Category Archives: Naval Modernization

Engine Trouble

The Russian media report more trouble for project 11711 LST Ivan Gren (BDK 135). During state trials, the new tank landing ship has been unable to run astern (reverse engines and go backwards). [Did Yantar shipyard really not discover this issue during its factory underway testing?] This comes atop Gren’s earlier degaussing problem which kept the Russian Navy from accepting the ship before the end of 2017.

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Yantar announced on February 20 that it might launch unit two, Petr Morgunov, in the second half of May. It’s also sticking to its promise, however unlikely, to deliver the completed LST to the Russian Navy before the end of 2018.

Yantar indicated the second unit’s port and starboard 16ChN26/26 (aka 10D49) diesel engines will be swapped to see if this remedies the astern running problems Gren experienced. But the work on Morgunov has to be done by late April to keep to its launch schedule.

If the swap works, the same [actually, perhaps even more] difficult process will be performed on Gren. But it will apparently be accepted into the fleet in May before its engine trouble is fixed.

Flotprom.ru reports the engine swap will alter the turning of ship’s propellers and eliminate the astern running problem. Any naval engineers out there are invited to explain how this could work to the rest of us! The shipbuilding industry site indicates trading engine places is complex and can consume several months.

The media also report that Gren now lacks good seakeeping qualities due to the many design changes made during its protracted construction. They even claim that the Russian Navy will forego further ships in this class, basically a modification of the Soviet-era project 1171 Alligator-class LST. How Moscow would fill the gaps in its small and rapidly aging landing ship force is anyone’s guess. 

Gren and Morgunov are 5,000 tons displacement and 120 meters long, and can cruise at 18 knots. They have a 100-man crew, and can carry 13 tanks or 36 armored vehicles and 300 troops. They are outfitted with AK-630 30-mm gun systems and a landing deck for a Ka-27 or Ka-29 helo.

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The Next Tsushima

Independent analysis of the Russian military has practically vanished under the weight of official reports on the ever-growing might of the Kremlin’s armed forces.

Almost. But not quite. Not entirely.

Critical exposés on the Russian Navy still appear because it’s had less conspicuous success in modernization than the other armed services. This despite the relative largesse the navy received from GPV 2011-2020.

Aleksandr Mozgovoy not long ago tackled the issue of exactly what Russian shipbuilding has or hasn’t accomplished over the past five years.

He correlates recent MOD “tallying” with Defense Minister Shoygu’s tenure. However, it seems more likely the military’s accounting is timed to demonstrate what RF President Vladimir Putin delivered during this term as he ramps up for the next one.

But, as Mozgovoy argues in the translation below, none of this is very impressive when it comes to the Russian Navy.

Putin flanked by Defense Minister Shoygu and Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

Putin flanked by Defense Minister Shoygu and Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

“Does a New Tsushima Await Us?”

“The Russian naval shipbuilding program is dead in the water, but expensive naval shows are being arranged”

“Every December the results of the year are tallied. Even the Ministry of Defense can’t ignore the custom. However, this time the military department began to sum up the results on November 7. It could appear that the opening meeting of the RF MOD Collegium, which evaluated the results of the 2012-2017 five-year plan, was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. But this impression is mistaken. In fact, there was another reason. Five years ago — on November 6, 2012 — Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu took over as head of the country’s defense department.”

“Since Sergey Shoygu somehow found it uncomfortable to talk about the achievements of the ministry himself, the Chief of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces — First Deputy Minister of Defense of the RF, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov stepped into the role of main spokesman. He drew an impressive picture of the changes that have taken place in the country’s armed forces during the five-year plan. However, even a casual observer could appreciate the sharp increase in the combat readiness of the troops and the fleet, and notice their outfitting with new models of weapons and military equipment.”

“Yet in Valeriy Gerasimov’s report there was one topic that could not but cause doubts. We are talking about naval construction. For some reason the Defense Ministry traditionally exaggerates here. ‘Over the period, the situation with equipping the navy with modern armaments has stabilized,’ the chief of the General Staff noted. ‘More than 150 ships and vessels, including more than 60 warships, among them 15 which carry precision ‘Kalibr’ missiles, entered its inventory.'”

“Yes, the firing of this missile system against terrorists in Syria was not only highly effective, but also had great resonance in the world. But the results of naval shipbuilding as a whole don’t impress.”

“In Russia, to put it mildly, there are not very many combatants in the navy’s order-of-battle. Therefore, it doesn’t present any great difficulty to track this process. Since 2012, three project 955 ‘Borey’ nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), one project 885 ‘Yasen’ nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), six project 06363 ‘Paltus’ diesel-electric submarines, two project 11356 frigates, four project 20380 corvettes, one project 11661K ‘Dagestan’ missile ship, five project 21631 ‘Buyan-M’ small missile ships (MRK), one project 21630 ‘Makhachkala’ small artillery ship and project 12700 ‘Aleksandrit’ base minesweeper ‘Alexander Obukhov’ have joined the fleet. So we have 24 combatants. Even if 14 project 21980 ‘Grachonok’ anti-sabotage boats, two similarly designated project 12159A ‘Mangust’ boats and 11 project 03160 ‘Raptor’ patrol boats, whose full displacement is 23 tons, and 8 project 21820 ‘Dyugon,’ 11770 ‘Serna’ and 02510 ‘BK-16’ assault boats are added, you still in no way get ‘over 60.'”

