Fatal accident at Russian tank shooting

One military engineer is dead and five are wounded at a tank shooting in Leningrad Oblast, reports RIA Novosti citing an official message from the military. Apparently the accident occurred as a tank shell changed trajectory after hitting the ground and exploded near a shelter where the engineers were located.

Now, this is a strange explanation. Ricocheting is normal behavior for shells, and danger zones are defined to prevent accidents. Either the shot was fired in a wrong direction, or the engineers were well within the closed area. Regardless, it sounds like poor safety procedures.

Russia has a new naval doctrine

Interesting rundown of Russia’s new naval doctrine by Dmitry Gorenburg for War On The Rocks:

Taken at face value, the doctrine appears to promote a vision of a revived Russian Navy that can maintain its superiority over up and comers like China’s navy, and even pose a serious threat to the U.S. Navy in certain environments. The reality is, as with most such documents, the gap between aspiration and feasible plans remains quite large.

The document outlines the vision for the Russian Navy until 2030 and replaces the five year old 2020-plan.

Gorenburg emphasizes the role that the naval doctrine plays in an internal struggle for resources but I would add that the visions of the doctrine reflect the views of naval officers’ on the appropriate position for the Russian Navy, and that to a certain degree it is a question of maintaining an already established position rather than about conquering new terrain.

Rundown of the Zapad 2017 Scenario

Interesting rundown of Zapad 2017 by Anna Maria Dyner from the Polish Institute of International Affairs. It is interesting that Russia and Belarus use fictional adversaries but real geography for their own side. This seems like a good approach compared to the rather artificial scenarios you sometimes see at NATO exercises where participants end up spending unreasonable amounts of time trying to figure out the dynamics of the scenario.

This part of Dyner’s analysis is too politicized, though:

This year’s scenario shows that Belarusian military leaders, like the Russians, see NATO as the main threat. This proves there is a difference between the thinking and the military doctrine adopted in 2016 that stressed that Belarus does not treat any state as an opponent. At the same time, the exercises plan proves the weaknesses of Belarus, whose authorities, even at a rhetorical level, do not assume Belarus can defend its territory by itself and that support from Russia is crucial. It also indirectly confirms that Russia de facto holds military control over Belarus.

This kind of lightweight finger-pointing makes nobody smarter. Substitute “Poland” for “Belarus” and “USA” for “Russia”, and the same statement would make sense. If anything, this shows that the Belarusian authorities have a realistic understanding of their military circumstances.

U.S. Army unprepared to deal with Russia in Europe

Great article by Wesley Morgan for Politico.com. All countries should make regular and honest analyses of their operational abilities like the one by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, but unfortunately this kind of candor is rare. Too many decision makers get amazed by the technologically impressive possibilities of new equipment, and under the constraints of tight budgets it is inconvenient to remind oneself that reliability requires multiple layers of redundant systems.

This piece caught my eye:

The common thread running through the paper is the challenge posed by Russia’s jammers and other electronic warfare tools.

An enemy equipped with these “could effectively neutralize a GPS system from 50 miles away using one-fifth the power of a tactical radio,” the report estimates, so “we should assume that GPS will be either unavailable or unreliable for the duration of the conflict if the [brigade] faces a near-peer threat or sophisticated non-state actors.”

Here, too, some of the solutions are low-tech. High-frequency or HF radios are more difficult for enemy electronic warfare specialists to pinpoint and jam than the satellite radios that have become the norm for U.S. units over the past 15 years. HF radio equipment and training have fallen by the wayside in the American military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but not in some allied militaries.

The shortfalls have required the 173rd to call on allies from Latvia to help it learn how to communicate in the face of Russian jamming — a stark indicator of how badly knowledge of a key communication method has degraded in the American force.

The fragility of GPS and satellite communication is uncanny, considering how dependent societies are on these technologies.

Should have left them in the garage

Robert Beckhusen for War Is Boring in a piece titled “Military Exercises Are Tearng Up Russia’s Infrastructure“:

In recent days, 574 vehicles of the crack 74th Guards Air Assault Division set off at night from its base at Pskov near the Estonian border for a training site at Strugi Krasnye some 40 miles to the northeast. The lumbering convoy headed up a cracked, pitted, asphalt-covered federal highway, tearing up the road and inflicting more than half-a-million dollars in damage.

Twenty of the division’s vehicles broke down during the journey for a failure rate of 3.5 percent, which isn’t bad, demonstrating the division’s ability to move on short notice with relatively few mechanical losses. But the damage upset local authorities. “It’s scary to imagine what will happen when they go back,” Simeon Gutsu of the Pskov’s region Commission for Road Safety told Glavny.

I think Beckhusen is too kind here. Twenty vehicles out of 574 breaking down during the first 40 miles on a paved road signals a pretty poor maintenance standard.

Russia denies access for observers to Zapad 2017

Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s commander in Europe, accuses Russia of fiddling with the numbers in order to keep foreign observers away from the upcoming exercise Zapad 2017, according to The Baltic Times:

“The Russians had not given us a lot of reason to trust the numbers that they say. But again, the exercise hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t know what they are going to do,” Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said at a joint news conference with Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis in Vilnius.

Moscow says that Zapad 2017 will involve fewer than 13,000 troops, but NATO officials think that the number was artificially reduced by splitting the exercise into separate parts so as not to give wider access to observers, as required by international rules.

If more than 13,000 troops are involved, Russia and Belarus are obligated to invite observers from OSCE countries. Speculations are that as many as 60,000-100,000 Russian troops could be involved, making Zapad 2017 the largest exercise since the Cold War.

The Russian word “Zapad” means “West”, indicating that it is a geographically limited exercise in the Western part of the country. Belarus actually did invite observers to the exercise to be held on its territory (link in Estonian), but no observers were invited to oversee the simultaneous exercises that take place across Russia, which possibly involve many more troops than indicated in official statements.

The same tactics were used during Zapad 2013, where officially 10,000 troops participated but an estimated 70,000 troops actually were involved.