Zapad appeared largely over and things were dying down across training ranges. There was a military police exercise at Brest, and several live fire exercises for principal surface combatants of Russia’s Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea. Otherwise, most units were preparing for closing ceremonies and returning home on the 16th.
At Brest (Belarus)
Belarus and Russian military police conducted an exercise in joint defense against a diversionary group attempting to break through to their camp, detaining opposing forces, and providing medical support to wounded. It looked a bit like a capture the flag exercise with blanks, smoke grenades and flares. The enemy diversionary group planted some kind of black jihadist flag in the MP camp and then a firefight broke out. Medical detachments got to use their Linza vehicle, based on the Typhoon-K.
A surface action group composed of Kirov-class battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy and Slava-class guided missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov were out in the Barents to conduct a live fire exercise with anti-ship missiles. Their target was an opposing amphibious landing group. The two ships fired P-700 Granit (SS-N-19) and P- 1000 Vulkan (SS-N-12) missiles respectively at a target imitating enemy ships. This appears to be the final exercise for these cruisers in the Barents and they’re returning to port.
The naval contingent with Udaloy-class Severomorsk has left port Dudinka where they conducted a port call, and cultural activities, along with various ship defense and counter-saboteur exercises. They’re not heading home though, further into the eastern Arctic, to New Siberian Islands via the Laptev Sea.
Looks like Russian units are headed back to base. A closing ceremony was held 230th Obuz-Lesnovsky Combined-Arms training ground in Belarus.
The Alexandrov Ensemble also performed a concert for Russian and Belarusian troops involved in the exercise.
Russian forces at Mulino also held a closing ceremony involving foreign contingents who participated as part of the coalition.
Seems the Russian military is headed back to their bases, bunch of reports and videos of vehicles loading onto rail wagons and aircraft headed back.
Northern Fleet ships are returning to port, including the Oscar-II SSGN (K-266 Orel and Delta IV K-51 Verkhoturye) which had originally set sail on the 11th. 14th Army Corps units are returning to base from their various exercises. A total of 8000 participants were involved in Northern Fleet activities during this event, with more than 800 pieces of equipment. They conducted a total of 6 missile launches, including P-700 Granit, P-1000 Vulkan, P-270 Moskit, Kh-35 by Bal CDCM, and P-800 by Bastion-P.
First Guards Tank Army units are heading back from Mulino, they had a few more drills on the way back, but are definitely home in time to vote in the Duma elections… Iskander-M units at Mulino are also returning to Kursk, thus confirming it was the 448th Missile Brigade of the 20th CAA, that was involved in Zapad missile strikes at that training range.
Russian units (logistics, engineering and combat and combat support troops) are packing and are heading to their permanent bases. There is no time to rest, though. On the way home, they will practice air defense operations, along with defending against sabotage and reconnaissance groups.
The head of the Main Directorate for Military Police, Colonel General Sergei Kuralenko, remarked that during the exercise MPs fulfilled 140 training-combat tasks, and provided support for 128 convoys/columns. About 2,500 military police took place in Zapad and 600 pieces of automotive equipment. These exercises involve quite a few MP units, and military auto inspection (VAI) is also part of military police. Consequently, the 2500 number is not unrealistic, but fairly reasonable given the different roles MPs play at these exercises.
Thanks to Konrad Muzyka for working on this with me like we did for Kavkaz-2020. It’s been fun covering Zapad, though a busy week and I had to take a break in the middle of it.
This day featured a smaller version of the earlier regional grouping of forces exercise (featured September 12) being played out Obuz-Lesnovsky, this time with foreign attaches watching the action. Large grouping of artillery, an armored counterattack, tactical and army aviation support. At Brest there was a large combined paradrop of Russian-Belarusian paratroopers (76th DIV) and equipment. Ashuluk featured a sizable air defense exercise, repelling a massed aerospace attack with electronic and life fire missile launches. Kaliningrad training ranges proved quite busy, there was a paradrop at Pravdisnky and a coastal defense exercise featuring the 336th Naval Infantry brigade at Khmelevka. It looks like the VDV’s 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade also made an interesting paradrop at Mulino, though otherwise the range was quiet compared to the previous day’s action.
There was yet another paradrop over the Bretsky training range, again the 76th Air Assault Division. According to the Belarusian MoD, 20 Il-76MDs delivered 400 Russian and Belarusian paratroopers with 39 pieces of equipment (a battalion worth of BMD-4Ms). They flew from Kresti, about 1000km in total, and dropped from 600m using D-10 parachutes. Belarusians were loaded at the Machulishchi airfield near Minsk, and joined the Russian transport fleet enroute to Brest, dropping with D-6 parachutes. Once the force landed, they seized initial defensive lines. Their objective was to block three bridges, preventing enemy forces from disrupting the deployment of the main Russian-Belarusian forces. Essentially they closed of ground lines of communications along an advance.
174th “Domanovsky” Air and Air Defense Forces Training Ground
A security unit from the 483rd Air & Air Defense Force Protection and Maintenance Battalion was attacked as OPFOR sought to destroy a target/facility the unit was guarding. However, Belarusians brought in armored vehicles and repelled the attack with heavy machine guns. The enemy then regrouped and sought a different way in, used UAVs to recce the area. The UAV was destroyed by a machine gun fire. Yet, the OPFOR was determined to relaunch the attack. Belarusian forces repelled the second attack, useing machine guns and grenade launchers to destroy everything that was left of OPFOR.
An Osa-AKM-equipped battalion from the 147th Air Defense Regiment was joined by a S-300PS battalion from the 377th Air Defense Regiment in engaging enemy aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs. Emphasis on camouflaging firing positions, and securing the air defense units’ equipment.
Obuz-Lesnovsky, 230th Combined Arms Training Range
At Obuz-Lesnovsky foreign defense and military attaches observed exercises by Russia’s 1st GTA and Belarusian units at the training range. Some personnel from CSTO and SCO member states were also present. A delegation of the CIS executive committee and the Secretariat of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers and a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross were invited as well.
Observers witnessed a combined-arms operation. The show was intended to demonstrate what the regional grouping of forces could do in action. First, Belarusian units stopped the forward detachments of an opposing force, which gave time for the main force to prepare defensive lines. Then a ‘joint’ artillery group (army self-propelled artillery, MLRS, and VDV artillery units) destroyed enemy artillery and command posts. This appears to consistent with other scenarios where Russian artillery attempts to attain artillery superiority, and induce disorganization, by going after enemy fire positions and C2. The enemy tried to use aviation, but this too was repelled by air defense systems. A “mixed tactical group for combating UAVs” was formed, including air defense, EW, and NCB troops (recall NCB troops have MLRS and other capabilities).
Artillery component seemed to involve over 100 weapon systems including 2S5 Giatsint-S self-propelled artillery, 2S1 Gvozdika, BM-21 Grad 122mm MLRS and BM-27 Uragan 220mm MLRSs, 2S19 MSTA-S SPA. More than 1000 salvos were launched hitting 200 targets.
Rotary aviation provided cover for defensive positions, Mi-24s and Ka-52s. Meanwhile a flight of 4x Su-34 conducted SEAD missions, though with high explosive fragmentation bombs. Have yet to read of a single SEAD exercise where actual anti-radiation missiles are used. After repelling the enemy’s attack, the joint Russia-Belarusian force launched a counterattack with T-72B3s and T-80U (also T-72B for Belarus), together with supporting artillery, and army aviation. In the end, they were able to restore their positions, retake lost ground from OPFOR, while substantially attriting the enemy force.
During Zapad, Russians tested a better means for transport and delivery of fuel, namely a new generation of fuel trucks, the ATZ-12-10-63501 fuel tankers. This vehicle is on a 9×9 chassis of Kamaz-63501 truck, with a capacity of 12,000 liters, and ability to fuel 10 vehicles simultaneously. Special polymer self-sealing coating prevents leaks even if damaged by small arms fire. There were also the newer ATs-14-63501 fuel tankers. Reportedly, logistics personnel using these vehicles can fill up a tank company with fuel within 10-15 minutes.
In general while tanks are more exciting, logistics are often the more important conversation.
Units from a special purpose VDV brigade, which has to be 45th, were deployed to correct aviation strikes (tactical air control role?), and reconnoitering the landing zone for follow on forces in advance of an airborne assault. They dropped using special parachutes Stayer, as part of the Yunker-O system ofor high-altitude paradrops. The groups flew in from Zhitovo in Ryazan and parachuted from Il-76MDs at about 8,000 meters. After they landed, additional aircraft flew in with cargo using PGS-1500 and UPGS-250 parachute systems, dropping at about 1500m: heavy weapons, ammunition, reconnaissance and destruction equipment, food. Interestingly, an An-26 then delivered forward air observers using Dalnolet and Tandem-400S systems. The Tandem system is for specialists who have no parachute training, basically they jump in tandem with a paratrooper, so these air controllers don’t have parachute certification. Equipment landed using a specialized parachute-cargo system that is equipped with GLONASS global positioning. It can be steered in any direction, or land in self-navigating mode at the desired location. In addition, they have developed a way to paradrop 82mm mortars to these units.
Also, a Silok-01 radio-suppression system was deployed to protect a command post against makeshift/commercial drones, employing improvised explosive devices. The system blocked GPS navigation, control, and data transmission to/from the drones in question. Also, R-330Zh Zhitel radio jamming was employed, although few details offered.
At Ashuluk – Russian forces created a unified air defense system, including means to detect and repel an air attack, defend Russian forces, and operate everything from a single center. Press releases generally emphasize air defense operating in a unified information space, and simulating a contested environment with opponent’s employing EW. There seemed to be a large aerospace attack/air defense exercise taking place, simulating defense against a massed missile-aviation strike (MRAU). Approximately 60 air targets generated. Su-35 and Mig-31BM units trained in being directed to enemy air targets (doesn’t say if it was via AWACS or ground control). Air defense units conducted both electronic launches and live fire missile launches against aerial targets and simulated missiles.
Tu-95MS strategic bombers conducted a test of the Western MD’s air defense system. They practiced penetrating air defense, and destroying ground-based air defense systems, along with navigation without visual orientation. This is a pretty odd exercise description given what the Tu-95MS’ role is, and its certainly not penetrating air defense or destroying ground-based AD.
Elements of the 76th Air Assault Division conducted a paradrop over Pravdinsky training range. Around 300 personnel and several BMD-2KU vehicles were involved. Only 10 Il-76s MDs were used. The Baltic Fleet’s Su-27s achieved air superiority, which allowed for military transport aviation to fly in. Su-24s also bombed OPFOR’s ground forces before the landing party arrived. Once on the ground, paras seized the bridgehead and defended it from OPFOR’s attacks, destroying OPFOR’s forward detachments.
In addition, at Dobrovolskiy, Su-24s and Su-30SMs conducted “precision” strikes (doubtful) against enemy command posts, and forces. Also looks like there was a SEAD component to this exercise. Bomb strikes conducted at altitudes from 200m to 2000m.
Khmelevka, Kaliningrad Oblast
At Khmelevka the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade assault detachments and supporting artillery engaged OPFOR’s amphibious force using 2S9 Nona 120 mm gun-mortar systems and BTR-82A APCs. This exercise was part of a larger drill practiced that day at Khmelevka with overall 1000 participants. Naval infantry units were raised on alert, deployed to the beach where an enemy amphibious attack was inbound, prepared defense positions and fired on targets imitating landing craft.
Khmelevka also featured an interesting EW exercise. Using drones, Leer-3 electronic warfare units (these systems use Orlan-10 drones), worked in conjunction with Zhitel, Borisoglebsk-1, and Lava-RP. They practiced jamming enemy radio-controlled explosives (maybe IEDs?), electronic support missions which involve detecting emitting targets, active jamming of enemy forward air controllers, and precision guided weapons. 100 troops involved with 20 pieces of specialized equipment. No photos so we have to imagine all the precision guided weapons they were able to jam.
Naval forces held an air defense exercise involving 2x Steregushchiy-class corvettes Stoikiy and Steregushchiy, and Neustrashimyy-class frigate Yaroslav Mudry. The surface action group detected an incoming enemy air attack represented by Su-24s and Ka-27s belonging to the Baltic Fleet’s naval aviation component. Ships defended themselves with EW, also employing A-190 main gun and AK-630 CIWS guns. They then shifted to artillery fire against different targets at sea and land targets imitating coastal defenses.
Seems there was another fleet defense exercise in Baltiysk for special purpose PDSS units. PDSS prevented diversionary forces from penetrating the Baltic Fleet base during a loading operation. They practiced patrolling in speedboats along Kaliningrad’s maritime channel, deploying divers, and UUVs.