“It’s impossible to understand why such distortions are necessary.”

“Concerning the general picture, for the past 10 years, in the period from 2007 to 2017 the overwhelming majority of units delivered to the fleet are base afloat assets: small raiding and diving boats, floating cranes and floating targets. According to accepted international classification, they are not even referred to as auxiliaries, but as service craft. Of course, the fleet can’t get along without them, but they don’t bear any relation to combatants.”

“THE HOLE OF A DONUT”

“Compensating for the deficit in real combatants, the fleet’s addicted to various types of shows which call for it to demonstrate its growing might. Often such measures are conducted in the presence of Supreme Commander-in-Chief President Vladimir Putin.”

“So, on September 6 of this year [2017] the head of state visited the newest project 20380 corvette ‘Sovershennyy,’ anchored in Ayaks Bay on Russkiy Island where at the time the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was being held with the participation of the heads of a number of states and governments, and also representatives of big business in the Asian region. It’s hard to say why it was necessary to arrange a review of the ship during the EEF. But this event got wide coverage in the media.”

“The official parade boat ‘Uragan’ brashly came alongside ‘Sovershennyy,’ which entered the Pacific Fleet’s inventory on July 20 of this year [2017] and became the first reasonably large surface ship to populate this large formation over the entire post-Soviet era. At the brow, the head of state was met by the ship’s commander Captain 3rd Rank [LCDR or O-4] Blinov and the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s 36th Surface Ship Division, based at Fokino near Vladivostok, Captain 1st Rank Kovalev [CAPT or O-6]. ‘Sovershennyy’ is temporarily assigned to the 36th Division, but is designated for service as part of the Kamchatka Flotilla.”(1)

“The division headed by Kovalev consists of the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser ‘Admiral Lazarev’ (former ‘Frunze’) which awaits scrapping, Guards missile cruiser ‘Varyag’ and two project 956 destroyers, one of which — ‘Burnyy’ — has been under repair at ‘Dalzavod’ since 2005, and the second — ‘Bystryy’ — seldom goes to sea because they are simply afraid to send it out. So, in essence, the division only has one real ship — cruiser ‘Varyag,’ which entered the order-of-battle 28 years ago.”

“Division commander Kovalev rather than ship commander Blinov took the head of state to familiarize him with ‘Sovershennyy’ apparently because of his seniority in rank. He began the tour by acquainting his high-ranking guest with the anti-submarine/anti-torpedo system [Paket-NK], reinforcing his report with a demonstration of the system on a poster. Listening to the explanations, the president nodded approvingly. Paradoxically, they didn’t show the Supreme Commander-in-Chief the system, but literally the hole of a donut because the launcher for the system is missing on ‘Sovershennyy’ for some reason. There was only a framework for it. Where did it go? Didn’t they manage to produce it over those 11 years while they built the ship? Or did they simply not install it? Perhaps someone stole it and sold it for scrap? Answers to these questions weren’t given. In fact, they weren’t even asked.”

“Kovalev conducted the president and his retinue into the bow of the ship where he indicated with a pointer the place where the missiles of the latest surface-to-air (SAM) system [Redut] should be located. It was obvious that they weren’t there since this system still hasn’t gone through state testing. Since 2011, project 20380 corvettes have plied the seas and oceans without anti-aircraft missiles, that is they are actually unarmed against air strikes. When the 36th Division commander talked about the combat potential of the SAM system, the president also nodded but without enthusiasm somehow. He was certainly aware of the problem, which undoubtedly was discussed more than once at conferences conducted yearly in Sochi with high command personnel of the RF Armed Forces and directors of defense industries.”

“Today the Kh-35 ‘Uran’ anti-ship missile system and the 100-mm A-190 standard automatic artillery gun in ‘Sovershennyy’s’ armament allow the corvette to fulfill the functions of a large missile boat and patrol ship, and also to fire on targets ashore. However, the basic missions of a ship of this class, connected with providing anti-air (PVO) and anti-submarine (PLO) defense, are unavailable to it.”

“MYTH CREATION”

“However the most striking naval event of the past year was the Main (that’s how it’s written with capital letters in official documents) Naval Parade in St. Petersburg and Kronshtadt on the occasion of Navy Day observed on 30 July. ‘We decided to revive the Main Naval Parade which will be held in Petersburg,’ Vladimir Putin announced on the eve of the holiday at a joint press-conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. ‘I assure you this isn’t saber rattling, it’s the reestablishment, the rebirth of traditions already more than 100 years old.’ Sergey Shoygu spoke in the same spirit. ‘On this holiday we recreate one of the most important military rituals, which is in itself a source of pride for the country, a striking and unforgettable spectacle,’ he said. By order of the Minister of Defense a medal ‘For Participation in the Main Naval Parade’ was even struck.”

