Maybe I was slightly overenthusiastic last week and with hindsight I should held back the brief by a day, but the crystal ball didn’t function correctly that day. After much anticipated media talk about when the Russian fleet off Syria would go into action, it finally got deadly serious on the 15th Nov. I am not going to dwell much on the bigger picture of what this means for the Russian Navy, but just add to what has already been mentioned in the last 2 naval Sitreps.
After a 28-day hiatus, Russian air and naval forces finally launched air strikes, targeting terrorists’ weapons production facilities, especially those that produced toxic substances, in Idleb, Homs and Aleppo regions. Russian Defence Minister Shoigu said “It’s clear that it’s a well-organized industrial production, that’s why we carry out strikes [on terrorist plants].” In the week prior to the airstrikes, several poison gas attacks had been made by the “moderate rebels” during their offensive in Aleppo. The fact that these worrisome attacks had to be dealt is beyond question.
This is a historic first for the Kuznetsov: never before has a Russian (or even a Soviet for that matter), carrier group gone into combat. Short video on the strikes and the Kuznetsov’s role & defences: (Note the NATO Lynx helicopter & ship in the distance at the end!)
Some of so called Western pundits have now switched tactics and say that Russia fails again with the Kuznetsov, by saying it is more pointless posturing and lies over the Syrian campaign. Yet they still managed to go into overdrive over the “last bombed hospital in Aleppo” soundbite.
To recap the main news reports from the 15th November operation:
- Kalibr cruise missiles launched from the Admiral Grigorovich, (& maybe a sub too).
- P-800 Oniks missiles were fired from Bastion coastal defence units based near Baniyas in Syria.
- Top cover, (combat air patrols) by carrier-based Su-33’s (from Kuznetsov). Maybe also some naval Su-33s with ordnance based temporarily at Hmeymim.
There have been no reports whatsoever of Kuznetsov using its Granit missiles in the operation. It may be possible that they aren’t even on the ship in the first place but this is speculation at this stage. One thing is for sure is that NATO’s feathers are even more ruffled than before; since Russia has ably demonstrated the capabilities of the P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship missiles at inland targets in Syria. No word out on the deployment of the KA-52s, but arguably they ought to be active somewhere. They had earlier in the year got compact active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar from the Russian company KRET, in readiness for the Syria deployment.
Essentially, there is now a two-way protection envelope over Syria, first being the fleet, themselves protected by the Bastion-P missile system; second is the S-400 & S-300 systems deployed in Syria that also covers the sea area (2).
It is reported that there are 10 Su-33s (1) and only 3 MiG-29s onboard the Kuznetsov, so the fixed wing air wing is very small compared to a US aircraft carrier and hence the air firepower available is fairly limited & hence the overall impact, compared to the aircraft based at Hmeymim. Judging by the video footage of the take-offs, the Kuznetsov’s planes participated in the strikes, but not in a bombing capacity. Although there were video images taken on-board the Kuznetsov that showed a Su-33 with a FAB-500M load on deck, but none actually taking-off. So it cannot be confirmed whether the carried-based Su-33s have used their new targeting computer, the SVP 24, ‘Gefest’, (2) in ‘anger’. This system enables them to “deliver conventional ordnance with accuracy approaching guided munitions.”
Advance apologies to dumb MSM journalists, but I guess that trying to take out terrorists with the majority of carrier-based planes carrying AAMs just isn’t going to work in practice however desperate.
Air-to-air is order of the day for Kuznetsov Su-33s. 2 x R-27R, 2 x R-73. Note also wingtip ECM pods.
Air-to-air is order of the day for Kuznetsov Su-33s. 2 x R-27R, 2 x R-73. Note also wingtip ECM pods. pic.twitter.com/mJSXlXSLCH
— CombatAir (@CombatAir) November 15, 2016
The second phase
On the 17th Nov, after a pause due to bad weather, another joint operation striking at IS & AN positions was undertaken with:
- Su-33s from the Kuznetsov,
- Hmeymim based Su-30 fighters airbase providing air cover,
- Russian air force long-range bombers Tupolev-160,
- & at least two Tupolev-95M (another first-ever)
The Tupolev-95M launched the latest X-101 cruise missiles over the Mediterranean, making a ‘interesting’ 6000 km detour round Western Europe to do so.
