Spetsnaz, like other elite units, typically receive the latest equipment and uniforms; in this case, this means camouflage. However, because spetsnaz units have long been shrouded in secrecy, it was important to "camouflage" their actual identity by mimicking other units.
In most cases, spetsnaz troops simply adopted the uniforms of the unit to which they were assigned. For garrison troops, wearing the collar tabs, branch insignia and uniform piping of their hosts was usually sufficient to hide their actual assignment. Of course, the host unit soldiers were normally fully aware of the identity of the special troops assigned to the unit.
Generally, spetsnaz troops of the GRU wore the uniforms of the airborne forces. During the pre '70 period, this usually meant the standard KLMK 1 piece stair-step pattern with airborne beret (raspberry color in the 1960's, blue in the 1970's and after). When spetsnaz troops were deployed to overseas regions for training, they either adopted the local camouflage uniforms, or wore specially designed tropical uniforms for airborne forces. With the introduction of the woodland camouflage uniform in 1981, airborne and spetsnaz troops were among the first to receive the new camoulfage.
Today, GRU spetsnaz troops wear one of several color versions of the woodland camouflage uniform, the newer vsr (for vooruzhenie sili rossii), or older patterns such as the woodland bicolor, the KLMK one or two piece, or even U.S. camouflage uniforms.
During World War II, the only troops to be issued camouflage uniforms were airborne troops, reconnaissance troops, snipers and engineer-sappers. According to Suvorov, spetsnaz units were called "minelaying" or "reconnaissance" units, while the remainder were simply described as airborne troops. During their infancy in World War II, spetsnazovtsi assigned to otriadi and brigadi wore camouflage uniforms of the period; as a result, many of the photographs showing the aforementioned units from World War II may actually be photos of spetsnazovtsi. (Suvorov pp. 25 &25).
Vladimir Rezun also makes the claim that airborne soldiers not bearing the Guards badge can be assumed to be spetsnaz. By the same token, the writer also claimed that any female paratrooper not wearing a Guards badge was also spetsnaz since there were no female airborne troops. Rezun brought made this claim in response to a photo of four female Soviet airborne soldiers slated to attend the 1984 Olympics. Rezun commented that the females must be spetsnaz because they were such fine athletes, had numerous jumps to their credit, and were not wearing Guard's badges.
As for the lack of female airborne troops, female soldiers assigned as support personnel to airborne units would wear the airborne insignia just as those similarly assigned to the support units in an airborne unit within a combined arms army, would also wear the airborne insignia, but on red collar tabs (petlitsi).
Most of this argument is now moot. In January of 1993, a spetsnaz brigade, redeployed from Georgia, inducted 26 female spetsnazovtsi on contract. Assigned to a special section within the brigade, they are nevertheless subject to the same high standards as their male counterparts. These female spetsnazovtsi wear the airborne berets, insignia, and camouflage uniforms associated with male spetsnaz troops.
Schofield makes the point that units can earn the Guard's designation only through participation in combat and earning the distinction through heroism. She claims there are several independent airborne brigades that do not share the Guard's designation. The same can be said for the independent airborne regiments stationed in Russia. However, Suvorov (Rezun) states that a Guard's unit can receive the distinction upon its creation and therefore, there exist spetsnaz detachments and battalions with the Guard's designation that have not seen combat (Spetsnaz, A History of the Soviet Special Forces, Viktor Suvorov, p. 24).
As far as identifying spetsnaz units through the lack of a Guard's badge.... While it is true that most of the airborne divisions are Guards units, the members of the airborne training unit in Fergana do not have this distinction. Due to the deactivation of the 105th Guards Airborne Division, formerly stationed in Fergana, the follow-on airborne unit did not engage in combat activities or receive the designation which would entitle it to wear the Guard's badge.
It is a well-known fact that spetsnaz troops are known to have participated in the Olympic games trials for the purpose of intelligence collection just as they drove trucks throughout much of Western Europe to survey bridges, highways and airfields. However, it does not seem logical that if the GRU went to all the trouble of hiding the existence of spetsnaz troops, that it would make identification of spetsnaz soldiers so easy.
If, after all, spetsnaz soldiers wore the uniforms of the unit to which they were assigned, isn't it also logical that the GRU would also simply pin on a Guard's badge in order to protect the identity of its elite forces? This seems especially poignant in light of Russia's steadfast refusal to order its soldiers in West Berlin to wear nametags (thus causing U.S. troops traveling to East Berlin to remove their name tags) or issue unit-distinctive insignia to its guard, airborne or elite units until the 1990's.
During the 1970's and 1980's, spetsnaz troops were difficult to identify based solely on their uniforms. During this period, the majority of army and special service spetsnaz and osnaz units were virtually indistinguishable from regular combat and security units. While camouflaged uniforms and airborne insignia were generally key indicators of airborne and possibly, spetsnaz affiliation, there was no real key items that separated the two groups.
Then in 1979, the invasion of Afghanistan began to provide greater insight to the special operations forces and how they trained and fought. Slowly as equipment and uniforms made their way out of the embattled region, collectors and intelligence analysts were able to positively identify uniform components affiliated with spetsnazovtsi.
What was learned was spetsnazovtsi wore camouflage uniforms such as the overalls (1960's through 1980's) and woodland uniforms (1980's and 1990's) with airborne insignia on the latter and the characteristic blue-white striped tel'niashkas and airborne berets. These troops also received newly developed combat vests and load bearing equipment as well as the infamous entrenching tool. A typical spetsnaz uniform identified in the late 1980's consisted of a one or two-piece khaki jumpsuit with extra cargo pockets on the legs in the front, above the knees. The uniforms were very similar to the six-pocket khaki uniforms issued to ground troops but had some styling differences making them unusual. Camouflage versions of these uniforms have yet to be identified.
By the early 1990's Krasnaia zvezda and Orientir began to show photos of spetsnazovtsi and describe their equipment and weapons. Currently, several units have adopted patches that specifically identify their unit as spetsnaz units and articles describing spetsnaz troops and weapons are a relatively common occurrence - what a strange turn of events!
The typical spetsnaz troop wears a camouflage uniform as his or her training and operational field uniform. Previously the KLMK (misnamed the computer pattern) one-piece and two-piece uniform had been used for training by both spetsnaz and reconnaissance troops. Woodland uniforms took the place of the KLMK uniforms in the late 1980's, and VSR camouflage uniforms have subsequently replaced the woodland variants in the Russian republic. VSR uniforms are now generally used for operational field uniforms with the matching headgear; that is, berets or field caps. Full color patches and airborne insignia are generally only worn in garrison while stripped (umarked) uniforms are used in the field.
Special load bearing equipment harnesses and combat assault vests in the same camouflage pattern or in a leather or khaki version accompany the camouflage uniform. Pouches, edged weapons, and helmet covers are also routinely issued to spetsnaz soldiers. Still, it is not necessarily an easy task to identify the spetsnaz soldier in the field.
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