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Special Operations Forces Command (SSO)

A major source of information on spetsnaz up to the 1980's is the little book "Spetsnaz: The Inside Story of the Soviet Special Forces" (1987). Much of what was known about military spetsnaz units came from the former spetsnaz officer who identified himself as Viktor Suvorov. Having come out of the shadows, Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun, aka "Viktor Suvorov," was responsible for much of the factual and misleading information about the recruitment, training and operation of military spetsnaz personnel. Suffice it to say that much of the author's books contain a fair amount of fiction, open-source material, and suppositions that were later proven false. Subsequent writers and spetsnaz members have written more definitively on the subject of spetsnaz and have corrected many of earlier presupposed beliefs.

The main differences between spetsnaz forces of the special services (spetssluzhbi) and those of the military (ground and naval forces), are their missions, armament, and command and control. While both types of spetsnaz have peacetime and wartime missions, military spetsnaz units are only fully operational during war. Moreover, military spetsnaz units are typically better trained, are better equipped, and are more tightly controlled than those in the special service units.

The Soviet military's love for the prefix “spets” (special), pointing to the existence of “special” troops like chemical, highway and pipeline units, is seen in the use of terms like “special services” (spetsobsluzhivanie), “special equipment” (spetsoborudovanie), and “special designation” (spetsnaznachenie — the source of the contraction spetsnaz); and the creation of Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) spetsnaz subunits and “even” MVD militia detachments of special (osobyi) designation (the now-famous OMON). Such spetsnaz units exist in Russia, not only in the army, but in all of the country's other "force ministries" as well.

Whether or not a unit is "elite," is defined, for the most part, by three things: by fulfilling a special function or mission distinct from that of the army as a whole, by its special equipment: material, technical, etc., and by the amount of money spent on the unit. All the rest--a special way of selecting personnel, special training - is secondary. In addition, service in such units is always considered prestigious and thus the spetsnaz has rarely experienced a shortage of people wishing to fill its ranks.

The Special Operations Forces Command (SSO) was established in early 2012. The strategic reserve consists of the MoD’s Special Operations Center (TsSN MO) under the auspices of the SSO. During the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, Army special operations units (Spetsnaz) were used in up to 75-80 per cent of the missions. In Chechnya the figure was 70-90 per cent. Each of the Central OSK’s two regional sub-divisions has an independent special operations brigade.

There were ongoing discussions in the Russian media about the possibility of establishing a Russian Special Operations Command, structured similarly to, or possibly subordinated to the Russian Airborne Forces. Russian media sources have been rife with reports of how command and control of a Russian Special Operations Forces Command could evolve. It is possible that the command staff of the Special Operations Forces (SSO) now being created will be subordinate to the SBR.

An independent Rapid Reaction Forces branch could be established, with a Special Operations Forces Command falling beneath it. The Rapid Reaction Forces branch would be organized along the lines of the Airborne Forces, and would be considered an organizational equal with the other lesser branches of the Armed Forces (Strategic Rocket Forces, Airborne Forces, Aerospace Forces). Or Special Operations Forces could fall under the Airborne Forces branch, with the Special Operations Forces Command being integrated into the Airborne Forces Command command structure. For obvious reasons, this is the command and control structure being proposed by Commander of Airborne Forces Colonel General Shamanov.

The Joint Chiefs and the Foreign Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) asked Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in October 2012 to deal with the question of the necessity of creating a Special Operations Command (KSO) in Russia. The project was presented by representatives of the Joint [Chiefs of] Staff and GRU to then Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov for his consideration,” the source said, but he rejected it, without explanation, as "not expedient".

According to the project, the KSO will consist of the following: a Defense Ministry special-purpose center called Senezh, which would answer directly to the minister; a SWAT team from one of the military districts; a helicopter squadron from the Center for Deployment and Retraining of Military Pilots (TsBP) at the Torzhok Air Base; and a squadron of transport Il-76s from the Migalovo airfield near Tver.

The KSO will be charged with carrying out emergency missions, such as freeing hostages on enemy territory, evacuating citizens from local conflict zones, and liquidating band formations. In a large-scale war, these commandos would be the ones to take out the enemy leadership, strategic sites, communication hubs, launch facilities for nuclear missiles, etc.

