September 26, 2018

The “East-2018” SCPE

Goals, Scenario, Participants and Peculiarities of the Exercise

Following the sticking to its aggressive foreign policy towards the West, Russia keeps sharpening its confrontation with the United States and NATO on all directions and in all spheres. But being politically and economically incapable of defending its interests, it is actively and massively trying to compensate for this through demonstrating its military force to the opponents.

Thus, the “East-2018” (Vostok-2018) strategic command-and-post exercise (SCPE) of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation became the most resonant in nature, which can be considered Moscow's actual response to the failure of its hopes to improve relations with the United States. In this regard, the main political goal of the exercise is to demonstrate Russia's readiness to defend its interests and the ability to counteract the USA and NATO on an equal footing. That is, the exercise had to virtually confirm the seriousness of Russian President V. Putin's threats to the West, made in his message to the Federal Assembly of Russia on March 1, 2018, and in his inaugural speech of May 7, 2018.

Proceeding from such goals, the leadership of the Russian Federation positioned the “East-2018” SCPE as the most massive since the peak of military power of the former USSR in the early 1980s. According to official reports, 300 thousand servicemen, up to 36 thousand pieces of military equipment (tanks, armored personnel carriers, other armored and motor vehicles), over 1,000 planes, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as up to 80 combat and support ships were involved in the exercise. At this, a special political-information campaign clearly demonstrated the anti-American and anti-NATO orientation of the “East-2018” SCPE. In particular, the exercise was directly compared to the “West-1981” strategic command-and-post exercise of the USSR Armed Forces, when the scenario of a full-scale war between the Soviet Union and the United States and NATO was practiced. And even more so, the exercise included elements of frank provocations against the United States.

The peculiarity of the “East-2018” SCPE was the demonstrative invitation of China, which was done in the face of the worsening relations between the PRC and the United States as a result of Washington's introduction of additional duties on Chinese goods. From China — a brigade tactical group of 3,200 servicemen with weapons and military equipment (a total of about 900 pieces, and an air force group of 6 aircraft and 24 helicopters) was involved in the exercise. Besides, Mongolia was invited to participate in the exercise as Russia's another regional partner. It was represented by an armored unit.

In such steps, the Russian Federation de facto declared its reaching the level of the former Soviet Union, both in terms of its role in the world and its military potential. At the same time, Russia confirmed the existence of its powerful ally — the PRC, which has its own disagreements with the United States of America.

Given the importance of the exercise from the point of view of military-political interests of the participating countries, the main (active) stage of the exercise were attended by representatives of their supreme state and military leadership. In particular, the area of the exercise was visited and the exercise was jointly analyzed by Russian President V. Putin, Russian Defense Minister S. Shoigu, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces V. Gerasimov, Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Wei Fenghe, Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Chinese PLA Shao Yuanming.

This approach is completely different from last year's, when the Russian leadership still hoped to improve the relationship with Washington after the election of D. Trump as the President of the United States, and concealed the real scale and tasks of the “West-2017” SCPE. However, despite Moscow's assurances that it is the most massive “East-2018” SCPE since the 1980s, it actually did not exceed the strategic command exercises in the Russian Armed Forces over the last two years.

At the official level, the RF leadership argued that the exercise was strictly conditional in the scenario and not against any real enemy. However, if we compare the “East-2018” SCPE with the “West-1981” SCPE, then their scenarios are similar in nature, but in a symmetrical version (due to this year's exercise being conducted on the Eastern military theater). In this context, the “East-2018” SCPE is just a logical continuation of the “Caucasus-2016” and “West-2017” SCPEs, during which the RF Armed Forces had mastered strategic (front) offensive and defensive operations in the Black Sea and Baltic regions.

At the same time, at the regional level, during the “East-2018” SCPE, tasks were set up to counteract real challenges and threats to Russia on the Eastern strategic direction. According to the Russian experts' estimates, taking into consideration the peculiarities of the situation in the region, the main real challenges and threats to the RF are as follows:

  • active expansion of China, which already leaves Russia behind and consistently strengthens its presence on the Russian territory. At this, despite Moscow's declaration of its strategic partnership with the PRC, the possibility of a military conflict between Russia and China on territorial or inter-ethnic grounds is not ruled out;
  • Japan's refusal to recognize the results of the Second World War and to conclude a peace agreement with Russia, as well as Tokyo's continuing claims to the island of Sakhalin and the islands of the Kuril ridge. In this regard, Russia assumes that Japan can make attempts to regain control of the islands by means of military force;
  • further escalation of the confrontation between Russia and the United States, which could end in an armed conflict of the parties in the Far East. Besides, the northern part of the Pacific is one of the main areas of the confrontation between Russia and the United States in the nuclear and missile sphere.

