16 July 2011

Lessons Learned From Chechnya

This was dug up from the old NextArmy archives. I'd be particular curious to see what, if any, wargaming effects folks can conceptualize to tie into these lessons.


LTG Hendrix forwarded this to MG Grange - Good reading for all: Russian Army Lessons Learned from the Battle of Grozny
The Russian Army learned many lessons from its experience in Grozny. These include:

(1) You need to culturally orient your forces so that you don`t end up being your own worst enemy simply out of cultural ignorance. Many times Russian soldiers made serious cultural errors in dealing with the Chechen civilians. Once insulted or mistreated, they became active fighters or supported the active fighters. Russians admit they underestimated the affect of religion on the conflict.

(2) You need some way of sorting out the combatants from the non-combatants. The days of uniforms and organized units is over. The Russians were forced to resort to searching the pockets of civilians for military equipment and to sniffing them for the smell of gunpowder and gun oil. Pretty crude. Trained sniffer dogs were used, but were not always effective. Nevertheless, dogs probably best way to determine if a person has been using explosives or firing a weapon recently.

(3) The psychological impact of high intensity urban combat is so intense that you should maintain a large reserve that will allow you to rotate units in an out of combat. If you do this, you can preserve a unit for a fairly long time. If you don`t, once it gets used up, it can`t be rebuilt.

(4) Training and discipline are paramount. You can accomplish nothing without them. You may need to do the training in the combat zone. Discipline must be demanded. Once it begins to slip, the results are disastrous.

(5) The Russians were surprised and embarrassed at the degree to which the Chechens exploited the use of cell phones, Motorola radios, improvised TV stations, light video cameras, and the Internet to win the information war. The Russians admitted that they lost control of the information coming out of Grozny early in the operation and never regained it.

(6) The proliferation of rocket propelled grenade launchers surprised them, as well as the diversity of uses to which they were put. RPGs were shot at everything that moved. They were fired at high angle over low buildings and from around buildings with little or no attempt made to aim. They were sometimes fired in very disciplined volleys and were the weapon of choice for the Chechens, along with the sniper rifle. Not only were the Russians faced with well-trained, well equipped Chechen military snipers, there were also large numbers of designated marksmen who were very good shots using standard military rifles. These were very hard to deal with and usually required massive fire power to overcome.

(7) As expected, the Russians reiterated the need for large numbers of trained Infantrymen. They said that some tasks, such as conducting logpack operations, could only be conducted by Infantrymen, the logistical unit soldiers being hopelessly inept and falling easy prey to the Chechens.

(8) They found that boundaries between units were still tactical weak points, but that it wasn`t just horizontal boundaries they had to worry about. In some cases, the Chechens held the third floor and above, while the Russians held the first two floors and sometimes the roof. If a unit holding the second floor evacuated parts of it without telling the unit on the ground floor, the Chechens would move troops in and attack the ground floor unit through the ceiling. Often this resulted in fratricide as the ground floor unit responded with uncontrolled fire through all of the ceilings, including the ones below that section of the building still occupied by Russians. Entire battles were fought through floors, ceilings, and walls without visual contact.

(9) Ambushes were common. Sometimes they actually had three tiers. Chechens would be underground, on the ground floor, and on the roof. Each group had a different task in the ambush.

(10) The most common response by the Chechens to the increasingly powerful Russian indirect and aerial firepower was hugging the Russian unit. If the hugging tactics caused the Russians to cease artillery and air fires, it became a man-to-man fight and the Chechens were well equipped to win it. If they didn`t cease the supporting fires, the Russian units suffered just as much as the Chechen fighters did, sometimes even more, and the morale effect was much worse on the Russians.

(11) Both the physical and the mental health of the Russian units began to decline almost immediately upon initiation of high intensity combat. In less than a month, almost 20% of the Russian soldiers were suffering from viral hepatitis (very serious, very debilitating, slow recovery). Most had chronic diarrhea and upper respiratory infections that turned to pneumonia easily. This was blamed on the breakdown of logistical support that meant units had to drink contaminated water. Unit sanitary discipline broke down almost completely.

