Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ruckus in the Caucusus - A Brutul Russian Self-Examination

What isn't addressed by this "Independent Military Review" article? Use of surface to surface tactical missiles like this SS-26/Iskandr.

(Photo: Arms Control Wonk)

Lessons of the Five Day War

Events in South Ossetia became a test of the soundness of Russia’s conception of national security. Judging how successfully she passed this exam is complicated for now. Although from a military point of view, the Russian Army carried out a successful operation.

Weaknesses on the Part of the Russian Army

Analysis of the performance of our forces shows that they performed well. It is true that they resolved the Roki Pass issue with difficulty. The Vladikavkaz-Tskhinvali Highway (167km) has a very limited ability to permit operations. The extended movement of Army columns through the narrow throat of the Roki tunnel to the South Ossetian capital and the necessity to successfully concentrate a significant amount of detachments from various regions of the Russian Federation created the impression of a deliberate Russian Command.

They had to commit forces to battle piecemeal and they couldn’t just change the situation on the move.

Despite all this our forces in South Ossetia nearly doubled in a day. The speed of the Russian Army reaction and the effectiveness of their strikes turned out to be unexpected by not only the Georgian leadership, but also for the West and also for some pessimistic domestic observers. In three days, in the most isolated and complicated terrain, a very powerful group of forces with support was formed, able to quickly destroy the Georgian Army group of the same size.

Most of the losses suffered in this war by our forces were suffered on the move to Tskhinvali.

Reinforcement by air was not possible because of active opposition from Georgian anti-air systems.

But the operation to bring Georgia to peace revealed more than a few deficiencies on the part of the Russian Armed Forces. One should recognize that in terms of operational and battle support and technical equipage the Army is not very ready for similar conflicts.

Upon analysis of the Russian Army’s performance, one can note the following deficiencies:

- An absence of a combined joint command (the Americans created this 20 years ago), and also an absence of information troops.

- Even in the non-fine grain mode, GLONASS wasn’t used. The Georgian Army had an autonomous targeting system. We don’t have a comparable system. The main problem is the lack of the necessary Space Forces and GLONASS receivers. Connected to this deficiency, the Army couldn’t use precision and guided munitions like the “Santimetr” (TR Note: A type of laser guided 152mm round), the “Smel’chak” (TR Note: A type of rocket assisted guided projectile) and the “Gran’” (TR Note: A type of 120mm guided mortar round).

- The untimely deployment of reconnaissance assets (SIGINT and space) which then couldn’t provide information to the country's leadership on the concentration of Georgian forces.

- Electronic warfare assets were not used to suppress the Georgian air defense network.

- Discrepancies between naval charts and army maps.

- The lack of aviation forward observers which allowed Georgian artillery and MLRS to bombard Tshinvali for 14 hours unimpeded. One reason for this is that the operations groups of the Air Force couldn’t assign two or three men to forward units without the parallel deployment of Command Posts and Reserve Command Posts, so they couldn’t really control aviation assets. Therefore, armored columns rolled without air cover. The 58th Army did not employ airborne troops or helicopter borne mining units to cut off the Georgian retreat.

Traditional Russian Army weaknesses remain, as far as can be judged, night operations, reconnaissance, communications and rear services support, although in this case, given the weakness of the enemy, these deficiencies didn’t play a substantial role during combat operations. The conflict showed that artillery retains a key role in land operations and also keenly showed the necessity to strengthen the attention paid to the issue of counter-battery.

Yesterday Afternoon

The 58th Army has a lot of obsolete tanks in its order of battle (T-62s and T-72s make up 60%-75%). Even the T-72B is equipped with first generation dynamic defense, or “reactive armor”. Even though the T-72 BM tanks were mounted with “Kontakt-5” (TR Note: Kontakt-5 is a more modern type of reactive armor), they didn’t carry the so called tandem shaped ammunition that the Georgian Army already has.

If today tanks that were built more than 30 years ago could be called modern at a stretch, then their night sights can’t stand up to criticism. They are blinded by muzzle flashes and allow target observation at only a few hundred meters. Infrared lighting increases the observation and targeting range, but they very seriously compromise the cover of the vehicle. Old tanks didn’t have GPS, didn’t have infrared detection, nor did they have IFF.

In the columns, it was the same with the BMP-1s and BMD-1s. They have a ton of armor, primitive targeting systems primitive observation instruments. For armored transport that is an unhappy picture. Until now the motorized, airborne and recon troops roll sitting on top of the armor (it’s safer like that), because the vehicles are not defended against shell fragments or from armor piercing shells, torching everyone inside. “It is parade equipment, not suited for battle,” more than one correspondent has written the Independent Military Review.

The long participation of Army detachments in counter-terror operations in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan has had a negative effect on the Army. Tactical lessons learned there turned out to be ineffective in clashes with a well equipped and armed foe like the Georgian Army. There were times when the Georgians found themselves in the “kill zone”. Russian units fired at each other because they couldn’t determine their exact positions. Soldiers in the 58th Army admitted to using American GPS, but after two days of operations in Georgia, Georgia became a GPS “white spot”. Fire adjustment had to be done with instruments made decades ago. Remote sensing (TR Note: GEOINT?) of the Earth by satellite wasn’t employed only because there weren’t enough receivers.

