The Vehicle Puzzle

The GENFORCE-Mobile organizational chart got the then-still-in-development BTR-90‘s stats wrong. It’s both too light (at 17 metric tons compared to the 21 of the real one), and more importantly has too many dismounts (ten as opposed to seven I’ve seen in every real source). The real BTR-90 was cursed by coming right as the USSR fell, but in many ways it was also just a wheeled BMP-2, so its lack of entry into service is understandable.

But I thought (both for the All Union story and for my own fun) “Well, what if you could get a vehicle with ten dismounts?” The squad would grow to USMC size (two or three in the vehicle plus ten dismounts), and it presents a very tricky puzzle: Get a vehicle that is fit for a mobile corps (so it has to be viable in direct combat, both offensively and defensively), can carry ten dismounted troops as standard, and can’t be too big or heavy. If you want heavier weapons, it basically needs a remote uncrewed turret to not tip the scales. It’s not technologically impossible by a long short, but tradeoffs will have to be made.

Finally, the big squad means I can finally introduce my “eastern fireteam” concept I rejected for the next-gen BMP. Which makes more tactical sense, since doctrinally they’ll be fighting away from their vehicle more often, especially in rough terrain or as part of a tactical heliborne operation. So they need to be (theoretically) better in terms of both equipment and skill.

As for how it works, well, I’m writing right now a chapter where such a motorized rifle unit storms a Romanian town…

Weird Wargaming: The Mobile Corps Squad

So first I must say that I owe a lot to the Battle Order website and channel for inspiring me. Go check it out. Anyway, the GENFORCE-Mobile document, while a tour de force overall, has surprisingly little on the absolute smallest unit tactics. It does say that the basic and mobile forces do use very similar tactics (it’s just the latter have more training on them). Anyway, there isn’t much to say for the high-intensity doctrine. Primarily use lines, squads are unitary without teams, the vehicle commander doubles as squad leader, and that’s that.

The table of orders and equipment does (by virtue of looking at quantities of in a platoon), have one RPK variant and one RPG variant (marked as an RPG-29 in that example) per squad in the mobile forces, similar to historical practice. The company weapons platoon has an array of light ATGMs (marked as Metis, but those would probably be superseded) and PKM belt-fed machine guns.

(Strangely, the early 199X OPFOR squad is actually weaker on paper dismounted than its predecessors, with only one magazine machine gun instead of two belt-fed ones).

Soviet unitary squad line. From DDI-1100-7-776, The Soviet Motor Rifle Company, 1976

The legacy regular army, basic forces, or whatever you call them uses this doctrine relatively unchanged. But what about the new ones?

I had the Sovereign Union’s mobile corps using tank-based IFVs. There have been similar attempts in actual history, yet I figured these would be the more interesting. Basically the priorities shift a lot here. The historical BMP-3 is skewed in exactly the wrong direction. Instead of a glass cannon packed with all kinds of boom-makers, the focus is on shielding the newly-important resource with tank-level armor.

So in this timeline the BMP-3 is one of those things that only sees small amounts of use in its home country, but nonetheless achieves success on the export market. The Mobile Corps in All Union primarily rode into Romania with either BMP-2s or IFVs based on existing tank platforms. Whereas the historical T-64 APC proposals were an act of desperation, these have a deliberate goal of more protection and mass production ability, similar to the Israeli tank-APCs of real life.

Two real Soviet surplus IFV proposals are two from Ukraine, the circa 36 ton “Vavilon” on the T-64 chassis and the 46 ton “Berserk” on the T-84 (upgraded T-80) one. Apart from trading protection (the Vavilon was advertised as having STANAG 6 30mm AP protection and being able to withstand a 125mm round from 500 meters, likely against the front) for weight and logistical issues, the armament is pretty standard IFV fare: A 30mm autocannon, various machine guns and grenade launchers, and ATGMs. Crew of both is three for the vehicle itself and up to eight dismounts.

Now for the fun part.

Option A: 7+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), 1-2x machine gunner (LMG), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 1x rifle grenadier (self explanatory), 2-3x riflemen (rifle). One of the riflemen could be a “deputy leader” who commands dismounts when the commander stays with the vehicle.

This is the smallest and most conservative organization. It’s designed to duplicate the BMP procedure of having one empty paper-strength seat so that platoon/company troops can ride along. It fights like a standard unitary squad.

Option B: 8+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), deputy commander (rifle), 2x machine gunner (LMG), 0-1x marksman (DMR), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 2-3x riflemen (rifle, possibly one with underbarrel).

This also fights as a unitary squad, although a marksman is moved to squad level and the deputy commander who controls the dismounts is a permanent table position. Still fights as a simple unitary squad. Marksman is optional

Option C: 4-4-3 Fireteam

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW). Fireteam A: Team leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo for MG/RPG). Fireteam B: Team Leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo)

This is a massive divergence and features the dawn of the fireteam, with two four-man elements and two RPG launchers (with one of the riflemen possibly a marksman). Naturally, more advanced formations and dismounted maneuvers are used.