The 14th Army Corps continued their multi-day battle with enemy forces engaged in an amphibious assault on the Kola Peninsula. This time the training was at a range in the Kandalaksha region south of Murmansk, i.e. more on the White Sea coast which tells us it was the 80th Arctic Motor Rifle Brigade whereas the earlier training was by the 200th MRB. The exercise featured a massed artillery strike against opposing forces with 2s1 Gvozdika and mortars, practicing maneuver defense, laying ambushes, and camouflaging equipment. Units fired at targets at a range of 100m-3000m with ATGMs, and various RPGs.
Meanwhile the rest of the corps were on the offensive near Pechenga, and on the Sredniy and Rybachy peninsulas. A total of 3,000 troops are involved and 500 pieces of equipment. This describes the overall set of exercises taking place, emphasis placed on jointness, ground force coordination with air power. The counteroffensive phase is the final part of the exercise, earlier they trained in positional and maneuver defense at Pechenga and Kandalaksha, along with coastal defense against an amphibious landing at Sredniy.
Bastion-P Coastal Defense Cruise Missile batteries based on the island of Alexandra Land (Franz Josef Land archipelago), conducted launches against an enemy surface action group. Strike conducted against a target at sea, maximum effective range. Target coordinates relayed by the AdmiralGorshkov-class frigate, Admiral Kasatonov. Kasatonov was doing its own training in targeting surface combatants, but with simulated electronic launches. The target struck was being observed by Il-38, and the strike confirmed by the aircraft. Here is the twist, the Bastion-P battery did not belong to the Northern Fleet, it was a Baltic Fleet coastal defense unit that was delivered to Alexandra Land some weeks ago in advance of this exercise.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping me put some of these writeups together.
This day featured the main event at Mulino, a large-scale iteration of maneuver defense by a coalition grouping of forces, luring the opposing force into prepared fire cauldrons, degrading them, counterattacking with massed fires and strike systems through the depth of their lines, and then conducting a counteroffensive. The exercise featured the 31st Air Assault Brigade, extensive air support and bombing from VKS Aerospace Forces, attack helicopters, drone strikes, large concentrations of supporting artillery (SPA and MLRS), extensive minewarfare, and use of combat engineer-sapper units. At other ranges there were notable paradrops, including a night drop by the VDV’s 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade. Three Iskander-M launches took place at different ranges, SRBM and cruise missiles fired. Meanwhile the Northern Fleet continued its battle against an unidentified force of marines which had made an amphibious landing on Kola Peninsula.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping put together a number of the events and activities here, and as a second set of eyes in case I miss something.
The 106th VDV Division which had a battalion packed and ready to drop for a few days now finally deployed. Best guess it was 137th Airborne Regiment. The opposing force was deploying reserves into the fight, and coalition command decided to call upon operational-tactical airborne. This seems to be the current designation for parachute regiments. They dropped at two different sites near Zhitovo with 300 paratroopers and 30 BMD-4M infantry fighting vehicles, aboard 21 x Il-76MD transport aircraft (together with 20 Indian paratroopers). Paradrop took place at about 800-1100 meters, with air cover provided by Su-35S.
A battalion from the 104th Air Assault Regiment of the 76th Airborne Division conducted maneuver defense operations at the training ground. An OPFOR of 1500 attacked Russian positions, which were being defended by an airborne BTG. They were initially met by a BMD-4M equipped air assault platoon. The subunit moved back to prepared lines, luring OPFOR into an ambush. The OPFOR stood no chance against BMD-4Ms and the 2S25 Sprut self-propelled tank destroyer/light tank. An air defense component of the exercise included 9K333 Verba engaging aerial targets.
At Mulino, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast – Main Event
The overall scheme for events at Mulino involves a coalition grouping of forces holding a defensive line against an enemy offensive which had pushed 80km into coalition territory, and then mounting a large counteroffensive. This was another case of maneuver defense, and a ‘perforating’ attack with fires against the enemy forces at a tactical-operational level. In the first phase of the event, they goal was to pull the OPFOR’s initial echelons into an operational envelopment, and deflect their air attack. Then deploy airborne units and commit mobile reserves. In the second phase, the Northern Coalition attempted to disrupt the opponent’s system of command and control (disorganize), attain superiority in fires, and reduce their combat potential via a concentrated strike across the entire operational depth of their forces – using recon-fire and recon-strike complexes (its contours or loops, not complexes, whoever wrote this is using older terms). In phase three, the Russian-led coalition’s goal was to crush OPFOR, deploying tactical and tactical-operational airborne units, bypassing parts of their force, and seizing populated sectors. The exercise also tested elements of combat service support and logistical elements, resupplying the force with ammunition, maintenance, etc.
Putin was there, looking at the event through a pair of binoculars while Gerasimov explained things. In Zapad-2017 he was there on the 5th day, like during most strategic command-staff exercises, but this time they had the main event earlier. Notably they keep him sequestered due to covid, forcing everyone to quarantine well in advance, so spotting him in a command center filled with people is actually a rare sight these days.
Belarusian T-72B tank units (a reinforced armored company) practiced maneuver defense, together with Russian motor rifle detachments, forcing the opposing force to suffer attrition and attack with their main body of forces in an unfavorable direction. This tactical scenario has been repeated several times in Zapad now, armored forces retreating from forward defense positions under the cover of smokescreens to avoid being decisively engaged, only to take up a new defensive line. This tactic is called ‘rolling.’ Their goal is to lure the opponent into a fire cauldron (or pocket), which is also heavily mined. The fire pocket is a prepared sector, where artillery and other units can decimate an opposing force from multiple directions with direct and indirect fires, while minelayers block mobility. This exercise featured mining to block the opponent’s advance using GMZ-3 minelayers, and heliborne mining via Mi-8MT. There’s mention of a different type of formation employed, mobile tactical groups, which sounded just like BTGs, except these were reinforced by BMPT Terminator units. These were supported by mine clearing vehicles and TOS-1A MLRS.
The 31st Air Assault Brigade together with a Belarusian tank battalion tactical group (19th Mechanized Brigade), as part of a joint operation. The airborne operation is referenced as 31st deploying a “mobile strike echelon.” Objective: prevent breakthrough by opposing coalition forces, fill the gaps or reinforce key areas that might be overrun. This time they deployed 12 Mi-8AMTSh transport helicopters (although in total airborne operations at Mulino involved 32 Mi-8 variants), with cover from 14 Mi-24, Mi-28N, Ka-52 attack helicopters. They brought in Sarmat-2 ground mobility vehicles so that forces could rapidly seize key positions, and as has become commonplace D-30 122mm howitzers for artillery support. Helicopters airlifted Sarmat-2 light ground mobility vehicles, whose attack helped disrupt opposing forces. These light units were working in conjunction with an air assault battalion mounted on BMD-4Ms, and a Belarusian tank BTG fielding T-72B1s.
Russian (31st) and Kazakhstani (35th Air Assault Brigade) forces had a separate training exercise in an urban environment. After attacking the enemy with 4x Sarmat vehicles and attack helicopters, they assaulted buildings, engaging in urban combat. Assault-engineer units created entrances through walls, demined buildings, and prepared it to be demolished. A battery of D-30 towed 122mm howitzers, brought in by the Mi-8s, provided support for this event. Also they had 82mm mortars, and two units with Kornet ATGMs. This event was a planned battle in the city, featuring about 300 paratroopers from Russia and Kazakhstan, with 10 helicopters supporting.
Russian Aerospace Forces executed a massed aviation strike against enemy forces at Mulino, involving more than 60 aircraft. Su-24MR reconnaissance, 12x Su-25SM3 attack, 16x Su-30SM heavy-multirole, 6x Su-35S air superiority, 16x Su-34 and 6x Su-24 tactical bombers, along with 6x Tu-22M3 bombers. Essentially tactical-operational, and long-range aviation. Su-24MR conducted strikes and reconnaissance of enemy targets, then Su-35S engaged in air-to-air combat against enemy fighters. Enemy air defense, deployed in starting positions, was destroyed with 48 high-explosive fragmentation bombs delivered by Su-25SM3. Judging from exercise depiction they were unguided, but using SOLT-25 navigation system with thermal imaging. Four flights of Su-34s were also in support, destroying important targets further behind enemy lines with 24x 500kg bombs. Bombing done at 600-1200 meters. 6x Tu-22M3 from 22nd Hvy Bomber Division flew sorties, dropping 1500kg bombs in pairs on enemy command centers from an altitude of 1000-2000m (that’s a 3300lb bomb to us colonials). They based out of operational airfields in Saratov and Kaluga regions.
Several types of drones were used, including Orion, Forport, Orlan-10, and Lastochka. Not sure if the story is right, claims they used 120mm laser guided mortar munitions called Gran, but from Lastochka which is a very small UAV. Videos show use of KAB-20S small guided bomb from Forpost-R. They also employed Orlan-10 with unguided munitions called ‘Mirotvorets.’
Artillery fires and strike systems
According to the MoD release, 12 battalions of MSTA-S participated at Mulino, more than 140 self-propelled systems in the 152mm caliber. Number seemed a bit off, maybe organizationally 12 battalions were involved, but 12 battalions would total 216 SPA not 140. A specialized recon-fire complex, by the name of Zemledelie, was employed against enemy reserve forces. Zemledelie is a 122mm (ISDM) engineering distance mining system – essentially a multiple launch rocket propelled mining system – able to put down a minefield of 600×200 meters at a range of 15km. This vehicle has been making appearances in greater numbers, they had quite a few more at Zapad than in Kavkaz-2020. About 10x TOS-1A Solntsepek 220mm thermobaric MLRS systems were involved in the exercise as well. They were used in conjunction with Zemledelie against enemy columns and reserve units. Interesting combination of distance mining and thermobaric MLRS.
An Iskander-M battalion (4 TELs – maybe 448th?) deployed 50km from Mulino executed a grouped missile strike against enemy command points and other critically important targets. They used both the 9M723 SRBM and 9M728 cruise missile. So, this is a different unit than at Luzhsky, for what may be a total of 3 Iskander launches on this day.
The Iskander-M launch near Mulino was a 2x SRBM launch, video surfaced later.
They rolled out Uran-9 and Nerekhta UGVs. Uran-9 features 4xAtaka ATGMs, 12x RPO PDM-A thermobaric grenade launchers, a 30mm autocannon, and PKTM machine gun. Basically, its armed to the teeth. It had test reports from Syria which suggested the vehicle had a long way to go in development to meet requirements for reliable distance operation, fidelity in sensors, and other issues. So, it’s got a ton of weapons, but functionality is a different issue. As far as big UGVs go, it is probably the ED-209 of the bunch. Nerekhta is quite small and can have different combat modules, but standard loadout is 12.7mm machine gun and 30mm AG-30M grenade launcher. Also, they displayed 3-4 B-19 vehicles, a BMP-3 platform with Epocha combat module (57mm autocannon, Kornet ATGMs, and smaller caliber ATGMs Bulat). B-19 BMP variant looked neat, except that there was clearly scoring and burn marks on the side of the turret from its own Kornet ATGM fire, looks like it needs minor tweaks.
Combat engineers setup a dummy tank battalion in defense, along with dummy Buk and S-300 units. This allowed them to lure enemy forces into attacking the wrong sector, and similarly mislead an enemy air attack against a dummy air defense battalion.
They also setup another fire wall using trenches filled with flammables – multiple rows at a 1.5km length. A different article said 1km length, but who’s counting. This time engineers activated the fire wall across three different lines using highly flammable liquid. There was also a VIED exercise, simulating the kind of up armored technicals and suicide bombers encountered in Syria.
At Luzhsky training ground
Several Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft scouted the area for ground targets, then transmitted the data and coordinates to a follow up flight of 4 x Su-34s via a closed communication channel.
An Iskander-M launch of 9M728 cruise missile took place at the range, most likely by the 26th Missile Brigade. It was used to strike targets at ranges of 100km, just as the crew had practiced via simulated electronic launches a few days beforehand.
The Russian MoD confirmed that a unified air defense system had been created in support of Zapad. It includes all forces, units, and assets tasked with early warning, and repelling air attack. These assets are controlled from one C2 center. The use of an automated control system makes it possible to identify and distribute air targets. Engagement should also be automatic. Air defense units drilling at Ashuluk operate within a highly contested electronic warfare environment in conditions of radio suppression and radio jamming in various frequency ranges. Interestingly, one of the Pantsir units showed by the Russian MoD came from the Kirov Oblast, which is not known to field any SAM regiments. It is plausible that the system was withdrawn from storage and put into operational use? Perhaps this is a mobile reserve air defense unit?
At Brest, Belarus
45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (VDV), together with airborne units from Belarus and Kazakhstan, conducted a night time paradrop at the training range from 3 x Il-76MD at altitudes of 1500-1900m. About 90 reconnaissance paratroopers from the 45th, 60 from Belarus, and 20 from Kazakhstan. Russians used Arbalet-2 parachute system flying out of Kubinka, Belarusians used D-4 parachutes coming out of Machulishi. After landing, paratroopers practiced diversionary actions behind enemy lines, raiding, reconnaissance, and destroying objects in the enemy rear.