“Everyone more or less familiar with the history of the Russian fleet knows that imperial reviews and naval parades have been conducted since Petrine times. In 1939, Iosif Stalin resurrected this tradition on Navy Day. But no main parades were ever organized — not with capital or lowercase letters. The Main Parade is a modern invention, or more precisely myth.”

“WHAT DID WE SEE IN THE PARADE?”

“We’ll begin with the appearance of the participants. All admirals, generals and senior officers were buttoned up in ridiculous and heavily gold-embroidered uniforms of the late Stalin era. Vladimir Putin and Sergey Shoygu officiated. They went around the formation of ships on the Neva in white-painted Raptor-class boat P-344, not in its patrol but in its VIP variant which is designated for the travels of the chief of the RF defense department. Normally this Russian Navy ‘combatant,’ which belongs to the Baltic Fleet, is tied up at the mooring barge of the Russian Federation National Defense Command and Control Center on the Frunze Embankment of the Moscow River. But for the occasion of the main parade the boat was brought to the northern capital. And, as we’ll become convinced, not just it.”

“After the ship review, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and the head of the military department debarked P-344 on the Admiralty Embankment and climbed the podium set up on Senate Square. Along the stands on the Admiralty Embankment sailors carried the parade’s symbol — the unfurled cloth of the St. George ensign of ship-of-the-line ‘Azov.’ It was first to receive it for heroic actions in the Battle of Navarino on 20 October 1827. However the banner didn’t look old. Who would allow taking a 290-year-old(2) relic from the Naval Museum where it’s kept? This supposition was confirmed when they didn’t have time to get the flag to the Admiralty building but it fluttered happily in the wind over the cupola of its Western Tower. This means there were two copies of the relic at a minimum.”

“Then speeches, greetings, and congratulations suited to the occasion were made. Parade crews on foot proceeded in a solemn march in front of the stands. And then came time for the most spectacular part of the event — the procession of ships on the Neva. It was really magnificent.”

“Roiling the waves, the numerous ‘Grachonok’ type anti-sabotage boats and ‘Raptor’ type patrol boats quickly went first. This ‘crowd’ was managed thanks to the fact that for a month or longer before this these boats went to the northern capital not only from the Baltic, but also from the Black and Caspian Seas, and also from the Northern Fleet. By the by, Il-38N anti-submarine aircraft, which came from the Far East, participated in the aerial part of the Main Parade.”

“Minesweepers, missile and assault boats, small missile and anti-submarine ships — the majority still of Soviet construction — followed the small boats. Frigate ‘Admiral Makarov,’ corvette ‘Stoykiy,’ large assault ship ‘Minsk’ and diesel-electric submarine (DEPL) ‘Dmitrov,’ that is 2nd rank ships, the last two of which are again an inheritance of the Soviet era, and a frigate still not in the navy’s inventory remained at their mooring buoys.”

“Then the not less impressive second Kronshtadt part took place. Logically, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Minister of Defense and those accompanying them should have gotten on helicopters and flown to the island which you could practically reach out and touch. But it went more simply: they lowered a huge screen on which they broadcast from Kronshtadt. They could have done the same thing without leaving Moscow. In fact, until the mid-1950s naval parades took place in the capital. Torpedo boats, large and small sub chasers and even small submarines lined up in the channel along the embankment of the Central Park of Culture and Leisure named for Gorkiy, that is opposite the current National Defense Command and Control Center of the RF. To arrange a boat parade wouldn’t be hard even now. It would be possible to conduct simultaneous broadcasts on a big screen not only from Kronshtadt, but also from Baltiysk, Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, Severomorsk and Astrakhan. And to show the holiday salute and illuminated ships from Vladivostok.”

“But let’s return to the Kronshtadt part of the parade.”

“Mainly large 1st and 2nd rank ships and submarines took part in it. The line ahead formation stretched for several miles. Missile cruiser ‘Marshal Ustinov,’ which finished a five-year repair in December of last year [2016], large anti-submarine ship ‘Vice-Admiral Kulakov’ and DEPL ‘Vladikavkaz’ represented the Northern Fleet. Large assault ship ‘Aleksandr Shabalin,’ MPKs [small anti-submarine ships] ‘Zelenodolsk’ and ‘Kazanets’ were delegates of the Baltic Fleet. The latest project 06363 DEPLs ‘Velikiy Novgorod’ and ‘Kolpino,’ later glorified for delivering massed precision strikes on terrorist facilities in Syria were then only still being prepared to transfer to the Black Sea.”

