Russian paratroopers commander cites need for helicopters, combat vehicles

Text of report by the website of government-owned Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta on 17 May

[Interview with Vladimir Shamanov by Yuriy Gavrilov; place and date not given: "Gale Warning: the VDV Commander Refutes the Rumours About the Airborne"]

There have been many rumours surrounding the airborne troops as of late. First it is reported that a national guard will be formed from them. Then the winged infantry are thrown into protecting Russian military facilities abroad. Hero of Russia Vladimir Shamanov, VDV [Airborne Troops] commander, tells your RG correspondent in an exclusive interview what awaits the "blue berets" and what missions they will be performing.

[Gavrilov] Vladimir Anatolyevich, whence this fuss surrounding the airborne? As far as I know, these rumours have touched you personally also.

Vladimir Shamanov: I consider this a news provocation. The news media reported that I had even been summoned to the Kremlin – allegedly for discussion of the new mission of the Airborne Troops.

I state responsibly that there has been nothing of the sort. I have never had any conversations on this subject with anyone.

The main function of the VDV is the repulse of external aggression, not the exercise of police functions.

Speaking as a whole, the airborne was and remains the reserve force of the supreme commander.

[Gavrilov] It reports only to the president, that is?

Vladimir Shamanov: Not entirely. We report to the defence minister and the chief of the General Staff also.

Concepts linked with peacetime and wartime life cannot be severed. With the start of any, including local, war the overall leadership of combat operations passes to the supreme commander. Both the armed forces and the defence minister and the chief of the General Staff report to him. And someone commanding an army has to have a reserve. Employing it, you may fundamentally change the situation on the battlefields. Everything is logical here, therefore.

[Gavrilov] Why is the role of main reserve assigned to the VDV?

Vladimir Shamanov: I believe that the unique possibilities of the Airborne Troops were reflected here. It is now customary to see how the United States and NATO act in this case or the other. The Americans are constantly developed the air-mobile component of their army. But if it is compared with the VDV, the Americans are inferior to us in many parameters. They do not have air-droppable armoured equipment, for example, they are limited to dropping cargo.

At the same time, on the other hand, the Russian airborne is to date the sole combat arm in which the battalions are prepared to operate while fully surrounded. As a former chief of the Armed Forces’ Main Combat Training Directorate, I may say responsibly that no one in the general forces has yet worked out such missions. The airborne troopers have already mastered them.

[Gavrilov] Let’s look into other news – that the airborne divisions will, all the same, be reconfigured as brigades.

Vladimir Shamanov: There is the Plan of the Organizational Development of the Armed Forces Through 2016 approved by the president. According to this, the Airborne Troops shall, in the coming four years, at least, preserve their divisional structure. But a brigade version of the structure of the VDV also may be considered in the future.

My predecessors in the post of commander of airborne troops – Generals Aleksandr Kolmakov and Valeriy Yevtukhovich – crafted, I believe, the absolutely correct ideology. Since you are reforming three global services of the armed forces, leave the VDV in its present form for the time being. When you are "assimilating" structural changes in practice, practical reality will suggest what to do next.

The war with Georgia in August 2008 testifies in support of this approach. The 19th Brigade of the North Caucasus Military District, like the 58th Army as a whole, of which I was once in command, proved, however deplorable it is to acknowledge this, incapable of independently accomplishing the mission of localizing the aggressor on the territory of South Ossetia. This was done, on the other hand, by the Airborne Troops redeployed to the Caucasus by rail and air transport.

Relying on overseas experience, every one speaks for some reason or other about the brigade structure of the US Army, but they forget that they have divisions also. This does not prevent in the least, on the contrary, it even helps, the shaping of a stable system of command. We are currently creating such a system in the Russian Army. In my view, the division structure of the VDV is from the command viewpoint the optimum at this time.

[Gavrilov] But there is already one brigade in the airborne troops.

Vladimir Shamanov: Yes, in Ulyanovsk. I served in this force, when it was still stationed in Azerbaijan. At that time it was called the 104th Guards Airborne Division. Its "reformatting" as a brigade had to do with the reduction in strength of the VDV. After all the calculations, it was learned that there were insufficient people for division strength. It was then that it was decided to settle on a brigade.

I sometimes run into veterans of the force. They say: our division fought in the Great Patriotic, it should have its former status returned.

[Gavrilov] Is this realistic?

Vladimir Shamanov: There are not the conditions for this today. I’m hoping that they will some day emerge.

Mobile Reserve

[Gavrilov] The military districts have their own airborne brigades. Who directs them?