Saboteurs seized areas where the Baltic Sea Fleet ships were moored. Elements of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade (Northern Fleet) and the 313th PDSS were sent in to recapture the area and neutralize the threat. They were deployed onshore through fast boats. The diversionary forces were blocked at the pier and “destroyed”. Altogether 50 personnel, 10 pieces of equipment, a Ka-29 and Ka-27 helicopter involved. The abovementioned detachment worked to prevent the breakthrough of underwater saboteurs to ships that were being loaded with weapons at the naval base.
14th Army Corps continued a second day of exercises on the Kola Peninsula, together with airborne units which had been deployed to reinforce them. They continued defending the coast against an enemy marine force which had been landed via amphibious operation. The focus this day was on the Sredniy peninsula, with 100 pieces of equipment and 800 troops. T-80BVMs completed a 100km march together with motor rifle units mounted on MT-LBs, and then practiced firing at different types of targets, backed by 2S1 Gvozdika SPA, and man portable Kornet ATGMs. Exercise involved employing camouflage, providing combat engineer support, and elements of air defense.
Meanwhile back at the Arctic expeditionary group which had sailed up the Yenisei river, PDSS units continued to train in countering diversionary operations and providing security for the small naval group that been sent there. Exercises took place along the river and at the port of Dudinka. They included Udaloy-class Severomorsk, which had been docked there for several days, along with Rapucha-class LST Georgiy Pobedonosets, and tugboat Pamir.
Russian aerospace forces had a busy day, conducting strikes in support of exercises, intercepting enemy air attacks, engaging in various opposing force scenarios and working in conjunction with ground-based air defense. This seemed to be a finale day for exercises in Belarus, with the focus on Obuz-Lesnovsky, exercises featuring defense with artillery and air support, counteroffensives, heliborne operations with VDV troops to recapture a settlement. Tank and attack helicopter based exercises at Mulino, heavy day for various armor drills, and a fair bit of rotary aviation employed. Baltic Fleet conducted a large amphibious landing, simulating both amphibious attack and coastal defense. Northern Fleet practiced anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship warfare with SSGNs, and a large coastal defense exercise led by 14th Army Corps on the Kola peninsula.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka for helping me put a number of these together. We were worried with less media coverage there would not be as much to write about, but that seems to have been less of a problem than earlier imagined. Apologize for any awkward sentences, there’s a lot to cover and not much time for good editing to be had here.
VKS Aerospace Forces – Air defense units and Western MD tactical aviation repelled an enemy air attack, the exercise involved 10 different tactical episodes where units trained in intercepting air targets, attacking ground forces, and bombing fortified positions. Enemy forces were played by Su-35S, Su-34, Mi-8, Mi-28N, Mi-35, Ka-52. Su-30SM and Mig-31BMs in the role of interceptors, destroying enemy air targets which were attempting to conduct a massed aviation strike (MRAU). A total of 40 aerodynamic targets were destroyed, imitating enemy cruise missiles and aircraft. The way this is written I think the MoD release got a few items mixed in terms of the size of OPFOR. If the OPFOR is composed of real aircraft then naturally they use simulated electronic launches (except in that rare occasion when a pilot accidentally arms his 30mm in a training dogfight, like back in Kavkaz-2020).
In a different set of exercises Su-35S crews intercepted Su-30SMs at about 10,000 meters. Su-30SMs played the role of opposing forces. Each enemy aircraft had to be detected by radar, presumably ground based since no mention of AWACS, and this is a combined exercise with air defense components of VKS. Su-35s sortied from Ryazan, simulating electronic launches at beyond visual range 100km+
Near Smolensk, there were a series of strikes by Su-34s and Tu-22M3s, which appeared different than the exercise in Belarus discussed later in this post. They dropped bombs from relatively low altitudes of 1000m against underground command centers, cement bunkers, and other types of ground targets. Su-30SMs provided fighter cover. Approximately 20 aircraft belonging to tactical and long range aviation employed in this event.
At Ruzhansky – (210th Air Force and Air Defense Forces Aviation Range)
Reconnaissance discovered a large grouping of opposing forces along with their airfield with aircraft. Air support was called in to destroy it. Altogether 20 Russian and Belarusian aircraft flew in and dropped 50 bombs, launched 130 unguided missiles, firing 850 30mm rounds. The first to appear were Belarusian Su-30SM fighters, which carried out additional reconnaissance over the area and established air control. Then bombers and combat helicopters arrived to destroy the enemy. The strike package included Belarusian Yak-130s, Mi-24s, but also Russian long-range aviation’s Tu-22M3s. An image of a Su-24 with fuel tanks deploying flares was published by the Belarusian MoD, which confirms that Russia deployed these in support. A CSAR mission was also conducted after a helicopter was presumed to have “crashed.” A pair of Mi-24s provided air cover for combat search and rescue.
At/around Domanovsky in Brest – (174th Air Force and Air Defense Forces Training Range)
Subunits of the Belarusian 147th Air Defense Regiment (equipped with Osa-AKM air defence system) conducted two tactical episodes at the range. They provided anti-aircraft cover for ground troops, shielded them from air attacks of a simulated enemy. The second episode involved a live-fire exercise with missiles engaging high-speed small-sized and low-altitude air targets. The regiment deployed two batteries to the range with each battery assigned three targets. The first one simulated a high-speed target (200-400 m/s) flying at an altitude of 1-4 km. The second and third targets simulated OPFOR fire support helicopters hovering at a low altitude.
An air assault battalion from the 38th Air Assault Brigade made a march from Domanovo to Brest training range. During the march, they crossed be Mukhovets River east of Brest. Their objective was to flank opposing forces and cut off potential escape routes. The 38th riverine operations seem to have been linked to the one conducted the previous day by the Russian company from the 15th MRR. They too crossed Mukhovets and flanked the opposing force from an unexpected direction, occupying the necessary area and blocking escape routes. Not clear if this took place on the 12th or 13th of September.
During the night of 12/13 September Belarusian, Russian, and Kazakh paras did a night jump from Il-76s over the Brest range. First Russian were dropped to secure the landing site. The second wave followed with Belarusian and Kazakh subunits. The drop included elements of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade (Belarus), 76th Airborne Division (Russia), and the 35th Airborne Assault Brigade (Kazakhstan).
At Obuz-Lesnovsky (230th Combined Arms Training Range)
On the last day of the defensive phase of Zapad, Lukashenko paid a visit to this training ground, while Russia sent deputy minister of defense Evkurov. Officially, Belarus has stood up a motor rifle battalion as a part of force generation activities in support of Zapad. They might be staggering final events, having the big joint activity with Belarus on Day 3 at this range, and then the Russian one at Mulino on Day 4.
On the ground, units subordinated to the regional grouping of forces (RGF), which included elements of the Russian 4th Tank Division, 76th Air Airborne Division, Kazakh 35th Airborne Assault Brigade as well as Belarusian mechanized formations (and a newly stood up Belarusian motor rifle battalion) conducted an air assault. The scenario was first a joint force repulsing an enemy attack, setting the conditions for an effective counteroffensive, and defeated the enemy. This seemed like a fairly set-piece scenario for the regional grouping of forces, but it was a big show day for 4th Tank division and its T-80U counterattack, supported by Belarusian forces. Also they lit the range pretty well with all sorts of towed artillery, SPA, and MLRS. More than 100 pieces of artillery were used, including 2S1 Gvozdika, 2S5 Giatsint-S, and MSTA-S, BM-21 Grad and BM-27 Uragan MLRS.
OPFOR tried to conduct a counterattack with armored vehicles, but was stopped in part by a 400-meteter multi-row firewall. This is essentially engineer-sapper units (1st GTA) blowing up a ton of flammable liquid in an anti-tank trench. Engineer units then used UR-77 and UR-83P demining vehicles to clear a path for a counteroffensive. Counteroffensive followed with what seems to be all ground units deployed. Artillery, TOS-1As thermobaric weapon systems, VDV forces and elements of the 4th Tank Division, and T-72B3, T-80U. Also media claiming something called a T-90UBKh, but I think this a typo. The counter offensive was naturally a success, restoring the forces original positions.
Another part of this day’s events featured heliborne operations, lifting units into a captured settlement. The mock settlement was kind of a village, basically a set of rural looking dwellings. Airborne units surrounded the settlement with BMD-4s, then troops rappelled from Mi-8 helicopters (seem they can simultaneously deploy 5 soldiers from a helicopter via rope systems). Ka-52s supported the airborne operation, while soldiers cleared the village.
Aviation was also busy. This included Mi-24s from 50th Mixed Aviation Base Belarus and Ka-52s from Russian army aviation. Russia also deployed Tu-22M3s and Su-34s, flying from homebased airfields. The latter (4x Su-34) conducted SEAD missions against enemy air defense and traditional bombing missions. Belarusians also deployed their Su-25s and Yak-130s for ground support roles.
Since the start of Zapad, an EW group from 1st GTA has been busy suppressing radio signals of opposing forces using active jamming stations: R-934BVM “Borisoglebsk-2”, R-330Zh “Zhitel”, R-378BVM. EW units conducted a radio-electronic strike against enemy lines of communication (radio), and suppressed about 100 enemy targets which were capable of radio-electronic effects (translation a bit rough here).
Back in Russia
Luzhskiy – Approximately 30 tank and artillery crews from elements of the 6th CAA fired at targets out of direct line of sight ~6km, from established firing positions, while conducting reconnaissance at night. A couple of battle drills mentioned: tank carousel, roving tank, and tank-scout. Tank carousel is well known from Syria, where tanks cycle through a firing position in order to sustain fire on a target at a sustained rate. Roving, or maybe nomadic tank is a better term for it, (shrug on translation here) is when a tank shifts between several firing positions to confuse a force as to the actual disposition of the defenders and where they’re concentrated. The tank fires from each spot moving along a route to make it seem like there is a much larger armored unit there. Tank-scout I’m unsure about. At Luzhskiy there are about 2000 troops and more than 500 pieces of equipment, including 4 aircraft and 10 helicopters.
Over what appeared to be a Mulino training ground, Mi-35s and Mi-24s helicopters provided air support and cover for ground units. They delivered strikes against manpower and armored vehicles. Attack helicopter crews employed Shturm-V and Ataka-M ATGMs and S-8 unguided rockets. The mode of attack was based on a ‘helicopter carousel’: helicopters created a circle style battle formation, which allowed for continuous delivery of fire on opposing forces’ positions. With that approach, they engaged communications, command posts and communication routes. Also, possibly during the same event at Mulino, Mi-28N, Ka-52, Mi-35 and Mi-24 attack helicopters conducted aerial reconnaissance, launching rocket strikes against ground targets, while providing air cover for ground forces. This could be a description of the abovementioned exercise. Helicopter crews arrayed themselves into pairs, and squadrons, employing terrain masking at low altitude flight.
Elements of the 4th Tank Division (possibly a BTG) conducted an ambush, thwarting an enemy offensive. Separated from the main forces, camouflaged T-80 tanks opened volley fire at the advancing enemy columns (opposing forces were represented by moving targets). Tank crews worked out hitting targets at distances from 700m to 2.2km, and then deployed smokescreens to displace from their positions.
An NBC subunit cleaned up a mock chemical attack. According to the exercise plan, two crews of the RHM-6 CBRN reconnaissance vehicles found a “contaminated” area, determined the type of contamination, and the substance used. Terrain samples were then transferred to a headquarters. All the equipment in the contaminated zone was disinfected by ARS-14KM vehicles. The NBC unit also created an aerosol curtain to camouflage friendly forces. The thermobaric detachment used RPO-A Shmel thermobaric grenade launchers to destroy enemy forticications.
Air defence units belonging to the 44th Air Defence Division, together with the Baltic Sea Fleet’s ships and naval aviation component repelled an enemy airstrike. Combat crews deployed to areas from which they were supposed to provide air cover, readying S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. There they sought to detect and destroy air and ballistic targets represented by real airframes. The air situation was complicated by massed ‘raids’ conducted by Su-30SM and Su-24s and the presence of an An-26 military transport aircraft. These aircraft imitated an enemy air force across a range of altitudes and speeds. The exercise simulated Russian air defense systems operating in an EW-contested environment.
During the exercise, the simulated enemy force delivered cruise missile strikes with a density of up to seven targets hit per minute. The Fleet’s Su-27s took to the skies in order to intercept enemy cruise missiles, together with air defense systems (launches simulated electronically of course). The interesting part here is that each year you see more air crews training in cruise missile interception. The Baltic Fleet ships involved in this drill also made electronic launches at air targets. In total, more than 10 aircraft were involved in the exercise. The grouping of naval and ground forces was represented by four air defence battalions, and seven ships of the Baltic Fleet. On the whole it doesn’t sound like OPFOR was particularly large, but interesting to see greater integration with naval forces performing AD missions.
