Australian Army Journal Volume I, Number  page 

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R
ecent conficts in the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia have demon-
strated the dif culty of dealing with insurgent forces that are well equipped
with small arms, especially the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) in urban
operations. Tis article seeks to show how the Russian military has dealt with the
challenge of urban combat in Chechnya and Dagestan by the use of combined
arms tactics, thermobaric weapons and heavier-calibre small arms. Lessons from
the Russian experience are useful since, as current operations in Iraq now reveal,
Western forces need to devise new tactics and techniques to meet the threat of cheap,
portable stand-of weapons in urban areas that can be used to destroy helicopters
and vehicles that are unprotected by infantry.
* Te author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Mr Les Graw of the
Foreign Military Studies Of ce, Center for Army Lessons Learnt, US Army, in devel-
oping the ideas in this article.
page  Volume I, Number  Australian Army Journal
Insights Flight Sergeant Martin Andrew, RAAF
Urban Warfare in Central Asia: The Role of Weapons Systems
In recent urban confict in Central Asia, insurgents have made extensive use of the
RPG. Long regarded as the poor man’s howitzer and the ‘guerrilla’s artillery’, the
RPG is particularly efective when used in complex terrain. With a bursting radius of
four metres, the RPG kills by blast and shrapnel. 1 In skilled hands, especially in the
confnes of urban terrain, this relatively unsophisticated device excels as a destruc-
tive weapons system. In 1992, rebels fghting the Russian Army in Tajikistan found
that, while they lacked the modern PG-7VR tandem warhead that was necessary to
destroy Russian T-72 tanks equipped with reactive armour, they could still destroy
Russian armour. Because the Russians were reluctant to deploy suf cient screening
infantry, RPG gunners employed ‘double teaming’ against Russian T-72 tanks. Te
frst gunner would fre at the tank in order to create a breach in its reactive armour.
Te second and third gunners would then fre multiple ‘kill shots’ at the exposed
area. Tese rounds would ofen destroy the tank crew’s line of vision, ensuring
that the crew would be unable to counter the enemy even if the vehicle survived
multiple rocket hits. Inficting such ‘blindness’ on a tank then allowed the RPG
gunners time to reposition and resume their attack until the vehicle was disabled.
Another technique employed by Tajik rebels was to fre a fragmentation round,
or a white phosphorus grenade, at the
T-72’s front deck in order to disable the
driver’s vision before massed groups
of fghters employing RPGs fred on
the tank, aiming to disable the rear
section of the turret.
Te assault on Grozny in Chechnya
by the Russian 131st Maykop Brigade
on New Year’s Eve 1995 is an instruc-
tive example of what can occur if a
modern army engages in urban warfare against well-armed insurgents without
using proper combined-arms tactics and weapons systems. In Grozny, Russian
tanks and armoured vehicles, unsupported by dismounted infantry, became easy
prey for Chechen forces employing three- or four-man fre teams composed of an
RPG gunner, a machine-gunner and a sniper.
