Report of the Week
The scale of the maneuvers is phenomenal. Almost 300,000 soldiers more than 1,000 airplanes, helicopters, and drones and more than 35,000 tanks, APCs, and other vehicles. Stretched out from Buryatia to the Pacific Ocean. The S-300, S-400, Pantsir, and Buk AA-missile systems. Strategic bombers delivering cruise missile strikes.
The Ministry of Defense stresses that the exercises were planned. The preparations began a year ago. The environment is as close to combat as it gets. 37 years ago, the USSR and the members of the Warsaw Pact conducted the Zapad-81 large-scale strategic maneuvers.
Those maneuvers were compared to the largest operations of WWII. Offensive and landing operations against a hypothetical enemy were conducted in Belorusskiy, Kievsky, and Pribaltiysky Military Districts as well as the Baltic Sea.
“Using the strict language of military manuals the troops have arrived for review.”
The latest maneuvers were also international. The grand finale took place at the Tsugol Range in Zabaykalsky Krai. Units from China and Mongolia joined the Russian troops. Iskander-M systems are launching cruise missiles.
Vladimir Putin: “Russia is a peace-loving state. We do not have and cannot have any plans of aggression. our duty toward Russia, our Motherland is to be ready to stand up for its sovereignty, security, and national interests and support our allies, if required. For this reason, we are committed to further strengthening our Armed Forces and supplying them with the most up-to-date weapons and equipment.”
The military cooperation of Russia and China over the course of the maneuvers invigorated Western experts. The German Spiegel called it "a signal for the USA." However, Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu has already warned that joint exercises with China will become a routine thing. He also said that the Far Eastern maneuvers are mostly guided from Moscow. The National Defense Management Center makes it possible. That's where we filmed our interview with Sergey Shoigu.
- Mr. Shoigu The exercises were 100% planned, right? My Western colleagues seem to be pretty worried.
Sergey Shoigu, Minister of Defense:
- The major event plan for 2018 was approved by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief in 2017. It gave us the framework of what we were going to organize the following year. That plan includes everything but random inspections. Of course, the exercises were planned. We plan to hold them every five years from now on.
The State Armament Program covers a ten-year period but we need some benchmarks as well. By "we" I mean the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, of course. because investing so much money in rearming the Army and Navy one must understand and see where we're going and whether everything is fine.
The first random inspection in 2013 showed that, on the one hand, we made our first steps towards rearming our Army and Navy but on the other hand, our ranges, military training, and education were in bad shape. During their basic training course, our soldiers were shooting three times less than their US and NATO counterparts. After the first random inspection, we decided to increase the amount of ammunition our recruits receive by five times.
I'm telling you that so you could understand why we're conducting such large-scale exercises. Over the last few years, we brought about 140 ranges up to standard 136 to be exact. These are the most advanced ranges.
Today, we utilize about 80% of them. Today, we control the use of those ranges basically 24/7. It's linked to the decision we made several years ago to decrease the duration of compulsory military service from 2 years to 1. We had to find a way to fit a two-year program (three-year previously) into a single year. It's even more complicated now due to the fact that we're acquiring new and advanced weaponry and equipment we have to quickly master.
Before the exercise, we carried out a series of random inspections that later transformed into 16 different service exercises. In general, the whole complex employs 300,000 soldiers two Military Districts - Central and Eastern two Fleets - Pacific and Northern.
Definitely, our colleagues, I can even call them allies the Chinese Armed Forces and Mongolia. Almost 3,500 Chinese soldiers and 900 vehicles including military aviation - helicopters, and airplanes. We demonstrated that we'd never intended and do not intend to plan any sort of offensive operations on the adjacent territories.
We were checking whether our Army... Bearing in mind the fact that the plan was approved by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief his participation in this exercise wasn't limited to his visit to the Tsugol range. It's much wider and deeper than that because the visible part of the exercise that the whole country saw and TV channels broadcasted is only the tip of what was actually happening.
Besides, during the last maneuvers, we checked the transportation infrastructure and its capability to transport significant forces over long distances. Our Northern Fleet had to sail 4,000 nautical miles in order to take part in the exercise. Some of our divisions had to travel 4,300 miles. More than 200 trains were used simultaneously every day.
2016 was the first year when we involved industry in our maneuvers. Five major companies were switched to the wartime schedule. We started checking whether our industry is capable of supplying our Armed Forces with the products they plan to produce in case of a war. The Ministry of Industry was involved in this exercise. We also employed a series of companies.
Besides the mobilization of military reserves, we mobilized more than 4,000 reserve soldiers we also created Defense Staff HQ's. The companies received special wartime mobilization objectives.
The exercise was universal and all-encompassing. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief took an active part in it. He didn't perform at the range but he planned, approved the plans, and added all of the necessary details that would help us check the condition of our Army.
- So it wasn't just about the Army and armaments but general administrative procedures as well?
- That's right. We did that…
- Are we preparing for war?
- We're definitely not.
- On the other hand, an army must always be ready for war.
- You know, I'd like to say the following. First, after we held the Victory Day Parade I remember the Western journalists and some of our officials, whose party affiliation I won't name, saying that everything we showed at the Parade was outdated. Somebody even said that we were dragging empty tins across Red Square. Frankly speaking, I was outraged. But we didn't do this to change their minds.
