Army 2018 Defense Expo and Russia’s SOF

Army 2018 Russian Defense Exphibition

Army 2018 – Russia has just held its largest arms fair and conference at Park Patriot, located to the west of Moscow and whilst members of their SOF were not very conspicuous, they could be seen if you knew where to look. The event, titled International Military-Technical Forum < Army 2018 > took place 21-26 August, 2018.

Park Patriot exhibition and conference centre covers some 200,000 square metres, and contained some 1,209 international and national organisations and companies, who were exhibiting some 18,523 items. On display were combat helicopters, drones and both Radar and weapon systems (including strategic missiles). Equipment could also be inspected at close quarters, along with weapons, some of which were available to fire on an adjacent firing range.

Army 2018 SOF

Over 300 military vehicles, landing-craft and some 506 armoured vehicles were also on static display, of which many took part in live fire tactical demonstrations held on the adjacent Alabino Military Training Grounds or nearby Komsomolskoe lakes. Military aircraft and helicopters were also either on static display or demonstrated at the nearby Kubinka Russian Air Force Base.

The week-long event – Army 2018 – was attended by some 550,000 international and national visitors and media, who were hosted in seven national pavilions hosted by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Slovakia, South Africa and China. China also provided the “21st August” aerobatic team, who demonstrated their Chinese Air Force J-10 multirole fighter.

Army 2018 - Russian maritime SOF

Amongst this vast array of Russian military personnel were also members of the Russian Special Forces. However, tracking them down was harder as many wore civilian clothing. But their equipment was easier to locate and inspect.

I guess that if many were asked to name a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) or Counterterrorism Unit, they would probably name their elite “Alpha” unit. They came to light in the 1993 Nord-Ost theatre siege. However, they do not deal with the majority of terrorism incidents in Russia. That responsibility falls to the “Spetsial’nyy Otryad Bystrogo Reagirovaniya” (SOBR) or “Special Squad Rapid Reaction Teams”, who handle most armed incidents in Russia, ranging from suspected terrorists held up in houses to domestic-violence standoffs.

Army 2018 - Russian SOF All Terrain Vehicle (ATV)

In 1980 the Special Purpose Police Unit (OMON) was formed under the authority of the “Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation” (MVD). This was considered the true predecessor of Russia’s current SOBR teams. However, the role of this team is considered distant to that of the OMON teams.

After being renamed the “Special Rapid Response Unit” (OMSN) in 2002, then OSN in 2011, the name finally reverted to SOBR in 2012. Control of the SOBR units was then transferred to the new Russian Rosguard, known sometimes as the Russian National Guard, from the MVD in 2016, along with the OMON. This effectively deprived the MVD of any real counter-terror or paramilitary operational capabilities. Nevertheless, as of 2016, SOBR was believed to contain some of eighty-seven detachments containing approximately 5,200 staff.

In 2013 the Russian Military established its own special unit called “Special Operations Command” and known by the Russian acronym “KSSO”. This 2000-man strong unit is reported to be still a work in progress, but continues to build up its capabilities. This unit is part of a much larger community of special designation forces in Russia, known as Spetsnaz. These units are embedded in Russia’s land, naval, infantry and airborne brigades, and are believed to contain some 9,000 to 10,500 staff. They and other special operations units are attached to intelligence agencies such as the “Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation”, or FSB.

In March 2013 a Special Operations Centre was created for the Russian Ministry of Defence and located in Kubinka. It is staffed by some 500 professional soldiers and adjacent to Kubinka Air Base.

Whilst attending the arms fare and Kubinka Air Base, I regret not having time to take a closer look at one of the centres resident units – Kubinka-2. They specialize in Counter-Terrorism and their “Operators” (Onepatop) have adopted the nickname “The Sunflowers”. Their main mission is Counter-Terrorism and therefore incorporates hostage rescue, elimination of terrorist cells and intelligence gathering of terrorist threats. They also take part in close protection of VIPs and are specialists in unconventional warfare.

However, like Arnold Schwarzenegger promised – “I’ll be back.


Photo: Russian All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) by Pat Carty. All other images from the official website of “Army 2018”.

Author: Pat Carty is a NATO accredited journalist who covers military news, events, operations, and exercises; including special operations forces. He is a contributor to SOF News as well as several other military defense publications.