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AirUniversityReview,NovemberDecember1986

SPETSNAZ SovietInnovationinSpecialForces
RobertS.Boyd ManypressarticlesaboutSPETSNAZ(SpecialPurposeForces)concentrateontheirglamorous andsensationalaspects,suchasassassinationmissionsandmasqueradingintheWestasathletes. Sensationalismandconcentrationonissuesofrelativelyminorimportanceimpedereaders seekingabalancedunderstandingofSPETSNAZcapabilitiesandlimitations.Thepurposeof thisarticleistoprovidesuchanunderstanding. Sovietspecialpurposeforcesarecalledbyseveralnames,includingreydoviki(fromtheEnglish word"raid"),diversionarytroops,andreconnaissance/sabotagetroops,buttheyaremost popularlyknownasSPETSNAZ,anacronymfromtheRussian spetsialnoenaznachenie, meaningspecialpurpose.SPETSNAZarecontrolledbytheSovietGeneralStaff'sMain IntelligenceDirectorate(GRUGlavnoeRazvedyvatelnoeUpravlenie).TheSovietUnion's WarsawPactalliesmaintainsimilarforces. ThemissionoftheSPETSNAZistoconductwhattheSovietscallSpecialReconnaissance (SpetsialnayaRazvedka).AccordingtotheSovietMilitaryEncyclopedia,Special Reconnaissanceisdefinedas, Reconnaissancecarriedouttosubvertthepolitical,economicandmilitarypotentialand moraleof aprobableoractualenemy.Theprimarymissionsofspecialreconnaissance are:acquiringintelligenceonmajoreconomicandmilitaryinstallationsandeither destroyingthemorputtingthemoutofaction,organizingsabotageandactsof subversioncarryingoutpunitiveoperationsagainstrebelsconductingpropaganda formingandtraininginsurgentdetachments,etc.Specialreconnaissanceis...conducted bytheforcesofcovertintelligenceandspecialpurposetroops. Moresimply,thechiefmissionsof SPETSNAZarereconnaissanceandsabotage.Themissions ofpunitiveactionandforminginsurgentgroupsareholdoversfromWorldWarII.Currently,the onlyinsurgenttrainingconductedbySPETSNAZconsistsofadvisoryeffortsinAfricaand possiblyCuba.Sovietemphasisonashortwarprobablyprecludesanyseriousplanstoorganize partisandetachmentsinWesternEuropeintheeventofwar. SPETSNAZoperateupto1000kilometersbehindenemylines,withemphasison enemynuclear deliverymeans,eitherlocatingthemforattackbyotherforcesor,ifnecessary,attackingby themselves.TypicalSPETSNAZtargetsincludemobilemissiles,commandandcontrolfacilities, airdefenses,airfields,portfacilities,andlinesofcommunication.Inaddition,speciallytrained SPETSNAZelementshavethemissionsofassassinatingorkidnappingenemymilitaryand civilianleaders.