At Pravdinsky Training Range
Attack of OPFOR was stopped by elements of the 11th Army Corps with air support. Fighters achieved air superiority. Su-34s aircraft struck the positions of the “enemy”, its command posts, and weapons and logistics depots. Mi-24s, Su-24s and Su-30s were also involved in ground support operations. Concurrently, artillery delivered concentrated mass fires on targets and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles.
Consequently, favorable conditions were created for the transition from defense to offense. The enemy was struck by a tank subunit using the “tank carousel” technique. On top of that, the use of artillery and frontal aviation effectively defeated the identified “enemy.” Elements of the 76th Airborne Division are at Pravdinsky as well, but unsure what role they fulfil.
At Khmelevka, Baltic Fleet (336th) and Northern Fleet (61st) naval infantry units conducted an amphibious landing. Chief of the Russian Navy, Nikolai Evmenov, was present at this event personally. NF naval infantry had to seize a platsdarm and then enable the rest of the forces and equipment to land. BF naval infantry played the defenders in this scenario. First, supporting ships conducted artillery strikes along the coast to suppress defending fire positions. Then Su-30SMs and Su-24s from the Baltic Fleet provided strike support for the landing. Looks like first Raptor high-speed patrol boats unloaded groups of combat engineers to help clear a path through supposed mines on the beachhead, and set signals to designate the landing area for arriving forces. Looks like 4x Rapucha-class LSTs then unloaded naval infantry, more than 40x BTR-80 in total. This is a sizable amphibious landing for Russian forces. Along with the LSTs deployed two large aircushion landing craft (LCACs), the Zubr-class ships (Pomornik) Mordoviya and Evgeniy Kocheshkov. Looks like LCACs delivered the support units, 2s9 Nona mortars and a R-149 command vehicle.
SF and BF naval infantry then practiced their respective tasks, assault vs coastal defense. BF units were raised on alert, deployed to the area where they detected an incoming amphibious landing and began to setup positions. They defended the coast with Nona mortar systems, BM-21 Grad, and their BTR-82A APCs. Photos suggest Shilkas used on the beach as well. Altogether, about 10 ships involved in this event, more than 200 pieces of equipment, and approximately 2000 troops.
Project 1131M small anti-submarine ships Kabardino-Balkaria and Aleksin in conjunction with Ka-27PL ASW helicopters searched for a supposed enemy submarine in the Baltic Sea. Working on detection, classification, etc. they eventually found and sunk a hypothetical enemy submarine using a mix of RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers and torpedoes. Crews also practiced in live fire artillery exercises against small sea going and aerial targets.
14th Army Corps held a sizable exercise at Pechenga, simulating a defense against enemy forces on the Kola peninsula. Approximately 300 pieces of equipment including T-80BVMs, 2S1 Gvozdika and 2S3 Akatsiya SPA, venerable MT-LBs, ATGM units, and various air defense systems belonging to PVO-SV like Tunguska. They also had drones and naval aviation supporting. Su-24s from the fleet’s mixed aviation regiment joined in to conduct bombing runs against enemy forces. The exercise included practicing how to camouflage forces, better known by everyone as the dreaded maskirovka. Also electronic warfare, jamming and creating false targets. The exercise helped test signals and communications equipment, in total involving about 2000 troops from the Northern Fleet.
Northern Fleet surface combatants formed a surface search and strike group, essentially a surface action group whose primary mission is anti-submarine warfare. Seems these were small anti-submarine warfare ships, (project 1124M Grisha-class corvettes) Snezhgorsk and Yunga, working with Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft, and Ka-27PL ASW helicopters to search for enemy submarines with sonar buoys.
Meanwhile the Northern Fleet’s SSGN that had sortied on 11th September, an Oscar-II class submarine K-266 Orel, conducted a live fire exercise using P-700 Granit. The submarine fired submerged against a target imitating a large surface combatant at over 100km from its own position.
Military transport aviation (VTA) prepared to deploy airborne forces, a total of 60 crews including Il-76 and An-26. They began loading VDV units at airfields.
VDV units at Strugi Krasnyie trained with indirect fire from BMD-4M, seemed like they were talking about firing airburst fragmentation munitions using predetermined coordinates from Orlan-10 drones.
Klyazma River – Western MD engineering units built a floating brigade across the Klyazma River in the Vladimir Region. OPFOR destroyed ground lines of communication, which forced the engineering units to restore a crossing over a river using heavy mechanized bridges TMM-3M2. Mi-28Ns provided air cover.
September 11 featured a large joint exercise at Pravdinsky, representing the main tenets of maneuver defense. Air defense, EW, and tactical aviation units practiced intercepting enemy cruise missiles, drones, and penetrating strike aircraft. Airborne units were training and positioning for more active phases of the exercise coming up. A panoply of interesting reconnaissance and targeting activities, using KRUS Strelets to enable recon-fire/recon-strike loops. Northern Fleet forces sortied a SSGN and SSBN, conducting simulated fires against enemy surface action groups. Meanwhile the Baltic Fleet ran an amphibious landing exercise, and live fire exercises with CDCMs.
I took a break on Sunday which put me a bit behind, but got to see my football team lose their first game of the season. Of course that was more of a dynamic event with a motivated OPFOR.
Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka who helped me put some of these items together, it always easier with another person looking.
VKS Аеrospace Forces
Tu-22M3 and Su-34 aircraft conducted bombing runs on a training run near Smolensk (Dorogobuzh?). They bombed ground targets, denoting armored vehicles, concrete shelters, camouflaged and fortified underground command posts. Ground targets were struck from a height of around 1,000 m. Air cover provided by Su-30SMs. Altogether 20 long-range and tactical aviation aircraft were involved in this operation. (sadly no pictures)
After their deployment to operational airfields in the Ryazan region, Su-35s were sortied to intercept 10 air targets here played by Su-30SMs. The latter were detected by radio-electronic troops of the WMD. Before the OPFOR Su-30SMs entered a zone of air defense responsibility, they were ‘engaged’ by simulated electronic launches at a distance of over 100 km.
Mig-31BM units belonging to 6th AAD Army intercepted enemy aircraft at medium altitudes. These were simulated by Su-24M bombers operating as the opposing force. They then detected a group of enemy drones which could not be identified on IFF. The Migs broke up into pairs to engage enemy drone systems, preventing a hypothetical strike against Russian powerplants.
VDV Airborne– Strugi Krasnye
This proved a really interesting battalion level exercise on 10th/11th. 76th VDV division deployed 600 paratroopers with 50 pieces of equipment. Air cover provided by Su-30SMs, Ka-52s, and Mi8AMTSh helicopters, along with air control with A-50U AWACS and Il-22-SURT. Paratroopers seized an enemy airfield, marched to another mission 100km away. on their way they also practiced overcoming minefields. Looks like they had 50 BMD-4M, BTR-MDM Rakushka, and some lighter vehicles as well, along with air defense systems (Stela-10MN, ZU-23-2, Igla, Verba). Part of the activity included the column practicing repelling an enemy attack.
The 51st parachute regiment & 234th air assault regiment are from 106th division, while the 237th air assault are from 76th division. 51st is holding left flank, 237th is holding far right, a reinforced 234th is holding the main line in the center and defending against an attack on the right. The exercise is using stand in numbers under the system of exercise number -10 = actual unit number i.e. 61st – 10 = 51st regiment.
Separately, 106th VDV from Tula were airlifted by military transport aviation (VTA) from Ryazan region to Ulianovsk. Earlier at Dyagilevo airbase the 106th had assembled a full BMD-4M battalion for loading aboard transport aircraft to be paradropped. They will be doing a drop with 300 troops and more than 30 BMD vehicles at Zhitovo, using 23 x Il-76MD.
At Savasleika in Nizhny Gorod region, the 31st Air Assault Brigade which is based in Ulianovsk, began practicing rappelling from helicopters. This unit is training with using Mi-8AMTSh to airlift D-30 howitzers, and new ground mobility vehicles, Sarmat-2, which packs 3 people, 12.7mm MG and AGS-17 30mm Grenade launcher. 31st usually experiments with force structure and new tactics, air lifting equipment, and the like.
6th CAA at Mulino – Military Police destroyed an enemy diversionary group which attempted to penetrate the army’s command post. OPFOR was being played by Spetsnatz units, their mission was to sabotage the enemy command post and place mines in the area. Defending forces consisted of security and MPs, using blank rounds and smoke charges to simulate combat conditions. Snipers belonging to a motor rifle detachment practiced stopping light enemy vehicles and armor with ASVK and SVD rifles, firing at the engine blocks. They then used KRUS Strelets to relay the coordinates of enemy units to supporting artillery.
Radio-electronic warfare (EW) troops practiced disabling groups of enemy drones, forcing 20 UAS to land. In this exercise enemy drones planned to conduct strikes against military infrastructure with the aid of UCAVs. Radar units detecting incoming drones at different altitudes, then relayed their coordinates to those operating Borisoglebsk-1 and Zhitel EW systems. EW units then disrupted drone communication and navigation systems.
At Luzhsky – Western MD rotary aviation (most likely army aviation units based in Leningrad region) practiced a new tactic for destroying enemy forces with Mi-8, Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters. Pairs of helicopters would predeploy and sit masked on cleared positions in the forest. They then would await enemy forces to break through, takeoff from their hidden positions, and destroy targets (this one is new to me). They’re describing hit and run tactics using terrain masking.
Ashuluk training range – S-400s and Pantsir-S1 units belonging to Western MD are training at this range in repelling aerospace attack, namely defending against MRAU (Massed Missile-Aviation Strike), destroying cruise missiles simulated by target imitators, enemy drones, and tactical aviation. Air defense units will work in concert with tactical aviation.
Pravdinsky and Khmelenvka – Drone units using Orlan-10, Forpost are being used extensively as part of the exercises taking place in Kaliningrad, along with UGVs like Platforma-M. These are being employed to find and fix targets, conduct battle damage assessment, armed reconnaissance, and also to clear paths through minefield.
At Pravdinsky, there was a large exercise integrating units from the Army Corps, VKS air defense, and the fleet’s land based naval aviation components. With support from artillery and aviation they fortified a defensive line with the goal of then conducting a counterattack. The scheme includes ‘complex’ defeat of an opponent’s forces, which in practice means a set of coordinated strikes from different elements of the joint force being deployed. Ground forces used self-propelled artillery (2s3 Akatsiya) and Uragan 220mm MLRS, also BM-21 Grad, in conjunction with drones for ISR. Su-30SMs conducted strikes against enemy targets in depth, such as command posts, logistics dumps. The fleet’s Su-24s and Su-30SMs struck with unguided FAB-250s.
Meanwhile a pair of Su-27s assigned to the Fleet’s tactical aviation units at Chkalovsk practiced intercepting enemy cruise missiles with air-to-air missiles. Not sure if it was part of the same exercise, but sounds like this was all one large activity.
The use of airpower then set conditions to transition from defense to counteroffensive with motor rifle (BMP-3) and armor (T-72B3), thereby preserving the force. Artillery fires in this exercise were further coordinated with operations by Mi-24 helicopters operating at low altitudes. To simulate enemy fires they used flares, and target imitators. PVO-SV units practiced air defense with Tunguska and Igla systems. Countermine systems also engaged using UR-77 to blast corridors through enemy mine fields. A detachment was airlifted by helicopters, presumably to the rear or flanks of the opposing force. About 300 pieces of equipment, 5000 troops, and 20 aircraft are involved in this exercise at Pravdinsky. The description in this exercise reflects an increasing focus on maneuver defense in Russian military discussions, and lays out its central precepts – engaging a superior force to degrade them, retreating to reserve lines to avoid being pinned, massing artillery and airpower against them as they concentrate, which sets the conditions for a counteroffensive – and preserving the force with minimal losses.
Brest training range – Russian forces together with Belarusian units began digging in to prepare their positions against air attack. They trained in repelling enemy reconnaissance groups, snipers prepared positions, and others setup security posts. Also at Brest there’s a whole discussion about topographers belonging to the tank regiment deployed there using systems like Kaleidoscope (and 1T134M) to create full 3D maps of the area, with accurate measurements. This helps artillery units and those in predetermined positions have a much better sense of the area and fire with greater accuracy.
Recon units penetrated behind enemy lines, and employed KRUS Strelets targeting systems. Their goal was to find enemy armor concentrations, command and control points, fuel and ammo dumps, along with railroad hubs for unloading equipment. With Strelets they were able to relay coordinates to supporting artillery and aviation for strikes.
Elements of the 96th Reconnaissance Brigade deployed three different types of reconnaissance drones (namely quadrocopters) to ascertain the positions of an enemy force. This allowed them to make a detailed map of the terrain of the area where the conditional enemy forces were located. Quadrocopters were flown to 100 meters, which allowed them to deploy without detection. Data was then transmitted to fire systems to destroy targets.
