Written by Pavel Ivanov; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
Ground Forces experienced an event whose importance can hardly be overestimated. A new set of combat doctrines has entered into force.
Traditionally it includes three books. Part one covers operations of regiments, divisions, and brigades. This document is classified. The second part deals with the company and battalion level. The third is intended for the platoon, squad, individual tank.
Formally, these doctrines are considered temporary. But that’s no reason for concern. For example, when the Rosgvardiya was being formed, MVD doctrines also were temporary.
The new doctrines were approved in September 2017. But they began to arrive in line formations only this September. It’s noteworthy that they are propagated mainly in electronic form, through the “military internet”, a closed channel for data transmission.
Even now these documents are being called “revolutionary” in the field. One of the officers who spoke with VPK even joked that, upon reading them, he exclaimed “That’s not my army’s doctrine”. This underscores the degree to which they change the tactics of combined arms forces. Traditionally, the platoon-squad-tank manual has been the smallest of the three. This time it’s the second in size.
Since the early 2000’s, Ground Forces exchanged doctrinal documents three times. These documents were a good reflection of reforms in the Armed Forces.
Until 2005, Russian combined arms forces used doctrinal documents adopted in USSR. But they did not incorporate experience gathered by Russian motorized riflemen and tankment in local conflicts on the territory of former USSR and in two Chechen campaigns.
The main platoon tactical formation specified in the 1989 doctrine was a skirmish line. Operating by pairs, threes, fours, were not included in the doctrine. Even though they were adopted in Afghanistan.
The 2005 doctrine were an attempt to deal with these shortcomings. Formally, the whole doctrine set was adopted with a single order, but were distributed to troop units only gradually. The first sets were sent to the 42nd Guards Motorized Rifle Division in Chechnya even before the doctrine was officially approved. The remaining units received them only in 2006, and even then only the second part.
The first part was sent six months later. And the “Platoon, Squad, Tank” part was distributed only in 2007-08. Although by then the development of new doctrinal documents had begun.
Tactics outlined in the 2005 doctrine did not change greatly. There were new chapters on units and formations participating in local conflicts. But by and large these new additions were superficial. They provided general outlines of functions of platoons, companies, battalions, regiments, and divisions during armed conflicts. The main tactical operation types were search-and-reconnaissance, and also checkpoint duty.
The next doctrine set took nearly six years. Even while it was written it underwent significant changes. This effort began simultaneously with Anatoliy Serdyukov’s “new look” reforms. All the tactics were developed for the newly formed motor rifle and tank brigades.
The “brigade, regiment, division” part was particularly difficult. After all, the reforms reduced the number of regiments and divisions which were replaced by brigades. The first provisional doctrinal documents for the “new look” formations were ready in 2011. But they were sent to troop units only for familiarization. Ground Forces continued to “fight” using the 2005 doctrine.
In 2012, Serdyukov was replaced as the Defense Minister by Sergey Shoygu, and the “new look” reform was shut down. The Armed Forces saw a different transformation. Therefore doctrinal documents had to be rewritten once again. Regiments and divisions were returning in place of brigades.
The final combat doctrine set was approved in 2-14. It for the first time contained separate provisions for the employment of sniper teams.
This issue was a problem for the Ground Forces for a long time. Snipers used to be part of motorized rifle squads and platoons, and were subordinated directly to their respective commanders. Later snipers were concentrated in special sniper companies directly under brigade command. During combat operations, sniper platoons would be assigned to motor rifle battalions.
The Syria Adjustment
Why did the doctrine have to be changed once again after three years? The answer is obviouis. The new documents incorporated Syria operational experience. This becomes clear even after superficial examination with the doctrine. For obvious reasons, we are discussing only the second and third parts of the doctrine which are not classified.
The trend to expand the range of tactics used by squads and platoons was evident already in the 2005 and 2014 doctrines. But the 2017 doctrine the new tactics found their logical conclusion. The new edition breaks up the squad into fire and maneuver groups. The latter defeats the enemy in close combat using shock action and maneuver. The former renders fire support. The maneuver group consists of three riflemen (one of them the leader). The squad machine-gunner, anti-tank grenadier, and their two team members comprise the fire group.