My personal choice for the sake of the All Union story would be Option B. It’s still similar enough to be comfortable, informal task-organized teams can still easily be formed if need be, but is also more advanced. Not just having a squad marksman but in having a specific dismount commander, which makes it easier for the APC to act as part of a separate “armored group“.

Mobile Corps Artillery

Indirect fire assets available to a GENFORCE mobile corps. As expected, they have a lot of them. The basic forces are largely equipped and organized with 1990-era Soviet equipment.

Battalion

Combined arms battalions have a…. something of 24 2S31 120mm gun-mortars at paper strengths. Why the “something”? It’s because it’s called a battalion in the document, but feels a little awkward to have a battalion under the command of a battalion. It’s just as confusing in Russian, where it’s a variant of the word “division” equivalent to a western battalion of artillery or missiles-yet a different variant of “division” is a classical multi-regiment/brigade division. Anyway, the battalion’s battalion/division-whatever takes the place of the classic regimental 2S1 formation.

The other indirect-capable (if clumsy) asset is the four 2A45 Sprut 125mm AT guns in the battalion’s anti-tank battery. While the USSR used towed anti-tank guns in the classic TD role throughout its existence, it also used everything for indirect fire. Although firing tank ammunition and only having a max elevation of 25 degrees, a big cannon is a big cannon is a big cannon.

Light motor rifle battalions used for infantry-dominant areas and heliborne operations have 8 towed 82mm 2B14 mortars and just as many 2B16 Nona-K 120mm towed gun/mortars.

Brigade

Intended to be treated similarly the Basic Forces division, combined arms brigades have an organic artillery regiment. This consists of 54 six-inch SPHs (the 2S19 Msta is the default) and 18 light multiple rocket launchers (the default is the “Prima”, a version of the BM-21 with 50 tubes per truck instead of 40). The artillery regiment has its own set of organic spotter drones.

Light motor rifle brigades, which are used for a similar role as the battalions mentioned above, only larger, have 18 MRLs, 36 towed 2A65 Msta-Bs, and 18 2A61 light 152mms (Think a smaller, lighter 152mm gun with muzzle brake on a three-pronged D-30 carriage).

Corps

The combined arms corps has two missile brigades with eighteen surface-to-surface missile TELs each (Tochka/SS-21 in the document, but anything in that category could be used). It also has a multiple rocket launcher brigade with 72 medium MRLs (default is BM-27, but again, anything in that ballpark). Rounding it out is an artillery brigade of Giatsints- 48 towed and 48 self-propelled.

The corps air assault battalion has eight 2S9 Nonas.

Front/Strategic Grouping

Fronts will have brigades/regiments, usually lumped into one administrative artillery division of the weapons mentioned above and 2S7 eight-inch SPHs. They will also usually have a rocket brigade of the 9A52/BM-30 Smerch or something similar (bigger than a BM-27, that’s for sure), as well as longer-ranged ballistic and cruise missiles.

The guns and multiple rocket launchers are almost always pushed down to army and corps-level artillery groups in battle.

The Armored Group

Looking at the 1990s OPFOR documents, a “new” (well, newer in a formal sense) type of formation arises: The “armored group” (bronegruppa). It’s important to note the history of Soviet-style doctrine beforehand. The stereotype, often true, is of formations operating as entire units for a certain task. Thus a formation (generally a company as the smallest) will as an entire unit operate as one arm of an attack or another. In defense one formation will sit and fire behind fortifications while another will act as the counterattack/reserve.

The armored group is ad hoc by nature. Formed with a number of armored vehicles usually equivalent to slightly more than a platoon (although GENFORCE-Mobile mentions ones slightly smaller than a company if the parent unit is big enough to handle it), the key is the following:

  • The tanks operate away from their parent unit.
  • More crucially and importantly, the IFVs operate “empty”, with their infantry having already dismounted.

The use of an armored group depends on the situation, of course. Examples given in the GENFORCE-Mobile and Heavy OPFOR Tactical documents are:

  • Sweeping around to hit the side while the dismounted infantry and main force attacks from a different axis.
  • Serving as the base of fire while the dismounted infantry and supporting arms do the sweep.
  • Acting as a reserve/pursuit force, especially one that can quickly roar in and (however temporarily) block off a route from a retreating foe.
  • Acting as a counterattack force on the defensive.

The armored group’s origins come from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, where such formations were used in an irregular, nonlinear, frequently rough-terrain war.

How Big Would The Mobile Forces Have Been?

The GENFORCE concept featured an eastern OPFOR divided into legacy “Basic” and more advanced, mixed, “Mobile” forces. Yet how many formations of the latter would plausibly exist in a nation the size of the USSR?

I found a possible answer in a 1985 CIA analysis called “Trends And Developments in Warsaw Pact Theater Forces, 1985-2000” (a great source for a continued Cold War in its own right). The mobile combined arms corps, effectively a big division, is mentioned.

