Operational Maneuver Group [OMG]

In the 1980s, the Soviets began to form new corps-type structures. These corps are divisions expanded to almost twice the size of a tank division [TD]. They are ideally suited to act as an operational maneuver group (OMG) for the front, conducting high-speed operations deep in an enemy’s rear area. These NAC formations contain around 400 tanks, 750 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs)and armored personnel carriers (APCs),and 300 artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers (MRLs). Additional units of this type may appear once testing and operational evaluation end.

Soviet maneuver divisions are continuously undergoing a reorganization that significantly upgrades their combat capability. This manual includes the main features of the most current organizational changes. The addition of new sub-units and the upgrade of existing elements have expanded both motorized rifle divisions [MRDs] and TDs. The greatest changes are in the TDs.

The BTR-and BMP-equipped motorized rifle battalions (MRBs) have expanded the mortar battery from six to eight tubes. They have added a machine gun/antitank platoon to each company in the BTR-equipped MRB. The BMP-equipped MRB has added machine gun platoons, with no extra antitank weapons. Also, the Soviets have now consolidated the automatic grenade launcher and antiaircraft (AA) squads in platoons at the battalion level of both BTR-and BMP-equipped MRBs.

In order to support the fast-moving maneuver units envisioned for future battlefields, the Soviets have formed materiel support units within combined arms units from tactical to front levels. Within divisions and regiments, respectively, materiel sup-port battalions and companies combine formerly fragmented motor transport, supply, and service functions. The new rear area units will provide a 30-percent increase in motor transport assets and a streamlined command structure. A similar re-organization at army and front levels has created materiel support brigades with centralized control for ammunition, fuel, and other supplies.

The airborne division is now a fully mechanized combined arms organization. Airborne divisions now consist of three regiments equipped with the air-droppable BMD, affording these units greater firepower and mobility. The Soviets have also produced a new 120-millimeter 2S9 airborne self-propelled (SP) howitzer with a mortar capability for airborne and air assault units.

Since the late 1970s, the Soviets have developed the tank regiment (TR) into a combined arms team (tank, motorized rifle, and artillery) that promises to be as flexible in its employment as the motorized rifle regiment (MRR). (The MRR already had a tank battalion (TB) and an artillery battalion.) The addition of an MRB to the TR of a TD eliminates the necessity for the TD commander to reinforce each of his TRs with MRR assets. This leaves the TD with four maneuver regiments. The addition of an artillery battalion to the TR places a great deal more firepower under direct control of the regimental commander. The division commander then has greater flexibility in the use of his artillery resources to influence the battle. Hence, the capability of the TR and TD to conduct largely self-supported combined arms combat has increased greatly.

Large-caliber SP guns and mortars and long-range MRLs have increased the artillery available to army and front commanders. Additionally, some army-level regiments have grown to brigade size with the addition of a fourth artillery battalion. These battalions are currently expanding from 18 to 24 tubes, primarily in units opposite NATO. All of the Soviet’s SP and towed guns/howitzers (152-millimeter and larger) are nuclear-capable. The Soviets are also adding newer nuclear-capable pieces such as the 203-millimeter SP gun 2S7 and the 240-millimeter SP mortar 2S4. They are deploying the BM-22 220-millimeter MRL, which can fire deep into the enemy’s rear. These improvements greatly enhance area coverage and counter-battery support to subordinate divisions. The new T-64/72/80-seriestanks feature improved firepower, with a 125-millimeter main gun and an improved fire control system. Both the T-80 and a variant of the T-64 can fire an ATGM through the main tube. The T-80 can mount reactive armor which further protects against the West’s antitank capabilities. At the same time, the establishment of army aviation has given ground forces a vertical dimension. The helicopter now provides CAAs and TAs with a highly maneuverable and versatile platform for reconnaissance, command and control (C2), and fire support. General-purpose and attack helicopter units can move with armies and divisions at the high rates of advance they will need to conduct combined arms operations in depth.


Soviet maneuver divisions are well-balanced, powerful, and mobile fighting units. They have a combined arms structure as well as a comprehensive array of combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) elements. In early 1987, there were 211 active Soviet maneuver divisions: 150 MRDs, 52 TDs, 7 airborne divisions, and 2 static defense divisions. The totals did not include 2 new army corps (NAC) and 5 mobilization divisions.

The basic structures of the three types of divisions (motorized rifle, tank, and airborne). While this presents “type” Soviet divisions, different configurations and different categories of readiness exist among actual divisions.