ThebasicSPETSNAZunitisateamofeighttotenmen.Theteamiscommandedbyanofficer, mayhaveawarrantofficerorseniorsergeantasdeputy,andincludesaradiooperator, demolitionsexperts,snipers,andreconnaissancespecialists.Teammembershavesomedegreeof crosstrainingsoamissioncancontinueifaspecialistislost. EachSovietfront orfleetwouldhaveabrigadewithawartimestrengthofupto1300menand capableofdeployingabout100teams.ASPETSNAZbrigadeconsistsofthreetofive SPETSNAZbattalions,asignalcompany,supportunits,andaheadquarterscompanycontaining highlyskilledprofessionalsoldiersresponsibleforcarryingoutassassinations,kidnappings,and contactwithagentsintheenemyreararea.TheorganizationofanavalSPETSNAZbrigade reflectsitsemphasisonseainfiltration,withuptothreefrogmanbattalions,oneparachute battalion,andaminisubmarinebattalion,aswellasthesignalcompany,headquarterscompany, andsupportelements.ManySovietarmieshaveSPETSNAZcompaniesof115menandcan deployupto15teams.Thecompaniesareorganizedsimilarly,withthreeSPETSNAZplatoons, acommunicationsplatoon,andsupportingunits.BesidestheSPETSNAZunitsatfrontand 1 army,thereareadditionalonesdirectlysubordinatetotheGRU. TotalSovietSPETSNAZ 2 strengthinpeacetimeisabout15,000. TherearestringentstandardsrequiredofallconscriptsassignedtoSPETSNAZ.Potential reydovikimustbesecondaryschoolgraduates,intelligent,physicallyfit,and,perhapsmost important,politicallyreliable.Parachutetrainingwithaparamilitaryyouthorganizationis naturallyaplus.Uponinduction,aSPETSNAZconscriptwillbeaskedtosignaloyaltyoathin whichheacknowledgesdeathwillbehispunishmentfordivulgingdetailsabouthisservice. Afterinduction,someoftheconscriptswillbeselectedforanarduous,sixmonthlong noncommissionedofficersschool.Anticipatingahighwashoutrate,commandersmaysendas manyasfiveconscriptsforeachavailableNCOslot.IntheeventmoreNCOsgraduatethan thereareslotsavailable,thelowerrankedgraduatesareassignedtopositionsasprivatesoldiers. 3 ThisexcessoftrainedNCOsprovidesareadypoolofleaderstoreplacecasualtiesinthefield. WashoutsandthoseconscriptsnotselectedforNCOschoolreceivetrainingintheirunits.In additiontobasicmilitarytraining,theywillbetrainedinthefollowingspecializedskills:

parachuting, handtohandcombatandsilentkillingtechniques,includingjudo,karate,andknifefighting, sabotageusingexplosives,incendiaries,acids,andabrasives, infiltrationtechniques,includingdefeatoflocksandsecuritysystems, foreignlanguageandculture, foreignweapons,tactics,andvehicles, survival, reconnaissanceandmapreading,and rappelling.

Traininginforeignlanguage,etc.,isgearedtotheSPETSNAZunit'swartimetargetarea.The teamleaderisexpectedtobenearlyfluentinoneofthelanguagesofatargetcountry,while enlistedpersonnelareexpectedtoknowthealphabetandbasicphrases.Thisspecifictraining relatingtoaforeigncountryisintendednotonlytofacilitateoperationstherebutalsotoenable theteamstoconductmissionswhilewearingenemyuniformsorcivilianclothing.

