22 March 2008

Lesson Three: Choose the Right Weapons

Lesson Three: Choose the Right Weapons

The Chechen weapon of choice was the rocket propelled grenade launcher (RPG). The RPG was most feared by the Russians because of its multiplicity of uses. It could be used to shoot over buildings like a high-trajectory mortar, and it could be used either as an area weapon when fired over troop formations or as a precision weapon when fired directly at armored vehicles. Some destroyed Russian tanks were hit more than 20 times by RPGs.

A second weapon of choice for the Chechens was not really a weapon at all. It was the multitude of information-technology gadgets, especially cellular phones and commercial scanner systems, that allowed the Chechens to communicate easily with one another, ensured the coordination of combat operations, and allowed Chechens to listen in on Russian conversations (thereby proving to be a force-coordination multiplier). On many occasions, the Russians felt the Chechens knew what they were going to do ahead of time, and for this reason believed these communication devices were like weapons. The Chechens also used mobile TV stations to override Russian TV transmissions and to deliver messages from President Dudayev directly to the people. The Internet was also used, especially to raise funds and assistance from abroad.

Flame-throwers appear to have been a weapon of choice for the Russian force. One article written after the fighting noted that the Kalashnikov assault rifle, the Mukha grenade launcher, and the Shmel flame-thrower were a "soldier's best weapons."[18] The flame-thrower was chosen as much for its psychological effect as its ability to flush people or snipers out of buildings at a considerable range. Evidence supporting the view that this is an important Russian weapon was provided when an improved, jet-powered model was advertised for sale abroad in October 1998. It reportedly was capable of the same effectiveness as 152mm artillery rounds, and had a maximum range of fire of 1,000 meters (over a half mile!).[19] With its portability and range, it may prove to be an adequate substitute where the use of supporting artillery would be difficult.

A "weapon" of choice for both Russians and Chechens was the sniper, who caused panic and havoc with just a few well-placed shots. There are reports that the Chechens employed female snipers from the Baltic region. Snipers were extremely effective in slowing a convoy's movement and forcing a column to take another route. One observer wrote:

One experienced sniper is capable of doing what will prove to be beyond the capability of a tank, gun, or entire infantry subunit: disable a commander, destroy a gun or mortar crew, control one or two streets . . . and, most important, instill in the enemy a feeling of constant danger, nervousness, and expectation of a sudden shot. Everyone fears the Chechen snipers in Grozny. . . . There are many cases where a sniper wounds a serviceman, and then kills the wounded person and those who come to his aid.[20]

The sniper could also use an RPG in conjunction with a sniper rifle. A real problem for Russian troops was identifying snipers who shot at them and then donned a Red Cross armband and mingled with the local populace and the Russian soldiers he was killing. To counteract this, Russian checkpoints began forcing the Chechen men to take off their shirts. Soldiers would look for bruises on the shoulder from weapon recoil, for powder burns on forearms, or for a silver lining around cuffs (from mortar or artillery propellant bags). They also smelled clothing for gunpowder and looked for traces of it under fingernails or on arms or legs. Russian forces also employed snipers, but not with the same degree of success as the Chechens. A March 1995 article decrying the neglect of sniper training attests to this fact.[21]

The correct mix and employment of weapons in the city were also important. Grozny was a three-tiered fight (upper floors of buildings, street level, and subterranean or basement), and the weapons had to fit. Russian tanks could not lower their main gun tubes and coaxial machine guns low enough to shoot into basements harboring Chechen fighters. To correct this problem, the Russians put ZSU-23-4 self-propelled, multi-barreled, antiaircraft machine guns forward with columns to fire at heights and into basements.



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