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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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


Russia’s armed forces under Gerasimov, the man without a doctrine

Reposting this Riddle piece that I hope some of you will find of interest, thanks to Riddle for getting it out so quickly – and no it was not an April fool’s article but the title worked.

Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, turns 65 this year and is likely to stay on as long as Sergei Shoigu remains minister of defense. Gerasimov looms large over the current era of Russian military reform and modernization, though both processes were initiated by his predecessor, Nikolai Makarov. During his tenure, the Russian military has also been bloodied in two conflicts, Ukraine and Syria, with the lessons learned subsequently integrated into exercises at home. Gerasimov is more the representative of Russian military officialdom than the author of any of its key doctrinal tenets, but under him the Russian armed forces have undergone noticeable improvements in capability, mobility, readiness, force structure, and combat experience.

Ironically, of the things Gerasimov has done to leave an imprint on the Russian armed forces, he is uniquely famous for something that he never authored, and which does not exist — namely, the “Gerasimov Doctrine.” In 2014 an erroneous belief of almost mythic proportions emerged in the Western press some Russia watchers; it centered on the notion that in February 2013, Gerasimov authored an article laying out the Russian military blueprint for actions in Ukraine and war with the West.

The “Gerasimov Doctrine” was a clever name coined by Mark Galeotti on his blog, though he never meant it to be taken literally that Gerasimov had a doctrine. In 2018 Galeotti published a mea culpa rebuffing any notion that Gerasimov had a doctrine, given the extent to which this term “acquired a destructive life of its own.” Unfortunately like a creature in a horror film it escaped, growing stronger, running amok in political and military circles, and forcing years of efforts among Russia analysts to beat it into submission. That effort proved a Sisyphean task;  entire theories subsequently emerged proclaiming a Russian “chaos theory” of political warfare against the West, based on the erroneous belief that the Chief of the Russian General Staff is in a position to dictate Russian political strategy in the first place.

Military strategy, and operational level planning in conflict, support the strategy set by political leadership, but they are not one and the same. Strategy in a particular conflict is quite different from political strategy writ large. The military is a stakeholder, offering inputs into Russian political strategy, but it does not determine it. The deciding votes sit in the Kremlin. Military writing is quite useful for reflections of the thinking amongst political leadership, but what the military plans to do doctrinally, or debates doing, is not necessarily representative of political designs. It is the job of a military to plan for all sorts of unlikely contingencies, and at the end of the day it is an expensive solution in a bureaucratic search for problems it might help solve.

The Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 led to a scramble for information on the Russian armed forces, its military thought, and its doctrine. At first, this yielded faddish terms and malformed interpretations. Over the years the “Gerasimov Doctrine” has become somewhat a professional joke among Russian military analysts, who see it as a litmus test separating those with bona fide expertise from the ever-growing field of self-proclaimed experts on Russian information or political warfare.

Gerasimov's typical look
resting Gerasimov face

That infamous 2013 piece, titled the Value of Science in Prediction, was derived from Gerasimov’s annual speech at the Military Academy of Sciences, undoubtedly kluged together by a few officers into an article with a chart. Gerasimov laid out the general sentiments in Russian military thought on how the U.S. conducts political warfare via “color revolutions,” eventually backed by the employment of high precision weapons, with many of the observations derived from the Arab Spring.

That article represented the Russian military interpretation (or more correctly misinterpretation) of the U.S. approach to conducting regime change, combined with a bureaucratic argument designed to link the budget of the Russian armed forces, consuming trillions of rubles each year, to an external challenge defined largely as political.

In short, it was a kitchen sink of the salient inputs into Russian military thought at the time, summarizing the emerging trends in modern conflicts: wars are not acknowledged or declared when they start, asymmetric and non-military measures had grown relative to traditional military ones, the role of information warfare and irregular formations or proxies had grown in prominence, though high end conventional capabilities equally colored Russian military thinking, especially mass employment of precision guided weapons against a country’s critical infrastructure. Prior to Galeotti’s commentary, Gerasimov’s February 2013 article was completely ignored, and ironically, so were subsequent articles or speeches encapsulating further evolution in Russian military thought since 2013.