Elements of a Belarusian SOF unit (unclear which) returned home from Ivanovo where they practiced with the 98th Airborne Division. Belarusian SOF unit conducted a riverine operation combing with seizing an island. The attack on the island (retaking it from diversionary groups which had seized it), was carried out from several directions. The first group of divers were deployed to a splashdown area by a Mi-8MTV-5 helicopter. The second group landed on special wing-type parachutes and immediately entered into a battle. Some ‘militants’ tried to escape from the island in a motorboat, but they were destroyed using a combat drone.
Northern Fleet – As part of its Arctic expeditionary group NF practiced destroying an enemy surface action group in the Barents. Ships involved include Sovremenny-class destroyer Admiral Ushakov, Gorshkov-class frigate Admiral Kasatonov, coastal defense cruise missile batteries fielding Bal (SSC-6) and Bastion-P (SSC-5). CDCMs deployed from their bases to firing positions along the Kola peninsula. Bal CDCMs fired together with Admiral Ushakov against targets 100km from the coast. Meanwhile Admiral Kasatonov, and Bastion armed CDCM units, conducted simulated electronic fires against naval targets, and worked on coordinating the targeting process.
Two nuclear powered submarines got underway, K-266 Orel (Oscar-II), and K-51 Verkhoturye (Delta IV). PDSS units helped protect the submarines against enemy diversionary groups during their departure. Minesweepers conducted counter-mine operations to help get the submarines clear, forming two minesweeping groups including Elnya, Soloevetskiy Yunga, Yadrin, and Kotelnich. Also looks like a NF Mig-31BM intercepted a Norwegian P-3S Orion over the Barents, most likely there to conduct intelligence on Russian submarines departing from their bases.
Baltic Fleet – A battalion of Bal CDCMs conducted simulated electronic strikes against an enemy amphibious landing groups. The training involved deploying to launch points, setting up and camouflaging equipment, reload drills, and securing the launch site.
Elements of the Baltic Sea, and Northern Fleet conducted a bilateral amphibious operation on the Khmelevka Training Range. Respectively, these are the 336th and 61st Naval Infantry Brigades. The latter has been training with the Baltic Sea Fleet naval infantry throughout the entire August. The exercise was observed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Admiral Nikolai Evmenov. The 61st Naval Infantry Brigade was first deployed to seize a bridgehead and ensure that equipment landed for a deeper an offensive into unfamiliar territory. The 336th Naval Infantry Brigade was tasked with defending beach areas.
A detachment of fire support ships first delivered an artillery strike along the coast to suppress 336th artillery positions. Engineers were then brought by Raptor fast-attack craft first to clear and mark lanes for follow on forces. After the engineers cleared a lane, several BTR-80/82 vehicles were deployed to the shore from the four Project 775 large landing ships. In the meantime, Evgeniy Kocheshkov Project 1232.2 Zubr LCAC with Nona 120mm mortars and R-149MA1 command and staff vehicles.
Specialists in EW provide cover for command posts and important industrial facilities, along with electronic support functions like reconnaissance and identifying transmitting targets. They will emphasize counter-UAS, using experience gained dealing with enemy drones in Syria. There are approximately 300 EW specialists and 50 pieces of equipment involved in Zapad, including Krasukha-S4, Krasukha-2.0, Zhitel, and Borisoglebsk.
Combat service support (MTO) components will practice repair, evacuation, providing field service, etc. A repair and maintenance battalion has been deployed from Western MD’s independent MTO brigade. Prior to the active phase of training, MTO units will train in repairing vehicles, using 20 different types of equipment (KET-L, BTS-4, B3EM-K, TRM, MTO-UB-2). Also mobile repair stations with cranes, for example BAKM 1040 BK, which can lift 4.95tons. More footage to follow later in the exercise.
The first part of the exercise usually involves practicing components of active defense, deflecting a massed missile-aviation attack, and engaging a superior ground force. There are flanking movements, airborne raids, counterattacks. Much of the opening day consisted of ground formations practicing maneuver defense against a superior force, airborne units conducting a night paradrop w/equipment, air defense and tactical aviation working in concert to repel an aerospace attack, and ships getting underway from their bases. Kaliningrad had a significant exercise, and there were a number of combined arms events at Mulino, along with training ranges in Belarus. Interesting support activities, setting up communications network, deploying medical units, engineers building command posts, firing positions, fortifications, etc. There are strong hints that tactical missile strikes are soon to come, and a mixed type artillery group will be formed to conduct coordinated fires later in the exercise.
Working with Konrad Muzyka to put some of this together – less information available on training activities than during past years.
Western MD tactical aviation (6th Air and Air Defense Army), began combat air patrols at forward airbases in Ryazan and Tambov regions, Su-35S and Su-30SM crews. The Su-35s involved is possibly the 790th Fighter Aviation Regiment. This development was a part of a larger deployment of combat aircraft and helicopters to operational airfields. This involved the entire range of Russian combat and logistics airframes including Su-35S, Su-30SM, MiG-31BM, Su-34, Mi-8s, Mi-35s, Ka-52s, and Mi-28Ns. Once deployed, they will practice delivering massive airstrikes on command posts and infrastructure of the “enemy”, repelling a massed missile airstrike using air bombs, guided and unguided air missiles, as well as cannons.
Kaliningrad – an exercise involving a BTG with considerable artillery support, with engineers first preparing fortifications and reserve firing positions. The main force conducted maneuver defense using BMP-3s, setting ambushes, and counterattacking the opposing formations. Tank detachments practiced luring enemy units into an ambush and retreating to prepared firing positions. Special attention paid to maintaining communications in a contested electronic environment, assuming the opponent was using EW against the unit. This exercise featured 1000 troops, 70 pieces of equipment, including T-73B3, BMP-2/3, 2s3 Akatsiya, BM-21 Grad, BM-27 Uragan, Tunguska-M1. Looks like Su-24s involved as well.
At Mulino, VKS air defense units composed of S-400 and Pantsir-S1 setup air defenses for the ground force formations. Once they reached the designated areas near Nizhny Novgorod, they repulsed a massive air strike of a mock enemy. More than 50 targets were detected in the entire range of heights and speeds. The exercise only involved electronic launches. Another detachment of air defense units is in Ashuluk, Astrakhan. This range is going to be used as part of the exercise even though it is not listed. Their job is to work with tactical aviation in repelling air attack, intercept cruise missiles (simulated with target imitators), and deal with enemy drones.
Armor units at Mulino (20th CAA) trained engaging enemy forces in defensive battle, using smokescreens T-72B3s withdrew under enemy fire, and repositioned their main force along echeloned lines. Description suggests Russian armor practicing maneuver defense, engaging to degrade forces, withdrawing to avoid being pinned, and repositioning again along new defensive lines to reengage at 1500km (pretty short range for a tank). There was some staple language regarding “nonstandard” approaches in tactics, creating new methods for training and preparations. They’re continuing the discussion on using new forms for training tank, motor rifle, and engineering units.
Military police subunits destroyed a sabotage and reconnaissance group of the mock enemy during its attempt to attack the command post of the 6th Combined Arms Army (6th CAA) (WMD). Simulated enemies, here played by WMD Spetsnaz, attempted to infiltrate the command post, mine its key facilities, and disrupt the operation of the communications system. So far there has been little information about the presence of units belonging to the 6th CAA in Zapad. At the Mulino Training Range, only one BTG from the 138th MRB is present.
Some 600 paras (one full BTG) and an unclear number of equipment (BMD variants, and Nona artillery – its a bit murky on how many) from the 76th Air Assault Division (possibly the 104th Air Assault Regiment). This was supposedly the Russian VDV’s first battalion sized night airdrop, using NVG equipment. Their task is to seize an enemy airbase, then defend it against counterattack during daytime. Supposedly they made a 100km march to Strugi Krasnye Training Range. The exercise description is a bit unclear, the vehicle numbers, distance to range, and troop numbers don’t quite add up. The 76th Air Assault Division is quite busy. It has three BTGs forward-deployed, one in the Kaliningrad Oblast and two in Belarus (Brest and Baranovichi). The BTG is Brest is without heavy equipment.
A battalion from the 137th Airborne Regiment of the 106th Airborne Division is getting ready to conduct a full battalion airdrop with 30 BMD-4Ms. This is the first time the battalion will conduct such a drop. Altogether 15 Il-76 MD transport aircraft are involved in the operation. They will fly from Dyagilevo in the Ryazan Region to Ulyanovsk-Vostochny and then back to Zhitovo landing site in the Ryazan region when the drop will occur.
Elements of the 98th Airborne Division along with a Belarusian SOF unit (unclear which – perhaps 5th Spetsnaz Brigade?) concluded a three-day special forces exercise. They practiced joint reconnaissance operations in unfamiliar terrain or destroyed objects of a conditional enemy. They also did joint jumps including over a town. Specifically, after the jump, they bypassed obstacles, installed anti-tank mines and seized designated areas. Operations were done in full gear. The active phase of the exercise finished on 9th September. Units are now ‘restoring their combat capability and are awaiting further instructions’. They may be utilized again soon. Altogether 40 Belarusians and 350 Russians were involved in this exercise.
Signal and electronic warfare units belonging to the Western Military District deployed digital communication systems, automated C2 systems, satellite uplinks. The system is supposedly concealed from enemy electronic warfare, and defended against enemy drones. Emphasis placed on 4 echelons: mil district command, joint formation, combined arms formation, battalion level. About 1500 personnel involved, 600 pieces of equipment, communications stations R-160-0.5 and digital complexes P-240I-4 Pereselenets.
Military topographers at Mulino training range created 3D topographical models of the battlespace to enable navigation systems. They used geodesic-navigational systems PNGK-1 and topographic systems PtsTS, to build a 3D model of the battlefield. Meanwhile military training specialists (about 200) have setup a complex target environment, with 15,000 targets, echeloned across Mulino training range at a depth of up to 20km.
Engineers belonging to 20th CAA setup fixed field and mobile command points, with camouflage and fortifications. These were dugout with excavators, then power supply provided using ED-1000 and ED-100 generators. Medical detachments have also been deployed, including МОСН units (special purpose medical detachments). CBRN specialists belonging to 1st Guards Tank Army conducted measurements and surveilled the environment using new RKhM-6 equipment. As has often been the case, there is a strong role for aerosol camouflage units, using TDA-M smokescreens to create an aerosol masking for movement of ground forces.
Training events in Belarus
Baranovichi Air Base – Russian Su-30SMs from the 14th Fighter Aviation Regiment based in Khalino airfield in Kursk began joint combat duty with their Belarusian counterparts. Belarus keeps some Mig-29s and up to four Su-30SMs at this base.
Brest Training Range – Elements of the Russian 15th MRR of the 2nd MRD Division conducted a river crossing operation over Mukhovets River, east of Brest. Some 10-13 BMP-2s were involved, suggests a company-level operation. A subunit from the Belarusian 6th Mechanized Brigade could have also been engaged in this exercise. Other elements of the 6th Mechanized Brigade conducted maneuver defense with a reinforced mechanized battalion against a superior enemy force. Under cover of air and artillery strikes, the servicemen reached the main defensive line. Reportedly they also exercises new forms and methods of combating unmanned aerial vehicles.
The 174th Domanovsky Air and Air Defense Forces Training Ground – Belarusian elements of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade conducted reconnaissance in wooded areas, discovering the OPFOR base. An airborne assault company carried out a raid on the base eliminating and capturing some forces.
The remaining elements of the conditional illegal armed group tried to break through one of the blocking lines using a UAV to reconnoiter escape routes. Opposing forces pushed forward in combat vehicles, but were destroyed by Belarusian units. In the meantime, an air defense platoon engaged light aircraft and helicopters of the opposing forces with MANPADS and Zu-23-2 anti-aircraft guns.
Advanced elements of the Russian 76th Air Assault Division along with the leadership headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus conducted reconnaissance of the Brest and Obuz-Lesnovsky (this is Baranovichi Training Range or the 230th Combined Arms Training Range) ranges, examined the sites for the forthcoming landing of the operational-tactical assault force. The Russian MoD states that during the active phase of Zapad paratroopers from Russia and Belarus will practice airborne assault including airdropping personnel and equipment, destroying a simulated enemy in the landing area, holding forward lines to ensure successful action of the main grouping of troops. This means that we can expect some airborne drops around Baranovichi and Brest in the coming days.
Also in Belarus, subunits of the regional military police department and the military automobile inspection of the Western Military District went on duty. Russian military police, together with units of the military commandant’s offices of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus will ensure security and carry out round-the-clock patrolling and protection of exercise sites, command posts, as well as ensure the observance of law and order and military discipline in the areas where troops are stationed.
