Russian mobilization: What weapons might Moscow use now

The decision by Moscow for mobilization will increase the strength of the Russian army by 137,000 soldiers, but this will take months to accomplish apparently.

Ukrainian army soldiers are seen on an armoured vehicle, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised a military operation, in eastern Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ANTONIO BRONIC)
Ukrainian army soldiers are seen on an armoured vehicle, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised a military operation, in eastern Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, February 24, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANTONIO BRONIC)

Russia has announced a partial mobilization order seven months after it began a war in Ukraine. This mobilization will give the Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu the ability to put more units in the field and apparently learn from some of Russia’s recent exercises. Russian state media have reported that Russia will organize notifications for those being mobilized.

“The base for the mobilization deployment of military units, military commissariats and the reinforcement apparatus are ready for mobilization. Time is ripe to put into practice the experience gained during the annual strategic exercises,” Russian state media said. According to the same report, those mobilized, as follows from the presidential decree, will enjoy the status of contract servicemen.

"Russian warplanes reportedly only attack targets with known coordinates, as called in by Russian ground forces. But Russia’s shortage of reliable tactical reconnaissance drones means many of its ground units cannot see what is over the next hill, further degrading reconnaissance-strike capabilities. In sum, Ukraine’s air denial strategy in combination with insufficient quantities of attritable Russian drones were critical enablers of Ukraine’s counteroffensive success.”

Defense News

Moscow still calls the war in Ukraine a special military operation. Russia claims it has blunted the counterattacks by Ukraine that saw Russia lose ground there. It’s worth noting that the mobilization comes as Russia seeks to solidify control over the area of Ukraine it occupies, giving more power to the two separatist areas it has already recognized, and potentially holding referendums in new areas.

 War crime prosecutor's team member speaks on the phone next to buildings that were destroyed by Russian shelling, amid Russia's Invasion of Ukraine, in Borodyanka, Kyiv region, Ukraine April 7, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA) War crime prosecutor's team member speaks on the phone next to buildings that were destroyed by Russian shelling, amid Russia's Invasion of Ukraine, in Borodyanka, Kyiv region, Ukraine April 7, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA)

The decision by Moscow for mobilization will increase the strength of the Russian army by 137,000 soldiers, but this will take months to accomplish apparently.  “The combat strength of the airborne troops continues to be built up as the basis of the rapid reaction force,” Tass said.  

More Paratroopers  

This hints at the kinds of weapons and troops that may be used as part of the mobilizations. One aspect of mobilization is that it can free up other units to be used in Ukraine. For instance, reports in Ukraine and on social media say that Russia has moved elements of its 217th paratrooper regiment from Syria to Ukraine. Russia has focused a lot on its paratroop units in recent years and has sent some of these units into the fighting already. 

Back in April the BBC reported that the 331st Guards Paratrooper regiment was badly mauled in fighting in Ukraine. Ukrainian reports say that the 137th Airborne Regiment of the 106th Airborne Division of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation suffered losses recently as well. There have also been reports of refusal of Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) to fight in Ukraine. 

Russian units that have participated in the war have left a mixed record in Ukraine, not only in terms abuses of civilians but in terms of their performance and failings. Many have faulty equipment and Russia’s army has not performed well. A member of the 56th Guards air assault regiment based in Crimea detailed some of these failures in a soldier’s diary published by various media. 

A lack of vehicles 

Russia has already lost masses of tanks and other vehicles in the Ukriane war. By May it might have lost 650 tanks and 3,000 vehicles and today the losses are even larger. An August article at Bloomberg noted “as many as 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the war, US Undersecretary of Defense for policy Colin Kahl said Monday at a regular Pentagon briefing. The US assessment was also that Russia had used up a significant percentage of its precision-guided munitions including air- and sea-launched missiles and lost as many as 4,000 tanks and other armored vehicles, he said.” Russia has reportedly been using old equipment, including T-62 tanks, in Ukraine.  

Drones to compensate for lack of new technology 

This leaves Russia with less options as it mobilizes more soldiers. Will it be able to equip the new units with the kind of modern technology that battlefields require, such as electro-optics, and electronic warfare devices, sensors and modern vehicles. Russia has already turned to using Iranian drones to strike at Ukraine. These Shahed-136 drones are simple inexpensive kamikaze drones that can fly into a target. They aren’t very large and they aren’t so far being used in large numbers. 

North Korean and other weapons from abroad 

It is believed that Russia is seeking to replenish its arsenal by scouring the globe for weapons. Russia is under sanctions and it doesn’t have a lot of friends and allies that will sell it the equipment it needs. North Korea is one place Russia can look for systems such as artillery. Russia’s army has been proficient in artillery for hundreds of years and it will want masses of artillery in order to fortify any kind of frontline if it wants to solidify control. Russia is believed to be buying rockets and shells from North Korea to stock up or replenish munitions stockpiles. 