We prepared a series of prescriptive documents that were approved by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. One of those documents was the defense plan for our country. It's the plan of our defense. 10 or 15 years ago, people might have had doubts some even joked that our Army was good for nothing and could only fiddle around. Today, we can say that our industry is working at full capacity. The military industrial complex is not limited to defense products.
I'd like to point out the fact that it releases more civilian products. As our President said, the government can't constantly provide so many contracts for defense products. We rearmed our Army. Now we must maintain the appropriate level. Of course, we aren't going to attack anybody.
Our maneuvers had no elements that implied that we might launch an offensive onto a foreign territory unlike the exercises of our Western partners who dress their hypothetical targets in Russian uniforms and hire Russian-speaking extras, and so on and so forth. You've seen it and shown it multiple times. That's not really considerate of our neighbors but it tells us a lot about what to expect.
- Did you demonstrate any new equipment during the maneuvers? How did it perform?
- You know, all equipment used during the maneuvers was either new and advanced equipment or upgraded old ones. If you look at that equipment it's all modern. Its performance meets all of our requirements because we tested that equipment in the Syrian Arab Republic.
- So you took the experience into account?
- Right. Today, we understand that our equipment meets all of our requirements and guarantees that we can engage in combat at the highest, most advanced level.
- Why are you so open about that? More than 100 foreign journalists attended the maneuvers recording everything that was happening. Their countries never guarantee any degree of transparency. Aren't we afraid that they'll peek somewhere they aren't supposed to?
- Well, you know we demonstrated our transparency in 2014, in 2015, and in 2016. Transparency not only at our exhibitions that we organize regularly and intensively. Moreover, if you remember, by the order of our President we hosted a major debriefing of our Syrian operation where we invited the press. Weapon performance was one of the key outcomes.
We never concealed the fact that several units of our equipment were faulty and under-performing. Simply put, we were lied to on certain issues. We had to withdraw some equipment from service and quickly and intensively upgrade other equipment. Because when our... The people that we invite to attend the maneuvers see that our Army is capable I believe it curbs their enthusiasm a little.
- Can these maneuvers be compared to the ones in 1981? Because people usually say that the equipment and the complexity of the challenges were different in 1981. Or are these maneuvers unique?
- These maneuvers are definitely unique. What can we compare? We can compare the scale. We can compare the total square mileage of the territories we used this time to the square mileage that they used in 1981. Our frontline stretched out from Chukotka to Zabaykalsky by almost 2,500 miles. That's the front we had this time. That aspect could be compared.
But we can't compare the technologies. The equipment and weapons are totally different. For example, the high-precision Tornado-G is a new type of ammunition for the Grad system.
But that's not the same Grad we had a long time ago. We also showed the Tornado-S widely known as the Smerch - high-precision artillery system. We showed many new prototypes and that also makes these maneuvers different. There were no S-300s or S-400s back then and no advanced Buks like today.
- Were our Chinese partners satisfied with the way their equipment was working with ours?
- Pretty much. We worked hard to make them operate as a whole. And secondly…
- What language did you use?
- We employed a large group of translators. We organized joint command posts and a district command post or rather a field HQ, we can call it a command post. We had Army HQs, Brigade HQs, Aviation Command. Our Chinese partners displayed their high-class equipment and discipline. We still have to assess the results, We'll do it sometime around October.
You're definitely going to be invited. The assessment of such maneuvers is usually supervised by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
But one aspect remained in the shadow. In parallel to these maneuvers, we conducted a large-scale exercise in the Mediterranean Sea that employed 36 airplanes and 28 ships. There were target practice, landing operations, air operations, and submarines. The ships and aircraft used all of their weaponry.
- Was it a hint to our overly eager partners?
- Amongst other things. Amongst other things. But if we're talking about the understanding of tomorrow we understand what we must do tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the day after that among other reasons, or perhaps primarily thanks to such large-scale exercises we call them "maneuvers" because they are actually maneuvers. Exercise seems like a part of something bigger - maneuvers. We've basically been fighting for a month.
- Mr. Shoigu, Russian soldiers have always been renowned for their spirit. Soldiers' discipline has always been the key to victory and the defense of the Fatherland. I know that you carry on the tradition that existed in Tsarist Russia.
- You know, if you look back in history you'll see that we got churches in memory to our victory in 1812 and even individual battles of that war. But then we realized that we have no churches in memory to the victory in the Great Patriotic War. the hardest one, the deadliest one. We must build them. I discussed that with my colleagues and we launched a big project.
We really hope that it'll be a people's church the main church of the Armed Forces. We have the main church of the Navy in Kronstadt. Last year, it was blessed by the remains of our legendary commander Ushakov. We intend to make it a major center of patriotic and spiritual upbringing that'll help us resurrect the traditions of our country and our Army.
As every leader, I wanted to be the first to make a contribution. That's what I wanted. But it happened so, that I was beaten by a Northern Fleet ensign who was the first to send his 2,000 rubles. It happened so that he beat me. My colleagues wanted to fix the situation but I decided to let the ensign be the first.
- Thank you, Mr. Shoigu.
- Thank you.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Anyone is free to republish, copy, and redistribute the text in this content (but not the images or videos) in any medium or format, with the right to remix, transform, and build upon it, even commercially, as long as they provide a backlink and credit to Russia Insider. It is not necessary to notify Russia Insider. Licensed Creative Commons