That line of thinking on the character of modern conflict has only further congealed under Gerasimov into what the Russian military has come to term “New Type Warfare.” This term represents the Russian view of how non-military instruments can affect a country’s information environment, internal political stability or economy, but are coordinated with conventional military capabilities that inflict strategic damage, such as long-range precision guided weapons and massed aerospace attack. Just last year Gerasimov restated this belief, alleging the U.S. has a ‘trojan horse’ strategy of sorts integrating political warfare and information warfare to mobilize the protest potential of the population, combined with precision strikes against critical infrastructure.

Given the almost complete absence of ‘deterrence by denial’ in Russian strategic thinking, doctrine has evolved around what Gerasimov has termed to be “active defense.” This is a set of preemptive nonmilitary and military measures, deterrence and escalation management approaches based on cost imposition. The Russian armed forces are geared towards being able to preemptively neutralize an emerging threat or deter by showing the ability and willingness to inflict unacceptable consequences on the potential adversary. As Gerasimov said, “acting quickly we must preempt our adversary with preventive measures, identify his vulnerabilities in a timely manner, and create the threat that unacceptable damage will be inflicted.” In practice this includes a range of calibrated damage, from single and grouped conventional strikes against economic or military infrastructure, to massed employment of precision guided weapons, followed by non-strategic nuclear weapons, and at the outer edges theater nuclear warfare.

Much hay has been made of Russian military thought on political or information warfare, but Gerasimov has always made clear that the thrust of military strategy is conventional and nuclear warfare. Use of military power remains decisive. Confrontation in other spheres, where non-military measures dominate, is handled by other ‘strategies’ and organizations with their own resources. The military sees itself as coordinating the two types of measures, as opposed to overseeing the various non-military lines of effort.

Gerasimov shooting things
Better reflection of military thought on preference between nonmilitary and military measures

The Russian military response can be seen in the creation of inter-service combat grouping in each strategic direction, with relatively high readiness, and their ability to move across the Russian landmass to the point of conflict as tested in the Vostok 2018 Strategic Maneuvers. Mobility, readiness, and the ability of different services to work together grew in emphasis under Gerasimov’s tenure, along with attempts to engender flexibility at the tactical level, or what Gerasimov has termed the ability of commanders to come up with “non-standard solutions.” The Russian armed forces have also begun to articulate concepts for future expeditionary operations, called “limited actions,” and institutionalizing the experience in Syria.

Russia’s military continues to invest in capabilities and operational concepts to conduct non-contact warfare, able to engage with standoff weaponry, based on real-time intelligence and reconnaissance. The latest State Armament Program 2018-2027 places emphasis on quality and quantity of precision guided weapons, plus enabling technologies for recon-strike and recon-fire loops. Too much has been made of the discourse on non-military means, when in practice the Russian military has bought a tremendous amount of hard conventional military power and spent considerably on nuclear modernization. Since 2011 one could count close to 500 tactical aircraft, over 600 helicopters, to more than 16 S-400 regiments along with countless air defense systems for the ground forces, 13 Iskander brigades, thousands of armored vehicles, ballistic missile and multipurpose nuclear powered submarines, i.e. the list is extensive. Indeed, roughly 50% of the sizable Russian defense budget is spent on weapons procurement, modernization and R&D.

Despite the advancements in the Russian armed forces, doctrinal deterrence by defense is still seen as cost prohibitive, unattractive compared to approaches that actively limit damage to the homeland or the armed forces. Hence key capabilities, such as long-range precision guided weapons, have been integrated into strategic operations in the initial period of war that are just as offensive as they are defensive in nature. Gerasimov has served during a critical time between the 2014 military doctrine, and a forthcoming one, where some of the more relevant doctrinal developments in Russian military strategy have been in the application of limited force for the purposes of escalation management and war termination.

The Role of Nuclear Forces in Russian Maritime Strategy

This text is from a chapter published in the edited volume: THE FUTURE OF THE UNDERSEA DETERRENT: A GLOBAL SURVEY by Australian National University, titled The Role of Nuclear Forces in Russian Maritime Strategy. I highly recommend you read the book, as there are many wonderful sections on other countries. Also the footnotes and references can be found there, as I’ve yet to figure out how to port them into this type of medium.


