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

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

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

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

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

Image result for 1950s asimov

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

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

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

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

9m730 v2.JPG

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

9m730.JPG

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

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

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

Project Pluto

pluto engine

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

Image result for dr.strangelove doomsday gap

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

Status-6 Ocean Multipurpose System

Image result for статус-6

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

status-6 slide.png

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

city.JPG

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

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

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

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

t-15-image2.jpg

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

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

Pr_08952_pptSTRETCH.jpg

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

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

Status-6 tube.jpg

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

Klavesin-2R-PM Unmanned Undersea Vehicle

Klavesin-2M.jpg

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

28379177_10159930236540462_5146440591197111008_n.jpg

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

fun times at GUGI

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

Laser.JPG

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

xbox controller.JPG

 

What Kind of Victory for Russia in Syria?

Reposting an article that just came out on the Russian campaign in Syria, co-authored with my good colleague and friend, Matthew Rojansky, who directs the Kennan Institute. This piece was published in the Military Review, Army University Press. Below we delve into the origins of Russia’s intervention in Syria, the course of the campaign, Russian strategy, and assess Moscow achieved its political objectives.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

The war in Syria has ground on for more than half a decade. Hundreds of thousands have died, entire cities and towns have been destroyed, and billions of dollars in infrastructure have been decimated. Millions of refugees have flooded into neighboring Middle Eastern states that can ill afford to house them, while others have sought safety as far away as Europe and North America, exacerbating divisive battles over immigration, jobs, and cultural identity in Western democracies.

Syria has tested every world leader individually and collectively, and has laid bare the failure of international institutions to deal effectively with the problems those institutions were designed to manage and prevent. Despite a prolonged commitment of U.S. military and diplomatic resources to the conflict, a peaceful settlement remains remote, and the bloody-handed Assad regime remains firmly in control of population centers along the Mediterranean coast. The impending battlefield defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in the desert interior of Syria and Iraq is qualified by the fact that its fighters have joined and inspired more elusive terror cells outside the region.

Meanwhile, the Russian-led coalition, including Syrian forces, Iran, and numerous allied militias, appears to be closing in on its own military and political objectives. The Syrian conflict will likely enter a new phase in 2018, as both IS and the Syrian opposition cease to be relevant forces, and the two coalitions seek to negotiate a postconflict settlement. While it is far from assured that any settlement acceptable to the principle domestic and international players can be struck, for now the main outcome of this war is that President Bashar al-Assad will stay, but the Syria that existed before the war is gone.

Russia has only been directly involved in this conflict since September 2015, but its intervention has radically changed the war’s outcome. The natural question is whether Russia has, in fact, won a victory. The answer to that question depends first on what Moscow intended to achieve—in other words, how did and does Russia define victory in Syria, what are its continuing interests there, and have those interests been secured or advanced?

While the Russian campaign might be judged a qualified success from the standpoint of the Kremlin’s own objectives, Russia’s actual performance in both military and political terms bears closer examination. How did the Russians achieve their successes, both on the battlefield and on the wider diplomatic and political stage? Finally, armed with a better awareness of how Russia’s Syria campaign measured up in terms of Russian objectives and capabilities, what lessons should Americans take away for future U.S. engagement in Syria, the Middle East, and beyond?

Origins of the Russian Intervention

That American and Russian military power came to meet on the ground and in the skies over Syria in 2015 is a kind of historical accident. The country was hardly the centerpiece of either state’s global strategy, or even their respective regional policies.

Russian-Syrian relations draw on a Cold War legacy, since Moscow first began to support Syria after the 1956 Suez Crisis. However, Syria did not become a true client state of the Soviet Union until 1971.The Soviet Union gained a well situated naval base in Tartus, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, to support its Fifth Eskadra—an operational naval squadron—along with intelligence-gathering facilities ashore.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Soviet fleets departed the Mediterranean, and the importance of Syrian bases rapidly declined. Moscow had far less cash available to sustain its patronage network of client states; relations with Syria became decidedly transactional, as Russia sought payment for continued arms sales. Russian ships continued exploiting the port of Tartus as a minor resupply point, but with little military significance. Tartus was, in any case, ill equipped for Russian ships to dock, and for a lengthy period, there was little Russian naval activity to even merit its use. That changed in the wake of the 2015 Russian intervention. The expanded Tartus port is now much more capable of supporting operations and resupplying the Russian Mediterranean squadron, which was stood up in 2013 for the purpose of supporting Syria.

In general, Russia did not seek bases in Syria; it had to establish them and expand existing infrastructure to save the Syrian regime. Buoyed by perceived success, and looking to stay, in 2017 Russia signed a forty-nine-year lease on Tartus, which is still in the process of being upgraded into a serviceable naval base. What the Syrian relationship truly offered for post-Soviet Russia was a position in the Middle East, which helped confer great power status in international politics. A confluence of events led to what would become Moscow’s most significant military foray beyond the immediate post-Soviet space in over a quarter century.

Although Russia had lingering interests in Syria, the changing context of U.S.-Russia relations beginning in 2011 was a more influential factor in how Moscow would come to view this conflict. Russia’s response to the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in that year was categorically negative, and Moscow sought to draw a line in the sand in Syria, opposing U.S. use of force to advance what it viewed as a “regime change” agenda. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov applied the Libya logic to Syria directly in May 2011, when he said, “The calculation is that foreign players will get imbued with this problem and will not only condemn the violence there, but subsequently repeat the Libyan scenario, including the use of force.”1

The cornerstone of Russian policy in Syria became preventing the United States from carrying out a Libya-like intervention to overthrow Assad. Lavrov warned, “Some leaders of the coalition forces, and later the NATO secretary-general, called the Libyan operation a ‘model’ for the future. As for Russia, we will not allow anything like this to happen again in the future.”2 The fear of yet another U.S. military intervention, this time much closer to Russia itself, and targeting its only remaining client in the Middle East, was seemingly vindicated when President Barack Obama called for Assad to step aside.3 Russia was determined to check U.S. interventionism, initially by supplying the Syrian regime with arms and equipment, and by blocking efforts to pressure the regime in the UN Security Council.

Equally important was the firm belief among Russian elites that Assad’s downfall would result in IS and al-Qaida affiliates taking over the country, spelling disaster for the region and creating a potential superhighway for Sunni extremists into Turkey and the Caucasus. This concern was somewhat vindicated as the ongoing civil war combined with the displacement of civilians due to the rise of IS resulted in a massive refugee flow into Turkey, neighboring countries, and central Europe, causing uncertainty and threatening regional stability (see figure 1). Unlike distant Libya, a complete implosion of Syria was not only too close for Russia’s comfort, but thousands of Russian citizens and thousands more Russian-speakers from the wider region had already joined militant extremist groups fighting there.4 Moscow feared that in the event of an IS victory, some of those fighters would enter Russia and join insurgencies in the North Caucasus or plot attacks against the Russian heartland. Accordingly, some Russians described entering the fray in Syria as launching a preventive war against terrorism.

Figure 1. Syrians in Neighboring Countries and Europe

Figure 1. Syrians in Neighboring Countries and Europe (Graphic courtesy of the BBC.; latest figures up to 3 March 2016. Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

Russian interests and objectives in the Syrian intervention also stem from the collapse in Russia-West ties following Moscow’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014. In this sense, U.S. and European sanctions and diplomatic pressure catalyzed the Russian decision to intervene in Syria. Rather than giving in to Western pressure and offering concessions on Ukraine, Moscow looked to Syria to broaden the confrontation on terms more favorable to itself. Eventually, Russia hoped its Syrian intervention could force Washington and its European allies to abandon Ukraine-related sanctions and diplomatic isolation in the interests of achieving a negotiated settlement with Russia over Syria.

Russian domestic political considerations were also a factor, though their role should not be overstated. Russia’s military dealt Ukraine a blow at the battle of Debaltseve in February 2015, leading to the second Minsk ceasefire agreement, which appeared to be a political victory for Moscow. The agreement quickly broke down, however, and Western sanctions remained in full effect, taxing the Russian economy at a time of persistently low energy prices. Struggling to stabilize the economic situation at home, and with policy in Ukraine increasingly adrift, there was little prospect for Russian leadership to gain further victories either at home or in Russia’s near abroad. Although Moscow hardly saw entering a bloody civil war in the Middle East as a path to easy gains, Russia’s tolerance for the risks attendant on intervention grew dramatically in the face of these domestic and international pressures.

A limited Syrian intervention, calibrated to reduce political risk at home, became the less perilous proposition. By mid-2015, Moscow had few alternatives to use of force if it hoped to shore up the Assad regime, its ally in Damascus. In April, the situation for Assad’s forces was dire. Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, had assembled a coalition of fighters into the “Army of Conquest,” which drove back regime forces in the northwest and threatened major population centers further south. At the same time, IS was pushing westward, and had captured the historic city of Palmyra. Assad’s forces were being squeezed, and they were falling back on almost all fronts. That summer, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, together with senior Syrian officials, made several trips to Moscow in an effort to coordinate a military intervention.5 By August that year, there were clear indicators that Russia was preparing to intervene, and when Russian tactical aviation began arriving at Hmeimim Air Base in September 2015, the die was cast. Figure 2 depicts the approximate Syrian situation in terms of territorial control exercised by particiapnts in the conflict near the outset of Russian operations initiated in support of the Assad regime.

Framing the Russian Intervention

Although hemmed in by tactical necessities, Moscow’s entry into the Syrian fray was also strategically ambitious. A successful intervention could offer victory on three fronts: preventing U.S.-backed regime change in Syria, breaking out of political isolation and forcing Washington to deal with Russia as an equal, and demonstrating at home that Russia is a great power on the main stage of international politics. Moscow hoped Syria would offer a new and more favorable front, where the United States could be outmaneuvered in the broader confrontation, which up to 2015 centered almost entirely on Russian actions in Ukraine.

Figure 2. Syrian Civil War: Territorial Control Map as of November 2015

Figure 2. Syrian Civil War: Territorial Control Map as of November 2015 (Graphic by edmaps.com; Twitter, edmaps.com; © 2017 Cristian Ionita)

Once military operations began, as is often the case with military campaigns, the intervention would take on additional objectives, reflecting secondary or tertiary vested interests. “Ambition creep” is a common illness afflicting most great powers when they deploy military forces. Russia may not have come to Syria with hopes of regaining power and status in the Middle East at the top of its agenda, but regional aspirations grew with each success on the battlefield. As a consequence, Russia has become a potential powerbroker, and perhaps a balancer against U.S. influence, even if it did not embark on the Syrian campaign with those goals in mind.

Whatever Russian expectations of success may have been—and there are indications that the Syrian leadership misled Moscow early on as to the true state of its forces (historically not an uncommon practice for Damascus)—Moscow pursued a campaign with both political and military objectives in fairly close alignment. These efforts were mutually reinforcing, but a path to victory had to overcome steep challenges.

On the ground, Russian forces had to find a way to quickly and dramatically alter the balance in Assad’s favor by destroying the opposition’s capacity to continue the fight, while working under severe resource constraints. In parallel, Russia had to change the calculus and policy of its principal opponents in this conflict, including Turkey, the United States, and Saudi Arabia, while entering into arrangements with other potential actors in the region. Otherwise, military gains would quickly disappear in the sand, and a political victory would be elusive. Russia also needed a political process running concurrently to lock in military gains on the ground, since as Mao Zedong wrote, political power would “grow from the barrel of a gun.”

Relations with allies like Iran, cobelligerents in the form of local militias, or potential spoilers such as Israel had to be carefully managed. The compound risk of conflicting political incentives and operational objectives among these parties made for a complex battle space. The risks of escalation to direct conflict between the intervening powers were considerable, as underscored by Syria’s use of chemical weapons in March 2017, resulting in a prompt retaliatory U.S. cruise missile strike, or the Turkish shoot down of a Russian Su-24M2 in November 2016. Russia led the coalition, but never controlled it; thus, it had to be comfortable with uncertainty and the associated risk of having the likes of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah on its team.

Syrian soldiers who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army secure a street 27 January 2012 in Saqba

Syrian soldiers who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army secure a street 27 January 2012 in Saqba, just east of Damascus, Syria. The diverse groups loosely associated under the Free Syrian Army designation became the initial primary targets of Russian operations in Syria since they most directly and immediately threatened the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Photo courtesy of Freedom House, Flickr)

Success for Russia entailed securing a commitment from the other parties to pursue a political settlement largely on its terms. This meant convincing Saudi Arabia and Turkey that their respective proxies had no chance of victory in the war, and pushing the United States to abandon its policy favoring regime change. Over time, Moscow achieved success on both the military and political fronts, coercing adversaries and negotiating changes to their positions one by one, though the pathway to this outcome was hardly a smooth or straightforward one. Russia’s success is not unqualified, but at the time of this writing, it appears that if the campaign in Syria is not a victory for Russia, it is certainly a defeat for those who opposed the Russian-led coalition.

Russian Strategy in Syria

To achieve this success, Russia had to secure some leverage in Syria, which in turn rested on being able to destroy the Syrian opposition and compel opponents to change their policies, forcing them and their proxies in the conflict to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Russia’s coalition. Moscow also sought the opportunity to reframe itself as a positive force in the battle against terrorism, and press the United States into military cooperation. Russian leaders hoped this would ultimately fracture Western cohesion on punitive measures imposed over Ukraine, and grant Russian President Vladimir Putin recognition as a prominent player in international affairs.