The “Tactical-Level Combat System” pamphlet was the first publication which subdivided the squad into groups. It was issued in the late ‘00s. This organization proved its worth during practical field exercises. But only now has it been included in combat doctrine documents. A considerable amount of text is dedicated to describing how the groups operate during assault and clearance of fortifications. It is also noteworthy that the 2017 doctrine also allows for the squad to operate in a skirmish line if the situation requires it.
Motor rifle platoon tactics also underwent major change. It also can form several groups: command, fire support, and combat vehicle. The first includes the commander, his vehicle, and communications personnel. The second consists of attached fire support weapons such as automatic grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles. The 2017 doctrine pays particular attention to the operations of reinforced motor rifle platoons.
The combat vehicle group is an interesting novelty. If needed, the platoon commander can detach combat vehicles from their squads and form a reserve of sorts. It can be used to support advancing squads by fire and maneuver. In defense, it may be used to prevent enemy breakthrough.
Companies and battalions form so-called fire ambushes. Their task is to eliminate as much enemy personnel and equipment as possible, using point-blank fire and minefields.
The ambush may be conducted by a squad or a platoon, reinforced with flame launchers, combat engineers, and also remote minelayers. In addition to the squad or platoon, a fire ambush also utilizes several groups: decoy (the first to open fire in order to attract attention), cover (protects the main forces during their withdrawal from battle) and interdiction (prevents reaction forces from reaching the ambush).
The new doctrine also dedicates much attention to urban warfare. And while earlier these chapters were written on the basis of the Great Patriotic War experience, the 2017 doctrine clearly reflects the battles in Syria’s cities.
In particular, the Middle East experience is evident in the chapters on the defensive strongpoints. It mentions the echeloned squad deployment (one squad per building floor). Each echelon is responsible for engaging targets at a specific range from the strongpoint. The higher, the longer the engagement range.
When creating a strongpoint, it is recommended to seal unneeded windows. Bricks can be used to create firing ports and protection. A mortar should be placed on the roof. Particular attention should be paid to communications lines and underground passageways.
It is noteworthy that a strongpoint can be set up outside a building as well. In that case one should build barricades. The strongpoint should block streets and roads, exits from parks and city squares.
When attacking, motor rifle platoons are subdivided into maneuver and fire groups. Each is assigned one side of the street. Tanks and infantry fighting vehicles operate from behind them, providing fire support. For the first time, doctrine specifies how rooms should be stormed.
The 2017 doctrine seriously re-evaluates the participation of army units in internal conflicts. Formally, combined arms formations have the same missions as in international conflict. They block areas, conduct search and recon missions, man strongpoints. But tactics are entirely different. For example, there is a complex algorithm for search and recon. Several lines are formed, there are foot patrols, inspection teams, cover teams.
Checkpoint duty is also more nuanced. They have been transformed into de-facto mini-fortresses. Their task is to prevent the free movement of militants, seal-off an area, and ensure security of important facilities.
The motor rifle platoon is reinforced with a sniper team of two, and a company with a group. Formally the group or pair are subordinate to their respective unit commanders. But these commanders do not direct the snipers’ actions. They indicate the area of operations, brief on the unit mission, identify areas and sites to focus on. The commander also provides the snipers with challenge-password information.
From then on the snipers operate autonomously. They establish a base where they rest and prepare for action. They establish the main and reserve firing positions themselves.
The snipers’ task is to destroy important targets: commanders, ATGM crews, machinegunners, AT grenadiers and, please note, drones. Interestingly, the authors of the doctrine noted the psychological impact on the enemy, who knows that there are high-precision shooters operating in the area, as an important component of snipers’ work,
The description of how pairs and groups operate is interesting as well. As you know, the Russian Ground Forces do not differentiate between snipers and spotters. Therefore one of the snipers is designated as a spotter, working with one, two, or perhaps even three snipers. Then the position is rotated.
Paid For With Blood
The most valuable assessment of the new doctrine is what the military servicemembers are saying about it. Not for naught they are saying that every line in the doctrine is written with blood. Every officer VPK spoke to said that the new doctrine is a very important and well put together document. For the first time, the doctrine reflects the most recent combat experience, and the current military art trends.