Russia: March 14, 2000


RUSSIAN ARMY REBUILT FOR CHECHEN WAR II: The Russian Army learned its lessons from the First Chechen War in 1994-96, and has undergone fundamental changes in its organization and doctrine since that time. These changes, made before the Second Chechen War, have only come to light as a result of it. These changes began the moment the First Chechen War ended, and some analysts believe that the Russian Army was itching for another chance at the Chechens, and took the Chechen raids into Dagestan and apartment bombings in Moscow almost as a divine gift. The most fundamental change is in focus and priority. Politicians (and Marshal Sergeyev, chief of the Russian military and former commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces) had wanted to reduce the cost of the overall military structure by focusing on the nuclear deterrent. The fallacy of this idea was seen in the First Chechen War, and the focus was shifted in mid-1999 to manning a credible Army that could fight local wars. This reflects a victory by the Chief of Staff (General Anatoliy Kvashnin) over Sergeyev. Many analysts suspect that Kvashnin's strategic goal was not just a credible Army able to fight any local war, but an Army able to defeat the Chechens and erase the shame of 1996. 

It was clear in the First Chechen War that having a muddled command structure wasn't working. Interior Ministry, Border Guards, and Army units were mixed on the battlefield, but not under a unified command. This much has changed; the Ministry of Defense has managed to get all of the units actually fighting the war under its control. The basis for this change was the redesignation of most Military Districts as Operational-Strategic Commands (OSKs). While Military Districts were static housekeeping units, the OSKs are active field combat headquarters with the authority to seize control over any armed units (security, border guards, civil defense, police, Army, intelligence, paratroops, Marines, and others) on their turf. This theory has been tried out in command post exercises where units of the various commands had to communicate and work together. The concept of Temporary Operational Groupings (VOGs) has been created; these VOGs combine units from any of the militarized ministries. The Second Chechen War is being run by the Joint Grouping of Forces in the North Caucasus, and OGV commanded by Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev. In the First Chechen War, he was the chief of staff to Kvashnin.) The combination of units has not been perfect. Interior Ministry troops still do not have radios that can talk to the Air Force, and as such sometimes get bombed by accident. The long-standing relationship between the Army and Security troops remains one of deep distrust bordering on hatred. Major General Mikhail Malofeyev, regarded as a rising star of the Army, was killed when he tried to lead MVD (Internal Security) troops into an attack.

Units sent to the First Chechen War were formed by compressing entire divisions into one composite regiment, or entire independent brigades into one composite battalion. This was, perhaps, the only real choice given the manpower shortages, but it resulted in sending units with no cohesion into battle. Men did not know their officers; commanders did not know their subordinates. There was no trust between levels of command, and since everyone was a stranger, there was no way to tell if a report of "100 bandits at Grekayev" was an excited officer who saw a few dozen guerrillas or an overconfident officer about to attack an entire guerrilla battalion.

This has now changed. The overall number of units has been sharply reduced, and many of those nominally kept on the books have been reduced to mere skeleton crews guarding huge equipment parks. The actual combat-worthy divisions and separate brigades have been reorganized to include "permanent readiness units". Basically, a division keeps one of its three regiments (and about a third of its non-regimental sub-units) manned to at least 80% of wartime strength. In practice, the second regiment is manned at low levels and used to guard the surplus equipment. The third regiment is then composed of undesirable or unreliable men who are used as laborers and kept under tight control. Such a unit can absorb the last 20% of needed manpower and still maintain cohesion. The division's "permanent readiness unit" is then organized as a "Regimental Tactical Group". This RTG is sent off to war, and the rest of the division is then reorganized into a training unit designed to send replacements (preferably as organized sub-units) to the RTG. Forces in Siberia, for example, have sent RTGs (total 7,000 troops) to Chechnya; the division rear bases have together sent 1,000 replacements (intensely trained in mountain warfare) to join their RTGs. Such replacements have been necessary, not because of casualties, but because of troops rotating home. When these "permanent readiness units" are sent to war, they leave home those troops with only a few months remaining on their original enlistment, and later have to send men home as their enlistments expire. It is too dangerous to morale to order men to remain in uniform "for the duration".

