A battalion tactical group (Russian: Батальонная тактическая группа, batal'onnaya takticheskaya gruppa), abbreviated as BTG, is a combined-arms manoeuvre unit deployed by the Russian Army that is kept at a high level of readiness.[1] A BTG typically comprises a battalion (typically mechanised infantry) of two to four companies reinforced with air-defence, artillery, engineering, and logistical support units, formed from a garrisoned army brigade. A tank company and rocket artillery typically reinforce such groupings. BTGs formed the mainstay of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine from 2013 to 2015, particularly in the War in Donbas.[2]

In August 2021, Russia's defence minister said the country had about 170 BTGs.[3] Each BTG has approximately 600–800 officers and soldiers,[4] of whom roughly 200 are infantrymen, equipped with vehicles typically including roughly 10 tanks and 40 infantry fighting vehicles.[5]: pp. 11–13 

History

The Soviet period

During the Cold War, the Soviet Army structured its tactical formations with the maneuver regiment as the smallest combined arms force and its subordinate battalions as "pure" tank or motorized rifle formations.[6] In practice, the Soviets reinforced their battalions into temporary combined arms groupings during field exercises.[7] Depending on the assigned mission, a battalion could receive additional tanks or motorized rifle infantry, plus supporting elements like artillery, air defense, engineers, or reconnaissance units. For example, a tank battalion might be reinforced with an infantry company, an artillery battalion, and an engineer platoon to transform it into a combined arms force.[8]

Soviet military writers used the term "tactical group" to describe NATO combined arms formations, with "company tactical groups" to describe company teams[9] and "battalion tactical groups" for battalion task forces.[10] By 1987, "battalion tactical group" was used to describe Soviet combined arms battalions.[11] Battalion tactical groups were seen in the Soviet–Afghan War.[12][citation needed]

The Soviets expanded the combined arms battalion concept as part of the "Army 2000" restructuring plan to make the army more agile and versatile for future war.[13] One element of this plan was "Division 87", which called for the permanent addition of a tank company to every motorized rifle battalion to turn them into a precursor for a larger and more flexible combined arms battalion.[14]

However, the permanent combined arms battalion experiment was abandoned. They were too expensive for the decaying Soviet economy to reorganize and maintain by the end of the 1980s.[14] The switch to a defensive military strategy under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev rendered large-scale army reforms politically unacceptable.[15] Junior battalion commanders also lacked the experience to handle such complicated formations until later in their command assignments.[16] Further tactical reform would have required the Soviets to abandon simple battle drills and introduce more sophisticated combat techniques down to the company and platoon level, which was only possible with a body of professional non-commissioned officers.[17][18]

Chechen and Georgian wars

Ad-hoc battalion tactical groups were formed in the Russian Army as an expediency due to lack of manpower and equipment to field full-strength brigades and divisions during both the first and second Chechen Wars, and also in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.[19]

Standard Russian BTG structure
Standard Russian BTG structure

Following the Georgian War, in October 2008, the Ministry of Defence announced that it intended to reform the Russian army by creating "permanent readiness" brigades, which led to the 2008 Russian military reform. After Anatoliy Serdyukov was dismissed as defence minister and replaced by Sergei Shoigu in November 2012, this plan was shelved in favour of forming “permanent readiness” BTGs within garrison brigades. These were planned to be 100% staffed by contract soldiers (i.e., non-conscript volunteers). According to sources quoted by the Russian Interfax agency, the reason for this was lack of manpower to form full-strength brigades.[20]

Russo-Ukrainian War

Reports from the Russo-Ukrainian War cited in the July–September 2016 edition of the US military journal Armor identified BTGs as the majority of Russian units deployed there. These BTGs comprised a tank company, three mechanised infantry companies, two anti-tank companies, two or three artillery batteries, and two air-defence batteries.[21] The majority of BTGs deployed in the Donbass war came from Russia's 49th Army and 6th tank brigade, though BTGs were deployed from nearly every field army and corps in the Russian Army.[22] BTGs typically composed roughly half of the equipment and personnel of the deploying brigade. BTG personnel typically only includes "contract" soldiers.