“To the south of the naval channel northern sea heavy RPKSN [ballistic missile submarine] ‘Dmitriy Donskoy’ and heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser ‘Petr Velikiy’ stood independently. They didn’t participate in the parade since their size makes this difficult. Of course, it was dumb, as it’s acceptable to say now, to drive these huge ships from the North to the Baltic around Scandinavia. Their cruise brought a reaction from West European countries, but, it seems not the one on which the RF MOD was counting. After all it’s well-known that ‘Dmitriy Donskoy’ — the largest submarine in the world — is not used as a combatant, but only as a test bed with the help of which new types of weapons are tested. Now if it carried two-three hundred cruise missiles as earlier foreseen, then the effect from this ‘cruise,’ undoubtedly would have been completely different. It’s also known that ‘Petr Velikiy’ needs repairs, but, when this time is coming still no one can say. And is it even generally necessary? It’s not NATO combatants but environmental protection ships constantly throwing probes in the water to sample for increased radioactivity that followed these two nuclear monsters in the northern seas and Baltic. But the fears of West European countries turned out to be in vain. Everything went without incidents.”

DOLGOSTROY(3) RECORDHOLDERS

“It’s especially necessary to talk about the project 23500 frigate ‘Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Gorshkov’ and project 11711 large assault ship (BDK) ‘Ivan Gren’ which participated in the main parade of 2017 although they, like ‘Admiral Makarov,’ haven’t entered the navy. Both are referred to as dolgostroy recordholders.”

“‘Ivan Gren’ was laid down on 23 December 2004 — 13 years ago! The project was reworked several times at the customer’s request. When the idea of ‘Mistralizing’ the fleet’s assault force arose, the BDK was generally dismissed. But after Paris turned its back on Moscow, to put it mildly, and tore up the deal for helicopter carriers, they remembered ‘Gren.’ To speed its completion, the project was once more ‘improved,’ that is simplified. In testing last summer [2016], it was explained that the ship’s magnetic field exceeded permissible norms and the BDK could play a role in clearing mine barriers since naval mines with magnetic or combined fuses would inevitably work if ‘Gren’ turned up beside them. At the end of October 2016, the BDK was put in drydock for ‘modification of its degaussing system.’ It involved the replacement of cables, the extension of which required dismantlement of a number of pipes and other equipment. This operation is akin to the replacement of a person’s blood vessels with the temporary relocation of vital organs. Factory underway testing was restarted only in the spring of this year [2017], and on 30 November the BDK started its state testing program.”

“The frigate ‘Gorshkov’ has been under construction for a little less time. On 1 February of next year [2018] it will be 12 years since it was laid down. The ship passed numerous testing phases, but wasn’t accepted by the fleet because its weapons system isn’t working. Deputy RF Minister of Defense Yuriy Borisov announced this again on 29 November. He expressed hope that the missile launches will be completed successfully by the end of December and the frigate will enter the inventory. He was echoed by Deputy CINC of the RF Navy for armaments Vice-Admiral Viktor Bursuk. ‘Now ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ is completing state testing, we are expecting it as well as ‘Ivan Gren’ this year,’ — he told a TASS agency correspondent. — ‘Both ships are now in the final phase of state testing, as is project 11356 frigate ‘Admiral Makarov.’ But this isn’t the first year we’ve heard similar assurances…”

“‘Admiral Makarov’ was ready long ago. Testing of the new version of the surface-to-air missile for the ‘Shtil-1’ SAM, which they say has finally been successfully completed, delayed it for more than a year. Even ‘Ivan Gren’ will probably be ready by the New Year. But with ‘Gorshkov’ everything’s not so simple. The ship has also performed a large part of its state testing program, but problems have arisen again with the newest PVO [air defense] system installed on it. Though the problem isn’t new. The project 12441 frigate ‘Novik,’ laid down back in 1997, that is 20 years ago, was supposed to receive it. But they didn’t build the ship because a number of the weapons systems weren’t ready. Now ‘Novik,’ at first reclassified into a training-experimental ship and renamed ‘Borodino,’ they’ve decided to, as sailors say, ‘turn it into razorblades,’ that is send it for scrap.”

“Our new corvettes have sailed without working SAMs for many years already. But they belong to the ships of the near maritime zone, which in the event of air threats could possibly, at least theoretically, be covered by the aircraft of land-based aviation. The frigate ‘Gorshkov’ has to serve in distant maritime and ocean zones. There you can’t call for an interceptor to repulse an attack by strike aircraft and cruise missiles.”

“As presented to the author, the fleet and Ministry of Defense long ago were ready to give the ‘OK’ to including ‘Gorshkov’ in the navy’s order-of-battle. But, it seems, as in every case recently, the president opposed it. Now facing new elections, even the head of state can waver in order to please the electorate.”

“PARADE FLEET”

“Alas, one has to recognize that combat ships in Russia take a long time to build and are often not high quality. There are often not the necessary engines, some types of weapons and other internal components for them. During the main parade one was left to envy Chinese sailors arriving from half-way around the world at the event transpiring on the banks of the Neva and in the Gulf of Finland in magnificent ships — the type 052D destroyer ‘Hefei’ with its combat command and control system analogous to the American ‘Aegis,’ and type 054A frigate ‘Yuncheng.’ Since 2014, the PLA Navy has received six type 052D destroyers, eight launched and at a minimum one hull still on the buildingways, but since 2008 the Chinese fleet has been populated by 25 type 054A frigates, and three more fitting out.”

