nuclear weapons in silovoye sderzhivanye (forceful deterrence), ‘ustrashenie’ (fear inducement) and ‘prinuzhdenie’ (compellence). This is a less nuanced version of language in other documents, and what is commonly found in authoritative military sources/writings. According to colleagues, this seems to be a redacted and simplified version of the 2010 policy which was never publicly released.  I recommend the exec summary of CNA’s escalation management study for those who want to get an accurate and fairly comprehensive picture of Russian military thinking on this subject.

Declaratory policies offer some useful information, but they need to be taken in the context of other doctrines/policies, military concepts guiding escalation, force structure, posture, exercises, etc. Those who do not have access to those other sources of information are going to base more of their thinking on what is in a declaratory policy which is at best a half-truth, meant for signaling, with normative language disguising the nature of the conversation taking place inside buildings without windows. They are ambiguously worded, intended to cover the range of nuclear employment scenarios, and for that reason different communities can interpret this document to support what they already believed to be true.

Also, policy documents like this are not actionable military plans (even if it claims to be a planning document), and nobody is going to say in a conflict “quick get us the 2020 state policy on nuclear deterrence, we need to read what we wrote there to make sure we are intellectually consistent with the fundamentals of that document.” Although people spend a great deal of time word-smithing what is in these documents, defense establishments often don’t believe what is in them because they have access to a panoply of other sources of information that are likely to be more convincing.

Some brief points:

Paragraph 4. states that the policy bears a defensive character, nuclear potential must be at a level sufficient to guarantee sovereignty, territorial integrity, deter direct aggression against Russia or allies, and in the event of aggression preclude escalation + cease the conflict under acceptable conditions. This reads as the MoD’s standard formulation, much of it imported from 2014 Military Doctrine, intended to cover the spectrum of nuclear deterrence applications in escalation management and war termination stratagems. I suspect the Russian MFA did not want to include those last sentences because those familiar with Russian escalation management strategy know what they mean. Notably, the standard formulation of cease hostilities on terms favorable to Russia (or Russian interests), was changed to ‘conditions acceptable’ to Russia & allies, which is a more fair reading of the escalation management strategy (often misconstrued as just escalate to win, or attain capitulation, which it is not).

Paragraph 5. states that Russia sees nuclear weapons exclusively as means of deterrence, that they are to be used in extreme circumstances and as a forced measure. I don’t think that is a very honest portrayal of how nuclear weapons are viewed by the Russian military, but the purpose of this document is to position Russian views as defensive only via normative language, and to counter the claims of those who say Russia has an escalate to de-escalate strategy. To me this bit was misleading, and that is one of the reasons why I find many of these declaratory documents meaningless. Yes nuclear weapons are seen as instrument to be used in exigent circumstances, not to attain offensive measures with wanton nuclear escalation, but they feature prominently in Russian thinking on escalation management, and in nuclear warfighting roles at the level of regional war (NSNW), or large-scale war (NSNW+SNF).

Paragraph 10 on unacceptable damage is a simplification. It should be “up to and including” unacceptable damage, which is the thinking on the damage assigned to be inflicted by strategic nuclear forces in a retaliatory strike. That is not the story for other forms of nuclear employment, especially with non-strategic nuclear weapons. The bulk of what is known in Russian mil debates/discourse on damage levels focuses on deterrent damage, ranging from reversible effects to unacceptable damage. Most Russian military thought is currently debating tailored and limited, or calibrated, forms of damage – not unacceptable damage. Note Paragraph 15 does a better job discussing this than p.10 in points В and Г by stating that nuclear deterrence is adaptable to military threats, will be uncertain for the adversary in terms of scale, time, and place of use. Sounds very flexible and scalable, not quite the absolute predetermined threshold of unacceptable damage.

Paragraph 11 claims that sderzhivanye takes place continuously in peacetime, during a threatened period of aggression, and in war time up until nuclear weapons are used. That’s true, but not true. Sderzhivanye yes, but intra-war deterrence continues once nuclear weapons are used as ustrashenie or prinuzhdenie. That is because when nuclear weapons are used demonstratively, or threatened, it is ustrashenie (fear inducement), and when they are used to compel an adversary either in a limited fashion via single or grouped strikes, or for war fighting purposes, it is prinuzhdenie.