Parachutetrainingbeginswithstaticlinejumps,butmanysoldierswillprogresstohighaltitude lowopening(HALO)jumpsusingsteerableparachutes.Jumpsaremadedayandnight,inall 4 kindsofterrainandweather. Thetechnicaltrainingscheduleleavestimeforrigorousphysicaltraininginvolvingobstacle coursesandforcedmarches,whichareoftenconductedingasmasks.Someunitsalsoprovide strenuousadventuretraininglikemountainclimbingandskiing.Uptohalftheyearisspent trainingoutofgarrison.Onceortwiceayear,selectedteamsengageinextremelyrealistic exercisescarriedoutunderbattleconditions.Teamsareprovidedlittleinthewayofrationsand areforcedtoforageforfood.Exerciseobjectivesareoftenoperationalinstallationsguardedby regulartroopsorsoldiersoftheMinistryofInterior. FurtherindicationsoftherealismofSPETSNAZtrainingareelaboratebrigadetrainingareas containingfullscalemockupsofenemyweaponsystemsandfacilities.BrigadesoppositeNATO typicallyhavemodelsofLance,Pershing,and,groundlaunchedcruisemissiles,aswellas airfields,nuclearstoragesites,airdefensesites,andcommunicationsfacilities.Thesemockups 5 areusedforbothequipmentfamiliarizationanddemolitiontraining. SPETSNAZcareeristsarewellcompensatedforthestrenuoustraining.Eachyearofservicewith aSPETSNAZunitcountsasoneandonehalfyearsforpensionpurposes,andthereisan 6 incentivepayof50percentofsalary. Asinothertypesofairborneunits,SPETSNAZreceive jumppay,whichvarieswiththetotalnumberofjumps,e.g.,thefiftiethjumppaysmorethanthe fifth.Aconscript'sjumppaycanexceedhisregularsalary. Inkeepingwiththeirbehindthelinesmissions,SPETSNAZarelightlyequipped.Eachsoldier willhaveanAK74assaultrifleorSVDsniperrifle,asilenced9mmpistol,ammunition,a knife,uptoeighthandgrenadesofvarioustypes,andrations.Inaddition,everyteammember carriesaportionoftheteam'sgear,whichwillnormallyincludeanRPG16grenadelauncher androunds,anR350Mbursttransmissionradiocapableofcommunicatingoverarangeof1000 kilometers,directionalmines,andplasticexplosives.Ifthemissiondemandsit,theteamcanalso beassignedspecialweaponssuchastheSA7orSA14surfacetoairmissile.Theloadperteam memberisapproximately40kilograms(88pounds). ProvisionsofuptodateintelligenceiscriticaltothesuccessofSPETSNAZmissions.The seconddirectorateofthe frontstaffisresponsibleforintelligence.Itincludesseparate departmentsforreconnaissance,agentintelligence,signalsintelligence,informationprocessing, andSPETSNAZ.UndertheSPETSNAZdepartmentareboththeSPETSNAZbrigadeanda 7 dedicatedSPETSNAZintelligenceunit. Thelatteristaskedwithrecruitmentof"sleeper" sabotageagentsandpeacetimecollectionofinformationonpotentialtargetsandenemymilitary personnel. SPETSNAZsabotageagentsarerareincomparisontoordinaryintelligenceagents.Asleeper mighthavenoothermissionthantowaitfortheordertocommitsabotageinpreparationforwar. Hemightalsobetaskedtoacquiresafehousestosupporttheeventualdeploymentof SPETSNAZteams.Besidesthesleepers,theSPETSNAZintelligenceunitcontrolslegaland illegalagentsforcollectionofinformation.PotentialSPETSNAZagentsincludeattachs,

soldiersaboardshipsontripstotheWest,andtruckdriverscrossinginternationalborders.There isaEuropeancustomsagreementthatallowstrucksmarked"T.I.R."(TransportsInternationaux Routiers)tocrossborderswithminimumcustomsformalities.Thesevehiclescan(anddo)travel nearsensitiveinstallationsandthroughareasofflimitstoformallyaccreditedmilitary 8 personnel. Informationisalsoexchangedwiththeagentintelligencedepartment.Thus,intensive peacetimecollectioneffortsprobablykeepSPETSNAZtargetfoldersfull. TheSPETSNAZagentnetworkwillbeparticularlyimportantinthedaysimmediatelypreceding hostilities.Astensionsrise,theprofessionalsoftheheadquarterscompanieswillinfiltrateenemy territory,oftenthroughlegalentrypointswithfalsepapersorasmembersofSovietlegations. Theywillcontactinplaceagentsifnecessaryandprepareforthearrivaloftheordinary SPETSNAZteams. ThemajorityofSPETSNAZteamswillinfiltratebyfixedwingAeroflotaircraftoncehostilities havebegun,usingSovietoffensiveairoperationsascover.Onceinthetargetarea,theteamswill burytheirparachutesandorganizeabase.Routesintothebasecampwillbeboobytrappedto 9 providewarningofdiscovery,andthelocationofthebasecampwillbeshiftedperiodically. If themissiondemandsmobility,SPETSNAZwillstealenemyvehiclesorusetransportation acquiredbytheagentnetwork. MostSPETSNAZmissionswillhavetheprimaryobjectiveofreconnaissance,sotheywilluse camouflagetoavoidcontactwithenemypatrols.Theywillattackiforderedtodosobythe brigadeorintheeventanuclearmissileisreadyforfiring.Inthatcase,theteamwilltryto destroythemissilebyfireand,ifnotsuccessful,willmountanalloutattack.Asageneralrule, SPETSNAZcommandersoperateindependently.Oncemissionsaregiventotheteams,army andfrontheadquarterskeepinterferencetoaminimum,relyingontheinitiativeandskillofthe teamleaders.Sufficientcoordinationismaintainedtobeabletoordertheteamsoutoftheway 10 ofotherSovietattacks,particularlynuclearstrikes. SPETSNAZarenotparticularlywellknownwithintheSovietmilitary,andtheytendnotto publicizetheirexistenceandcapabilities.Theiruniformsarenotdistinctive,withgroundforces SPETSNAZusuallywearingairborneorsignaltroops'uniformsandnavalSPETSNAZwearing navalinfantryorsubmariners'uniforms.Theirethnicmakeupislikewisenotdistinctiveandto somedegreereflectstheethniccharacteristicsoftheintendedtarget.Forexample,SPETSNAZ unitsintheFarEastareallegedtohaveavailableNorthKoreansandJapanesefromManchuria 11 andtheKurilIslands. TherewerespecialpurposegroupsinWorldWarIIwhoseprimarymissionwastoparachute 12 intoanareaandformthenucleusofapartisangrouptobefleshedoutwitharearesidents. SPETSNAZasweknowthemtodaywereprobablynotformeduntilthemidsixties,perhapsasa responsetoincreasedU.S.emphasisonunconventionalwarfare,exemplifiedbyPresident Kennedy'ssupportfortheU.S.ArmySpecialForces.SomeinsightintoSPETSNAZcapabilities canbegainedfromreviewingreportedpastactions. Inthelatesixties,fourmanSPETSNAZteamswereclandestinelyinsertedintoVietnamtotest 13 thethennewSVDsniperrifleincombat. InMay1968,areconnaissancesabotagegroup

