Less than two months ago, the Chief of the Russian General Staff announced that Russia would create a Special Operations Force following the example of leading powers. Some experts link this decision with the conclusions drawn by the military from the so-called five-day war in 2008.
Vladimir Shamanov. Source: Sergei Savostyanov / RG
Here are excerpts from an interview with the Commander of Airborne Troops, Hero of Russia Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov.
In August 2013, it will be five years since Georgian troops entered South Ossetia and shelled Tskhinvali and you led one Russian forces group in the operation to coerce Georgia into peace. What ensured the success of this operation and why was it that the decisive role in the operation was played not by the motorised infantry stationed in the conflict zone but by paratroopers that were flown in?
Now that five years have passed, professional conclusions can and must be drawn. The limited combat ability of my beloved 58th Army unit came as a surprise to me, too. I knew there were some problems with that famous unit; it was no accident that some combat and operational training operations were held in that region and that many of the problems were addressed during the Kavkaz-2008 exercise. Yet, at the time of the given events, especially in South Ossetia, we saw some indecision and, on the other hand, the actual training standards and the state of the hardware and weaponry proved not to be up to scratch, to put it mildly.
In Abkhazia, where I was involved, the situation was somewhat different because there were peacekeepers on both sides of the border. The situation in that region was largely stabilised thanks to the paratrooper assault battalion of the 108 Airborne Assault Regiment, which had been flown in from Novorossiysk. When we seized the electronic scenarios envisaged by the Georgian military, the initial plan was to attack not South Ossetia but Abkhazia. The reinforcement of the peacekeeping group with an airborne battalion by agreement with the Abkhazia leadership virtually saved that state.
In general, the airborne troops once more proved to the fierce opponents that, being a reserve of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and an instrument of the Defence Minister and Chief of the General Staff, these troops were well able to meet modern challenges. We are aware that the country’s leadership has taken certain measures to modernise the Army and Navy and this is having a very positive impact on the airborne troops.
We hope that the modernisation will elevate the combat capability and combat readiness of the troops.
When you became the commander of the airborne troops, you named modernisation of armour as a priority. This triggered speculation in the media about a conflict between the airborne troops command and the General Staff. Is it true that the previous General Staff intended to turn paratroopers into “light infantry”, providing them with light armoured vehicles instead of heavy armour?
That I set the task of introducing only new armour is true only up to a point. Indeed, some derelict officials at the General Staff did try to make out that, in future military clashes, paratroopers would deal with small scattered groups of irregulars. Nobody has yet explained to me the rationale behind that argument, although I repeatedly put such questions to Makarov (Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov). The design of the BMD-4 armoured vehicle, codenamed Bakhcha and intended for airborne troops, took into account virtually all the features of airborne troop actions and BMD-4M, which has yet to be debugged, became its more modern modification. That machine has huge potential for modernisation in terms of motor, armaments, crew protection and weight reduction.
Airborne Troops should undoubtedly have a segment of light wheeled vehicles. In addition to the Tigr vehicle, which will soon be introduced in airborne troop companies and battalions and some logistics units, we can count on some KamAZ vehicles. We have an understanding with that enterprise’s management and expect KamAZ to provide us with pilot models of airborne light armoured vehicles by September this year.
What about the delivery timeframe for the BMD-4M?
The difficult negotiations over the BMD-4M are still going on. We hope to get the first machines in the second half of the year. Before the end of the year, we expect to have five of these machines and another five are to be delivered in the first quarter of next year.
According to some sources, after transfer of the head enterprise functions for production of BMD-4M, the cost of the machine increased by almost a third. Will this, perhaps, reduce the number of machines that will be supplied to the troops?
There is a grain of truth in what you say but the problem does not originate from Kurganmashzavod plant, rather from the position of the Tula Instrument Building Design Office, which raised the price of the combat module by 80 percent. A difficult negotiating process is underway at the moment. We have consciously distanced ourselves from it because we support the position of the Defence Minister 100 percent: please relieve us of the function of price formation, give us ready weapons and equipment. I think Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin has the process under control.