Battles involving BTGs in the war in Ukraine included the Battle of Mariupol, the Battle of Donetsk Airport, and the Battle of Debaltseve.[23]

Following the Donbass War, in 2016 the Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov announced plans to expand the number of BTGs from 96 to 125 by 2018.[24] Gerasimov claimed that BTGs would be primarily staffed by contract soldiers by 2018. In September 2018 Gerasimov claimed that Russia had 126 "permanently battle-ready" BTGs. In March 2019, Shoigu, addressing the lower house of the Russian Duma, claimed that Russia had 136 BTGs.[25] In August 2021 Shoigu claimed that Russia had around 170 BTGs.[3]

During the March–April 2021 escalation in tensions between Russia and Ukraine, US officials estimated that around 48 of Russia's BTGs had moved to the border with Ukraine. Ukrainian officials estimated that 56 BTGs would be moved to the border.[26] During the tensions on the border between Russia and Ukraine in late 2021 US officials estimated that the Russian deployment opposite Ukraine would reach 100 BTGs by January 2022, with around 50 BTGs estimated as already being in place by December 2021.[27]

Advantages and disadvantages

The combination of different weapons systems including heavy ones at a low organisational level allows heavy artillery bombardments to be laid on more easily and makes them available for use tactically. As such, a BTG can engage opposing units out to a longer range than, for example, a US Brigade Combat Team (BCT), which does not have heavy weapons devolved down to it.[28] Up to two BTGs can compose a brigade in the Russian army. Divisions and regiments have been superseded by brigades.[29]

However, the BTG's relative lack of manpower (they deploy with about 200 infantrymen) compared to a BCT makes it reliant upon proxy troops and paramilitaries (such as the pro-Russian militias in the Donbass war) to provide security along the flanks and rear.[5]: p. 3  The BTG commander will likely have to communicate with the proxy troops through unsecure and unreliable means such as mobile phones.[a]

By Russian law, conscripts are not allowed to serve in BTGs outside of Russia. Outside of Russia, the troops of a BTG serve on a volunteer basis.[29] The limited manpower of the BTG makes the commanders less likely to engage in urban combat than a BCT commander. As they derive their manpower and equipment primarily through the cannibalisation of a larger unit, their sustainability in long-term operations is also in doubt.[5]: pp. 11–13 

Notes

  1. ^ Connectivity to GLONASS may be a factor in the lack of Russian PGM availability,[30] and the use of 3G/4G cell towers for Russian encrypted communications (Era) [31] during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. This weakness was unearthed during the use of open communication ("Russian commanders are sometimes piggybacking on Ukrainian cell phone networks to communicate")[32] when FSB was discussing the deaths of their generals: Vitaly Gerasimov, killed 7 Mar 2022;[33] Andrei Sukhovetsky, killed 28 Feb 2022.[34][30]

