12 March 2019

SPETSNAZ have vigorously begun the 2019 training season

Daniel Ilie

Image source: Mediafax

The new 2019 training season have kicked off with a bang for the special troops of the Russian Federation deployed to the Southern Military District.

Russian political-military leaders are aware that these troops could be extremely useful in a conflict through the actions they can perform behind the enemy lines and that they have already proved their cost and risk (of political, diplomatic and military nature) efficiency associated to their action during the hybrid warfare triggered by Russia in Ukraine in 2014 (their use in operations without identification signs has provided the Russian Federation with a certain degree of plausible deniability of its involvement).

Obviously, some of the exercises take place concurrently with those planned and executed by conventional forces, combat support forces, or airborne (air assault) forces part of the larger Russian mechanized infantry divisions deployed to this military district.

And this while Russia continues to strengthen its military presence in the Southern Military District, in the vicinity of the Alliance's South-Eastern flank, as well as its Black Sea and Caspian Sea fleets that have state-of-the-art offensive capabilities with the potential to hit the depth of NATO, thus increasing concerns about the security imbalance in the Black Sea Extended Region.

Some of the exercises were triggered as a result of unannounced unit alert activities and aimed at testing the combat readiness of forces, the planning and execution of special reconnaissance and direct actions during the special operations, testing and validation of specific tactics, techniques and procedures related to the insertion and extraction of operational detachments, the kinetic action at the objective, the survivability and execution of covert and independent operations, in austere and remote environments, as well as testing the military equipment and armaments.

Let's not forget that rigorous training and rehearsal of the mission are required to ensure the success of special operations. They are based on the individual experience and skills of operators and the cohesion and capacity of small structures to be able to apply special skills with adaptability, innovation and improvisation and that require precise tactical planning, as detailed as possible, credible, and complete intelligence, as well as linguistic and cultural awareness of the area of ​​operations.


According to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), over 150 Special Operations Forces (SOF) operators from  the Southern Military District conducted in January 2019 tactical field special exercises in cooperation with the RUS Army tactical aviation (air infiltration/ exfiltration and Close Air Support - CAS) during some simulated behind the enemy lines actions in the mountainous areas of Krasnodarsky Krai, North Caucasus region.

One SOF detachment was parachute inserted from transport helicopters [likely Mi-8AMTSH and ABALET-2 high performance wing parachutes] with attack helicopter maneuver/ fires in direct support (Close Combat Attack - CCA) provided by a pair of Mi-35M attack helicopters [procedures similar to those used by NATO and coalition troops in theaters of operations such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria].

Usually, after exiting the airplane, SOF operators open their parachutes at the planned altitude, fly on the air route (possibly using navigation systems), land to the drop zone, fold their equipment and adjust the weaponry, regroup and eventually conduct the mission. It seems that this time it was about the execution of a specific Special Reconnaissance (SR) mission in a hostile territory with the aim, among other things, of improving the skills and abilities of operators to move secretly, to put up long-term observation posts, and to survive in remote areas away from the main forces.

Basically, the SR mission represents all the reconnaissance and surveillance actions conducted as a special operation through which SOF provide “the eyes and ears” in the field, in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive territories to collect or verify information of strategic or operational significance, employing military capabilities not usually found in conventional forces.

Combat helicopters and armoured light multipurpose vehicles (LMV) Rys (a joint venture based in Russia with IVECO) and Tiger-M were tested during the exercises.

Tiger-M 4x4 multipurpose armoured vehicle has relatively recently entered the service with the Russian military and can be equipped with the new Arbalet-DM remotely controlled fighting module. The module is fully stabilized and has the ability to automatically acquire and track the target. It helps the operator to open the fire both in static position and in motion and it is a design solution that releases some of the internal space of the armored vehicle in order to adapt the modern military combat equipment, with the aim of improving the crew workstation ergonomics and of reducing the amount of smoke released during the ammunition powder burning.

On January 29th on its own TV channel, Zvezda[i] (Star), the RUS MoD praised the way  that quick reaction SPETSNAZ troops from the Southern Military District succeeded to ”sweep like a hurricane”, rapidly disrupting a hypothetical "gang of attackers" attack on a fleet of military vehicles and equipment.

