Within spetsnaz training several subcategories or specialties exist to which the recruit will be assigned. Additionally, those showing special aptitude for leadership or technical knowledge can be sent to a non-commissioned officers training or communications training school. Unlike the U.S. or western military tradition, Russian NCO's simply have more training than the typical conscript and perhaps a few months more experience. The career NCO, a backbone of western military services, is largely nonexistent in Russia.
As with all recruits, spetsnaz soldiers undergo a basic orientation course designed to acquaint the soldier with basic army procedures. Marching, standing at attention, and basic military drilling and reporting procedures are emphasized. It is here that the recruit gets his first taste of discipline and the army life. While the failure rate of new recruits is high, due to the introduction of the contract soldier, greater allowances are made for failure than when military service was mandatory and the selection criteria more restrictive.
Previously, assignment to a spetsnaz unit was kept a closely-guarded secret. Membership in such an elite unit was kept from friends, family members and even other military personnel. Since the spetsnazovtsi wore the uniform of the airborne troops, it was generally quite simple to explain to others that they were assigned to an airborne unit. There was nothing special to distinguish them from other airborne soldiers and this explanation suited their needs.
With the introduction of glasnost (openness) and a need to recruit volunteers subsequent to the dissolution of mandatory conscription, the Russian MOD launched a propaganda campaign designed to bring new blood into the special combat units of the army and navy. With the introduction of new uniforms and the associated unit insignia, being a member of spetsnaz was no longer considered a state secret.
As a result, Russian spetsnaz competition is shown on television and the exploits of spetsnazovtsi are described in journals and magazines. Recent martial arts displays, world competition between special operations units, and open appearances at military bases have all provided ample information on spetsnaz units. There is even a special journal dedicated to the special forces of the world called Spetsnaz.
Spetsnaz training largely mirrors the special forces training in other countries with the addition of specialized training geared toward prisoner interrogation and assassination techniques. While the U.S. special forces (green berets) have the primary function of training local indigenous personnel in the art of guerilla warfare and resistance, the spetsnazovets has as his/her primary responsibility of conducting surveillance, sabotage, diversion and reconnaissance. Perhaps the spetsnazovets training can best be described as incorporating all the skills used by the U.S. special forces, rangers, delta force, and in the case of naval spetsnaz, the navy seals.
Techniques specific (but not unique) to spetsnaz training also include tracking and patrolling techniques. Spetsnazovtsi are trained to follow their prey by walking, single file, in each other's footsteps, so the size and nature of the unit cannot be easily determined. One spetsnazovets even admitted that a special boot had been developed with reversed soles so as to disguise the direction of the patrol. On occasion, soles that mimic the boots of other (read NATO) countries have also been used to disguise the nature of the unit operating behind enemy lines.
The Willie Sanger battalion in East Germany reportedly was to don U.S. uniforms and equipment in time of war so as to confuse the enemy. This was undoubtedly a direct descendent of Operation Greif. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Otto Skorzeny, operation Greif achieved limited success in World War II when specially trained German soldiers, disguised as U.S. military police, parachuted behind American lines and wreaked havoc with U.S. forces. Whether or not such a unit existed or still exists in Russia is a matter for speculation. Such a unit would almost certainly undergo the same type of training as spetsnaz and would undoubtedly be subordinated to the GRU.
Spetsnaz troops undergo rigorous physical training with an emphasis on endurance and strength. The majority of spetsnazovtsi must qualify for the master sportsman badge, a designation few in the regular army are able to achieve. It can be said that the candidate master sportsman and master sportsman badges are good indicators of spetsnaz affiliation.
According to Suvorov, and others, spetsnaz physical training includes running for speed and distance, endurance swimming, negotiating obstacle courses, and throwing entrenching tools and knives. Spetsnazovtsi must also be able to rappel from buildings and cliffs, air assault out of helicopters, and parachute from fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft.
While there are no specific spetsnaz winter assault or mountain assault troops, the recent creation of the El'brus Mountain Diversionary Group (MVD) and other special units has led to increased training in both mountain and winter operations. As a result, spetsnaz training requires that soldiers be able to employ skis for reconnaissance in mountainous areas and assaults against enemy troops entrenched in alpine settings. Operating deep in enemy territory, it stands to reason spetsnaz troops operating in Finland, Norway and Sweden, must be able to negotiate mountainous terrain on skis complete with survival gear and rations for one to two week periods.
