Category Archives: Navy

Anti-Ship Iskander-M?

Russia may view the Iskander-M as an effective weapon against high-value ships and aircraft carriers in particular. There is, however, no openly available information indicating the Russians have actually tested it as an anti-ship ballistic missile.

In late July and early August, the Russian Army conducted two exercises for the first time featuring notional launches of the land-based mobile 9K720 Iskander-M (SS-26 ‘Stone’) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) against ships in the Black Sea. Reports on the drills appeared on Mil.ru and government-controlled newspaper Rossiyskaya gazeta.

The 1st Missile Brigade of the Krasnodar-based 49th Combined Arms Army departed garrison in late July for combat readiness drills under the personal control of Southern Military District commander Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov. The brigade performed the Iskander-M launch drills at some point before they were reported on July 27 and August 2 respectively.

The MOD press-releases stated that the Russian forces “delivered an electronic missile strike on notional enemy ships and shore facilities” and conducted “electronic launches on notional enemy targets detected in the Black Sea and ashore.”

An “electronic” launch likely means a field combat simulation where the missile unit prepares and performs all procedures for a real-world launch without firing a live missile.

Exactly which ships the Russians used as notional targets for the Iskander-M is unknown. However, the annual NATO Sea Breeze exercise took place in Black Sea waters during mid-July. Forces from 13 alliance members as well as Georgia, Moldova, Sweden, and Ukraine participated in the multinational training. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high since Moscow seized Crimea and sent forces to fight in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The Iskander-M has the capability to attack moving targets including ships. Its 9M723 missile flies a low, semi-ballistic trajectory at Mach 6-7 with possible maneuvering in the terminal flight stage. It has inertial navigation as well as active radar or electro-optical terminal guidance. Active radar would be employed against ships at sea. However, a successful SRBM strike on a moving naval target would likely also depend on real-time inputs and updates from space-based surveillance and intelligence systems.

The deployment of the Iskander-M as a possible anti-ship system comes just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. The Kinzhal uses a modified Iskander-M missile and has also been advertised as an anti-ship weapon and “carrier killer.”

Compared to the relatively long-range Kinzhal, the 500-km declared range of the Iskander-M makes it less threatening to foreign aircraft carriers and battle groups which could remain outside its reach. However, combined with existing sea- and land-based anti-ship cruise missile systems, Iskander-M’s hypersonic speed would be a major contribution to Russia’s robust anti-access/area denial strategy on the approaches to its four fleet areas.

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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.

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.

More on the Conscription Campaign

The Russian military press has published relatively little on this spring’s draft which is set to end in just a few days.  There are, however, data points worth examining against what was written here.

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with their paperwork in hand

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with paperwork in hand

On June 21, Mil.ru noted that Russia’s Western MD is getting 48,000 of this spring’s conscripts.  That’s a pretty enormous 34 percent of all draftees.

Mil.ru also reported the Black Sea Fleet has gotten 1,700 of 2,600 new men it’s expecting.

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

We already heard that the Baltic and Northern Fleets were getting 5,000 and 2,500 conscripts respectively, putting the Navy over 10,000 without counting the Pacific Fleet’s share.  If we guess the latter gets 3,000, this puts the Navy at 13,000 for the spring campaign.  That would be nine percent of all draftees, not the predicted six percent.  A similar number from last fall would make 26,000, and conscription would account for perhaps 19 percent of Navy manpower.  

On May 21, the Russian military indicated that 8,000 draftees were going to the RVSN.  That’s six percent of the spring cohort rather than the estimated eight.  About 26 percent of RVSN personnel might be conscripts.

The MOD website reported on May 7 that the VDV will take more than 6,000 draftees.  That gives the Russian airborne four percent of the current allocation of conscripts, about as predicted.  A roughly similar number in the fall would mean the VDV are 30 percent conscript-manned.

Mil.ru added:

“Few conscripts are fortunate enough to get to serve in VDV sub-units.  The competition for those wishing to serve in the VDV in some military commissariats reaches 30 men per spot.”

The VDV get to pick the best available young men:

“The main selection criteria for the VDV are excellent health and physical preparedness, a high level of neuropsychological stability, [and] positive social and moral characteristics.”