Although Russia is one of the world’s preeminent continental powers, Russian leaders have historically rendered considerable attention to sea power. Through sea power, Moscow could establish Russia as a great power in international politics outside of its own region. Sea power served to defend Russia’s expansive borders from expeditionary naval powers like Britain or the United States, and to support the Russian Army’s campaigns. With the coming of the atomic age, the Soviet Navy took on new significance, arming itself for nuclear warfighting and strategic deterrence missions. The Soviet Union deployed a capable nuclear-armed submarine and surface combatant force to counter American naval dominance during the Cold War. The modern Russian Navy retains legacy missions from the Cold War, but has taken on new roles in line with the General Staff’s evolved thinking on nuclear escalation, while adapting to the inexorable march of technological change that shapes military affairs.

The Russian Navy has four principal missions: (i) defense of Russian maritime approaches and littorals (via layered defense and damage limitation); (ii) executing long-range precision strikes with conventional or non-strategic nuclear weapons; (iii) nuclear deterrence by maintaining a survivable second-strike capability at sea aboard Russian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs); and (iv) naval diplomacy, or what may be considered to be status projection. Naval diplomacy in particular rests with the surface combatant force, chiefly the retinue of inherited Soviet capital ships (cruisers and destroyers), which while ageing remain impressive in appearance. Meanwhile, the Russian Navy, like the Soviet Navy before it, is much more capable beneath the waves, arguably the only near-peer to the United States in the undersea domain.

Regionally, Russian policy documents convey a maritime division in terms of the near-sea zone, the far-sea zone, and the ‘world ocean,’ while functionally the Russian General Staff thinks in terms of theatres of military operations. The Navy is naturally tasked with warfighting and deterrence in the naval theatre of military operations, defending maritime approaches, and supporting the continental theatre. Russia’s navy remains a force focused on countering the military capabilities of the United States, and deterring other naval powers with conventional and nuclear weapons. Over time, it has also acquired an important role in Russian thinking on escalation management, and the utility of non-strategic nuclear weapons in modern conflict.

Continuity in Naval Strategy: The “Bastion” concept endures

Bastion Defense

Russian naval strategy has proven to be evolutionary, taking its intellectual heritage from the last decade of the Cold War. Nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence missions are deeply rooted in concepts and capabilities inherited from the Soviet Union; namely, the bastion deployment concept for ballistic submarine deployment, together with the more salient currents in Soviet military thought derived from the late 1970s and early 1980s, being the period of intellectual leadership under Marshal Ogarkov, Chief of Soviet General Staff at that time.

Strategic deterrence and nuclear warfighting in theatre proved anchoring missions for the Soviet Navy during the Cold War. In the 1970s-80s it had become widely accepted that the Soviet Union adopted a “withholding strategy,” as opposed to an offensive strategy to challenge US sea lines of communication. The Soviet Northern and Pacific Fleets would deploy ballistic missile submarines into launch points in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, protected by attack submarines, and a surface force geared around anti-submarine warfare (ASW). US analysts termed these protected ballistic missile submarine operating areas “bastions,” and the name stuck.

The merits of the strategy were always questionable, since the Soviet Union was geographically short on unconstrained access to the sea, unlike the United States, while having a plethora of land available for land-based missiles. However, the Soviet Navy deployed a sizable ballistic missile submarine force (more than 60 strong) as part of a nuclear triad. Defending these bastions to maintain an effective survivable deterrent drove shipbuilding requirements for a surface combatant force, and a large submarine force to fend off penetrating US attack submarines. Consequently, ballistic missile submarines proved the linchpin in Soviet naval procurement, and capital ships were designed to defend the SSBN bastions rather than simply enhance anti-carrier warfare or forward strike missions.

