A Very Russian Thanksgiving Special

Fishbreath is away, so I thought I’d run something extra midweek. A Thanksgiving Special, if you will.

You may have noticed that I’m a pretty typical NATO guy. I quote STANAGs, and I like things that are made in America and Germany. Tactically, I’m usually more on the NATO side of things too. But today I’m going to talk Russian stuff. Specifically, I’m going to run down 10 Russian things that I actually like. I’m a lazy guy, so these are in no particular order, but I will call out things that I find more or less important.

And no, I’m not going to count them down, either.

1. Pecheneg Machine Gun
This is sort of a curious gun, but I like the concept. It’s a light machine gun in 7.62x54mm, i.e. a full-power rifle cartridge. Not only did the Russians make it very light, but they went to a lot of trouble to make sure that it’s operable by a single man. So it has a big heavy barrel with air-cooling fins rather than a quick change barrel. It is still belt fed, as is right and proper for a machine gun, because large drums are awkward and dumb. The bipod is not made to be removed easily. I like this because it’s a really nice weapon that’s focused on the use in smaller units. It doesn’t have a bunch of compromises to also work on a vehicle pintle or a tripod.

2. RPO-A Shmel
Another neat little weapon that comes from a love of fire and extensive experience in urban warfare. The RPO-A is a single-shot, disposable-tube 93mm rocket launcher that fires a rocket with a thermobaric warhead. This gets you a bunch of roasted enemies, plus a nasty pressure wave and the air sucked out of an enclosed space. Perfect for clearing caves or structures. It’s a little heavy at 11 kg, but it’s exactly the kind of emplacement-wrecker that would be useful to be stowed in your IFV. Range is significantly better than a traditional flamethrower, and it’s a lot safer for the user. This Thanksgiving, roast your turkey with a Shmel!

3. TOS-1 Buratino
Continuing in the theme of fire and thermobaric warheads, we come to the TOS-1. This is some serious artillery. It consists of a thirty round box launcher for 220mm rockets mounted on a converted T-72 chassis. The T-72 lacks a conventional turret, but maintains much of its armor. This is good, as the Buratino has rather short range (3.5 km for the standard version, 6 km for the improved version). The use case here is smashing fortifications or pockets of resistance. And it excels in that, since each rocket brings the same kind of firey overpressure death as the shmel in a much larger package. First combat use was demolishing Grozny. With a T-72 chassis, these can be reasonably expected to keep up with a fast-moving advance too.

4. 2S4 Tyulpan
The Russians love their artillery, and the Russians love their mortars. The Tyulpan is a super mortar. It may be slow, and it may take a crew of 9 with an awkward and slow reload process, but it lobs a big 240mm shell to smash fortifications. It has seen combat service in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and has proven very good at its job. This is an ideal weapon for blasting fixed emplacements into rubble. While airstrikes could do the job as well, the Russians recognize that airpower may be diverted to higher priority targets, and air superiority is not assured. Tyulpan can also do the smashing.

5. Su-27 Family
I’m using ‘family’ here because I’m lumping all of the heavily modified derivatives together. The Su-27 was originally supposed to be the “hi” part of a hi/lo mix, and two MiG-29s were supposed to be bought for every Su-27. But then the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Su-27’s range and carrying capacity made it an export success. The Sukhoi design bureau worked tirelessly to keep the Su-27 up to date, with the fanciest (imported) avionics and newer engines. They also made an excellent two seat version (the Su-30) and a dedicated bomber version (the Su-34). It’s a really amazing bit of upgrade and derivative success.

6. 9K330 Tor (SA-15 GAUNTLET)
This is the short range SAM system I wanted for the IADS write up, but Fishbreath wouldn’t let me have. It’s an all weather point-defense missile system, designed to shoot down small, low-RCS targets like cruise missiles. It has excellent range for a SHORAD, reaching out to 12 km and up to 6 km. Reaction time on the latest models is seven seconds, and it comes with a very good radar system. Plus, it’s mounted on a tank chassis, so it can go anywhere and accompany armored forces.

7. 3M-54 Klub (SS-N-27 SIZZLER)
Back in the day, the Soviets made up for their lack of carrier-borne naval aviation with antiship missiles. They were the first to develop these in a modern format, and they have continued to refine the concept. Where we in America are stuck with the lame Harpoon, the Russians have worked out the fantastic Klub. It’s got a range of over 600 km and has a subsonic cruise for better range performance plus a supersonic terminal attack profile. They’re designed to reach Mach 2.9 in the final stages of flight, plus perform aggressive maneuvers to make them harder to target. These are probably the most formidable antiship missiles at present, taking the title from another Russian missile, the P-270 Moskit (SS-N-22 SUNBURN).

8. Kh-101 (AS-15 KENT)
The Russians were very impressed with the Tomahawk cruise missile and the AGM-86 ALCM. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, they made their own ‘Tomahawkski’ in the Kh-55. Like the Tomahawk, the Kh-55 has a range of about 2,500 km and comes in nuclear and conventional flavors. They’ve also improved the guidance system, with the latest versions reporting a CEP of 6-9 m. Unlike the west, the Russians did two good things with Tomahawkski. First, they standardized on it for their long-range land attack use across sea, air, and land platforms. The Tomahawk is strictly for naval use. B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s, drop the AGM-86, which is a completely different design, even though it has roughly the same characteristics. Second, the Russians super-sized it into the Kh-101, which is 7.45 m long, weighs 2,300 kg at launch, and has a range of 3,500 km. More range is good.

9. Tukhachevsky’s Echelons
This is a strategic one. I’m giving credit to Mikhail Tukachevsky, a brilliant operational theorist and victim of Stalin’s purges, even though his idea really only was workable much later. The idea was to group your forces in waves, with the first wave fixing the enemy in place and establishing weak points in the enemy’s lines, and the second wave smashing through the weak points and surging deep into the rear area with the help of the reserve as needed. War games figured that if nobody in NATO called out the tactical nuclear weapons, the Soviets could get to the Rhinei in about seven days. NATO had a lot of advanced weapon system designs in the late 80s built around defeating exactly this kind of fearsome armored attack.

10. The Kremlin
While the Kremlin is a pretty cool looking complex of buildings, I don’t mean this in the strictly literal sense. More in “The Kremlin” as in the overall leadership. While the Russians have a highly centralized control scheme, which I don’t always approve of, they play for keeps. Their rules of engagement generally make good tactical sense and they support their people. They do not throw their servicemen or their allies under the nearest bus to appease the fickle world opinion. I am indifferent as to the fate of al-Assad, but I like how Russia is supporting their ally in tough times. That is the point of an alliance is it not? To help each other when it is needed, not merely when it is convenient or popular to do so. They commit or don’t; there are no half-measures like the nonsense in Benghazi. And I’m very fond of their solution to the problem of urban warfare.

There you go. Ten Russian things I like. Have a happy Thanksgiving, eat plenty of turkey, drink lots of vodka, and watch hockey.

i) The exercise only ever looked to get to the Rhine, not beyond. Tactical nuclear weapons in Germany were American, and therefore under American control, and there was always the question if Americans would launch the nukes and trigger armageddon over Germany if the Soviets kept things conventional. To the west of the Rhine, however, lies France, who had her own nuclear arsenal in submarines, on Dassault bombers, and on le Plateau d’Albion. There was no doubt in the Pentagon, at Rand, or in the Kremlin that the French would play spoiler and use their nuclear weapons to induce armageddon rather than lose. So the tank armies always stopped at the Rhine.

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