From ‘Disposable’ to ‘Specialized’ — Russia Uses 4 Types of Infantry

Wes O'Donnell
5 min readJun 1
A Russian line soldier in 2017.

By this time last year, it was becoming clear that Russia’s battalion tactical groups — allegedly integrated formations of tanks, artillery, and infantry — were combat ineffective.

There are many reasons for their failure, but the big takeaway is this: Russia has been largely unable to leverage the power of combined arms warfare.

As a refresher, combined arms is a force multiplier.

It requires different units with very different battlefield roles to complement each other in a way that forces the enemy to defend against one while making him vulnerable to the others. When implemented properly, the whole effect is very much greater than the sum of its parts.

For example, over the past two decades, the U.S. elevated combined arms into a new hybrid form of warfare that is network-centric and relies on information superiority.

A U.S. Army infantry platoon never moves across the landscape alone. Thanks to combined arms doctrine, that platoon has satellite photos, passive reception of enemy radio emissions, forward observers with digital target designation, specialized scouting aircraft, and if needed, close air support only minutes away. That’s before you throw in armor, artillery, and engineers.

So, what did Russia do when commanders realized their army was not purpose-built to fight a war?

They ripped a page right out of the Red Army’s playbook: create multiple classes of infantrymen, ranging from the most valuable to the most expendable.

Understanding Russia’s 4 types of infantry help explain some of their tactics

By mid-year last year, Russian field commanders gave up on combined arms and started organizing their foot soldiers into four distinct, task-organized groups.

Each group has a function: line infantry, assault infantry, specialized infantry, and disposable troops.

Line infantry are used for holding ground and general defensive operations. These are usually conscripts.

Disposable troops are, ahem, disposable… These small squads are used to identify Ukrainian positions. These are also conscripts but could also have convicts.

Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security Wonk for War is Boring, GEN, OneZero, Soldier of Fortune | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Founder of Warrior Lodge