Although from a competitive strategy standpoint it might have made sense for Russia to walk away from SSBNs, leveraging road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as a cheaper survivable nuclear deterrent, this was not the direction elected by the Russian General Staff. Russia’s military clings to a sea-based nuclear deterrent that is incredibly expensive, arguably indefensible from adversary counterforce attacks, and makes little strategic sense in light of the country’s current nuclear force structure. Russia’s current ballistic missile submarine force includes three Delta III-class (only one of which is operational), six Delta IV-class and three of the newer Borei-class SSBNs, for a total of ten operational SSBNs.  The likely deployed warhead count at sea is somewhere in the range of 600–800. The bulk of the force, nine submarines, are stationed in the Northern Fleet, while three submarines are currently assigned to the Pacific. The Borei-class SSBN program, together with the newer Bulava SLBM, is the single most expensive item in Russia’s State Armament Program. Russia is set to procure eight to ten Borei-class submarines by the early 2020s, first phasing out the ageing Delta III-class, and subsequently the Delta IV-class.

The problem with this strategy is that in the 1990s the Soviet Navy melted away, reducing in strength from approximately 270 nuclear-powered submarines in the late 1980s to about 50 or so today, at an operational readiness that likely cuts those numbers further in half. Similarly, the large surface combatant force has declined precipitously, transitioning to a green-water navy, with limited ASW capability. Russia’s submarine force is less than twenty per cent the size of the late Soviet Union’s, and the surface combatant force is much smaller, to say nothing of maritime patrol aviation. Russia’s focus on the Arctic is driven in part by a desire to better secure this vast domain from aerospace attack, and provide the infrastructure to better defend SSBN bastions, especially as passage becomes passable for surface combatants.

It is worth noting that Russian submarine operations have re-covered after declining precipitously in the early 2000s. Since then, the Russian Navy has been buoyed by a sustained level of spending on training and operational readiness, military reforms leading to almost complete contract staffing in the Navy, along with procurement of new platforms. Senior Russian commanders frequently issue pronouncements about increased time at sea, training, and patrols, though a high operational tempo eventually inflicts a cost to readiness.

Russia continues to modernize its existing ballistic missile submarines, and field new ones, as part of a legacy strategy inherited from the Soviet Union. Continuity in the “bastion” strategy may provide the Navy with an argument for spending on Russia’s general-purpose naval forces, more so than it provides a survivable nuclear deterrent. Comparatively, Russia now fields a large force of road-mobile ICBMs, including RS-24 YARS (SS-27 Mod 2), and Topol-M (SS-27 Mod 1), with two regiments still upgrading to this missile. Despite the fact that a growing share of Russian nuclear forces is becoming road-mobile, reducing the need for sea-launched ballistic missiles, the Navy retains a prominent strategic deterrence mission, enshrined in key documents outlining national security policy in the maritime domain.

New Roles: Non-Nuclear Deterrence and Escalation Management

Russian ship launch

Relatively unchanged operational concepts for deploying SSBNs disguise tectonic shifts in Russian thinking about nuclear escalation, and the role of naval forces in strategies aimed at escalation management and war termination. There are profound changes occurring at present in Russian military strategy stemming from the debates in Russian military thought as far back as the Nikolai Ogarkov period of 1977–1984. In the 1980s, the Soviet General Staff began focusing on the rising importance of long-range precision-guided weapons, particularly cruise missiles, and their ability to attack critical objects throughout the depth of the adversary’s territory. Ogarkov, the Chief of the Soviet General Staff at the time, advocated for the belief that precision conventional weapons could be assigned missions similar to that of tactical nuclear weapons from the 1960s-1970s. These were the fountainhead of present-day Russian discourse on non-contact warfare, the dominance of precision-guided weapons on the battlefield, and their ability to decide the conflict during an initial period of war.

Observing modern conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s, the Russian General Staff came to adopt the need to establish “non-nuclear deterrence,” premised on the strategic effect of conventional weapons, and the consequent shift of non-strategic nuclear weapons into the role of escalation management. Nuclear weapons originally meant for warfighting at sea, and in Europe, were hence valued for their ability to shape adversary decision-making, by fear inducement, calibrated escalation, and management of an escalating conventional conflict. Non-strategic nuclear weapons were subsequently incorporated into strategic operations designed to inflict tailored or prescribed damage to an adversary at different thresholds of conflict.