Divisions receive new items of equipment according to the priorities established by the MOD. High-priority formations, such as the Soviet forces in the Western TVD, are usually the first to receive modern equipment. When they replace older material, the Soviets send that older equipment to lower-priority units in the interior of the USSR or to reserve stocks. Late-model T-64/72/80 tanks constitute about one-third of the USSR’s tanks. While older T-55 and T-62 tanks constitute moat of the remainder, over 1,500 T-80s are currently deployed opposite NATO and nearly 75 percent of the 19,000 Soviet tanks in the Western Theater are T-64/72/80 models.

By MAJOR B. M. Young’s, USMC
April 6, 1984

“Rear area security has been a continuing problem for armies throughout history. Today is no different; the capability of the Soviet Union to inflict damage to our rear areas is a serious threat. Those threats and actions within the . . . rear area which impede or deny the orderly flow of supplies and services to the forward maneuver elements affect directly the ability of those maneuver elements to accomplish their mission.

The U. S. Army’s FM 100-5, Operations, considered to be the capstone publication for U. S. maneuver warfare, specifically warns:
‘Just as we plan to fight in the enemy’s rear area, so he plans to fight in ours. The enemy will carefully coordinate his attack in our rear area with his actions in the main battle area….the object of these rear area attacks is to destroy critical links, to cause disruption, and to degrade the capability of forces dedicated to support or reinforce the main effort.’
. . .

Perhaps at the outset, some terms should be defined. The rear area is the area in the rear of the combat and forward areas. Rear area security (RAS) is defined as those measures taken prior to, during, and/or after an enemy airborne attack, sabotage action, infiltration, guerrilla action, and/or initiation of psychological or propaganda warfare to minimize the effects thereof. Rear area protection (RAP) includes all measures taken to prevent interruptions of combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) operations.

A historical review of rear area operations reveals that the Soviet Union has traditionally been successful in employing forces in the enemy’s rear area. These rear area operations were conducted to disrupt or destroy enemy combat support and combat service support operations and as economy of force measures to force enemy commanders to divert tactical or frontline units in defense of their rear areas. Successful rear area operations in military history serve to emphasize the importance and magnitude of the rear area security problem.

. . .

The Soviet Army has had tremendous experience with rear area operations and is cognizant of their effectiveness.

Having stated the historical significance of rear area operations, it is now appropriate to examine briefly the threat impose by our most likely enemy in futur3e conflicts.

The lessons of World War II are still vivid in the minds of the Soviet military hierarchy. The two principles of war which seem to dominate Soviet military doctrine are: offensive and mass. Western strategists and tacticians are continuously working on methods to defeat or counter these
Soviet capabilities.

The immediate question should be, “What is the threat today?” The principles of war, economy of force (the reciprocal of mass) and the offensive are the driving factors in the importance of rear area operations as a force multiplier in Soviet doctrine today.

The evolution of Soviet doctrine for the employment of ground forces developed rapidly in post World War II. Soviet conventional ground forces were trained and equipped to maneuver motorized rifle and tank units in seizing objectives deep in the enemy rear areas. Soviet doctrine continues to emphasize the offensive and high-speed penetration of enemy defenses and combat formations to seize deep objectives.

The Soviet desant concept advocates employing forces in the enemy rear areas or flanks. This concept is a consolidation of Soviet thinking in the employment of airborne, heliborne, and amphibious forces in economy of force operations to disrupt the enemy rear area. The desant concept is an accessory to the principle of the offensive because its primary purpose is to support the advance of the Soviet regular ground forces.

The Soviet forces involved in rear area operations would be drawn primarily from three sources: airborne units, long-range reconnaissance units from tank and motorized rifle units, and designated combined arms units (also called forward detachments) from tank and motorized rifle units.

The Soviet Union maintains the world’s largest airborne force which is organized into seven active divisions. The most important feature of these airborne divisions and their subordinate units is that, once landed, they are a light-armor mechanized force. The BMD is the airborne equivalent of the Soviet Infantry combat fighting vehicle BMP, and, as such, provides Soviet airborne forces a significant mobility and firepower capability.

Soviet doctrine assigns three basic missions to airborne forces: (1) strategic; (2) operational; and (3) tactical.

The primary difference in these missions is the depth of operation and the nature of the objectives. Of importance to this paper are the operational and tactical missions. Operational missions in support of the Front (largest Soviet fighting organization) are executed under the control of the Front commander. These missions include seizing bridgeheads, airfields, road junctions, as well as destruction of enemy logistical facilities. Operating in the enemy rear areas, these units prevent the effective and timely employment of reserve forces and generally disrupt the enemy’s offensive and defensive posture. Standard procedure for operational missions of this nature would involve dropping a regimental sized unit up to 300km beyond the FEBA in support of a Front offensive. Ground forces linkup would occur within two to three days with the airborne forces.