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.

No Rest for the Weary

Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (TAKR 063) will be more of a fixture in the Mediterranean than anyone outside the Russian MOD and Navy Main Staff supposed.

admiral-kuznetsov-photo-ria-novosti

Admiral Kuznetsov (photo: RIA Novosti)

The ship will not enter Zvezdochka shipyard for a “repair with modernization” until 2018, according to RIA Novosti.  The news agency cited state-owned conglomerate OSK’s vice-president for naval shipbuilding.

Until yesterday, it was widely assumed that Kuznetsov would operate in the Mediterranean until spring 2017 at the latest, then return to Northern Fleet waters to begin a much-needed upkeep and upgrade period.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military have decided instead to have Kuznetsov as part of their Syrian operations for at least one extra year.  The ship will likely return to its homeport at some point in mid-2017 for crew leave, swapping out fighters, and minor repairs.  At least, the Russian Navy hopes only minor repairs will be needed.

Then the cycle will start again…Kuznetsov will deploy to the Med in the fall, and return home in the first half of 2018 when an overhaul might begin.  Once that starts though, the carrier won’t be available for two years minimum, and probably much longer. Hence, the reluctance to begin the process when the MOD wants additional firepower on Syrian targets.

But Russia’s Syrian intervention is really just as much (possibly more) about the opportunity to test its men and weapons in live combat as it is about propping up its friend Assad, fighting “terrorists,” or making itself a Middle East power broker and superpower again. 

Weak Light at the End of the Tunnel

In recognition of Navy Day several weeks back, Mikhail Khodarenok examined the current state of the Russian Navy for Gazeta.ru.

Khodarenok offers a pessimistic assessment of the navy’s shipbuilding program.  He notes there is still significant disagreement over what to build.  The navy, he argues, has also lost some of its bureaucratic heft when it comes to planning for shipbuilding as well as for the operational employment of naval forces. 

Black Sea Fleet Nanuchka III-class PGG Shtil in the Navy Day Parade

Black Sea Fleet Nanuchka III-class PGG Shtil in the Navy Day Parade

Late of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer, Mr. Khodarenok — you’ll recall — is an ex-General Staff officer and serious military journalist.  He shares interesting and credible opinions from several well-placed former naval officers in his article.

According to him, all observers agree that the start of serial construction of ships after more than 20 years is “one of the most important vectors of the fleet’s current development.”  This might seem obvious, but it’s not widely appreciated.

Khodarenok walks quickly through the current construction program:

  • four proyekt 20380 corvettes in the fleet with eight on the buildingways;
  • three proyekt 11356 frigates delivered, others uncertain;
  • proyekt 22350 frigates under construction;
  • six proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarines complete, six more for the Pacific Fleet to be built in 2017-2020;
  • proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN is a success with three delivered;
  • a single proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSN has reached the fleet, others will likely not arrive until after 2020.

One can quibble with his points.  For example, it’s premature to declare Borey a success when its Bulava SLBM still hasn’t been accepted into the navy’s inventory (NVO made this point flatly on 12 August).  Perhaps Borey is a success, but only in comparison to Yasen.

Khodarenok doesn’t dwell on these points, and his general themes are of greater interest.

He quotes former deputy chief of the Navy Main Staff, Vice-Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev:

“Serial production is generally a very big deal.  It has big pluses in the deployment plan, lowering costs of subsequent ships in the series compared with the lead unit, and simplification of training personnel for new ships.”

According to Khodarenok, Pepelyayev feels there is light at the end of the tunnel for the navy, but it’s dim and flickering because navy ship construction “fully reflects the realities and condition of the Russian shipbuilding industry,” and not just shipbuilding.

Pepelyayev continues:

“A ship is a visible and material reflection of practically all the technological capabilities of the state.  In a word, we build that which we can build.”

Khodarenok adds:

“Specialists believe that another fifteen years are still needed to recover after many types of restructuring, the 1990s, and the hiatus in fleet construction at the beginning of the 2000s.”

