Monthly Archives: September 2018

Su-34s Practice Anti-Ship Strikes

Yesterday RIA Novosti ran the headline “Pacific Fleet Fighters Launch Newest Kh-35U Anti-Ship Missiles.” Сiting a Russian MOD press-release, the news agency said they were Su-34 fighter-bombers.

It’s curious because Russia’s neglected Pacific Fleet air component doesn’t have Su-34s. The closest are 26 belonging to the VKS based in Khurba, Khabarovsk territory (277th Bomber Regiment).

The Su-34 has been produced in good numbers now, but it’s still a system from the 1990s . . . a major update of the 1970s-vintage Su-24.

The Russian Navy has only a regiment of MiG-31 interceptors at Yelizovo outside Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. But it also operates assorted land-based ASW aircraft, transports, and helos.

Capture

Khurba’s a long way from the open ocean

The unknown number of Su-34s apparently fired eight missiles, and all struck derelict vessels imitating enemy ships.

The Kh-35U — or AS-20 / Kayak air-launched variant — has a 260-km range, and has been in Russia’s inventory since the early 2000s. As the MOD reminds, it can be fired from a number of combat aircraft, Tu-142 ASW aircraft, helos, or land-based Bal launchers (SSC-6 / Sennight).

The “U” might be for improved (usovershennyy) or multirole (universalnyy), but it’s still not really the latest thing as RIA Novosti said.

Neither RIA Novosti nor the MOD indicated where the practice strikes occurred, which is interesting.

Add the combat radius of the Su-34 to the missile’s range and the Russians don’t get much protection for ships out of Vladivostok or for the Kuriles.

Capture

Not much reach

Almost any exercise is good for a military, but it’s hard to see the point in this one unless Russian Naval Aviation gets its own Su-34s. Or the VKS bases them closer to the sea.

Just an example of the deconstruction required when the press (Russian or American) hyperventilates about the rising Russian military threat.

Advertisements

Will Rosneft Boost Russian Naval Construction?

Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft is turning Shipbuilding Complex (SSK) Zvezda into the country’s first large tonnage shipyard. TASS recently published a backgrounder that detailed what’s been happening there.

Located in Bolshoy Kamen near Vladivostok, SSK Zvezda is supposed to produce the ships and equipment Rosneft needs to explore and exploit offshore oil and gas. However, it also has potential to boost Russia’s naval ship and submarine construction and repair in the Far East.

Rosneft took over Zvezda in late 2015 in consortium with government holding company Rosneftegaz and Gazprombank. The effort to expand its civilian shipbuilding capacity began in 2009 as a partnership between state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) and South Korea’s Daewoo. The latter quit the project in 2012.

Having displaced OSK, Rosneft became principal holder of Far East Plant (DVZ) Zvezda and some small affiliated shipyards. DVZ Zvezda is the only Russian shipyard in the Far East capable of repairing and modernizing nuclear-powered submarines and ships up to 13,500 tons displacement. It began modernizing two project 949A Oscar II-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarines in 2013.

Zvezda complex in Bolshoy Kamen

Zvezda complex in Bolshoy Kamen

This image shows the naval shipyard at top with its grayish roof, launch basin in front, and a submarine in drydock alongside if you look carefully. The SSK Zvezda facility is pretty much everything else — the reddish roof of the monstrous production building and the whitish buildingway with its yellow cranes visible.

SSK Zvezda will produce a range of medium and large tonnage vessels, up to 350,000-tons displacement, and other sea-going equipment to support offshore hydrocarbon development in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. It includes LNG carriers, tankers, drilling platforms, and transport, supply, and seismic survey ships.

The shipyard currently has one 1,200-ton gantry crane made in China, two 320-ton gantry cranes, and four 100-ton tower cranes on its open buildingway. In July, the shipyard took delivery of a 40,000-ton transport-transfer dock built by the Qingdao Beihai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company. Rosneft expects SSK Zvezda’s development to cost $2.4 billion.