Te Chechen hunter–killer teams, like wolf packs searching out an isolated
member of a family of deers, frequently attacked a single armoured vehicle simul-
taneously from several diferent directions, peppering it with rockets, grenades
and Molotov cocktails. Areas that might be targeted included the crew hatches,
the engine transmission compartment, decking and the area behind the turret. 2
Because of the absence of signifcant numbers of dismounted Russian infantry,
In Grozny, Russian tanks and
armoured vehicles, unsupported
by dismounted infantry, became
easy prey for Chechen forces …
Australian Army Journal Volume I, Number  page 
The Russian Experience of Urban Combat
the Chechen fghters turned the streets of Grozny into death traps for Russian
armoured vehicles. 3 By early January 1995, the Maykop Brigade had sufered
extraordinary casualties of 800 dead and wounded. Te brigade had also lost twenty
out of twenty-six tanks, 102 out of 120 BMP infantry fghting vehicles and all six of
their ZSU-23 self-propelled antitank guns. 4
Russian Combined Arms and Weapons in Chechnya
In late 1999 and early 2000, when the Russians again attacked Grozny, they adopted
diferent tactics and weapons. Te Russian Army deployed combined arms teams
composed of tanks, infantry, engineers and artillery. In particular, the Russians
employed specialised troika fre teams comprising a sniper, a machine-gunner
and a soldier equipped with a grenade launcher. 5 Two other soldiers, acting as
ammunition carriers or assistant gunners, supplemented these teams. 6 Te use of
Russian fre teams forced Chechen fre teams to abandon fxed positions on upper
foors of buildings, on balconies and in attics. Te clearing and screening action
of Russian all-arms teams led to greater protection for the armoured forces. Using
manoeuvre by fre against buildings, apartment blocks and strong points, Russian
troops were able to counter the supremacy of Chechen urban tactics. Te Russians
also discovered that, in conditions of
short-range urban operations, anti-
armour rounds lacked impact. As a result
they adopted the OG-7V fragmentation
round and the TBG-7V thermobaric for
use in urban combat.
Ignoring the issue of collateral damage,
the Russians employed direct-fre weapons
with incendiary and thermobaric warheads
against Chechen positions in Grozny.
A thermobaric warhead, more accurately described as a ‘volumetric’ weapon, uses
expanding gases or aerosols. Termobarics are essentially slow-burning explosive
slurries that compound the damage they cause in three ways. First, they burn very
slowly for an explosive, causing much greater ‘dwelling’ times of their explosive
impulses on a target. Second, the burning plasma cloud that is generated by the
warhead can penetrate even the smallest cracks of a building or a vehicle, killing
the occupants in a blast wave. 7 Tird, when the slurry is totally consumed, a
‘vacuum bomb’ is created in the form of a massive back-blast that destroys human
beings in the area.
Te clearing and screening
action of Russian all-arms
teams led to greater protection
for the armoured forces.
page  Volume I, Number  Australian Army Journal
Insights Flight Sergeant Martin Andrew, RAAF
In Chechyna the Russians deployed RPO-A Shmel rocket-powered famethrowers
with a ‘capsule’ warhead containing 4 L of liquid that produced a fame 4 m wide
by 40 m long. Te RPO-A Shmel was frst employed during the Soviet–Afghan War
against Mujaheddin cave complexes, where it earned the ominous nickname, the
‘Devil’s Tube’. 8
Te 2.1 kg thermobaric warhead of the rocket-powered fame has the equivalent
power of a 122 mm shell. A new version of the weapon was employed in Tajikistan and
Chechnya to knock out rebel bunkers and strong points in buildings. So important
was the Shmel to the Russians in their Central Asian urban warfare operations that
their current military doctrine states, ‘light structures which interfere with observation
and the conduct of famethrower or other fres should be destroyed’.
In its operations in Chechnya and Dagestan in 1999 and 2000, the Russian mili-
tary also expressed a preference for organic heavy-calibre weapons in combined
arms sub-units. As a result of the poor penetrating power of lower-calibre muni-
tions, Russian soldiers in Chechnya
called for the replacement of the
5.45 mm RPK light machine-gun with
the full-power 7.62 mm PK series
general-purpose machine-guns.
Tus, the global trend towards
equipping forces with smaller and
lighter munitions has been found
wanting in the urban battles in
Chechnya and Dagestan. Russian
soldiers have preferred small arms that
use larger-calibre ammunition, such as the 7.62 mm AKM assault rife, the 7.62 mm
SVD sniping rife, the GP-25 40 mm under-barrel grenade launcher, the Pecheng
machine-gun (a modernised PKM machine-gun), and the Vzlomshchik 12.7 mm
heavy-calibre sniper rife.
