Vostok 2018 Day 4 (September 14)

Vostok Day 4

Most of the exercises are taking place at Tsugol and Telemba, but there was word today of various live fire events from a few of the other ranges. Elements of 5th CAA are at Bikinskiy, and the air force is doing most of its bombing runs at Mukhor-Kondui. More word from the two fleets, the Northern Fleet is exercising in the Bering Sea, while the Pacific Fleet has launched a surface action group together with support ships and a number of smaller vessels. Less news from the airborne on this day, but some interesting simulations among air defense forces, CBRN troops, and engineer units. Across the ranges where most of the forces are staged the day was taken up by artillery and MLRS fires, together with combat maneuvers by motor rifle battalions.

VKS Aerospace Forces – At Tusgol, Russia employed A-50U (AWACS system) in conjunction with Mig-31BM, Su-35S, and Su-30SMs conducting combat air patrols and simulating intercepts. Meanwhile at Mukhor-Kondui, another  range with targets for the air force, Russia’s air force conducted several air strikes with mostly unguided munitions. Including about 30 aircraft consisting of Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-24M, and Su-25s. Their target was a column of enemy armor and artillery on the march. Coordinates and targeting relayed by Su-24MP.

Su-25s about to fire unguided rockets (Mukhor-Kondui)


Followed by bombing passes from Su-30SM and Su-24 bombers


Some word on the earlier air strike with cruise missiles, IZ reported it as 4xTu-95MS and 6xTu-22M3 participating. The Tu-95MS flight in the first two days of the exercise clearly cut through the Alaska air identification zone for the United States, as F-22s were sent up to greet them. The need for air refueling during this flight now makes sense since they seemingly made a large lap before firing missiles at the target range.

F-22 and Tu-95MS.JPG

VDV Airborne – Seems they conducted an airborne drop of one battalion, together with a heliborne assault with soldiers repelling. I honestly can’t say if this took place on the 14th, or if the photos are from the 13th. Part of the problem is some nice people seem to have taken down the Russian MoD website making it a bit difficult to compare announcements and images from the two days.

airborne repelling.jpg

Eastern MD – CBRN troops simulated an emergency chemical cleanup whereby several railcars carrying dangerous/toxic chemicals spilled their load, presumably onto the roadway and the surrounding area. Supposedly about 1,500 CBRN troops, and 300 pieces of equipment are taking part in the exercises, using RHM-6 chemical detector systems, and RPM-2 radiological detectors. Engineer units also simulated a natural and/or man-made disaster, testing their ability to manage flooding, evacuation of the local population, dealing with unexploded ordnance, etc. About 350 soldiers listed for this one, with 80 pieces of equipment including excavators, cranes, floating transports, etc.

At Telemba range, Col Tikhonov, commander of 76th Air Defense division, highlighted the use of air defense targets designed to simulate small radar profiles, i.e. low observation aircraft and cruise missiles. Not only did they use the typical dummy missiles, and conventional targets, but they wanted to replicate a large scale aerospace attack with cruise missiles. The addition of targets with small radar cross sections seems new  compared to previous exercises.

At Tsugol there was a sizable artillery and MLRS live fire exercise, different types of self-propelled and towed artillery involved, together with BM-21 and BM-27 MLRS.

2s3 firing.jpg

Tsugol BM-27 firing.JPG

At Bikinskyi range, in Khabarovsk, a motor rifle unit of the 5th CAA stopped an advancing opposing force. Air defense units assigned to them, including ZSU-23-4 shilka, and Igla manpads, were fired to simulate defending against enemy air power. Artillery units with BM-21 Grad were similarly engaged in supporting the defending motor rifle formation. All together at this range they are listing 200 pieces of equipment, and 1700 troops. The number suggests that this is a battalion tactical group, with short range air defense and MLRS units assigned to it.

Elements of 5th CAA


This is rather small by the way, and I suspect at the end of all the announcements, if we add up all the troops listed as participating at the individual ranges over the period of these eight days, we’re going to have a hard time coming up not only with 300,000 but probably with anything approaching 50,000-70,000. Recalling we have 5 combined arms ranges, 4 air defense ranges, and two gulfs as the overall area of the exercise.

tanks at Tsugol.jpg

As an aside, there are several exercises, annual certification checks, and live fire drills going on in other military districts. At the same time, the Southern MD is hosting a sizable exercise with about 5,000 troops, including air defense, artillery, missile, and air force units. About 500 pieces of artillery, MLRS, listed, including BM-21, BM-27, BM-30, Tulpan 240mm mortar, Iskander-M, and several ships participating. About 20 fixed and rotary wing aviation involved in this exercise. Black Sea Fleet coastal defense forces (ground forces part of its army corps) held several smaller exercises of their own, simulating defense against diversionary forces attacking its bases. Dvornikov is placing emphasis on working out the recon-strike contour, command and control across his district for employing long range firepower, i.e. cruise missiles and the like at operational ranges. It seems he’s trying to bring experience from the Syrian war to the district.

Pacific Fleet – Several ships from the fleet escorted a Russian squadron near the Sea of Okhotsk. Varyag (Slava-class guided missile cruiser), together with Bystruy (Sov destroyer), two  Udaloy class large anti-submarine warfare ships and other smaller vessels served as escorts to Irtysh, a hospital ship, and several LSTs. The SAG seems to consist of 2x Udaloy, 1x Sov, and 1xSlava-class with a few support ships and LSTs. The exercise involved changing formation, arraying the surface action group for air defense, signaling, C2, and anti-submarine warfare. Ka-27 helicopters carried onboard the larger combatants also participated in the exercise. All together about 15-20 ships from the Pacific Fleet are listed for this exercise. I say 15-20 because Russian MoD announcements can’t agree whether it was 15 or 20, depending on which one you read.

Pacific SAG

Pacific Fleet.JPG

Northern Fleet – Elements of the Northern Fleet’s specialized Arctic brigade, which were dropped off two days ago on Chukotka, marched from their landing point to the Pacific coastline, i.e. they drove 270km on their articulated DT-10P vehicles over the course of two days. Along the way they practiced raiding enemy formations, some live fire drills, etc. This is an interesting exercise, noting that the small surface action group sent by the Northern Fleet has been traveling since August 8th, conducting multiple landings with both naval infantry and the arctic brigade detachment. The rest of the surface action group spent this day in the Bering Sea, practicing search and rescue operations. Their mission was to aid a ship in distress along the northern sea route. Kulakov (Udaloy-class) conducted search operations with its Ka-27 onboard helicopter, which then practiced evacuating individuals from the supposed vessel, together with a rescue party launched from the ship on small high speed boats. Meanwhile their large tug, Pamir, and the diesel-electric ice breaker Ilya Muromets, practiced firefighting at sea.

Kulakov launching Ka-27


Ilya Muromets firefighting together with the large ocean going tug


I would note that today the Russian MoD website appears to be down, and I would bet a good deal of money that it is likely due to a DDOS attack.

Some additional photos of note:

Russian and PLA forces coordinating something

lost in translation

The display signs at Tsugol – this seems to be the Chinese contingent section

best friends forever.jpg

Vostok 2018 – Day 3 (September 13)

Russian and Chinese leadership at Tsygol range opened up Phase 2 of the exercise with a large review of forces. The optics were clearly meant to rekindle the images of Zapad-1981, with numerous vehicles and infantry arrayed in parade formation on the grounds of the range. Indeed the display was quite large, and it seemed clear by the number of Chinese tanks, SPA, wheeled and other vehicles that probably about 3,000 troops and several hundred pieces of equipment did actually come to join Russia in these strategic maneuvers. Judging by the reporting, it is likely most of the drills during Vostok are taking place at Tsygol and Telemba, i.e. it’s quite difficult to picture Vostok being all that large as an exercise. Right now, going off of fairly little (but still a lot more honest than 300,000), around 50,000 seems a much more reasonable number of participants.

DigitalGlobe had good satellite photos of some of the parade grounds at the range and exercises for a different perspective.


Of course Putin came to look through binoculars, because it wouldn’t be a strategic exercise otherwise. Note unlike in Zapad, where Putin and Lukashenko were not together in the same command center, we can see the Chinese counterparts sitting further along the table.

Putin came.JPG

More photos can be found on BMPD. But here’s s sample of some of the gear Chinese brought with them.

Chinese tanks.jpg

Chinese forces.jpg

As this is the opening of Phase 2, most of the activity was characterized by VDV air assaults, VKS bombing missions, combined arms artillery and motor rifle unit actions. Strong emphasis on employment of drones, integrated C2, and more ‘jointness’ so to speak between ground, airborne, and VKS forces. VDV seems to be conducted several force structure and air assault experiments, including with new light high mobility vehicles, creating a air mobile reserve, etc. Ground units are mostly doing what they do best, lots of artillery and MLRS fire, armored assault, etc.

Vostok 2018 military exercise in Transbaikal Territory, Russia

VDV Airborne – More than 700 soldiers and 51 vehicles (BMD-2) made a parachutte jump at Tsygol range. At the Belaya airfield near Irkutsk, a detachment of the Ulan-Ude air assault brigade loaded 25 Il-76MD transports. They were then air lifted ~1000km towards Zabaikal where they conducted a jump at 600 meters. The scenario was air assault and seizure of an enemy airfield. All together about 6000 VDV  and 900 pieces of equipment are taking part in Vostok, in earlier posts I mentioned these are units from 3 independent air assault brigades, and two additional special detachments.

VDV Ulan Ude assault brigade.JPG

As part of the scenario unfolding at Tsygol range, an air mobile battalion belonging to the 31st independent air assault brigade conducted an air assault on an enemy command center, with air support.  About 40 helicopters of Mi-8AMTSh were used (supposed capacity 26 soldiers), two Mi-26 helicopters, and more than 10 Mi-24 helicopters in support. They are billing this exercise as an experiment of a ‘new type’ of air assault detachment. There was also a mobile reserve in support of this assault, composed of light wheeled high mobility vehicles (pickups). Mi-26s delivered 8 of these light pickups, together with 4 armored Rys light vehicles equipped with Kornet ATGMs and Kord heavy machine guns.

airborne ATVs.JPG

VKS Aerospace Forces – About 40 bombers and strike fixed wing aircraft were used in an attack on opposing ground forces, key infrastructure, and staged reserves. Units involved fielded Tu-22M3, Su-34, Su-24, and Su-25SM strike aircraft. Air cover provided by Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters. Strikes were coordinated via ground based C2 system Strelets, and Orlan-10 drones.


