Category Archives: Navy

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.”

Thinking Twice

Is the Russian MOD having second thoughts about modernizing Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy?  Or its sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov?  What about Kirov-class CGN Admiral Nakhimov already in the modernization process at Sevmash?

Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy

Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov himself raised the issue in a recent interview, according to a recap by Militaryparitet.com.

Militaryparitet cites Vpk-news.ru (currently launching a Trojan called Web Attack: Venom Activity 3 blocked by Norton thankfully).

Vpk-news referred to TASS, which itself indicated Rakhmanov’s statements came on Ekho Moskvy.  In any event, the original transcript of his remarks has eluded your author.

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov

As Militaryparitet puts it, the efficacy of repairing old, large surface ships like Petr Velikiy and Kuznetsov isn’t obvious.

The web resource quotes Rakhmanov:

“For us the existing approach toward the repair of large-tonnage ships — Admiral Kuznetsov, Petr Velikiy — isn’t quite straightforward and optimal for one simple reason — the scale of expenditures for the repair of ships which are already 30-35 years old approaches the cost of building a new ship, and their service lives are much shorter than that of a newly constructed ship.”

And, according to Rakhmanov, this is “being openly discussed with the MOD.”

He continues:

“And is it necessary to do this, and if it is, then under what conditions?  It’s a question of the general life cycle concept — if a ship’s service life is 30 years, then is it necessary to extend its life?  For us the question of repairing particularly large, technically complex ships isn’t obvious.  Therefore, before talking about where to do this, we need to ask why we are doing it.”

“There are exceptions, but even one-of-a-kind ships, for example, Kuznetsov, have limits to their lives.  There is metal and equipment fatigue.”

According to Vpk-news.ru, Rakhmanov feels contemporary approaches toward shipbuilding should take into account “economically justifiable” repairs and use of each ship and vessel.

Of course, OSK and its enterprises make money off repairs, modernization, and construction, but the conglomerate makes more off — and is therefore more interested in — building new ships.  For its part, MOD wonders if it can fund expensive construction projects, and whether OSK and Russia’s shipbuilding industry can actually deliver the new ships.

It’s interesting that there isn’t the same level of angst when it comes to modernizing older nuclear-powered submarines and not as much — although clearly a certain amount — in the case of building new ones. The real worry sets in when major surface forces are considered.

But it all comes down to this:  building and maintaining a navy is an expensive proposition.

Aleksandr Nevskiy Arrives

Families Welcome Nevskiy Home for First Time (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Families Welcome Nevskiy Home for First Time (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Following a roughly 40-day inter-fleet transfer, proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy arrived at Rybachiy at approximately 1700 hours local on September 30.  Families waiting for the submarine held a sign reading “Welcome to Your Native Shores!”

The Pacific Fleet’s website provided lots of good photos of the occasion.

Nevskiy at New Pier (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Nevskiy at New Pier (photo: Ministry of Defense)

NG published this MOD photo of Aleksandr Nevskiy at its new pier.

The MOD press release for Nevskiy’s arrival focused on the reconstruction of the Pacific Fleet’s SSBN base.  It noted that the new base “should systematically underpin the service cycle, base training, technical servicing of submarines, and life cycle support and have essential social infrastructure to allow crewmen to fulfill their duties fully with great efficiency.”

Down the Gangplank (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Down the Gangplank (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Navy CINC Salutes Nevskiy's Commander (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Navy CINC Salutes Nevskiy’s Commander (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Behind Navy CINC Admiral Viktor Chirkov, Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Sergey Avakyants also salutes.

In remarks to assembled officials, Navy personnel, and families published on Mil.ru, Chirkov said the Pacific Fleet’s submarine force is in a “renewal phase.” Demands on the training of submariners are greater now that 4th generation boats are entering the fleet.

Admiral Chirkov added that the design of 5th generation submarines has begun within the framework of the 2050 Shipbuilding Program.  These future boats will be stealthy, and have improved C3, automated reconnaissance and “collision avoidance” systems, and better weapons, according to him.

In the Interfaks-AVN recap, Admiral Chirkov also referred to the “deep modernization” of existing 3rd generation nuclear subs saying that, “These boats have great modernization potential allowing them to be made practically new and return to the Navy’s order-of-battle as effective and powerful units.”

“The intensity of combat service of [Russian] strategic and multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines on the world’s oceans will be maintained at a level that guarantees our country’s security,” according to the Navy CINC.