Combat organizations have been strongly reinforced. Each battalion usually has the support of a heavy mortar battery, an artillery battery, a recon company, an engineer company, and other units, nearly doubling its size and more than doubling its firepower. More artillery is provided at regiment and division level, averaging (overall) one battery per infantry company. Within the artillery branch, where "pure" battalions have been the hallowed norm for decades, mixed battalions of tube and rocket artillery are being formed. Terms such as "storm groups" and "maneuver groups" are appearing in Russian reports for the first time, indicating a new level of tactical flexibility and sophistication.

But tactics and organizations can take an Army only so far, and it is clear that the generals still do not really trust their troops to perform, and with some justification. Several Russian units have been defeated in close range combat by equal or even smaller units of Chechen guerrillas, and Russian commanders do not believe their own troops are as good as the front-line squads of the "bandits". The high command has tried to work around this by using overwhelming firepower. Generally speaking, troops do not advance until they can do so without opposition. Air strikes and artillery have leveled entire villages when rebels would not leave the area. Any kind of enemy contact halts the advance until a bombardment or air strike can be organized against the new enemy line of resistance. Commanders at battalion level can now control air and artillery strikes within their zones, a startling change in previous practice where such control rarely went below division level.

And the Russians are, surprisingly, relying on aircraft for 80% of such attacks and artillery for the remainder. The air strikes have been divided about evenly between fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Su-24s bomb from altitude with precision-guided weapons, while Su-25s take the attack in at low level with bombs, rockets, and cannon fire. Air Tactical Groups consist of two or four Mi-24 attack helicopters and one or two Mi-8 transport helicopters and comprise about 2/3 of all helicopter combat missions. The Mi-8s carry the unit commanders, who direct the attacks, and are also on hand to rescue downed aircrew and (rarely) pick up prisoners. The remaining Mi-24s are organized into teams of two or four and sent on "free hunt" missions into areas not near any ground forces. Forward Air Controllers are provided down to battalion level, and to company level for key attacks. The problem here is that Russia doesn't have enough trained FACs (Forward Air Controllers) and the casualty rates are high. New schools have been opened to churn out FACs after a 30-day course.

The general state of training in the First Chechen War was abysmal, and Russian infantry did not have adequate training to deal with combat. Fighting in mountains and cities, always a dangerous and exhausting task, was not covered in what little training was conducted. Training has improved, but not nearly enough.

Russian equipment was not used effectively in the First Chechen War, and much of it was defective or obsolete. Relatively little new equipment has been sent to the Second Chechen War, mostly because the bankrupt Russian defense budget has not been buying any. A tiny handful of Ka-50 and Mi-24N helicopters have been sent to the Caucasus for combat trials. A very few units have BMP-3s (the Sevastopol Motor Rifle Regiment is one) but this new vehicle has seen its first combat. A reference was seen (in a Russian report) to the need to stockpile BMP-3 power packs at forward supply dumps. The Stroy-P recon drone has been used in combat, and apparently worked, as more were ordered. The new V94 sniper rifle is apparently not working; units are turning these back in and drawing old SVDs. Reports indicate that the V94 is too heavy, too noisy, and the sights shift after prolonged firing. The TOS-1 is thought to be a fuel-air explosive weapon carried into range by a modified T72 tank chassis.

Russian commanders in the First Chechen War did not understand "information warfare" and could not understand why Russian reporters were not backing the Russian Army. After a 1997 reorganization in the military press office, a unified information policy has been imposed. Since the foreign media have fled Chechnya (due to hostage taking and murder of journalists by extremist Islamic groups), the Russians have been able to control media reports without technically imposing censorship. The only journalists who receive credentials from the military press office are those known to support the Army's campaign. There is a great concern that if casualties begin to mount, the media will seek revenge against the military. There are concerns that the foreign media are churning stories about human rights violations, and the Russian Army knows it lacks the skills to "spin" the stories of civilian casualties as well as NATO did in the Kosovo War.

Russia has "won" the Second Chechen War, but the war is not over, and the fanatical Islamic warriors of the region will not go quietly into the high mountains. Holding Chechnya may be harder than capturing it. The new 42nd Motor Rifle Division will be based in Chechnya as a permanent garrison, but interior troops are expected to control the country. This is going to force the Army and MVD into operations they wanted to avoid and don't know how to fight, i.e., a protracted guerrilla war of attrition. The Russians know that if they sit in secure bases, they will eventually be overwhelmed by guerrillas able to roam the hinterlands at will.--Stephen V Cole


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