Eastern MD – Other activities of note: CBRN units used smoke and aerosol covers on more than 60 sq km, covering moving units and critical infrastructure – equipment used includes TDA-3K smoke machines, and RP3-8x aerosols. Anti-tank units belonging to a battalion tactical group of motor rifle and artillery units simulated strikes against enemy armor and fortified positions with 130mm Shturm-S ATGMs and Konkurs-M. Sapper units plan to use not only UR-77 Meteorit, BMP-3M, but also Uran-6 and Uran-9 UGVs for demining.

Tsygol Range – Seven artillery battalions created a rolling artillery barrage ahead of an advance, covering a line of ~3000 meters. A motor rifle battalion advanced, and there are photos of host of T-72B1 tanks engaged in a live fire exercise as part of this maneuver. They employed more than 150 pieces of artillery, including 2s3, 2s1, 2s19, Giatsint, and Pion. Meanwhile Iskander-M units fired two cruise missiles at critically important targets, at the same time a large artillery and MLRS barrage hit the opposing force. All together they employed 2 Iskander TELs, 52 MLRS systems, and 72 tube artillery. Targeting for the strike conducted via an air based system called Klever, with Su-24MP recon aviation, and Orlan-10 drones – they used live video feed for battle damage assessment. In one scenario, Russian and Chinese artillery units simultaneously attacked enemy forward command posts. Russian BM-27 Uragan were employed together with Chinese Type-81 MLRS.

Motor rifle bttn.JPG

Artillery units will also practice employing precision guided munitions called Krasnopol, these will be fired by MSTA-S and 2s3 Akatsiya, Granat-4 short range drones are to be used for targeting. Krasnopol is a 152mm semi-active laser guided munition which can be used by most self-propelled and towed artillery.

life fire.jpg

Of course a detachment of Terminator BMPT, heavy tank support vehicles will make another debut at Tsygol, undoubtedly in the hope that someone will buy them. They were first  featured in Zapad 2017 in desert camo paint, undoubtedly marketed towards a certain set of countries that like to buy equipment in such colors.

Interesting photos emerged of drone companies, fielding both Orlan-10s, but also counter drone hand held weapons, that are worth noting.

drone company.JPG

counter drone gun.jpg

Not much from the two fleets today, except that the squadron in the Eastern Mediterranean is still there, and recently concluded a first time joint exercise with Russian VKS. A sizable grouping of ships and a few submarines remains there.

Some additional photos of note:

Parachute jump skeptic

in airborne now.JPG

Of course you can’t assault an enemy airbase without taking a photo first

can't assault an enemy airbase without a photo.JPG

And a time honored tradition emerging from modern exercises, people pointing at screens:

pointing at screens.jpg


Vostok 2018 – Day 2 (September 12)

Day two is here, and I’m a bit behind in posting. Usually I get to these the night of. Photo-ops have begun, and there will be a large review of forces ala Zapad-1981 style, which I hope to cover later tonight. However, September 12 is still the preparatory phase. Special thanks for colleagues Kate Baughman and Jeff Edmonds who helped me put some of this together.

So far logistics and VDV seems to have the most interesting roles. The VDV commander is clearly making changes and experimenting with a few items in this exercise. Air defense and aerospace attack are taking place early, as are live fire launches for the navy. Much of the action seems to be planned for Tsygol, but Telemba range is seeing a lot of early activity.

Shoigu and Fenghe – Minister of Defense Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart visited the command point setup by 29th CAA from the Eastern MD, together with the one setup by the PLA. Supposedly Wei Fenghe complimented the Russian side, stating that the Chinese field command point was simple whereas the Russian one was more solid in nature. Shoigu in turn remarked that much of this comes from Russian combat experience in recent conflicts, and they’ve also leveraged the integration provided by the national defense management center.

Shoigu remarked that they’ve had several operations where the General Staff were able to directly control events in real time, and they’ve made great strides in C2 when it comes to controlling forces in a theater of military operations (TVD). The claim being that much of what is taking place in Tsygol can be controlled directly by the GS via the center in Moscow. No less interesting in this exchange is Fenghe’s supposed comment on the importance of Russian-Chinese military cooperation at the operational and strategic level. Shoigu then stated that they’ve agreed to hold exercises  of this sort regularly from now on.

beginning of a beautiful friendship.

VKS Aerospace Forces – Russian Tu-95MS took off from an air base in Eastern MD, launched cruise missiles from an altitude over 5000 meters at the range in Telemba (2000km away). Air cover was provided by Su-35s, and in-flight refueling by Il-78 (at that range Tu-95MS doesn’t need it so probably practice for strategic mission).


VDV Airborne – Cadets at Ryazan airborne school practiced loading different types of equipment onto Il-76MD aircraft as part of the strategic maneuvers. Serduykov seems to have included cadets and those in officer school in this exercise, which is a new development. The idea being to give those in late stages of education practical experience. According to the press, about 6000 airborne troops and 900 pieces of equipment from three units (mentioned in a previous post as 3 independent air assault brigades), and two detachments, are participating in Vostok. On Sept. 11 I saw discussion of three battalions being sent in total, one from each of these brigades, together with a separate comms detachment.

VDV praciting loading.JPG

At Tsygol, units from Ulyanovsk VDV air assault brigade will practice three different types of simultaneous assault, low altitude parachute, standard air assault, and assault without parachutes – repelling from helicopters (100-150m). They claim to be using as many as 45 Mi-8 helicopters at the same time in this simulated attack, with two Mi-26 (that will carry quite a few VDV if true), gunship support provided by 8x Ka-52s and 14x Mi-24s. Supposedly Mi-26 helicopters will be used to transport VDV Tigr vehicles, recon ATVs, and in ‘airborne-transport’ configuration can carry about 82 soldiers.

VDV drilling.JPG

Eastern MD – At Telemeba air defense units from both VKS, and ground formations belonging to the Eastern and Central MD practiced air defense against massed aerospace attack, units employed include S-400, S-300, Buk, Tor, and Pantsir-S1. About 500 pieces of equipment and more than 1000 servicemen listed for this one.

Engineer and sapper units – busy setting up pontoon bridges, river crossings, and practicing demining with UR-77 Meteorit, and BMP-3M demining variants. Meanwhile in Zabaikal, CBRN units from Central MD were working to cover air fields with smoke and aerosol to hide them from visual, infrared, and radar based detection. They used TDA-3 smoke/aerosol machines, which create cover at about 15 meters, covering 7 hectares worth of terrain.


River crossing.jpg

Electronic warfare – Russian forces plan to use the latest generation EW and drone systems during the exercise, including Silok-01, Zhitel (the second one is quite old actually). Their objective is to defend against drone attack. Silok in particular is advertised as a system for detecting drones, while Zhitel can jamm their sensors. Supposedly both have been tested in Syria.

Russian Military Police used horses to patrol the area, and defend it from enemy reconnaissance units. Presumably they’re able to move much quieter  on horseback and sneak up on would be ‘diversionary-recon groups’

Central MD – Tactical aviation from CMD rebased to Krasnoyarsk and Perm regions, the exercise simulates them launching on alert to avoid incoming aerospace attack at their air bases and shifting to forward air fields. Mig-31BMs setup a combat air patrol, launching ‘under fire’ and practiced taking out incoming cruise missiles.  Missile brigade units from 41st CAA in Sverdlovsk have moved via rail to Astrakhan, and will be firing Iskander-Ms as part of the exercise. Apparently they’ve already conducted simulated electronic launches in preparation – planned firing range is several hundred kilometers, i.e in that operational-tactical 300-500km range.

Pacific Fleet – About 15 small anti-submarine ships, together Il-38 naval aviation and Ka-27PL helicopters conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise. Meanwhile 10 minesweeper ships practiced finding and destroying mines with contact and non-contact means. A surface action group consisting of one Sovremenny destroyer (Bystruiy) and two small missile boats launched three Moskit anti-ship missiles (looks like the destroyer did the firing) against a surface target at about 100km range.

Moskit fire

Northern Fleet -Seems to be busy navigating the ice on its way down to meet the Pacific Fleet. Kulakov’s small surface action group was on its way to Kamchatka, with ice breakers in the lead.


Interesting photos from this day:

Gerasimov thinking of the choices he made in life that led to this exciting moment, undoubtedly he is paralyzed by the historic moment of a new Sino-Russian entente forming.

Gerasimovn thinking.jpg

Later on, trying to explain something to angry looking Shoigu (this is not possible since Shoigu knows everything).

still angry.JPG


Vostok 2018 – Day 1 (September 11)

Vostok 2018 Day 1

In Eastern MD: 5th, 29th, 35th, 35th combined arms armies (CAA) + 11th Air and Air Defense Army from EMD. In Central MD: 2nd and 41st CAAs + 14th Air and Air Defense Army. VDV and VKS are beginning to shift forces to their designated training ranges. In terms of logistics, they activated military and civilian elements of the transport network, including regional infrastructure belonging to the Ministry of Transport, other federal transportation agencies, trains, rail cars, rail beds, etc. 1,500 rail platforms, 50 transport air craft, and 60 or so various military units. The numbers sound incredibly round such that they’re probably ‘stylized’ but it paints a picture.

This year there’s an emphasis on logistics, organizing forces and moving them large distances across Russia, which is sort of the major challenge in the Eastern/Central MD. Lots of distance, not a lot of infrastructure. Exercise announcements highlight efforts at jointness, having ground, naval and aerospace forces work together, along with combined arms maneuver. The picture I offer here is somewhat incomplete, as there are a few exercises taking place elsewhere, but here we will focus on what is being billed as part of Vostok 2018.

