Appendix B: Russian Ground Forces

Russian Ground Forces

The Russian ground forces are composed of the Ground Troops, Airborne Troops (VDV), Naval Infantry, Coastal Troops, Coastal Missile Artillery Troops, and National Guard. The Russian Federation armed forces are geographically distributed across four military districts: Western, Southern, Central and Eastern. The Western Military District has three numbered combined-arms armies (CAAs), the Southern and Central Military Districts each have two, and the Eastern Military District has four.

The Ground Troops

The Ground Troops, or Sukhoputniye Voyska, are the land warfighting component of the Russian Ministry of Defense. The Ground Troops constitute the largest component of the Russian Federation armed forces. The Ground Troops are currently organized into approximately 40 active and reserve maneuver brigades and eight maneuver divisions.386 There are about 350,000 military personnel in the ground troops.387

According to Russia's Ministry of Defense, the roles of its Ground Troops include repelling enemy aggression and the protection of Russia's territorial integrity and Russian national interests.388 Its main peacetime missions include maintaining adequate combat readiness, participating in international peacekeeping operations, participating in disaster recovery efforts, and assisting in the maintenance of internal security, if needed. Examples of what Moscow designates peacekeeping operations include ongoing efforts in breakaway enclaves in Georgia and Moldova.389

In times of heightened tension, the Ground Troops will mobilize forces, operationally deploy to threatened areas, call up and train reservists, and prepare for defensive operations. Finally, in a time of war, Russia's Ground Troops are charged to suppress military conflicts if possible, repulse enemy aggression, conduct defensive and counter-offensive operations to defeat the aggressor, and defend critical infrastructure.390

Organizationally, the Ground Troops are composed of main combat components—motorized rifle, tank, missile and artillery, and air defense units. Support elements for these units include reconnaissance, engineer, nuclear, biological and chemical defense, and signal troops.

Russian armored fighting vehicles parade in Red Square: ground forces have historically played a dominant role in Russian military issues and leadership.

• Motorized Rifle Troops units are the most abundant formations in Russia's Ground Troops. Essentially mounted infantry, these are highly mobile forces tasked with holding territory, repulsing enemy attacks, breaking through enemy defenses, capturing important areas, and defeating the enemy.391

• Tank Troops are the main strike component of the Ground Troops. They support Motorized Rifle Troop missions with direct fires during meeting engagements.392

• Missile Troops and Artillery are the main means of indirect fires for Russian combined arms operations. Missile Troops and Artillery forces are organized into missile, rocket-artillery, and combined artillery units.393 Missile units operate close/short-range ballistic missiles. Rocket-artillery units operate multiple rocket launchers (MLRs), and combined artillery units operate composite towed or self-propelled artillery and MLRs.

• Air Defense Troops provide air defense for the Ground Troops. These units are equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, anti-aircraft gun-and-missile systems, and portable anti-aircraft missile systems.394

• Reconnaissance Troops perform a wide range of tasks in order to provide decision makers with information about enemy strength, disposition, terrain, and weather conditions.395

• Engineer Troops perform a variety of specialized tasks, including the construction of fortifications, installation of obstacles (mine fields, etc.), the preparation of field deployment locations, the preparation and maintenance of deployment routes, the construction of bridges and ferry crossings, and water purification.396

• Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense Troops are specialized forces tasked with mitigating the effect s of nuclear, biological, or chemical contamination.397

• Signal Troops are specialized forces designed for the deployment and maintenance of mobile redundant command, control, and communications systems.398

The New Look Reforms and the Ground Troops

The centerpiece of the 2008-2009 New Look reforms was the elimination of the divisional/regimental structure and its replacement by the brigade. The Russian Ground Troops currently have about 40 combined arms brigades.399 In the winter of 2013, one motorized rifle brigade and one tank brigade were reformed as divisions, and in the spring of 2016, it was announced that four new divisions would be formed in the Western and Southern Military Districts and one in the Central Military District.400

The transition to the brigade structure was intended to optimize Russia's ground forces to fight in what the Russians call "local wars and armed conflicts," limited wars along Russia's periphery, which the Russian General Staff believes to be very likely under modern conditions. In November 2011, then-Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov said: "The possibility of local armed conflicts virtually along the entire perimeter of the border has grown dramatically."401 The Russian ground forces fielded brigades of this type that had been field tested in Afghanistan (1979-1989) and had proved to be quite effective in combat.402

Another development that had received great impetus in the Afghanistan war was the reinforced battalion, or battalion tactical group (BTG), a motorized rifle or tank battalion, strengthened by other assets, such as artillery, reconnaissance, and air defense resources. BTGs are similar to NATO battalion task forces and are ad-hoc organizations, individually created and optimized to fulfill a particular mission.403

The new Russian divisions are much smaller than their Soviet predecessors. While a Soviet motorized rifle division numbered around 13,000 officers and soldiers, Russia's new motorized rifle divisions number around 9,000.

