Tag Archives: Black Sea Fleet

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.

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Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man

Last week KZ ran a piece titled “Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man.”  Easy to overlook, it turned out to be about the Black Sea Fleet’s new 127th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The article informs us that the brigade was formed after last year’s invasion.  It has the latest and greatest in weapons and equipment, including mobile EW and ELINT systems and Orlan and Leyer UAVs.  But its men, the article says, are the main thing.

The new brigade is 100 percent contract-manned, according to the article, but it is less than clear on the point.  Is it fully manned and all personnel are contractees or is it less than 100 percent manned but men on-hand are all contractees?  The article offers no other information on the brigade’s TO&E.

KZ notes that the commander and sub-unit commanders have combat experience and medals.  Colonel Aleksandr Beglyakov commands the 127th.  But there’s precious little about him.  What looks like a fragment of an Odnoklassniki profile appears below.

Beglyakov's Odnoklassniki Profile?

Beglyakov’s Odnoklassniki Profile?

If it’s him, he’s young at 37, but not exceptionally so for a Russian O-6.  He attended the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School — cradle of Russian Army reconnaissance men.  He’s completed his mid-career school — VUNTs SV “Combined Arms Academy of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”

The brigade’s recon men appear to be organized into groups like GRU Spetsnaz. At least one sergeant came from an independent Spetsnaz regiment in Stavropol. He says we are the “most polite” of all “polite people.” We come quietly, fulfill our mission, and leave quietly, according to him.

The KZ author describes another soldier as a “fifth generation reconnaissance man” — physically strong, equally skilled with weapons and modern digital systems.

This article brings us to the independent reconnaissance brigade, the ORBr — what it is, its origin, and what its future will be.

The first modern Russian Army ORBr, the 100th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade, is based in Mozdok.  It was formed in 2009 under former defense minister Serdyukov and was branded “experimental.”  There have been reports it would disband, but it apparently hasn’t.

One apparently knowledgeable observer shared this description:

“The 100th Experimental Independent Reconnaissance Brigade (Mozdok, North Ossetia) was formed in the summer of 2009 on the basis of the 85th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment [ooSpN] of the 10th Independent Spetsnaz Brigade:”

“command, air-assault battalion, reconnaissance battalion (two reconnaissance companies + a tank company), SP howitzer battalion, SpN detachment, UAV detachment, anti-aircraft missile-artillery battalion, EW company (expanding into an independent ELINT battalion), engineer company, maintenance company, material-technical support company, medical company, in the future its own helicopter regiment.”

“A mixed squadron transferred into the brigade from Budennovsk.  The helicopter sub-unit carries out missions for the ground formation and is operationally subordinate to it.  The squadron provides cover for the brigade’s armored columns, transports supplies, and conducts all types of reconnaissance.”

“The brigade’s command was formed on 1 December 2009.”

It’s a very interesting and unique brigade by Russian Army standards.  It has surprisingly robust combined arms firepower to go along with its reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities.

ORBr roots extend to Soviet times.  But it was different then.  The 25th ORBr in Mongolia had three reconnaissance battalions, a “deep reconnaissance” (SpN??) battalion, and fewer technical intelligence systems.  Its helo squadron had 20 Mi-8s and an Mi-2 for the brigade commander.  Soviet forces in Mongolia also included the 20th ORBr.  Most Russians who served in or comment on these formations are pretty adamant that they reported to the GRU.

Looking Landward

The newest deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet is former deputy chief of the MOD’s Main Combat Training Directorate (GUBP), General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrovich Petrov.

The media quoted Petrov several times in that post, addressing either last year’s tank biathlon or Rheinmetall’s pullout from the Mulino training center contract.

Moscow apparently isn’t neglecting the landward defense of Crimea. Petrov’s arrival might presage a beefing up of ground units on Russia’s most recently acquired territory.  

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

According to Mil.ru and KZ, the 50-year-old Petrov was born in the Dnepropetrovsk oblast (former Ukrainian SSR), and graduated from the Kiev Higher Combined Arms Command School in 1985.

He got a platoon in the old Turkestan MD and, rather immediately, another graduation present — two years in Afghanistan (1986-1988).

On his return from that tour, he commanded a reconnaissance company and served as chief of reconnaissance for a regiment in the Far East MD.