Already there is interesting news of VDV experimenting with a new formation and air assault maneuver, whereas the Navy is practicing combined naval infantry and motor-rifle amphibious assault. A lot of information early on about setting integrated air defenses, high bandwidth comms networks, and various engineering preparations such as false targets.


Training range list:

Combined arms ranges: «Цугол», «Бамбурово», «Радыгино», «Успеновский», «Бикинский»

Air and Air Defense ranges: «Литовко», «Новосельское», «Телемба» и «Бухта Анна»,

Maritime: Берингова и Охотского морей (seas), Авачинского и Кроноцкого заливов (gulfs off of Kamchatka).

Airborne VDV – Not only are strategic maneuvers a deviation from the typical strategic command staff exercise, but there will also be some interesting force structure and combat maneuver experiments taking place. They plan to test an experimental VDV air assault formation during the exercise at Tsygol range, equipped with latest C2, and specialized equipment, to be used in some sort of air mobile assault variant. According to Col General A. Serduykov (head of VDV) this test will determine future tactics and overall development of VDV forces. Who is coming so far? One large battalion tactical group formation, composed of units from Ulan-Ude (11th), Ulyanovsk (31st), and Ussuriysk (83rd), and 38th independent VDV communications regiment. This is an interesting formation, if as reported, it consists of elements of three independent air-assault brigades.

Mi-26 train

Central MD – 2000 Motor riflemen are completing a march to Zabaikal with 500 pieces of equipment, including T-72B3, BMP-2, BM-21 Grad. They will be drilling at Tsygol, the range being used jointly with PLA units. A communications brigade from 2nd CAA Samara is also joining them, including 1000 troops and 300 pieces of equipment. More than 60 fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft are moving to Eastern MD as well, including Mi-26, Mi-24, and Mi-8AMTSH-V + about 30 fixed wing tactical aviation.

Pantsir and targeting radar

Eastern MD – They’ve setup an integrated air defense network, leveraging automated C2, and expect to test their ability to conduct air defense under jamming conditions. So far only mention of Pantsir-S1, S-300 and S-400 units. Communications units have setup more than 150 comm links, including a comm system running 2800km from Vladivostok to Anadyr, 3500km from Ulan-Ude to Petropavlovsk (9800000 sq  km total). Perhaps more interesting, they’ve setup a high bandwidth line running about 900km to connect other federal agencies/civil authorities to ensure closer coordination with the General Staff.


Combat service support (MTO) in Eastern MD – Lot’s of exciting statistics, 80 ammo and fuel dumps setup, 100 supply points, more than 2000 mechanics and specialists supporting training at Tsygol, etc. All in all, they claim that 36,000 MTO troops are involved in this exercise (seems inflated but then again what isn’t when it comes to Vostok).

Engineers are busily setting up bouncy castles, otherwise known as the dreaded Russian ‘maskirovka.’ At every field range they will setup false targets, inflatable tanks, IFVs, air defenses, and fake Iskander units.

Pacific Fleet – The Naval Infantry brigade based on Primorskiy Kray have moved to loading points, embarking onto three LSTs. They’re bringing BTR-82A, BMP-2, 2s1, and BM-21s. Their objective is to form an amphibious assault detachment, and of course seize Gotland Island from Primorskiy Kray (just kidding). Their real objective is to practice different types of amphibious landings, supported by smaller surface combatants from the Pacific Fleet.

The Pacific Fleet has also launched a surface action group and what they’re calling a search strike group (might be a naval variant of recon strike). The fleet is fielding different types of strike groupings and anti-submarine groupings of ships. Initial goal is to practice air defense, command and control, and survival skills in the water. However, they expect to be taking out enemy surface action groups and submarines soon.

LST loading gear.JPG

Northern Fleet – Elements of NF have already made it to Chukotka, which means they’re going to be fighting the Pacific Fleet fairly soon. They’ve been traveling since August 8, taking breaks for different drills along the way. It seems they have three LSTs with naval infantry and units from the arctic motor-rifle brigade onboard. Apparently they conducted an amphibious assault on Chukotka, supported by fire from Kulakov (Udaloy-class), whereby the naval infantry first seized the beachead and the main body of forces then arrived via LST. Not much mention of other ships, hope they brought more than Kulakov along, but Eastern Med is probably sucking in a lot of available naval power. Marshall Ustinov (Slava-class) is heading the E. Med squadron instead of participating in these exercises.

Arctic brigade unloading


Chinese participation: 24x rotary wing consisting of 6x Mi-171, 9x Z-9, 9x Z-19 + 6  fixed wing aircraft (looks like JH-7) and an unknown number of ground troops at ~3200 total?


Fun photos for our caption contest:

Caption contest

If you camo net the front of the TEL then nobody can see the launch tubes

air defenses

Vostok 2018 Strategic Maneuvers: Exercise plan

It seems this year’s annual strategic command-staff exercise has been replaced by Strategic Maneuvers, which depending on your perspective is actually a higher level of exercise in the TVD (theater of military operations). Rather than having a OSK take charge of combat operations in a specific strategic direction, supported by units from other military districts, strategic maneuvers feature multiple military districts, and fleets – these are not held in a single strategic direction. Hence Vostok 2018 is not being done in the format of typical annual exercises rotating between the four main strategic directions.

These pictures are from Gerasimov’s briefing last week – Youtube link to the briefing

breakdown of the exercise East vs West

Instead the participating units will divide into two ostensible opposing forces, divided into an Eastern and Western grouping of forces. Vostok 2018 will thus feature a form of strategic exercise much closer to those practiced in the older days of the Soviet Union, more like 1935-36. For example, in 1936 the Belarus Military District divided into Western and Eastern groupings of forces to practice maneuvers against each other. Those were undoubtedly useful exercises for the Red Army until the officers who learned something got purged 1936-38, but I digress.

The two ‘teams’ so to speak will include the Central Military District + Northern Fleet, against the Eastern Military District + Pacific Fleet. Russia’s Airborne VDV, and Aerospace Forces VKS will have an important role, though unclear on how they will divide those assets between the two groupings. The exercise itself will last 11-17 September, although snap readiness checks have begun well in advance, as have preparations for MTO, and other supporting services. Perhaps best to bracket this as a August 20-September 17 timeline. Most of the action will be at five combined arms training ranges, four ranges for the Air Force and Air Defense units, the Sea of Okhotsk, Bering Sea, Avachinskiy Zaliv and Kronostkiy Zaliv (gulfs off Kamchatka).

Exhibit A from the briefing (we can see units Northern Fleet and Pacific Fleet engaging each other off of Kamchatka)

Exercise scenario 2.jpg

Map of forces involved

District map

In his recent briefing Gerasimov highlighted that these exercises are well within the budgetary scope of funds allocated to the MoD for annual training, and that no additional or supplementary spending was required for Vostok, i.e. people protesting pension reform need not blame the MoD for having large scale strategic maneuvers. This is where the inflated force size ‘297,000’ publicity sought by the MoD runs into the problem of being tone deaf given social spending reforms being protested in Moscow. My suspicion is that the number comes from counting all the units stationed in CMD and EMD, plus Northern and Pacific Fleet, and select airborne divisions participating. For every battalion fielded they will likely count the entire brigade, and for a few regiments an entire division, etc.

Exercise plan

exrecise scenario 3

Phase 1 September 11-12: This phase is for planning and organization of forces to be involved, includes aligning command functions, and logistics.

Phase 2 September 13-17: Exercise begins, and will include: training to conduct large scale air strikes, cruise missile defense, defense, offense, flanking and raiding maneuvers. In the Sea of Okhotsk, and the two gulfs mentioned above, forces will practice defending against aerospace attack, destroying surface action groups, and naval landing forces. Aviation will support offensive ground maneuvers, and coastal defense.

Tsygol is singled out in particular, the scenario there will involve three combined arms formation from Eastern MD, together with Chinese and Mongolian forces, engaging in maneuvers against two combined arms armies from Central MD. At Tsygol they anticipate 25,000 Russian troops, 7,000 pieces of equipment, and 250 fixed wing/rotary wing aviation. Chinese forces we know to consist of ~3,200, 24 helicopters and 6 fixed aircraft. No numbers have been given for the Mongolian forces participating, but presumably they are quite small so there’s not much to boast about in this regard.

Tsygol scheme of maneuver

Gerasimov also highlighted that Vostok 2018 will feature wide scale use of drones, VDV parachute jumps, use of mobile brigades, making ‘non-standard decisions’ which I take to mean planning scheme of maneuver without assembling it from preplanned drills or plays, automated command and control, together with staff planning based on lessons from combat operations in Syria. The whole thing will end with a review of forces in the field, i.e. they plan to do a Zapad 1981 style photo op with all the vehicles and what not lined up, so it will probably seem quite impressive and scary.

Perhaps more interesting is the increasing focus on logistics, mobilizing reserves to help fill out MTO units.

MTO and reservists.jpg

More photos from the brief can be found at BMPD.

Vostok 2018: Pre-exercise review of events

I’m going to try to cover Vostok 2018  this year, and this time will benefit from some help in covering the space. Special thanks to my colleagues Jeff Edmonds and Kate Baughman who have decided to join in the effort, and offer a welcome reinforcement. Vostok is officially listed as September 11-15. This is unlikely as the exercise is typically longer, and probably will be September 11-20 or thereabouts. However, the MoD announcements on exercises and readiness checks right now list dates of August 20-September 15 inclusive. Which suggest that the standard wave of snap readiness checks, units moving out to ranges, and similar such activities began on the 20th. Exercises that are not directly associated with Vostok are already taking place. It’s a bit of a heavy lift to cover all of these, so in the run up to September 11 I think the best course of action is to summarize preceding weeks and offer a few days of focused coverage to illustrate what is going on.