A proponent of the mixed division-brigade ground forces, then-acting chief of the ground forces, General Lieutenant Vladimir Popov, stated that Russia's combined arms brigades “in terms of structure are intended for fighting in local wars," but that they also "can be successfully employed in large-scale wars. They differ from divisions by lesser numbers of personnel and military equipment and are capable of executing missions with the very same high effectiveness as divisions, but in a smaller zone of responsibility."404 The re-introduction of some smaller divisions may be based more on their potential intimidation value than they are on their potential value in combat.

These positive developments have led some analysts to claim that Russia is developing entirely new military concepts. Modern Russian tactics show a strong continuity with past practices. Recent Russian activity in eastern Ukraine, for example, demonstrates a creative use of their traditional combined arms and reconnaissance-strike tactics combined with a more aggressive application of information warfare concepts that date back to the Soviet period. Russian ground forces troops have cooperated with non-traditional semi-military forces such as partisans and Cossacks for centuries.405 Regardless, the contemporary Russian ground forces pose a serious challenge to U.S. military planners, and they should be seen as neither a simple continuation of past Soviet practices, nor an entirely new force employing entirely new military concepts, but a highly nuanced and adaptive combination of both.406

The main combat power of the Ground Troops is centered in tank and motorized rifle divisions and separate tank and motorized rifle brigades that are normally subordinate to combined arms armies. Although Russia's military strategy is officially defensive, the Russian Ground Troops basic principle of land warfare is violent, sustained, and deep offensive action, just as it was during the Soviet era. Mechanized and armored formations supported by aviation and artillery are to seize the initiative at the outset of hostilities, penetrate the enemy's defenses, and drive deeply and decisively into the enemy's rear area.

Combined Arms Armies

The combined arms army is an operational and administrative organization that forms the basis of the Russian field army. A typical combined arms army includes two to four combined arms brigades, usually motorized rifle

brigades and in a few cases a tank brigade, plus artillery, missile, air defense, engineer, chemical defense, communications, intelligence and reconnaissance, and rear support units. By altering the mix of motorized rifle and tank formations and artillery and missile support, the army can operate in either offensive or defensive roles in different geographical areas and under various operational constraints.

The Tank Army

The Russian armed forces currently only have one tank army, the First Guards Tank Army (1st GTA). It, like the combined arms army, is both an operational and administrative unit. Currently, the 1st GTA includes a tank division, a motorized rifle division, and a tank brigade, plus artillery, missile, air defense, engineer, chemical defense, communications, intelligence and reconnaissance, and rear support units. The traditional role of a tank army is to exploit penetrations deep into the enemy's rear areas.

The Separate Combined-Arms Brigade

The primary combat formation of the Ground Troops is the separate combined-arms brigade, either motorized rifle (MR) or tank. There are three basic tables of organization and equipment (TO&Es) for separate MR brigades and one for separate tank brigades. All Russian combined-arms brigades, however, regardless of specific primary combat vehicle, are organized in essentially the same manner.408

New Look Motorized Rifle Brigade Table of Organization and Equipment: Primary and Supporting Subunits407

Tank and MR brigades differ in organization in that where the MR brigade has three MR battalions, one tank battalion, and an antitank (AT) battalion, the independent tank brigade reverses this basic structure with three tank battalions, one motorized tank battalion, and no AT battalion.409 The three MR TO&Es differ from one another in their primary combat vehicle, either wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC) or tracked infantry fighting vehicle (IFV).410 The organizational structure of a typical tracked APC-equipped independent MR brigade is shown in the accompanying illustration.411 In addition, the primary equipment of a separate motorized rifle brigade is shown in the table below.