These were the desired ends, yet the Russian strategy was not deliberate. If anything, Russia pursued an “emergent,” or “lean,” strategy. This was an approach characterized by the “fail fast, fail cheap” ethos of startup business, with iterative adjustments to the operation. The centerpiece of this strategy was flexibility, with a preference for adaptation over more structured strategy. In emergent strategy, success begets success, while failure is never final or disqualifying. Several vectors are pursued simultaneously, and at times, they may even appear to be contradictory. Resources are added in favor of the approach that shows the most progress, while others are discarded without regard to “sunk costs.”6

Militant Islamist fighters parade 30 June 2014 in the streets of northern Raqqa Province, Syria

Militant Islamist fighters parade 30 June 2014 in the streets of northern Raqqa Province, Syria, to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic “caliphate” after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq. The Islamic State (IS) posted pictures similar to this one online of people waving black flags from cars and holding guns in the air, and Russian forces, after supporting Assad’s defeat of Free Syrian Army forces holding the northern city of Aleppo, turned their primary attention to defeating IS. (Photo by Reuters stringer)

To be successful in implementing a lean strategy, leadership must be agile, politically unconstrained, and uncommitted to any particular approach in the battle space, i.e. willing to improvise and adjust course. In Russia’s case, it actually helped being an authoritarian system, and having relatively few allies or other geopolitical constraints on decision-making. But Russia also had few other options. Given resource constraints and high uncertainty, including poor information about the reality on the ground from its allies, Russia was not in a position to pursue a more deliberate strategy. That limitation ultimately played to Russia’s advantage relative to other powers, which expended considerably more blood and treasure via structured and deliberate, but ultimately less successful approaches in the region. Russia’s lean strategy worked, because when flawed assumptions were proven wrong in the conflict, it could quickly pivot and adapt.

Still, the limitations of the Russian armed forces imposed hard constraints on Russia’s overall operation. The Russian military had almost no experience with expeditionary operations after withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1989, Syria itself had limited capacity to host a major military footprint, Russia’s long-range supply and support capabilities were weak, and the Russian military was in the midst of major reforms and modernization. Coordinating with Iran and its associated Shia militias like Hezbollah was an added complexity on an already crowded battlefield, while Russian commanders had a generally low opinion of Syrian forces’ combat performance. In short, it was far from clear how the forces Russia could deploy would make the impact needed to turn the conflict around. Early on, outside observers doubted the prospects for Russia’s intervention, especially given recent Western experiences in expeditionary operations in the Middle East.

The campaign Russia envisioned would be based on a small footprint to keep its exposure low, reducing the chances of being steadily dragged into a conflict where local actors increasingly gain leverage over a stronger international benefactor. Russian leadership instead sought room to maneuver, retaining flexibility and the option of quick withdrawal should things go badly. In the early days of Russia’s intervention, physical constraints limited its presence. Tartus was not a real naval base, Hmeimim Air Base lacked apron space for a large contingent of Russian aircraft, other Syrian bases were exposed, surrounded, or ill equipped, and Russian logistical support would have limited throughput.

In short, reality helped dictate a more conservative and ultimately smarter approach to the battle space. It was not Moscow’s skill or experience, but the absence of abundance and limited options that made the Russian armed forces savvier in how they approached the conflict. That said, even after expanding the Syrian air base and making major investments in the naval facility, Russia’s General Staff continued to calibrate presence down to the bare minimum necessary. By 2017, it became clear that despite increased local capacity to host Russian forces, and improved infrastructure, Moscow was reluctant to use it. The opportunity to expand the means applied to this conflict was there, but Russia did not want it, judging that Syria would not be won with a means-based approach, the all too familiar “more is more” school of thought.

The Russian strategy was about Syrian, Iranian, and Shia militias doing the fighting and Russian forces providing support, not the other way around. Syria continued to reveal the general Russian preference to use local forces first, mercenaries and other Russian proxies second, and its own forces last, only for decisive effect on the battlefield. Russian military power would pulse, peaking when necessary in support of offensives and withdrawing when judged unneeded.

Russian Combat Operations in Syria

When Russian forces first arrived in Syria in September 2015, they inherently introduced a new dynamic, compelling what became a dialogue on “deconfliction” arrangements with the United States. Several Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters were shown on the runway at Hmeimim Air Base as Su-24M2 bombers began to deploy. Leveraging an upcoming UN Security Council General Assembly summit, Moscow pressed for a high-level bilateral meeting between Putin and Obama—a break from what had been more than a year of U.S.-imposed diplomatic “isolation” of Russia in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber aircraft drops a KAB-500S, a 560 kg satellite-guided bomb

A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber aircraft drops a KAB-500S, a 560 kg satellite-guided bomb, on an enemy position 9 October 2015 in the Aleppo or Racca region of Syria. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation)

Though the Obama administration rankled at the appearance that it had been coerced into restoring military dialogue, the risk of a military incident between the two big nuclear powers in the skies over Syria trumped other considerations.7 In a ninety-minute discussion, the two sides agreed to continue efforts to “deconflict” operations. Within days, Russia had achieved its first political gains from the intervention, which had yet to conduct a single sortie.

Still, it was clear that there was no agreement on the political way forward in Syria, and early Russian targeting in the air campaign, which launched on 30 September 2015, revealed that Russia’s air wing would focus on the “moderate” Syrian opposition under the rubric of a counterterrorism fight. Moscow’s rules of engagement were relatively simple: there was little to no distinction between the various nongovernment armed groups in Syria, as all except for Kurds and pro-regime militias would be considered “terrorists.” Putin declared at the UN assembly, “We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurdish militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”8

This was not just a matter of convenience for the sake of establishing a free-fire zone. Indeed, from Russia’s perspective, there was no such thing as a “moderate” opposition in Syria, and the entire term was a misguided Western invention aimed at legitimizing extremists opposed to Assad. The Russian political strategy at home and abroad was to frame the conflict as binary—only Assad’s regime had legitimacy, and all others were de facto terrorist groups of varying stripes allied with IS or Jabhat al-Nusra.9 Over time, Russia would also seek to create a systemic opposition, cobbling together forces that would be amenable to sharing power with the Assad regime.

Taking advantage of the momentum in 2015, Russia set up an intelligence sharing and coordination center in Baghdad, which included Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Israel. The center’s purpose was to deconflict Russian air operations with neighboring countries. Moscow also hoped to create the public sense that it was leading a coalition of countries in a counterterrorism effort no less legitimate than the U.S.-led coalition against IS. Russia’s leadership sought to parlay this posture and the U.S.-Russian deconfliction dialogue into more formal recognition of U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria. Indeed, Moscow repeatedly asked for Washington’s acknowledgement of the Russian-led coalition as a legitimate partner in the Syrian war, which would have amounted to a recognition of Russia as Washington’s geopolitical “equal,” at least in this context.

Initial Russian combat operations were intended to change the momentum on the battlefield, providing a substantial morale boost to the Syrian forces and allied militias. Russia also hoped the United States would cede the battle space, at least by default, by focusing on its own combat operations against IS in Northern Iraq, and Kurdish allies in Syria. This would mean a rapid abandonment of the moderate opposition and other proxies seeking Assad’s overthrow, who would be powerless to deal with Russian airpower and increasingly isolated on the battlefield. In many respects, this goal was accomplished, as Russia and the United States established a de facto division of labor in Syria and complementary campaigns.

The first Russian deployment to Syria consisted of thirty-three aircraft and seventeen helicopters. These included twelve Su-24M2 bombers, twelve Su-25SM/UB attack aircraft, four Su-34 bombers, four Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters and one Il-20M1 reconnaissance plane. The helicopter contingent consisted of twelve Mi-24P attack helicopters and five Mi-8AMTSh transports.10 Later in 2015, this number would grow with four more Su-34 bombers and four additional Su-35S air superiority fighters. Mi-35M attack helicopters and Mi-8 transports arrived in the following months. A Mediterranean squadron led by the Black Sea Fleet would support the operations from the sea, though the Russian navy mostly concerned itself with providing logistical supplies to the intervention via landing ship tanks in what was dubbed the “Syrian Express.” In order to supplement limited transport capacity at sea, and equipment brought in by air via Ruslan An-124 cargo planes, Russia purchased eight Turkish cargo vessels and pressed four of them into service.

Initial Russian objectives focused on regaining access to key roads, linking infrastructure, breaking isolated Syrian bases out of encirclement, and softening up opposing forces by destroying as much hardware as possible—much of it captured earlier from the Syrian Army. Although in the early months Russia had supposedly only helped Syria regain control of 2 percent of its territory, by February 2016, it was clear the air campaign was having an effect in shaping the battlefield, and with it, the political fortunes of the Syrian opposition. The opposition’s momentum stunted, Syrian morale began to recover.

A screenshot of a YouTube video shows cruise missiles being launched 17 November 2015 from a Russian fleet in the Caspian Sea

A screenshot of a YouTube video shows cruise missiles being launched 17 November 2015 from a Russian fleet in the Caspian Sea. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reported launching eighteen cruise missiles in the salvo, hitting seven terrorist targets in Syria. (Screenshot of RT YouTube video)

Territorial control in Syria was always elusive, as local leaders would sign up with whoever was winning. Thus, “control” could swing rapidly towards the side that had the clear momentum, and Russian forces oversaw numerous “ceasefire agreements” between Syrian forces and village leaders. In reality, Assad’s forces had control over much of the population of Syria, while large tracts of opposition or extremist held territory were depopulated from the fighting. Thus, it would take less than two years for the Russian-led coalition to make the leap from gaining only 2 percent of territory to appearing to be the victor in the conflict.

Russian aircrews flew sorties at a high rate, averaging perhaps forty to fifty per day, but spiking to one hundred during peak combat times, such as January 2016. Two crews per airframe were needed to sustain the intensity of operations, along with a small village of defense contractors to support the newer platforms being fielded in Syria. Russian airpower in Syria never exceeded thirty-to-fifty combat aircraft and sixteen-to-forty helicopters of various types, a deployment many times smaller than the combat aviation group the Soviet Union fielded in Afghanistan.11 The rate of mechanical failure or combat loss was also magnitudes less than previous Russian or Soviet air operations.

During the conflict, Russian aerospace forces would be supported by around 3,000 ground troops, with perhaps 1,500 based at Hmeimim alone. These would include Naval Infantry from the 810th brigade based in Crimea, elements from the 7th Airborne Assault Division, armored companies fielding T-90A tanks, MSTA-B towed artillery, and a host of air defense units including Buk-M2, Pantsir-S1 and S-400 units. Sophisticated electronic warfare equipment was deployed as well, alongside Russia’s Special Operations Command. After the capture of Palmyra in the spring and of Aleppo in the fall of 2016, Russia also introduced demining units and specialized military police units from the North Caucasus.

Russia’s special operations command featured prominently throughout the conflict, conducting diversionary operations, targeted killings, and reconnaissance. Another two thousand or so private military contractors (PMCs), the largest of which is known as Wagner Group, bolstered Syrian forces and absorbed most of the casualties on the battlefield. With Russian air power in support, veterans-turned-PMCs made a difference amidst the poorly trained militias, taking the risk for $4,000–$5,000 per month.

On the whole, Moscow sought to keep its presence small. The initial force did not field long-range air defenses or dedicated air superiority fighters; rather, their arrival was prompted by an unexpected incident with Turkey, when Russia’s Su-24M2 was shot down by a Turkish F-16 in November of 2015. The Russian bomber had been attacking Turkmen militias in Syria, and had strayed through Turkish airspace. Indeed, Russia’s air force repeatedly violated Turkish airspace in an effort to coerce Turkey to change its policy in Syria and reach a modus vivendi with the Russian-led coalition. The crisis between Russia and Turkey was arguably the most dangerous moment of the entire intervention, and likely the closest a NATO country had been to military conflict with Russia in decades.

A Syrian man carries his two girls to safety 7 September 2015 across the rubble caused by a barrel bomb attack on the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Kalasa

A Syrian man carries his two girls to safety 7 September 2015 across the rubble caused by a barrel bomb attack on the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo was ravaged by fighting after the rebels seized the eastern part of the city in 2012, confining government forces to the west. As a result of widespread civilian deaths due to such bombings, Russia and Syria received global condemnation for air attacks against Aleppo and other urban targets. (Photo by Karam al-Masri, Agence France-Presse)

The Russian reaction to the incident was to impose harsh economic and political sanctions on Turkey, while showing on the battlefield that Turkish-backed forces had little hope of achieving victory over Assad. By the summer of 2016, Ankara gave in, issuing a quasi-apology in order to restore normal relations with Moscow. One by one, Russia would seek to change the positions of the major parties backing anti-Assad forces in Syria. First, Moscow pushed Washington to concede that a policy of regime change was not only unrealistic, but that its support for the Syrian opposition had no chance of success, all the while dangling the prospect of a ceasefire and humanitarian relief for civilians in the conflict. The United States did inch towards tacit acceptance of the Russian intervention, and of Assad’s de facto victory over the radicals as well as the U.S.-backed opposition.

Russian ambitions were also well served by competition among U.S. allies in the region, who frequently and vocally disagreed with Washington’s approach. Turkey was more hostile towards Kurdish fighters in Syria than towards Assad or IS, yet the Kurds were Washington’s chief ally against IS on the ground. Washington also had no interest in supporting Sunni extremist groups favored by the Saudis and other Arab states, nor were extremists seen as a viable alternative to the bloody Syrian regime. Eventually, after crushing Turkish-backed proxies in Syria, Russia got the cooperation it sought with Ankara. Saudi Arabia, too, began to show flexibility, and in October 2017, the Saudi king visited Russia for the first time in recognition of Moscow’s growing significance in the Middle East.

Russia also saw Syria as a testing ground for new weapons and platforms, giving as much of its military an opportunity to participate in the conflict as possible. This included rotating countless crews through the theater of operations, giving ships and bombers the opportunity to fire cruise missiles, and fielding a small ground force as well. After a period of military reforms from 2008 to 2012 and a large modernization program begun in 2011, Moscow wanted to bloody its air force in conflict.

Syria has had a profound impact on the Russian armed forces, as countless officers have been rotated through the campaign on three month stints to gain combat experience. According to Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, the commanders of military districts, combined arms armies, air force and air defense armies along with many of the divisional commanders have gained experience in Syria.12 Promotions in 2017 further advanced those who served in Syria. The experience will shape Russian military thinking and personnel decisions for years to come.

Russian military engineers clear approach routes of mines 2 April 2016 in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria

Russian military engineers clear approach routes of mines 2 April 2016 in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria. Russia deployed few ground troops to Syria in order to keep the Russian “footprint” small. Instead, it relied on Syrian army forces, Shiite militias, and Iranian “volunteeers” to serve as the primary ground forces for combined operations primarily planned by the Russians. (Photo by Valery Sharifulin, TASS)

Alongside these training objectives, Russia also used combat operations in Syria as a technology demonstration for arms sales abroad, showing off the latest generation of Russian tech alongside older Soviet workhorses that did most of the fighting.