attachedtothe103dGuardsAirborneDivisionseizedPragueAirporttoenablethedivisionto land.Priortotheoperation,theofficersandmenwerefamiliarizedwiththeairportandits defenses.TheyembarkedonaplanethatreceivedpermissiontolandatPraguebasedona fictitiousclaimofenginetrouble.Astheaircrafttoucheddownandslowed,theyjumpedout, 14 seizedguardposts,andhelpedtosetupacontrolteamtobringinthedivision. InDecember1979,SPETSNAZ,incompanywiththeCommitteeforStateSecurity (KGB), surroundedPresidentHafizullahAmin'spalaceinKabul,Afghanistan,andproceededtoexecute Aminandvirtuallyeveryoneinthepalace.InthewordsofanAfghansurvivor,"theSPETSNAZ usedweaponsequippedwithsilencersandshotdowntheiradversarieslikeprofessional 15 killers." Afterthis,theSPETSNAZsecuredKabulAirportinpreparationforthemass airlandingofairbornetroops.SubsequentoperationsinAfghanistanhaveincludedattemptsto ambushtherebelleaderAhmedShahMassoud,infiltrationofrebelheldterritory,andheliborne 16 ambushesofrebelunits. TherewasmidgetsubmarineactivitywithinterritorialwatersinOctober1982inSwedenandin August1983inJapan.ThemidgetsubmarinesprobablybelongedtonavalSPETSNAZandmay havebeendeliveredtothetargetareabyspeciallyequippedIndiaclasssubmarines.Discoveryof tracksfromthesubmarinesalsocoincidedwithreportsofunknowndiversappearingonshore, leadingtospeculationthatSPETSNAZwereconductingpenetration exercisesinforeign 17 countries. Thetruereasonsforthisactivitymayneverbeknown,buttheboldnessofthe operationshadtheundeniableeffectofenhancingthereputationofSPETSNAZ. Onemustbeonguardinconcludingfromthemoreextremearticlesintheopenpressthatthe averageSPETSNAZsoldieristenfeettall.Despitetheirqualifications,toughtraining,and demonstratedvalue,thefactremainsthatthemajorityofSPETSNAZareconscriptsontwoyear toursofduty.Consequently,thereislimitedopportunityforcrosstraininginspecialties,and soldiersmaylackthedegreeofmotivationthatcharacterizesWesternunconventionalwarfare forces,suchastheU.S.ArmyRangers,SpecialForces,andtheBritishSpecialAirService.In comparison toWesternunconventionalwarfareforces,SPETSNAZlackspecializedinfiltration aircraftsuchastheU.S.AirForceMC130ECombatTalon.Thislackseverelylimits SPETSNAZcapabilitiesforclandestineinsertion,particularlypriortothestartofhostilities.Asa result,SPETSNAZmustrelyonthebruteforceoftheSovietairoperationtocovermost infiltration.IfSovietfighterbombersandothermeansdonotinflictthenecessarydamageto NATOairdefenses,unarmedtransportscouldprovesittingducks,withtheresultofheavy SPETSNAZlossesbeforeteamsarriveontarget. Despitetheselimitations,SPETSNAZposeaformidablewartimethreattoNATO'sreararea. FromtheSovietside,aforceofseveralthousandhighlytrainedsoldiersisasmallinvestment withthepotentiallayoffofneutralizingNATO'snucleardeliverycapabilityanddegradingair defenseandcommunicationssystems,notmerelythroughtheeffortsofSPETSNAZ,butby enhancingtheeffectivenessofaircraft,missiles,andgroundforcesthroughaccuratetarget location.ThesizeandqualityoftheSPETSNAZestablishmentpointouttheneedforgood securityofkeyinstallations,afactthatisincreasinglytakentoheartbyWesternplanners. ContinuedawarenessoftheSPETSNAZthreatisnecessaryformakingfurthertangible improvementsinbothrearareacombatdoctrineandinstallationdefensemeasures.

