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Strategic Rocket Forces

In the Soviet era, the strategic rocket forces (SRF) were established as the elite service of the nation's military because they have the vital mission of operating long- and medium-range missiles with nuclear warheads. They remained so in the mid-1990s. In 1996 the SRF had about 100,000 troops, of which about half were conscripts; the SRF has the highest proportion of well-educated officers among the armed services. The SRF also is the only service with an active force modernization program.

Russia's report for the CFE Treaty indicated the existence of ten SRF missile bases within the European scope of the treaty, including sites at Plesetsk (north of Moscow), Kapustin Yar (near Volgograd), Vladimir (east of Moscow), Vypolzovo (northwest of Moscow), Yoshkar Ola (in the Republic of Mari El), Kozel'sk (southwest of Moscow), Tatishchevo (north of Volgograd), Teykovo (northeast of Moscow), and Surovatikha (south of Nizhniy Novgorod). Indicating the priority given air defense of the European sector, Russia listed only four additional missile bases outside the CFE Treaty reporting area, at Nizhniy Tagil, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, and Kansk. There is a training regiment at the missile test facility near Plesetsk and another at the Kapustin Yar test facility. Russia has continued the reduction in strategic missile inventory required under START I, although at a pace slower than the United States would like. By mid-1996 all nuclear warheads on former Soviet SRF missiles in Kazakstan and Ukraine had been returned to Russia or destroyed, and all missiles were scheduled to leave Belarus by the end of 1996 (see Nuclear Arms Issues, this ch.).

The Russian SRF missile inventory not only is shrinking in response to treaty requirements but also is changing in character. The new SS-25 Topol is the only system suited to Russian strategic requirements and acceptable under the requirements of START I, so rocket production efforts will concentrate on this model for the foreseeable future.

The Topol is fielded in SRF regiments comprising three battalions totaling nine launch vehicles. In 1996 forty such regiments were operational. Several older operational ICBM systems also remained in the field. These included an SS-17 regiment of ten silos, six SS-18 silo fields totaling 222 missiles with multiple warheads, four SS-19 silo fields totaling 250 missiles with multiple warheads, and ninety-two SS-24 missiles of which thirty-six are mounted on trains. All except the SS-24 were being phased out in favor of the SS-25 Topol. Two remaining SS-25 regiments without warheads were scheduled for redeployment from Belarus to the Perm' region in 1996.

Airborne Troops

The airborne troops comprise five airborne divisions and eight air assault brigades. They were designated as a separate service in 1991, at which time the air assault brigades were reassigned from ground forces units and military districts to Airborne Troop Headquarters, with direct responsibility to the Ministry of Defense. The justification for this reorganization was that airborne troops could not respond as quickly to an emergency under ground forces command as they could as a separate command. Experts believe that the decision to reorganize came mainly in response to internal politics rather than military necessity; at that time, the Russian national leadership did not want airborne troops under the control of the General Staff or the ground forces. In early 1996, four of the eight independent airborne brigades and two of the five airborne divisions were placed under the command of their respective district commanders, and the remaining three divisions became part of the strategic reserve. The command adjustments constituted a return to the pre-1991 arrangement.

The reason given for the transfer of authority was that the military districts already controlled the helicopter, fixed-wing, and other resources needed to support the air assault brigades, and that historically air assault brigades were created to operate in an operational-tactical role attached to a high-level headquarters. They were never intended to be a strategic asset. In the case of the Novorossiysk Division engaged in Chechnya, a chain of command running back to Moscow allegedly proved unworkable. However, the reassignment of the airborne units brought interservice charges that the move was an attempt to rein in a service branch perceived as having a dangerous combination of independence and mobility. The chief of the General Staff, General Mikhail Kolesnikov, characterized the decision as purely operational.

The mission of the airborne forces is to make possible a quick response to national emergencies. The airborne troops are considered an elite force because they are individually selected from volunteers based on physical fitness, intelligence, and loyalty. By traditional military standards, the airborne troops are not a powerful force. Each division is assigned about 6,000 lightly armed troops with lightly armored vehicles. Their value is that they have special training and have operational and strategic mobility provided by long-range aircraft. Their parachute assault capability means that they can be deployed anywhere within airlift range in a matter of hours without the need for an air base in friendly hands. However, resupply and support by heavy ground troop formations are necessary in a matter of days because the airborne troops lack the self-sustaining combat and logistical power of regular ground forces.

All of the airborne divisions are based in European Russia. One division is based in the Northern Military District, two in the Moscow Military District, and one each in the Volga and North Caucasus districts. The division in the North Caucasus Military District has taken part in the Chechnya conflict.

The eight airborne assault brigades are smaller than divisions, and they lack the armor and artillery assets that give conventional divisions ground mobility and firepower. Once the airborne brigades are on the ground, they can move no faster than walking speed. Their role is primarily focused on helicopter operations, but they also are trained for parachute assault from fixed-wing aircraft.

Data as of July 1996

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