Capture

It reportedly will begin construction of medium-sized ships in 2019 with a workforce of 1,500 employees. By 2024, it expects to have a large-ship drydock and full-cycle fabrication facilities in operation with 7,500 workers. The shipyard’s order book already includes ten 80,000- to 120,000-ton tankers, ten shuttle tankers, and supply vessels. Leveraging DVZ Zvezda’s nuclear expertise, SSK Zvezda will also build three Lider-class nuclear-powered icebreakers, according to a September 14 announcement by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.

President Vladimir Putin visited the shipyard on September 10 to lay the keel of a tanker. In 2017, he inaugurated the buildingway and transfer dock for medium-sized ships and participated in the keel-laying for four multipurpose ice-class supply ships. The Russian president personally commissioned a module production building in 2016.

The development of SSK Zvezda may increase Russia’s capabilities for naval ship and submarine construction and repair in the Far East. DVZ Zvezda has struggled for years without modernization funding. However, it may be able to leverage the flow of Rosneft investment and Chinese shipbuilding technology, equipment, and experience into SSK Zvezda to improve its own production capabilities. A steady stream of large civilian projects next door may increase of quantity and quality of personnel available to DVZ Zvezda, and moderate the boom or bust cycle of shipbuilding that makes it difficult for Russian workers to stay in the Far East.

Strategic Maneuvers

Russian General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov told foreign military attachés this week that Vostok-2018 is not a strategic command-staff exercise (KShU) like other major annual drills of past years. He called Vostok-2018 strategic maneuvers.

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Gerasimov explained:

“This is the distinction: strategic exercises, as a rule, are conducted with one military district in one strategic direction under the Genshtab chief’s leadership. Maneuvers are on several strategic directions, take the participation of several military districts, in this case the Central and Eastern military districts, Pacific and Northern fleets, units of central subordination [usually Moscow-based MOD or other headquarters-level elements — ed.], and are conducted under the RF defense minister’s leadership.”

He said the choice of maneuvers is not sensational:

“It’s nothing special, their turn just came up. This is the annual training cycle for the RF Armed Forces, and this year they decided to combine two military districts.”

“There’s no other subtext.”

The Genshtab chief said such large-scale maneuvers have never been conducted on RF territory. Closest in scale, he noted, was the Soviet-era Zapad-81 exercise in the Belorussian, Kiev, and Baltic Military Districts and the Baltic Sea.

But Vostok-2018 will be much larger than its distant predecessor. Counting all personnel in the Central and Eastern MDs, the Russian MOD says 297,000 troops will take part. Tens of thousands of armored vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, and UAVs will be used.

Gerasimov concluded:

“‘Vostok-2018’ will exceed ‘Zapad-81’ in spatial scale and depth of regrouping.”

Moscow will proclaim that Vostok-2018 is not related to current international events and situations, but these “strategic maneuvers” are, in fact, a rehearsal for mobilization, deployment, and operations in a multi-theater, if not global, war.

The “strategic maneuvers” beginning on September 11 will be a military effort not attempted by Russia. They are designed to show average Russians that rubles spent on the military (not on health care, science, education, infrastructure, or pensions) are well used. As a RUSI commentator puts it:

“Putin’s narrative for the past decade has been that hardship is necessary in the short term, enabling the resurrection of Russia as a great power. The demonstration that Russia can conduct exercises at a scale comparable to the Soviet Union is presented as proof that the privations of recent years have allowed genuine and substantial progress in revitalising Russia’s military.”

Despite the skepticism often expressed on these pages, Russia’s military has been revitalized over the past five years. Big questions remain, however.

Can Russian conventional forces really stack up with their peers (U.S., NATO, China) in the unlikely event of conflict? Will they in ten or twenty years? Is it even necessary given Moscow’s nuclear modernization efforts? Have privations in favor of the military eroded the economic, social, and political bases of Russia’s potential greatness?