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1971-1985 - Operational Maneuver Groups

Just as Sokolovsky was finishing his last edition of Military Strategy in 1968, one can see the beginnings of the second revolution in military affairs, which was characterized by new advancements in conventional technology. The revolution came to full fruition during the tenure of Marshal Nicholai Ogarkov as Chief of the General Staff (1977-1984). Ogarkov brought an interesting background to his post. Heserved in World War II extensively, but as a member of the technical services. He had never had a true combat command in time of war. His extensive engineering background, however,did give him an early appreciation of the combat potential of conventional technological innovations. Ogarkov's belief was that the rapid increase of the number of nuclear weapons on both sides of the Atlantic -- and the balance of those weapons -- made the prospect of any type of nuclear warfare suicidal. At the same time, new non-nuclear technologies might restore the importance of the conventional battlefield to military affairs.

At least in part, Khrushchev's removal from power in 1964 reflected the Soviet military establishment's growing uneasiness over existing doctrinal trends. Although displeased with the reduced size, importance, and prestige of the ground forces, Soviet military leaders and theorists had temporarily accepted the validity of the revolution in military affairs as long as the United States retained clear nuclear superiority. As that superiority waned, however, and the United States shifted from the strategy of massive retaliation to one of flexible response, the conventional option once again appeared more attractive and feasible.

This transformation in Soviet military thought to renewed faith that warfare could be kept conventional took years to mature fully. First, it required that the Soviet Union checkmate US nuclear capabilities at each level: strategic, theater, and tactical. Then, as the world wearied of the specter of nuclear war, Soviet leaders believed that political conditions would become conducive to reducing the quantities of these weapons and, perhaps, fully or partially abolishing them. Were this to occur, warfare would return to the conventional realm in which the Soviets were far more capable, hence more comfortable. Meanwhile, Soviet military theorists sought to develop combat techniques that could deter the use or, should they be employed, at least neutralize the effects of enemy nuclear weapons. Specifically, the Soviet military began fashioning strategic, operational, and tactical combat techniques that could in the future make any opponent's decision to use nuclear weapons militarily irrational and increasingly unlikely.

The increased attention Soviet theorists paid to the conventional option and the operational level of war in general, and to operational maneuver in particular, provided clear evidence of this change in Soviet military thought. During the 1970s and well into the 1980s, the steady trickle of articles on conventional operational and tactical maneuver ultimately turned into a flood. The threatening presence of nuclear weapons in the European theater of war prompted this intensified study. If employed by the enemy, these awesome weapons placed in jeopardy the large maneuver forces deployed deep in the Soviets' rear area, either in the second echelon or in positions from which they could support the initial penetration operation and conduct the exploitation.

Therefore, Soviet theorists sought methods to neutralize or at least minimize the effects of those weapons. Based on this study, Soviet theorists formulated several concepts designed to remedy the problem. First, they transformed their traditional air offensive (developed in late 1942) into an air operation designated in part to strike and neutralize enemy nuclear weapons, particularly artillery, missiles, and aviation systems, deployed from the FLOT (forward line of troops) to the deep enemy rear. Second, they developed the concept of antinuclear maneuver (protivoyaderny manevr), expressed first in defensive terms.

Col. F. D. Sverdlov, a leading maneuver specialist, defined antinuclear maneuver as: "The organized shifting of subunits with the aim of withdrawing them out from under the possible blows of enemy nuclear means, to protect their survival and subsequent freedom of action to strike a blow on the enemy. Therefore, antinuclear maneuver is also one of the forms of maneuver." Soon, however, offensive measures "to disperse sub-units rapidly or change the direction of their offensive and to conduct other measures related to defense against weapons of mass destruction" complemented the defensive aspect of this maneuver.

As Soviet theorists developed techniques for employing contemporary operational and tactical maneuver forces, they carefully examined how these forces operated in their Great Patriotic War. In particular, because of their flexible configuration, wartime mobile groups and forward detachments seemed ideally suited to conduct antinuclear maneuver at both the operational and the tactical levels. Their organization and operating procedures during the war provided a sound basis for the emerging concepts of operational maneuver by groups - OMGs - and tactical maneuver by forward detachments.

At the same time, the Soviets de-emphasized the importance of operational second echelons (at the front and army level), because of their increased vulnerability to possible nuclear strikes, and began to emphasize the concept and utility of employing multiple operational maneuver forces and reserves at front and army level. Specifically, they recommended that fronts and armies concentrate the bulk of their forces well forward prior to launching an offensive and, once the offensive began, commit numerous operational maneuver groups into combat along multiple axes early in the operation. Tactical maneuver would pave the way for advancing operational maneuver forces and main force units. Employment of these antinuclear maneuver techniques provided increased opportunity to surprise the enemy with respect to the timing and form of the attack.

This modern variant for the employment of Operational Maneuver Groups had fully matured by the early 1980s, and Soviet ground force strength and composition reflected these new warfighting concepts. The steady growth of the ground forces increased its total strength to well over 200 divisions by 1985. As the ground forces expanded, formations (divisions) and units (regiments) grew in size, and, although the Soviet Army still tended to be armor heavy, its force structure increasingly reflected the combined-arms balance so essential for success in conventional operations. In particular, tank armies and divisions received additional mechanized infantry, and divisions were augmented with more personnel, tanks, and artillery to improve their strength and mobility. The Soviets also streamlined their logistical support structure to better support sustained deep conventional operations.

The Soviets developed, tested, and fielded a wide variety of new functional units necessary to support their expanded concepts of combat maneuver. Air-assault battalions and brigades at army and front level provided a new vertical dimension to both operational and tactical maneuver and, although fielding never occurred, thought was given to deploying smaller air-assault units at division level. Reconnaissance-diversionary (special designation [spetsial'nye naznacheniye, or SPETNAZ]) brigades at front level added a new dimension to deep operations by threatening security in a potential enemy's rear area. Assault helicopter formations employed as flying artillery or tanks assisted traditional aviation units in providing necessary air support for deep operating forces. In addition to these structural changes, the Soviets experimented with new types of maneuver forces whose organization closely resembled their former mobile groups and forward detachments.

The Soviets also modernized their specialized forces in accordance with new concepts of maneuver. They fully mechanized and restructured their airborne divisions by equipping them with the BMD combat vehicle and assault guns. They reorganized their naval infantry regiments into brigades, formed their first naval infantry divisions, and provided each with an air-assault capability. Throughout their force structure, the Soviets streamlined logistics by creating materiel support units at the tactical and operational levels. By implementing these and other changes during the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviets sought to create more flexible forces capable of performing the critical functions of tactical and operational maneuver in theater war.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2018 19:20:25 ZULU