Vladimir Shamanov: Such force groupings – two in the east of the country, one in the south – report to the district commanders. As far as I know, it is planned to deploy a brigade in the Western Military District also. As far as the Central District is concerned, the General Staff believes, and we support it here, that the VDV 31st Separate Air Assault Brigade is sufficient there.

The operational-strategic commands, particularly in the eastern sector, should have an air-mobile reserve, of course. It will be the first to respond to a nascent conflict. The appearance of a new trouble spot is easier to prevent by showing the flag than by "extinguishing" it subsequently all together. This is frequently achieved.

[Gavrilov] What, then, does the VDV do?

Vladimir Shamanov: If we are speaking of the air assault force groupings, they are needed for a prompt response to external threats, particularly when it concerns cover of the border. The second function is the performance of anti-airborne and counter-commando missions in the interests of the operational-strategic commands. And the third – mobilization resources for the military districts are being prepared under the auspices of our divisions.

It is no secret that attempts are being made at this time to organize the draft on the territorial principle. The enlistment offices are in many instances dispatching the recruits to serve closer to home. When the soldiers are discharged, we do not have to rack our brains over where to get combatants from in the event of war. I believe that this is a rational ideology from all standpoints.

[Gavrilov] In your view, are four airborne divisions and one VDV brigade somewhat on the short side for such a big country as Russia?

Vladimir Shamanov: We constantly analyse the events that have been occurring in recent years in countries of the Arab world, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And we see that the large-scale clashes of great human masses that there were in WWII are no longer anticipated. Considering that Russia has such a guarantee of sovereignty as nuclear weapons, the VDV in their present form are perfectly sufficient for the localization of conflicts of the scale of the five-day war with Georgia. The supreme commander tasked the armed forces with being in a position to simultaneously localize one small conflict and one of medium intensity. We will handle this task.

[Gavrilov] Even despite the fact that the VDV divisions are of reduced strength, you could say – just two regiments each.

Vladimir Shamanov: There is the classic threefold Russian system. Three platoons constitute a company, three companies, a battalion, three battalions, a regiment. And three regiments, a division. But in the ai rborne force groupings there are, indeed, at this time two regiments each. I don’t rule out the situation changing after 2030, when the attractiveness of contract military service has been enhanced considerably and the ratio of professionals to conscripts is 70:30. Perhaps it would then be appropriate to raise the question of the additional deployment of an airborne or air assault regiment in each VDV division.

[Gavrilov] In other words, there is for this neither the requisite amount of equipment nor the specialists at this time?

Vladimir Shamanov: Precisely. What’s the point of entrusting costly combat equipment to the unschooled combatant? We need to proceed from the principle of a reasonable sufficiency here. It is such today.

Coup de Grace

[Gavrilov] Several years ago you examined new Russian-made sniper rifles and were none too happy with them. Has there been any change since then?

Vladimir Shamanov: First, the re-equipment of the machine-tool inventory of the plants in Izhevsk and Tula, with which we are working, has begun. We are now waiting for their products to considerably improve their operational qualities, which will enable us to begin to replace the old Dragunov sniper rifles.

Aside from this, after our snipers underwent special training, the VDV was handed 20 foreign-made sniper rifles for approval. We tried them out in all climate conditions. Together with advantages over our weapons, we exposed appreciable shortcomings in the import specimens also. The overseas rifles stiffen up in cold weather and cease to fire on sand. All in all, we satisfied ourselves once again that unpretentiousness is a traditional virtue of Russian weapons, which we need to treasure. But not to the detriment of quality, of course.

There have been big adjustments in the making of devices increasing the efficiency of automatic weapons. For example, the Shakhin thermal imager has appeared and the properties of collimator sights and the entire range of optics have been improved. We are together with the Ground Troops Main Command working on determination of the optimum combat gear and equipment. I would like to make separate mention of the introduction of the means of automation constituting elements of the Polet-K system. It makes it possible to considerably reduce the time taken for reconnaissance, search, and the transmission of target designations. Which will ultimately increase the accuracy and efficiency of the effective engagement of the enemy.

[Gavrilov] The infantry is winged, but the VDV lacks its own wings. Is this normal?

Vladimir Shamanov: The possibilities of aviation industry are limited at this time, all resources are concentrated beneath the wing of the Air Force, therefore. Such is the logic of the integrated approach. The matters that we raise in terms of interaction with aviation are being tackled increasingly well by the year here. For example, last year’s exercises at Novorossiysk and Ulyanovsk involved not only the employment of military transport and tactical aviation but also the wholesale use of helicopters. We could only have dreamed of this just five years ago. Even heavy Mi-26 helicopters worked with the VDV. There were no problems in the inter-service interaction.