The Soviet Navy was never designed to fulfill this vision, but the modern Russian Navy seeks to centre its role along these doctrinal lines as part of joint operational concepts called strategic operations. Soviet naval forces retained a strong nuclear warfighting mission, seeing tactical nuclear weapons as a critical offset to US naval superiority, and contributing land attack nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to general plans for theatre nuclear warfare in Europe. However, by acquiring the ability to conduct precision strikes on land with cruise missiles, along with other types of multi-role weapons, the Russian Navy could now contribute to both the conventional deterrence and the non-strategic nuclear employment mission.

Official statements by Russian military leaders, and doctrinal documents, emphasize the importance of precision-guided weapons in the Russian Navy, and the belief that under “escalating conflict conditions, demonstrating the readiness and resolve to employ non-strategic nuclear weapons will have a decisive deterrent effect.” According to different estimates, Russia retains roughly 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons, a significant percentage of which appear assigned for employment in the maritime domain, either by the Russian Navy or land-based forces supporting the naval theatre of military operations. The means of delivery are decidedly dual capable, with the same types of missiles being able to deliver conventional or nuclear payloads with fairly high accuracy.

Russian strategic operations envision conventional strikes, single or grouped, against critical economic, military, or political objects. These may be followed by nuclear demonstration, limited nuclear strikes, and theatre nuclear warfare. To be clear, theatre nuclear warfare is not new to Russian nuclear doctrine, but was always the expected outcome of a large-scale conflict with NATO during the Cold War. For much of the 1960s through to the 1980s, the Soviet Union anticipated at best a two to ten-day time window for the conventional phase of the conflict. However, unlike the nuclear weapons of the Cold War, precise means of delivery, together with low-yield warheads, have rendered nuclear weapons more usable for warfighting purposes with a substantially reduced chance for collateral damage. Scalable employment of conventional and nuclear weapons leverage the coercive power of escalation, whereby strategic conventional strikes make the actor more credible in employing nuclear weapons in order to manage escalation. In the context of an unfolding conflict, these weapons are not necessarily meant for victory, but to break adversary resolve and terminate the conflict.

The Russian Navy, although limited in the number of missiles it can bring to bear due to constrained magazine depth, retains a prominent role in the execution of these missions, particularly in the early phases of conflict. In this respect, submarines like the Yasen-class, and others able to deliver nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to distant shores, should be considered as important elements of sea-based nuclear deterrence at a different phase of conflict, and perhaps no less consequential than SSBNs.

Again please check out the edited volume for other great works on undersea nuclear deterrence, by other authors, and for references.

The Russian Navy in 2019 (year in review)

Posting here the contents of an article recently published in the March 2020 edition of the USNI Proceedings, titled A Year of Challenging Growth for Russia’s Navy.

The Russian Navy had an interesting 2019, and while it did not turn out to be the year the service hoped for in terms of procuring major combatants, there certainly were activities and exercises of note, as well as incidents that drew their fair share of negative publicity.

On the exercise front, August’s Ocean Shield 2019 proved to be Russia’s largest naval exercise in 30 years, followed by a sizable sortie of Northern Fleet submarines in October. The reports of the death of Russia’s submarine force, which occasionally crop up in Western media, appear to have been greatly exaggerated. A small task force, led by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, circumnavigated the globe between February and August. The Russian Navy hopes such trips and the growing number of multinational exercises with countries like China will become regular occurrences.

The most prominent incident at sea occurred in June, when a Russian Udaloy-class destroyer passed within 100 feet of the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) during a helicopter recovery operation in the Philippine Sea. Judging by how 2020 has begun, that 2019 episode is unlikely to prove to be an isolated incident.

Admiral Vinogradov in operation yolo

The year’s most dramatic news came in July, when a fire killed 14 crewmen on board Russia’s special-purpose “nuclear deep-sea station.” AS-31, nicknamed Losharik, is a deep-diving nuclear-powered submarine that belongs to the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research (GUGI)—that is, Russia’s “other navy” that conducts special projects. It appears a fire broke out in the submarine’s battery compartment while it was docking with its mothership, BS-64 Podmoskovye, leading to an explosion. Losharik was saved, but much of the crew, consisting of senior officers (captains first rank), perished.