Paragraph 17 on conditions for use of nuclear weapons. The phrasing pegs nuclear use to when nuclear weapons are used against Russia and its allies, or conventional weapons in the event ‘when the very existence of the state is under threat.’ That of course is an ambiguous trigger open to Russian political leadership’s interpretation, but it is a restatement of the long established formulation in military doctrine. Comments on sub-sections for paragraph 19, which lists conditions under which nuclear use is possible:

  1. Point а speaks to launch on warning, which codifies what Putin has been saying for some years now. This is one of the supposed reveals of this document. Nothing exciting here, and also, there’s is not commitment to this posture since it discusses the possibility of nuclear use without any confirmation that this is indeed how Russia will respond if it has confirmation of launch. 
  2. Point б  speaks about retaliation in the event nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction are used – unclear how weapons of mass destruction are defined, some Russian military writing posits conventional capabilities as having strategic effects similar to nuclear weapons. Would this include, or not include, a massed cruise missile strike against critical economic and military infrastructure? What about weapons based on ‘new physical principles’ which are mentioned in the military doctrine as having effects similar to those of nuclear weapons? Likely the formulation under p.17 speaks to this – ‘when the very existence of the state is under threat.’
  3. Point в is an attempt to deter cyber attacks on NC3. It mentions adversary actions affecting critically important infrastructure, state and military, which if disabled could disrupt retaliation by Russian nuclear forces.. The challenge is that it does not say strategic nuclear forces, so when picturing the panoply of units and critical infrastructure related to Russia’s strategic and non-strategic nuclear arsenal which could be attacked or destroyed in the course of combat operations this raises big questions. Hopefully that is just lazy language, which is commonplace throughout this document.

In general I found this to be an over simplified and poorly written document. This policy does clarify some useful points, the ones that were least in question that is, but it is full of holes and brings the information together incompletely. Specific attention paid to the role of non-strategic nuclear weapons, which are mentioned in the foundations of state policy in the field of naval operations until 2030, are missing here. My favorite is paragraph 23 which states that the national security council formulates the ‘military policy in the area of nuclear deterrence’, undoubtedly that is a series of documents that will not be published anytime soon.

In conclusion, I did not discover anything especially revelatory in this text.

Here are some Russian definitions, especially from the encyclopedia of RVSN, that analysts should explore in studying this subject matter.


Сдерживание ядерное
Согласованная система действий ядерных сил, направленная на недопущение агрессии, либо, в случае её развязывания, на предотвращение (недопущение, прекращение) эскалации военного конфликта или войны; одна из мер силового характера сдерживания стратегического, основанная на уникальных свойствах ядерного оружия.

С.я. осуществляется в мирное и в военное время на всех этапах подготовки и ведения военных действий вплоть до массированного применения ядерного и других видов оружия массового поражения в крупно-масштабной войне. Осуществление С.я. основывается на принципах либо «недопущения победы», либо «обесценивания победы» («неотвратимости возмездия»).

С.я. осуществляется в рамках известных форм применения ядерных сил различными способами и их сочетанием. В основу любого из способов положено поддержание боевой готовности ядерных сил, обеспечивающее их применение в любых условиях обстановки в соответствии с планами. К основным способам применения ядерных сил при осуществлении С.я. относят: демонстрационные действия, демонстрационно-ударные и ударно-демонстрационные действия.

Сдерживание стратегическое
Согласованная система мер несилового и силового характера, предпринимаемых последовательно или одновременно одной стороной (субъектом, коалицией сторон) в отношении другой стороны (объекта, коалиции сторон) с целью удержания последней (последнего, последней) от каких-либо силовых действий, наносящих или могущих нанести ущерб стратегического масштаба первой (первому, первой). К числу таких силовых действий относятся: силовое давление или стремление к силовому давлению объекта на субъект, агрессия объекта или её подготовка в отношении субъекта, эскалация объектом военного конфликта. Осуществление С.с. основывается, как правило, на принципе «недопущения победы». При определённых условиях С.с. может основываться на принципе «обесценивания победы». С.с. направлено на стаби-лизацию военно-политической обстановки. В качестве объектов воздействия в ходе осуществления С.с. могут выступать военно-политическое руководство и общественность государства (коалиции государств) потенциального противника (агрессора).

В отличие от мер сдерживания военно-политического, предпринимаемых государством (коалицией государств) для предотвращения агрессии, угрозы мирному развитию или жизненно важным интересам, меры С.с. предпринимаются субъектом постоянно, как в мирное, так и в военное время, и не только для предотвращения каких-либо силовых действий, наносящих или могущих нанести ущерб стратегического масштаба субъекту, но и для удержания объекта в определённых рамках, а также для деэскалации воен-ного конфликта.