At the same time, on the other hand, considering the gradual saturation of the field with new helicopters, we are considering the possibility of the appearance in the air assault force groupings of their own army aviation. Helicopter subunits, that is.

[Gavrilov] Why, incidentally, are some divisions called with you airborne, and others, air assault?

Vladimir Shamanov: In the first 100 per cent of humans and equipment are air-dropped with parachutes. In the second only one battalion from each regiment is landed with equipment. The rest are landed only at airfields already captured from the enemy.

In the future, incidentally, this division will afford an opportunity for heavier armament in the air assault battalions. The future BMD-4M combat vehicle, for example, has two versions of armour protection. The base version, when the vehicle is parachute-landed. And the reinforced version, when, instead of air-drop resources, and this means almost two tons, additional armour plating is attached to the "4". With the second version the protection will be higher, of course. We will for the accomplishment of missions not contemplating an airborne operation by the parachute method mainly employ heavier and, in the future, better armed, air assault force groupings. It is these that it is contemplated providing with their own aviation.

In local conflicts, if we judge by the experience of the Chechen campaigns, the VDV subunits are employed more often than not as helicopter assault forces. The VDV should ideally have one or two full-scale brigades of army aviation-20 attack and 40 transport and special helicopters. Plus a subunit of drones. After all, many objectives can be accomplished with them – from reconnaissance to attack.

[Gavrilov] But why not keep such brigades in the Air Force? You require helicopters, let’s say. Submit an application and get all that you need.

Vladimir Shamanov: I am a supporter of army aviation being returned to those in whose interests it operates. In addition, helicopter pilots would then definitely not be playing the part of stepchildren. Let’s call things by their proper name. It is necessary, for example, to carry out a reduction in the Air Force. Who is cut first and most? Army aviation.

[Gavrilov] The VDV has no need of standard-issue military transport planes?

Vladimir Shamanov: This is entirely different. Military transport aviation operates not only in the interests of the VDV. It is intended in addition for airlifting cargo, evacuating the wounded, and so forth. Transport planes may only be part of the Air Force, therefore.

They Fight With What They Fly With

[Gavrilov] Clarify the BMD-4 situation. It had been planned for the airborne to have purchased more than 1,000 such vehicles before 2015. But the Defence Ministry, I have heard, is relinquishing the contract. Does the VDV no longer need the "4"?

Vladimir Shamanov: We need the aircraft like the air we breathe. I’ll go further – I consider re-equipment our priority task. Our technical backwardness is now simply off the charts. Ninetyfive per cent of the armoured equipment has been in operation for 35-40 years. And the lack of conformity of the BMD-1 and BMD-2 to the missions being tackled was shown by both campaigns in the North Caucasus even. The VDV units had there to be reinforced with artillery and tanks of the motorized rifle divisions. They lacked firepower even in combating the bandit formations. And if the adversary is a little more serious, if we have to operate without fire support of the infantry? You can’t do much fighting today with a 30-mm cannon and one anti-tank missile in the turret that works every other time. A Russian company was lying in ambush during the five-day war in the Podgorye locality. A column of Georgian tanks went past. We had trained on the attackers four anti-tank guided missiles, officers were at the launchers. But not one hit the launch button. Remembering how at the range four of the five such launchers had not kicked in, they simply did not venture to attack.

The idea of equipping the VDV with a combat vehicle with tank firepower emerged back during the Afghan war. We have obtained the result, though, only now, and then not all at once. The first version of the BMD-4 had a "raw" unreliable base. We are absolutely comfortable with the modernized version of the "4" made in Kurgan – the BMD-4M. The Bakhcha-U fighting module with digital fire-control system, 100-mm gun, and barrel-fired guided missiles enables it, like artillery, to fire from a shielded gun position and to destroy any tanks without entering the area of engagement of their weapons. Five such vehicles, had they been in that ambush, would easily have incinerated the Georgian tank battalion.

[Gavrilov] Why, then, is the B MD-4M not going into series production?

Vladimir Shamanov: It’s unclear. And this today is our biggest problem. In 2009 the Defence Ministry agreed with industry on the full re-equipment of the VDV with the "4," provided that the Kurganmashzavod put it at its own expense in the proper shape. The industrialists honoured their commitments, the BMD-4M was included in the National Arms Programme through 2020 that was approved by the president. In the spring of 2011 the General Staff proposed a reinforcement of the armour protection of the Bakhcha, after which its deliveries were to have begun. The chief designer performed the modification. The tests showed that the parameters that had been established in the new specification had been achieved. But there have, nonetheless, been no deliveries. Just as there has been no logical explanation for the decision to abandon them.

