Special Command of the Long-Range Zone

This morning’s Nezavisimaya gazeta picked up an Interfaks report from an “informed Navy Main Staff source” that Russia will establish a so-called “special command of the long-range zone” in the Indian Ocean by 2013.  Such a naval group would have antipiracy as its primary, but not its sole, mission.

The Main Staff representative said the new command would be formed from Black Sea Fleet ships, and would be patterned after the Soviet-era 5th and 8th Operational Squadrons.  It would bear full-time responsibility for securing Russian civilian shipping in the Horn of Africa.

NG says questions about the new eskadra’s material-technical support (MTO) and temporary ship basing are now being considered.  The Soviet Mediterranean (5th) Eskadra used a material-technical support point (PMTO) in Tartus, Syria that represents the Russian Navy’s only current overseas facility.  But the paper notes Tartus is too distant to support Indian Ocean operations.  The Indian Ocean (8th) Eskadra used Yemen’s Socotra Island.

NG adds that Pacific Fleet’s Udaloy-class DDG Admiral Vinogradov, a tanker, and naval tug put in at Port Victoria, Seychelles early this month for replenishment after four straight months at sea.  The paper’s report trails off rather weakly adding that the new command will increase the effectiveness of Russian antipiracy operations.

Trud covered the story too.  Its experts think the new naval grouping’s missions will be broader than antipiracy.  A new command wouldn’t have to rely on ships from different fleets arriving every 2-3 months.  The command might have three frigates, a tanker, and tug at a permanent base in the Horn of Africa or Gulf of Aden.

Former Baltic Fleet Commander, Admiral Vladimir Valuyev tells Trud the 8th Eskadra’s mission was monitoring U.S. Navy ship movements and showing support for regimes friendly to the USSR.  But the paper says its former port infrastructure on Socotra is now in ruins.

Trud’s own Main Staff source says Russia doesn’t plan to return to Socotra, and other basing options are being considered.  It doesn’t even have to be a foreign port since an anchorage in neutral waters could be outfitted sufficiently.  Trud says Valuyev is sure antipiracy is a convenient excuse for Russia to demonstrate a naval presence in the Africa-Middle East region where new post-revolutionary regimes are taking shape.

But maybe it’s also a way to show why Russia needs a Navy as well as what it can do.

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