Starting with an initial strike on 7 October 2015, over the course of the conflict, Russian ships and submarines fired numerous Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Similarly, Russia’s long-range aviation joined the fray in November 2015, and since then, Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers have flown a substantial number of sorties deploying Kh-555 and newer Kh-101 air launched cruise missiles against targets in Syria.13 The Tu-22M3 medium bomber force supplemented combat sorties from Hmeimim Air Base, though these aircraft exclusively dropped FAB unguided bombs from medium to high altitude. Later Moscow would also field Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile systems, Bastion-P antiship missiles, and other advanced weapons in an effort to demonstrate their capability.

Although the precision-guided weapons involved in the conflict represented a tiny portion of the actual mixture of weapons used, perhaps less than 5 percent, Russia demonstrated the capacity to employ long-range guided weapons from various platforms. Syria showcased both the advances Russian airpower forces had made since their dismal performance in the Russia–Georgia War of 2008 as well as the remaining limitations of Russia’s armed forces. Much of the bombing was done by older Su-24M2 and Su-25SM aircraft, and almost all of it with unguided area-of-effect munitions. With the exception of systems on the Su-34, which was used to employ the KAB-500S satellite-guided bomb, among other precision weapons, Russian fixed-wing aircraft as a whole lacked targeting pods to effectively employ precision-guided munitions.14

Russian naval aviation was not impressive. The carrier strike-group sortie to Syria ferried by Russia’s vintage Kuznetsov heavy-aviation-carrying cruiser in 2016 was a publicity disaster, losing a Su-33 and Mig-29K to equipment failures. Otherwise, remarkably few Russian aircraft were lost, with most of the casualties among helicopter crews. Russian technicians kept both old- and newer-generation aircraft in the sky, with only one Su-24M2 lost to technical failure.

Russian air strikes were certainly effective, but incredibly costly in civilian casualties and collateral damage inflicted, some of which appeared intentional. Much of the ordinance used was for area of effect, and much too large in payload for targets in Syria. The Russian Aerospace Forces as a whole are still confined to an early 1990s form of fighting (though still a generational leap from where they were in 2008), but relying almost entirely on unguided weapons and, more importantly, lacking in the ISR assets necessary to conduct information-driven combat operations. Russia’s Aerospace Forces also lack the means to engage small moving targets with guided precision, relying on unguided weapons and munitions that are truly overkill.15 Just as the Soviet Union before it, the Russian military is a brutal mauler in close quarters, but continues to struggle in finding and seeing its target.

Russian military engineers clear approach routes of mines 2 April 2016 in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria

Citizens of Aleppo display portraits of fallen Russian servicemen killed while fighting in Syria during a 22 December 2017 parade in Aleppo, Syria. The Syrians were expressing appreciation for the Russian Federation’s contributions during the first anniversary celebration of the capture of Aleppo. (Photo courtesy of the Russian Embassy’s Twitter account, @EmbassyofRussia)

Russia made heavy use of drones to supplement its manned air campaign, conducting battle damage assessment and reconnaissance. Russian drones are rumored to have flown more sorties than manned aviation over Syria. The best Russian drones were licensed production variants of Israeli models—a product of Russian-Israeli defense cooperation. Despite substantial spending on development, Russia still has no armed unmanned aircraft systems, and thus lacks a real time recon-strike option for its drone platforms. Syria highlighted the need for Russian armed forces to invest further in the development of unmanned strike systems, and develop a larger repertoire of guided weapons for the Aerospace Forces, particularly for tactical employment.

Those limitations aside, Moscow did use the Syrian campaign effectively as part of a broader diplomatic and political engagement with the United States, demonstrating capability and resolve to use long-range guided weapons, many of which have nuclear-tipped variants. Syria did much for Russian coercive credibility, painting a clear picture about the resurgent capability and capacity of its armed forces to impose costs on NATO in a conventional conflict and its ability to reach out at long ranges to hold much of Europe at risk, if need be. Long-range strikes by strategic bombers, ships, and submarines should not be viewed simply as combat tests to gain experience; they were also intended as strategic messaging to boost Russian credibility writ large.

Not Home by Christmas

Upon entering the conflict, Russian armed forces quickly discovered that the intervention would take considerably more time than initially expected or desired. Syria’s army had degenerated into armed militias that were formally unified under the Assad banner but that no longer represented a coherent fighting force. Russian leadership was aghast at the large amount of Syrian and Iraqi hardware captured by the opposition and various militant groups while the Assad regime held barely 10 percent of territory. Some Syrian units were still capable of action, but Russian officers would have to embed across these units to conduct military operations and start rebuilding the Syrian army’s fighting potential.

Despite an influx of Iranian and Hezbollah troops in October 2015, it was clear that the warring sides were all leveraging proxies on a battlefield with a low density of forces. Their combat effectiveness was poor, and Syrian forces would continually call in Russian air strikes, make small gains, and retreat at the first sight of counteroffensives by well-motivated Jabhat al-Nusra or other fighting groups.

Over time Russia would train up lower ranking Syrian officers, and establish the 5th Volunteer Assault Corps, led by Russian commanders and equipped with more advanced Russian equipment. The 5th has been Syria’s primary assault force for the past year. Combining Syrian fighters, PMCs, and Russian leadership to put together offenses has yielded battlefield victories at minimal cost.

Russian operational objectives were suited to its strategy: make decisive gains where possible, fragment the Syrian opposition, and seek to parlay victories in Syria into broader political objectives with the United States. To this end, the Russian General Staff sought to avoid exhaustive battles over population centers, especially given that Syrian forces lacked the manpower to hold anything they took. Such an approach would, and eventually did, result in having to retake the same terrain multiple times, as in the case of Palmyra. Russia also genuinely wanted to turn the fight eastward towards IS in an effort to glue together its effort at cooperation with the United States. Syria and Iran were not interested, instead seeking near total victory over the opposition and the recapture of all the major population centers in the west.

While Russia retained the image of a powerbroker and leader of the coalition, in reality, it did not have buy-in for such a strategy from its allies and cobelligerents; nor could Moscow compel them. In this regard, Russia suffered from the same deficit as the United States. Both were outside powers intervening in Syria without the necessary influence over local and regional allies to broker big deals. These differences came to the fore in March 2016, when Russia declared its withdrawal from Syria while turning the attention of its forces to Palmyra. In fact, Moscow had no intention of withdrawing, simply deleveraging and settling in for a longer fight, while Assad was focused on retaking Aleppo.

With its March declaration, Russia sought to recast the intervention in Syria as a sustainable longer-term security presence in support of a political settlement, rather than combat per se. The idea was to normalize Russian operations in the eyes of Russia’s domestic audience and to declare victory in some form. Medals were handed out and a small contingent was rotated back home, but meanwhile, Russia prepared to turn the Syrian campaign into smaller “campaigns” to avoid the perception that the intervention could take years. The first segment was concluded with the Russian capture of Palmyra in March 2016. Syrian and Iranian forces then turned towards Aleppo, a battle that ultimately scuttled Russian attempts to negotiate a joint integration group with the United States. The second cut was made in January of 2017, after the seizure of Aleppo, and a third “victory” has been set at the closing of 2017 as Syrian forces capture Deir ez-Zor and IS appears on the verge of defeat.

igure 3. Syrian Civil War: Territorial Control Map as of November 2017

Figure 3. Syrian Civil War: Territorial Control Map as of November 2017(Graphic by edmaps.com; Twitter, @edmapscom; © 2017 Cristian Ionita)

This latest declaration of victory, ahead of the March 2018 presidential election, is fraught with risk since Russian forces are not just staying but further expanding the infrastructure at Tartus and Hmeimim. As Gerasimov said in a recent interview, “we’re not going anywhere.” Not long thereafter, a mortar attack on 31 December damaged several planes and killed a number of Russian soldiers at the airbase. The strike was followed by a drone attack from militant groups against both bases on 6 January. Both were a stark reminder that triumphalism is somewhat premature, and Russian forces in theater remain at risk. Figure 3 depicts the approximate Syrian situation as of November 2017 in terms of territorial control exercised by participants in the conflict near the official close of Russian operations initiated in support of the Assad regime. (See figure 1 for a comparison to the situation at the beginning of the campaign.)

Postconflict Settlement and Beyond

Now that the bulk of Syrian territory and population centers have been wrested from the hands of anti-regime opposition groups, Russia can turn its full attention toward the postconflict settlement. It is true that Assad has committed to retake “every inch” of Syrian territory, and that even if Russia does not support this ambition, it will have little choice but to back continued regime efforts to secure energy and water resources in the country’s north and south. However, the main focus of both the Russian military and political action will be around the diplomatic settlement and supportive conditions on the ground.

Most importantly, Russia has apparently gained Washington’s acceptance of its role as a key broker in Syria’s future. In their November summit meeting in Vietnam, Presidents Trump and Putin confirmed not only continuing U.S. and Russian deconfliction dialogue and support for “de-escalation zones,” a largely Russian initiative, but also underscored the centrality of the political process for negotiating a postconflict future for Syria. That process is shaping up in line with Russia’s main strategic interests.

First, Russia has broken the monopoly of the Geneva process, and of U.S. diplomatic leadership. It has successfully integrated both the Astana-based negotiations it launched in 2016 to the formal UN-backed international process, and has regularly convened meetings of various opposition groups in an attempt to foster the emergence of a common opposition grouping, which will be amenable to compromise with the Assad regime. Moscow’s progress on the political front is fitful, but at this writing it appears to be the only plausible path forward.

Second, Russia has managed to maintain productive ties with each of the other key regional players, ranging from Saudi Arabia on one end of the spectrum to Iran on the other. In fact, despite continuing disagreement with Saudi Arabia over the composition of the “legitimate” Syrian opposition to be represented at Geneva, and with Turkey over the role of the Kurdish self-defense forces, Russian diplomacy (backed by military force) has won recognition from both, a fact that is especially welcome in Moscow in the run-up to Russia’s March 2018 presidential election. Iran has proven a thorny ally for Russia; however, the relationship between the two countries remains largely stable, since the Iranians expect to be able to maintain their de facto dominance on the ground in much of Syria, solidifying their corridor of power from Iraq to Lebanon.

Finally, Russia will retain its ally in Damascus, because for the foreseeable future, the Assad regime appears back in control. In fact, Assad’s stock has risen so much since the Russian intervention two years ago that he is largely able to set the terms of his participation in the Geneva process. The opposition can howl in protest, but the regime has simply refused to engage in negotiations if the question of its own departure is on the agenda.

This is also clearly a victory for Russia, since Moscow has capitalized on its victories to secure long-term leases on its military facilities at Hmeimim and Tartus, as well as to position Russian firms to play potentially prominent and lucrative roles in Syrian reconstruction, especially in the energy and energy transit sectors. Russia not only needs these bases to continue supporting Syrian forces, but the conflict is now part of a larger bid for becoming a power broker in the Middle East, and a balancing option for those seeking to hedge against U.S. influence.

The main area in which Russia’s Syria campaign fell clearly short of initial objectives was in the effort to broaden the platform for diplomatic engagement with Europe and the United States in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and associated Western sanctions. Although Moscow did break through the Obama administration’s attempted isolation policy by forcing Washington to conduct deconfliction talks, those talks have not expanded into the full-fledged Russia-U.S. cooperation for which the Kremlin had hoped. Moreover, there has been zero willingness from Western capitals to think of Syria and Ukraine in quid pro quo terms. As much as Westerners may lament the death toll and flood of refugees from the Syrian civil war, the Ukraine conflict is simply much closer to home, and European governments have held firm in their support for sanctions tied to fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, while the United States has actually ratcheted sanctions dramatically upward in the wake of Russia’s apparent attempts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

In sum, Russia appears to have won at least a partial victory in Syria, and done so with impressive efficiency, flexibility, and coordination between military and political action. On the one hand, Russia’s embrace of the Assad regime and its Iranian allies, its relative indifference to civilian casualties, and its blanket hostility to anti-regime opposition groups are fundamentally at odds with widely held U.S. views on Syria. On the other hand, Russia’s “lean” strategy, adaptable tactics, and coordination of military and diplomatic initiatives offer important lessons for the conduct of any military intervention in as complex and volatile an environment as the Middle East. More than a decade and a half into the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, with ongoing fighting in Libya and Yemen, and countless other tinderboxes that could ignite wider regional conflict threatening U.S. interests, Washington should pay close attention to the Russian intervention and how Moscow achieved its objectives in Syria.

Michael Kofman is a senior research scientist at CNA Corporation, where he serves as director of the Russia Studies Program. He is also a Global Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Washington, D.C., and a nonresident Fellow at the Modern War Institute, West Point. Previously he served as program manager at National Defense University. His research focuses on security issues in Russia and the former Soviet Union, specializing in defense and military analysis. He holds a BA from Northeastern University and an MA from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

Matthew Rojansky is director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He holds an AB from Harvard College and a JD from Stanford Law School. Previously, he was deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also served as an embassy policy specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, and as a visiting scholar in the Research Division at the NATO Defense College.