Most of the action so far is in the Southern MD, followed by Central MD. The troops based outside Russia in Abkhazia, Tajikistan, Armenia are conducting drills and various exercises. Greater attention being paid to logistics, communications, and coordination between different combat arms. The Northern Fleet has an exercise in progress, and ships from different fleets are gathering for a large joint exercise in the Eastern Med.

Exercises reflect similar messages: recon-strike contour, combat arms, training between different types of companies, communication, drone and counter drone, integration of ground forces and aviation. There a lot more ‘jointness’ being portrayed than last year.

Also, of course, Chinese participation. About 3200 PLA troops and 30 aircraft are expected to take part.

Chinese tanks crossing the border

Chinese tanks.JPG

Let’s look at August 31st

Eastern MD – Engineering units are training in Zabaikal to obtain, purify, and store water. Some 4,000 troops are training on 10 different ranges in this district according to official announcements. Some exercises were focused on dealing with terrorists, who were really saboteurs, seeking to capture arms and destroy equipment. BMP-2 crews practiced fording water obstacles on a special ‘aquadrome’ in Zabaikal. About 450 troops involved. The exercise also involved evacuating damaged IFVs and rescuing crews.


Southern MD – Iskander units in Kuban belonging to the 49th CAA conducted simulated electronic launches against coastal targets. The exercise was focused on practicing recon-strike contour. They were targeting a marine landing force attempting to seize beaches along the Black Sea coastline. The intent was to take out concentrated armor and equipment as it was being unloaded unto the beach by landing craft. This exercise is part of an effort to improve combined arms, the ‘division’ marched to a firing range and aligned C2 with a motor rifle company. Supposedly about 6,000 troops and around 2,000 pieces of equipment are conducting exercises and drilling across the Southern MD from 20 August to 15 September.

Artillery units from the district exercised separately as part of a large day of live fire drills, practicing recon-strike contour system between different service components, involving ships of the BSF, Caspian Flotilla, air force, and air defense units. Seems there are four main regions involved in the exercises right now, Dagestan, Kuban, Crimea and Russia’s units based in Abkhazia. Official claims of about 70 live fire exercises – 130 pieces of artillery involved, Torando, Smerch, Uragan, BM-21 Grad, MSTA-S, and Iskander-M. Drones were employed, and units of the 4th Air and Air Defense Army participated (about 20 planes and helicopters), and ~12 ships. Each exercise had its own command post in charge of the event.

About 20 aircraft, including Su-30, Su-27SM, and Su-25s supported the motor rifle units in their exercises across the Southern MD. They too were taking out marines attempting to establish a beach head. Coordination was done by forward observers, not part of the air force, but coordinating from field command points belonging to the CAA units. Supposedly Strelets-VR system was being used to link recon units and air strikes. Col-Gen Dvornikov has placed priority on ground units learning how to coordinate with air power, we know because his personal views are emphasized extensively in press released by Southern MD.

Abkhazia (SMD) – Armored units practiced outflanking the enemy with T-72B3 tanks. The exercise involved two company sized tactical groups practicing against each other, trying ‘non-standard’ and ‘unconventional’ tactics. (author’s note – this may mean deviating from the standard Russian system of piecing combat maneuvers from smaller prepared ‘plays’ or ‘drills’). According to this announcement Russian forces drilling in Southern MD have 6,000 training and more than 1,500 pieces of equipment.


Engineers and recon units had a busy day. Fording across a water obstacle and taking out diversionary groups. This is an exercise where recon units and engineers worked together, with recon units covering the engineer team. The engineer company’s tasks was demining a  crossing marked it for motor rifle units, and then secured the other side ahead of their arrival.

Russian units based in Armenia, a communications unit, was raised on alert. They trained in establishing a comms link, operating drones, laying down cables, and maintaining lines of communications between other units involved in the exercise. This is another one in the theme of getting different kinds of companies working together in a combined arms exercise.

Armenia comms unit.jpg

Western MD – About 500 troops from 1st Guards Tank Army will start training in a combined arms exercise with artillery and air defense units. The drill is for different types of assault and flanking maneuvers, T-80U, T-72B3, some BMPs and MSTA-S units involved.

Central MD – CBRN units exercised, dealing with a WMD attack, while air defense units with S-400s departed for Telemba to conduct live fire exercises. They’re training against seemingly everything, planes, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, high and low altitude threats, etc. About 500 troops and 40 pieces of equipment listed for this one. Meanwhile in Samara Spetsnaz units conducted an air assault (parachute) from Mi-8MTV5 helicopters against diversionary groups who were attempting to mine an air field – recon was conducted by Orlan drones.

Tajikistan 201st base (CMD) – Russian air defense units defended themselves from attack by cruise missiles and drones. Seems like a small exercise, about 50 troops firing good old ZU-23, which can take out drones but not exactly your sophisticated cruise missile defense. Mi-8s were used to simulate low flying targets.

Eastern Med

September 1-8 there will be a joint exercise, for the first time, between Russia’s Navy and Aerospace Forces (VKS). They’ve pulled in ships from North, Baltic, Black Sea Fleets and the Caspian Flotilla. They expect about 26 ships to participate, including 2 submarines, and 34 drones. The flagman will be Slava-class Marshall Ustinov. This drill will include sorties by Tu-160 strategic bombers, Tu-142 and Il-38N maritime patrol aviation, Su-33 and Su-30SM from naval aviation (not  sure how Su-33  is going to be a part of this, skeptical on that one).

Northern Fleet

A detachment from the fleet, operating off of the New Siberian Islands, conducted live fire exercises. Seems to be mostly artillery and some Rubezh CDCM fire. This exercise combined units stationed on Kotelny Island with a small surface action group send by the Northern Fleet, this SAG is led by Udaloy-class Vice Admiral Kulakov.

A brief summary of August 29-30th

  • In SCO exercises Peaceful mission 2018, Russian forces demonstrated how they take out shahid-mobiles, together with the ‘tank carousel’ drill. The purpose was to show off experience gained in Syria to other nations who sent troops to participate in the multilateral event.
  • SMD – units specializing in drone defense (they’ve made special mobile detachments for dealing with drones now) practiced taking out drones in Volgograd oblast. This was a combination of EW, R-934BMV, R-330Z Zhitel, for jamming, and then Pansir-S1 + Tor-M2 for taking them out. Meanwhile in Chechnya EW units had something a bit more serious, Borisoglebsk-2, to jam radio communications of a hypothetical opponent. Seems they just got this system in May, and went through retraining for it. There were also sizable artillery drills in counter-battery fire, although the picture showed what looked like Pion 203mm artillery. They expect 5,000 artillerymen to practice in September from SMD.


  • BSF’s Naval Infantry Brigade set out to destroy diversionary groups. Using drones in advance of their formation they spotted an ambush and took out the enemy instead of driving into them and the part of the road they supposedly mined.
  • In Abkhazia Ka-52 helicopters practiced taking out shahid-mobiles, and coordinating with ground units. Similar training in Armenia, with Mi-24P and Mi-8MTV, learning how to take out targets in mountainous conditions and applying experience gained in Syria.
  • EMD – Iskander-M units in Zabaikal practiced camouflage, repelling attacks, and conducting electronic simulated launches after receiving target coordinates. Their target was an enemy radar station. At the same time Buk air defense units trained at a different range in intercepting targets, including while being jammed by enemy drones/aircraft.
  • At Sea – lots of small ships drilling. Small anti-submarine corvettes from Novorosiysk (BSF) went submarine hunting. They hunt this elusive submarine every year during operational-strategic exercises. One of the Tarantul-class missile boats trained in air defense, with Su-30SM serving as the simulated attacker. More interesting – Tomsk (Oscar II), was practicing in the Sea of Okhotsk, torpedoing several enemy ships. Tomsk approached an enemy surface action group, being represented by Varyag (Slava-class), Bystry (Sovremenny), and several Udaloys. Tomsk fired 4 practice torpedoes without being detected, i.e. Tomsk is really good or ASW detection on legacy Soviet surface combatants is not so good. Earlier on Tomsk fired an anti-ship missile at a surface target on the 27th. There were quite a few simulated electronic CDCM fires in earlier days as well, from Baltic and Black Sea Fleet, including Bal and Bastion systems.

Notes on announcements:

Every exercise announcement from SMD has quotes from Dvornikov along the lines of ‘it is important to do X, and every person should know how to do X, because X is an important thing’ which seems to be a new feature. None of the other military district commanders are offering their wisdom.

A small percentage of the photos are being reused from Zapad 2017, i.e. I’ve seen them before and can tell they’re from a year ago – not showing what is actually going on in the announcement. It seems in cases where the MoD doesn’t have a photo on hand they’ve decided to search the pile and find something that looks like it might be similar from 2017.


The Durability of Russian Military Power: Moscow’s Prospects for Sustaining Direct Competition

My issue brief as part a series run by the Changing Character of War Centre at Oxford, assessing the durability of Russian military power. I recommend their centre’s website for some great Russia mil analysis. This briefing in particular focuses on manpower, materiel, and funding. I tackle the issue of whether Russia is able to sustain a competition with the United States, and the extent to which it will be able to sustain the military as an effective instrument of national power despite the many problems the country faces. I’ve found that some of the discourse on this subject, particularly with respect to manpower/demographics, could be better informed by data, and merits a closer look.


Political analysis in the West retains a strong bias towards measuring state influence and status according to economic foundations of power, yet Russia has demonstrated that military power remains an important instrument in international politics. Having enacted a period of military reform 2008-2012 and financed a sustained program of modernization, Russian foreign policy is increasingly underwritten either by the use of force, or threat of force, as part and parcel of coercive diplomacy. Though much attention is drawn today to indirect competition, it is Russia’s successful resurrection of military power which enables the country to ‘bench press’ above its weight in the international arena. Indeed, indirect competition is often messy, indecisive, and ineffectual without the weight of conventional military power supporting it.