There are several Northern Fleet exercises under way which are billed as a separate set of activities involving 8,000 servicemen, 800 pieces of military equipment, 120 drones, and 50 ships. These exercises will take place in Murmansk region, Barents, Kara, and Laptev Seas, along Frantz-Josef Land and New Siberian Islands. They’re aimed at defending sea lines of communications like the northern sea route, protecting strategic economic infrastructure, and training to command an expeditionary Arctic group whose job is to destroy diversionary groups/terrorists (basically retake key objects captured by opposing forces). However, the Northern Fleet will also be involved in exercises with the Baltic Fleet, as part of Zapad-2021. Zapad and capstone training events within other military districts are not easily separated. The Northern Fleet’s announcement that it will begin practical exercises as part of training with this Arctic expeditionary group, is coincidentally on September 10th, when Zapad-2021 also formally begins. So, why include all this? Why not? It’s hard to see a Zapad exercise without any Northern Fleet component to it, and NF activity is always interesting.
So what’s does the Northern Fleet have in progress? A minesweeper exercise with units from the Kola Flotilla, enabling ships and submarines to leave their naval bases. A small naval group led by Udaloy-class Severomorsk, along with a Ropucha-class LST (Georgiy Pobedonosets), and tugboat (Pamir) has sailed down the Yenisei River to the port of Dudinka (arrived September 7th). There they conducted a training in retaking the port from a diversionary group (61st Naval Infantry BDE). Its interesting they call this expeditionary, because in truth the Northern Fleet does not have an easy time operating in the Central and Eastern Arctic. It’s one thing getting out of the Kola peninsula and out to the Barents, its another to operate along the length of the Arctic or northern sea route.
Some 15 combat and support ships left ports in Kaliningrad and Baltyisk, entering their designated operating areas in the Baltic Sea. There they will conduct anti-submarine warfare, air defense, counter-mine warfare, as well as firing missiles and artillery at targets. It is a mixed grouping of ships including LSTs, (suggesting prep for amphibious operations), corvettes (looks like all the Steregushchiy-class are out), anti-submarine ships, minesweepers, missile boats, a kilo-submarine, and auxiliaries.
Diesel-electric Kilo-class submarine (project 877 B-806 Dmitrov) served as OPFOR, firing 4 training torpedoes against targets which were meant to simulate the Baltic Fleet. The torpedoes were later recovered.
Other nations’ forces training on Russian equipment
This post will briefly provide an exercise overview, and some coverage of preceding events on September 6-9. Special thanks to Konrad Muzyka (Rochan Consulting) for helping me collect some of the activities, and contribute to the writeups. We teamed up for Kavkaz-2020, which worked out well, and will try to repeat that here for Zapad-2021. Unfortunately, so far there’s been less coverage of this exercise available in the Russian press and official MoD releases than in previous years.
Technically this is a Strategic Command-Staff Exercise (СКШУ), but it has been re-designated a Joint Strategic Exercise (ССУ), most likely because it involves Belarus and a number of other countries. According to the Russian MoD the total exercise participant count is 200k, but no more than 6400 under any single operational command which is their supposed loophole under the Vienna Document. Belarus has claimed that its component taking place on Belarusian soil will be a total of 12,800, with 2,500 Russian troops involved. In Russia there are at least 9 training ranges and an additional 5 in Belarus, plus a training sector most likely around Grodno. Northern Fleet seems excluded from the described scope of activity, but clearly has a component in this exercise and is starting major activities on the same day. However, the real numbers of Russian forces involved in Belarus appear quite larger as units have been deploying there since July. Actual size of the exercise seems to vary depending on who is talking about it. Zvezda featured a map which shows 15 Russian training ranges, as opposed to the officially released 9. That’s not including Northern Fleet participation.
A further 2,000 coalition forces from 7 countries also participating, most probably at Mulino. Seems India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Sri Lanka are involved with small contingents. These coalition elements began training on September 6, Russia is supplying the exercise equipment. Earlier in August a joint exercise with China in China’s northwest called Interaction2021 was relabeled as part of the overall Zapad-2021 series of events. Russian forces deployed to China for that event in early August. Technically Zapad has been taking place for several months since forces have been deploying in July to various training ranges.
Because of the time scope its not possible to cover all the days of events preceding September 10, and some of the associated events playing out in other districts, so choices have to be made – will be keeping this largely to Western Military District, Belarus, and some activities of Northern Fleet JSC.
A Western coalition comprised of three states/forces seeks to wrest Belarus (Polesie) away from its alliance with Russia (Central Federation) by force, conduct regime change in Minsk, and annex Western parts of the country. Western coalition consists of Nyaris, Pomorie, and Polar Republic. These seem to represent Lithuania, Poland, also parts of Latvia, and likely NATO coalition forces deployed in Poland. They are opposed by the Northern Coalition composed of Russia and Belarus. After failing to achieve its objectives via indirect means, the Western coalition declares an ultimatum demanding complete withdrawal of Russian forces (Sept 1). Subsequently, they conduct missile and air strikes in Belarus/Russia (likely MRAU Sept 2-5), and then on Sept 6-10 they cross the border penetrating to a depth of 150km into Belarusian territory. Northern coalition forces defend their positions, a Regional Grouping of Forces (joint formation of Russian & Belarusian forces) attempts to repel the aerospace attack and mount a defense. Central Federation forces have deployed 11th tank and 51st Army into Belarus (11th probably representing 1st GTA, 30th represents 20th CAA), meanwhile 51st army is a stand in for 41st CAA. Whats the method here? Exercise army number -10 = actual army it represents.
Timeline: Looks like preparatory drills at training ranges September 6-9, formal opening ceremonies have been held on Sept 9. During the first three days on Sept 10-12 the exercise focuses on deploying forces, logistics, and mounting defensive combat operations (usually parrying aerospace attack, deploying forces under fire, airborne flanking raids, counterattacks and strikes, etc.), then Sept 13-16 emphasis is on destroying the opponent (establishing fire cauldrons to degrade opponent forces, setting conditions for counteroffensive, then conducting a counteroffensive to restore status quo ante bellum, and attaining war termination). Exercise completes by September 16th, and by Sept. 30th Russian forces are supposed to return to their bases.
September 6-9: Brief round up
An Iskander-M battalion in Leningrad Oblast deploys to a training range, simulates electronic strikes against opponent command posts deep behind enemy lines, in coordination with drones (presumably for targeting), conducts reload drills.
Northern Fleet’s naval infantry (about 200 troops and 20xBTR-80) trained in loading equipment onto 3 Ropucha-class LSTs belonging to the Baltic Fleet in Baltiysk (Korolev, Kaliningrad, Minsk) , and 1 Ropucha-class LST that came down from the Northern Fleet (Olengorskiy Gorniyak).
At Mulino reconnaissance units practiced integration between KRUZ Strelets reconnaissance complex, using laser rangefinders, then relaying coordinates to Msta-SM2 self-propelled artillery (500 troops and 70 pieces of equipment involved). In a separate exercise Grad BM-21 batteries were used with MSTA-S SPA, and mortar units to destroy enemy targets at ranges up to 20km, along with practicing displacement and counterbattery fire. Orlan-10 drones and Strelets systems used for targeting. Heavy artillery like 203mm Malka also training at Mulino and Liada, along with BM-30 Smerch MLRS systems at a range of about 50km. They’re practicing coordinating the use of long range MLRS and 203mm artillery ahead of a planned employment of an artillery grouping of forces that essentially combines different types – as was seen last year during Kavkaz, the final event included simultaneous strikes by SRBM, long range MLRS, and artillery units.
Units belonging to one of the 6th CAA motor rifle brigades practiced a combined arms operation – defensive battle against an attacking opponent, using T-73B3, BM-21 Grad, 2S1 Gvozdika, and Sani mortars. Motor rifle units in this fight were supported by Ka-52 helicopters from army aviation units, and Orlan-10 drones for ISR.
Other trainings of note: Engineer-sapper units in Voronezh and Belgorod practiced overcoming minefields, using KMT-7 counter-mine systems. At Mulino sappers used Uran-6 demining UGVs, and liberated a town together with military police. Light reconnaissance units conducted a 100km march using Tigr vehicles, to sever an opponent’s lines of communication and detect their formations using Eleron drones.
A separate training in Pskov features Mi-28N attack helicopters against an enemy command point (10 helicopters). Exercise appeared to be largely unguided rocket fire against fixed targets. Western MD tactical aviation was used to intercept enemy reconnaissance aircraft with Su-30SMs, in coordination with air defense systems and radar. In one briefing map they showed opponent forces fielding Global Hawks. There was a series of drills for Kaliningrad’s mixed aviation regiment with about 20 aircraft of different types, ranging from air combat for Su-30SM units, to strike missions for Mi-24s, and ASW for Ka-27s. S-400 ADS units belonging to the Baltic Fleet conducted air defense exercises uses Su-27s and Su-30SMs to imitate opponents, operating in a contested EW environment. At Luzhsky, Pantsir-S1 air defense units trained in repelling an aerospace attack by a squadron of enemy strike drones. PVO-SV units at Mulino (Strela-10, Osa, Tunguska-M, Igla) similarly practiced air defense, with Ka-52 and Mi-8 AMTSh helicopters serving as the opposing force. Also Western MD air defense units are deploying to Ashuluk, Astrakhan.
Reposting this Riddle piece that I hope some of you will find of interest, thanks to Riddle for getting it out so quickly – and no it was not an April fool’s article but the title worked.
Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, turns 65 this year and is likely to stay on as long as Sergei Shoigu remains minister of defense. Gerasimov looms large over the current era of Russian military reform and modernization, though both processes were initiated by his predecessor, Nikolai Makarov. During his tenure, the Russian military has also been bloodied in two conflicts, Ukraine and Syria, with the lessons learned subsequently integrated into exercises at home. Gerasimov is more the representative of Russian military officialdom than the author of any of its key doctrinal tenets, but under him the Russian armed forces have undergone noticeable improvements in capability, mobility, readiness, force structure, and combat experience.
Ironically, of the things Gerasimov has done to leave an imprint on the Russian armed forces, he is uniquely famous for something that he never authored, and which does not exist — namely, the “Gerasimov Doctrine.” In 2014 an erroneous belief of almost mythic proportions emerged in the Western press some Russia watchers; it centered on the notion that in February 2013, Gerasimov authored an article laying out the Russian military blueprint for actions in Ukraine and war with the West.
The “Gerasimov Doctrine” was a clever name coined by Mark Galeotti on his blog, though he never meant it to be taken literally that Gerasimov had a doctrine. In 2018 Galeotti published a mea culpa rebuffing any notion that Gerasimov had a doctrine, given the extent to which this term “acquired a destructive life of its own.” Unfortunately like a creature in a horror film it escaped, growing stronger, running amok in political and military circles, and forcing years of efforts among Russia analysts to beat it into submission. That effort proved a Sisyphean task; entire theories subsequently emerged proclaiming a Russian “chaos theory” of political warfare against the West, based on the erroneous belief that the Chief of the Russian General Staff is in a position to dictate Russian political strategy in the first place.
Military strategy, and operational level planning in conflict, support the strategy set by political leadership, but they are not one and the same. Strategy in a particular conflict is quite different from political strategy writ large. The military is a stakeholder, offering inputs into Russian political strategy, but it does not determine it. The deciding votes sit in the Kremlin. Military writing is quite useful for reflections of the thinking amongst political leadership, but what the military plans to do doctrinally, or debates doing, is not necessarily representative of political designs. It is the job of a military to plan for all sorts of unlikely contingencies, and at the end of the day it is an expensive solution in a bureaucratic search for problems it might help solve.
The Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 led to a scramble for information on the Russian armed forces, its military thought, and its doctrine. At first, this yielded faddish terms and malformed interpretations. Over the years the “Gerasimov Doctrine” has become somewhat a professional joke among Russian military analysts, who see it as a litmus test separating those with bona fide expertise from the ever-growing field of self-proclaimed experts on Russian information or political warfare.
That infamous 2013 piece, titled the Value of Science in Prediction, was derived from Gerasimov’s annual speech at the Military Academy of Sciences, undoubtedly kluged together by a few officers into an article with a chart. Gerasimov laid out the general sentiments in Russian military thought on how the U.S. conducts political warfare via “color revolutions,” eventually backed by the employment of high precision weapons, with many of the observations derived from the Arab Spring.
That article represented the Russian military interpretation (or more correctly misinterpretation) of the U.S. approach to conducting regime change, combined with a bureaucratic argument designed to link the budget of the Russian armed forces, consuming trillions of rubles each year, to an external challenge defined largely as political.
In short, it was a kitchen sink of the salient inputs into Russian military thought at the time, summarizing the emerging trends in modern conflicts: wars are not acknowledged or declared when they start, asymmetric and non-military measures had grown relative to traditional military ones, the role of information warfare and irregular formations or proxies had grown in prominence, though high end conventional capabilities equally colored Russian military thinking, especially mass employment of precision guided weapons against a country’s critical infrastructure. Prior to Galeotti’s commentary, Gerasimov’s February 2013 article was completely ignored, and ironically, so were subsequent articles or speeches encapsulating further evolution in Russian military thought since 2013.