“However, in Russia there is a class of afloat asset which populates the fleet with enviable regularity and without special problems. On 10 October of this year [2017] at Kronshtadt the acceptance signing ceremony and raising of the St. Andrew’s flag on the project 21270 ‘Burevestnik’ communications boat ‘Ioann Kronshtadtskiy’ took place. This vessel, or more precisely VIP-class yacht, included in the Baltic Fleet order-of-battle, is intended for service-related travel of high command personnel, and also parade reviews. On 27 January of this year [2017] the Black Sea Fleet was populated by the similarly-typed ‘Sapsan.’ It was a little delayed, since it was supposed to enter the inventory at the end of last year [2016], because of problems with domestic engines installed in place of MTU diesels in the framework of the import substitution program.”

“‘Sapsan’ and ‘Ioann Kronshtadtskiy’ are the fifth and sixth boats of this type. Their main mission is the comfortable and secure delivery of highly-placed officials to the site of naval celebrations. So on 31 July of last year [2016] President Vladimir Putin on Navy Day reviewed a ship formation on the Neva from aboard project 21270 boat ‘Serafim Sarovskiy.'”

“During construction, even these very expensive boats usually don’t experience problems with financing, component supply, etc., with which practically all combatants and auxiliaries struggle in Russian yards. But there aren’t enough ‘Burevestniks.’ In the Pacific Ocean, 10 years ago project 02065 patrol boat T-299 was turned into a VIP vessel receiving the name ‘Uragan.’ It was precisely on it that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief went alongside the corvette ‘Sovershennyy’ in Ayaks Bay.”

“At ‘Sokolskiy Shipyard’ on 27 October of this year [2017] an improved modification of project 1388N3 ‘Baklan’ communications ship was launched. This is the fourth vessel of the family, and two more have been ordered. The ‘Baklans’ are also intended for VIP duty. Compared with the ‘Burevestniks’ they have better seakeeping qualities, 10-day endurance and 1,000 mile range.”

“The Minister of Defense’s P-344 boat is of the same VIP-class. This ‘Raptor’ is not a combatant at all, but also a luxury yacht. Two air-cushion boats of the premium-class ‘Pardus’ type, which also don’t have any kind of military significance, reside at the mooring barge of the RF National Defense Command and Control Center on the Frunze Embankment.”

“The other power departments even have their own parade yachts. For example, the Coast Guard of the FSB Border Service has two of the newest project 21600 ‘Khosta’ special border service (PKASS) boats. Since they’re based at Sochi, it’s not hard to guess what constitutes their ‘special service.’ The majority of ‘sharp’ boats of predominantly foreign construction belong to the Federal Protective Service.”(4)

“Isn’t this a lot of charming yachts for a fleet that’s not very large?”

“In the present circumstances, when the naval shipbuilding plans being realized by the fleet command and shipbuilding enterprises are dead in the water, all these parade boats are something like ball gowns for the naked ship which is today’s Russian Navy.”

“Parade measures require large resources. The fun of the Main Parade in 2017, active training which went on for two months and included the repair of ships and aircraft, but also innumerable crew training events, not to mention the long-range transfer of many participants to the place of action, required not less than a billion rubles, if not more. Fuel expended, parts worn out, crews taken from combat service(5) and combat training. The event could be more modest.”

“In an interview with ‘Krasnaya zvezda’ newspaper published on 1 December, RF Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev announced that from the current month intensive training for the 2018 main naval parade is beginning. The show continues!”

___________________________

(1) The Russians are keeping Sovershennyy close to where it was built for the time being. Repairs are more expedient in Vladivostok. But ultimately they want this new unit supporting the Pacific Fleet SSBN force on Kamchatka.

(2) A typo here…it would be only 190 years since 1827, not 290.

(3) Dolgostroy is difficult to render without losing its impact, so it’s used here in the hope it becomes a loanword one day. It’s been translated previously on these pages as “long unfinished work.” It refers to buildings or public works projects but has also been used to describe military programs remaining incomplete after many years of effort. It often implies the cause may be financial difficulties, corruption, or general incompetence.

(4) The FSO is the powerful security agency charged with protecting the RF President and other high-ranking Russian officials.

(5) Ships, submarines, and other units conducting combat patrols and missions.

OSK Cries Poor on Knyaz Oleg

A Borey-class SSBN (photo Sevmash Press-Service)

A Borey-class SSBN (photo: Sevmash Press-Service)

Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC or OSK) is reportedly experiencing a shortage of funding for Borey-class SSBN Knyaz Oleg. OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov told RIA Novosti on November 16, “Everything depends on issues of the shortage of financing which has somehow formed for us. We hope that [the launch of Knyaz Oleg] will be on schedule.”