Conclusion
Recent Russian operations in Central Asia demonstrate the danger that cheap
and mass-produced technologies such as the RPG pose in urban confict. When
the Russian military sought to fght in a one-dimensional manner with mainly
armoured vehicles, they sufered large casualties at the hands of the Tadzhiks and
Chechens. Ultimately, it was the use of combined arms teams in Chechnya, along
with superior frepower, that restored the Russian military’s fortunes. However, the
Russian use of indiscriminate frepower that reduced Grozny to a shattered hulk
of a city is not a technique that Western armies should emulate. In this respect,
… the global trend towards
equipping forces with smaller and
lighter munitions has been found
wanting in the urban battles in
Chechnya and Dagestan.
Australian Army Journal Volume I, Number  page 
The Russian Experience of Urban Combat
Russian methods represented a variant on the American adage used in Vietnam
that ‘it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it’. Studying the recent
campaigns in Central Asia shows how both positive and negative aspects can fow
from a close analysis of the Russian approach to urban warfare. Te positive aspect
lies in the Russian reintroduction of
combined arms teams; the negative
aspect lies in the Russian tolerance for
a level of collateral damage and civilian
casualties that could not be accepted by
any Western democracy operating under
the law of armed confict.
Te efect of stealthy attacks using
low-cost weapons is being painfully
relearnt by Coalition forces in Iraq
and refects the need for contemporary
forces to possess levels of protected mobility that can ensure dominance in an urban
battlespace. Western forces also need to consider the application of combined arms
tactics and procedures that will enable them to counter lethal small arms and light
anti-armour weapons now used by insurgents. Russia’s Central Asian conficts
also suggest that there remains a requirement for larger-calibre small arms on the
modern battlefeld. For all of these reasons, Russia’s recent experience of urban
combat remains relevant to future military operations and is worthy of close study
by Western armies.
ENDNOTES
1 D. H. R. Archer, Jane’s Infantry Weapons 1976, Macdonald and Jane’s,
London, 1976, p. 590.
2 O. Vladykin, ‘Russian Tanks Did Not Let Us Down in Chechnya. But Fewer of Tem
Could Have Been Lost …’, Krasnaya Zvezda, 22 February 1995, pp. 1, 3.
3 L. A. Grau, ‘Russian-Manufactured Armored Vehicle Vulnerability in Urban Combat:
Te Chechnya Experience’, Red-Star, January 1997, p. 2.
4 L. W. Grau and T. L. Tomas, Russian Lessons Learned From the Battles for Grozny,
Foreign Military Studies Of ce, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2000, p. 3.
5 T. L. Tomas, Grozny 2000: Urban Combat Lessons Learned, Foreign Military Studies
Of ce, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2000, p. 4.
6 L. A. Grau, ‘Technology and the Second Chechen Campaign: Not All New and Not
Tat Much’, in A. C. Eldis (ed.), Te Second Chechen War, Confict Studies Research
Centre, Camberley, 2000, p. 108.
Ultimately, it was the use of
combined arms teams in
Chechnya, along with superior
frepower, that restored the
Russian military’s fortunes.
page  Volume I, Number  Australian Army Journal
Insights Flight Sergeant Martin Andrew, RAAF
7 L. W. Grau and T. Smith, A ‘Crushing’ Victory: Fuel–Air Explosives and Grozny 2000,
Foreign Military Studies Of ce, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 1998, p. 1.
8 L. W. Grau and M.A. Gress (eds), Te Soviet–Afghan War: How a Superpower
fought and lost: Te Russian General Staf, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence,
KS, 2002, p. 257.
THE AUTHOR
Flight Sergeant Martin Andrew, Royal Australian Air Force, is an external studies student
at the Australian Defence Force Academy, where he is writing a dissertation on the opera-
tional art of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. His postings include the Australian
Joint Warfare Centre and the International Military Liaison Of ce in Darwin during
Operations Warden and Tanager. Flight Sergeant Andrew was a 2002 Af liate in Research
at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University, where he researched
the People’s Liberation Army, terrorism and Central Asia.