К мерам несилового характера относятся: политические, дипломатические, правовые, экономические, идеологические, научно-технические и другие. Они проводятся постоянно федеральными органами исполнительной власти РФ в тесном взаимодействии с международными организациями, усиливаются на этапе зарождения, развития и в ходе разрешения различных конфликтов (военных, боевых действий – вплоть до массированного применения ядерного и других видов оружия массового поражения в крупномасштабной войне). Эти меры осуществляются с целью достижения успеха субъекта при ведении (обеспечении) переговоров с субъектом по дипломатическим каналам; выполнении мероприятий по укреплению межгосударственных связей; выходе из международных договорных обязательств или их разрыве и др.

К мерам силового характера относятся: разведывательно-информационные действия; демонстрация военного присутствия и военной силы; действия по обеспечению безопасности экономической деятельности государства; миротворческие действия; действия по ПВО, охране и защите государственной границы в воздушном пространстве, на суше и на море; военное присутствие; демонстрационный перевод войск (сил) с мирного на военное время (приведение их в высшие степени боевой готовности); существенное наращивание (развертывание) группировок войск (сил); демонстрационная подготовка выделенных сил и средств (в том числе оснащенных ядерным оружием) для нанесения ударов; нанесение или угроза нанесения одиночных ударов (в том числе ядерных) и др. Они осуществляются Вооружёнными Силами РФ и другими войсками на всех этапах подготовки и ведения военных действий: в мирное время – в целях предотвращения угроз и недопущения агрессии; в военное – в целях предотвращения (недопущения) эскалации, или деэскалации, или скорейшего прекращения военного конфликта на выгодных для России условиях, вплоть до массированного применения ядерного и других видов оружия массового поражения в крупномасштабной войне.

В мирное время С.с. осуществляется в интересах предотвращения угроз и недопущения агрессии (каких-либо наносящих ущерб стратегического масштаба действий) в отношении субъекта, в военное – в интересах предотвращения (недопущения, прекращения) эскалации (или в интересах деэскалации) военного конфликта или в интересах его как можно более раннего прекращения на выгодных для субъекта условиях.

В нынешних условиях и на ближнесрочную перспективу Россия вынуждена при принятии мер силового характера С.с. опираться в основном на ядерные силы в целом и на РВСН как их важнейшей составной части – в частности.

В условиях зарождения, развития и разрешения межгосударственных (межкоалиционных, одно- и многосторонних) конфликтов различного характера С.с. осуществляется, как правило, сочетанием несиловых и силовых мер в разных сферах деятельности государства: политической, экономической, правовой, дипломатической, идеологической, военной и др., а в условиях военного конфликта – с опорой (превалированием) на военную силу, с обязательным соблюдением двух основных принципов: адекватности реакции и непровоцирования угроз или агрессии.

С.с. осуществляется по замыслу и под управлением высшего военно-политического руководства государства (непосредственным руководством Верховного главного командования) как в мирное, так и в во-енное время.

Сдерживающие действия Ракетных войск стратегического назначения
Специфическая форма применения Ракетных войск стратегического назначения в условиях мирного времени и войны с применением обычных средств поражения; организованное действие военных формирований РВСН и группировки РВСН в целом для решения задач сдерживания противника (см. Сдерживание военно-политическое, Сдерживание стратегическое). Включает: боевое дежурство, демонстрационные действия, демонстрационно-ударные действия и др. Основным содержанием боевого дежурства является поддержание постоянной готовности частей и соединений РВСН к немедленному проведению пусков ракет в соответствии с приказами (сигналами) Верховного Главнокомандующего. Основное содержание демонстрационных действий заключается в демонстрации противнику элементов изменения состояния войск (сил), определяющих их готовность выполнять боевые задачи. Основным содержанием демонстрационно-ударных действий является преднамеренная демонстрация противнику непосредственной подготовки войск (сил) к нанесению и нанесение ракетно-огневых и ракетно-ядерных ударов. Специфическая особенность С.д. заключается в преднамеренном открытом характере (при соответствующих условиях военно-политической обстановки) заблаговременно объявленных противнику мероприятий по их подготовке и осуществлению.

С.д. РВСН начали практически осуществляться в конце 50-х гг. прошлого столетия с постановкой на боевое дежурство первых ракетных полков. Ярким примером С.д. РВСН явилась операция «Анадырь», осуществленная ВС СССР в 1962. Наиболее интенсивно теория С.д. РВСН начала разрабатываться в 90-х гг. прошлого столетия в рамках теории сдерживания стратегического и сдерживания ядерного.

