Russian battalion tactical groups

by CPT Nicolas J. Fiore

There's an inaccuracy regarding the "2013" date in the article and the author's matching up of a U.S.Army BCT with a smaller Russian BTG is weird and his primitive economics argument at the end is off as well*, but these points aside it's a very interesting piece.

The Russians are maintaining the pressure in the Donbas conflict by rotating personnel from several brigades into and out of the theatre; the battalion tactical groups are the in-Donbass area forces.

The concept of having a core of heavily equipped mostly professional troops supporting many lesser and smaller forces around them is interesting, and mirrors a concept of my own. The lightly equipped mercenary forces that receive such support provide security in return.

An all-regular forces concept of this kind could involve Jagdkommandos (detached reinforced infantry platoons) supported by a battalion battlegroup with communication nodes/relays, data downlinks, medical support, tanks, non-portable drones, resupply points, intelligence-gathering, artillery fires, engineering equipment, NBC detection, radar surveillance, electronic warfare and even area air defences. That's basically a list of all those things in modern 1st world land forces that grow the tail in the tooth:tail ratio.

I don't think that this would be a sensible approach for the first weeks of a conflict, and it would be very difficult to pull off in a very mobile phase, but it makes a lot of sense for when the hot conflict slowed down, and mobilised reserves provide much infantry while heavy arms (MBTs, SPGs) have become rare. The Polish effort to create infantry-centric militia forces could be interpreted in this light.

Returning to my idea; I actually pondered the concept of using mechanised brigades (each 2-3 spaced battlegroups and a support group) as forces in-being, providing an umbrella of support to dispersed and small unit-centric forces (mechanised skirmishers, light infantry). Only once the battlefield was shaped in an advantageous way or overly aggressive opposing forces behaviour forced the hand would such brigades turn into the mode of operations that's standard doctrine nowadays.

That's quite a contrast to the aggressive pursuit of tank battles known from 1967 and 1973 and also a huge departure from Blitzkrieg or Deep Battle recipes of the 1930's and 1940's.


P.S.: I should mention that the whole thing about the BTG reminds me of the Vietnam firebases; small outposts with howitzers that dominated the surrounding area because their howitzer fires gave infantry patrols an advantage over less-supported opposing forces infantry.

*: I made a similar argument in the past, but one needs to remember that exports only finance imports, not government consumption. Government consumption can be supported with domestic resources if a country is as large as Russia. It wouldn't be pretty, but it's possible. Strong exports make a high government consumption much easier and ultimately increase the maximum sustainable spending level, though.


  1. I think you will find this interesting:


  2. This kind of tactic (square trick) is very old. Especially the romans used it a lot and it evolved in the roman case from the warfare of the samnite tribes in italy (manipular warfare with maniples of heavy infantry and many swarming velites / accensi and so on light infantry and then especilly in fighting barbarians tribes and guerillas, for example in the guerilla war in Iberia (Spain) and then against german tribes and other enemies which used light infantry and wilderness areas to their advantage. So it evolved from fighting insurgents / partisans / guerillas and from there the romans more and more began to use it against other kind of enemies too.

    Classicaly a cohort or even a legion form a stable (moving) basis with intervalls in it (centuria or cohorts divided with interval between them) and the light troops do the fighting around it and withdrew between the intervalls of the heavy legion infantry in the case of an attack of heavy enemy troops.

    This tactic was used from the times of the early roman republic until the last days of the empire.

    1. I wrote about that,


      but it's rather a triple interrupted line than a real all-round formation.

      In mobile warfare you have no frontline that minimises incursions by small yet dangerous elements. There may even be stay-behind threats all around you.
      That's why studying the few historical examples fo moving pockets may be worthwhile.


  3. The BTG is really a stepping stone or a proof of concept to creating a brigade sized or even a division sized force. I find it highly unlikely that they will try to fight any NATO BCT with just a Battalion sized force. They could trying to use the BTG as stand alone until they can come up with a higher HQ that can control multiple BTG at once.
    They might also be considering the structure before fine tuning the C$ISR portion of it. They have finely coming around to using smaller units than the big old coldwar heavy division. although it had alot of assets, it lacked for flexabilty. One other thing could be is that they could be expiramenting with a stand alone force. Starting with the BTG then making a higher HQ that control more BTGs without too much centralization.

  4. "I don't think that this would be a sensible approach for the first weeks of a conflict, and it would be very difficult to pull off in a very mobile phase, but it makes a lot of sense for when the hot conflict slowed down, and mobilised reserves provide much infantry while heavy arms (MBTs, SPGs) have become rare"-you pretty much predicted the what the Ukraine-Russia war has turned into.

    1. Maybe, but the developments in Ukraine are asymmetric, with Ukraine mobilising much more infantry than Russia. I've read hints that the Russians took artillery out of BTGs, presumably to mass it for the theatre-wide main effort. So by now the BTGs don't appear to be intact any more.

      It is actually rare for wars seeing a reduction in heavy arms over time. WWI/WWII/Spanish Civil War all saw an increase of availability of heavy weapons. We'll see how this plays out this time.