While observers are cognizant of the resurrection of Russian military power, there remains, however, a considerable debate as to its durability. Simply put, many believe that demographic, economic and industrial trends are against Russia – the country will not be able to sustain this level of direct competition. Yet there is little to suggest, looking ten years out and even beyond, that Russia will suffer from those severe shortages of either manpower, money or materiel which would reduce Russia’s ability to underwrite its foreign policy. On the contrary, Russian demographic trends reflect only an increasing availability of manpower for the growing force, a sustainable defence budget in terms of spending, and a modernization program that will suffice to arm the force well into the 2020s. It can go on, and it will.

Much of the conversation on Russian demographics is simply ill informed. A decline of birth rates throughout the 1990s lasted until 1999. Russia suffered through a decade of declining health standards, fertility, falling birth rates, and emigration. Despite the decline in numbers of 18 year olds available for service, Russian armed forces expanded from perhaps around 700,000 in 2011 to over 900,000 in 2017. The contract share of the force swelled to as much as 380,000, or more than 50% of the enlisted force. Russian birth rates increased year on year from 2000 until 2015. This means that men born in 2000 will be of service age this year, 2018, and the pool of men aged 18-27 should increase every year from now until 2032.

Russia’s birth rate – World Bank


Birth rates are hardly the only indicator responsible for growing manpower availability in Russia. The draft board, Voenkomat, has also helped clean up corruption in the number of health exclusions granted to those seeking to dodge service. In the past, many Russians would spontaneously become unhealthy upon turning 18. But with health exclusions revised, and the rampant buying of disqualifications now attended to, the amount of those deemed unfit had declined to only about 23% in 2016 according to head of the General Staff’s Mobilization Directorate Colonel General Tonkoshkurov. Russia’s chief military prosecutor, Valery Petrov, stated more recently in 2018 that overall draft evasion is down by about 30% from the corrupt heydays of the past. Beyond reductions in draft dodging, increases in pay, growing public respect for the armed forces, and overall improving conditions in the military have all had a positive effect on recruitment. Starting in 2018, a change in the conscription law now offers draftees the option of one year conscript service or two years under contract with better terms.

General demographics trends offer a complex picture of Russia’s future. Russian life expectancy actually reached a record high in 2017, and fertility rates are closing in on those in the United States, up from 1.157 in 1999 to 1.75 in 2016 (U.S. was at 1.8). Russia suffers from three principal problems in demographics: the demographic echo from the disastrous 1990s which will return to haunt Moscow in the mid-2030s, a declining workforce which is losing perhaps 600,000 per year in retirements, and the recent economic recession which slowed birth rates 2015-2017 (even despite generous state sponsored family programmes) which will have knock on effects years from now. Russia’s main problem is not so much the size of its population, but its productivity. Nevertheless, because Russia remains the primary labour market for the former Soviet Union, and is host to a large pool of immigrant labour, it does have answers readily available for the present decline in the labour force. Despite all these challenges, therefore, Russia’s current population is much healthier of late, with the longest lifespan witnessed, and manpower availability is likely to see sustained increases into the mid 2030s.

Fertility rates comparison – World Bank

Fertility rates WB
A steady decline in US fertility rate meets a rise in Russian fertility rate prior to the econ crisis

From a materiel standpoint, it is also difficult to observe looming shortages. The previous State Armament Program 2011-2020 was meant to jumpstart the defence industry, and effectively provided for a dramatic increase in the modernization rating of Russian equipment from 15% in 2010 to almost 60% in 2017 (according to official figures). That program’s achievements merit briefly recounting, as they include the acquisition of 418 aircraft for tactical aviation, 3 combat aviation brigades and 6 combat aviation regiments, 16 air defence regiments of S-400, more than 70 radars of various types for VKS Aerospace forces, 10 Iskander-M brigade sets, completion of Russia’s early warning radar network, 55 military satellites launched into orbit, 12 new regiments of Yars road-mobile ICBMs deployed, more than 3,000 modernized ground force vehicles, 3 new SSBNs and 2 new 4th generation SSGNs, together with diesel-electric submarines, corvettes, and auxiliary ships. This list includes upgrades in more specialized fields, including electronic warfare brigades and companies, new command and control systems to enable recon-strike and fires, together with more than 1800 drones acquired across services.

The funds spent by 2017 doubtfully exceed 50-60% of the original 19 trillion RUB allocated. Thus the new state armament program 2018-2027, at another 19 trillion RUB, plus 1 trillion for infrastructure, and 3 trillion for other security services, represents a sustained investment. Albeit with reduced purchasing power, the new state armament program will focus on areas neglected, or perhaps ‘jump started’ by its predecessor. These include large-scale acquisition of precision guided munitions, long-range standoff cruise missiles, transport aviation, bomber modernization, expansion of artillery, armour, and missile formations in the ground forces, more capable drones, and next generation tech like hypersonic weapons.

Even in Russia’s lagging industry, shipbuilding, one can see that core sectors of competence such as submarine construction remain capable of producing some of the most sophisticated platforms available. Russia currently has 11 nuclear powered submarines laid down, and is able to build a diesel-electric submarine in 18 months, with a division of 6 currently in production for the Pacific Fleet. Despite a messy divorce from Ukraine’s defence sector, the material is not only there to sustain Russian military modernization, but the production rates are more than sufficient even in troublesome sectors.

In other areas, such as the ground forces, the conflict in Ukraine and Syria has illustrated that Russian ‘good enough’ is can deal with the country’s military requirements for the coming decade. Modernized Soviet platforms are able to beat any former Soviet republic on Russia’s borders. Possessing them at high readiness, and large numbers, means Russia can effectively impose its will on neighbours or coerce them in a crisis. If anything, most of the challenges faced by Moscow are self-imposed, such as the decision to expand the ground force structure so quickly that it will inherently suffer in readiness and mobility. The defence industry has shown itself capable of producing current generation technology such that Russia has a viable path towards conventional deterrence vis-a-vis the United States, meanwhile less advanced elements of the Russian military are more than suitable for compellence in local and regional conflicts.

Assuming levels of economic growth at 1.5%, there is little to suggest that Russia cannot sustain this level of military expenditure, which will amount to no more than 4% of GDP. Meanwhile Russian spending on national defence will likely hover at around 2.8% of GDP, as the defence budget is only seeing modest cuts relative to other sections of the budget. The fact that oil prices are 50% above the $40 per barrel mark which the government used to underpin its budget expectations is yet another indicator that the economic outlook for defence spending is considerably better than usually appreciated. While the defence budget may still have fat to trim, coming off of historic highs in 2014, there is less urgency in spending on procurement after major gaps have been filled in 2011-2017, and the defence industry revitalized in the process. Adjusted for purchasing power parity, Russia remains just behind Germany as the second largest GDP in Europe. Although it is technically a middle income country, Russia’s raw GDP hides considerable purchasing power when it comes to defence spending and the ability to sustain its armed forces.

On the basis of macro indicators such as manpower, materiel, and money, therefore, Russia is positioned to sustain its policies, even if this means a prolonged confrontation well into the 2020s, and perhaps 2030s. More importantly, Moscow’s ability to leverage military power as one of the more decisive instruments in pursuit of its foreign policy objectives should be clearly understood. Russia can retain the current degree of military activity, snap readiness tests, large strategic exercises, expeditionary operations in Syria, and a rotating presence in Ukraine. The challenges Russia faces are consequential, often resulting in cycles of stagnation and mobilization, but they are not deterministic, as has historically been the case for this particular power.

The Collapsing Russian Defense Budget and Other Fairy Tales

Posted today on Russia Matters, a project by Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  Below is my latest piece in response to the headlines generated by SIRPI’s trends in military expenditure report alleging a 20% reduction in Russian military expenditure in 2017.

One can only observe with bemusement the growth in size, readiness and modernization of Russia’s armed forces when juxtaposed against recent news stories reporting a 20-percent decline in Russian defense spending from 2016 to 2017, described as the first notable cut since 1998. It is seemingly impossible for both trends to be real. Indeed, Russian defense spending is alive and well, with cuts limited to single digits. The announcement about its steep decline by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, was erroneous. Changes in Russia’s handling of defense funding have led SIPRI and, before it, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly to misreport the reduction. Now, for the second time in as many years, the miscalculation is proliferating across major media outlets.

The main source of the error is readily identifiable, arcane though it may be: In 2016 the Russian government started paying off defense-sector debt that had piled up over the years, which created the illusion of much higher spending on national defense and, accordingly, a subsequent decline the following year. Before this, the Defense Ministry (MoD) had managed to rack up close to a trillion rubles in debt to defense contractors, who had been producing equipment on credit borrowed from various banks. The MoD was paying the interest on these loans and the Russian leadership was none too happy about it. After the government decided to pay down the debt, the Finance Ministry provided 792 billion rubles for this purpose, a figure that seemed to boost 2016 defense spending from its actual 3.09 trillion rubles to 3.8 trillion. (Subsequently another 186 billion rubles was spent in 2017 on paying down debt, making the spending appear higher for that year as well.) According to the MoD, this measure saved 130 billion rubles in interest alone.

Another change disrupting the continuity of Russian defense-spending data, adopted by the government in 2017, was to tighten up controls on funding left over in the hands of the defense sector when it was unable to deliver weapons on time. Prior to this, the defense industry was allowed to build up stockpiles of money advanced for armaments that had not been produced as scheduled. Furthermore, some defense enterprises were clever enough to collect interest on these large advances, which sat in their accounts. At the end of the year, about 250-300 billion rubles ended up trapped in this manner, and the MoD had a hard choice to make: either further finance incomplete orders, and therefore reward delinquency, or return the money to the government budget and potentially lose it. To solve the matter, the MoD will now pull unspent funding back to the government budget under the condition that it will be reissued, and roll over payments into the following year. This means that some portion of each year’s budget (perhaps 5 percent or so) will flow into the next year.

