Calculating Russian Force Projection Capability

The Russian Armed Forces implemented many reforms after the 2008 Georgian War, consolidating military districts, streamlining command-and-control structure, and switching from a division- to a brigade-centric order of battle. Overall, these reforms acknowledged the futility of retaining a theoretically mass mobilization-capable force in a time when the political conditions for using it are almost impossible to fathom. Instead, the reforms aimed for a military capable of rapidly generating force of flexible size in any of the multitudinous peripheries of the Russian sphere of influence.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

However, the surface appearance of these reforms somewhat obfuscates how the Russian Armed Forces now practices and executes force generation. Russia’s peacetime order of battle reflects how it trains more than how it will fight. Mobilizing an entire brigade remains a rare occurrence in Russia. In 2021, Russia conducted only 4 brigade-scale tactical exercises as opposed to 87 battalion-scale ones.


In the twenty-first century, Russia predominantly relies upon the so-called battalion tactical group (BTG) to field these smaller units in potential isolation from classic Soviet-style echelons. These BTGs carry a disproportionately large proportion of indirect fires by Western standards. They are designed to be able to deliver sufficient firepower in a high-intensity tactical engagement such that they do not require the support of other manoeuvre units.


Calculating the potential number of BTGs Russia can field from its order of battle requires knowledge not only of the order of battle but the patterns in training and political-military pressures on a unit’s area of responsibility (AOR). Determining how many BTGs can be spared in a particular campaign requires balancing all these factors.


If Russia’s order of battle boasts the actual combat strength as it is supposed to have on paper, a Ground Forces brigade should be able to generate 4 BTGs and a division up to 12 BTGs simultaneously. An Airborne Troops (VDV) division would be able to generate 2 BTGs per regiment and a brigade probably 3 BTGs; the decreased quantity is somewhat offset by increased quality and greater deploy-ability including by desant tactics.


In Poland’s case, Russia would be primarily expected to generate force primarily from its Western Military District (ZVO). The ZVO consists of four SV components: 1st Guards Tank Army (Moscow), 6th Army (St. Petersburg), 20th Guards Army (Voronezh), and 11th Army Corps (Kaliningrad). Based on the above calculation, this gives the following maximum possible strength for SV units as of the end of 2021:

  • 1st Guards Tank Army: 32
  • 6th Army: 8
  • 20th Guards Army: 24
  • 11th Army Corps: 12
  • Total: 76


However, these various units are not created equally. Taking the quantity of training activities reported by each as an indication of their relative readiness and manning in 2021, these numbers can be adjusted downward somewhat to:

  • 1st Guards Tank Army: 28
  • 6th Army: 6
  • 20th Guards Army: 20
  • 11th Army Corps: 4 [1]
  • Total: 58

In addition to this, the ZVO VDV can generate 10 BTGs.


In the specific case of Poland, the 11th Army Corps would not be moveable but would be facing the Polish 16thMechanized Division in the north. The 6th Army would likely be needed to screen the Baltic borders and Finnish borders in its entirety. The 20th Guards Army would be unlikely to detach more than 4 units from screening the Ukrainian border. However, the 1st Guards Tank Army would be available in total along with most VDV units (probably reserving 2 BTGs for contingencies in either the Baltic States or Ukraine). This gives a total of 40 BTGs available (32 SV, 8 VDV) in addition to 4 in Kaliningrad Oblast.


This could be supplemented by the Russian Central Military District (TsVO), which could provide up to 38 paper-strength SV BTGs (excluding the 201st Military Base in Tajikistan) and 3 VDV BTGs, though much of this is committed elsewhere in 2021 from Nagorno-Karabakh to Central Asia. In addition to these constraints, a relative paucity of reported training activities suggests manning is relatively reduced in many of these units. Based on this, likely only 24 could be moved to Belarus for a war with Poland.


This brings the total to 64 BTGs (40 ZVO, 24 TsVO; 53 SV, 11 VDV) available to fight Poland in 2021.

[1] The relatively low number compared to the total is in reference to the relative novelty of the division in Kaliningrad Oblast. Some adjustment of numbers may be underway, but it seems that this division is more of a C2 structure than a coherent unit.
Calculating Russian Force Projection Capability
Autor Nicholas Myers
Analyst of great power competition; Russian, US, and Chinese foreign policy; and the Russian and Belarusian militaries. He has been studying policy and statecraft for over 10 years, focusing especially on Russia. He has written a number of reports on the operational capabilities of the Russian military and overseen a wide variety of wargames of potential conflicts in the European Intermarium and Asia-Pacific regions. He is currently starting a PhD in Politics at the University of Glasgow, having just completed an MLitt in War Studies at the University of Glasgow and received his undergraduate degree from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 2011.
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