Of course, training and hand-to-hand combat are important aspects of spetsnaz training. Spetsnazovtsi learn to fire special weapons at their maximum range as well as up close and personal. Specially silenced 9mm pistols, automatics and in the case of naval spetsnaz, underwater rifles and pistols, are provided to the spetsnaz troops for operational use and it is up to each recruit to learn how to fire, field strip, maintain and repair their assigned weapons and the weapons of their teammates.
A spetsnaz soldier must be able to engage and hit a stationary target at 1,600 feet with a rifle, 130 feet with a submachine gun, and between 80 and 100 feet with a pistol. Snipers reportedly must be able to engage stationary targets at 1,800 feet, and moving targets (two to ten feet per second) at 1,600 feet. As with infantry soldiers, spetsnazovtsi should be able to throw a hand grenade accurately from 80 to 160 feet when standing still or when running.
The use of bladed weapons has always been a source of fascination with western observers. The practice of silent killing is an important skill to the spetsnazovets. Since the main reason for using edged weapons is silent killing, soldiers are taught to throw the bayonet from a distance of 20 to 26 feet striking the target thus rendering him defenseless. Additionally, knife throwing must be learned by the spetsnazovets while rapelling, low crawling, and as a defensive move against an oncoming attacker.
Rukopashni boi, or hand to hand combat, is an important facet of spetsnaz training. Fighting unarmed against an armed attacker is one of the fundamental skills learned by both airborne forces and special operations troops. Several versions of Rukopashni boi exist, including Sambo unarmed combat, but all stress a combination of Eastern meditation and focusing and channeling one's strength against an opponent. Spetsnazovtsi learn a Russian version of hand to hand combat and may adopt other, similar forms of unarmed combat as well.
Skills which spetsnazovtsi must also learn include language training, demolitions and improvised munitions training, wilderness survival, and the art of maskirovka, that is, camouflage detection and hiding in plain site. While the spetsnazovtsi do not become experts in any of these areas, they must at least become sufficiently proficient so as to be able to maximize their survival in order to carry out their objectives. However, one area in which survival is absolutely dependent on proficiency is parachute training.
Like airborne soldiers, spetsnazovtsi are trained in static-line jump techniques from low-flying aircraft. During their initial training, soldiers become familiar with the mock-ups, swing landing trainers, and towers familiar to most American and western paratroopers. What is amazing to most Americans, however, are the numbers of jumps Russian airborne troops undergo as compared to most American paratroopers. It is typical for American soldiers to leave Fort Benning with five jumps to their credit and then, however many additional jumps while at their duty station.
While U.S. special forces undoubtedly rack up as many jumps during their careers, Russian special operations units seem to be able to accrue more parachute training as part of their regular service. Russian spetsnazovtsi may jump one, two, three or more hundred times in their service. Some may make additional jumps in the hundreds as part of off-duty training. Whether this will change due to budget constraints remains to be seen.
Like their counterparts in Delta and the Navy's "teams", Russian spetsnaz also train in various forms of parachute assaults: high altitude low-opening (HALO) insertions, low altitude heavy equipment drops (similar to using low-altitude parachute extraction systems - LAPES), and airmobile and air assault techniques from helicopters into combat areas.
Since the goal of the spetsnaz troop is to be delivered unseen into the enemy's rear echelon and support area, the parachute assault from fixed wing aircraft is the preferred method of infiltration. Moreover, there are sufficient numbers of combined arms forces trained in air assault and air mobile insertions to make helicopter assaults by spetsnaz unnecessary.
Most of the spetsnaz officers are trained at the Ryazan Higher Airborne Assault School (RVVDKU) or are recruited out of the army and specially trained. While political reliability is a must, physical prowess and a successful military career are a must. In the case of Suvorov, he claims he was specifically recruited to join the GRU and underwent long-term, specialized training to perform his duties. Political reliability was important, but physical capabilities and intelligence were of utmost importance.
It should be noted that even the GRU agents stationed abroad or those trained as sleepers (long term illegals living in a foreign country), undergo military and survival training as well as specialized training to support operations in the host country. In-country training is an important aspect of the GRU's training program and a sleeper or illegal may spend years learning the customs, dialects, traditions, and culture of the target country prior to his posting.
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