The question about ground hardware is more or less clear. What is the situation in your troops with respect to adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles?
Speaking about unmanned devices as a modern piece of weaponry, I am afraid we got off to a late start there. Although many offer various devices in a variety of packagings, all of them have certain shortcomings: short flight duration, wind instability, inadequate equipment for data transmission and so on. Today, we do not have small or medium-sized drones. The Israeli drones that were supplied recently to the troops have proved to be inefficient, especially in the cold season. Yet they gave an impetus to our industry: in addition to the traditional flagship producers of UEVs, there is now the Popov Radio Plant in Omsk, Tranzas in St Petersburg and others. I met with the management of the Omsk Radio Plant during a trip there and they showed me their designs, which are quite promising: they have the body of a plane and helicopter ideology. I requested a proposal from them, early tests of drones were carried out at the 106th Tula Division, and we continue to develop our cooperation.
What complexes will be used in the unmanned units of the Airborne Troops? In what units will these groups be set up?
Such units already exist in reconnaissance and special reconnaissance units. Our artillery men, engineers and air defence units have drone units attached. In future, crews of small portable unmanned aerial vehicles will be supplied to paratroopers and airborne assault units. I think we will achieve that objective within the next 3-5 years.
Last August, you reported joint plans with the Tula Design Office to create a multipurpose remote-controlled unmanned BMD-4M version. When might this ‘armoured drone” see the light of day?
Unfortunately, we have yet to get Tula’s support on that issue. I have a meeting scheduled on April 29 with the Council of the Moscow Aviation Institute. Its rector has kindly agreed to meet and discuss new approaches to the adaptation of students through military service during their studies. During that meeting, I want to discuss the Airborne Troops’ vision of the next generation of Airborne Troop fighting vehicles, which will be a cross between a light armoured vehicle and a medium-sized helicopter. The new BMD will be multipurpose and multifunctional, will have a range of 50-100 km and, with its wings folded, can be loaded on to an AN-124 Ruslan or IL-76 plane and flown thousands of kilometres away. It will be used in a variety of situations: from ones similar to the evacuation of the embassy from Kabul to surgical strikes with immediate return to base. We will discuss with the Rector offsetting up a working group to formulate a proposal request, estimate the cost and the timeframe for implementing this idea.
When will the Airborne Troops start forming peacekeeping units and structures and in what units will they appear first?
Already CSTO collective rapid reaction forces comprise two airborne units: the 98th airborne division and the 31st detached airborne and assault brigade, this being part of the reason that the Defence Minister has decided to reintroduce the office of Deputy Commander for peacekeeping forces and the collective rapid reaction force in the Airborne Troops, who will have a staff of eight. One of the tasks of that department will be to work with the integrated headquarters of the CSTO and the structures of the General Staff that interact with the UN.
The General Staff has set us the objective of having the 31st Brigade of the Guards as a peacekeeping unit and creating one peacekeeping battalion in four divisions manned entirely by contract servicemen. As for the 31st Brigade, we will try to fulfil that task by June 1 and the first peacekeeping battalion will appear in divisions on September 1, 2013 at the latest.
Will some units of the Airborne Troops be put under the recently-created Special Operations Forces Command? If so, which?
This is an issue within the competence of the General Staff. The Special Operations Forces are a peculiar organism; we are interacting with them. It is my conviction that the new structure – call it a rapid reaction force – under the single command of the General Staff must bring together Airborne Troops and Special Operations Forces and they should have special forces brigades, marines in the coastal areas under their operational command. Then the country, which has a 50,000 km land border and is washed by seas and oceans on three sides, will get, in addition to four static operational-strategic commands, a fifth, mobile operational strategic command that would make it possible to react comprehensively to threats and challenges both inside and outside the country. I am referring, above all, to peacekeeping operations as part of our relations with the UN and the CSTO. We have presented our position to the new General Staff leadership and the issue is currently under consideration.
First published in Russian in RIA Novosti.
Video provided by the TV Channel "Zvezda".
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