Of course, Chirkov didn’t note that — with Russia’s array of land-based ICBMs and position in Eurasia’s heartland — that intensity, that level of submarine operations may not need to be too great.

Nevskiy Captain Vasiliy Tankovid Addresses His Crew (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Nevskiy Captain Vasiliy Tankovid Addresses His Crew (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Family Reunion on the Pier (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Family Reunion on the Pier (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

A happy scene familiar to every sailor.

Shaltay Boltay, Missile and Boomer Bases

Shaltay Boltay

Shaltay Boltay

Computer security, whistleblowers, hacks, compromises, and leaks have arrived on these pages.  Not through technical interest, but because of information that’s become available.  But more preface is required.

Russia watchers aren’t sure who’s behind Anonymous International.

Are they computer genius anti-Putin “hacktivists” stealing Kremlin emails and documents, auctioning off some and publicizing others?  Or are they a small, relatively liberal Kremlin faction (or just a few people) leaking information to benefit themselves politically?  Take your choice of analyses (here, here, and here).

They take their noms de plume from Alice in Wonderland.   Shaltay Boltay — Шалтай Болтай (Humpty Dumpty) — is the group’s voice.

The group is famous for hacking and spoofing Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev’s Twitter account, and for revealing the Kremlin’s hired trolls at work on Western web sites.  But the group’s latest information is of interest here.

Anonymous International addresses the Chief of the FSB’s Military Counterintelligence Department, General Colonel Aleksandr Bezverkhniy in mock indignation over Defense Ministry emails it obtained.  They reportedly came from the secretary of the former MOD Construction Department Director, Roman Filamonov.

Anonymous International calls the MOD’s information security organs “criminally negligent.”  It claims it used Yandex.ru, Mail.ru, and Gmail.com to obtain “service” (FOUO) documents sometimes containing secret data on Russia’s defense capabilities.  Reports on meetings with the Defense Minister and his deputies were allegedly transmitted via easily accessible open email.  The group says Filamonov’s secretary put her username and password for the MOD’s official email server in her electronic files.

Anonymous International asks Bezverkhniy to address the cavalier attitude toward information security among former and current MOD officials.  But everything mentioned is just an excerpt.  The group says it will sell a copy of its complete four-year collection of files from Filamonov’s secretary to the FSB for half price.

B0ltai.org appended a July 2014 report detailing Spetsstroy work on seven bases for Iskander-M SRBMs, supposed to be done that month.  The 7-billion-ruble contract to prepare these installations for the Iskander-M centered primarily on erecting 56 “tent-mobile shelters.”

But only 21 were completed on schedule — in Luga (26 рбр, 6А, ЗВО), Molkino (1 рбр, 49А, ЮВО), and Birobidzhan (107 рбр, 35А, ВВО).  Others — in Mozdok (probably a battalion’s worth), Znamensk, and Totskoye-2 — were experiencing significant delays in design or construction.  One in Shuya was not due for completion until February of this year.  It’s likely four more bases will be outfitted under some future contract.

This information from Filamonov’s secretary’s email is not particularly revelatory.  The missile brigades are well-known.  But it’s embarrassing that only one-third of this work was finished on time, despite the priority given Iskander-M.  Recall this program is supposed to be 100 percent  procured by 2017.  Additional money will probably be needed to bring the effort back on schedule.

Anonymous International also posted a slightly redacted report on construction, or reconstruction, of 12 Pacific Fleet submarine facilities near Vilyuchinsk to support the basing and operations of proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBNs.  It vaguely outlines a three-phase plan to complete this work in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

Vilyuchinsk and Rybachiy

Vilyuchinsk and Rybachiy

The report refers without specifics to work on mooring areas, shore power, dredging, and 12th GU MO nuclear warhead storage buildings.  In the second phase, it mentions completing a 100-ton crane, missile and weapons handling areas, storage buildings, roads, service housing, and “social infrastructure.” Finally, the report describes “full completion of the Pacific Fleet submarine base” including pier, administrative, vehicle, missile, and weapons storage areas, and roads as well as the “full development” of the energy and water supply for nearby residential areas.

The report is a year old, but depicts a base not quite ready for new fourth generation SSBNs.  Apparently, Aleksandr Nevskiy (K-550) is coming anyway.  Three more Boreys will follow while work at Vilyuchinsk and Rybachiy continues.  As noted previously, the issue of maintaining Russia’s naval strategic nuclear force in the Pacific has been long and painful for the MOD and for the Glavk personally.