October 8, 2012

War Games in the Caucasus

The extensive Kavkaz-2012 (Caucasus-2012) military exercises, completed in southern Russia in the second half of September, were mostly characterised in the media as war games aimed at safeguarding internal security.
The manoeuvres were conducted against the backdrop of continued volatility in the North Caucasus and the Sochi Winter Olympic Games looming large on the horizon.
But in fact the Kavkaz-2012 manoeuvres could contain the seeds of preparations for a full-scale conventional conflict that would involve Russia and its neighbouring countries.

The extensive Kavkaz-2012 (Caucasus-2012) military exercises, completed in southern Russia in the second half of September, were mostly characterised in the media as war games aimed at safeguarding internal security.
The manoeuvres were conducted against the backdrop of continued volatility in the North Caucasus and the Sochi Winter Olympic Games looming large on the horizon.
But in fact the Kavkaz-2012 manoeuvres could contain the seeds of preparations for a full-scale conventional conflict that would involve Russia and its neighbouring countries.

The exercises were held in September 17–23 and involved an extensive ‘theatre of operations’, covering large parts of the Russian Joint Strategic Command (JSC) ‘South’ from the Black Sea to the west and from the Caspian Sea to the east.

The activities of the ground troops concentrated mainly on the four training ranges in the immediate vicinity of the North Caucasus, located in Krasnodar Krai and in the Astrakhan Oblast, but also, for example, in Dagestan itself.

There are two key considerations that should be stressed in this connection.

First, the scenario of Kavkaz-2012 contained unambiguous references to a full-scale conventional war. For example, the exercise included countering amphibious assault force that had landed near Novorossiysk.
The Russian counterattack involved an entire motorised rifles brigade with support from artillery, attack helicopters and attack aircraft.

At the same time, bombers targeted the supply columns and combat forces in the rear area of a hypothetical ‘conventional enemy’. Moreover, Tu-160 and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers used precision-guided munitions (probably cruise missiles) to carry out simulated strikes against high value enemy targets deep in the rear.

According to Russian military analyst Alexander Goltz, it is probable that Russian strategic bombers also simulated tactical nuclear strikes against enemy forces in the framework of the above episode (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, September 20, 2012).

Together with its participating units and battle equipment (see below), the scenario of Kavkaz-2012 clearly indicates preparations for full-scale conventional warfare.
Admittedly, the identity of the potential enemy whom the Russian General Staff has in mind is a separate issue, the reason being that the region does not host any states that have the capability to launch conventional offensive operations against Russia…

Second, in parallel with Kavkaz-2012 in Russia, military exercises were also conducted in Armenia: under the title of Vzaimodeistviye-2012 (Cooperation-2012) the units of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO, the so-called military wing of the CIS) rehearsed joint operations there.
The event primarily involved units from the Russian armed forces (one battalion of the 98th Airborne Division) and from the Armenian armed forces, but also the special forces units of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, from Kazakhstan and from Kyrgyzstan.

The Vzaimodeistviye-2012 drills in Armenia were also subordinated to the Russian JSC ‘South’, which makes it reasonable to assume that although the exercises in Russia and in Armenia were formally separate, they represented in essence the constituent parts of one and the same strategic war game (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 18, 2012).

Russia employed the same modus operandi in 2009 when strategic large-scale exercises in the European part of Russia and in Belarus were formally divided into two different events– Zapad-2009 and Ladoga-2009 (see Kaarel Kaas, “Words and Steel,” Postimees, September 19, 2009).

The above two circumstances in combination may leave the impression that the Russian General Staff is getting ready for a possible conventional armed conflict in the South Caucasus – a region that incorporates Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and is in direct contact with Iran and the energy-rich Caspian basin.

Some further aspects should also be highlighted in connection with Kavkaz-2012:

•The exercise was based on the joint operations concept, which means that units from various services and branches were placed under unified operational command. In addition, the FSB and units from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and other civilian institutions were also subordinated to the same chain of command.

•Special emphasis was laid on the testing of network-centric warfare systems (in Russian terminology, these are referred to as ‘automated command-and-control systems’) which were used by the units of the 7th Air Assault Division and the 5th Motorised Rifles Brigade.

•One of the key focuses was on the use of precision-guided and stand-off munitions, particularly air-launched weapons (air-launched cruise missiles, ‘smart’ bombs, etc.). A significant part of Russia’s most modern weapons systems was involved in the exercise, e.g. Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile systems and S-400 long-range air defence systems.

•As with Russia’s previous strategic exercises, units and formations rehearsed strategic force projection within Russia, e.g. the 5th Motorised Rifles Brigade is based in Alabino near Moscow; the brigades equipped with Iskander-Ms are located near Pskov and in Kaliningrad; air defence units equipped with S-400s are located near Moscow and in Kaliningrad.

A selection of the units and equipment used during the exercise:

•Black Sea Fleet vessels and naval infantry units; Northern Fleet vessels

•Caspian Flotilla vessels and naval infantry units

•Units of the 7th Air Assault Division

•Units of the 98th Airborne Division (Vzaimodeistviye-2012)

•5th Motorised Rifles Brigade (based in Alabino, Moscow Oblast)

•102nd military base (in Armenia, Vzaimodeistviye-2012)

•Operational group from the 4th military base in South Ossetia

•Iskander-M and Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile systems

•More than forty Su-24M bombers and Su-25SM attack aircraft

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