He completed the mid-career Frunze Military Academy in 1994, commanded a battalion, and then served as chief of staff for a division in the Moscow MD.

In 2005, Petrov finished the General Staff Academy and took command of one of the Far East MD’s machine gun-artillery divisions.

Petrov proceeded to head the Siberian MD’s combat training directorate. He was acting chief of the combat training directorate of the Ground Troops, then deputy chief of GUBP.

He wears several combat decorations.

Petrov likely will serve as Chief of Coastal Troops, Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet for Coastal Troops.  If this is the case, he’ll replace General-Major Aleksandr Ostrikov.  Russia’s other fleets have Ground Troops generals in similar positions.

Missile Away!

Missile Cruiser Moskva Fires SS-N-12 (photo: Mil. ru)

Missile Cruiser Moskva Fires SS-N-12 (photo: Mil.ru)

Definitely don’t be on deck for this.  Mil.ru covered Black Sea Fleet flagship Slava-class CG Moskva (121) firing one of its deck-mounted SS-N-12 ASCMs during inter-fleet training in the Atlantic this week.

TK Zvezda provided video of this firing and lots of others.

SS-N-12 Launch (photo: TK Zvezda)

SS-N-12 Launch (photo: TK Zvezda)

This might be one of the few times (possibly only the second!) in Moskva’s career that it’s fired its primary weapon system.  In 2008, New Times covered what it reported as the very first.

This seems somewhat improbable.  Moskva, née Slava, surely fired its reputed “carrier-killing” SS-N-12s at some time during the zenith / denouement of the Cold War in the mid- and late 1980s.  There also had to be acceptance-related firings by the lead unit of the guided missile cruiser class during the early 1980s.

However, very casual research leads one to conclude that most Russian Navy cruise missile firings come from subs or “small missile ships” and “missile boats.”

Nevertheless, Moskva heads Russian Navy ships currently training and bound for a number of Western hemisphere port calls.  No one can really deny that the Navy is getting more miles under the keel than five or ten years ago.

BSF Gets an Unsat

A BSF Be-12

Kommersant reported Saturday that Defense Minister Serdyukov presided over an unscheduled collegium at which the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) commander received a month and a half to rectify problems identified during an inspection this fall.

The inspection — conducted by Chief Military Inspector, General-Lieutenant Gennadiy Borisov — focused on the state of operational and combat training, the weapons and equipment inventory, logistical and medical support, and fire safety.  Kommersant’s source said the results were unfavorable, and there were deficiencies in many areas.  Serdyukov received the inspection report, and wanted to hear the BSF commander speak about it at the collegium.

A Main Navy Staff source told the paper two of three formations inspected at Novorossiysk Naval Base got unsatisfactories in artillery, missile, and torpedo firing, and mine warfare.  The 11th Independent Coastal Missile-Artillery Brigade and 184th Ship Brigade received comments, and General-Lieutenant Borisov also noted problems in the Naval Infantry battalions at Temryuk.

But no one got fired.  Serdyukov gave BSF Commander, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Fedotenko, and Navy CINC, Admiral Vysotskiy, until February to remedy all defects before a repeat inspection.

On a related note, Monday the Defense Ministry announced BSF Naval Aviation bases at Gvardeyskoye and Kacha will consolidate into the 7057th Aviation Base.  The unified base will have ground attack, ASW, and transport airplanes and helicopters.  Press reports weren’t explict, but Kacha is the 7057th.  So Gvardeyskoye — the 7058th — will apparently close.

VDV on Amphibs

By way of follow-up . . . late last May, VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov told the press his forces have embarked in Black Sea Fleet ships for joint training since the Georgian conflict.  Yesterday RIA Novosti reported on such a joint exercise.

More than 1,500 airborne troops and nearly 100 pieces of equipment are participating in tactical exercises with BSF ships near Novorossiysk.  The VDV are from the 108th Guards Airborne-Assault Regiment, 7th Airborne-Assault Division.

Specifically, the VDV spokesman said:

“On Wednesday nearly 30 airborne combat vehicles and other combat equipment loaded onto large landing ships of the Black Sea Fleet and debarked in a designated coastal area at the Rayevskiy range near Novorossiysk.”