Notes

  1. Sergei Lavrov and Russian Media, “On Syria and Libya,” Monthly Review (website), 17 May 2011, accessed 15 December 2017, https://mronline.org/2011/05/17/on-syria-and-libya/. The text is an excerpt from “Transcript of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview to Russian Media Following Attendance at Arctic Council Meeting, Nuuk, May 12, 2011,” published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website on 13 May 2011.
  2. “Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions at Joint Press Conference with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Nahyan,” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (website), 1 November 2011, accessed 10 January 2018, http://www.mid.ru/en/vistupleniya_ministra/-/asset_publisher/MCZ7HQuMdqBY/content/id/186758.
  3. Macon Phillips, “President Obama: The Future of Syria Must Be Determined by Its People, but President Bashar al-Assad Is Standing in Their Way,” White House Press Office (website), accessed 19 December 2017, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2011/08/18/president-obama-future-syria-must-be-determined-its-people-president-bashar-al-assad.
  4. Vladimir Frolov, “Signing In is Easier than Quitting,” Vedomosti (website), 29 September 2016, accessed 19 December 2017, https://www.vedomosti.ru/amp/a00ffd6a64/opinion/articles/2016/09/29/658952-voiti-legche-viiti.
  5. “Iran Quds Chief Visited Russia despite U.N. Travel Ban: Iran Official,” Reuters, 7 August 2015, accessed 19 December 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-iran-soleimani-idUSKCN0QC1KM20150807; Michael Kofman, “A Tale of Two Campaigns: U.S. and Russian Military Operations in Syria,” Pathways to Peace and Security1, no. 52 (2017): 163–70.
  6. Michael Kofman, “The Moscow School of Hard Knocks: Key Pillars of Russian Strategy,” War on the Rocks (website), 17 January 2017, accessed 19 December 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/the-moscow-school-of-hard-knocks-key-pillars-of-russian-strategy/.
  7. Teresa Welsh, “Obama, Putin Meet in New York,” S. News & World Report(website), 28 September 2015, accessed 19 December 2017, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/09/28/obama-putin-meet-in-new-york.
  8. Washington PostStaff, “Read Putin’s U.N. General Assembly speech,” Washington Post (website), 28 September 2015, accessed 19 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/28/read-putins-u-n-general-assembly-speech/?utm_term=.48d2be2b7823.
  9. Nikolas K. Gvosdev, “Moscow’s War in the Air: Russia Sends a Message in Syria,” The National Interest(website), 1 October 2015, accessed 19 December 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/moscows-war-the-air-russia-sends-message-syria-13983.
  10. Ruslan Pukhov, “Russian Military, Diplomatic and Humanitarian Assistance” in Syrian Frontier, ed. M. U. Shepovalenko, 2nd ed. (Moscow: Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, 2016), 105–107, accessed 9 January 2018, http://cast.ru/upload/iblock/686/6864bf9d4485b9cd83cc3614575e646a.pdf.
  11. Ruslan Pukhov, “The War that Russia Won,” Izvestia (website), 13 October 2017, accessed 10 January 2018, https://iz.ru/652856/ruslan-pukhov/voina-kotoruiu-rossiia-vyigrala.
  12. Valery Gerasimov, “We Broke the Back of Terrorists,” interview by Victor Baranets, Komsomolskaya Pravda (website), 26 December 2017, accessed 10 January 2018, https://www.kp.ru/daily/26775/3808693/.
  13. The initial employment of long-range aviation was in response to the terrorist bombing of Russia’s MetroJet flight out of Egypt.
  14. Pukhov, “The War that Russia Won.”
  15. Ruslan Pukhov, “Polygon Budushego,” Russia in Global Affairs (website), 8 March 2016, accessed 10 January 2018, http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Poligon-buduschego-18032.

 

What actually happened during Zapad 2017

I covered Zapad 2017 extensively on this blog, in a day by day account back in September. The goal was to create a resource for the community, something everyone could look back to in their analysis for background. Recently I’ve been motivated to write a short analysis of Zapad, and why both before and after the exercise a lot of coverage got it wrong. There are important takeaways from this exercise, but as always, sensational accounts muddy the waters, and they regularly lead to people learning things that are not true.

German newspaper Bild recently published an amazing article, claiming that according to ‘two Western intelligence’ sources, Russia sought to invade the Baltics, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and bomb Germany, along with a host of other unsubstantiated claims. I wish to thank them, since their fantastical account of Zapad 2017 is the inspiration for this actual account of Zapad 2017. While it may be general knowledge that Zapad is historically an exercise aimed at a contingency with NATO, much of what Bild claimed is not only untrue, it simply does not make military sense. However, before we get to Bild’s ‘alternative history’ of what happened that is now being passed around twitter like so much other received wisdom, let’s discuss what truly took place this September.

T-80s of 1st Tank Guards Army

Zapad is typically a two-phase scenario, where the proximate cause of conflict between Russia and NATO is Belarus (since Zapad-1999 when they began running these exercises again). The exercise often features a Russian defense against the supposed intervention, then horizontal and vertical escalation, followed by a substantial counter-attack against NATO. The purpose of the exercise is for the General Staff and national leadership to test the country’s ability to mobilize for a general war, gain experience in training and commanding the newly reformed armed forces, and in the big picture improve its coercive diplomacy vis-a-vis the United States by making clear Russia’s capability and resolve to use force if it’s core interests are challenged.

All those things held true this year, but the actual size of the exercise was much smaller than anticipated, both across Russia, and in the immediate Baltic region. Not 100,000 or any of the other inflated accounts suggesting similar numbers. As Gen. Ben Hodges (just retired), had noted the exercise was somewhere north of 40,000. According to Igor Sutyagin at RUSI 48,000 to be exact, with maybe 23,000 in the areas noted for Zapad exercises. I differ with his account slightly, as I think it was perhaps no more than 45,000 across Russia, while the immediate region should include the Baltic and exercises by the Northern Fleet.

The chief difference is really a narcissism of small differences – whether or not you factor in exercises in the Eastern MD, and foreign deployed troops in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Tajikistan, Transnistria, etc. Subtract 3,000 listed for the exercise on Sakhalin and you’re probably at about 45,000. There were parallel exercises and annual checks scheduled for that time of year and it’s rather debatable what was part of the Zapad scenario versus what coincided. What is clear is that there are no credible sources out there arguing that the exercise was a massive test of a Russian invasion of NATO, or that 100,000 troops participated in the event (note I said credible).

Zapad 2017 was seemingly not only smaller than anticipated, it was likely smaller than expected in Russia as well, judging by the fact that the number of rail wagons ordered seemed to exceed the amount used by a considerable margin. That is, the original planning back in 2016 might have been for a larger event. Some explained this with a theory that Russia’s General Staff intended to send more forces to Belarus and was somehow turned away. There is nothing to support this version of events. Instead it is very likely that canned exercise press releases were pushed out, for units that at some point were nixed in planning, which may reveal earlier variations that never came to pass (along with the logistical planning for them).

For example, it may have been that the entire 1st Tank Guards Army was supposed to show at some point early in the planning (our press informed us of this dreaded army looming), but actually only select units participated in the exercise. The same goes for entire VDV divisions, which actually only contributed a handful of battalions. Unfortunately Russia’s official press is quite terrible, announcing a lot more on the day to Belarus than there actually was, and people frequently attribute malice to what is typically malpractice.

BMPs on railcars.jpg

One possible reason Zapad 2017 was smaller this year is that it did not involve a major counter-attack against NATO forces, with a large scale deployment of 2nd echelon forces into the fight, which might come from Central MD. Although the 90th Tank Division did train as part of the exercise separately, it seems on the whole this event was focused on other matters, and in that way perhaps differs from Zapad 2013. It is also not a general fight against NATO, but a coalition of NATO members backed by the U.S. A distinction with a difference. So the fight was aimed at Poland, Lithuania, and the U.S. in support, based on the lead-in scenario for the exercise (bordering NATO states meddling in Belarus).

I will offer a cursory summary of the phases, although details on what happened during those days can be found in earlier entries on this blog.

Phase One, September 14-16:

  • Airlift of support crews and personnel to forward airbases. VDV Airborne drops to defend against lead elements of NATO forces in Baltic region. VKS movements to forward bases near theater of operations with fighters and long range aviation Tu-22M3. Air defense exercises to defend against incoming enemy aircraft and cruise missiles.
  • Russian ground forces loaded up and got under way by rail, strong focus on logistics and support units to get armor and mechanized units moving.
  • Railway troops, CBRN troops, signal troops, and other supporting units among MTO had a central role in ensuring the movement of Russian forces under simulated fire and cover from adversary ISR.
  • Russian Navy defended against incoming cruise missile strikes. They were tasked with getting out of port under aerosol screens, then deployed for ASW, and air defense. Their mission was to take out enemy submarines, and prepare to defend maritime approaches against surface action groups/amphibious landings.
  • Southern and Central Military District’s held concurrent drills on the essentials, including logistics, communications, air defense, along with artillery, armored warfare, and reconnaissance.

Phase Two, September 17-20:

  • Russia’s General Staff worked to setup a unified battle space 600km wide, under a single combined (or joint) command, that would control the forces in the theater. As they took in units from combined arms armies, the big challenges were coordinating material support, provisions, and communication among these forces, with an effort to establish a common operating picture, along with command and control of different types of forces on the battlefield (combined arms warfare).
  • Russian ground forces sought to integrate combat aviation for close support, drones for ISR, electronic warfare units, and air power on the battlefield, together with the traditional artillery and mechanized warfare.
  • There was a strong emphasis on recon-strike complex, how to connect drones to artillery, working out the kill chain for both area of effect and long range precision weapons. These are new tools in the toolkit, proliferating across brigades, but there’s much work to be done in actually aligning capabilities and learning how to use them on the battlefield.
  • The conflict presumed early horizontal escalation, where Russia would have to defend in multiple theaters against enemy cruise strikes and aerospace attacks (of course only the U.S. global force poses as an opponent with such capabilities). Russian units worked to repair rail bridges, communications, and internal lines of communications assuming that they might be taken out.
  • Russian units formed into BTGs of varying sizes, reinforced with VDV troops. Some focused on defending Kaliningrad, or Pechenga for example to the North. Others conducted raids against the enemy behind their lines. Russian forces simulated pushing a NATO coalition out of Belarus, but the size and scale of this exercise was more modest than anticipated. Probably they planned to punch through to Kaliningrad, but that’s just a general assumption (what else would they do?)
  • Airstrikes against NATO airbases and other key infrastructure are almost a given in the Baltic region, given the size of the exercise and the scenario, but the offensive nature of the exercise seemed limited in scope.
  • The more robust role of the Russian Navy was on display, taking out surface action groups with ships, submarines, and coastal defense cruise missiles. The exercises in the Arctic region were also notable, showing Russia expects enemy forces to be a problem on New Siberian Islands, Kotelny, and other areas under the purview of the Joint-Arctic Command. Zapad featured a lot of counter-sabotage exercises, and defense against raids by enemy special forces.

The exercise demonstrated some core elements of Russian planning for long range conventional strikes with SRBMs and ground launched cruise missiles. This is both part of a conventional warding strike, and likely NSNW employment for escalation control. Russian medium bombers had a role on the last day, but strategic bombers were not involved according to announcements. There may have been a pair of Tu-95MS doing their typical flight past Norway on the last day, but this is not an uncommon occurrence.

I’m highly skeptical that long range aviation had any sort of nuclear attack mission in this exercise, especially since it makes little sense for them, or that the ICBM tests were truly a part of it given the nuclear forces exercise came later in the fall, i.e. all those things were tested and demonstrated to the West on a grander scale after Zapad. The strategic nuclear exercise traditionally follows the combined strategic exercise later in the year. Since Zapad-1999, Russia has on and off included nuclear signaling with strategic bomber aviation, but the intent behind it was to make a point to the United States. This is not a conversation Russia is having with Europe, but one it is having with Washington, since Russia principally sees NATO as a platsdarm for the projection of U.S. military power.

The fables of Russian bombers attacking this or that are often told after Russian exercises, typically by politicians, such as the supposedly simulated Tu-22M3 nuclear strike on Sweden from Zapad 2013, which also never made sense, and was not substantiated by anything. If anyone had a nuclear mission in this exercise it was likely the missile brigades belonging to ground forces.

R-500 launch 3.jpg

Given the fear and panic spread in some circles ahead of Zapad, Russia needed fairly little to bolster its coercive credibility in being willing to use force, and follow through with conventional or nuclear escalation. That being said, the message was quite clear about Russian readiness and resolve were there to be a crisis in Belarus. In this respect Zapad was a success perhaps before it even began.

Now let’s get to Bild. This is what Bild thinks happened according to ‘two Western intelligence analysts.’ We can venture some guesses as to what country they’re from on the basis of how they saw these events unfold. This version of Zapad 2017 seems to be Putin’s operation #YOLO

25626264_1274803402623570_743372553755317428_o.jpg

Unfortunately Bild’s account can only help further bolster Russia’s credibility and the mythologized capability of it’s armed forces. Here is what Bild wrote on the basis of mysterious intelligence sources:

  • Russian Tu-95MS bombing runs around Norway to strike Germany. Why would bombers with long range ALCMs have to fly anywhere near Europe to launch at Germany and Netherlands? They can fire from behind Moscow. That’s what 2,500km+ range cruise missiles are for. Actually they can hit Germany just fine without bombers too. In any case, there were stories of RAF Typhoons scrambling to intercept Russian planes off of Scotland but its unclear what they were, and it is very unlikely if they were bombers, that their mission was to “bomb” Germany (they don’t carry bombs). Russian bombers and other aircraft visit that part of airspace rather frequently, and are regularly intercepted by NATO aircraft.
  • Russian units from Kaliningrad invading Poland. The BTG formed here with VDV reinforcements focused on defense, although it would be interesting to see the op plan for invading all of Poland with 1200 men. The same goes for Sweden and Finland. The 6th Army is basically a defensive Army Corps, so it’s somewhat dubious as to what it has on hand to invade Finland with. Russian units in Pechenga (Northern Fleet) formed a large BTG for defense, but its somewhat incredible to imagine an invasion of Scandinavia with a handful of soldiers, and no actual objective. There’s nothing strategic there to invade (no offense Scandinavian colleagues).
  • Russian amphibious landings to seize harbors and ports. Russian Naval Infantry does practice landings, but with an old LST fleet and tiny lift capacity, it’s hardly in the cards nor is it truly their mission. If you can capture a Baltic city with 8 APCs then they have a good chance of doing it, otherwise its problematic. Amphibious assault is not really something Russian forces are well setup to do. Frankly, amphibious anything is not really their forte. Meanwhile the VDV airborne had a much more humble presence than expected, perhaps 4-5 battalions took part from different divisions.
  • Cruise missile strikes against infrastructure, if simulated, were done by the two R-500 launches during the exercise, that is via ground based systems. There were also simulated fires from old Tochka-U which are being retired. Although Russia can deliver similar fires via sea and air launched missiles as well. Syria saw a good deal of action at the same time as Zapad 2017.
  • Finally, the proposition that Russia practiced an invasion of the Baltics, Poland and Scandinavia, while fighting the rest of NATO, with about 23,000-25,000 troops is at face value somewhat ridiculous. Zapad 2017 is about a high end fight with NATO, but it’s quite clear what the exercise is and isn’t. There was no invasion of Norway, or Sweden, or Poland, or bombing of the Netherlands, or any of the other alt-history Bild got from its friendly intelligence analysts. Senior officials in U.S. and NATO saw nothing of the sort described in Bild’s apocalyptic fantasy.

