by LeDahu

The UK politicians and senior military officers at the helm of defence these days, seem to excel at outpourings of Russian scaremongering soundbites, which the UK MSM are too willing to relay, without any discussion or any criticism. I’m kind of wondering if there isn’t something in the water in Whitehall, that has led to a rash of anti-Russian outbursts of late.

  1. The UK media readily amplified the “UK Christmas threat’ by passing Russian Navy ships;

 

  1. UK think tank started a round of Russian scaremongering by reporting that the Russian Navy could cripple submarine communication cables.

 

  1. Followed by a rehash of 2015 ‘leaked’ news, with the reappearance of a nuclear-powered and nuclear capable torpedo, reported by MSM as a ‘doomsday’ weapon.

 

  1. 4. The UK top general said this week that Russia “represents the most complex and capable state-based threat to our country since the end of the Cold War.”

 

  1. This week, the UK Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, made claims about claims of Russia seeking to ‘rip apart British infrastructure”. LINK

What needs to be factored into the discussion:

  • NATO’s need to increase across the board, its manpower, equipment & raison d’être for being in existence.
  • Push by US & NATO circles to increase significantly defence budgets;
  • The need by the US with its 350 US Navy ship programme, to keep a huge superiority gap (& associated complex) over other ‘competitors’ – China and Russia.
  • UK is currently at start of a new five-month-long defence

Well, all in all, the ongoing cocktail of weasel words are doing the trick, as this article shows; “In 2018, Global Defense Spending Will Reach Highest Level Since Cold War”.

The prize needs to go to the 8 NATO countries that “(not including the United States) that will meet the alliance guidelines calling for members to spend 2% of their GDPs on the military. Those eight countries are Greece, Estonia, Turkey, Latvia, UK, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.” The prize is being sold US weaponry at eye waveringly prices, that don’t necessarily do all what was written on the box in the first place. (The Patriot missile system spring to mind) LINK

The primary driver for most of these countries to raise their military spending is: Russia. (I suspect that the Greeks & Turks aren’t increasing theirs just because of Russia). While at the same, Russian defence spending is decreasing, 10% less than what it was 2015 according to IHS Janes.

The UK sounding the alarm on a supposedly ‘revanchist Russia’ comes at a time when there is a shortage of Royal Navy destroyers and frigates, at come when two very costly aircraft carriers are being put into service and with an shrunken UK submarine fleet. Costs which have to come out from another part of the navy’s budget, with proposals to retire ships such as HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier. LINK

When you consider, the inadequacies felt by NATO, US military forces, the US Navy fatal woes in 2017, I suppose having a suitably placed fear inducing opponent is handy, on both sides of the Atlantic.  Handy to deflect those inadequacies away, especially in light of December’s US Strategy document that set out a change of heart on its security policy. LINK

Still, at ground level, it is hard to follow the trends of military pundits, planners and analysts, one minute, Russia’s only carrier is a “smoke belching Soviet relic”, then it yaws to the unseen menace of a “expanding Russian submarine threat”.  Sadly they are playing to the MSM tune, readily giving them their 30 seconds of ‘breaking’ or hyper sensational news headlines, to new generations that have never know the Cold War. This line gets regularly quoted: “Russian naval activity is now at its highest levels since the Cold War.” LINK

I have yet to come across a justification or any meaningful evidence for this paltry quote. Its origins seem to stem from Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, back in 2016,

[LINK] subsequently echoed by practically all of NATO high command. Repeated by Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon, NATO’s commander of submarine forces back in December. I’d say that he was certainly touting for more ASW business on the basis of a fallacious statement. He added that: “”Russian submarine activity is higher now in the last three years than it has been since the Cold War.” Is that 3 years concurrently or in succession?

Given the ravages experienced by the military in the Yeltsin era, most submarines were either rusting at the piers, or sold off to foreign client or scrapped. As such any slight increase in Russian submarine operations would be ‘the highest since the Cold War’.  Hinting at the Cold War, assumes an oblique reference to the size of the Soviet Navy at that the time. The current Russian Navy is tiny compared to the Soviet Navy.  Some of the submarines still in commission, were built in Soviet times.  This is quite telling as the figures below show:

  1991 2001 2011 2015
Strategic submarines 60 17 15 13
Tactical submarines 221 34 45 47

Up to 2010, the modernisation of the Russian naval industry was excruciatingly slow, it has picked  up a little bit since then, but it is slow, compared to how the US and Chinese naval industries produce ships and submarines massively.

The head of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Korolev did speak in 2017 about the submarine force time at sea in 2016.  At least he quoted an actual figure to back up his statement:

“Last year we reached the same level as before the post-Soviet period, in terms of running hours,” [….] “This is more than 3,000 days at sea for the Russian submarine fleet,” he added. LINK

3000 days for about 60 submarines of all types, equals 50 days on average, in a year roughly speaking.  Actually you could cut down on the numbers of seagoing submarines, as some spend more time tied to a pier, than lets say, the latest Project 636 Varshavyanka class, busy somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. Did a 280 Soviet submarine fleet only do around 3000 hours in the late 1980’s? Or was Admiral Korolev gently winding up NATO commanders?

NATO and the US don’t like having any competition, this is a scrappy turf contest for North Atlantic sea domination. The Russian military are acutely aware of the need to maintain the ‘Bastion strategy’, especially the Northern (flank) Bastion strategy, for for its SLBM submarine force. Oddly, I didn’t hear the same level of agitation about when Chinese submarines ventured into the Sea of Okhotsk back in 2013, (Moscow wasn’t too pleased apparently).

I mentioned Vice Admiral Johnstone earlier, well, this is what he had to say about the Russian submarines:  they “have longer ranges, they have better systems, they’re freer to operate.” Resulting from “an extraordinary investment path not mirrored by the West.” So the current bout of fear mongering arises from the West being either complacent or smug about Russian military capabilities. In other words, the Russians weren’t considered a threat for a while. LINK

Today’s Russian Navy, is a tiny shadow of the once hugely powerful Soviet Navy, but has indeed focused most of its limited resources on its still strong submarine fleet. This is again reflected in the next round of the State Armament Program, (SAP), with a specific focus on deterrence and keeping the submarine building programme on track. The point here is that Russia regularly publishes its SAP, which is closely scrutinised by NATO planners, years ahead, so really there aren’t any sudden surprises, (unless you’re a MSM reporter or a NATO planner apparently).

The trend for either Russia ‘blaming’ or ‘bashing’ is getting desperate and shallow soundbites being bounced to and fro within NATO.  The UK is taking the lead in the West at the moment, being totally pathetic, while Poland & the Baltic States are the champions in the east in whining about ‘aggressive’ Russia.  But, recently, it seems to be part of  much wider and persistent “drip drip” anti-Russia narrative, that spans across culture, sport, economics and military affairs.  I feel that we cannot simply dismiss it as the ravings of some frustrated politicians and Staff officers, because of budgetary reviews and cuts.

LeDahu

Freelance maritime operations-tech researcher/analyst.

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