Cover: Russia's Limit of Advance

Russia's Limit of Advance

Analysis of Russian Ground Force Deployment Capabilities and Limitations

Published May 27, 2020

by Ben Connable, Abby Doll, Alyssa Demus, Dara Massicot, Clint Reach, Anthony Atler, William Mackenzie, Matthew Povlock, Lauren Skrabala


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Research Questions

  1. How far can Russia deploy a capable ground force, and at what cost?
  2. How would such variables as distance, terrain, political accessibility, and the availability of logistics assets affect a Russian ground force deployment, and how does the impact of these factors change as different demands are placed on the force?
  3. Which scenarios would be the most taxing for Russia's overall military operational capacity and global deployment capability?

By the time it invaded Crimea in 2014, Russia seemed to have regained a significant portion of the military power it lost after the fall of the Soviet Union, reemerging as a perceived threat to democracy. But how capable is Russia of deploying and sustaining ground combat forces farther from its borders?

An analysis of notional ground deployment scenarios constructed from real-world, open-source data, along with a review of historical cases spanning the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, reveals strengths and limitations of Russia's military infrastructure. In fact, despite Russia's status as a reemerging global military power, its ground force deployment capability is strong only near its western border and within range of its air defenses. Although it poses a credible threat to Eastern Europe, its ability to deploy ground combat units drops off sharply as geographic distance increases. Limited forces and transportation assets, a lack of international support, and an insufficient ability to sustain its deployed forces also prevent Russia from regaining its Soviet-era deployment capacity.

This research was aided by a detailed order of battle for Russian ground forces and a specially designed calculator, which help advance understanding of the factors that stress Russia's ability to deploy forces and project power locally and globally. A companion report, Russia's Limit of Advance: Scenarios, presents more detail on the context and characteristics of the notional scenarios that underpin this research.

Key Findings

Russian ground forces have a sharply limited effective deployment range

  • Russia's deployment capability near its western and southwestern borders is significantly better than elsewhere, a product of robust lines of communication, transport infrastructure, and air defense, as well as easier-to-negotiate terrain.
  • Far deployments (more than two countries away or across large bodies of water) are particularly challenging for Russian ground forces, with capability gaps and poor support for basing, overflight, and naval access leaving them vulnerable to interdiction.
  • The size and capability of Russia's military transportation fleet is a major limiting factor in its ability to deploy ground combat forces, and it must rely on nonmilitary assets to transport forces and equipment in some scenarios.
  • Russian armored and support vehicles tend to be lighter and smaller than many of their Western counterparts. However, this does not make air transport practical in most cases, so slower movement by ground, rail, or sea is necessary, reducing deployment speed to far contingencies.
  • Although Russia has a large number of ground combat forces, its limited number of immediately ready ground forces makes large combat deployments difficult. In addition, conscripts make up a large portion of Russia's military force, but there are political limitations on deploying them to combat operations.


  • The analytic community would benefit from a model for Russian ground force power projection. With its focus on the logistics of deployment over the sustainment of forces, this research can only partially answer this question.
  • Wargaming and simulation of Russian ground force deployments would benefit from incorporating random delays, challenges posed by conscription, and other stressing factors.
  • Follow-on studies should build on the foundation provided by the Russian ground force order of battle and deployment calculator developed for this research. A wider variety of scenarios that explore the impact of different combinations of factors could provide additional insights to support U.S. military decisionmaking.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, U.S. Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within RAND Arroyo Center.

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