This was the Russian amphibious landing exercise in the Baltic Sea:

LST landing

Bild’s account of what happened during Zapad 2017 seems closer to this picture below:

Image may contain: one or more people

The Zapad exercise historically has a defensive and offensive component, as all strategic-operational exercises should, but 2017 appeared more limited in scale when it came to the ground force offensive/counterattack. Undoubtedly Russian forces crushed NATO in Belarus and saved Kaliningrad, but the rest of it seemed pretty conservative. Instead a strong emphasis was placed on fundamentals and functional areas of development: mobility and logistics, networking and communications, connecting ISR to fires, integrating aviation with ground attack, defense against aerospace attack, queuing and kill-chain development for long range fires, etc. For details you can look back to the day by day coverage in this blog from September.

As for what happened during Zapad 2017 according to twitter, and Bild, I can best illustrate using the imaginative renderings of Jakub Różalski –

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, cloud, sky and outdoor

1-5hgu2vPsYahRRpuZOa5CXA

Russia’s Fifth-Generation Sub Looms

Looking over the horizon, the Russian Ministry of Defense already has commissioned a program to develop the fifth-generation submarine that will replace most of its old Soviet platforms. With the Yasen, this fifth-generation submarine will be one of the principal adversaries faced by the U.S. Navy, perhaps as soon as the late 2020s. The broad outlines of this program, called “Husky,” already are known. The concept had been discussed as far back as 2013-2014, although the requirements and design contract were not issued until August 2016, with a conceptual design expected by late summer 2018.

Russia’s famous Malakhit design bureau—author of the Victor, Alfa, Akula, and Yasen classes—has been given the lead for this project. The fifth-generation submarine is a unified design: the fore and aft sections will be common, along with key systems inside the pressurized hull. Modules introduced into the hull will split the program into three variants: a cheap-to-produce SSN, a more capable SSGN, and possibly an SSBN. This “joint strike submarine” is intended to take advantage of technologies that spent years in development and testing during the tumultuous design (and redesign) history of the Yasen class.

Russia seeks to leverage the pain and experience in realizing the Yasen class to design a more cost-effective platform. The vision is a cheap and modular Yasen derivative, with a few technological enhancements. Building a common platform is not easy, but it is hardly a stretch for Russia’s shipbuilding industry. Keep in mind the first SSBNs in the Borei class and the first Yasen class have much more in common than it might seem. These boats incorporated hulls and systems originally intended for Akula III-class SSNs that the Soviet Union planned to complete in the 1990s before halting production; they were adapted to create these fourth-generation submarines.

The Husky program’s first mission is to produce a design that is a de facto smaller and cheaper Yasen, weighing in at 4,000-6,000 tons compared to the Severodvinsk’s current 9,000. Improved composites and new polymers are supposed to be used throughout, further reducing the ship’s acoustic signature. Power, propulsion, control, and sonar are supposed to be shared across the three variants. The Russian Navy’s priority is a cost-effective SSN, with a construction time of four to four and a half years, so that it can produce 15-20 submarines. SSGN variants will incorporate a vertical launch system (VLS) payload module. SSBN variants could be built in the latter years of the program, contingent on what happens with the New START arms control treaty.

While Malakhit is working on the design, Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation is investing in modernizing the equipment necessary to build the fifth-generation submarine. Other companies and state-owned enterprises, such as the Krylov State Research Center, are improving composites with the hope of integrating them into the submarine’s construction when it is laid down sometime in the mid-2020s.

The design contract for this next-generation submarine is driven by the practical need to replace the aging mix of Oscar IIs, Akulas, Sierras, and Victor IIIs. The Soviet-era boats currently in the fleet include Delta III SSBNs, soon due for retirement, and Delta IVs that have another 10–12 years of life. Some of these submarines will be well past their useful service lives by the end of 2020s, and the cost of modernizing them would be exorbitantly high because Soviet submarines were not meant to be upgraded so much as discarded every 30 years. Although they have not been used much during recent years, these simply are not the ships the Russian Navy wants to be sailing in the 2030s.

The Russian Navy’s other ambition is to consolidate the disparate SSN and SSGN classes into a few multipurpose designs. That is where the Husky program comes in, though its real name should be “cheaper Yasen.” For now, Russia is likely to substantially upgrade four of eight Oscar II SSGNs and at most four to six of the ten Akulas currently in service. This will extend their service lives, replace some key systems, and dramatically improve their strike package with SS-N-26 and SS-N-27 missiles. Victor IIIs probably will be scrapped. Modernization of the Sierra class has been suspended, and there is no urgency in upgrading it because the submarine’s titanium hull can last a long time.

As a consequence, by 2030 Russia will need to retire 11-13 SSNs and SSGNs. These will be made up for by six or seven new Yasen-class SSGNs, but the Yasen is expensive, slow to build, and not meant for production in large quantities. This submarine is the single most costly item in the current modernization program, estimated at somewhere between $1.5 billion and $3 billion a piece. This may seem a bargain compared to the cost of U.S. submarines, but it is taxing the Russian procurement budget. The Russian Navy hopes the Husky program will erase the remaining deficit in ship numbers at a much lower operating cost relative to the price of maintaining a diverse and aging fleet.

How realistic are Russia’s ambitions for a fifth-generation submarine? Typical of ship requirements, the Russian Navy wants the fifth-generation submarine to do it all, do it better and cheaper, and be faster and easier to build. Taking into account the technological sophistication of the Yasen class and the production capacity at Russia’s principal nuclear submarine shipyard, Sevmash, it is fair to say that the knowhow and production capacity exist. In fact, Russian submarine construction has been on a positive trend line for several years now.

Russia currently has 12 nuclear-powered submarines laid down or in various phases of construction. Even if there are further delays in the Borei and Yasen programs, there is no reason a fifth-generation submarine cannot be laid down by the mid-2020s. Indeed, if there are delays, the Russian Ministry of Defense likely will abridge the Yasen program in favor of this new cheaper variant with similar performance. An SSBN derivative is less realistic. The Borei class is capable of replacing the Delta IIIs and Delta IVs. Also, the Rubin design bureau—not Malakhit—historically has been responsible for SSBN development, and Russia’s defense industry might not be so keen on a common SSN/SSGN/SSBN platform. When all is said and done, the Malakhit design bureau probably will produce a versatile SSN/SSGN design for the Russian Navy.

Time will reveal what Russia’s fifth-generation submarine design will look like, but early contours of the future already are visible. The brainchild of the Husky program will become one of the U.S. Navy’s principal adversaries in the undersea domain in the 2030s, and the Russian Ministry of Defense has begun working on making that future a reality.

Reprinted with permission from the U.S. Naval Institute.  Copyright Proceedings Magazine, U.S. Naval Institute

Zapad watch – summary of ‘post exercise’ exercises (the Zapad hangover)

Zapad is over, but exercises and drills go on across Russia, like an echo bouncing across the military districts. In this final blog entry on Zapad I’ll give a sense of what the Russian military has been doing since Zapad officially ended. Most of these exercises are not part of Zapad 2017, but as always, it’s a bit hard to tell. Some seem like a continuation on the very same theme, perhaps for 2nd echelon forces or those that couldn’t get their training done during the week of the event. This is the final blog entry on Zapad – covering this exercise was mildly exhausting.

Russia’s Fleets had a few interesting exercises and live fire drills even though the main event had ended. Central and Southern MDs are quite active with large scale air defense and artillery exercises. Thousands of Russian troops are still at ranges in the far east, Siberia, North Caucasus and southern Russia.

A host of naval infantry, spetsnaz and special designation support units are conducting drills geared towards their specific mission sets and there is a wave of exercises across bases outside Russian territory, including: Transnistria, Abkhazia, and Tajikistan.

Western MD – A few photos of Russian units heading back.

BMPs on railcars

Il-76

Some interesting announcements cropped up after the last day of Zapad:

Western MD – There was a special command and control training with topographic and geodesic support units (sounds like those controlling satellites) for providing navigation at different levels to Russian forces. More interestingly, in the ‘strategic direction’ (suppose northwest) they worked out how to ensure the accuracy of missile units and artillery. They also worked on detecting jamming sources and how to adjust satellite navigation guidance for said jamming. About 250 servicemen involved all together. Sorry the translation is somewhat awkward given the terms involved, but this may have been one of the technically more important exercises and of course no photos available for something like this.

Southern MD – There’s a large scale air defense and artillery exercise ongoing at two ranges, Kaputsin Yar and Yeysky (near Rostov-on-Don).  An artillery battalion from a motor rifle brigade garrisoned in Volgograd were drilling at the training range Prydboi. This ‘division’ of artillery employed MSTA-S in support of a motor rifle battalion. Drones were used in the exercise, including to simulate enemy drones to which the artillery division had to react, i.e. quickly pack up from firing position and get themselves road mobile. Around 500 servicemen and 100 piece s of artillery took part. The exercise will conclude with 120mm Hosta mortar fires and Tornado-G MLRS. A sniper unit is training at the same range, about 50 men total, together with a Spetz recon team.

Snipers

At Kaputsin Yar, Russian air defense units from their base in Abkhazia ran live fire exercises with OSA-AKM, Strela-10M, and Igla MANPADS. About 300 servicemen and 30 pieces of equipment listed. Total it seems 1500 men and 400 pieces of equipment running air defense drills in Southern MD.

Eastern MD – As drills continue in this district, Spetsnaz units in Khabarovsk conducted raids against two enemy camps. They arrived via Mi-8AMTSh helicopters, and were retrieved after a 10km march. Meanwhile in Zabaykalsky Krai (by Mongolia) Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters provided air cover for the insertion of airborne units. The Su-30SMs practiced dog fighting and dealing with various forms of electronic warfare.

At the Joint Sea 2017 exercise with China’s PLAN the two sides worked on submarine rescue with Bester-1 and LR-7 submersible vehicles.

Central MD – More than 500 artillerymen are currently running live fire exercises in Orenburg at the Totskoye range. They located the target with drones and then concentrated fires with BM-21 Grad, MSTA-S and other types of artillery. About 120 pieces of equipment total. Meanwhile in Western Siberia a S-400 unit is conducting live fire exercises against incoming enemy missile strikes.

Tajikistan – Artillerymen from Russia’s base in Tajikistan destroyed a terrorist convoy carrying weapons. They detected them with Zastava drones, locating the supposed convoy of cars, and then opened up with 120mm Sani mortars.

Tajikistan

Transnistria – Not to be left out of the war, Russian units ran some live fire drills in this long frozen conflict, with about 350 servicemen and 30 pieces of equipment involved. The machinery looked rather dated and worn, older BTRs and BRDMs. Still the ‘peacekeeping’ unit gave it their go to demonstrate that a battalion of Russian forces was still alive and quite operational in this breakaway region.

Don’t forget about us, we’re still peacekeeping.

Transnistria 2

Caspian Flotilla – Naval Infantry belonging to the flotilla (two battalions) hit the mountain training range of Adanak in Dagestan for some exercises in reconnaissance with the KRYS ‘Strelets’ system. About 600 naval infantrymen and some Nona self-propelled mortars were involved. They were working out integration between identifying targets with the personal kit system, relaying them to supporting mortar artillery using the same system, and then servicing the target.

CF Marines

Baltic Fleet – Select units of 11th Corps still have some work to do, practicing for ‘counter-terrorism’ drills. I’m not sure when the last incident of terrorism occurred in Kaliningrad but one suspects it’s a low probability event. In reality they were working on dealing with infiltrators, who had seized Russian army uniforms and were seeking to take over key technical facilities on the base, i.e. enemy special forces units. Seems they sorted out NATO, but there are still a few scenarios to be worked out regarding adversary SOF. The exercise is relatively small, about 150 servicemen and 20 pieces of equipment, including some drones, and high speed boats.

Baltic Fleet.jpg

The Baltic Fleet’s S-400 units may have only held electronic launches during Zapad. Now they are moving to Ashylyk range in Astrakhan for live fire exercises against high altitude, low altitude, maneuverable and ballistic targets. The scenarios are meant to recreate combat conditions, force the batteries to camouflage, displace, and work under enemy suppression. Quite possibly the reason for this is that the Baltic region right now is filled to the brim with various ISR and intel collection assets from different countries due to all the exercises picking up every wave and particle recordable – so perhaps they wished to do some S-400 launches away from so many prying eyes. About 200 servicemen and 20 pieces of equipment are involved according to the official announcement.

North Fleet – In the course of exercises in the Barents, White and Laptev Seas (also New Siberian Islands) the fleet fired 13 different types of missiles from ships, submarines and CDCMs.  The Fleet’s commander, Vice Admiral Nikolai Evmenov explained that the scenarios modeled existing and possible threats. Meanwhile on Kotelny archipelago it kind of wasn’t over. The specialized Arctic brigade made a landing via LST Kondopoga. The units included several BTR-80s, MT-LBTs, and Vityaz all terrain vehicles. After the landing, four platoons mimicked an assault to seize a strategic height on the island.

North Fleet invades Kotelny

Peter the Great’s surface action group still had some work left on the way home. Orel, the Oscar-II SSGN and Peter the Great (Kirov-class) held some interesting duels in the Barents Sea. Peter the Great worked on ASW, and fired its ‘Vodopad’ ASROC system, while the Oscar practiced torpedo attacks.