That line of thinking on the character of modern conflict has only further congealed under Gerasimov into what the Russian military has come to term “New Type Warfare.” This term represents the Russian view of how non-military instruments can affect a country’s information environment, internal political stability or economy, but are coordinated with conventional military capabilities that inflict strategic damage, such as long-range precision guided weapons and massed aerospace attack. Just last year Gerasimov restated this belief, alleging the U.S. has a ‘trojan horse’ strategy of sorts integrating political warfare and information warfare to mobilize the protest potential of the population, combined with precision strikes against critical infrastructure.
Given the almost complete absence of ‘deterrence by denial’ in Russian strategic thinking, doctrine has evolved around what Gerasimov has termed to be “active defense.” This is a set of preemptive nonmilitary and military measures, deterrence and escalation management approaches based on cost imposition. The Russian armed forces are geared towards being able to preemptively neutralize an emerging threat or deter by showing the ability and willingness to inflict unacceptable consequences on the potential adversary. As Gerasimov said, “acting quickly we must preempt our adversary with preventive measures, identify his vulnerabilities in a timely manner, and create the threat that unacceptable damage will be inflicted.” In practice this includes a range of calibrated damage, from single and grouped conventional strikes against economic or military infrastructure, to massed employment of precision guided weapons, followed by non-strategic nuclear weapons, and at the outer edges theater nuclear warfare.
Much hay has been made of Russian military thought on political or information warfare, but Gerasimov has always made clear that the thrust of military strategy is conventional and nuclear warfare. Use of military power remains decisive. Confrontation in other spheres, where non-military measures dominate, is handled by other ‘strategies’ and organizations with their own resources. The military sees itself as coordinating the two types of measures, as opposed to overseeing the various non-military lines of effort.
The Russian military response can be seen in the creation of inter-service combat grouping in each strategic direction, with relatively high readiness, and their ability to move across the Russian landmass to the point of conflict as tested in the Vostok 2018 Strategic Maneuvers. Mobility, readiness, and the ability of different services to work together grew in emphasis under Gerasimov’s tenure, along with attempts to engender flexibility at the tactical level, or what Gerasimov has termed the ability of commanders to come up with “non-standard solutions.” The Russian armed forces have also begun to articulate concepts for future expeditionary operations, called “limited actions,” and institutionalizing the experience in Syria.
Russia’s military continues to invest in capabilities and operational concepts to conduct non-contact warfare, able to engage with standoff weaponry, based on real-time intelligence and reconnaissance. The latest State Armament Program 2018-2027 places emphasis on quality and quantity of precision guided weapons, plus enabling technologies for recon-strike and recon-fire loops. Too much has been made of the discourse on non-military means, when in practice the Russian military has bought a tremendous amount of hard conventional military power and spent considerably on nuclear modernization. Since 2011 one could count close to 500 tactical aircraft, over 600 helicopters, to more than 16 S-400 regiments along with countless air defense systems for the ground forces, 13 Iskander brigades, thousands of armored vehicles, ballistic missile and multipurpose nuclear powered submarines, i.e. the list is extensive. Indeed, roughly 50% of the sizable Russian defense budget is spent on weapons procurement, modernization and R&D.
Despite the advancements in the Russian armed forces, doctrinal deterrence by defense is still seen as cost prohibitive, unattractive compared to approaches that actively limit damage to the homeland or the armed forces. Hence key capabilities, such as long-range precision guided weapons, have been integrated into strategic operations in the initial period of war that are just as offensive as they are defensive in nature. Gerasimov has served during a critical time between the 2014 military doctrine, and a forthcoming one, where some of the more relevant doctrinal developments in Russian military strategy have been in the application of limited force for the purposes of escalation management and war termination.
This text is from a chapter published in the edited volume: THE FUTURE OF THE UNDERSEA DETERRENT: A GLOBAL SURVEY by Australian National University, titled The Role of Nuclear Forces in Russian Maritime Strategy. I highly recommend you read the book, as there are many wonderful sections on other countries. Also the footnotes and references can be found there, as I’ve yet to figure out how to port them into this type of medium.
Although Russia is one of the world’s preeminent continental powers, Russian leaders have historically rendered considerable attention to sea power. Through sea power, Moscow could establish Russia as a great power in international politics outside of its own region. Sea power served to defend Russia’s expansive borders from expeditionary naval powers like Britain or the United States, and to support the Russian Army’s campaigns. With the coming of the atomic age, the Soviet Navy took on new significance, arming itself for nuclear warfighting and strategic deterrence missions. The Soviet Union deployed a capable nuclear-armed submarine and surface combatant force to counter American naval dominance during the Cold War. The modern Russian Navy retains legacy missions from the Cold War, but has taken on new roles in line with the General Staff’s evolved thinking on nuclear escalation, while adapting to the inexorable march of technological change that shapes military affairs.
The Russian Navy has four principal missions: (i) defense of Russian maritime approaches and littorals (via layered defense and damage limitation); (ii) executing long-range precision strikes with conventional or non-strategic nuclear weapons; (iii) nuclear deterrence by maintaining a survivable second-strike capability at sea aboard Russian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs); and (iv) naval diplomacy, or what may be considered to be status projection. Naval diplomacy in particular rests with the surface combatant force, chiefly the retinue of inherited Soviet capital ships (cruisers and destroyers), which while ageing remain impressive in appearance. Meanwhile, the Russian Navy, like the Soviet Navy before it, is much more capable beneath the waves, arguably the only near-peer to the United States in the undersea domain.
Regionally, Russian policy documents convey a maritime division in terms of the near-sea zone, the far-sea zone, and the ‘world ocean,’ while functionally the Russian General Staff thinks in terms of theatres of military operations. The Navy is naturally tasked with warfighting and deterrence in the naval theatre of military operations, defending maritime approaches, and supporting the continental theatre. Russia’s navy remains a force focused on countering the military capabilities of the United States, and deterring other naval powers with conventional and nuclear weapons. Over time, it has also acquired an important role in Russian thinking on escalation management, and the utility of non-strategic nuclear weapons in modern conflict.
Continuity in Naval Strategy: The “Bastion” concept endures
Russian naval strategy has proven to be evolutionary, taking its intellectual heritage from the last decade of the Cold War. Nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence missions are deeply rooted in concepts and capabilities inherited from the Soviet Union; namely, the bastion deployment concept for ballistic submarine deployment, together with the more salient currents in Soviet military thought derived from the late 1970s and early 1980s, being the period of intellectual leadership under Marshal Ogarkov, Chief of Soviet General Staff at that time.
Strategic deterrence and nuclear warfighting in theatre proved anchoring missions for the Soviet Navy during the Cold War. In the 1970s-80s it had become widely accepted that the Soviet Union adopted a “withholding strategy,” as opposed to an offensive strategy to challenge US sea lines of communication. The Soviet Northern and Pacific Fleets would deploy ballistic missile submarines into launch points in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, protected by attack submarines, and a surface force geared around anti-submarine warfare (ASW). US analysts termed these protected ballistic missile submarine operating areas “bastions,” and the name stuck.
The merits of the strategy were always questionable, since the Soviet Union was geographically short on unconstrained access to the sea, unlike the United States, while having a plethora of land available for land-based missiles. However, the Soviet Navy deployed a sizable ballistic missile submarine force (more than 60 strong) as part of a nuclear triad. Defending these bastions to maintain an effective survivable deterrent drove shipbuilding requirements for a surface combatant force, and a large submarine force to fend off penetrating US attack submarines. Consequently, ballistic missile submarines proved the linchpin in Soviet naval procurement, and capital ships were designed to defend the SSBN bastions rather than simply enhance anti-carrier warfare or forward strike missions.
Although from a competitive strategy standpoint it might have made sense for Russia to walk away from SSBNs, leveraging road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as a cheaper survivable nuclear deterrent, this was not the direction elected by the Russian General Staff. Russia’s military clings to a sea-based nuclear deterrent that is incredibly expensive, arguably indefensible from adversary counterforce attacks, and makes little strategic sense in light of the country’s current nuclear force structure. Russia’s current ballistic missile submarine force includes three Delta III-class (only one of which is operational), six Delta IV-class and three of the newer Borei-class SSBNs, for a total of ten operational SSBNs. The likely deployed warhead count at sea is somewhere in the range of 600–800. The bulk of the force, nine submarines, are stationed in the Northern Fleet, while three submarines are currently assigned to the Pacific. The Borei-class SSBN program, together with the newer Bulava SLBM, is the single most expensive item in Russia’s State Armament Program. Russia is set to procure eight to ten Borei-class submarines by the early 2020s, first phasing out the ageing Delta III-class, and subsequently the Delta IV-class.
The problem with this strategy is that in the 1990s the Soviet Navy melted away, reducing in strength from approximately 270 nuclear-powered submarines in the late 1980s to about 50 or so today, at an operational readiness that likely cuts those numbers further in half. Similarly, the large surface combatant force has declined precipitously, transitioning to a green-water navy, with limited ASW capability. Russia’s submarine force is less than twenty per cent the size of the late Soviet Union’s, and the surface combatant force is much smaller, to say nothing of maritime patrol aviation. Russia’s focus on the Arctic is driven in part by a desire to better secure this vast domain from aerospace attack, and provide the infrastructure to better defend SSBN bastions, especially as passage becomes passable for surface combatants.
It is worth noting that Russian submarine operations have re-covered after declining precipitously in the early 2000s. Since then, the Russian Navy has been buoyed by a sustained level of spending on training and operational readiness, military reforms leading to almost complete contract staffing in the Navy, along with procurement of new platforms. Senior Russian commanders frequently issue pronouncements about increased time at sea, training, and patrols, though a high operational tempo eventually inflicts a cost to readiness.
Russia continues to modernize its existing ballistic missile submarines, and field new ones, as part of a legacy strategy inherited from the Soviet Union. Continuity in the “bastion” strategy may provide the Navy with an argument for spending on Russia’s general-purpose naval forces, more so than it provides a survivable nuclear deterrent. Comparatively, Russia now fields a large force of road-mobile ICBMs, including RS-24 YARS (SS-27 Mod 2), and Topol-M (SS-27 Mod 1), with two regiments still upgrading to this missile. Despite the fact that a growing share of Russian nuclear forces is becoming road-mobile, reducing the need for sea-launched ballistic missiles, the Navy retains a prominent strategic deterrence mission, enshrined in key documents outlining national security policy in the maritime domain.
New Roles: Non-Nuclear Deterrence and Escalation Management
Relatively unchanged operational concepts for deploying SSBNs disguise tectonic shifts in Russian thinking about nuclear escalation, and the role of naval forces in strategies aimed at escalation management and war termination. There are profound changes occurring at present in Russian military strategy stemming from the debates in Russian military thought as far back as the Nikolai Ogarkov period of 1977–1984. In the 1980s, the Soviet General Staff began focusing on the rising importance of long-range precision-guided weapons, particularly cruise missiles, and their ability to attack critical objects throughout the depth of the adversary’s territory. Ogarkov, the Chief of the Soviet General Staff at the time, advocated for the belief that precision conventional weapons could be assigned missions similar to that of tactical nuclear weapons from the 1960s-1970s. These were the fountainhead of present-day Russian discourse on non-contact warfare, the dominance of precision-guided weapons on the battlefield, and their ability to decide the conflict during an initial period of war.
Observing modern conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s, the Russian General Staff came to adopt the need to establish “non-nuclear deterrence,” premised on the strategic effect of conventional weapons, and the consequent shift of non-strategic nuclear weapons into the role of escalation management. Nuclear weapons originally meant for warfighting at sea, and in Europe, were hence valued for their ability to shape adversary decision-making, by fear inducement, calibrated escalation, and management of an escalating conventional conflict. Non-strategic nuclear weapons were subsequently incorporated into strategic operations designed to inflict tailored or prescribed damage to an adversary at different thresholds of conflict.
The Soviet Navy was never designed to fulfill this vision, but the modern Russian Navy seeks to centre its role along these doctrinal lines as part of joint operational concepts called strategic operations. Soviet naval forces retained a strong nuclear warfighting mission, seeing tactical nuclear weapons as a critical offset to US naval superiority, and contributing land attack nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to general plans for theatre nuclear warfare in Europe. However, by acquiring the ability to conduct precision strikes on land with cruise missiles, along with other types of multi-role weapons, the Russian Navy could now contribute to both the conventional deterrence and the non-strategic nuclear employment mission.
Official statements by Russian military leaders, and doctrinal documents, emphasize the importance of precision-guided weapons in the Russian Navy, and the belief that under “escalating conflict conditions, demonstrating the readiness and resolve to employ non-strategic nuclear weapons will have a decisive deterrent effect.” According to different estimates, Russia retains roughly 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons, a significant percentage of which appear assigned for employment in the maritime domain, either by the Russian Navy or land-based forces supporting the naval theatre of military operations. The means of delivery are decidedly dual capable, with the same types of missiles being able to deliver conventional or nuclear payloads with fairly high accuracy.