The unit was unannounced alerted to the signal ”a gang of militants attacked a fleet of military equipment”, with the purpose of testing its combat readiness and the level of combat performance.

The alert exercise included a kinetic Direct Action (DA) conducted by SPETSNAZ troops to assault and storm the building where the attackers fled and took shelter, a short sequence of close quarter battle (CQB) followed, and finally the surprised and disoriented ”bandits” survivors are handcuffed and taken up. The operation was a success.

DA are those surgical kinetic attacks of limited size and duration on strategic or operational targets and they usually are time sensitive. They include raids, ambushes, or direct assault tactics, the emplacement of munitions and other devices, standoff attacks by fire from air, ground, or maritime platforms, terminal guidance for precision-guided munitions, independent sabotage, attacks on critical targets, the evacuation of citizens and classified materials from sensitive areas, and so forth.

Intelligence officers from reconnaissance troops

Military intelligence personnel from reconnaissance troops deployed to Volgograd region of the RUS Southern Military District have been trained to river crossing during some mountain training modules[ii] conducted for 3 weeks in January 2019 at the Daryal Training Center, North Ossetia. The most experienced members of the reconnaissance groups have demonstrated the procedures of crossing mountain rivers up to 50 m wide using all types of crossings, as close as possible to those of the battlefield.

We know that permanent surveillance, combined with the processing, exploitation and dissemination of information, provides SOF with precise intelligence. SOF requires precise and detailed information, which often has to be produced and disseminated in austere environments with limited data transfer architectures.

At the time of the training event there were round about 500 reconnaissance military personnel from units across the RUS Southern Military District at the Daryal Training Center.

Air assault personnel

In the meantime, the air assault team members[iii] from the new operationalised airmobile groups, part of the motorized infantry brigades of the RUS 58th Combined Arms Army began military manoeuvres at the Sernovodsky range, Stavropol region, Southern Military District, the operators being secretly air inserted in the area of operations, behind the mock enemy lines. The soldiers have undergone special helicopter insertion and seizure of the important objectives training, and have rehearsed conducting independent and remote missions in isolation from the main forces.

Over 1,000 soldiers and more than 250 military and combat equipment took part in the exercise conducted at the end of January 2019. Amongst them, Mi-8AMTSH Terminator and Mi-8N Night Hunter helicopters, as well of military Unmanned Aerial Systems were used.

Aviation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet

In parallel, Russian Black Sea Fleet aviation was engaged in the execution of tactical insertion flights, difficult detectability at low altitude training[iv]. Mi-8, Ka-27PS, Ka-27PL rotary wing and An-26 and Be-12 fixed wing platforms’ technical and flight crews were conducting pre-flight and flight training.

Experienced and young pilots who manned the RUS Black Sea Fleet aviation units in 2018 participated in the training. During the activity the aircrafts’ crews rehearsed concealing methods when flying at very low altitudes, terrain following flights, and non-standard  approaches to perform assigned tasks in order to minimize the risk of detection.

The surprise element is decisive in the success of special operations and the cooperation between SOF and conventional forces, according to the SOF 5th truth (Most special operations require the support of conventional forces), for instance in the case of providing helicopter air support (maneuver/ fires) often helps to obtain it. This is due to the capability of the helicopter to operate at very low altitude, day and night, due to its speed and its relative freedom of movement, and due to the techniques of using camouflage methods to avoid detection. Obviously, if only their crews are constantly properly trained in these conditions and maintain their specific qualifications.

Instead of a conclusion

It seems that this pace at the beginning of the new year of training confirms somehow the Russian Minister of Defense statement that 2019 is going to be an extremely busy year during which a number of more than 4,000 exercises of various types will be planned and conducted that will mainly focus on the exploitation of combat expertise, improved including through the training process, in the use of Russian armed forces in modern armed conflicts.

SPETSNAZ troops, the elite troops of the Russian Federation, will not make an exception to this unannounced training program and inspections, Russian political and military leaders being aware that these troops can prove to be extremely useful in the event of a conflict, through the actions they can conduct behind the enemy lines and who have proven their efficiency, against the political, diplomatic and military costs and risks, during the Russian hybrid warfare triggered in 2014 in Ukraine (their use in operations without signs of identification has provided the Russian Federation with a certain degree of plausible deniability of its involvement in the respective hybrid operations).