(looks like Dmitri Donskoy is out there with them)

Northern Fleet

Notable photos:

Necessity is the mother of invention (is there anything exercise balls can’t do?)

exercise ball

PLAN Teamwork

Chinese marines

Zapad watch – summary of day seven (last day)

The final day of Russia’s Zapad 2017 exercise just concluded. It’s over now….or is it? No, seriously, it’s probably over. Russian units in Belarus and Leningrad Oblast had a final go at it and then began to pack up their bags for a return trip to their garrisons. Although weather continued to be poor, there were some interesting moments on the last day, from VDV assaults to Tu-22M3 bomber flights over the Baltic and Norwegian Sea. Russia’s long range aviation also began waking up for some joint tests with air defense units. And an RS-24 road mobile ICBM launch, which is probably neither here nor there.

BLUF: The Russian Navy and Air Force remained active, shooting down cruise missiles, and running simulations with ground based air defenses. VDV began preparations for return flights back to base. Logistics units of various types, particularly railway troops, communications, radar, and CBRN continued specialized technical drills. Not all is quiet on the Central and Eastern Front though. Readiness checks, inspections, and some fresh exercises suggest that while Zapad is over the busy training regimen will continue for Russian forces into October. Some of these may be connected to Zapad, while others not.

MSTA-S.JPG

Also Lithuania didn’t get invaded and Belarus seems like it will be ok

Meanwhile it’s unclear if the RS-24 Yars launches (12th and 20th) have anything at all to do with this as part of an escalation dynamic or just RVSN working off its own schedule for missile tests. Probably both, the first launch was likely RVSN doing its own testing and the second one is an open question mark – could be terminal phase of Zapad.

The exercise aside, there were other more important things on the minds of Russia’s General Staff. In Syria Jabhat al-Nusra launched an attack north of Hama which endangered a platoon of Russian MPs operating in the area together with KSO special forces. Rumor has it that most of the available rotary and fixed wing aviation Russia had available in Syria was called in to repel the attack, preventing encirclement. Russia’s MoD blamed US intelligence services for instigating the Nusra assault. From the sound of it, the last day of Zapad almost got too exciting as the real war in Syria made its presence felt.

Belarus

Borisovsky range – Lukashenko came to observe the final day of the exercise, but there was no joint photo op between him and V. Putin since they were at different ranges. The optics of collaboration and integration with Belarus were missing the personal touch. Quite possibly it was at one or the other leader’s decision not to have a joint review of forces.

It’s all great but where’s my ally? (In all seriousness probably Lukashenko doesn’t want to be seen with Putin so he can play the role of ‘unwilling ally’ and maintain options for dealing with the West)

Lukashenko

Russia

Training continued at Luzhsky (Luga), and around Pskov, but Kaliningrad’s range Pravdinsky seemed to wrap things up.

Russian Tu-22M3 bombers conducted flights over the Baltic and Norwegian Sea, during which they were greeted by US, Belgian, Finnish, and Swedish fighters.

At Plesetsk Cosmodrome a RS-24 YARS roadmobile ICBM was launched from a Krona shelter targeting the Kura test range on Kamchatka. Zapad seems to be book ended by two RS-24 ICBM launches, a silo-based test on September 12th, and a road-mobile launch on September 20th. The connection between Zapad and these missile tests is unclear. The first launch on September 12th was supposedly delivering a newer type of reentry vehicle (or decoy?)

Yars-M-20170920.png

Another interesting exercise on this day: Russia’s air force practiced responding to terrorists hijacking a civilian airliner out of Moscow and redirecting it north (maybe Swedish insurgents). Two Su-27s on alert responded while Russia’s ground based air defenses tracked then plane and prevented it from leaving Russian airspace.

VDV Airborne – 76th Division crossed a river in their BMD vehicles and then assaulted enemy positions from behind enemy lines near Pskov. After this decisive action NATO units surrendered. Meanwhile, after completing the final day of drills, the VDV battalion airlifted into Kaliningrad reported to be preparing for departure back to their garrison. Looks like they’re packing up to go home. However it was not the best conclusion to the exercise for the VDV branch. The commander of Russia’s VDV was involved in a terrible automotive accident near Murmansk, and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, along with aides who were in the vehicle with him.

VDV river crossing

Heading home

VDV returning from Kaliningrad

VKS Aerospace Forces – Su-35s in Telemba (Buryatia in eastern Siberia) shifted to an airbase in Zabaykalky Krai took on incoming enemy cruise missiles. Russia used Kh-55 target practice missiles, launched by Tu-95MS strategic bombers, as targets for air defenses at Telemba. Yes Russian strategic bomber aviation woke up to get itself in the game. This is taking place in the Eastern MD but seems to be a VKS + LRA exercise. Might be more strategic bomber drills to come, after all nuclear exercise season tends to follow in October.

Russia’s Aerospace Forces are heading back to their airbases. Well, not everyone, clearly Tu-22M3s had a busy day. Altogether the list of fixed wing and rotary aviation involved includes: Su-35s, Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-24M, Su-25, Mig-31BM, Mig-29SMT, Mi-28N, Mi-35, Mi-8, Ka-52. Special mention has been made throughout about how bad the weather was during the second half of the exercise.

VKS returning

Central MD – In Chelyabinsk there is an inspection of the 90th Armored Division (by the border  with Kazakhstan). Apparently 25-29 September there will be an exercise held in Chebarkyl, which may be the Central MD’s continuation of ‘Zapad related training.’

Eastern MD – Spetsnaz units in Khabarovsk Krai were lifted by Mi-8 AMTSh helicopters together with gear and then parachuted in to assault an enemy camp, then deployed for ambush behind enemy lines.

Khabarovsk VVO

Air defense units began an exercise focused on radar detection and tracking in Amur and Primoriye. They’re fielding Nebo and Nebo-SVU radars to detect, identify and track various types of targets. Part of the scenario is looking for sources of jamming and integrating the operating picture between two different air defense zones within the Eastern MD. It comes off like they’re working on dealing with low observation aircraft, because that’s the sort of thing radars of this type are good for. About 500 servicemen involved.

radar screen.jpg

Southern MD – Looks like enemy forces blew up a rail link in Kransodar and specialized technical units must respond to repair it. Railway troops, a CBRN unit, and other brigade elements completed a 200km march to the site, with 1000 servicemen and 200+ pieces of specialized equipment. Enemy forces were present in the area as well to complicate matters, and they had to practice air defense on the way.

railway troops SMD.jpg

Communications technicians created one information network across in N. Caucasus, Abkhazia, Ossetia, Armenia, and much of the Southern MD. Satellite and radio stations exchanged data while being suppressed by EW from enemy drones (probably Leer-3). Encrypted systems include Redut-2YS, MK VKS, and mobile radio stations R-166, R-419-L. About 3500 servicemen and more than 700 various pieces of equipment took part.

Russian units in Abkhazia, together with Abkhaz armed forces, destroyed enemy command posts as part of a recon-strike exercise. At the training ranges Nagvaloy and Tsabal artillery units practiced with 2s3 Akatsya, D-30 122mm towed artillery, and 120mm Sani mortars. BM-21 Grads were deployed, together with drones for targeting and recon. Data from drones was integrated via Strelets (individual soldier system) and artillery systems to deliver on short notice artillery strikes to identified targets. The point of the exercise was to workout integration between reconnaissance and the strike part of the equation. About 500 servicemen took part and 100 pieces of equipment.

Northern Fleet – Out in the Barents the surface action group led by Peter the Great (Kirov-class), together with Marshal Ushakov (Soveremenny-class), defended against a massed enemy air attack with anti-ship cruise missiles (though the targets were fired at a rate of one per minute so not exactly a massed salvo). They were backed by Mig-31s, shooting down six cruise missile targets in total launched by small missile boards (RM-120). The scenario had two phases: in the first Russian ships used their air defenses in collaboration with air support. A few were hit by S-300 Fort, one by Uragan, and two by R-33 air-to-air missiles. Phase two was close in weapons defense, involving one RM-120 target and two decoys to imitate missiles.

Meanwhile in the Arctic, Severomorsk (Udaloy-class) conducted live fire exercises, employing surface to air missiles (Kinzhal), CWIS guns, artillery, and even the troops onboard unloaded RPGs into floating targets. Pantsir-S1 (Arctic variants) practiced against various targets. The head of the Russian Navy, Adm Vladimir Korolev is personally visiting the Northern Fleet. According the MoD that’s a wrap for the North Fleet and they should be turning around for home.

Severomorsk launching Kinzhal

Severomorsk.jpg

Arctic Pantsir air defense

Arctic Pantsir-S1.jpg

P-15 Termit missile launched by Rubezh coastal defense system

Termit.JPG

Baltic Fleet – 11th Corps is standing down and returning to their garrisons according to the MoD. Ships are due back in Baltiysk.

Black Sea Fleet – An artillery regiment of the 22nd Army Corps (BSF) is conducting artillery and air defense drills at the Opuk training range. Elements of the separate naval infantry brigade are also involved in this exercise. About 50 pieces of equipment were noted, self-propelled artillery, BM-21 Grad, and Strela-M10 short range air defense systems. The BSF’s Su-24M naval aviation squadron played enemy aviation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Caspian Flotilla – Starting inspection and preparations across the flotilla’s ships in advance of a large exercise expected in October. Looks like they will have a busy training schedule after Zapad.

Pacific Fleet – Chinese marines are drilling in counter-terrorism at Russia’s Gornostay range, first phase of their joint exercise with PLAN for the coming week.

Russian forces in the Baltic region are beginning to return home, but the op tempo of exercise will continue into Central and Eastern MD. There may be further air defense, radar, and LRA exercises. General purpose ground forces in districts many time zones away from the scenario will continue repelling a conventional adversary as though they are part of the larger fight. Nuclear escalation was not an obvious part of the exercise, but definitely pre-nuclear deterrence was featured in R-500 launches. A more serious analysis to come – this is just a wrap up of the last day.

Notable Photos:

The Army’s strategic resource on the move (mobile kitchen)

the most important vehicle - kitchen

This

run faster

Plotting which of these kids to leave in Belarus

Mr. Burns

Zapad watch – summary of day six

We’ve almost made it, only one day to go. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously speaking though, other exercises starting up in the Far East suggest that some drills will continue past the September 20th date. Key activities:

  • VDV conducted air drop, raiding, and airbase assault
  • Kaliningrad repelled an enemy attack with a task organized BTG
  • Russia’s Navy fought off surface action groups and amphibious landings in the Barents with ship borne, submarine, and CDCM launches
  • Ground forces employed Iskander-K (R-500)
  • Eastern MD went on alert in preparation for a larger ground force exercise while Central MD’s Tajikistan base also began to run drills
  • VKS were busy intercepting enemy airpower and incoming cruise missiles

BLUF: Russian forces transitioned from simulated to actual strikes and offensive operations. R-500 GLCM was launched from Leningrad Oblast in Western MD. All in all, there was a healthy demonstration of Russia’s long range precision guided munitions, submarine, ship, coastal defense and ground launched. Horizontal escalation could be seen in the Eastern and Central MD. Scenarios unfolded expecting strikes in Central MD, and Eastern MD troops prepared for a large scale exercise in their district to repel ground forces.

Belarus

Osipovichsky range – Russian and Belarusian ground forces stopped NATO’s advance at the range, 4th Division’s newest motor rifle regiment continues the fight with T-80BV tanks. Artillery units engaged with Tornado-G, MSTA-S, Giatsint, BM-21 Grad. Belarus used Mi-8MTV-5 to ferry Russian airborne units onto the battlefield. Mi-28Ns provided air support in repelling the enemy. Belarusian drones Busel and Berkyt were employed to recon and target enemy positions for their MLRS detachments using BM-30 Smerch and Polonez. Not all went to plan – the weather was terrible and there was a 30 minute operational pause between defense and counter-attack – apparently someone important had to arrive to see the latter part.

T-80BV of 4th Division MRR

Borisovsky – Various combined groupings including VDV, artillery and combat aviation had a day of fighting. Here 6th Tank BDE from 1st Guards Tank Army. Spetsnaz units were shown for the first time, and they highlighted the employment of KRUS ‘Strelets’ systems for navigation, reconnaissance and communication.

Spez Borisovsky

Western MD, where a lot of the action continues (and the occasional live fire accident)

Luzhsky range – Everything was going well, until it wasn’t. A Ka-52 fired S-8 rockets near a crowd of observers. Unclear if it was a weapon malfunction or a judgment malfunction. Three people were hurt, plus a Leer-3 EW vehicle designed to command specialized Orlan drones.

Here is a video of the stike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=4DGQVkuJ1p8

There’s a site with the helicopter’s gun camera http://www.yapfiles.ru/show/1756678/38dd695ae47ae3c0af890282b013b053.mp4.html

Here is the Leer-3 afterwards.

damaged Kamaz after Ka-52 strike

Pantsir-S1 air defense units practiced against low flying targets, with a An-2 simulating enemies at 50m altitude and 200km speed. Aerosol and smoke cover provided by specialized CBRN support troops. MTO troops continued to do MTO things, lots of fascinating stats were provided on number of mobile kitchens setup, etc.

Luzhsky range 2

Iskander R-500 cruise missile launches. As promised, they went from electronically simulated strikes to actual launches of cruise missiles today. Luzhsky range same some solid escalation.

R-500

R-500 launch 3.jpg

Electronic Warfare – Apparently for the first time in exercises EW troops deployed the RB-109A Bylina automatic control system that greatly increases the effectiveness of EW systems, and more importantly eliminates EW fratricide in terms one’s own comms systems. There’s not been much talk about what EW systems are actually being used, although Leer-3 drone EW system has been show multiple times.

VKS Aerospace Forces – Mig-31BMs were busy intercepting incoming cruise missiles fired by enemy planes. They were also engaged in a large air defense operation, intercepting 30 enemy targets approaching the practice ranges in Leningrad Oblast.

VDV Airborne – Another parachuting exercise took place at Strugi Krasniye near Pskov, conducted by the 76h Division based there. Looks like they dropped again near the range, perhaps a different battalion though – since this one had BMD-4Ms in it. Poor weather notwithstanding the drop was made at 800m, with about one battalion of 400 troops and 10 vehicles. After  landing they assaulted an enemy airfield. Then the units conducted a raid with BMD-4M and BTR-MD Rakushka, crossing a some water obstacle in the process (perhaps a small river), and overcoming the muddy ground in the area.