More tanks 

Russia has deployed a variety of tanks and vehicles in the Ukraine war. It is not clear if it has purposely chosen at times to send in older vehicles as cannon fodder, or if Russia simply lacks enough equipment to conduct the war as it wants. Some spotlight has been on questions arising from the performance of Russia’s more modern T-90 tanks. According to the Ukrainian military a T-90M ‘Proryv’ tank was recently captured by Ukrainian forces. 

The report says “the received the first batch of these tanks only in 2020. The first batch was transferred to the 2nd Guards Taman Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army. Т-90М ‘Proryv’ was developed as part of the R&D ‘Proryv-3’ and is an upgraded version of the Russian Т-90 MBT, which in turn is an upgrade of the Soviet-era Т-72 tank.” 

Russia had around 3,300 operation tanks when the war began. It has lost up to 1,000 tanks, but it’s unclear how many of these came from the stockpile of operational tanks, or older tanks of which Russia had another estimated 10,000 tanks of various varieties, according to an article at the Kyiv Independent.

That article notes “Russia has lost a minimum of 220 older T-72B tanks and some 270 of its workhorse T-72B3/M versions modified in the 2010s. The tank death toll includes at least 35 T-80BVM and over 20 T-90A/M tanks, which Ukrainian experts deem the most advanced and resilient Russian tank types.” Russia has many more T-72s T-80s T-90s and older tanks dating from the cold war, such as T-62s. It doesn’t appear Russia has committed its best armored units to the fighting so far, potentially meaning that more T-90s and their most modern version, could be deployed.  

Russia's air force

Russia has appeared to refrain from committing large amounts of air force assets to the war in Ukraine. There were initial uses of airborne assault elements using helicopters near Kyiv, but those failures seemed to end Russia’s use of the skies over Ukraine to try to dominate the war. Russia has not been able to conduct enough aerial surveillance and its surveillance or ISR drones, such as the Orlan-10, do not operate well and have suffered losses. This is particularly true of the Orlan-10, which took heavy losses early in the war, and has become difficult to replace due to Western sanctions.

An article at Defense News notes, “Russian warplanes reportedly only attack targets with known coordinates, as called in by Russian ground forces. But Russia’s shortage of reliable tactical reconnaissance drones means many of its ground units cannot see what is over the next hill, further degrading reconnaissance-strike capabilities. In sum, Ukraine’s air-denial strategy in combination with insufficient quantities of attritable Russian drones were critical enablers of Ukraine’s counteroffensive success.”

Russia has air defenses of its own, such as the Pantsir system, but Russian air defense radar has reportedly also suffered losses because the US supplied Ukraine with high-speed anti-radiation missiles. Russia has lost some 50 aircraft, according to reports. Russia has resorted to cruise missiles rather than air strikes, and yet this method has not enabled it to get air superiority or win the conflict.

The Russian Air Force has been largely absent from the conflict. That could change now and Russia could choose to use Su-34s with guided munitions or Su-30s, which carry unguided munitions. Russia also has Su-35s. It has used the Su-34 in Syria, and it’s unclear why Russia hasn’t used more planes in Ukraine. It is apparently fearful of losing them. With several hundred aircraft that could be used, it appears Russia has largely kept them at their bases.

The war so far has been fought by Russia on the cheap. It has sought to destroy Ukraine while not committing huge numbers of troops and not wasting too much equipment. However, this piecemeal approach has resulted in staggering losses as attrition takes its toll. Now Russia is mobilizing as the winter looms, and Russia likes winter counteroffensives. It could be preparing to use the newly mobilized troops to bolster the flagging troops that are already in Ukraine.

The war so far has been fought by Russia on the cheap. It has sought to destroy Ukraine while not committing huge numbers of troops and not wasting too much equipment. However, this piecemeal approach has resulted in staggering losses as attrition takes its toll. Now Russia is mobilizing as the winter looms, and Russia likes winter counteroffensives. It could be preparing to use the newly mobilized troops to bolster the flagging troops that are already in Ukraine.

Russia has relied on mercenaries, prisoners, Chechen fighters and local Ukrainian separatists to do some of the fighting so far. Many of the units it has sent to Ukraine have been bloodied, and they have lost mountains of badly needed equipment. With Russia now relying on Iranian drones, it’s unclear if Moscow is ready to risk any of its gold-plated platforms, such as large ships and planes and modern tanks. This is because each ship sunk, plane downed or modern tank lost is a big setback for Moscow and an embarrassment – and a win for NATO.

There are other questions about what Russia might do next. Moscow likes to hint at deploying nuclear weapons as a warning to the West. There are also questions about whether Russia will be conscripting men who have no military experience, or calling up veterans. It could take months to train new units or get these men back to their old units. In terms of other equipment, Russia could move in S-300 air-defense systems and more of its 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm. mortars, along with more rockets and vehicles like the TOS-1, which fires rockets.