Chapter 14. Future Prospects

Spetsnaz continues to grow. In the first place its ranks are swelling. In the next few years spetsnaz companies on the army level are expected to become battalions, and there is much evidence to suggest that this process has already begun. Such a reorganisation would mean an increase in the strength of spetsnaz by 10,000 men. But that is not the end of it. Already at the end of the 1970s the possibility was being discussed of increasing the number of regiments at the strategic level from three to five. The brigades at front level could, without any increase in the size of the support units, raise the number of fighting battalions from three or four to five. The possibilities of increasing the strength of spetsnaz are entirely realistic and evoke legitimate concern among Western experts.(See Appendices for notes on organisation.)

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The principal direction being taken by efforts to improve the quality of the spetsnaz formations is mechanisation. No one disputes the advantages of mechanisation. A mechanised spetsnaz soldier is able to withdraw much more quickly from the dropping zone. He can cover great distances much more quickly and inspect much larger areas than can a soldier on foot. And he can get quickly into contact with the enemy and inflict sudden blows on him, and then get quickly away from where the enemy may strike him and pursue him.

But the problem of mechanisation is a difficult one. The spetsnaz soldier operates in forests, marshland, mountains, deserts and even in enormous cities. Spetsnaz needs a vehicle capable of transporting a spetsnaz soldier in all these conditions, and one that enables him to be as silent and practically invisible as he is now.

There have been many scientific conferences dealing with the question of providing spetsnaz with a means of transport, but they have not yet produced any noticeable results. Soviet experts realise that it will not be possible to create a single machine to meet spetsnaz needs, and that they will have to develop a whole family of vehicles with various features, each of them intended for operations in particular conditions.

One of the ways of increasing the mobility of spetsnaz behind enemy lines is to provide part of the unit with very lightweight motorcycles capable of operating on broken terrain. Various versions of the snow-tractor are being developed for use in northern regions. Spetsnaz also uses cross-country vehicles. Some of them amount to no more than a platform half a metre high, a metre and a half wide and two or three metres long mounted on six or eight wheels. Such a vehicle can easily be dropped by parachute, and it has considerable cross-country ability in very difficult terrain, including marshland and sand. It is capable of transporting a spetsnaz group for long distances, and in case of necessity the group's base can be moved around on such vehicles while the group operates on foot.

The introduction of such vehicles and motorcycles into spetsnaz does more than increase its mobility; it also increases its fire-power through the use of heavier armament that can be transported on the vehicles, as well as a larger supply of ammunition.

The vehicles, motorcycles and snow-tractors are developments being decided today, and in the near future we shall see evidence that these ideas are being put into practice. In the more distant future the Soviet high command wants to see the spetsnaz soldier airborne. The most likely solution will be for each soldier to have an apparatus attached to his back which will enable him to make jumps of several tens or even hundreds of metres. Such an apparatus could act as a universal means of transport in any terrain, including mountains. Since the beginning of the 1950s intensive research has been going on in the Soviet Union on this problem. It would appear that there have so far been no tangible achievements in this field, but there has been no reduction in the effort put into the research, despite many failures.

The same objective — to make the spetsnaz soldier airborne, or at least capable of big leaps — has also been pursued by the Kamov design office, which has for several decades, along with designing small helicopters, been trying to create a midget helicopter sufficient for just one man. Army-General Margelov once said that 'an apparatus must be created that will eliminate the boundary between the earth and the sky.' Earth-bound vehicles cannot fly, while aircraft and helicopters are defenceless on the ground. Margelov's idea was that they should try to create a very light apparatus that would enable a soldier to flit like a dragon-fly from one leaf to another. What they needed was to turn the Soviet soldier operating behind enemy lines into a sort of insect capable of operating both on the ground and in the air (though not very high up) and also of switching from one state to the other without effort.

Every farmer knows that it is easier to kill a wild buffalo that is ruining his crops than to kill a mass of insects that have descended on his plants at night. The Soviet high command dreams of a day when the neighbour's garden can be invaded not only by buffaloes but by mad elephants too, and swarms of voracious insects at the same time. On a more practical basis for now, intensive research is being conducted in the Soviet Union to develop new ways of dropping men by parachute. The work is testing out a variety of new ideas, one such being the 'container drop', in other words the construction of a container with several men in it which would be dropped on one freight parachute. This method makes it possible to reduce considerably the amount of time set aside for training soldiers how to jump by parachute: training time which can be better spent on more useful things. The container enables the people in it to start firing at targets as they are landing and immediately afterwards. The container method makes it much easier to keep the men together in one spot and solves the problem of assembling a group after it has been dropped. But there are a whole lot of technical problems connected with the development of such containers for air drops, and I am not competent to judge when they may be solved.