Taking into account these circumstances, in the regional context, the scenario of the “East-2018” SCPE included mastering strategic defense operations, in particular, repulsing the enemy's strikes on the Trans-Baikal and Far-Eastern directions, as well as the defense of the island of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.

It is characteristic that, given the decisive advantage of Russia's main opponent — China, as well as the specifics of the geographical position of the coastal areas and islands, only counter-attacks were practiced, without full-scale offensive operations. Instead, they considered the possibility of the turning the conventional warfare into the nuclear and missile phase, with the use of strategic weapons included.


Based on the political goals of the RF leadership in building strategic partnership relations with the PRC, the anti-Chinese elements of the “East-2018” SCPE had never been voiced. They were covered by the “neutral” scenario of the exercise. At the same time, the evidence of the above-mentioned nature of the regional component of the SCPE was the practicing of its main episodes on the most probable directions of the military actions of Russia's enemies, namely, at training grounds near the border with the PRC, in the Primorsky Territory, on Sakhalin and in the surrounding waters.

Thus, the main episode of the exercise was worked out at the “Tsugol” range in Trans-Baikal Territory, and the rest — at the following training grounds: of the Eastern MD: “Bambukovo”, “Radygino”, “Uspensovsky”, “Bikinsky”, “Birfeld”; of the VKS — “Litovka”, “Novoselskoye”, “Telemba”, “Anna's Bay”; in the waters of the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, Avachyn and Kronotsky bays.

The official scenario of the “East-2018” exercise was also absolutely new by its content. For example, the officially announced scenarios of the previous “East” series exercises provided for mastering counter-terrorism struggle. Unlike them, this year's declared scenario included various versions of front offensive and defensive operations. At this, the strategic command exercise of such a scale was for the first time bilateral in nature. One of the fronts was the Eastern Military District and the Pacific Fleet, while the other — the Central Military District and the Northern Fleet.

According to this approach, within the framework of the “East-2018” SCPE, appropriate groupings of troops (forces) were created, including:

as part of the Central Military District or Front

  • on the land direction — the 2nd Combined Arms Army (A, HQ — in Samara) and the 41 A (HQ — in Novosibirsk), the 14th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense (HQ — in Yekaterinburg). The 31st Separate Air Assault Brigade (Ulyanovsk) of the Airborne Forces (VDV), as well as units of other branches and forces;
  • on the coastal direction — a striking and landing naval group of the Northern Fleet with marines on board with the support of naval aviation;

as part of the Eastern Military District or Front

  • on the land direction — the 29 A (HQ — in Chita), the 36 A (HQ — in Ulan-Ude, Trans-Baikal Territory), certain forces and means of the 11th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense (HQ — in Khabarovsk), the 11th Separate Air Assault Brigade (Ulan-Ude), as well as units of other branches and forces;
  • on the coastal direction — the 5 A (HQ — in Ussuriysk, Primorsky Territory), the 35 A (HQ — in Belogorsk, Amur region), the 68th Army Corps (Sakhalin Island), the 83rd Separate Air Assault Brigade (Ussuriysk), certain forces and means of the 11th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense, striking, landing and anti-submarine units, marine forces and aviation of the Northern Fleet.


According to the usual practice, the exercise had several stages, namely:

Preliminary training — from February to mid-summer of this year. Measures were taken for: developing training plans; practicing elements of the SCPE during some trainings and exercises of units and forces of the Central and Eastern Military Districts; mobilization measures; inspection of readiness of the defense industry complex; establishment of interaction between military and civilian authorities;

Training proper — August 20–25 this year as part of the sudden inspection of combat readiness of units of the Eastern and Central Military Districts, as well as Airborne Forces, Long-Range and Military Transport Aviation, the Northern and Pacific Fleets. Including: alerting the troops; deployment of the communication system and war time command and control systems; bringing troops to operational areas and deployment of aviation to dispersal airfields; forming groups of land forces and naval groups; deployment of a joint command system for alert  air defense; establishment of the logistics system of troops.

