The Russian-Belarusian command and staff exercise Union Shield 2006 will remain a subject of detailed discussions by specialists both in Moscow and Minsk for a long time.
For almost ten days NATO spy satellites kept a close eye on the events at the north-eastern border of the bloc. Besides, four dozens of foreign military observers submitted reports about every stage of the manoeuvres to their staffs.
“I would not dare comment the actions of Russian and Belarusian soldiers, but it is interesting for any officer to see such a show,” diplomatically said German military attachй in Belarus lieutenant colonel Reiner Remmert about the final phase of the exercise at Obuz-Lesnovskiy firing range.
Flying to friends, to the West
The Bundeswehr officer was modest indeed, because for an hour he kept filming military units performing tasks on the land and in the air together with other observers. The observers were interested in practically everything: personnel training, troops management, and co-operation of the two armies as well as new combat equipment, of course, including specimens the public saw for the first time. Russia and Belarus Defence Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Leonid Maltsev mentioned several times that the manoeuvres were not targeted at a specific country or a group of countries. However, it was easy to assume that during the manoeuvres the NATO observers were more likely to see themselves in the ranks of our adversaries not our allies.
Union Shield 2006 was a unique event even by the scale of the Russian-Belarusian military co-operation. Never before had the regional military taskforce of the Union State performed defence tasks at such a scale and with such forces. All in all, the manoeuvres engaged 8,800 military, over 40 tanks, around 180 armoured vehicles, 70 cannons and multiple launch rocket systems, 36 aircraft and 12 helicopters. To make the exercise’s concept as close to the reality as possible in Grodno, Brest, Mogilev and Gomel regions of Belarus territorial defence units were deployed and several hundreds of reservists were recruited. The so-called guerrillas cooperated with the soldiers of the military taskforce in the training combats.
At last we should mention massive personnel relocation to the neighbouring state. Around 1,800 military of the 20th combined-arms army of the Russian Federation Armed Forces together with their materiel and armaments were relocated to three Belarusian firing ranges. Simultaneously Russian strategic Air Force aircraft were relocated from Engels (Saratov) to the Belarusian airfields of Machulischi and Baranovichi. Later specialists compared the large-scale troops and armaments relocation to the east European theatre of operation to the most unique command and staff exercise held in recent years Mobility 2004.
Adversaries from Bugiya
According to the manoeuvres concept Belarus was divided into two states — ambitious Bugiya and freedom-loving Dviniya. The former decided to take a chunk of the latter’s territory and brought in the troops. A true ally, Dneproviya came to the aid of Dviniya. It did not take long to decipher who aided who: Russia aided Belarus. The situation with Bugiya was more difficult.
When Belarus’ reporter asked the brass whether they can name the adversary, he did not get any specific answers. “It is a conventional adversary. It can be any aggressor. It is an aggressor, therefore we practise defence operation routines”, a top-ranking official of the Russian Defence Ministry summed up the variants.
The concept seemed to satisfy Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko who arrived at Obuz-Lesnovskiy firing range to see the final part of the manoeuvres. He did not comment what he saw for the press, but the skills of the Belarusian troops seemingly filled the Commander-in-Chief with joy. Even cloudy weather could not spoil the hour of incessant fire and thunder. The ground part of the operation was deployed near the foot of the hill and the visitors could see tank and infantry columns preparing for the attack, tracer fire of missile launchers and artillery fire. Pilots rose up to the occasion to fly lower than usual. Only a Tu-160 did not come out from the clouds and only thundered something threatening in the sky due to safety precautions.
Speaking about peculiarities of the manoeuvres, one can mention new Russian helicopter Mi-28H Night Hunter. A couple of the helicopters flew to Belarus from the training facility in Torzhok. It was the first time the Night Hunters took part in such a representative fiery show, supporting a counterattack of the tanks and infantry and launching missiles at the conventional enemy. It looked spirited, one could not believe that helicopters are thought to be the most well-protected rotorcrafts in the world. Its cockpit is made of armour while the cockpit glass can sustain hits of 12mm bullets. Throw in a respectable firepower of the helicopter — a 30mm cannon, antitank radar-guided missiles, a mine planting device, laser-guided missiles Vikhr and bombs on the external rack.
It is a pity the Air Force does not have the notion of a fifth generation helicopter. Mi-28H can truly be named such a helicopter, commander of the Russian Federation Air Force Vladimir Mikhailov had no doubts. He admitted the helicopter would be supplied to the Belarusian Armed Forces in the foreseeable future.
by Viktor Rotmistrov