Ukraine conflict: Russian military adapts command-and-control for Ukraine operations

by Tim Ripley

Russia has established an unprecedented command-and-control (C2) structure to co-ordinate its multipronged invasion of Ukraine.

For the first time it is simultaneously running a major operation through the headquarters of four military districts, which are the equivalent of four-star headquarters in Western military organisations. These new command arrangements have significantly contributed to the slow rate of advance of the Russian forces in the opening phase of the war, according to senior Western intelligence sources.

At least three of these headquarters are employing ground, air, army aviation, airborne, missile, and special forces, and one of the headquarters, the Southern Military District, is also integrating naval and amphibious forces.

Two of the district headquarters, the Central and Far Eastern, have re-deployed forward command elements from their home garrisons and are operating within the area of responsibility of the Western Military District and in Belarus.

UK Defence Intelligence has picked up these developments and has been identifying the axis of the advance of what it terms “military district groupings [for forces]” in its daily update since 24 February.

Indications of the moves to establish the C2 apparatus for the Ukraine operation emerged during ‘Exercise Allied Resolve 2022', which started in Belarus in January. This included the deployment of land, air, and air defence headquarters elements from the Eastern Military District. The Russian and Belarusian Ministries of Defence published reports and imagery of several C2 facilities during the exercise.

The Ukraine operation is integrated at a strategic level at the National Defense Control Center, which is inside the Russian Ministry of Defence building in central Moscow. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was filmed by the TASS news agency on 1 March participating in a video conference from the centre with his senior operational commanders.

A senior Western official monitoring Russian forces in Ukraine told Janes on 4 March that the invasion, which involved establishing a C2 network to co-ordinate multiple operations, across multiple axes, was “beyond the scale anything the Russian armed forces had trained for before”.

He said the sheer scale of the operation was having an impact on the ability of the Russian military to pull together their forces into a coherent operation, an issue that is highlighted by the stalling of its armoured column to the northwest of Kyiv. “It is part of the problem and this is dislocating their command-and-control,” he said.

The inability of the Russian Aerospace Forces to fully neutralise Ukraine's air defences in the early days of the war was also limiting the ability of the Russians to utilise airborne C2 assets to control the advancing columns inside Ukraine. This is understood to be a reference to Iluyshin Il-22M airborne command post and Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft.

“Their airborne command-and-control aircraft are having to stand-off out of the range of air defence threats,” said the official. He said Russian commanders were starting to adapt their operations and senior officers are increasingly moving up to front line areas to bring order and “impose their personality” to bring improvements to the operation. The increasing need for senior officers to visit the front has resulted in one army deputy commander, as well as a division and a regimental commander, being killed by Ukrainian fire, said the official.

Russia has established an unprecedented command-and-control (C2) structure to co-ordinate its multip...

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