During combat operations, lack of cooperative organization was noted between tank and motorized detachments. At the same time there was weak coordination between artillery and tankers and between artillery and recon.

The Russian Air Force was barely employed in any organized way. This was due to political limitations; so infrastructure, transport, communications, Georgia’s industry and government organs were not subject to attack. It’s obvious that there is a severe shortage of modern precision weaponry in the Russian Air Force, most of all the X-555 satellite guided missile (TR Note: The follow on to the AS-15/Kent) as well as the frontal aviation anti-radar Kh-28 (AS-9/Kyle) and the Kh-58U (AS-11/Kilter). The main armament of our aviation remains iron bombs and unguided rockets.

There was practically a complete absence of UAVs. There is one type of medium unmanned aerial vehicles in our OOB, the “Pchela” (Bee). All of the mechanical “insects” weigh around 140kg. Their operational radius is about 60km with a flight time of about two hours. The “Pchela” was employed effectively in the first and second Chechen campaigns. Unfortunately because of a relative lack of resources, the equipment is physically worn.

Aviation lost four aircraft, confirmed by the international search and rescue satellite system COSPAS-SARSAD. Using the long-range strategic Tu-22M bomber for tactical reconnaissance was extremely irrational. It was a blunder on the part of Air Force Command.

Examining the war one must recognize that the 1998 decision of the Ministry of Defense to withdraw Army Aviation from the Infantry has turned out unsuccessful. In contrast, every American Army Corps has more than 800 helicopters (up to 350 attack helicopters) and a division has 100 to 150.

The War in the Caucusus has shown that Army Aviation regiments were directly subordinated to the unified Air Force command in vain. As a matter of fact it couldn’t allocate aviation assets or give daily assignments to squadrons in support of the motorized troops. It is doubtful that this could be accomplished given the overload of the communications system with requests for support from the infantry. It’s obvious since 58th Army Aviation didn’t participate in operational-tactical and tactical airmobile landings.

The control of aviation was also complicated because in general there are no operational forward air controllers in the air armies of the Air Force, Air Defense or in the central centralized apparatus of the Air Force. A nightmare developed after the departure of controllers from Air Defense Aviation and they became “specialists” controlling helo detachments. It’s not the fault of the personnel, coming from service in the Air Force and the Air Defense troops not knowing the specifics about the Army, that they weren’t prepared to employ and control support aircraft. This was clearly demonstrated in the course of 58th Army operations.

Pressing Measures

The Russian Armed Forces need immediate modernization. A concrete time line needs to be named (2015). Which is all well and good but the Army is fighting right now. The results of the fighting in Trans-Caucasia should prod the Russian political-military establishment into taking immediate measures.

It seems that the Russian President should decree the formation of Information Warfare Troops and its composition should include government outlets of the mass media as well as military mass media.

It also makes sense to transfer control of Army Aviation from the Air and Air Defense Forces back to the Army and re-establish command of Army Aviation in Combined Arms Armies and Corps. Simultaneously give responsibility for Army Aviation and Air Defense to the CinC Army, the command troops of the military district and the combined arms units along with the re-creation of aviation control detachments. Putting Army Aviation back with the Army allows development of plans in support of the ground troops and also allows approximately a 30 percent reduction in Air Force staffs and increases the effectiveness in the utilization of aviation in the interests of the operations and combat actions of units.

It is crucial that all ground attack aircraft and helicopters be equipped immediately with the most modern countermeasures against the most modern of MANPADS. Without this Aviation support of ground forces will be doomed to suffer losses in any operation.

UAVs in the hands of Georgian soldiers – it is an everyday policy of on-line constant surveillance of the battlefield as well as guidance of artillery and aircraft. Meanwhile Russia has decided to put off until 2012 the procurement of strike UAVs which are being jointly offered by the firms “Irkut”, “Yakolev” and “Sukhoi”. Russia is behind the most developed countries in this regard. Russia is behind the USA and Israel by an eternity and even behind India and Pakistan by a dozen years. All over the world a struggle for supremacy in the UAV arena is ongoing since there is a clear advantage for those who can execute strikes on targets deep in the enemy's rear.

It makes perfect sense to equip the Russian Army with global satellite navigation receivers. But first of all the GLONASS orbital satellite system needs to be fully deployed (currently there are 13 in orbit while 24 are needed). Only around the clock presence of four satellites above a given area provides exact coordinates. The Army also needs to be provided with portable and stationary receivers.

Besides that, other attendant problems need to be resolved, such as the development of new radar stations to detect and identify UAVs and other small flying objects and targets, since armaments and equipment currently in the Russian Army inventory can’t cope with them.

There needs to be a decision on the development of new IFF systems for weapons and combat equipment of various generations so that the Army can effectively cooperate with the Air Force and with SPETSNAZ detachments, the Navy with the Air Force and the Navy with the Army. In addition, special detachable panels need to be developed for visual recognition (colored panels) of vehicles.

With the transition to digital technology in the Russian Army, it is imperative to begin the creation of operational-tactical centers for fire organization.

Squads, platoons and companies must again be trained how to operate while surrounded. Motorized rifle and airborne companies must be introduced to the subject of “Breakout of surrounded platoons and squads” in training.

In order to support complex gunnery missions on shore targets, the problem of compatibility of maritime charts and Army topographical charts in the coastal zone must be resolved.


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