How pre-deployment training improved over time in the Soviet Army
There is an article in our blog about how disastrous was the pre-invasion mobilization process. However, things did change over time. Soviet Army was not an institution that could accept changes from ground up, however, on a lower level of command it could adapt more or less effectively. And this is what happened in the training regiments for those, who was to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Soviet Army training regiments
The Soviet Army training system was not ideal to begin with. In most cases fresh recruits were sent directly to their regiments, where they would get 2 weeks of "quarantine" training, where they would learn the basics of marching, serving and wearing uniform. While this system can be suitable for peace time army, it certainly had it's flaws for the harsh conditions of Afghanistan.
After initial two weeks in the regiment, soldiers would carry on their training for a given specialization. This could be anything from "rifleman" to "meteorologist". But of course, the majority of specializations in infantry and airborne regiments were related to their direct job - peer-to-peer fighting. The most popular military specializations were rifleman, machine gunner, grenadier, ATGM and Manpad operator. The last three were not very useful in Afghanistan.
The major problem with the inland training was the inability to adapt to any other tasks apart from the doctrinal ideas. In early 1980s, even soldiers who were to be deployed to Afghanistan were trained as for the potential European war theater.
However, not all of it was useless. Given how motorized the Soviet Army was, at least every 10th soldier was an APC driver, and many were trained to operate the main guns on BTR or BMP. These were very valued specializations in Soviet-Afghan war, since absolute majority of all operations relied on wheels and tracks.
Training in Afghanistan
After first couple of month of the Soviet-Afghan war, some officers realized, that this conflict will be very different from everything that they have learned or experienced before. They also realized, that running in line behind the BMP, as they were trained in the military academies, is not going to work well in mountain areas against irregular troops.
Initiative officers organized unofficial courses in their own companies and battalions. In most cases they would not be stopped by the higher command as everyone understood the importance of such training.
Experienced officers knew exactly what they needed from their soldiers and would train them accordingly. Depending on what their unit was specializing in, they would teach their soldiers shooting from different weapon systems, extreme driving of the vehicle and tactics. The last one was especially important, as there were no systematic training for such warfare anywhere in the mainland USSR, so the experience had to be passed to younger generation of soldiers and officers.
Application of experience to pre-deployment camps
After realizing that Soviet Army is there to stay for long time, the army system started moving it's gears. Soldiers were no longer sent straight to their units in Afghanistan, but were now trained in the mainland USSR. At first, soldiers only had about a month of training but it was later prolonged up to three month in the dedicated areas of the Soviet Union, which resembled Afghanistan in terms of climate and geography.
Every branch of service had its own training base. Airborne recruits were trained in the town of Ferghana, which was featured in the "9th Company". Tank crews continued to train in the very small town of Tedjen, while infantrymen were graduating in Kushka and Iolotan.
The training regiments were located in these town for long time even before the Soviet-Afghan war, but after 1983 the absolute majority of conscripted personnel would be sent to these units prior their deployment to Afghanistan.
Apart from the climate and desert-like conditions in this land, the training program has also changed in favor of the Soviet-Afghan war experience. Soldiers were now trained on different weapon systems, which they were likely to use in Afghanistan. A lot of effort was also put into physical training. The regular Soviet doctrine meant that soldiers were supposed to fight mainly from their vehicles, to ensure rapid advancement. Mountain area of Afghanistan called for a limited use of such vehicles, so soldiers and officers had to rely on their feet.
The only thing which was not done well is the proper documentation of the experience gained by Soviet personnel in Afghanistan. After the deployment, soldiers would simply demobilize and go back to their civilian lives, while officers would be assigned to new regiments, whose everyday life was too far away from either desert or actual fighting.