Source: Extract from infographic – Offiziere.ch
Source: Extract from infographic – Offiziere.ch
Latest information is that the Russian fleet off the coast of Syria is going to carry out military strikes in the Aleppo region including seaborne missiles launches. This is not surprising since the main elements of the Russian Navy force have at last converged off Cyprus & Syria. The Kuznetsov carrier has been on the receiving end of a lot of trolling, mocking all the way to the Syrian shores It has taken a while to finally get the vital naval pieces into place, much of it to howls of protest from NATO and the MSM.
It is doubtful that the air strikes against the rebels will be carrier launched, largely due to the ski jump configuration that hinders the launching of fully laden aircraft, but SU-33s have already been reported in the skies above Syria, either probably on Combat Air Patrols, or more than likely having relocated to the main airbase at Khmeimim, supplementing the air assets there. If indeed true, it will nevertheless be the first combat air sortie in 25 years for the Kuznetsov’s air wing! Much less fuss has been made in the MSM & politically on the role of the Black & Caspian Sea fleets,which have already used Kalibrs in anger in 2015 & this year. Interestingly, 100 Kalibr & Onix missiles were ordered by the Russian Ministry of Defense in the 3rd quarter of 2016. (TASS 21 Oct). The destroyer, Smetlivy is also reported to have joined the fleet, after a Greek stopover, where sailors got to see the sights of Athens. Whereas Spain & Malta snubbed the Russian Navy, Greece welcomes them with open arms.
At the beginning of November, the naval auxiliary, Prof. Nikolay Muru left Sevastopol along with the missile frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich, the only surface ship carrying Kalibrs in the eastern Mediterranean. The Prof. Nikolay Muru is a Search & Rescue (SAR) ship, also capable of underwater operations & has Dynamic Positioning System (DPS); it’s one of two vessels that frequently use AIS and as such trackable. The other is the Nikolay Chiker, an ocean going tug, which accompanied the Kuznetsov fleet down from Severomorsk. The Chiker is now quite close to Turkey, at the northernmost edge of what appears to be the Russian Navy operational zone. (See diagram for the NOTAM).
Also underway and heading to Syria is the Large Buoy Tender, KIL 158, with a deck cargo of what appears to be two fast ‘Raptor’ patrol craft .
It has a heavy lift crane and also an underwater operations role. You don’t send off such ships far from their homeports for a nice training cruise, so although this might seem at first sight, dull news compared to the deployment of combat ships, it is interesting from a logistical point of view. There is the need to reconfigure the Tartus docks into a viable & safe naval base permanently and as such specialist vessels with diving support capabilities will probably come in handy.
Equally, the arrival of specialist auxiliary ships makes for an intriguing combination, specifically looking at the underwater operations capability. This is especially so when you vector in what the Yantar did last month. The Yantar, a Russian navy oceanographic ship was off Syrian & Lebanese coasts, loitered over areas where there submarine cables linking Cyprus with the Levant & Turkey. My guess is that it was also surveying and checking out the Anti Submarine Warfare sonar arrays ‘toys’ left there by NATO – (US), in preparation for the arrival of the main fleet. Back in October, several UK MSM newspapers reported the deployment of 2 Akula class & 1 Kilo class submarines in the Atlantic. They added that they were joining the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean. So maybe the Yantar was giving the elusive Russian submarine(s?) some more room to maneuver discreetly. At the same time, there was what seemed to be a cat and mouse game taking place between the Russian navy (a sub?) firing missiles and the US Navy sending out an ASW P-8 air patrol the next day in the area. A discreet but vital underwater conflict is taking place off the Syrian coast.
Caption: Map showing the location of the Yantar in relation to submarine cables in the region
Some of the Russian ships took a northerly route past Cyprus, thus completely avoiding the French aircraft-carrier group and the busy airspace used by the RAF and ISF aircraft. Just by looking at the NOTAM map for Cyprus shows this crowded airspace). There are still NATO/US ships lurking in the area, probably keeping tabs on the Russians. One, off Crete, was the USNS Mary Sears (T AGS 65), an oceanographic ship, with sonar, underwater metal detection & satellite imagery capabilities, approximately in the same mould as the Yantar. The Yantar is now going to Iran and maybe will cause some ASW mischief making there. The latest ‘watcher’ is the Spanish navy tanker, the Cantabria, (A 15), and before that it was the turn of the Danish warship HMDS Absalon off Crete. The US naval oiler Leroy Grumman is also deployed in the area and it appears to be replenishing the French carrier group.
The latest news in is that there was a ‘brief encounter’ between the Kuznetsov escorts and a Dutch NATO submarine. (SPUTNIK news 9 Nov) Supposedly for a top notch hyper silent submarine, the Dutch Walrus class diesel- electric submarine was detected by the Severomorsk & the Vice-Adm Kulakov.
In other news, the Russian naval “Syrian Express” is still providing a much needed military supply shuttle service. In what is probably the oddest naval movement was that of a tug SB 5 towing a barge, that went through the Bosphorus twice in less than 30 hours, a record breaking transit. The barge looked like a mooring pontoon for one of the big combat ships or for the Kuznetsov. The naval logistical & combat support operations is a underrated but vital aspect of the Russian military campaign in Syria.
P.S. Rumor has it that the Dutch sub detected is the Walrus, since it visited Valletta, Malta back in September.
All sources are OSINT; usually cross checked.
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