HqUSAF Notes 1.ViktorSuvorov,"SpetsnazTheSovietUnion'sSpecialForces,"InternationalDefense Review,September1983,pp.1209l6. 2.EstimatesofSPETSNAZstrengthrangefrom15,000to60,000.Basedonknownunitsand Sovietmanningpractices,itisquitelikelythatthelowerfiguremoreaccuratelyreflectsthe peacetimestrength.Anadditional10,000to15,000wouldprobably berequiredtofillout brigadesandindependentcompanies. 3.Suvorov,p.1212. 4.CaptainReinholdNeuer,"ParatroopsoftheNationalPeoplesArmy:SpecialistsinCombat behindEnemyLines,"Truppenpraxis,July1983,pp.51520.Thisdiscussionismainlyabout EastGermanyreconsabotagetroops,butitprobablyappliesalsotoSPETSNAZ. 5.SovietMilitaryPower1985(Washington:GovernmentPrintingOffice),p.73. 6.Suvorov,p.1213. 7.Ibid.,p.1211. 8.WashingtonTimes,23December1982. 9.Suvorov.p.1215. 10.Ibid. 11.JapanesenewspaperSankei,3January1984. 12.MajorGeneralV.Andrianov,"TheOrganizationalStructureofPartisanFormationsduring theWarYears,"SovietMilitaryHistoryJournal,January1984,pp.3846. 13.RossS.Kelly,"Spetsnaz:SpecialOperationsForcesoftheUSSR,"DefenseandForeign Affairs,December1984,pp.2829. 14.AlekseiMyagkov,"TheSovietUnionsSpecialForces."SovietAnalyst,9January1980. 15.FrenchnewspaperFigaro,6September1984. 16.Kelly,p.28andp.29. 17.Suvorov,p.1212CBSEveningNews,15November1983 Figaro,6September1984and Sankei,10February1984.

Contributor RobertS.Boyd(B.A.,DickinsonCollege)isanIntelligenceResearch SpecialistfortheGeneral ThreatDivision,DirectorateofEstimates,HqUSAF.Hehasbeenanintelligenceresearch specialistattheDefenseIntelligenceAgencyandmilitaryintelligenceofficerfortheU.S.Army withassignmentsinArizona,Germany,andVietnam. Disclaimer Theconclusionsandopinionsexpressedinthisdocumentarethoseoftheauthorcultivatedinthe freedomofexpression,academicenvironmentofAirUniversity.Theydonotreflecttheofficial positionoftheU.S.Government,DepartmentofDefense,theUnitedStatesAirForceortheAir University.