Another idea being studied is the possibility of constructing parachutes that can glide; hybrid creations combining the qualities of the parachute and the hang-glider. This would make it possible for the transport aircraft to fly along the least dangerous routes and to drop the parachutists over safe areas far from the target they are making for. A man using his own gliding parachute can descend slowly or remain at one level or even climb higher. Since they are able to control the direction of their flight the spetsnaz groups can approach their targets noiselessly from various directions.

The hang-glider, especially one equipped with a very light motor, is the subject of enormous interest to the GRU. It makes it possible not only to fly from one's own territory to the enemy's territory without using transport planes, but also to make short flights on the enemy's territory so as to penetrate to targets, to evade any threat from the enemy and to perform other tasks.

The hang-glider with a motor (the motodeltoplan) is the cheapest flying machine and the one easiest to control. The motor has made it possible to take off from quite small, even patches of ground. It is no longer necessary to clamber up a hillside in order to take off. But the most important feature of the motorised hand-glider is, of course, the concealment it provides. Experiments show that very powerful radar systems are often quite unable to detect a hang-glider. Its flight is noiseless, because the motor is used only for taking off and gaining height. By flying with the motor shut off the man on the hang-glider is protected from heat-seeking means of detection and attack.

The distance that motorised hang-gliders can fly is quite sufficient for spetsnaz. It is enough to allow a man to take off quite a long way behind the frontier, cross it and land deep in the enemy's rear. Flight in a dangerous area can be carried out at very low altitudes. They are now developing in the Soviet Union a piece of equipment that will make it possible for motorised hang-gliders to fly at very low altitudes following the contours of the ground. Flights will have to take place at night and in conditions of bad visibility, and a simple, lightweight but reliable navigation aid is being developed too.

The motorised hang-glider can be used for other purposes apart from transporting spetsnaz behind the enemy's lines. It can be used for identifying and even for destroying especially important enemy targets. Experiments show that the deltoplan can carry light machine-guns, grenade-launchers and rockets, which makes it an exceptionally dangerous weapon in the hands of spetsnaz. The main danger presented by these 'insects' is of course not to be found in their individual qualities but in their numbers. Any insect on its own can easily be swatted. But a swarm of insects is a problem which demands serious thought: it is not easy to find a way of dealing with them.

The officers commanding the GRU know exactly the sort of deltoplan that spetsnaz needs in the foreseeable future. It has to be a machine that needs no more than twenty-five metres to take off, has a rate of climb of not less than a metre per second, and has a motor with a power of not more than 30 kilowatts which must have good heat isolation and make a noise of not more than 55 decibels. The machine must be capable of lifting a payload of 120 to 150 kilograms (reconnaissance equipment, armaments, ammunition). Work on its development, like the work carried out in the 1930s on the first midget submarines, is being carried on simultaneously and independently by several groups of designers.

The GRU realises that hang-gliders can be very vulnerable in daytime and that they are also very sensitive to changes in the weather. There are three possible ways of overcoming these difficulties: improving the construction of the machines themselves and improving the professional skills of the pilots; employing them suddenly and in large numbers on a wide front, using many combinations of direction and height; and using them only in conjunction with many other weapons and ways of fighting, and the use of a great variety of different devices and tricks to neutralise the enemy.

At the same time as developing ways of dropping people in the enemy's rear, work is being done on methods for returning spetsnaz units to their own territory. This is not as important as the business of dropping them; nevertheless there are situations when it is necessary to find some way of transporting someone from a group, or a whole group, back to Soviet territory. For many years now this has sometimes been done with low-flying aircraft, but this is a risky method which has yet to be perfected. Better methods are needed for evacuating men from territories where there is no sea nearby, where the helicopter cannot be used and where an aircraft cannot land.