Russian strategic operations envision conventional strikes, single or grouped, against critical economic, military, or political objects. These may be followed by nuclear demonstration, limited nuclear strikes, and theatre nuclear warfare. To be clear, theatre nuclear warfare is not new to Russian nuclear doctrine, but was always the expected outcome of a large-scale conflict with NATO during the Cold War. For much of the 1960s through to the 1980s, the Soviet Union anticipated at best a two to ten-day time window for the conventional phase of the conflict. However, unlike the nuclear weapons of the Cold War, precise means of delivery, together with low-yield warheads, have rendered nuclear weapons more usable for warfighting purposes with a substantially reduced chance for collateral damage. Scalable employment of conventional and nuclear weapons leverage the coercive power of escalation, whereby strategic conventional strikes make the actor more credible in employing nuclear weapons in order to manage escalation. In the context of an unfolding conflict, these weapons are not necessarily meant for victory, but to break adversary resolve and terminate the conflict.
The Russian Navy, although limited in the number of missiles it can bring to bear due to constrained magazine depth, retains a prominent role in the execution of these missions, particularly in the early phases of conflict. In this respect, submarines like the Yasen-class, and others able to deliver nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to distant shores, should be considered as important elements of sea-based nuclear deterrence at a different phase of conflict, and perhaps no less consequential than SSBNs.
Again please check out the edited volume for other great works on undersea nuclear deterrence, by other authors, and for references.
This is a follow up post to the A2/AD discussion dealing with Russian VKS and PVO-SV air defense, it is also meant to flog the discussion in this WOTR article on whether Russian A2/AD is a really a problem from a maritime perspective. Anti-access/area-denial has some purchase as a concept in the maritime domain, but it was meant to be a conversation about China. The term has been lackadaisically applied to Russia because defense ‘strategists’ group similar capabilities into a common functional problem. This then allows them to say ‘Russia and China’ = problem X, and even worse, if we buy capability Y to deal China then it will definitely work for Russia because we have now declared these to be the same problem set.
This post is not about operational concepts, but again the tactical side of things, as there has been some debate on the efficacy of Russian A2/AD systems. Hence I hope to tease out a conversation on how things work, or don’t probably work, and areas where I think we don’t necessarily know (or maybe just I don’t know).
In the Russian case what gets touted as A2/AD capabilities are just land based coastal defense systems, which for Russia is somewhere between Plan C or Plan D in order of echelonment for dealing with a blue water navy. It mostly misses the plot of Russian thinking about maritime strike. The Russian Navy has historically pursued a damage limitation strategy, starting with forward deployed guided missile ships/submarines, land based aircraft with anti-ship missiles, then offensive/defensive mining and CDCMs.
However, for littoral NATO states in the Baltic/Black Sea with small navies the missile batteries pose a pretty big problem, quite relevant for those who start within the alleged range rings. Think tanks and defense industry advocacy organizations often offer us these scary circles, but does starting within range of these systems equal automatic attrition? The answer is depends.
How capable are Russia’s coastal defense cruise missile batteries? (A2/AD things) Precision strike in the maritime domain depends heavily on queuing, and having a workable kill chain, because unlike buildings ships move around. This means having to address technical things like over the horizon targeting, satellite targeting, etc. Being able to find and fix the actual target is most of the problem. The range rings drawn based on missile flight range don’t mean anything, plus they probably don’t reflect the actual ranges anyway. Second, the most important leg in this supposed A2/AD chain is still land based aviation, both for queuing with maritime patrol aircraft, and the ability to conduct strikes against maritime targets.
The bulk of the Russian coastal defense force includes the BAL, which fires 8 x Kh-35E subsonic missiles per TEL. This system delivers a salvo of up to 32 missiles per battery, with subsonic anti-ship missiles at a max range of 260km. The Bastion-P fires the P-800 Oniks, which is advertised at 450/500km on a high trajectory, 300km combination medium-low, and 120km with a low-low flight profile. It is possible that P-800 Oniks actual range could be further than officially stated given some of the statements that occasionally come out of India about the capability of their Brahmos. Of course ships have numerous countermeasures, defenses, and can use geography to hide, so one should not presume that the Russian ability to hit a ship guarantees that a missile will connect with the target.
These CDCM batteries come with their own Monolit-B targeting radars. Russia’s defense export sites claim that they have an active radar mode (35km), over the horizon radar using waveguide (90km), over the horizon using refraction (250km) passive targeting mode to detect emitting radars (450km). We can take that with a grain of salt, but the numbers listed don’t seem especially fantastical. It comes in a pair of transmitting and receiving vehicles. They can receive targeting data via data link from airborne units, like Ka-31 helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft like Su-24MR or MP, or potentially the much longer range Il-38N and Tu-142 (Bear F). Russian forces also use larger over-the-horizon radar (OTHR) arrays, such as the high frequency surface wave Podsolnukh-E (OTH-SW) systems found based around Russian fleets (200-450km), or the much bigger Container (OTH-B) array located deep in Russia with a range of 3000km+.
One of the questions occasionally raised is whether they can they hit anything using the OTHR? It has been alleged that using OTHR is basically just firing blind, and I don’t think that’s the case. I’m not an expert on OTHR systems, but it would be a really poor investment to buy such long range missiles without investing in a viable targeting system for them, and to pair them with so many unhelpful mobile OTHR systems. The battery’s organic Monolit-B radar is relatively short range, but it is supposed to not only detect targets beyond the radar horizon, but also classify them, and one wonders whether that is all a big lie. OTHR has a lot of problems, but with modern signal processing technology the current generation of OTH-SW and OTH-B systems could be much better. I would not bet the ship on the proposition that Russian OTHR systems cannot effectively see and classify targets over the horizon.
Given the various forms of civilian traffic control, ship automatic identification systems, it may also be possible to easily cross reference signals to separate military from civilian traffic. In a Russia v NATO fight, most of the traffic will belong to combatant nations, and might be considered fair game by the adversary. ELINT based targeting seems to be another functionality of the Monolit-B, and is useful for space-based targeting, which we will get to late. The extent to which a target is cooperative makes a significant difference.
Of course coastal defenses often rely on Su-24MR or Ka-31 helicopters to confirm targets at longer ranges, and while these can be shot down, the numbers game doesn’t look great. Also the act of shooting down an aircraft with ship based air defense system means becoming a cooperative target that identifies you to passive means of detection. Coastal defense units are shifting to drones for recon-strike targeting, like much of the Russian ground force, which means there are simply going to be too many cheap ISR platforms in that tactical-operational range of 100-300km. There is a panoply of means to classify a target, from a guy with a radio on a fishing trawler, to an AGI, to drones, aircraft, and helicopters.
The second half of the package is the missile. Russian anti-ship missiles are advertised as having a sophisticated seeker with active radar, home on jam, ability to de-conflict with other missiles, and a complex flight profile. Soviet missiles were known to be quite smart, able to de-conflict with each other, execute search patterns to actively scan for targets. There is no reason to assume modern Russian missiles can’t do the same, but better. The missile can do quite a bit of the work of classifying and differentiating targets, i.e. it will figure out which one is a fishing boat and which one is an AEGIS destroyer on approach.
What about land based naval aviation?
The Russian A2/AD discussion often overlooks the fact that coastal defenses are just a backup for other defensive layers, from ships and submarines to the Russian air force, which is partly what makes it unworkable as an alleged strategy. It’s the last layer of defense for Russia’s maritime approaches, not the primary one. Against a blue water navy it is near useless since there is no reason cruise missile carrying platforms, or carriers, need conduct operations within range of Russian ‘A2/AD’ capabilities.
The USSR began to think along these lines in the early 1960s once carrier based aviation got longer legs, hence the damage limitation strategy. Basically the A2/AD business doesn’t solve any of Russia’s central problems with U.S. naval power projection, which is again why there is no strategy just based on these capabilities. They are a relatively close-in layer for defending Russian littorals and maritime approaches but not the basis of Russian strategy. (More on that in this article.)
Russian long range aviation took the Tu-22M3s from the Navy back in 2011, then got converted into the VKS Aerospace Forces in 2015. This means that part of the maritime strike mission is in the possession of the long range aviation component (LRA) of the VKS. We can add to this the Su-34 bomber, Su-24M2 tactical bomber, and the Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters assigned to naval aviation regiments. It is hard to know what might be operational from the Tu-22M3 force, but it is safe to assume that what’s left is a relatively small force compared to the heyday of Soviet naval aviation – a couple regiments strong at best. Tu-22M3s, even in small numbers, pose a challenge because of the range of their Kh-32 missiles.
The Su-34s are worth looking at, because the Russian VKS has received 125 of them and they have increasingly been practicing anti-ship strikes with Kh-31 and Kh-35 in exercises. The Su-30SM is also suitable for this role with 114 delivered, although a relatively small portion of these went to naval aviation regiments. Land based aviation is becoming more of a player in maritime strike and I think this space is worth watching. I will skip the Mig-31K because it’s not clear right now where it will get the queuing from to target the Kinzhal ALBM against high value naval platforms.
The main limitation on Russian naval aviation is the availability of Il-38N and Tu-142 long range maritime patrol aircraft. This means that Russian aviation looks good at the operational range of 300-500km, but anything beyond that starts to get problematic given the limited availability of long range ISR platforms. Limited availability is sometimes used as a euphemism for ‘they can’t do it,’ but what it translates into is intermittent coverage, or a high chance of running out of assets due to attrition.
Can space based means be used to target at sea? It depends.
The Soviet Union used two space based ISR systems for targeting: Legenda for maritime reconnaissance and targeting, and Tselina for radio-technical reconnaissance (ELINT). These constellations used nuclear powered, and solar powered satellites of the «УС-А» (active radar) и «УС-П» (passive detection). They provided targeting information at sea and transmitted it to ships or guided missile submarines, like the Oscar-II armed with Granit missiles.
However, both space based recon systems are considered to have ceased functioning some time ago, to be replaced by the Liana system which has had trouble getting off the ground. Liana was meant to consist of two Lotos electronic signals intelligence satellites, and two Pion-NKS radar reconnaissance satellites. Lotos had problems in development, consistent with much of Russia’s space program, but the first satellite went up in 2009. It was followed by three Lotos-S1 satellites, though none of the Pion-NKS satellites have been launched. Izvestia reported last year that both Pions were supposed to be launched by January 2020. Given I’m writing this on January 28, it’s safe to say that’s probably not going to happen this month.
According to numerous public sources a Russian constellation of ELINT satellites designed to listen for cooperative targets does exist (possibly 3x Lotos-S1), but the two Pion-NKS radar satellites do not. Once the Pion-NKS are launched though, which could be this year, the Liana system will be working with satellites able to see ships on the ocean’s surface and transmit that data to Russian forces. This will make a difference in kind when it comes to the Russian forces’ ability to target ships via any land based or sea based platform.
There are limitations to Russian A2/AD capabilities, but they were never meant as a strategy. The strategy was and remains damage limitation, which in part is based on layered defense, but also preemptive destruction of long range strike platforms. Coastal defense is about covering the littorals and key maritime approaches. The challenge began to loom because missiles got better, radars got better, and NATO expanded – so now what was a layer of coastal defenses has become an A2/AD capability affecting sea denial in much of the Baltic and Black Sea.
This places the emphasis on the wrong capabilities. The focus should be on ISR, and the potential for land based strike aviation to make an impact. I also think offensive and defensive mining gets overlooked as one of the most effective means of denying an entire area to an adversary because its not as flashy as modern missiles. Limitations in ISR make ‘a2/ad’ rather dodgy beyond tactical-operational ranges, and there are legitimate questions about what Russian OTHR can actually deliver without additional sources of target identification. That sets up a somewhat bifurcated threat, as the Russian ability to see is pretty good at tactical-operational ranges, and not so good beyond them.
These complexities of course do not stop defense intellectuals from trotting out theories that Russia has an ‘A2/AD strategy’ and will terribly coerce NATO in a crisis with shiny missiles. A real interdiction strategy would involve sea lines of communication. During the first half of the Cold War it was long held that the USSR had a SLOC interdiction strategy before the navy eventually conceded that actually it was chiefly a withholding strategy for SSBN bastion defense. There is no evidence that anything has changed on the Russian side, besides having far fewer operational submarines available to pursue SLOC interdiction.
However, we should not tilt towards cavalier or overly dismissive assessments. Russian forces are getting more eyes, buying more aircraft, drones, missiles, and upgrading maritime patrol aviation – so the trend line is clear. I think the extent to which ships become cooperative targets as they maneuver will have a significant impact on the ability of these various systems to detect and classify targets at longer ranges. That’s probably not a revelation, but it is interesting how much passive detection plays a role in the efficacy of Russian anti-ship targeting systems.