VDV landing

Yep that’s mud

VDV raiding party

Northern Fleet – Peter the Great (Kirov-class) launched five SS-N-19 anti-ship missiles in the Barents Sea at a simulated adversary, together with Admiral Ushakov, which fired a Moskit missile. Alongside the surface action group the live fire exercise was joined by Voronezh and Orel, two Oscar-II SSGNs. Ships in different positions converged missiles on targets at 200-300km range. The goal was to integrate a surface action group, SSGNs, and maritime aviation to service an enemy SAG at sea.

Bastion-P complexes back at the tip of Teriberskiy also fired on enemy forces at sea – range 400km. Yes, that’s right, according to them it was 400km for a complex that officially has a range of 350km in anti-ship  roles 🙂 Bastion goes up to 450km but this supposedly is against surface targets in high-high flight profile trajectory which is not what they were testing. From Kotelniy Island, Rubezh fired two Termit missiles (vintage shorter range systems) at 50km range. An Udaloy class destroyer also conducted live fire drills in the same area. This was the “Arctic defense” part of the exercise. Official numbers for Northern Fleet participation are 5,000 troops and 300 pieces of equipment.

Baltic Fleet/Kaliningrad – Pravdinsky range where most of the Baltic Fleet’s 11th Army Corps is drilling had its largest day of battle. BMD-2 vehicles suggest VDV was present in support of motor rifle units together with artillery. Orlan-10 and Grusha drones were employed throughout training, while naval aviation provided  support (Su-24 + Su-34). They also had Platforma-M combat UGVs. The mission was straightforward, they found a ‘diversionary group’ and had to march 60km to engage it. The forces were task organized with units from the motor rifle regiment, reinforced by artillery, and airborne units. After forcing a retreat, with Mi-24 helicopters and MLRS systems the enemy was chased down and destroyed.  Weather continued to be poor, nothing but rain.

Baltic Fleet.jpg

Bal coastal defense units engaged enemy ships with anti-ship missiles along with those fired by a Steregushchiy corvette. The coastal defense missile battery hit a target at sea, while one of the corvettes fired a Uran missiles (sea based variant of same Kh-35). Enemy forces  supposedly had jamming and EW. Unclear how that was simulated, perhaps another ship since they were also practicing EW at sea.

BAL

Black Sea Fleet – Admiral Grigorovich frigate and the fleet’s newest corvette, Vyshniy Volochek, put to sea for some sea trials and practiced air defense. Turks are visiting Novorossiysk with a LST for some sort of port of call.

Southern MD – Logistics units in Abkhazia, at the Tsabal range, trained in deploying a modern mobile communications system (Redut) in mountainous terrain which allows one to setup a unified radio communications network. They practiced setting up 32m antenna masts to establish a 2 mbps/sec network. This is much lower bandwidth than what’s up at Western MD but still quite interesting. The soldiers worked to setup communications at different frequencies and video conferencing (wonder how well their VTC technology works, and if its anything like ours…). Around 300 servicemen and 100 pieces of specialized equipment took part. Some named pieces of kit include Artek station mounted on a BTR-80, satellite communications Liven on an Ural base, radiorelay L1 on Kamaz.

southen MD Redut setup

Eastern MD – About 3000 troops and 500 pieces of equipment are deploying various drills on Sakhalin. Their large scale exercise is just beginning it seems. The war finally spread to the far east, and they too must find enemy recon groups and prepare to defend against enemy ground forces. T-72B tanks, BM-27 Uragan, BM-21 Grad and Giatsint-S systems will be deployed. Drone support includes Orlan and Zastava, while air support consists of Su-25s and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters. Supposedly various flamethrower units will be used as well.  In Zabaykalsky Krai (borders Mongolia) Russian S-300 units began drills in defending key MoD infrastructure. About 200 servicemen and 40 pieces of equipment involved.

Far East MD troops

Central MD -Tajikistan suddenly came alive. Seems Russian soldiers from 201st based there were airlifted to seize the command post of enemy bandits/diversionary groups. CBRN troops deployed heavy smoke and aerosols to cover movement of forces. Meanwhile in Republic of Khakassia railway forces began training in bridge laying 4 bridges with a cumulative length of 1000m across a river.  The scenario is quite interesting, some naughty adversary fired PGMs and destroyed the railway bridge over the river Enisey. Hence about 1500 servicemen and 550 pieces of specialized equipment have been raised on alert to restore the railway link across the river. Interesting assumption that Russian interior lines of communication could be severed at this stage of the conflict and railway troops are ready to be summoned in order to restore them (could be US or China really that’s to blame).

railway troops CMD

Notable photos:

Spetsnaz kill (element of surprise possibly ruined by photographer standing right there)

the surprize attack might have been ruined by the photographer being present.jpg

Foreign observers (is that a selfie moment in progress?)

observers

Zapad watch – summary of day five

With phase two in full swing and Vladimir Putin now observing, there is action almost everywhere. The past few days have been lively, and somewhat hard to cover so in this post I’m summarizing some other MD’s events that were glossed over earlier.

BLUF: Russian forces are having a conventional high end fight across a 600km front in the Western MD, fleets are defending against enemy amphibious landings, airborne units are doing more drops, missile regiments have started live fire exercises with you guessed it – missiles. So we have horizontal escalation to different fronts and vertical escalation with Russian forces launching SRBM/Cruise missile strikes. The Russian Navy is defending littorals and maritime approaches as expected, recons strike complex is being tested in support of artillery, while airborne and ground forces are working together in defeating concentrated enemy formations. Special designation and special purpose units are also quite active across the districts.

Belarus

Osipovichskiy Range: The new Motor Rifle Regiment (423rd) of the 4th Division (1st Guards Tank Army) is training here with armor, motorized infantry, artillery, and air defense units. Seems this regiment was snapped together with a T-80BV battalion supporting it (4th DIV still has T-80 variants). My understanding is that a 3rd maneuver regiment was added to this division as of last year and is slowly being manned and equipped. MTO and engineering units are busy with camouflage and fortifications, meanwhile the T-80s are running a tank carousel, i.e. shoot and scoot drills.T-80

Another participant at this range is Belarus’ 120th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, they fielded armor, artillery and air defense in support of Russian forces. (4th Tank Division also seems to be in Syria supporting the push outside Deir-ez-Zor with pontoon bridges and logistics, so this unit is basically everywhere right now).

smerch 2

Borisovsky range is active too, but I gave it lots of coverage during the last post. Suffice to say they’re still winning over there and no doubt NATO forces are dying left and right.

Western MD

Luzhsky range (outside Luga) – As expected Putin came to Luzhsky range in Leningrad Oblast for the main event. There he took some lazy photo ops pretending to hold binoculars without looking at them, because they had large monitors setup in front of the glass showing the events, which were also taking place right in front of the window. Russian MoD brought out newer T-90M, T-80BVM upgrade and BMPT to show off in front of the leadership.

Large monitor screens in front of the window somewhat block the binoculars, he’s just holding them seemingly annoyed for the photographer to take this photo op

Putin and crew

Not even faking it

Putin and Gerasimov.JPG

Su-24Ms did a large bombing run at the range, while Su-25s were busy killing enemy convoys. Su-24MP recon variants provided targeting data, along with drones. Mi-28Ns, Ka-52s and Mi-35M helicopters all had a busy day.

Mi-28N at Luzhsky.JPG

Russian forces practiced employing drones as part of a recon strike complex, including artillery recon systems such as Aistenok, targeting and communications system Strelets, along with artillery systems MSTA-B, MSTA-S, BM-21 Grad, and Sani. The goal was to practice command and control of different types of forces, together with EW and air defense units in support, while recon assets fed targeting data in real time. Seems they were using precision munitions too, Krasnopol and Smelchak.

Lots of different types of units drilling at Luzhsky today and Strugi Krasniye (where the 76th Pskov seems to be). Sprut and Shturm-S tank destroyers got to do live fire exercises, along with Kornet ATGMs and Shmels with thermobaric rounds. Engineers practiced demining with UR-77 systems, while combat medics trained in evacuating the wounded from the field of battle. Russian and Belarusian MP units are guarding field command posts, defusing enemy IEDs and the like.

Bridging and MTO

At Kaputsin Yar in Astrakhan, news read that Iskander-M units ran combat launches at 480km range, hitting Makat fire range. In reality it seems to have been R-500 cruise missile variant.

Units named so far as participating include 25th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, 138th Motor Rifle Brigade and 2nd Tamanskaya Division. About 600km wide front in terms of engagement according to Col-General Kartapolov, cdr of Western MD.

T-90M and BMPT at Luzhsky

T-90M and BMPT

VDV (Airborne) – The big day has basically arrived, VDV Divisions from Tula, Ivanovo and Pskov which had been first raised on alert on the 14th began marches to training ranges and loading onto Il-76s. 76th had already been engaged and doing combat drops, while 98th was getting ready for a drop yesterday. Looks like they did an air drop in bad weather later during the day, rain and low altitude cloud cover. I would expect 400-450 troops per air drop + 9-10 vehicles based on the preparations reported previously. About 10 Il-76s employed, seems the drop zone was Luzhsky range. One battalion from each division is likely to do an air drop during this exercise.

Before drop

vdv airborne

At the range

VDV

VKS (Aerospace Forces) – 6th Air and Air Defense Army had a lively day. Weather was bad, but Su-35s escorted Il-76s with VDV onboard to the drop zones. Combat aviation supported the airborne during their drop. Meanwhile Tu-22M3s practiced bombing runs against targets.

Northern Fleet – Peter the Great’s (Kirov-class) surface action group with a Sovremenny destroyer ran live fire exercises defending against enemy forces attempting to land marines on Sredniy Peninsula (just north of Murmansk). Enemy marines also tried to land on Ribachi peninsula to seize strategically vital terrain, where they were met with Russian naval infantry. Apparently Russian units, formed as a reinforced battalion, had to travel 100km to engage the assaulting marines with Su-24Ms and Mi-8 helicopters in support. About 600 naval infantry, 12 BTR-82As, and several artillery  units  were involved. Drones were use to correct ship artillery fire.

North Fleet Naval Inf.JPG

Baltic Fleet – Russian naval infantry and special designation units were busy at Khmelevka range and defending against enemy landings. Some of Baltic Fleet’s naval infantry took positions on the beach, holding ground in Kaliningrad. They dug in with T-72B1 tanks, BMP-2s, tank destroyers and other hardware. Naval infantry also conducted an amphibious landing from LST’s with BTR-82As swimming ashore and Ka-27 helicopters unloading infantry on the beach. Seems to have been a lively scene, Mi-35Ms were overhead, lots of flares and smoke. Photos suggest some units were practicing mine laying just off the beach as well. At Pravdinsky range Spetz units were busy with tactical exercises taking out diversionary groups and ‘illegal armed formations,’ basically urban assault against  infiltrators in buildings. Everyone seems to be complaining that the weather was bad. CBRN troops were working on fighting chemical weapons on a floating platform just off the beach.

Baltic Naval Infantry landing

LST landing.jpg

Defending force

more naval infantry photos

You can tell its raining (looks like B1/BA mix)

Pravdinsky in the raine.jpg

Black Sea Fleet – Outside Novorossiysk, in Tsemes Bay, the BSF nailed an enemy submarine (sorry Turkey). Apparently it tried to sneak in while enemy high speed boats were distracting the defending ships. The enemy submarine manage to land enemy divers, but specialized Russian PDSS diver units found them, meanwhile a small anti-submarine ship (Povorino) sunk the enemy submarine with depth charges. Situational awareness provided by Orlan-10 and Electron drones. BSF minesweepers and small missile boats (about 2) were also involved in various drills outside Sevastopol, minesweeping, artillery and missile fires, etc. Be-12 maritime patrol craft and Su-30SMs supported the operations.

Eastern MD – In Khabarovsk the Eastern MD began some sort of ‘special tactical training’ with Spetz units. Seems they did an air drop by parachute and via Mi-8AMTsh helicopters at night. Probably a Spetsnaz unit. In Primorye, at Turgenevsky trange, specialized units in CBRN trained in dealing with chemical warfare. Apparently enemy diversionary groups got this far and had chemical weapons with them. Although part of the exercise seems to be dealing with potential chemical or ammonia leaks from a factory, evacuating civilians, clearing gases and chemicals, so it is perhaps oriented towards consequences of damage to industrial facilities. A host of specialized equipment being used: RHM-6, TMS-65U, ARS-14KM, and smoke machines for cover TDA-3 (the latter part is to cover the movement of ground forces). About one battalion, 500 men and 100 vehicles involved in this exercise.

eastern md.jpg

Southern MD (catching up on this one) – 8th Combined Arms Army, the latest CAA setup with Ukraine as its primary contingency, concluded its exercise at the Prydboi (Volgograd oblast) training range. The news is odd, says concluded but other info suggests the exercise is still ongoing. A mix of units including T-90A, BMP-3, MSTA-S, Tornado-G, and 120mm Hosta were involved. Drones were also an important part of the exercise, providing real time situational awareness to commanders, reconnaissance of routes for armored columns, etc. About 2000 men and 500 pieces of equipment were involved from motor rifle detachments of the Southern MD based in Rostov and Volgograd regions. Artillery units participating counted 500 men and 100 various systems.  Seems they’re wrapping up as the main piece  of Zapad is just launching, likely offset so as not to scare neighboring countries too much.

Fairly large scale exercise with elements of the 49th CAA taking place, including Stavropol, Krasnodar regions, and Abkhazia. Motor Rifle units from a mountain brigade in Karachay-Cherkessia (Stavropol) had been drilling since September 15 at Zalenchyski range. Seems about 1300 men and 250 pieces of equipment listed, drilling with Olran-10 drones, EW companies, Spetz units, and specialized logistics detachments. They even used horses from the logistics unit, which apparently has 80 of them, to drag a Podnos mortar unit onto one of the mountains at 4000m altitude.