Exercises will continue until tomorrow.  Reconnaissance company personnel will airdrop near Rayevskiy today.  The drop was delayed by bad weather, according to the VDV spokesman.  Two battalions conducted mountain combat training yesterday, and will conduct night firings today.

RIA Novosti didn’t indicate which BSF ships are carrying the VDV.  But Ropucha II-class LST Azov and Alligator-class LST Nikolay Filchenkov were active in the first days of this month during an inspection by Navy CINC, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy.  The ships worked with the BSF’s Naval Infantry Brigade at the Opuk training range.

Russia Not Likely to Buy Ukraina

Slava-class CG Ukraina

Will Russia buy the aging, semi-finished Slava-class CG Ukraina?  Probably not, unless the price is really right, i.e. basically zero.  It’s unlikely Russia will pay Ukraine to complete the cruiser because Russian shipyards have suggested towing it to Russia, refurbishing, and updating there. 

The questions are compelling only because of a recent video, varying reports about the ship and a possible deal, and what this all says about Moscow’s military procurement.

Military parity highlighted Podrobnosti.ua’s video.  Like the photo above, the video shows a major combatant in declining condition.

Nevertheless, according to recent ITAR-TASS, Ukraine’s Defense Minister is optimistic Kyiv and Moscow will finish Ukraina together.  And he claims the ship is 95 percent complete.

By way of review, Ukraina is a 1970s- or 1980s-vintage design being constructed as Fleet Admiral Lobov at Nikolayev’s [Mykolayiv’s] 61 Communards Shipbuilding Plant when the USSR collapsed.  Kyiv failed to find a foreign buyer for the ship, and reportedly spends $1 million every year maintaining it.  So that doesn’t mean a plethora of options or a very strong negotiating position for the Ukrainian side.

Talk of Russia buying Ukraina peaked last year in the wake of the base agreement extension between Moscow and Kyiv.  News outlets noted that the acting chief of the Russian Navy’s Technical Directorate inspected the cruiser and declared it 50 percent ready.  He said Ukraina would need 15 billion rubles for repairs and 35 billion for modernization — $1.7 billion in all.  The Navy’s 50 percent sounds a lot more like the 70 or 75 percent we’ve been hearing for many years than the Ukrainian Defense Minister’s 95 percent.

Reported pricetags for Ukraina, in its current shape, start at $70 or $80 million and run to ridiculous numbers.  In January, Argumenti.ru reported the Russian Defense Ministry would not pay scrap metal prices for Ukraina, but commented that Moscow would accept the ship as a gift.

Then there’s also the issue of whether the Russian Navy really needs it.  It’s an issue often forgotten in procurement debates.  Granted Ukraina is a something of a special case.  But it should also be a pretty easy decision.

Novyy region quoted a couple opinions last May.  Former Black Sea Fleet Commander Vladimir Komoyedov said:

“The ship hasn’t aged 15-20 years yet according to its capabilities.  However, it needs, of course, to be deployed in the ocean, in open theaters, and not in the Black Sea, not in the Baltic — there just isn’t sufficient space for it there.  The ships [Slava-class] are very good, not at all badly designed.  It can’t be said this cruiser belongs just to Ukraine alone.  Ukraine’s share of it, as far as I remember, is 17, a maximum of 20 percent.  Therefore the question’s about the purchase not of a full ship, but of a share — all the rest belongs to Russia.  The purchase issue has stood for a long time, and it needs to be resolved once and for all.  If such a decision is made, it’ll be the right one.  It’s better than the tin can Mistral by a factor of two.”

Defense analyst Aleksandr Khramchikhin, on the other hand, said:

“It’s very hard to understand who needs this ship now.  Undoubtedly, for our fleet which is shrinking into nothing, now such a cruiser has already become pointless.  We have to begin, so to speak, from below, and not from above, not with cruisers, but with frigates at least.  Moreover, these cruisers have a very narrow anti-aircraft carrier mission.  They were built exclusively for war with American carrier battle groups.  It doesn’t seem to me that this mission is all that acute for us now.  Therefore, it’s hard for me to comprehend why we need this ship, and where to put it if it is finished.”

All that said, the Russians might buy Ukraina anyway.  If they do, it’ll indicate a new State Program of Armaments gone awry in its first year.