The Soviets defined unconventional warfare as a variety of military and paramilitary operations which include partisan warfare, subversion and sabotage (conducted during both peace and war), assassination, and other covert or clandestine special operations. These missions are assigned to special units of the Committee of State Security (KGB--Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopusnosti), to the Soviet General Staff's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU-Glavnoe Razvedyvatelnoe Upravienie), and to airborne, ground, and naval forces, all of which possess Spetsnaz forces.

UW activities are managed at the highest level of government authority. The Committee for State Security (KGB) and the Main Intelligence Division (GRU) of the General Staff are the most likely agencies to screen, recruit, select, and train UW personnel. These agencies also can be assumed to plan and execute Soviet UW operations. UW activities are protected by stringent security measures. Unconventional warfare (UW) consists of a variety of military and paramilitary operations. UW includes partisan warfare, subversion, and sabotage, conducted during periods of peace and war. It also includes other operations of a coven or clandestine nature.

Past Examples of Unconventional Warfare -

  • Bolsheviks employed partisan guerrilla units against the Czarists and other opponents during the Russian Civil War of 1917-20.
  • Soviet partisan forces were used extensively against the Germans during World War II.
  • Special purpose troops were used to crush resistance to Soviet domination over Eastern Europe.
  • Soviet special purpose forces were used in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to arrest Czech leadership and secure key objec-tives in Prague.
  • Soviet special purpose forces played an important role in the invasion of Afghanistan and the elimination of President Amin.

Unconventional warfare (UW) was a key element of Soviet doctrine. Soviet UW capabilities constitute a formidable threat. UW forces conduct reconnaissance, espionage, sabotage, assassination, and interdiction of lines of communications. Unconventional warfare is designed primarily to support a surprise attack Before the start of hostilities, clandestine operations in the target area increase the probability of destructionof key targets well before enemy rear area security measures are heightened. The Soviets also appreciated the important role that UW can play in support of a main offensive. Even if there is success in only part of the planned UWopera-tions, it may be enough to disorganize the enemy and to insure that Soviet forces can seize and maintain the initiative.

Unconventional warfare missions are divided into three basic categories: strategic, operational, and tactical. The principal differences in the missions are the level of command and control used and the nature of the targets engaged. The overall objectives are similar: weaken military capabilities of target country, and support follow-on conventional military operations.

Strategic UW missions were controlled by the KGB, now the FSB. UW forces conduct strategic missions in the enemy's heartland to reduce the enemy's ability to continue the war. Selected regular airborne forces also may perform strategic UW missions. These are not normal airborne missions which generally require coordination with front-line operations. Rather, small elite airborne groups operate at great depths behind enemy lines.

Operational UW missions in support of the front and subordinate armies are carried out under the control of the fron commander. Airborne forces GRU special purpose units, and army sabotage or reconnaissance units may perform these missions. their primary objective is to destroy or neutralize enemy nuclear means within the front's area of operation, to a depth of 350 to 1,000 kilometers. Tactical UW missions are conducted in support of divisions and are similar to the operational missions described. Tactical missions are carried out on a smaller scale and directed at targets in the division's area. The divisional reconnaissance battalion has a limited capability to perform raids to a depth of 100 kilometers.

The regular Armed Forces maintain elite airborne units, special sabotage and reconnaissance units, and special long-range reconnaissance units for UW missions. The most powerful and numerous are the airborne troops under the direct control of the General Staff in Moscow. Some of these airborne units are designated as "special purpose" troops. They operate in small groups against key political, military, command and control, and transportation and indus-trial targets in the enemy rear area.

The potential for UW is not limited to special FSB and elite airborne units. The General Staff's GRU maintains a number of small special purpose units. These units are concerned primarily with UW activities in direct support of combat operations. Their main tasks include preparing for the landing of airborne units behind enemy lines, recon-naissance and intelligence reporting on nuclear delivery means and other vital military targets, sabotage, disruption, neutralization of keypolitical and military personnel, and possibly the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

A Soviet special purpose brigade was assigned to and controlled at front level. Soviet armies and divisions also had groups within their reconnaissance units that are capable of conducting long-range UW operations.

While a great deal is now known about the Russian special operations forces or spetsnaz, there remains much more to be told about their historical development and deployment. The spetsnaz soldier of the 21st century faced numerous challenges. Budget shortfalls, equipment shortages, and heavy reliance on contract soldiers would greatly affect the Russian MOD's ability to prepare for peacekeeping operations and operations other than war. Nevertheless, the spetsnazovets remains a valuable tool for use by the Russian military as a response to low intensity operations and full scale conflicts of the future.




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