The troops and armament were transported into the areas of the exercise in a combined way, including on their own (at relatively short distances up to several hundred kilometers), by train and by military transport aviation. The peculiarity of the exercises was the transfer of the ships of the Northern Fleet to the Far East via the Northern Sea Route. During the deployment of troops by land, separate tasks were mastered — crossing water obstacles with pontoon bridges), as well as anti-diversion, air defense and chemical defense of convoys of military equipment and places of temporary stop. For the first time, the system of integrated control over the movement of military convoys was used, which included mobile points for collecting and processing information, as well as surveillance equipment, including UAVs, special helicopters and aircrafts. Besides, to find out the location of military vehicles, the radionavigation satellite system GLONASS was used.

Upon military units' arrival in the places of destination, field control posts, communications centres and camps for personnel and military equipment were deployed; the areas of concentration and combat positions were engineered; measures were taken for camouflaging, radiation, chemical and biological protection; air defense was organized. In all these aspects, separate and special tactical trainings were conducted;

The main or active — September 11–17, 2018. At this stage, the main episodes of the scenario of the “East-2018” SCPE were mastered, namely:

Repulsing the enemy's massive air attack with the use of strategic and tactical aviation, as well as cruise missiles. The tasks were fulfilled at the “Telemba” training ground in Buryatia (which again confirms the exercise's being aimed against China), where were deployed the forces and means of the 76th Air Defense Division from the 14th Air Force and Air Defense Army. In particular, to the training ground were brought S-300, S-400 systems and radio-technical equipment. In addition, there were also deployed means of field air defense of the Central MD, including “Tor” and “Buk” anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as “Pantsyr-S” air defense missile-gun complexes. Rocket-bomb strikes on targets at the training ground were inflicted by aircrafts of the 11th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense, as well as by the strategic bombers of the Long-Range Aviation;

offensive, defensive and counter-offensive operations at the army level. According to the official scenario of the exercise, the following units were involved in practicing this issue:

  • from the Central MD/Front — a tank division, two motorized rifle brigades, an air assault brigade and supporting units;
  • from the Eastern MD/Front — a coalition group of troops consisting of a tank brigade, two motorized rifle brigades, an air assault brigade and supporting units of the Russian Armed Forces, as well as an infantry brigade of the Armed Forces of China and an armored unit of the Armed Forces of Mongolia.

In fact, to the training ground “Tsugol” were deployed and involved in the exercise as follows:

  • from the Central MD/Front — the 21st Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (Totskoye-4, Orenburg region) and the 91st Control  Brigade (Roshinsky, Samara region) from the 2 A of the Central MD;
  • from the Eastern MD/Front — the 37th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (Kyakhta, Buryatia) from the 36 A and the 101st Control Brigade (Chita), the 3rd Missile Brigade (Gornyi), the 200th Artillery Brigade (Gornyi), the 140th Separate Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade (Domna), the 19th Separate Radiological, Chemical and Biological-Warfare Regiment (Gornyi) from the 29 A of the Eastern MD;
  • from the forces of central subordination — the 1st Engineer Brigade (Murom, Vladimir region);
  • from the Russian VKS — aircrafts and helicopters from the 11th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense;
  • from the Russian VDV — the 11th and 31st Separate Air Assault Brigades;
  • from foreign partners of Russia — a motorized infantry brigade of the PLA of the PRC and an armored unit of the Armed Forces of Mongolia.

During the combat training, standard forms and methods of combat actions were used, exclusively with rocket and artillery strikes on the enemy's forward positions and rear targets (electronic launches of “Iskander” operational-tactical missiles and actual (live) firing of barrel and rocket artillery); crossing water obstacles and beachhead assault for troops and equipment; repulsing the enemy's offensive and conducting a counter-offensive; airborne landing from Il-76 and helicopters in the enemy's rear and on its flanks. At the same time, were tested new methods of combat use of troops, in particular, new-type air assault units, equipped with automated command and control systems and advanced weapons and military equipment;