Russia’s unluckiest ship, the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov, continued its historical streak of incidents and accidents when it caught fire in December while pierside undergoing repairs. The Kuznetsov had been damaged in 2018 when the drydock it was in, PD-50, sank dramatically, almost taking the carrier with it. Not only did Russia lose its only drydock in the Northern Fleet capable of hosting the Kuznetsov, a crane from PD-50 fell onto the flight deck, causing further damage. The December 2019 fire appears to have caused minimal damage, much to the disappointment of many analysts and defense officials in Russia who have come to see the ship as an albatross around the Navy’s neck. Despite everything the carrier has endured, many doubt if it will ever return to service as anything other than a floating museum.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier on fire in Murmansk, Russia

At first glance procurement in 2019 appears to have disappointed, but the lack of tonnage being launched disguises some positive shipbuilding trends for the navy. Russia’s defense industry turned over one improved-Kilo-class submarine for the Pacific Fleet, and launched a second, out of a total order of six expected to be built. The Oscar-II nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine (SSGN) Omsk appears to have completed its overhaul and been restored to service. Several corvettes and guided-missile boats were launched, including the: Vasily Bykov–class Dmitry Rogachev, Karakurt-class Sovetsk, and Buyan-M Ingushetia. It appears that two previously inactive amphibious warfare ships (LSTs) were repaired for the Black Sea Fleet. Meanwhile others were undergoing overhaul, including the Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine Vepr, the diesel-electric Kilo-class submarine Alrosa, and the frigate Neustrashimyy.

The list of submarines that had been expected to enter service in 2019, but were pushed to 2020 includes the first Borei-A nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine Knyaz Vladimir, the Yasen-M SSGN Kazan, and the new diesel-electric Lada-class submarine Kronshtadt. Of these, the Knyaz Vladimir is still expected early in 2020, while the Kazan appears to have a number of issues discovered in spring 2019 that need addressing; she may not enter service in 2020 at all.

Among the navy’s procurement successes was news that the Belgorod, a heavily modified Oscar-class SSGN intended for GUGI’s use, was launched as expected in 2019. She is likely the longest submarine currently in existence, intended to deploy Poseidon (also known as “Status 6”) nuclear torpedoes and various unmanned undersea systems. Meanwhile, another Yasen-class submarine, the K-573 Novosibirsk, quietly left the slipway at the end of the year, two years faster than its cousin Kazan.


Among surface combatants there was disappointing news. The second Admiral Gorshkov–class frigate, Admiral Kasatonov, failed to complete trials and enter service. The same was true for the new heavy corvette Gremyaschy, and the large LST Petr Morgynov. On the one hand, these delays seem consistent with the country’s shipbuilding industry’s longstanding pattern of missing deadlines. On the other, 2019’s delays were mainly with ships expected to lead serial production in their classes and are expected to be shorter than in the past (such as the notorious periods of dolgostroi—Russian for “unfinished”— when ships languished for years awaiting completion). In fact, many of the ships in question have already undergone some testing, sea trials, and live-fire exercises. Consequently, 2020 may prove to be a big year for Russian ship acquisition.

There was other news of note, as two more Admiral Gorshkov–class frigates were laid down, along with modified Ivan Gren–class LSTs and another pair of improved-Kilos for the Pacific Fleet. The Ministry of Defense also signed contracts for two more Yasen-M submarines, bringing the total expected to nine, and two additional diesel-electric Ladas. The Navy announced its intention to lay down two large amphibious assault ships (LHDs) in 2020, with expected displacement of about 20,000 tons. Finally, the 37-year-old guided-missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, was spared a much-debated retirement.

Moskva 121
Slava-class Moskva

Despite ongoing delays and complications in what is Russia’s worst performing defense-industrial sector, the Ministry of Defense continued to spend on naval procurement. Russia’s total annual modernization, repair, and research budget is almost 1.5 trillion rubles (almost $60 billion in PPP). Russia’s military expenditure remained flat in 2019, but its purchasing power still equals perhaps $180 billion. The past year demonstrated that constraints on the Russian Navy remain tethered to industrial capacity, technical, and operational limitations, rather than financial resources.

Originally published in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Reprinted with permission.