Central MD – Air Defense Units have been practicing at Ashylyk in Astrakhan throughout the Zapad exercise, but it is somewhat co-mingled with the ‘Combat Commonwealth 2017’ exercise done with CIS members. A bit hard to tell which is which 🙂  Anyway in Tuva a mountain motor rifle brigade was concluding its exercises. They fielded a BTG against an enemy equipped with drones, EW, and other high end equipment. About 1000 men, 100 pieces of equipment were involved. This seems to be the light brigade in Central MD, based on Tigr vehicles.

Chekessia

Earlier on during the exercise at Totsk range in Orenburg artillery and armor units from Central MD ran live fire exercises with T-72B3 tanks and MLRS systems, about 2000 men and 400 pieces of equipment listed for that one. I hadn’t mentioned it earlier because those units in Orenburg were raised on alert 12th September, before Zapad started (sneaky sneaky) and hence was never part of my coverage. Meanwhile about 1000 men from an air defense units were drilling at Kaputsin Yar, with Tunguska, Buk-M2, Tor-M1 and Strela-10.

tor-my_550

Notable photos:

Russian psychological eval unit torturing soldiers in preparation for exercise (looks like they’re picking out wall paint colors)

physchological preparation

Deputy commander of 3rd MRR 4th Division and his command kit (lots of colors)

here is the tank battalion deputy commander

Baltic Fleet CBRN unit (this looks like fun)

21587290_1983295155246564_9000925600254627069_o

Teenage angst in T-80BV

not having the best day.jpg

Zapad watch – summary of day four

Phase Two of Zapad is upon us, i.e. the main stage of the exercise. Most of the designated forces have arrived at their ranges, dug in and started exercises. At sea simulated electronic fires took place, but will turn into actual launches in the coming days. Putin is coming on Monday to the live fire exercises in Leningrad Oblast (Luzhsky range outside Luga) so everyone has to look really good at whatever they’re doing tomorrow. Odds are the big show really kicks off when he gets there.

BLUF: Russian ground forces spent the day fighting NATO formations, airborne units, and leveling things with artillery. Logistics units were busily setting up fuel dumps, comm systems, forward command posts and the like. Engineers and sappers worked on demining. The Navy got really busy, sinking NATO submarines in the Baltic and wiping out surface action groups in the Barents, while VKS and combat aviation provided close air support.

Belarus

Borisovsky Training Range (right outside Borisov in Belarus): Latest T-72B3s from 1st Guards Tank Army continued practice at the range, this is likely 6th Separate Tank Brigade and maybe elements of the 4th Kantemirovskaya Division. They wiped out remaining diversionary groups and of course crushed the enemy’s main forces. Other ranges, including Luzhsky, Pravdinsky, and Strugi Krasniye had similar tasks.

T-72B3 + BMPs

The Western MD’s independent MTO brigade (material technical support) setup a fuel dump at Borisovksy supposedly big enough for 120 tanker trucks (600 cubic meters of different fuel types).

If you want to see what real maskirovka looks like when done by professionals, you have to check out the situation around Borisovsky. It’s quite impressive.

BRM-1K recon vehicle (gold medal for camo job)

BRM-1K recon

Forests around the range full of polite looking people

20170915_182631

Waiting for NATO (sorry Veishnoria or whatever)

Osipovichskiy Training Range (outside Asipovichy in Belarus): Russian detachments began taking up defensive positions, while sapper units practiced demining. Seems things are just getting started at this range, but probably will host live fire exercises from airborne and ground units in the coming days.

(hope this photo is right, it’s what the MoD posted but that’s no guarantee of accuracy)

BMDs at Osipovichskiy

Western MD

Luzhsky Training Range (at Luga): MSTA-S artillery and mortar units spent the day in live fire exercises at Luga. These appear to be from the artillery regiment assigned to the Tamanskaya Division (1st Guards Tank Army). Other equipment included MSTA-B and BM-21 Grad.

Judging from the photos the weather was uncooperative.

looks like rain

Motor rifle units are practicing here as well, apparently they engaged and wiped out enemy airborne units after drawing them into a kill zone. In this scenario the NATO airborne units were mounted on high mobility but lightly armored equipment, meanwhile Russian forces consisted of a tank battalion and self-propelled artillery in support. It sounds like Operation Market Garden all over again and Russian forces got to play the role of the Panzer division.

2nd Division practicing fires

UAV units are also training at Luga, supposedly more than 30 systems have been employed for recon and ISR, particularly to provide targeting coordinates for artillery. Apparently aerostats, or unmanned balloons are also being used. Su-25s were overhead as well destroying enemy armored columns with Su-35s providing air cover. Seems mostly unguided rocket and gun fire.

Drones

Combat aviation took out over 20 enemy vehicles, helicopters training include Ka-52 and Mi-28N. Their job was recon and close air support. Same as Su-25s, training only listed unguided weapons – possibly saving money given there are three more days. Su-24s did some bombing runs at a range in Kaliningrad to wipe out enemy command points and other fixed targets.

Some new command and control equipment is being tested out this time at Zapad, including a high bandwidth system (1MB-20GB). There was news early on a few days ago of logistics units setting up this communications system.

VDV Airborne – VDV were busy setting field command posts and communications equipment for encrypted comms. Their range seems to be Strugi Krasniye near Pskov where the 76th is based.

Raining here too

VDV

VKS Aerospace Forces – Ground based air defense and air superiority fighters were busy defending against enemy air strikes. S-400, S-300, Pantsir-S1 were working with radar systems Nebo, Kasta and Podlet, along with command and control system Fundament. Air cover provided by Mig-31, Su-35s, and Su-27 variants. Enemy forces as usual were simulated by Russian forces, including combat aviation. Apparently Tu-22M3 bombers practiced attack runs at low and high altitude. Seems this is taking place by Kaliningrad and likely the range near Luga.

Northern Fleet – A surface action group led by Peter the Great (Kirov-class guided missile cruiser) launched anti-ship missiles at an amphibious landing group in the Barents Sea (the actual enemy stand ins were tugs SB-523 and Nikolay Chiker). Targeting support provided by Il-38 from naval aviation and it seems a SSN was also around to finish off the enemy with torpedo attacks. For now strikes are being simulated electronically but supposedly live fire missile strikes are yet to come in the next 3 days.

Two Oscar II SSGNs (Project 949A) ventured out and sunk an enemy surface action group in the Barents Sea. Scouting was first done by a diesel-electric Kilo (877) from the Kola Flotilla together with a Tu-142 long range maritime patrol aircraft. These were simulated fires with live fire exercises still to come, but the setup was interesting.

Kirov

Baltic Fleet – The Baltic Fleet had a good day, seems their Ka-27PL helicopters found and sunk an enemy submarine with depth charges – and then they supported the rest of the fleet in sinking another one. That’s two NATO submarines sunk in a day’s work.

Southern MD – Ashylyk range near Astrakhan is hosting various air defense exercises although it’s unclear if they’re part of Zapad or another multinational event that’s supposed to take place called Combat Commonwealth 2017. Su-34s are also drilling overhead. Combat Commonwealth 2017 began on September 4th, with countries of the CIS including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Armenia. These will feature air defense, aerospace forces and combat aviation.

Eastern MD – PLA Navy ships arrived in Vladivostok in preparation for upcoming naval exercises with the Pacific Fleet which will take place 18-26 September. Phase one will be coastal defense and phase two at sea north of Hokkaido with 11 ships involved altogether.

Notable photos:

BMP-2 (someone went pro at maskirovka olympics)

best maskirovka ever

Artillery fire near Luga

Luga artillery live fire

MSTA-S being camouflaged (really strange looking trees)

ugly trees

T-90M and BMPT are making an appearance at the training range by Luga

T-90M

Zapad watch – summary of day three

Well the good news is that phase one ended today and we’re all still here. The bad news is that means phase two starts tomorrow. Phase one is best summarized as the defensive component of the exercise. Russian forces spent their time sorting out command and control, deploying forces to theater and forming a regional combat grouping out of the different types of forces under their command, along with planning out strategic operations. I guess phase two is when they’re going to do NATO rotten.

In phase one the VKS spent its time defending key civilian infrastructure, conducting reconnaissance, escorting rebasing long range aviation and taking down enemy cruise missiles in coordination with ground based air defense. Borisovksy and Osipovichesky practice ranges saw lots of action today, where  enemy diversionary groups were successfully taken out.

The results of phase one are in: Russia and Belarus successfully defended against an attack from NATO members and inflicted high costs during the enemy’s advance. Phase Two will involve maneuver warfare and offensive operations to destroy adversary forces, along with a strong focus on logistics. The ranges hosting most of the live fire exercises include Borisovsky in Belarus and Luga in Leningrad Oblast (south of St Petersburg)

BLUF: Russian forces spent their time conducting strikes with fixed wing and rotary aviation, armor and artillery units engaged the enemy, VDV was busy shooting down drones, logistics units and engineers had a lot of work supporting operations, and the Baltic Fleet sortied out to fight.

VKS (Aerospace Forces) – Su-35s escorted Su-34s on strike missions. The Su-34s hit targets at Kingisep practice range, wiping out enemy armored formations and mechanized infantry. Su-24MPs did the recon ahead of the Su-34 strike package (which is odd given there are plenty of drones now to do this type of job). Seems this was an exercise chiefly with dumb unguided bombs, leveraging SVP-24 Gefest system for more accurate bombing with unguided munitions. Other VKS units spent their time dogfighting and striking enemy logistics units. Su-27s and Su-24s stood in for enemy forces. The Russian air superiority team included Su-27s, Su-35s, Su-30SMs and Mig-31s. Their target set ranged from enemy aircraft to cruise missiles.

VDV (Airborne) – Detachments from the three divisions involved in Zapad were busy with air defense against enemy drones, namely the 76th at Pskov. Seems they shot down more than 40 drones with Strela-10M, Igla MANPADS and ZU-23 artillery. Other VDV units focused on command and control, setting up field units with Polet-K and Andromeda-D systems (based on BTR platforms). Supposedly 30 command vehicles were deployed during this phase, setting up comms in the 500-2000km range. VDV detachments from 106th Tula Division tried out new gear for the first time during an exercise, seems BMD-4M and BTR-MDM (Rakushka). No word on what the 98th was doing, but no doubt they’re winning somewhere.

VDV command and control.jpg

Seems another battalion of VDV is getting ready for airdrop, 400 soldiers and 10 vehicles aboard 10 Il-76s are getting ready according to the MoD.

Meanwhile in Belarus

At the Borisovsky range MSTA-S self-propelled artillery took up positions, while armored columns from 1st Tank Guards Army (likely 6th BDE) arrived to shoot things. Most of the action was at Osipovichsky and Borisovsky ranges, where diversionary-reconnaissance groups were being killed all day long. Supposedly the weather is less than amenable, but elements of the 1st Tank Army are at the training ranges as planned. Seems this is the first exercise where the latest variants of T-72B3 tanks are being tried out, presumably this is the upgrade with a better engine and sidescreens.

MSTA-S.jpg

MTO units (material-technical support) were busy setting up repair fields to restore damaged equipment at the live fire ranges in Belarus. Their job is to train in evacuating and repairing damaged tanks and mechanized equipment. The unit in question is the Western MD’s independent MTO brigade. Some of the gear includes KET-L, BTS-4, along with BZEM-K and TPM, along with MTO-UB-2 Ural. The MTO brigade brought mobile repair shops with it, equipped with BAKM 1040 BK cranes.

MTO units.jpg

Russian military police on BTR-82As practiced receiving surrenders of wounded enemy soldiers. NATO diversionary groups had a rough day at several points and had to give up.

surrenders.JPG

Western MD

2nd Tamanskaya Division (1st Guards Tank Army) finally showed itself. It’s artillery regiment was at Luga  firing from MSTA-B towed artillery and BM-21 Grad MLRS. Iskander-M and older Tochka-U missile units were busy simulated electronic fires in Leningrad Oblast, presumably these are missile regiments from Kaliningrad which still has Tochka-U and Leningrad Oblast which was upgraded to Iskanders a long time ago. Their targets were massed enemy armor formations in the 30-100km range. Other artillery and mortar units involved in this live fire exercise employed 2S12 Sani mortars, 2B14 Podnos mortars, and Tornado MLRS.

Engineer-sapper units were supplying drinking water using SKO-10 purifying stations, along with three square meals a day. This is apparently an accomplishment. Others were busy clearing mine fields ahead of the ground forces’ advance.  Meanwhile MTO units in Leningrad Oblast were practiced extraction and repair of damaged armor and mechanized equipment near the Luga firing range. Other duties included your run of the mill setting up field bases, ammo dumps, repair and overhaul facilities. They spent the day repairing T-72B3 tanks, BTR-82A APCs, and BMP-2 IFVs.

Mi-35M, Ka-52, and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters from the combat aviation brigade were also at the Luga training range destroying enemy armor and equipment. S-400, S-300 and Pantsir-S1 systems were deployed to provide air defense in the region.

Mi-35 at luga.jpg

Not much word from other districts, somewhat drowned out by all the inane awards from the Army 2017 games. It seems Russia’s info operation sees Zapad 2017 and the Army games as on par in importance.

Central MD – S-400 units moved out to Ashylyk range in Astrakhan near the border with Kazakhstan.

Central MD S-400.jpg

Baltic Fleet – 11th Army Corps had a lot on their hands in Kaliningrad. Some practiced urban assault and retaking positions held by diversionary groups. The T-72B1 equipped tank battalion rolled out to engage enemy forces supported by artillery detachments with 2S3 Akatsya, BM-21 Grads and towed artillery. The 11th Army Corps has somewhat antiquated equipment but it’s good enough.

The Baltic Fleet’s minesweepers ventured out, including two project 12700 and three older project 10750s, to practice clearing contact and non-contact mines. Four Steregushchiy-class corvettes were busy with air defense drills. Russian Su-24s and Ka-27 helicopters served as simulated enemy targets. The corvettes ran short range live fire exercises and over the horizon drills against enemy coastal defenses that were beyond visual sight. About 20 ships of various classes sortied out from the Baltic Fleet, including the bigger corvettes, missile boats and minesweepers.

Notable photos:

Russia’s MoD started the day off by tweeting ‘good morning’ with this photo

good morning vietnam.jpg

Sappers clearing mines (I don’t know why but spacemen with flyswatters look funny)

Back to top