References

  1. ^ Boston, Scott; Massicot, Dara (2017). "The Russian Way of War: A Primer" (PDF). RAND: 5. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  2. ^ Fiore, Nicholas J. (Spring 2017). "Defeating the Russian Battalion Tactical Group" (PDF). Armor. CXXVIII (2): 9–10. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Russian Army operates around 170 battalion tactical groups — defense chief". TASS. 10 August 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  4. ^ Daalder, Ivo; Flournoy, Michele; Herbst, John; Lodal, Jan; Pifer, Steven; Stavridis, James; Talbott, Strobe; Wald, Charles (February 2015). "Preserving Ukraine's Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do" (PDF). Atlantic Council: 12. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Fiore, Nicholas J. (Spring 2017). "Defeating the Russian Battalion Tactical Group" (PDF). Armor. CXXVIII (2). Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  6. ^ Field Manual 100-2-1: The Soviet Army: Operations and Tactics. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Threats Directorate. 18 June 1990. p. 4-71.
  7. ^ Grau, Lester W. (September 1989). "The Soviet Combined Arms Battalion: Reorganization for Tactical Flexibility" (PDF). Soviet Army Studies Office: 20. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 March 2022 – via Defense Technical Information Center.
  8. ^ Grau, Lester W. (September 1989). "The Soviet Combined Arms Battalion: Reorganization for Tactical Flexibility" (PDF). Soviet Army Studies Office: 21. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 March 2022 – via Defense Technical Information Center.
  9. ^ Dragunsky, David Abramovich (1986). Motostrelkovy (tankovy) batal'on v boyu [The Motorized Rifle (Tank) Battalion in Battle] (in Russian). Moscow: Voenizdat. p. 34.
  10. ^ Dragunsky, David Abramovich (1986). Motostrelkovy (tankovy) batal'on v boyu [The Motorized Rifle (Tank) Battalion in Battle] (in Russian). Moscow: Voenizdat. p. 178.
  11. ^ Reznichenko, Vasily Gerasimovich (1987). Taktika [Tactics] (in Russian). Moscow: Voenizdat. p. 65.
  12. ^ Blank, Stephen J., ed. (September 2019). "The Russian Military in Contemporary Perspective" (PDF). Strategic Studies Institute. United States Army War College: 6. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  13. ^ Glantz, David M. (1996). "The Continuing Influence of Non-Linear Warfare on Russian Force Structuring". The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. 9 (2): 341. doi:10.1080/13518049608430237 – via Taylor & Francis.
  14. ^ a b Glantz, David M. (1996). "The Continuing Influence of Non-Linear Warfare on Russian Force Structuring". The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. 9 (2): 342. doi:10.1080/13518049608430237 – via Taylor & Francis.
  15. ^ Glantz, David M. (1996). "The Continuing Influence of Non-Linear Warfare on Russian Force Structuring". The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. 9 (2): 343–344. doi:10.1080/13518049608430237 – via Taylor & Francis.
  16. ^ Grau, Lester W. (September–October 2006). "Preserving Shock Action: A New Approach to Armored Maneuver Warfare" (PDF). ARMOR: 11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 April 2022.
  17. ^ Grau, Lester W. (September 1990). "Soviet Non-Linear Combat: The Challenge of the 90s" (PDF). Soviet Army Studies Office: 31. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 March 2022 – via Defense Technical Information Center.
  18. ^ Bartles, Charles; Grau, Lester W. (11 June 2018). "Russia's View of Mission Command of Battalion Tactical Groups in the Era of "Hybrid War"" (PDF). Foreign Military Studies Office: 2. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  19. ^ M.J. Orr (2002). Better or just not so bad? An evaluation of Russian combat effectiveness in the second Chechen War. OCLC 449845957.
  20. ^ McDermott, Roger (6 November 2012). "Moscow Resurrects Battalion Tactical Groups". Eurasia Daily Monitor. 9 (203). Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  21. ^ Fox, Amos C. (July–September 2016). "Russian Hybrid Warfare and the Re-emergence of Conventional Armored Warfare: Implications for U.S. Army's Armored Force" (PDF). Armor. CXXVII (3): 5. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  22. ^ Fox, Amos C.; Rossow, Andrew J. (March 2017). "Making Sense of Russian Hybrid Warfare: A Brief Assessment of the Russo–Ukrainian War" (PDF). The Institute of Land Warfare (112): 5–6. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  23. ^ Fiore, Nicholas J. (Spring 2017). "Defeating the Russian Battalion Tactical Group" (PDF). Armor. CXXVIII (2): 15–16. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  24. ^ Fiore, Nicholas J. (Spring 2017). "Defeating the Russian Battalion Tactical Group" (PDF). Armor. CXXVIII (2): 14. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  25. ^ Felgenhauer, Pavel (21 March 2019). "Moscow Increasingly Ready for Major Military Confrontation". Eurasia Daily Monitor. Jamestown Foundation. 16 (40). Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  26. ^ Lee, Rob (23 August 2021). "Russia's Coercive Diplomacy". Foreign Policy Research Institute. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  27. ^ Roth, Andrew; Blood, David; de Hoog, Niels (17 December 2021). "Russia-Ukraine crisis: where are Putin's troops and what are his options?". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  28. ^ Fox, Amos C. (July–September 2016). "Russian Hybrid Warfare and the Re-emergence of Conventional Armored Warfare: Implications for U.S. Army's Armored Force" (PDF). Armor. CXXVII (3): 6. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  29. ^ a b Kyle Mizokami (24 Feb 2022) How Russia’s Battalion Tactical Groups Will Tackle War With Ukraine
  30. ^ a b Jamie Ross, who cites Christo Grozev of Bellingcat: (Tue, March 8, 2022, 5:32 AM) (7 March 2022) Russian Officer Complains About Dead General and Comms Meltdown in Intercepted Call FSB (Federal Security Service, successor agency to the KGB) officers discuss Gerasimov's death amid the destruction of 3G/4G cell towers in Ukraine, and the loss of Russian encrypted communications (Era), which compromised the FSB officer's sim-card-enabled phone call.
  31. ^ Rob Waugh (8 Mar 2022) 'Idiots': Russian military phone calls hacked after own soldiers destroy 3G towers 3G/4G Towers Needed For Russian encrypted communications (Era)
  32. ^ MEHUL SRIVASTAVA, MADHUMITA MURGIA, AND HANNAH MURPHY, FT (3/9/2022, 8:33 AM) The secret US mission to bolster Ukraine’s cyber defences ahead of Russia’s invasion European official: "instead of communicating solely through encrypted military-grade phones, Russian commanders are sometimes piggybacking on Ukrainian cell phone networks to communicate, at times simply by using their Russian cell phones. 'The Ukrainians love it—there is so much data in simply watching these phones, whether or not they are using encrypted apps,' he said. The Ukrainians then block Russian phones from their local networks at key moments, further jamming their communications. 'Then you suddenly see Russian soldiers grabbing cell phones off Ukrainians on the street, raiding repair shops for sims,' he said. 'This is not sophisticated stuff. It’s quite puzzling."
  33. ^ Rob Picheta and Jack Guy, CNN (8 Mar 2022) Ukraine claims Russian general has been killed in Kharkiv
  34. ^ Doug Cunningham (3 Mar 2022) Ukraine forces say Chechen commander Magomed Tushayev killed near Kyiv