(12) According to a survey of over 1300 troops, about 72% had some sort of psychological disorder. Almost 75% had an exaggerated startle response. About 28% had what was described as neurotic reactions, and almost 10% had acute emotional reactions. The Russians recommended 2 psycho-physiologists, 1 psycho-pharmacologist, 1 psychiatrist, and 1 medical psychologist at each (US) Corps-sized unit. Although their experience in Afghanistan prepared them somewhat for the physical health problems, they were not prepared for this level of mental health treatment. Many permanent combat stress casualties resulted from the soldiers not being provided proper immediate treatment.

(13) Chechens weren`t afraid of tanks and BMPs. They assigned groups of RPG gunners to fire volleys at the lead and trail vehicles. Once they were destroyed, the others were picked off one-by-one. The Russian forces lost 20 of 26 tanks, 102 of 120 BMPs, and 6 of 6 ZSU-23s in the first three day`s fighting. Chechens chose firing positions high enough or low enough to stay out of the fields of fire of tank and BMP weapons. Russian conscript Infantry simply refused to dismount and often died in their BMP without ever firing a shot. Russian elite Infantry did much better, but didn`t coordinate well with armored vehicles initially.

(14) Chechens were brutish, especially with prisoners. (Some reports say the Russians were no better but most say the Chechens were the worse of the two sides) Whoever was at fault, the battle degenerated quickly to one of "No quarter asked, none given." Russian wounded and dead were hung upside down in windows of defended Chechen positions. Russians had to shoot at the bodies to engage the Chechens. Russian prisoners were decapitated and at night their heads were placed on stakes beside roads leading into the city, over which Russian replacements and reinforcements had to travel. Both Russian and Chechen dead were routinely booby-trapped.

(15) Russians not surprised by the ferocity and brutality of the Chechens, they expected them to be "criminals and animal brutes" but they were surprised by the sophistication of the Chechen use of booby traps and mines. Chechens mined and boobytrapped everything, showing excellent insight into the actions and reactions of the average Russian soldier. Mine and boobytrap awareness was hard to maintain.

(16) Russians satisfied with the combat performance of most of their Infantry weapons. T-72 tank was dead meat. Too vulnerable, too awkward, not agile, no visibility, poor weapons coverage at short ranges. Russians removed them from the battle. Replaced by smaller numbers of older tanks and more self propelled artillery, more ADA weapons, and more BMPs. Precision guided weapons and UAVs very useful. Some need for non-lethal weapons, but mostly riot gas and tranquilizer gas, not stuff like sticky foam. The Russian equivalent of the M202 Flash flame projector and the Mk 19 grenade launcher were very useful weapons. Ultimately, a strong combined arms team and flexible command and control meant more than the individual weapons used by each side.


Go back and re-read #12. Now think of all the news coverage of PTSD and other psychological problems you see. And consider how much the military is trying to ramp-up their medical care for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. How closely do you think the math tracks between the Russian suggestions and our current reinforcement of the medical field...?

By: Brant


Anonymous said...

Not just #12, but check out #1-5, 7, 9, and 11. Wow. There's a lot there we could've learned before going into Iraq or Afghanistan. Holy sheeeeeee-it.

If we've known this since the Russians went into Grozny (how long ago again?!) and we didn't apply these lessons, we deserve what happened to us!

- Apache 32
Iraq x2
Afghanistan x2 and 1 more coming up

DomS said...

I suppose it was easy to blame many of the problems on the poor training and equipment of the Russian conscripts, and their unwieldy C2.
The solution is at hand however, as the military has decided it will simply avoid this type of conflict in future #airseabattle
I just hope that the learnings from the last ten years are somehow preserved institutionally so we don't have to re-learn them again sometime down the line.