Сдерживание военно-политическое
Система мер военно-политического характера, предпринимаемых государством (их коалицией) с целью предотвращения угрозы агрессии или ее эскалации, а также угрозы жизненно важным интересам на основе косвенного, опосредованного использования военной силы в качестве политического средства убеждения противника отказаться от агрессии под угрозой неприемлемых для него последствий в ответных действиях, приводящих к срыву планируемых военно-политических целей. Главным средством С.в.-п. является военная мощь государства. Меры сдерживания политического характера опираются на военную силу как на свою материальную основу, а военная сила имеет политическую направленность. Единство материально-силовой и политической составляющих является базисом С.в.-п. Первая составляющая определяется способностью ВС нанести противнику неприемлемый ущерб в любых условиях. Вторая составляющая обусловлена твердой, решительной позицией политического руководства государства в выборе адекватной меры вооруженного возмездия в случае развязывания агрессии.

Особую роль с середины XX века в межгосударственных отношениях играет сдерживание ядерное, которое провозглашено (ноябрь 1995) основой военной политики России в ядерной сфере. Ядерное сдерживание является формой С.в.-п, средством которого выступает угроза применения ядерного оружия (угроза ядерного возмездия). Система мер, направленных на предотвращение реализации угрозы агрессии, а также ее эскалации путем убеждения противника (агрессора) в том, что на его агрессивную акцию будут осуществлены ответные действия с использованием ядерного оружия, приводящие к неприемлемым для противника последствиям.

По масштабу угрозы, реализацию которой прихо¬дится сдерживать, выделяют сдерживание стратеги-ческое. Цель стратегического сдерживания – недопу¬щение силового давления и агрессии против РФ и ее союзников – в мирное время, а также деэскалация аг¬рессии и прекращение военных действий на приемле-мых для РФ условиях в военное время. Основу страте¬гического сдерживания составляет способность стратегических сил сдерживания в ответных действиях нанести ущерб, размеры которого поставили бы под сомнение достижение целей возможной агрессии (неприемлемый или сдерживающий ущерб, т.е. ущерб, обладающий сдерживающим эффектом).

Russian Strategy for Escalation Management: Key Concepts, Debates, and Players in Military Thought

CNA’s Russia Studies Program recently produced two reports that discuss in depth the main concepts comprising Russia’s strategy for escalation management or intrawar deterrence, their origins in military thought, and the current state of concept development. The first is titled Evolution of Key Concepts, covering essential deterrence concepts, current stratagems for escalation management, the role of nuclear and nonnuclear weapons, types of damage, views on targeting, etc. The second, key debates and the players within Russian military thought, provides an intellectual road map to the conversation among Russian military analysts, strategists, and the players involved. To better socialize the findings from these research products I’ve decided to post their respective abstracts here, though I suggest those interested download the reports from the CNA Research site.

The first report on evolution of key concepts assesses the evolution in Russian military strategy on the question of escalation management, or intra-war deterrence, across the conflict spectrum from peacetime to nuclear war. Russia’s overarching approach to deterrence, called “strategic deterrence,” represents a holistic concept for shaping adversary decision making by integrating military and non-military measures. Key concepts in Russian military thinking on deterrence include deterrence by fear inducement, deterrence through the limited use of military force, and deterrence by defense. These approaches integrate a mix of strategic nonnuclear and nuclear capabilities, depending on the context and conflict scope. In a conflict, Russian escalation management concepts can be roughly divided into periods of demonstration, adequate damage infliction, and retaliation. Russian strategic culture emphasizes cost imposition over denial for deterrence purposes, believing in forms of calibrated damage as a vehicle by which to manage escalation. This so-called deterrent damage is meant to be dosed, applied in an iterative manner, with associated targeting and damage levels. Despite acquiring nonnuclear means of deterrence, Russia continues to rely on nuclear weapons to deter and prosecute regional and large-scale conflicts, seeing these as complementary means within a comprehensive strategic deterrence system. The paper summarizes debates across authoritative Russian military-analytical literature beginning in 1991 and incorporates translated graphics and tables. The concluding section discusses implications for US and allied forces.

Russian Strategy for Escalation Management – Main Concepts

The second report on key debates and players offers an overview of the main debates in Russian military thought on deterrence and escalation management in the post-Cold War period, based on authoritative publications. It explores discussions by Russian military analysts and strategists on “regional nuclear deterrence,” namely the structure of a two-level deterrence system (regional and global); debates on “nonnuclear deterrence” and the role of strategic conventional weapons in escalation management; as well as writings on the evolution of damage concepts toward ones that reflect damage that is tailored to the adversary. Russian military thinking on damage informs the broader discourse on ways and means to shift an opponent’s calculus in an escalating conflict. The report concludes with summaries of recent articles that reflect ongoing discourse on the evolution of Russia’s strategic deterrence system and key trends in Russian military thought on escalation management.

Russian Strategy for Escalation Management – Key Debates and Players in Military Thought