A recent Finnish report offers a valuable assessment of Russian military preprations, notably on total defense. It has to be noted that the recent months have seen rehearsals of all Zapad-17 elements.
The English Abstract is reproduced here:
….In the official ZAPAD 17 exercise the forces of the Union State of Russia and Belarus practised conducting operations against NATO forces using conventional weapons. After the phases of raising readiness and concentrating forces the Union State’s forces trained in the different phases of defensive warfare. In the tactical phase of the exercise, the combined Russian and Belarussian forces defeated the enemy that had penetrated their defensive positions in a joint operation using the armoured and airborne forces of the Western Military District, supported by indirect fire and air power. In addition to the decisive land battles, during the tactical phase fighting also took place at sea and in the air. According to [Lithuanian researcher, Major (retired)] Daivis Petraitis’ interpretation, the operational plan of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate in a war against the west is “Zapad”. He states that the operation in question consists of three phases:
1) a surprise attack by the Russian Armed Forces to secure bridgeheads
2) to secure a achieved military advantage and to stabilise the situation, and
3) total defence, using all resources.
Petraitis also sees that 2017 was the first time that all of the three phases of the ZAPAD operation were rehearsed as an entity. According to his point of view ZAPAD 2017 mainly rehearsed the third phase of the ZAPAD operation: a massive defence, using all of the resources of the nation. The marches and deploying in defence of Russian army units are protected by ground-based air defence and the Air Force. The activities of the combined arms units are also protected by CBRN and electronic warfare forces. Some of the characteristics of Russian defensive operations include depth, activity and heavy use of fire support.
The purpose is to have effects on the enemy even before the deployed troops are contact. For this purpose, reconnaissance and sabotage patrols as well as drones are sent in depth behind enemy lines. The troops that are deployed in defence are supported with heavy indirect fire and with Air Force fires. To deny the attacking enemy its freedom of action, its units that are not engaged in combat will be drawn into battle by using characteristic elements of Russian mobile defence. These include airborne landings and flanking manoeuvres.
Also counter-attacks by motorised infantry and armoured forces are an essential part of the active and mobile Russian defence doctrine. The counter-attacks are used to defeat the enemy that has broken through the defence and creates prerequisites for regaining the original positions of friendly forces. Counter-attacks are supported with heavy indirect fire and with Air Force fires. If possible, also the naval component will use its fires to support the combat of the ground forces.
The Russians estimate that the enemy can locate the firing positions of traditional heavy weapons supporting defensive operations soon after the weapons have opened fire. To maximise the operating time of conventional heavy weapons during combat, at least the indirect fire and ground-based air defence units change positions frequently during firing operations.
The same operating principle can be noted in the tactics and techniques used by main battle tanks and attack helicopters participating in defensive operations. Russian military leaders are taught quick, time-critical decision-making. This emphasizes command based on real-time situation picture. It is enabled by encrypted, digital C4 systems located on different command levels. These systems make it possible to deliver the necessary information to the decision-makers, ranging from information received from a single soldier to an unmanned aerial vehicle operating behind enemy lines. According to the Russian view, in addition to quick and real-time command, the ability to simultaneously lead joint operations is a requirement for a successful military operation.
During exercises the troops of the Russian Armed Forces are trained in as realistic wartime conditions as possible, and the training is based on based on contemporary combat experience. During exercises the units engaged in combat are trained to operate under heavy enemy fire, particularly under conditions where the enemy will use its air power to attack Russian forces. Likewise, the exercises of the Russian Armed Forces continuously pay attention to the fact that heavy electronic jamming is a central part of enemy operations. To insure its own successful operations, regardless of service or current the combat phase, during exercises the troops of the Russian Armed Forces are trained to continuously look after their physical and psychological performance and recovery, and the maintenance and recovery of military materiel..