Battalion Tactical Groups

BTGs are task-organized battalion-plus-sized tactical combat entities that are capable of performing independent combined-arms combat missions. They are similar in purpose, structure, and tactical use to U.S. Army battalion task forces. Most, if not all, New Look maneuver brigades have one BTG, manned entirely or mostly with contract soldiers, that is used to perform the most difficult or complicated combat tasks assigned to the brigade. An order issued on 19 September 2012 required all maneuver brigade commanders to create a contract-manned BTG within the brigade if they had not already done so.413

Russian Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade Personnel and Primary Offensive Equipment412





T-72B3 Main Battle Tank


BMP-3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle or


BMP-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle or


MT-LBV Tracked Armored Personnel Carrier


BTR-82A Wheeled Armored Personnel Carrier


2S19 152-MM SP Howitzer


BM-21 Multiple Rocket Launcher


The need to have effective BTGs is a primary driver of the New Look structural reforms. BTGs have their theoretical origins in the late Soviet period, where they were envisioned to fight against NATO on both a nuclear or non-nuclear battlefield in a nonlinear, large-scale environment. BTGs have been used in every local war or armed conflict in which Soviet and Russian forces have been involved since the Afghanistan War (1979-1989).414 The tactical use of BTGs in combat has impacted the tactical principles that govern their construction and use. BTGs currently serve—and will continue to serve— as Russia's primary tactical fighting unit in all tactical circumstances, both in large-scale and small-scale conflicts, well into the future.

The Airborne Troops

Russia's Airborne Troops, or VDV (Vozdushno-Desantniye Voyska), is an independent arm of service within the Russian Federal ion armed forces. It is composed of four maneuver divisions, four maneuver brigades, and a separate special purpose (Spetsnaz) reconnaissance brigade.415 The VDV serves as Russia's high-mobility initial invasion and rapid response force.416,417 In its role as rapid response or initial assault forces, the VDV may be used to achieve specific objectives that shape the battlespace for follow-on ground forces. These may include:

• Seizing key terrain (i. e., bridges, airports, and seaports)

• Establishing blocking positions and vertical envelopment of a retreating enemy

• Disrupting enemy logistical supplies, communications, and command centers

• Destroying high value targets418

Maneuver formations within the VDV are designated as either parachute or air assault, the primary difference being in whether they arrive at their objective via airdrop or overland means. In all cases, VDV personnel are trained to operate both ways. Major VDV formations are:

• Two parachute divisions - the 98th Guards and 106th Guards

• Two air assault divisions - the 7th Guards Mountain and 76th Guards

• Four air assault brigades - the 11th, 31st, 56th, and 83rd

• One special-purpose reconnaissance brigade - the 45th Spetsnaz419

In line with its highly mobile fund ion, the VDV is equipped with a large number of amphibious air droppable combat vehicles, the BMD-series IFVs and BTR-D series APCs. The VDV's increased mobility comes at the expense of armor and firepower; its primary combat vehicles are generally lighter than their Ground Troops counterparts. In late 2016, however, the air assault divisions and brigades received up to a company (10 to 13) of T-72-series main battle tanks. The tank companies within these air assault units will very likely increase to tank battalions (30 to 42) by the end of 2018.420,421 The MBTs are not intended for air drops, but will accompany VDV ground maneuver formations to increase firepower and lethality.

Naval Infantry

Russian Naval Infantry is organized into units that are operationally subordinate to fleet commanders. Naval Infantry is focused on amphibious assaults, coastal defense, counterterrorism, anti-piracy, and ship security missions. The organization and equipment of Naval Infantry units are generally similar to that of motorized rifle units in the Ground Troops.422

The Naval Infantry consist of four independent brigades, one separate brigade, and three separate battalions.423

Coastal Troops

The Russian Coastal Troops consist of Coastal Missile Artillery Forces (CMAF) and Coastal Troops. CMAF consist of three independent brigades, two independent regiments, and one independent battalion.

The Coastal Troops are organized as ground forces but are subordinate to the Navy. The Coastal Troops consist mainly of motorized rifle brigades and artillery brigades. Their primary mission is coastal and regional defense.424 The Navy Ground and Coastal Troop Headquarters, a command unit based in Moscow, heads the Coastal Troop force, but coastal missile units likely take operational orders from their respective fleets.425,426,427

Russia’s coastal missile and artillery forces provide anti-ship defenses for Russia’s coastline and littoral regions. Coastal missile defense in Russia is primarily centered on anti-ship missile systems. Most units are still dependent on two systems that entered production in the late 1970s to early 1980s—the STYX and SEPAL. Efforts are underway to rearm the coastal missile force with new, longer-range missile systems.428 These systems include the BAL and BASTION, and they are slowly being introduced to the force.429

Russian VDV Primary Combat Vehicles



Capacity (Crew/Dismounts)


Infantry Fighting Vehicle



Infantry Fighting Vehicle



Tracked APC



Tracked APC



120-mm SP Combination Gun



125-mm Tracked SP Antitank Gun


BASTION Coastal Defense Missile Launcher.

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