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A Soviet general named Meshcheryakov opened up a vast area for study and research when he made the proposal that the armed forces should 'create for spetsnaz the kind of conditions in which no one should interfere with its work'. There are many problems here which Soviet science is concentrating on trying to solve. Who interferes with the work of spetsnaz! Primarily the enemy's radar system. Radar installations interfere with the activity of the entire Soviet Army. In order to open the way for the Soviet Army into the territory of the enemy it is necessary first of all to 'blind' the enemy's radar system. That is always one of spetsnaz's, principal tasks. But to carry it out, the radars obstructing spetsnaz itself have somehow to be put out of action. One solution to this problem is, prior to dropping the main spetsnaz force, to send small groups behind the enemy's lines who will clear the way for spetsnaz which will in turn clear the way for the whole Soviet Army. Such a solution can be regarded as satisfactory only because no other solution has so far been found. But terrific effort is being put into the work of finding some other solution. The Soviet high command needs a technical solution, some method that would make it possible, even for a short period, simultaneously to 'blind' the enemy's radar over a fairly wide area, so as to give the first wave of spetsnaz the opportunity to carry out its mission.

Anti-aircraft systems are the main killers of spetsnaz. The soldier in a transport aircraft is utterly defenceless. One quite small missile, or even a shell, can kill spetsnaz troops in whole groups. What can be done to put out of action the anti-aircraft defence systems at least on a narrow sector before the arrival of the main force of spetsnaz on the enemy's territory? Much thought is being devoted to this. The solution may be technical. GRU's spies may help. But spetsnaz can help itself by recruiting an agent long before the war begins and teaching him what to do on receipt of a sign from the centre.

Once it has arrived in enemy territory spetsnaz is vulnerable from the moment of landing to the moment of meeting up with its own troops.

In order to increase its effectiveness and create conditions in which 'no one should interfere with its work' intensive work is being done on the development of jamming stations to be used in areas where spetsnaz is operating, to prevent the enemy's electronic devices (radio receivers and transmitters, radars, optical-electronic devices, computers and any other instruments) from working normally so as to interfere with the co-ordination of the various enemy forces operating against spetsnaz.

Aircraft and helicopters cause a great deal of trouble for spetsnaz. Spetsnaz already has fairly impressive means of its own for defending itself from air attacks, but work is now going on to provide spetsnaz groups with a reliable anti-helicopter weapon, and to develop a weapon capable of covering considerable areas or even of establishing zones free of all air activity by the enemy.

Finally, weapons systems are being developed of which the main purpose will be to isolate fairly large areas from penetration by the enemy's ground forces. This involves the use of mines and automatic guns mounted and hidden near bridges, crossroads, tunnels and so forth, which operate automatically and destroy the enemy trying to transfer reinforcements into the area where spetsnaz is operating and so to interfere with its work.

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The process of seeking out especially important targets in the enemy's territory will in future be carried out not so much by spetsnaz men on foot or even 'jumping' as by automatic machines of a fairly simple (not by today's standards perhaps, but certainly by tomorrow's) and reliable construction.

Work has been going on for quite a long time on the development of light (up to 100 kilograms) cross-country vehicles with remote control. The vehicles tested have mostly been driven by electricity. They have been steered by remote control with the aid of television cameras installed inside them, similar to some modern bomb-disposal equipment. Apart from using them to find the targets, experiments have been conducted into using them to destroy targets by means of a grenade-launcher mounted in the vehicle or an explosive charge that detonates on contact with the target. The rapid advances in electronics open up enormous possibilities for the development of light remote-controlled vehicles capable of covering large areas quickly and noiselessly and of destroying targets in enemy territory.

Pilotless aircraft have long been used for identifying targets over large areas, and the Soviet Union is a leader in this field. Take, for example, the Soviet strategic high-flying pilotless rocket-driven plane known as the 'Yastreb'. A tremendous amount of work is being done on the development of relatively small pilotless spy-planes. In the future such planes will take off not only from Soviet territory but from enemy territory as well. Soviet airborne troops and spetsnaz have for long been very keenly interested in the possibility of developing a very light pilotless aircraft that could be put together and launched on enemy territory, survey vast areas and transmit a picture to Soviet troops. The ideal aircraft would be one carrying not only the equipment for carrying out reconnaissance but an explosive charge as well. Once it discovered the target and transmitted a picture of it, it could attack it independently. There is nothing fantastic about this plan. Modern technology is quite capable of building such an aircraft. The problem is simply to make the aircraft sufficiently light, cheap, reliable and accurate.

Advances in spetsnaz follow the usual paths. While this research goes on at the cutting edge of Soviet military power: improvements are being made to the familiar weapons and increases in the range, accuracy and fire-power of grenade-launchers, rifles and other armament; improvements in the quality of footwear, clothes, soldiers' equipment and means of communication of all kinds; and reductions in the weight of weapons like mines along with an increase in their destructive potential.