Rakhmanov reportedly told the official news agency that the schedule for launching Knyaz Oleg has been pushed back several times.

Knyaz Oleg is the fifth Borey SSBN overall, and the second Borey-A boat. Like the first three Borey ballistic missile submarines, the Borey-A is expected to carry 16 Bulava SLBMs.

First-of-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy is assigned to the Northern Fleet. Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh are part of the Pacific Fleet.

Like Knyaz Oleg, unit four — Knyaz Vladimir — the first Borey-A is also destined to reinforce the Russian Pacific Fleet’s strategic nuclear force.

Rakhmanov’s public cry for more money is somewhat unusual and harks back to 2011 when OSK railed at the MOD for adequate financing to produce modern nuclear submarines.

Russia planned to have eight Borey boats in its order-of-battle by 2020. But with Sevmash taking six, seven, or eight years to lay down, launch, and commission them, Knyaz Oleg might be the last to reach the navy this decade. And Rakhmanov pretty clearly linked money to sticking to his SSBN production schedule.

Russia Reinforcing Mediterranean Formation

The Russian Navy is beefing up its Mediterranean presence. Recently, it announced its intent to increase the contingent from 10 to 15 ships.  This greater Med activity is both cause and effect of the navy’s effort to revivify its Black Sea Fleet (BSF), virtually moribund just a few years ago.

On June 1, TASS reported the current Russian naval force in the Med includes Proyekt 11356 frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, Kashin-class destroyer Smetlivyy, tank landing ships Tsezar KunikovNikolay Filchenkov, and Azov, Proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar, unspecified minesweepers, “anti-sabotage” boats, a tanker, and other support vessels.  So it’s unclear just how many Russian ships are in the Med right now.

Ancient Smetlivyy returned to Sevastopol on June 3.  The venerable ship has served in the BSF since 1969.

Essen fires Kalibr LACM

Admiral Essen fires Kalibr on May 31

Admiral Essen and Krasnodar each fired two Kalibr (SS-N-30) land-attack cruise missiles at Islamic State positions near Palmyra on May 31.

Other BSF units — Admiral Grigorovich, Proyekt 21631 Buyan-class missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov, and submarine Rostov-na-Donu — fired Kalibr missiles at targets in Syria from the eastern Med in 2015 and 2016.  Prior to this, the Russian Navy lacked a land-attack capability in the Med, and used surface combatants from its Caspian Flotilla to launch Kalibr missiles.  However, those weapons had to overfly Iranian and Iraqi territory to reach Syria.

On June 6, Interfaks-AVN reported that the Russian Navy will not cut the cruise missile strike capabilities of its “permanent operational formation” in the Mediterranean, according to a source “familiar with the situation.”  So there is apparently no plan for Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen, or Krasnodar to return to Sevastopol soon.  They joined the Russian Med formation in early and late April and mid-May respectively.

Not a Large Formation

Russia’s current Mediterranean force is mistakenly called a squadron (эскадра) like its Soviet-era 5th Eskadra predecessor.  However, the Russian Navy says its Med presence is a formation (соединение), not a large formation (объединение).  A formation is typically naval ship division (дивизия) of 5-10 major and minor combatants with an O-6 in command.

A large formation, by contrast, is a major fleet component — a flotilla or eskadra, and it is commanded by an O-7.  Such a command typically is a stepping stone to fleet commander.

In contrast to today’s formation, the 5th Eskadra normally had 40-50 ships in the Med every day at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s.  That’s probably more than the entire BSF today.

After the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Syria’s Shayrat air base on April 7, Vladimir Pavlov wrote disparagingly of Russia’s declining capabilities in the Med.  Pavlov concluded that the brief and ill-fated deployment of Admiral Kuznetsov to the eastern Med this winter left those waters empty for the U.S. (as if the Russian carrier would have prevented American action).

Pavlov noted that the navy had to rely on “1st and 2nd rank” ships from other fleets, the Baltic in particular, to maintain its Med formation.

Things look a bit better now with two Proyekt 11356 frigates in the BSF.  The third, Admiral Makarov, is now supposed to join the fleet before the end of this year.  The fleet has its full complement of six new Proyekt 636.3 submarines.  Missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov entered the order-of-battle in late 2015.  More of them might follow.

The second Proyekt 18280 Yuriy Ivanov-class intelligence ship Ivan Khurs will reportedly go to replace Liman, which sank near Istanbul after colliding with a Turkish freighter on April 27.

The rest of the BSF surface fleet, however, is old.  Flagship Proyekt 1164 Slava-class CG Moskva will be due soon for overhaul and modernization.  Its other combatants, small missile ships, and amphibs are largely from the 1970s and 1980s.  These older ships patrol the Med, but to return to port for maintenance often after brief sorties.

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

The Russians originally formulated plans to renew a continuous naval presence in the Mediterranean during 2011-2012, primarily out of their concern with the Syrian civil war and thinking that they might intervene eventually.