Turning to the sore point of gas turbine engines, Khodarenok writes that Rybinsk may well be able to make them for the Russian Navy by 2017-2018, but someone still needs to replace the reduction gears also once made for navy ships in Ukraine.  This is a more difficult task.  The Zvezda plant in St. Petersburg has gotten the job.

Ex-deputy CINC of the Navy for Armaments Vice-Admiral Nikolay Borisov says:

“This is a highly complex task — highly complex and modern equipment, particularly gear cutters, are needed to work with high-alloy steel.  Whether this task will be completed at Zvezda is an open question.  Many specialists doubt the enterprise’s capability to handle the task in the established timeframe.”

Khodarenok turns to the proposed nuclear-powered destroyer Lider (proyekt 23560), concluding there isn’t agreement among specialists whether the fleet even needs this ship.  An unnamed highly-placed source tells him the fleet needs 20 frigates more than 15 frigates and five Lider destroyers.  The source continues:

“Lider will be a ship of the second half of the 21st century.  However, there are no new weapons which correspond to the second half of the 21st century for it.  There’s just no sense in building a hull and power plant.”

Retired Rear-Admiral Yuriy Gorev, who was involved in ship acquisition, tells Khodarenok that the navy should continue building corvettes and frigates while continuing development of Lider.  But the new destroyer shouldn’t be a goal of the fleet’s near-term plans.

Next, the always-pregnant question of aircraft carriers…

An unnamed Navy Main Staff source says:

“Today there are no conditions for the construction of a ship of such a design.  No buildingway, no drydock.  There is simply nowhere to build an aircraft carrier.”

“The construction of such ships should be realized for concrete tasks, but today the Russian Navy simply doesn’t have such missions.”

“And with further development of aviation, aircraft carriers could even die out altogether as a class.”

Recall that MOD armaments tsar Yuriy Borisov said an aircraft carrier contract won’t be signed until late 2025, and there are three existing “not bad” designs for it.

Former chief of the naval “direction” (department, i.e. not a major bureaucratic entity) of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate (GOU), Rear-Admiral Arkadiy Syroyezhko believes there are no insurmountable obstacles to the construction of a nuclear-powered strike carrier in Russia.  He thinks Sevmash could handle the job since it was originally conceived as a yard for major surface combatants and later concentrated on submarines.

But Syroyezhko admits, without preparation to support carriers, Russia could end up with extremely expensive, sporadically constructed carriers.  Today, he concludes, Russia is able to fulfill combat missions typically placed on carriers by other means.

Changing gears, Khodarenok covers the state of play in the Russian Navy’s Main Staff.

According to him, specialists unanimously report that the operational-strategic component has disappeared from the Main Staff’s work.  It no longer plans for the fleet’s employment — for strategic operations in oceanic theaters of military operations.  The naval planning job has gone to Russia’s operational-strategic commands (military districts) and the four geographic fleets (as the operational-strategic large formations of those MDs).  

A Main Staff source tells Khodarenok that the MD commanders have come up with disparate rules for directing the fleets subordinate to them.  The source says the disappearance of a naval component in GOU planning began with the downgrading of the GOU’s naval directorate to a “direction,” and with the concomitant reduction in the quality of its naval staff officers.

Khodarenok writes there is confusion today over what ships to build, how many, what tactical-technical capabilities they should have, and what missions they should perform. The Navy CINC has “no rights” but many demands made of him in this regard.

Russian Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

Russian Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

The Navy CINC’s responsibilities for procurement intersect with those of the MOD’s state defense order (GOZ) support department.  It’s unclear exactly where their respective authorities begin and end.  The Main Staff source says all sorts of nonsense result from the confusion.

Still, the CINC has to answer for almost everything that happens in the fleet, according to Khodarenok.

The Navy Main Command’s (Glavkomat’s) move to St. Petersburg was a big mistake, but a return to Moscow would be equally disruptive.  A Glavkomat source tells Khodarenok, as long as the leadership sends people to Vladivostok or elsewhere twice a week over the littlest issues, it really doesn’t matter where the headquarters is.

Khodarenok sums everything this way:

“In other words, there are more than a few problems in the fleet today.  It undoubtedly won’t do to put their resolution on the back burner.  They won’t disappear somewhere from there.”