The tactical mission concept includes battalion to regimental-sized operations up to 100km beyond the FEBA in support of an Army offensive. Linkup in these operations is planned within 48 hours. The tactical mission has objectives similar to operational missions, but on a smaller scale.

Tactical long-range reconnaissance units are found in reconnaissance battalions of motorized rifle and tank divisions, the mission of these units is to conduct ground reconnaissance of the enemy rear area up to 100km beyond the FEBA. These battalions are capable of operating in an area of 50-60km wide on three or four axes. Six to eight armored reconnaissance squads, each consisting of two to three BRDM’s and/or BMP-R’s and motorcycles, are used. Their primary mission is reconnaissance, but they may attack small targets of opportunity or even conduct sabotage operations against logistic units. In addition, long-range reconnaissance patrols are often flown by helicopter. They can operate throughout a rear area to locate both reserve force and command post locations and to recon possible avenues of approach.

The special combined arms unit, also called a forward detachment, is typically composed of a motorized rifle battalion with tanks, self-propelled artillery, and air defense weapons. This detachment is a small, highly mobile and firepower intensive unit. These forward detachments take advantage of a gap in the enemy front and penetrate deep into the enemy rear area. The objectives of these small independent units vary according to the situation. These detachments are key elements in the successful linkup with airborne and helicopter forces. How valid a threat is a forward detachment? According to Victor Suvorov, author of Inside the Soviet Army, one battalion in each Soviet regiment is held ready to assume the mission of a forward detachment at all times.

In conjunction with the Soviet forces previously mentioned three additional organizations have been recently identified as having the primary mission of operating in an enemy’s rear area. The three organizations are: the Spetsnaz; Air Assault Brigades; and the Operational Maneuver Group (OMG).

The Spetsnaz are the special purpose or unconventional warfare forces of the Soviet Union. Each Combined Arms Army and Tank Army has a Spetsnaz Company totaling approximately 105 personnel. Depending upon its assigned mission, the company can operate as an entity or it can be fragmented into smaller groups and teams. In addition, each Front has a Spetsnaz Brigade of approximately 1300 highly-skilled, elite troops. Spetsnaz troops are all volunteers and are superbly trained to operate in a clandestine manner behind enemy lines. The Soviets consider that Spetsnaz operations can only be successful if they take place simultaneously on a massive scale with other operations. Spetsnaz units are placed in areas where there are numerous high-value targets (i.e., command posts, logistical facilities).

The Soviet Air Assault Brigades represent a significant increase in the Front level combat capability. These brigades have a combination of battalions which are parachute and BMD-equipped. The air assault brigade is capable of undertaking a myriad of missions because of its unique structure, mobility, and firepower. The brigade consists of three battalions with approximately 2,500 personnel; the battalions are employed by airborne drop or by helicopter. The missions assigned the heliborne battalions include neutralization of command posts, seizure of key terrain, and destruction of logistics sites. Soviet doctrine for the employment of heliborne forces states that those forces can be inserted anywhere in the tactical depth of the enemy’s defense or combat formations up to 50km from friendly forces.

The Operational Maneuver Group (OMG) appears to be a large one-way raiding force, composed of infantry, tanks, artillery, air defense and a heavy air assault component. The Soviets believe that successful OMG operations could severely disrupt the enemy rear area, thereby increasing the chances of maintaining the rapid advance of Army and Front level forces. The OMG is a specially tailored combat force with no fixed structure. The OMG has three main missions, all of which are directed at the enemy’s rear area: (1) destruction of enemy weapons systems; (2) destruction of the enemy’s in-depth defense or offensive combat formation (actions by the OMG would include destruction of command and control positions, logistics assets and surprise attacks on flank and rear area units); (3) seizure of deep key terrain and critical objectives.

It should be readily apparent that the Soviet threat to rear area security is quite significant. Soviet operations in the rear area will not of themselves be of sufficient scale to bring about a Soviet victory. One major function of all the forces mentioned is to reduce the enemy’s capacity to resist, thus making it easier for the main attacking forces to accomplish their missions.

Having described the Soviet threat to rear areas, it would be appropriate to review what current doctrine provides the conduct of rear area security operations.

U. S. Army doctrine is found in FM 31-85, Rear Area Protection (RAP) Operations. Though issued in 1970, it does provide a basic philosophy of RAS and eight principles which are still valid: austerity, command, and economy of force, integrated protection, offensive, responsiveness, supervision, and priority of risks.

The cornerstone of Army doctrine is FM 100-5, Operations, which provides information on Rear Area Protection and gives a concise and meaningful resume of the threat as it is projected and adequately outlines responsibilities for rear and combat operations (RACO).”


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