The Russian Med patrols began in early 2013, and all four fleets provided ships under the Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone (Оперативное командование в дальней морской зоне or ОК ДМЗ).

At the time, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu acknowledged that overdue repairs and slow ship construction were hindering the navy and the new naval presence in the Med.  But five years hence, these problems have been overcome to a large extent.

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

TASS reported that Captain First Rank Pavel Yasnitskiy commands the Russian Mediterranean formation.

He is a 47-year-old third generation officer born in Severomorsk — the Northern Fleet headquarters, according to Ruinformer.com.  After commissioning, he served on a Black Sea Fleet destroyer before becoming executive officer, then commander of Baltic Fleet frigate Neustrashimyy.  He was to command the first Improved Sovremennyy-class destroyer Vnushitelnyy, but it was never finished. Instead, he served as chief of staff for a ship brigade.

Yasnitskiy then returned to the BSF as chief of staff for a formation.  He served as deputy chief of staff, chief of staff, and commander of Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone.

Is Such a Ship Needed?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has concluded another week of meetings with military leaders and defense industry officials.  Some significant statements appeared in the media, but none more interesting than those from Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin.  He, of course, oversees the defense industries, and serves as Putin’s deputy on the government’s Military-Industrial Commission (VPK).

Rogozin contends the new state armaments program (GPV) will include innovative weapons systems rather than modernization of existing platforms.  He buries Navy hopes for a modern aircraft carrier, and — worse for the Navy — he’s down on big ships that make great targets.  And he expounds at length on transport aircraft programs (which his son Aleksey now directs as vice-president of OAK).

Dmitriy Rogozin

Dmitriy Rogozin

Vesti asked Rogozin what will or won’t be in the next GPV.  He answered:

“We are gradually moving away from the modernization of old types of armaments, although, we must say, modernization is just as normal as the development of new types.  But there can’t be an endless amount of modernization.  Let’s say, three-four times, not more.  Otherwise this stops the development of new weapons systems. Therefore the new program of armaments is, in essence, an innovation program which includes completely new approaches. Above all, it is the development of smart weapons, and automated command, control, communications, and reconnaissance systems. We’ll have modern troop communications, which has always been a weak point.  We’ll have robotic systems, we have almost completed development of new unmanned vehicles, both ground and air.  And, of course, a strong renewal of our satellite network is in progress.  High-quality navigation, reconnaissance, and many other things.”

Asked if the Navy was favored over the Ground Troops in the current arms program, Rogozin responded:

“No, we won’t have some kind of imbalance, that is something favoring the Navy, favoring the Aerospace Forces or favoring new smart systems.  This is the emphasis of the new program of armaments.  The Navy will receive new ships.  Today we are stressing ‘muscular’ ships — frigates, corvettes of near and distant ocean zones, that is what doesn’t provide a great target for the enemy, but nimble, maneuverable, and capable of responding just like a large ship.”

Vesti inquired about delaying investment in new aircraft carriers and strategic bombers.  Rogozin answered:

“If we talk, let’s say, about aircraft carriers, then technologically and technically today Russian defense industry is capable of developing a ship of such displacement.  But it’s a question for the military whether such a ship is needed.  After all, we have to remember that, unlike the United States, we are not a great maritime power, we are a great continental power, and we have several other priorities.  As far as a strategic bomber goes, we have completed unique work at the Kazan Aircraft Plant, reestablished, but on a new technological basis, electron beam welding that is needed to develop the titanium fuselage on which the technology of the Tu-160, our great strategic bomber, was always based.  And we will recreate this aircraft, undoubtedly, on a new technical basis, with new electronics, new weapons, but this doesn’t mean that we have abandoned plans to develop the future aviation system of long-range aviation [PAK DA].  Work on it is beginning, as on the future aviation system of military-transport aviation [PAK VTA], and on a medium military-transport aircraft.  Decisions were made recently in Sochi.  We will produce it, and we’ll have it around 2023-2024.  At the end of this year, we are planning for a small, light transport aircraft to fly.  For our army, which is compact, it’s important to have the possibility of being instantly redeployed to another theater of military operations where some threat is growing. In this way we’ll repulse any aggression by potential enemies not with great numbers, but with the great skill and mobility of our Armed Forces.”

Moscow’s made a start in this direction, but Rogozin might be exaggerating its progress.  More interesting is his intimation that the MOD is making trade-offs in the process of cobbling together GPV 2018-2025.  Are large (and expensive) ships out in favor of neglected military transport aircraft?  Rogozin rails against “endless” modernization but, practically in the same breath, insists the MOD won’t forget about PAK DA as it prepares to produce updated Tu-160 bombers.  Perhaps someone will remind him there are things besides modernization which interfere with the development of new weapons.

Korolev on New Submarines

At today’s launch of Russia’s first proyekt 885M or Yasen-M SSN Kazan, Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev said the third Yasen-M, Krasnoyarsk, will be launched in 2019.  But he didn’t mention the second, Novosibirsk.

