Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Russian Army’s Weaknesses Exposed During War in Georgia

On 10 September, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is scheduled to address the RF Gosduma, the lower house of parliament, to inform the deputies about current military development and various problems. Serdyukov will probably have to explain why the Russian Army lacked modern weapons during the recent peace enforcement operation in Georgia. The main elements of the North Caucasus Military District’s 58th Army have already been re-deployed to Russia. The bravest officers and men have received government decorations. Those killed in action have been buried. Now, it’s high time to assess the operation’s lessons. President Dmitri Medvedev has senior Defence Ministry officials doing this, and he’s also giving Serdyukov a brief to submit proposals on amending the state rearmament programme. Primarily, the Russian Army requires combat-support systems, rather than new weaponry, in order to become a genuinely modern and effective fighting force. Those who fought in the South Caucasus this August know that Russian peace-keepers sustained the greatest casualties during the first hours of the Georgian invasion because Moscow and Vladikavkaz, where the 58th Army’s headquarters is located, failed to promptly order troops to repel the attack and to send elements of the 58th Army to South Ossetia.

Moreover, Russian forces didn’t know the firing positions of Georgia’s Grad multiple-launch rocket systems, Gvozdika self-propelled guns, and T-72 tank units. Nor did the Russian Army have any dependable reconnaissance systems, including unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Although Russian and foreign UCAVs are regularly displayed at the annual MAKS international aerospace show in Zhukovsky near Moscow, including at the MAKS-2007 show, the Russian Army still lacks them because the Defence Ministry decided to stop buying them in 2006. Consequently, Russia had no choice but to send a Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bomber on a reconnaissance mission and to use Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack jets to hit Georgian MLRS batteries. The Georgians downed four Russian aircraft, which could’ve been saved if the Russians had the required UCAVs. The destruction of three Su-25 attack planes, which had won a reputation for themselves during the 1979-89 Afghan war, shows that they haven’t been overhauled since. The Su-25s still lack radar sights, computers for calculating ground-target coordinates, and long-range air-to-surface missiles that could be launched outside the range of enemy air-defence systems. Nor did they have any “smart” weapons for destroying Georgian artillery pieces and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. This is quite surprising, because such weapons have been repeatedly displayed at various exhibitions. Although some companies are ready to install interchangeable state-of-the-art radio and electronic equipment on the Su-25, the Defence Ministry prefers to deal with (and handsomely pay) its favourite contractors. These companies weren’t up to the task, and are responsible for the loss of four aircraft and the capture of two pilots. Several more pilots were killed as a result of their incompetence.

A similar situation holds in the sphere of radio-electronic warfare. It turns out that Russian electronic counter-measures (ECM) systems are unable to jam and suppress enemy SAMs and reconnaissance systems, radars, and UHV communications and troop-control networks. That’s rather disturbing, especially as the Georgian Army lacked modern systems. As a result, the 58th Army sustained unnecessary casualties, and also lost more combat equipment than it should have. The Russian tank force has been suffering from major problems for a long time. The North Caucasus Military District, for instance, still operates T-72 main battle tanks without night sights. However, not even the more sophisticated T-80U and T-90 have such sights, either. Moreover, their explosive-reactive armour wasn’t filled with explosives and, therefore, couldn’t deflect high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) weapons. It’s common knowledge that tanks are extremely vulnerable in mountainous and urban areas, and during re-deployment, because their crews lack all-round visibility, making it difficult to spot enemy soldiers with rocket launchers or shaped-charges hiding in caves and ravines and behind rocks and bushes. The Dzerzhinsky Ural Railroad Car Works (Uralvagonzavod), which has developed all post-Soviet and Russian main battle tanks except the T-80, unveiled its Tank Support Combat Vehicle (TSCV) over 20 years ago. The TSCV featured nine weapons systems, including guided anti-tank missiles, large-calibre machine-guns, SAMs, and 30-mm and 40-mm automatic rocket launchers, and was intended to be used against Mujahedin forces in Afghanistan. Most importantly, the TSCV had effective target-acquisition systems for detecting and killing enemy soldiers long before they could fire the first shot. Although the TSCV has passed all state tests with flying colours and has also been displayed at numerous exhibitions, it hasn’t served with the Russian Army to date.

Unlike most advanced foreign armies, including the Israeli Army, Russian tanks aren’t supported by attack helicopters. There’s no regular radio communication between Russian tank, motor-rifle, helicopter, attack-plane, and tactical-bomber units either. Although experts have been discussing the creation of an integrated combat-control system for many years, such a system remains on the drawing board. The Russian Army and its commanders haven’t yet realised that all units and weapons accomplishing a joint objective must become part of an integrated combat-control system. Russian officers and soldiers have to compensate for the current lag in combat-support systems with their selfless heroism and bravery. However, this costs the country and its armed forces dearly. It’s high time that we learned modern fighting skills. The system for awarding state defence contracts must also be modified accordingly. Unfortunately, the Russian Army is unlikely to receive new weapons and combat-support systems after the South Ossetian conflict. Although Russia has once again paid a high price for victory, its generals and politicians often prefer empty talk to candid and sober-minded assessments.

9 September 2008

Nikita Petrov



Editor’s Note:

This is an extremely sober and no-holds-barred assessment. There’s nothing like actual combat to wake up a somnolent army and bring it back up to snuff. The US should be careful. It has too much of a love affair with its high-tech toys, and its forces are permeated too thoroughly with a Tom Clancy-like attitude. On the other hand, the Russian forces have shown time and again an ability to improvise and implement needed solutions and pass them down to the troops quickly. Russia learned its lesson well in South Ossetia. It was lucky, because the Georgian forces were incompetent and cowardly, and they deserted before there was any serious combat. The Georgian grunt refused to die for the “glory” of Mikhail Saakashvili, and rightly so. The brutality and nastiness of Saakashvili’s rule was shown by the way the Georgian forces simply melted away. All of their American-supplied improvements to their equipment are now in Russian hands. The next time the Russian forces take the field, it’ll be with many of these faults addressed or in the process of being so. Mikhail Saakashvili did Russia a great favour. Do bear in mind that the bear’s claws shall be sharper the next time around…



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