In making its calculations SIPRI also converted the outsized budget figures from 2016 into U.S. dollars, which exacerbated the impression of a dramatic decline in defense spending in 2017. Measuring Russia’s defense budget in dollars is analytically unhelpful, since Russia’s defense sector doesn’t buy much of anything in dollars. Thus, the resulting figures are distorted by changes in currency exchange rates, and they are not adjusted for purchasing power parity. Ultimately, several percentage points in SIPRI’s alleged decline were likely due to currency devaluation, which is almost completely irrelevant to the matter in question.

While we are in fact witnessing a steady decline of Russian defense spending as a percentage of GDP, defense cuts in absolute terms have been modest at best. Official spending on defense dropped by about 8 percent from 2016 to 2017, from 3.09 trillion rubles to 2.84 trillion, and the defense budget was only scheduled for cuts averaging 5-6 percent over the three-year period of 2017-2019. (The numbers in this article reflect official defense spending, not total military expenditure, which might include funding for other militarized services like the border guards and Interior Ministry troops, or military pensions, which could add another trillion rubles to the bottom line.) Actual reductions in military spending began in 2015, by about 5 percent. Economic factors certainly played a role—primarily Russia’s recession and the drop in oil prices—but perhaps more important were the geopolitical factors: loss of access to certain defense articles imported from the West and the messy divorce from Ukraine’s defense sector. Due to the war with Ukraine, Russia’s defense industry could not buy components from its long-time partner across the border; this, in turn, delayed production and left the Russian Defense Ministry with less materiel to buy, while the funds to pay for it sat in government coffers instead of getting spent.

Russia’s defense expenditures are not a coherent data set and have become easy to get lost in given the changes that have taken place. Nonetheless, it is especially frustrating to see the narrative of “slashed military spending due to economic woes” resurface now, since the same miscalculation was made last year by Jane’s, which reported a 25-percent reduction in Russian defense spending from 2016 to 2017 based on Moscow’s advance announcement of planned expenditures. Jane’s later acknowledged the mistake and took down its original story, but by that time the sensational figure had already been reported widely in the news media.

Although it is impossible to know in advance how much will be spent in 2018, it is already looking like this year’s anticipated 5 percent reduction is unlikely to materialize. Instead of the planned 2.768 trillion rubles, the Russian budget’s defense chapter has already been amended to 2.953, a 6.7-percent increase; this higher 2018 figure likely includes carryover payments for armament procurement in 2017. Hence defense spending in 2018 is unlikely to decline, but the Russian leadership still intends to see military expenditure reduced as a share of GDP. Planned spending on national defense was envisioned at 2.815 trillion for 2019 and 2.807 trillion for 2020—also hardly a steep cut, and current performance suggests actual numbers will prove higher.

Moreover, despite a reduction in Russia’s purchasing power, the new state armament program for 2018-2027 is quite substantial for the defense sector, especially considering the amount of modernization and procurement of new equipment already accomplished under the previous one. The latest program allocates considerable resources for additional procurement. It is configured in a 19+1+3 formula, with 19 trillion rubles for the armed forces, 1 trillion in infrastructure spending and another 3 trillion for other security services, such as the National Guard. The previous program of 2011-2020 was valued at close to 19 trillion rubles (plus infrastructure investment), about half of which was spent by 2017, at a rate that might average 1.35 trillion per year.

Thus, Russian defense spending and procurement is in for a sustained trim, but the reductions are fairly minor in comparison to the sensational headlines. Moscow has long declared its intentions to halt the growth in defense spending and reduce military expenditure as a share of GDP over time. Given the complexity of Russia’s defense budget, and a data set that lacks continuity, the best thing one can do is tread with care when it comes to pronouncements.

Because budget work is kind of lackluster and doesn’t offer much in terms of photos, I’m attaching this picture of Ivan, our lead analyst of budget analytics and kibble.

Ivan director of budget analytics and kibble

Emerging Russian Weapons: Welcome to the 2020s (Part 2 – 9M730?, Status-6, Klavesin-2R)

Putin’s March 1st speech unveiled a host of new weapons currently under development. Some were previously known, or had been rumored to exist, but with sparse information about progress, while others were being tracked by those who follow military developments in Russia. Unfortunately, much of the media dismissed these announcements as a bluff intended for the consumption of domestic audiences ahead of the Presidential election, or selection, depending on how you view it. While Vladimir Putin may have exaggerated how far along these ‘fantastical’ weapons are, claiming successful tests, these are not figments of his imagination.

He wasn’t bluffing – these weapons may all arrive sometime in the 2020s. Some we will meet in the early 2020s, others perhaps later that decade, as William Gibson liked to say “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” In Part 1 I covered Kinzhal, R-28 Sarmat, and 4202, while in this section I plan to look at some of the even more interesting systems, including third strike weapons like Status-6, Klavesin-2R deep diving vehicle, and the nuclear powered cruise missile that raised so many eyebrows.

The Nuclear Posture Review confirms many of these projects, stating, “Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle, and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.” That references 4202, R-28 Sarmat, and of course the now famous Status-6. What about the nuclear powered cruise missile? Former SecDef Ash Carter had a rather cryptic line in an article back in 2017, that perhaps we should look back upon and reflect, “Russia is investing in new ballistic missile submarines, heavy bombers, and the development of a new ICBM. These investments by themselves would not be novel, even if they necessitate continued, strong American deterrence. But they are also paired with novel concepts for how nuclear weapons could be used and some entirely new and even bizarre types of nuclear weapons systems…” Now let’s fast forward to March 1, 2018, and Putin’s presentation begins to make a bit more sense.

As I will discuss in some detail below, most of these weapons are the stuff of science fiction from the 1950s and 1960s, back when science fiction writing was quite brilliant, and the Atomic age was in full swing. The U.S. and USSR considered, designed, and tested, all sorts of nuclear weapon concepts during the early 1950s and 1960s. Some ideas were ahead of the technology of their time, others were feasible but considered too crazy, provocative, or unnecessary. Part of what drove the resurrection of these concepts is Moscow’s desire to hedge against an uncertain future, and technology has changed. The feeling is not uncommon, since I took that notion literally from the language of our 2018 NPR, which also justifies its proposals in the need to ‘hedge against an uncertain future.’

Image result for 1950s asimov

Of course with such broad language once can advocate for all sorts of nuclear weapon programs, and sure enough, various industries in Russia seem to have sold the government on boutique weapons that will plus up Russia’s current deterrent. Moscow has thought to capitalize on some its comparative strengths, including nuclear energy technology, missile technology, and submarine designs, to develop what they believe will prove hedging weapons. These are in part in response to U.S. technological superiority in long range conventional fires, aerospace power, sustained U.S. investment in missile defense, and the desire to develop prompt global strike.

Rumors about the coming missile defense review also suggest that it will be quite provocative, validating Russian concerns that missile defense is no longer just about North Korea and Iran, but instead aimed at Russian and Chinese capabilities as a matter of policy. Thus we embark on mutually assured spending.

I don’t believe that Russia either needs these weapons to ensure the viability of its deterrent, or that their acquisition fundamentally changes anything in the military balance with the U.S. I’m equally skeptical that they offer any particular coercive effect, though I’m traditionally skeptical of the proposition that there is any efficacy to be found in nuclear powers using nuclear weapons for coercion. The history and theory just isn’t there to support that very much. What it does tell me is that Russia won’t be confident in its conventional capabilities for years to come, or ever, and continues to spend heavily on a nuclear offset, making the conventional and nuclear approaches to deterrence complementary – as in my mind they should be. That said, let’s get to the weapons.

Novator’s newest creation – 9M730 (designation is a working theory until a better name comes)

9m730 v2.JPG

The nuclear powered missile with no name is probably designated 9M730, following after 9M728 (R-500) and 9M729 (SSC-8 INF violator). This is Ramm’s hypothesis based on the fact there is a 9M730 project out there and we know what the other cruise missiles in this series are. Given there is no name, for now 9M730 will do, and I suspect it will ultimately turn out that this is the project’s designation. Since Raduga makes air launched cruise missiles (Kh) it makes sense that this project would be one of Novator’s children, and Novator is quite good at what they do when it comes to cruise missiles. The idea behind the missile is to have special compartments where air is heated by a nuclear reactor to several thousand degrees, then thrust is created by ejecting the superheated air. Judging from the video shown there are four rear vents creating thrust for the missile.


Putin’s statement that it already passed a successful flight test in December 2017 doesn’t scan, but this empty bragging aside it seems the missile project is quite real and much further along than one would like. Additional reporting from A. Ramm’s article indicates the tests are being done in Nenoksa, Arkhangelsk firing it into the White Sea, although after talking to colleagues the images shown are from Novaya Zemlya. Testing it in the high north makes sense since it’s not the sort of thing anyone would want to test over mainland Russia, and it will likely end up being based there. Due to size and weight considerations a missile such as this would have an unshielded reactor, making it impossible for the weapon to fly without spreading radioactive particles. Furthermore, there were comments from sources familiar with the project that the missile is not being tested with a reactor, but rather an electrical power source to imitate the reactor they have constructed. A. Ramm, who has some good writing on this subject, missile testing is being supported by special Il-976 laboratory planes.

Readers will undoubtedly recognize this concept as following in the footsteps of U.S. efforts to build a nuclear powered supersonic low altitude missile (SLAM), named project Pluto. From 1957-1964 the U.S. worked on a nuclear powered cruise missile, which would carry 16 nuclear munitions to targets in the USSR. The colossal amount of radiation it generated in flight was considered a feature at the time. However, even though a full scale reactor and engine were built, the project was canceled because the system was considered both highly problematic from an engineering standpoint and also provocative. The SLAM was nixed in 1964. Some believed it would motivate the Soviet Union to build a similar device, and all in all ballistic missiles were far less problematic. Well, it’s 2018, and while technology has clearly advanced substantially from 1964, humanity is an entirely different story.

A nuclear powered cruise missile? Silly Russians, we would never have spent 8 years on such a reckless project.