According to RIA Novosti, Korolev also indicated that the sixth Yasen-M (seventh Yasen overall) will be laid down this summer, and will be named Ulyanovsk.

Korolev also said the first modernized proyekt 955A or Borey A SSBN Knyaz Vladimir will be launched this summer.  It will be the fourth Borey overall, and will carry the improved Bulava-M SLBM.

At the launch ceremony for Kazan, the Navy CINC reported that:

“Last year we reached the same number of underway days which existed before the post-Soviet period.  That is more than 3,000 days at sea for Russia’s submarine fleet.  It’s a wonderful indicator.”

While launch is a very significant milestone in submarine production, Kazan still faces a lengthy period of pierside fitting out, factory trials, and state testing.

The Anti-Navy Navy

The inauspicious performance of Admiral Kuznetsov begs questions about the prospects for a new Russian carrier.

Belching black smoke, Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov reached the Med and began ops against Syrian targets about a month ago.

admiral-kuznetsov-photo-ria-novosti

Admiral Kuznetsov (photo: RIA Novosti)

But after losing two fighters to arresting gear problems in less than a month, Kuznetsov’s air wing could be ashore at Khmeimim airfield for quite a while.

Even without the accidents, this might have been inevitable since its fighters can’t carry much fuel or ordnance and still ski jump off the carrier’s deck.

Nevertheless, on December 1, Military-Industrial Commission member Vladimir Pospelov told Interfaks-AVN that aircraft carriers have a place in future naval development planning:

“In the programs we are formulating for the future, ships of this class are present. The tasks and missions the Russian Navy is performing, I’m sure, in the future will be performed by ships of this class.”

As head of the VPK’s shipbuilding council, Pospelov emphasized that “several variants [of carriers] are always being reviewed.”  He didn’t place special importance on the proyekt 23000 Shtorm model, and he intimated that no decision for nuclear propulsion has been reached.

proyekt-23000-shtorm

Proyekt 23000 Shtorm

More significantly, Pospelov stated that:

“. . . the decisions taken on the final variant will be optimal both in the effectiveness of accomplishing combat missions, and, of course, in the effectiveness and cost of the work.”

“And, of course, the possibilities of the economy are being weighed since naval aircraft-carrying systems are a very expensive pleasure. Particularly accounting for the fact that part of their missions can be resolved by other effective naval means.”

Interfaks-AVN interjected that what Pospelov has in mind are the Russian Navy’s new missile ships.  The news agency likely means small missile ships like Serpukhov and Zelenyy Dol that fired Kalibr cruise missiles at Syrian targets in August.

small-missile-ship-serpukhov

Small Missile Ship Serpukhov

Regarding those “other effective naval means,” Pospelov concluded that:

“A sharp increase in the effectiveness of shipborne systems, the development of radioelectronic weapons, the effectiveness of missile systems, and the reduction of their dimensions is going on.  And in the completion of missions, their effectiveness is always increasing from the point of view of accuracy, range, and targeting.”

Still, in a final nod to carriers, he said:

“It goes without saying that development in the direction of an aircraft carrier is also principally important.  On the whole not just for the Russian Navy, but for our country as a naval power.”

But Interfaks-AVN closed by reminding readers of Deputy Defense Minister Borisov’s statement that a new carrier might be built after 2025.

The Navy can’t be pleased by any of this.  

Not only has Kuznetsov been an embarrassment when it’s supposed to demonstrate Russia’s world-class naval power.  But now Pospelov — an influential bureaucrat — has hinted publicly that Moscow should consider whether investing in its “mosquito fleet” is a better bet than a high-cost, high-risk strategy of designing, developing, and building a new aircraft carrier for the twenty-first century.

A carrier won’t be in the next arms program, but rather, possibly, the one after next. With less defense funding likely in the outyears, delay in an expensive weapons system like this is almost the same thing as death.

The Navy, some in Moscow, and perhaps even President Vladimir Putin himself might really like the idea of building (or rebuilding) a major surface fleet to make Russia’s presence known on the world’s oceans.  But things aren’t going well in Russia’s shipyards.  If the Navy has to wait fifteen or twenty years to replace Kuznetsov, where will it be when that first, and perhaps only, new carrier arrives? Much, much further behind than today in its experience of operating a carrier battle group, let alone several of them.  

In short, the U.S. Navy is unique in the world.  Russia isn’t going to compete with its strengths and will have to think about meeting them asymmetrically.

This is why the idea of building numerous small combatants with lethal missiles to defeat or deny access to hostile forces in the closed seas surrounding the Russian Federation is appealing.  It would allow Moscow to leverage its ground, air, and air defense forces against naval threats in a combined arms approach.  

If China is doing it with its much larger economy, why not Russia?

With a future carrier put off to a distant time, perhaps Moscow has decided de facto for an anti-navy navy.  As stated above, delay is about the same as death.