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Airborne Assault Troops [VDV] - Organization

The Airborne Division has two [formerly three] BMD-equipped airborne regiments. Division-level support elements include an artillery regiment, an air defense battalion, an assault gun battalion, an engineer battalion, a signal battalion, a transportation and maintenance battalion, a parachute rigging and resupply battalion, a medical battalion, a chemical defense company, and a reconnaissance company.

The airborne division is almost fully equipped with motorized equipment. This significantly increases its combat power and mobility while retaining an airdrop capability for most of its equipment. The airborne division has the BMD AAICV in all of its airborne (infantry) regiments. An artillery regiment, an assault gun (ASU-85) battalion, and an antiaircraft battalion provide essential CS. The introduction of the 2S9 SP howitzer as a replacement for towed artillery will increase mobility. Also, the airborne division has other CS and CSS units that provide limited backup for combat operations.

The Airborne Regiment consists of three BMD-equipped airborne battalions, a mortar battery, an antiaircraft battery, and an antitank battery. Regimental support elements include an engineer company, a signal company, a transport and maintenance company, a parachute rigging and resupply company, a medical platoon, and a chemical defense platoon, and a supply and service platoon.

The airborne regiment has a nucleus of three airborne battalions and three fire support subunits. These fire support subunits include one mortar battery, one ATGM battery, and one AA battery. There are other elements that support the combat elements. Each regiment now has over 100 BMDs in three different configurations. The basic BMD-I is the standard squad vehicle. Air defense and automatic grenade launcher platoons within battalions use the BMD M1979/1. The BMD-1 KSh serves as a command vehicle at battalion and regimental headquarters. By adding the BMD to such an extent, the VDV upgraded troop protection, mobility, and firepower while retaining air-droppability. Only a few items within airborne regiments are not air-droppable (for example, several trucks).

The Airborne Battalion has three airborne companies. Equipping airborne companies with BMDs has eliminated the need for a battalion-level antitank battery. Furthermore, the wide distribution of man-portable, surface-to-air missiles has eliminated the need for a battalion air defense section. The airborne battalion is designed to provide command, control, and limited communication, supply, and medical support.

The Airborne Company consists of three platoons of BMDs. There are three BMDs in each platoon (one per squad). Besides the heavily-armed BMD, basic weapons of the airborne company include modern assault rifles, light machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, ATGMs, and numerous RPGs and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

The airborne division's artillery regiment consists primarily of two firing battalions. The first is a 122-mm towed howitzer (D-30) battalion with 18 tubes. The other is a composite battalion with twelve D-30s and six 122-mm rocket launchers (BM-21V). The artillery regiment also has limited organic support elements.

After 2005, the VDV formed three components:

  • airborne (the main) – the 98th Guards Airborne Division and the 106th Guards Airborne Division composed of 2 regiments each;
  • air assault – the 76th Guards Air Assault Division (AAD) composed of 2 regiments, and the 31st separate air assault brigade (SAABR) composed of 3 battalions;
  • mountain – the 7th Guards Guards Air Assault Division (Mountain).

The Russian Federation also had four Separate Air Assault Brigades that belong to the appropriate military district/JSK commander, a holdover from a similar command and control relationship in Soviet times.

The main maneuver units of the Russian Airborne Forces branch consisted in 2013 of two Airborne Divisions, two Air Assault Divisions, and one Separate Air Assault Brigade.

The Russian military assigned an additional three air assault brigades to the Airborne Forces (VDV) in order to boost its rapid reaction capability in future conflicts, VDV commander Col. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov said 31 July 2013. “The Airborne Troops will become the core of Russia’s rapid reaction forces, and in order to ensure that…the paratroopers are capable of performing this task, I proposed to the Russian military leadership to reassign three air assault brigades from the Eastern and Southern military districts to the VDV,” Shamanov said. “My proposal was approved,” he said, adding the brigades could join the Airborne Forces as early as October or November 2013.