Project Pluto

pluto engine

I was skeptical as to whether this was far along, but here Pentagon came to the rescue. Pentagon officials, afraid that anyone finds out we might have some kind of ‘doomsday gap,’ let it be known that the missile in question has already gone through several flight tests in the Arctic and crashed in all of them. So we’re fine, because its not working yet… Also I think missiles typically crash and do not land, whether in testing or not, this is not a bug but a feature of missile technology. Crashing in testing is typical when working on a new missile design, particularly with a unique form of propulsion, but it was surprising to find out that Russia had already conducted several tests with a prototype.

Image result for dr.strangelove doomsday gap

Since the weapon has no name, I think we should consider calling it ‘prompt drunken strike,’ if anything based on the flight route shown in the video.

Status-6 Ocean Multipurpose System

Image result for статус-6

Much of what is known about Status-6 appeared on 9 November 2015 during a meeting chaired by Putin on problems in the defense industry. Just as last week, the media was skeptical that this weapon was a bluff, together with the arms control community which is often doubtful when revelations are made about new nuclear weapons. Those are unhelpful confirmation biases, since both Status-6 and the 9M729 missile are turning out to be quite real. The system is now officially referenced in the NPR as a Russian strategic nuclear weapon program.

status-6 slide.png

The weapon as conceived will be a multipurpose nuclear powered torpedo, but the initial design is intended to destroy critical economic infrastructure along coastline. By all indications this project is well ahead of the nuclear powered cruise missile, and given the physical size of this weapon, nuclear power poses a much less daunting challenge to integrate. As conceived this will be a third strike countervalue weapon. This nuclear torpedo is meant for taking out U.S. coastal cities, and irradiating an entire area. The reason it comes 3rd is both mechanical, and in terms of function. It would take 35 minutes for ICBMs on a transpolar trajectory whereas this weapon might take days to reach the U.S. once fired, and it is not meant for counterforce targets, but instead to inflict unacceptable damage which historically was calculated as affecting the target’s GDP (people + infrastructure).


This is an innovative vengeance weapon, though I don’t believe it will have 100 mt as the warhead. Something much smaller will undoubtedly suffice to wipe out LA or San Francisco if need be and irradiate parts of the coast. The reason I mention Pacific cities is that a deep diving weapon doesn’t make as much sense coming from Russia via GIUK gap into the Atlantic, simply because of the depths and geographical choke points involved. Something to consider before people get started writing articles about the 6th Battle of the Atlantic. The Pacific on the other hand lends itself handily to deep diving autonomous weapons if they’re ‘fire and forget.’

Does Russia truly needs this weapon to handle U.S. missile defenses? No, and it would be infinitely cheaper to just improve current strategic systems, which they’re also doing. However, need is often only loosely connected to what defense establishments procure. As I mentioned in Part 1, defense spending is at best ‘semi-rational’, representing numerous bureaucratic and domestic equities as much as actual threats and missions.

It is also difficult to discuss Status-6 without mentioning the legacy of Andrei Sakharov’s famous T-15 torpedo, a Soviet project in 1951-1955. The design concept behind that 40 ton, 1500 mm torpedo, was as a first strike weapon, intended to deliver a large nuclear warhead to U.S. naval bases like Pearl Harbor, generating a destructive tsunami. The specialized submarine was called project 627, but back then Soviet General Staff decided that they had no need for such a system, and would be satisfied with a regular nuclear powered submarine. The technology to realize a mega nuclear torpedo was there, but T-15 was the wrong kind of crazy for its time. You can read more on the history of the T-15 from Norman Polmar’s timely piece.

Maybe nuclear weapons are like fashion trends, they come back. Here is the old 627 with T-15 tube down the middle.


According to the MoD slide, Status-6 can reach a depth of 1000 meters, speed up to 185 km per hour (100 knots), range up to 10,000 km, and is 1.6m in diameter. According to Putin’s statements it is excessively fast, deep diving, but also very quiet. This is nonsense, since underwater things can be fast, or they can be quiet, but they typically can’t be both. By all considerations this weapon is exceedingly loud if traveling at such speeds, and 100 knots seems somewhat an exaggeration. The video demonstrating its deployment showed project 09852 Belgorod, Russia’s most interesting submarine currently under construction, a heavily modified Oscar-II that will be the longest submarine in the world when it is completed. Belgorod should be able to carry these torpedoes internally, together with other undersea drones. The MoD slide from 2015 indicates that together with Belgorod, project 09851 Khabarovsk (another GUGI submarine laid down in 2014), will also deploy this torpedo.

I got this from HI Sutton – don’t sue me HI.


Status-6, and similarly intriguing undersea weapon projects belong to Russia’s ‘other navy’ known as GUGI, or Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research. GUGI is responsible for fielding specialized submarines, oceanographic research ships, undersea drones, autonomous vehicles, sensor systems, and the like. Around mid-2000s there were some tidbits of information about an undersea drone program being tested. Then it became clear that the project involved a specialized barge, the supporting ship 20180 Zvezdochka, and GUGI’s specialized diesel submarine B-90 Sarov. For more reading on the various GUGI subs and covert underwater projects HI Sutton runs a good blog with various renderings.

Here is what appears to be Status-6 container being loaded.

Status-6 tube.jpg

Based on the 2015 MoD slide, Status-6 is proceeding as a project in several phases, with the pilot system being completed by 2019, and testing 2019-2025. Although the nuclear drone probably doesn’t need much guidance, since cities don’t move around, there will need to be a command and control system built if this weapon is to have a conventional variant for wiping out carriers. I’m skeptical of the ‘carrier strike’ option shown in video during Putin’s speech, just because queuing is a perpetual problem for Russian forces, and it’s hard to see how a deep sea traveling weapon could get course correction from something above water. Hitting moving targets at sea is not so simple, especially over great distances, and with a weapon that is loudly steaming ahead in deep waters. More than likely Russia may try to deploy nuclear powered sensor or communications stations under the sea, as some of Rubin’s design projects suggest, to create the infrastructure for such a weapon. Besides the C2 infrastructure, Status-6 will still have to await the two GUGI submarines designed to carry it.

Klavesin-2R-PM Unmanned Undersea Vehicle


Klavesin is a creation of Rubin design bureau and ИПМТ ДВО РАН, Владивосток. The parameters of this underwater drone include: 6.5m length, 1m in diameter, 3700 kg weight, 50km range with a 2000 meter diving depth. This drone was also shown in the video being launched by Belgorod. The drone program is so super secret that some of the details regarding the vehicle could be found from Rubin’s public tender seeking a company to insure two of these drones for 48 million rubles. Seems they already have two of them, for Belgorod and another GUGI submarine that is already operational, BS-64 Podmoskovye.


The 2R is, as one might suspect, a further evolution of the 1R variant, designed for oceanographic mapping, research, undersea photography, and probably some covert missions. Not much to add to this project except to say that it undoubtedly helps conduct undersea intelligence and reconnaissance missions for GUGI.

fun times at GUGI

Regarding the laser shown at the end of Putin’s talk, I’m not sure what it is yet, but looks like some kind of air/missile defense system by the module and platform. I’ve honestly not seen that weapon before and do not focus on lasers. They should show it more often.


Not keen on the controller. This feels like 1990s gaming.

xbox controller.JPG


Emerging Russian Weapons: Welcome to the 2020s (Part 1 – Kinzhal, Sarmat, 4202)

Vladimir Putin’s speech on March 1st revealed a number of seemingly new or emerging weapon systems, some of which were known to be in testing, while others may come as somewhat a surprise. However, most of these ‘new weapons’ are long running projects, systems thought to be in development, or testing. Some had not shown themselves in quite some time, while others have never been seen, although there were reports of their tests in public releases or official statements. The weapons represent a mix of hypersonic missiles, hypersonic boost-glide vehicles, traditional ballistic missile projects, and third strike vengeance weapons on the basis of Russian advancements in nuclear technology. Here I will briefly cover Kinzhal, R-28 Sarmat, and ‘4202’ – the rest of the more fantastical weapons will come in Part 2.

But first, a brief comment on the overall presentation. The speech itself felt like a “послание” in more than one meaning of that word for those who speak Russian. It was certainly a ‘challenge accepted’ message from VVP, in part responding to the NDS and NPR. After a good run through new and seemingly fantastical capabilities, VVP returned to the subject of Russia’s military doctrine, nuclear policy, and the like. So, aside from domestic politics, there is a fair bit of coercive diplomacy in the message, from talking about the capabilities themselves, to Russian resolve, and concluding with assurances that all will be well if nobody gets into it with Russia. Moscow understands the audience well: nothing gets the attention of U.S. policymakers like nuclear weapons, and there is one person in particular in Washington who is readily impressed by videos of missiles. The graphics were not exactly Lord of the Rings quality, but what can you do, Russian MoD has to live with budget reductions since 2015.

This was my overall impression listening to the speech and the vision it offered.

Deathstar Russia

Now, back to the missiles. A number of the more futuristic projects can only be characterized as semi-rational, in the sense that a fair bit of defense procurement is semi-rational. There was a need to support various design bureaus, Russia’s nuclear energy industry, and a long standing narrative about the need to penetrate a missile defense system the U.S. does not have (and probably after 30 years of copious amounts of funding still won’t have, because Russia is hardly the only country that suffers from semi-rational defense spending).

There is no way to intercept Russian ICBMs, and with the upgrades to penetration aids they’re already implementing, Russia can ensure the viability of its deterrent for decades to come. This is not to mention recently deployed air launched cruise missiles like Kh-101/102. The ticket price of upgrading strategic nuclear weapons for better penetration, i.e. the offense, is just incredibly lower than the cost of trying to mount any viable defense. Statements on the various projects on March 1st can best be summarized as true lies, that is their stages of development are likely exaggerated, but none of what was said qualifies as science fiction either.