Obviously assuming a surviving USSR and Warsaw Pact, the document estimated that nine such corps would be ready by 2000. Three of these would be in the western theater, two in the southwestern, and one on in the northwest. Two would be in the Far East and one in the south/middle east.

180,000 personnel would be needed from a napkin calc of corps numbers x paper strength of each corps. It’s actually closer to the actual number than most because existing tail assets could be used to support them. However, there will be undoubtedly more people than that necessary, especially to have them achieve their full potential.

The problem isn’t getting that many soldiers. It’s getting that many good soldiers, especially because these mobile corps are specifically designed to be better and more complex tactically than previous line formations. And because they have to compete with the airborne and naval infantry for the best inductees.

Interestingly, the document itself also mentions the possibility of the tank divergences continuing, with the basic forces (word choice deliberate) getting a less exotic model and the mobile corps getting a more out-there one. This would also coincidentally make two bureaus/plants very happy instead of one, so I can see it happening.

It’s an interesting document in any case.

My OPFOR Countries

Screenwriter Stephen E. de Souza has a catch-all Latin American country called “Val Verde” he uses whenever a politically neutral country in that part of the world is required for one of his movies. (In Arnold’s Commando, John Matrix wiped out the entire military of Val Verde by himself.) I have made several Val Verdes in my brain that I’m in the process of putting down in writing, and which may become more than just an order of battle chart.

They are:

Cardona

Cardona is the conventionally weakest OPFOR country and the closest to de Souza’s Val Verde in terms of theme. It draws from both South American and Southeast Asian influences (if I wanted to be really shameless, I could have it have large conveniently Spanish-speaking regions and equally large parts with native Asian languages.)

Cardona’s military is large in numerical terms but lightly equipped and is focused on internal control rather than external invasion. It also has no shortage of irregular groups of all shapes and sizes.

Seleucia

Named for the Seleucid Empire, Seleucia is a catch-all Middle Eastern OPFOR country. Like its namesake, it features terrain from the Mediterranean to the Altais. A diverse and fractious nation, it is at times (ie, when the scenario calls for it) a strong state and at times a weak one. But even at its conventionally weakest, it’s still more powerful in material terms than Cardona is.

Seleucia can be the opponent in everything from irregular warfare to Gulf War level major battles. It also can have nuclear weapons in some cases.

Teutonia

Named after a form of Germany, Teutonia is the developed western European country. The most technologically advanced of these states for the time period, it was once a world power and remains a continental one.

In addition, Teutonian exports are found all over the world, including in the other two mentioned countries. Teutonia is a nuclear power if the tech level of the scenario allows it.

All three will be elaborated on, possibly in prose form… (winks)

The Hungry King

High-intensity warfare uses up a LOT of artillery shells. Like, a lot. How much? Well, these charts from the Light OPFOR Tactical (for eastern calibers) and FM 101-10-1/2, 1987 edition (for western calibers) give a notional example. They’re not identical-the OPFOR norms chart is shells fired towards a target while the FM 101-10-1 one is shells used up by a certain artillery piece per day-but they both show how much metal and explosive is going to fly (the answer: A lot).

Artillery is called the “king of battle”, and the king can get very, very hungry sometimes. Moving large quantities of heavy, highly explosive shells is no small feat, and to succeed or fail with that task means the difference between victory and defeat. A conventional Fuldapocalyptic World War III in the 1980s would have a massive quantity of artillery shells fired every day.

The Plutonium Red Team Study

In the mid-1990s, a “Red Team” (simulated adversary) was launched by the Sandia national laboratory. It looked at all the processes for disposing of excess plutonium (especially after the fall of the USSR) and studied their potential vulnerabilities for unsavory acquisition of nuclear materials. The report is a very interesting read.

Everything from fuel assemblies to mixed/ceramic encased disposed plutonium is studied. The vulnerabilities studied include both accessing it at the storage site and separating the weapons-usable material. It’s quite interesting, yet gives the impression that most nuclear thieves would need to be employed by either a state or the cast of Payday 2. Which is kind of the point, showing the difference between more and less plausible points of failure.

Review: The Russian Way of War

The Russian Way of War

One of the biggest surprises of the initial part of the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War was that the former did not fight according to its paper doctrine. At all. Lester Grau and Charles Bartles The Russian Way of War is an excellent attempt at explaining said doctrine for a western audience. As anyone who’s studied them knows, they’ve left quite the paper trail. While sources like the VDV Textbooks Collection can provide them online in Russian fairly handily, this translates them to English.

And it translates them to English well. I have a few quibbles. The biggest is the authors taking an overly optimistic view of vehicle adoption, perhaps taking propaganda sources a little too much at face value. But the rest of it is well-done and evenhanded. The only real “problem” I’ve noticed is that I’ve read so many OPFOR documents that much of what they’re saying is already familiar.

But that’s a good “problem” to have, and I was still enlightened by this book. Every wargamer wanting to do missile-age combat involving the Soviets/Russians should read this.