[Gavrilov] Are you being offered anything in exchange? After all, the subject of a common vehicle for the VDV and the infantry is being raised once again….

Vladimir Shamanov: Nothing is being offered. Nor is there anything to choose from. The Rys and Tigr armoured cars are less well armed than the BMD-2. The armoured personnel carriers, which are made in Arzamas, cannot be air-dropped and have inferior engines, arms, and armour. Nor could a common vehicle for the VDV and the infantry be made owing to the air-drop weight restrictions. Why confine the infantry’s armour protection to our framework? Specially since the VDV’s notion of combat employment is different. We need a vehicle that is air-droppable, floatable, manoeuvreable, and with serious firepower. Because in the enemy rear no one will be supporting us with either tanks or artillery. We fight with what we fly with. And we have today nothing with which to fly for a mission, even of the level of the five-day war.

A vehicle better than the "4" will undoubtedly appear one day. But industry will not be offering it in the coming 7-10 years. And we are more than comfortable with the BMD-4M today. The airborne has to fight in it, and no one knows better than us what sort of vehicle this should be. Without re-equipment, the VDV has no future. Without the new BMD, the role of commandos and partisans is in store in a modern war for the airborne. We will fight for it, therefore. I believe that the time has come to make on this issue not only a military but also a political decision. Specially since there is a parameter approved by the president – having in the armed forces 30 per cent modern equipment by 2015.

Universal Soldier

[Gavrilov] The next question is about the Kalashnikov assault rifle. Are you comfortable with its airborne version? For the Defence Ministry is, as you know, declining to purchase it.

Vladimir Shamanov: I don’t believe that the need in the infantry chain for the Kalashnikov assault rifle has disappeared. Undergoing a number of refinements, it has and will continue to have its niche on the battlefield. That the army has accumulated a big stock of such weapons and does not for the time being need any more assault rifles is another issue. We should, rather, be modernizing the available models.

[Gavrilov] There is much talk at this time of the personal gear and equipment of the soldier of the future. Should, in your view, each service and combat arm have its own or is a common specimen standardized for all the armed forces needed?

Vladimir Shamanov: We are of the same opinion as the ground troops that this should 80 per cent be a single module. And the gear and equipment should 20 per cent be adapted to the particular features of the service of recon officers, special forces, naval infantry, airborne troopers, and representatives of other military occupations. Simply put, all that makes the soldier a soldier should be common. What makes a specialist a specialist, this should be individual. Common items are the helmet, footwear, body armour, belt, ammo pouch, bayonet ….

[Gavrilov] And as far as the 20 airborne per cent is concerned?

Vladimir Shamanov: There will be a distinction here also – for the member of the VDV special forces one thing, for our recon officer, another. If we take the regular airborne trooper – soldier or officer of a parachute regiment – their gear and equipment should primarily be furnished with a good optical instrument and electronic map board, where the serviceman will, at a minimum, see his comrades.

The new gear has to be portable here, so to speak. Not everyone can support a weight of over 25 kilos. When he is ordered to pull 40 kilos, this is unrealistic. After all, you don’t have simply to lift the gear, you have to move with it, frequently at quick pace. Based on this, I always say that loading up the soldier with all that he might need is impossible. But we need to strive for this. In recent years, incidentally, our industry has taken a big step forward in the quality and properties of the materials. Not only of the clothing but also of the helmets, body armour, and so forth, what is more.

[Gavrilov] The paratroopers like the new uniform?

Vladimir Shamanov: After we criticized the fabric somewhat, there has been a noticeable improvement. We are perfectly comfortable with the quality of the underclothing, including the vests and thermal underwear, also. Concerning the field uniform, there are particular features for the 98th Airborne Division and the 31st Separate VDV Brigade here. These forces are part of the Collective Rapid-Response Force, for which a single standard of field uniform has been established. Its cut is different, and it has a particular colouration.

The 7th Air Assault Division has the requisite gear for operations in the mountains. I’ll go further: we have even installed in Rayevskiy – near Novorossiysk – our own mountain range facility. The paratroopers are getting all that they need. Ten years ago we could only have dreamed of this provision with means of communication and automation, gear, and sundry necessities for combat. Strictly speaking, the VDV have two requirements today: we need in the future our own helicopters and, as soon as possible, a new airborne combat vehicle.


The 55-year-old Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov has commanded the Airborne Troops since May 2009. He began his service in the VDV as an officer candidate of the Ryazan Airborne Command School. He was in practically all trouble spots on the territory of the former USSR. He has for courage been awarded four combat decorations. The title of Hero of the Russian Federation was bestowed on Shamanov for distinguished service in the elimination of bandits in Dagestan in August-September 1999.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 17 May 12


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