Mainstream media coverage, and experts quoted have been rather dismissive of Putin’s presentation. That is an unfortunately common but foolhardy reaction, and its almost habitual. Observers are right to say that these technologies will take considerable time to test and deploy, but what some may not recall, because investment in Russian military analysis took a vacation 1992-2014, is actually when testing and development for these weapons began. The narrative of a sanctioned, economically weak and decaying Russia tends to prevail, but it comes with blinders on the issue of military technology. Yes, they can do this, and much of this may become reality in the 2020s. Recall awhile ago when Russian MoD leaked a slide on Status-6, many observers thought it was a PR stunt, and some kind of bluff, until it showed up in the NPR. Some thought T-14 Armata was a bluff, and made of cardboard, that ‘often wrong, but never in doubt list’ of expert dismissals is fairly long.

Aeroballistic Missile Kinzhal – the air Iskander


The shown missile is a substantially modified version of the Iskander SRBM, with Mig-31 serving as the boost phase, providing a high  altitude launch at supersonic speeds (recommend A. Ramm and Bogdanov for good reading). This is far from the first missile design to leverage Mig-31s performance in speed, takeoff weight, ceiling and combat range. Kinzhal is an operational-tactical complex, able to reach hypersonic speeds, a 2000 km range – although some suggest it is closer to 1500 km. According to official statements this missile can reach mach 10 and can conduct high-G maneuvers on terminal approach. I’m skeptical of the former, that is it likely can do mach 10 at early stages of flight, but then reduce speed for terminal maneuvers. The latter makes sense, because OTK 9M723 Iskander SRBM was designed to make random maneuvers in order to make its flight path difficult to intercept.

Kinzhal is quite shorter, with smaller control surfaces, and a narrower nose. Gen Sergei Surovikin, head of Aerospace Forces (VKS) said the designation for this missile is Kh-47M2 (although earlier forum sources put it as (9-С-7760 – missile, 9-А-7660 – complex). Iskander, referenced as 9M723, can reach 350-450 km depending on payload, if launched at supersonic speeds from high altitude it stands to reason that a modified variant can achieve a substantially increased range. VKS should be happy since Mig-31s are technically under their service arm, and one of the few types of aviation they actually control. This gives them a new standoff weapon, and better chances at an anti-ship mission.

Kinzhal is new, but according to A. Ramm and others, the concept initially surfaced 8 years ago. It has since then been mentioned by experts like Pyotr Bukowski in 2017. Given Iskander-M is considered to be a dual-capable replacement for Tochka-U, though its principal mission is conventional, there is ample reason to believe that the same nuclear warhead can be deployed on Kinzhal. Guidance is an interesting question, supposedly it can actively home on targets, and has scene matching as well. How that comes together at hypersonic speeds is a question, but more than likely this weapon is capable of very complex flight profiles. At least it is advertised with different seeker heads, one for traditional air-to-ground work, and the other as an anti-ship weapon.

Readers will recall that Raduga’s Kh-15 (AS-16 Kickback) aeroballistic missile from 1980s was allegedly quite fast, perhaps reaching Mach 5. Kinzhal might have more power than the original Iskander too. Russia’s MoD has plans to upgrade the current Iskander-M, improving range, so a Iskander-M2 is in the offing already for the ground forces.

Kinzhal anti-ship.JPG

I’m skeptical of the claim that this weapon has already begun combat duty in the Southern MD, which sounds like a ‘true lie,’ but it is probably the closest to operational deployment among weapons mentioned. One should not be surprised to see this in Syria at some point. Rumor has it the new GPV 2018-2027 plans to upgrade up to 50 Mig-31s to carry this missile. If anything, this weapon is ideally suited for the Pacific theater, where many Mig-31s are based, and in the anti-ship role, as it will prove incredibly difficult to intercept. I will add, there’s been no news of Tsirkon (a hypersonic cruise missile in development) since last year, principally for the anti-ship role. In 2017 everyone was advertising their goods to get funding in the new GPV, but since then Tsirkon has gone a bit quiet.

Added another photo after more videos came out.



R-28 Sarmat – heavy ICBM replacement for R-36M2 Voyevoda (SS-18)

Sarmat 2.jpg

R-28 Sarmat is a liquid fueled heavy ICBM designed to have high throw weight, deploying multiple warheads and numerous penetration aids. Although often touted as being a 200 ton replacement for SS-18, there’s a lot of conflicting information, some of it suggesting that its actually much closer to the weight of the SS-19, that is towards 100 tons. Earlier information suggested this was a 106 ton missile with a throw weight of 4350 kg. As a silo-based ICBM, SS-18 could deploy 10 warheads, but was designed and produced by Yuzhmash in Ukraine SSR. Hence Russia had an obvious problem, not only is this aging missile fielding a substantial percentage of the currently deployed force under New START, but it was still serviced and maintained by Yuzhmash.

Currently, Sarmat is about 2 years behind schedule based on the contract initially signed in 2011. The last ejection test was in late December 2017, which seems to have gone successfully, with two more planned for early 2018. Sarmat features prominently in the new state armament program so there’s every reason to believe that it will be completed sooner rather than later, but in the end this is rocket science, not basket weaving. Suffice it to say, this missile is nowhere near serial production or operational readiness. Problems in Russian industry when it comes to missiles, rockets, and space lift, tend to stem less from S&T and more from production quality of complex components. This was at the heart of Bulava’s spotty test record. I’m also skeptical of the south pole trajectory shown in Putin’s address, implying it could be a fractal orbital weapon. In the end, we have to wait for the actual parameters of the missile to become public (100t or 200t ?), because Russian officials have a long established problem with numbers – whether lies, truth, or self-PR, rarely does anyone in Russia give the same figures for anything.


Sarmat is possibly the least interesting item shown during the weapons menagerie. More puzzling is that little has been said about RS-26 Rubezh, which has stayed out of the news for some time after initially being tested as an ICBM and classified as such. Russian MoD needs to do a ‘where are they now’ catch up segment on some of these systems.

Gerasimov’s face during Sarmat video expresses how I felt.

Gerasimov's face during talk of Sarmat

Avangard or 4202 hypersonic boost-glide weapons

During the address, Vladimir Putin said that they couldn’t show the actual video of the rocket being used, and hence the name reference to Avangard is rather confusing. Avangard was a project mentioned back in 2011 by Serduykov and some sources incorrectly suggested it was based on a modified RS-24, which was made by MIT, whereas 4202 has been a well known hypersonic boost-glide program and is regularly mentioned as being tested on УР-100УНТТХ, which is made by NPO Mashinostroyeniya. The video during Putin’s presentation shows UR-100 (SS-19 Stiletto) as expected, besides being associated with 4202 – this ICBM also forms the basis for two successful space lift variants ‘Rokot’ and ‘Strela.’ The concept involves using an ICBM to boost a vehicle to near orbital speed, then it descents and adjusts flight profile at some altitude where there is still minimal atmospheric resistance into a sustained hypersonic glide, with the terminal phase being dive to target.

Borrowing this graphic


First mention of Russia’s hypersonic boost glide program, and tests using UR-100, actually goes back to large scale RVSN exercise in 2004.  This, like Kinzhal in 2008, is to give the reader some indicator as to how long these programs have been in progress so as to remove any confusion about the proposition that VV Putin ran out of things to claim and is now making all this up. USSR had ideas about hypersonic vehicles back in mid-1980s, so this is hardly a new concept.  N. Surkov has a good article on the program here, adding that 4202’s flight control system was made in Ukraine, and needed replacing after the war. According to Surkov the vehicle is boosted to 100 km altitude and then glides down, perhaps at 5-7 km per second, those could be just official stats though, just like when Shoigu liberated 500,000 sq km of Syria.

The idea behind 4202 is Russia’s version of Prompt Global Strike, except this system is intended to be an air defense penetrator carrying a strategic nuclear warhead. The vehicle being tested is analogous to U.S. Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2. Russia’s military continues to imagine a distant future where BMD is able to intercept their second strike, and therefore sees value in an expensive program to deliver nuclear weapons via a boost-glide vehicle. Although this threat perception is not too different from our oft advocated need for a new B-21 stealth bomber, since the current $2 billion B-2 is going to be defeated in some future where stealth is no longer viable. How Russians talk about the capabilities of U.S. missile defense to justify programs, and how Americans talk about Russian integrated air defense when it comes to B-21 and LRSO, has quite a bit in common.

obj 4202

A. Ramm has one of the best articles with details on 4202. A R-36M2 silo (listed as object 370) is being used to test 4202 (the complex is often referenced as A35-71. The UR-100 in question, together with 4202 on top of it, fits into this R-36 silo because it is designed for a missile that is 7 meters longer. Earlier mention of Avangard on a RS-24 based missile seems incorrect, unless this is a different system altogether, but in my view 4202 and Avangard are the same. Ultimately R-28 Sarmat is the most logical carrier for this hypersonic vehicle. UR-100 is the current test missile for 4202, while Yars or Topol lack the throw weight for such a weapon, but because UR-100 is too old, it means that R-28 Sarmat is the only perspective ICBM ‘booster’ for this weapon when/if it is completed. Before anyone chimes in that these things take a long time to develop, remind them that R-28 contract was signed 2011, and 4202 began testing 2004. So perhaps we will be seeing both by the mid-2020s?

Bottom line: there remains a strong emphasis on non-contact warfare, particularly tactical operational and operational-strategic weapons, along with dual-capable standoff systems. Even if the rationale of U.S. missile defense doesn’t hold much logic behind it, Russian leadership continuously thinks about a future where their strategic deterrent is somehow compromised, and this threat concept is rather convenient to justify a host of next generation technology programs, delivery systems and the like. Where there is capability in long range precision guided munitions the short coming often ends up being capacity. These are not bluffs, the question is less whether they can make it work and more of ‘how many can they afford.’ The upcoming GPV 2018-2027 will focus on increasing munition stocks and bringing to fruition several new standoff missiles – Kinzhal is just one among several projects. More in part 2 on Dr. Strangelove weapons.

Beyond the bad graphics, there is a real vehicle somewhere in testing, though it likely has a long way to go.

4202 video.JPG

In one brief graphic its even dodging numerous missiles that appear to be GBI interceptors, so there are two fantasies playing out in this image

past gbi

Comments and suggestions are welcome.