The next day
Once again, the US/NATO duo once again took a peek at the Russian Navy at work. Following the Russian air strikes, intelligence-gathering & reconnaissance aircraft were duly despatched to the area. One was an USN P-8 on the 15th and the day before it was the turn of the French, DAMO E-2, from the Charles de Gaulle carrier. Unsurprisingly for the naval & air watchers, a number of sorties were made by US Navy P8 planes not just over the eastern Med but also the Black Sea.
As seen in the RT report on-board the Kuznetsov, a Danish helicopter, (Lynx) and warship, (L16 – HMDS Absalon), part of NATO’s SNMG 2, could be seen in close proximity of the carrier. I can’t recall a time when a NATO ship has done this before, especially when a non-NATO warship is in action on combat operations. The Danish warship isn’t exactly escorting the carrier through NATO waters, per protocol, (as was the case for example with the Royal Navy when the Kuznetsov transited the Channel). But now I have discovered what “conducting Maritime Situational Awareness for NATO”, roughly translates into “watching the Russian Navy”. This conveniently ties into one of the “Operation Sea Guardian” mission roles, (ref: 2nd Naval Brief).
In other news – USC shipyard and overhauls
The modernisation of the Slava class missile cruiser ‘Marshal Ustinov’, at the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) ‘Zvezdochka’ shipyard, has finished and will go back home to Severomorsk.
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) November 18, 2016
USC head, Alexei Rakhmanov, said in a recent interview that a total of 12 ships are expected to be supplied to the Russian Navy by the end of this year. USC also reported that the planned Kuznetsov modernisation refit is expected to be moved back to 2018. Yet the tendering process for the contract hasn’t been issued by the Russian MOD. However nothing is certain, but it might mean a longer period operational for the Kuznetsov, most likely in the eastern Med.
Originally scheduled for the start of 2017, the work on the Kuznetsov will apparently concentrate on the “carrier’s flight deck, including replacement of the deck covering, tailhooks, aircraft arresting gear and other elements of the take-off system,” In other words, improving the air wing capability as a whole.
The planned 3-year refit is also designed to upgrade the condition of Kuznetsov, while the “top brass” considers plans for a future carrier design. Personally I share the same opinion as The Saker in his article on the Kuznetsov. Ideally, the Kuznetsov would a full modernisation program, would need new boilers fitted, removal of the Granit missile silos and replaced with lighter/smaller silos and the installation of high-tech radio/radar equipment. It is not beyond the scope of USC to accomplish an extensive overhaul, given that they gained, (albeit painfully), experience on the comprehensive conversation of the Indian carrier, ‘Vikramaditya’.
It has been reported that as part of its extensive upgrade, the mothballed Kirov class missile cruiser ‘Admiral Nakhimov’ will have vertical launch starters (VLS) for cruise missiles including Kalibrs, Oniks, the new Tsirkon, as well a naval variant of the Pantsyr-M. That’s what I call serious firepower capacity.
The latest ship scheduled for a refit sometime in 2018, is the Pyotr Veliky, after the Nakhimov is completed. (Source: www.navyrecognition.com)
Elsewhere in the Med
Following on what was reported in last week’s on NATO’s Op Sea Guardian, an exercise is currently taking place in the eastern Med, from the Turkish port of Aksaz. “Mavi Balina” 16 is an annual multinational major anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise, hosted by Turkey & involving NATO’s SNMG2. The participants will conduct “advanced ASW and testing experimental tactics”.
The list includes ships from: Canada, (HMCS Charlottetown?), Spain, Bulgaria, (Verni), Romania, (Contraamiral Horia Macellariu), the US, (USS Carney) and Pakistan (PNS Alamgir)! There are observers from USA, Bahrain, Algeria, Georgia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania & Saudi Arabia.