There are plans to create a fourth brigade. These units’ reconnaissance companies are being bolstered to the size of battalions, and independent regiments (special-operations and communications) are becoming brigades. The regiments are being given army aviation companies; at some point in the future the VDV service will have one or two army aviation brigades. The VDV units are also being given their own UAV companies, which will eventually become UAV squadrons. Finally, there are plans for each VDV division to get a third airborne (or airborne assault) regiment; they now have two such regiments apiece.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) board on 29 April 2020 that the Russian Airborne Forces would receive their ninth and tenth battalions of BMD-4M airborne infantry fighting vehicles in 2020. Unlike other mechanized units, which use a variety of APCs and IFVs such as the BMP series, BTR series, and MT-LB, the VDV uses BMD family vehicles exclusively [Boyevaya Mashina Desanta = Battle Vehicle Desant, "desant" = assault]. In March the Russian Airborne Forces received the eighth battalion kit of upgraded BMD-4M IFVs, two more BMD-4M battalion kits will be delivered before the end of the year.

By the middle of the 2020s, Russia will form airmobile brigades in four strategic directions to be better prepared for ‘grey zone’ conflicts. A critical fact about airmobile brigades is that Russia can use them for pre-emptive strikes, such as the destruction of critical targets or capture of strategic objectives. The ability to fight in so-called grey zones will become crucial in the future. The concept of grey zones does not only apply to geographical areas; it also has a temporal dimension.

In the future, it will be increasingly difficult to pinpoint the exact starting point of hostilities, define the boundaries of an area of operations, or identify the enemy. Airmobile brigades, whose tasks include supporting units that act separately from the main forces or partisan combat behind enemy lines, fit well into this pattern.

The formation of airmobile, or “new type”, assault units in the Airborne Forces is a major objective of the Russian armed forces during the 2020s. The army brigades and naval infantry already have a small number of airmobile units, but these are predominantly intended for reconnaissance operations and “small tactical episodes”. In contrast to the existing units, which do not have organic subunits with their own aircraft, the new airmobile units are more independent and, most importantly, are equipped with helicopters and do not depend on the support of other units for relocation.

Russia developed its concept of airmobile units in 2018, building on the experience of the US, China and other countries. Since 2018, airmobile units have been tested in all major exercises (Vostok 2018, Tsentr 2019 and Kavkaz 2020). The 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade based in Ulyanovsk is an experimental unit. The plan is to replace the existing units of the Airborne Forces with four airmobile brigades – one for each strategic direction. The 31st Airmobile Brigade in Ulyanovsk will cover the western strategic direction, while the brigade to be established in the Orenburg Oblast will cover the Central Asia strategic direction. The units to be set up based on the 56th and 83rd Guards Air Assault Brigades will cover the southwestern and eastern strategic directions, respectively.

Public sources are flooded with distorted information concerning the formation of airmobile units – from the deadlines for forming the new brigades to speculation about their composition and weapons. The formation of the airmobile brigades is unlikely to occur before 2025. Establishing new brigades is not easy. Currently, Mi-28N attack helicopters are used to perform fire support functions for airmobile units. Helicopters specifically designed for airmobile units should be introduced by the middle of the decade. The aim is also to replace the existing fleet of vehicles by adding amphibious capabilities and stronger armor and upgrading the weaponry on the vehicles. However, several parts of the Russian armaments programs have been stalled or suspended (partially due to sanctions). Russia’s ability to fully implement the armaments program for the airmobile brigades is therefore uncertain.

Another problem is the scarcity of human resources. Many units in the Russian armed forces, including critical units, are still understaffed. They are trying to conceal this fact. Each new airmobile brigade is likely to be 4,000 to 4,500 strong. While there are currently around 10,000 troops in the existing four guards air assault brigades, the new "brigades" are to have between 16,000 and 17,000 - these would be very large for Soviet/Russian divisions, much less brigades. Even if the existing helicopter squadrons are included, it is clear that more people need to be found for the new brigades. The cost of forming the airmobile brigades may be the liquidation of the 11th Guards Air Assault Brigade.

This shortage of people is aggravated by the outflow and bad quality of human resources, as well as a low motivation to serve. Competition for admission to Russian military academies (including the most prestigious ones) remains at a low level and will affect the officer corps’ quality in the future.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:24:16 ZULU