amphibious landing and anti-landing defense. In amphibious landing were involved: a group of warships from the Northern Fleet (a large anti-submarine ship “Vice Admiral Kulakov” and a large landing ships “Kondopoga” and “Alexander Otrakovsky”) landed units of the 80th Separate Arctic Motorized Rifle Brigade of Coastal Defense Troops of the Northern Fleet onto the coast of the Chukotka Sea; a landing group of the Pacific Fleet, consisting of large landing ships “Peresvet”, “Nikolai Vilkov” and “Admiral Nevelskoy”, as well as small landing ships, landed units of the 155th Separate Marine Brigade of the Coastal Defense Troops of the Pacific Fleet on the coast of the Sea of Japan near Vladivostok. Apart from the personnel, military equipment was also landed — infantry fighting vehicles BMP-2, self-propelled howitzers “Gvozdika”, armored personnel carriers BTR-82A and MRLS “Grad”.

In its turn, anti-landing defense was mastered by the motorized rifle and tank units of the 68th Army Corps and army aviation at “Uspensovsky” training ground on Sakhalin, and by the coastal defense troops of the Pacific Fleet and the 83rd Separate Air Assault Brigade at the “Bambukovo” training ground in the Primorsky Territory.

search and destroy of warship groups and submarines of the enemy. For this purpose, were used attack warships and naval groups of the Northern and Pacific Fleets, anti-submarine naval groups, coastal defence missile systems of the Pacific Fleet, and aviation. While on sea, naval groups were practicing standard tasks of anti-submarine and air defense, search and destroy of submarines, and missile attacks on enemy ships;

the final stage — after the active phase of the exercise. The RF leadership and the Command of the Russian Armed Forces analyzed the results of the SCPE, and gave them a positive assessment.


A separate element of the “East-2018” SCPE was mastering nuclear strikes against the enemy. Thus, at the stage of the exercise proper, measures were taken to disperse the Long-Range (Strategic) Aviation with redeploying of the strike aircrafts to advanced airfields. In particular, a pair of Tu-160 strategic bombers from the 22nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Division (HQ — in Engels, Saratov region) made their first flight to the Anadyr airfield in Chukotka. According to Russian experts, the use of this airfield significantly increases the possibilities of combat use of the Long-Range Aviation of the RF Armed Forces against the US military facilities in Alaska.

At the active stage of the exercise — September 11, 2018, Tu-95MS strategic bombers from the 326th Heavy Bomber Aviation Division (HQ — in Ukrainka, Amur region) launched cruise missiles against the targets at the “Telemba” training ground. The launches were carried out at a height of 5 km after the flight of aircraft at a range of more than 2 thousand km with refueling in the air from the Il-78 tanker. Air-protection of strategic bombers was done by Su-35 fighters from the 303rd Composite Aviation Division of the 11th Army of Air Force and Air Defense.

Besides, on September 1 and 13 this year, strategic bombers Tu-95MS, accompanied by Su-33 fighters conducted provocative flights to the coast of Alaska. To intercept the Russian aircrafts, F-22 fighters of the US Air Force were raised into the air.

At the same time, the Pacific Fleet was fulfilling the tasks of a secret deployment to the combat patrol areas of nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles on board and electronic launches of missiles.

Actual (live) launches of land- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles were not carried out. Possibly, they will be conducted on the single operational background with the “East-2018” SCPE in October–November 2018.


In general, the results of the “East-2018” exercise confirmed Russia's capability of organizing and conducting offensive and defensive operations of front-size scale on various military theaters. This is of fundamental importance for the Russian Federation in the face of the growing confrontation with the USA and NATO, and potential threats from China and Japan, which put it in danger of wars both in the West and in the East.

In turn, this makes Russia build up its troops (forces) and prepare for possible armed conflicts on both of these directions. At the same time, in view of the superiority of the military potentials of its opponents, Russia is in fact unable to inter-theater maneuver its forces. Thus, during the latest SCPE, the reinforcement of the RF Armed Forces was done mainly at the expense of the Central Military District, which has limited capabilities.

The above-mentioned circumstances also limit Russia's ability to conduct large-scale aggression against Ukraine. In particular, only a part of the troops (forces) of the Western and Southern Military Districts of the RF Armed Forces may be used for some reinforcement with some additional forces of the Central MD. The rest of the Armed Forces of Russia will have to cover/defend other areas.

Under such circumstances, Moscow relies on nuclear weapons, which actually remains its only means of deterring its opponents.