Tartus port expansion
As mentioned in the first SITREP Naval Brief, preparatory work on the Tartus naval base expansion is gathering pace quite quickly. Currently, heading for Tartus are the MB-31 and SPK-46150 .
The latter is a seagoing self-propelled floating crane, (Project 02690), used for heavy lifting work and offshore construction and MB 31 is towing it. Likewise, the 2 recently delivered Interceptor boats could be part of the port security. Serious resources & equipment are being provided, from hydrographic surveying, port patrol boats and now the specialist offshore equipment. However, very little information is known about upgrading the land facilities though.
Tartus had served since 1977 as a base for the 5th Operational Squadron (ru:5-я Средиземноморская эскадра кораблей ВМФ) which operated in the Mediterranean Sea, back in the Soviet days The planned agreement for the base is for 49 years and will be one of its kind. It will certainly give the Russian Navy a vital foothold to counter NATO domination in the Med, but only if the critical ancillary naval services needed are also made available. My personal opinion is that once the Russian dockyard expansion work is finished, submarines will find a base there, (and maybe even temporarily the Kuznetsov as well).
Video on the role of the fast boats delivered to Tartus:
Back at Sea
This week, the Baltic Fleet’s Ropucha class landing ship ‘Korolev’, has passed the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, supposedly on deployment to the Black Sea but quite possibly to Syria, as part of the naval military transport shuttle, “The Syrian Express”.
The Dutch Navy had its PR revenge of sorts on the Russian Navy, following the incident with the Dutch submarine & Kuznetsov group. The Dutch warship HNLMS ‘De Ruyter’ published a photo showing the ‘Mirazh’, (Nanuchka class), being towed by the tug ‘Prof. Muru’ (SB 35) from Tartus to the Black Sea. The Mirazh sailed to Syria from the Black Sea Fleet in the 1st week of October but has just been seen going northbound through the Bosporus under its own power, after a 44-day deployment.
Breakdowns do invariably happen, as both the US & UK navy know too well themselves but undoubtedly there will be some armchair internet experts pundits gloating over this, so here is a gentle reminder for the record:
Follow-up (to previous briefs)
The Pacific Fleet ships, the Admiral Tributs and the Bystriy, that left Vladivostok on 17 Oct, have now returned home.
One of the Kuznetsov’s group oiler, the Sergey Osipov, docked for a short while in Limassol, Cyprus, the sailors hopefully had a well earnt shore-leave and discover the delights of ouzo. Also rumoured to be in Limassol is the Vice-Admiral Kulakov but this not confirmed. Watch the internet for sore Avaaz fans complaining about the Cypriots supporting the Russian Navy.
The Yantar is now docked in Bandar Abbas, according to Iran media. On route, it seemed to follow the main submarine cable running down the Gulf. (Unconfirmed rumour has it that the USNS Mary Sears is also in the area, probably playing the naval equivalent of tag).
Looking at the Chinese horizon, here is some follow-up information on the combat-readiness of the Liaoning aircraft carrier.
On a tangent – a sailor’s life
Bonus, thanks has to go to the hard-working ‘matros’ who did a splendid flight-deck paint-job of the Kuznetsov, (as can be seen in the satellite image), the flight deck looks nice in the media videos. (Join the navy, the Rodina needs you to go to Syria but first here’s a paint brush….), (I can also see why the chaplain on-board complained about the amount of swearing!!!)
And then – there is this absolutely hilarious and ludicrous title from a ‘gutter-press’ UK tabloid , if it relates to Russia, then apply really bad words such “aggressive”. In this case it is “horrific” – “ordeal“.
God knows what the Daily Star hacks would make of the RN or merchant navy training courses. I certainly found such courses to be demanding but not horrific, just part and parcel being a mariner. Maybe the Royal Navy could invite those so called UK journalists on an acquaint on the ‘Havoc’, similar to this video:
Meanwhile a glimpse into the Russian Navy damage control & fire-fighting training:
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) November 10, 2016
Thank you for your time,