By Nat South for the Saker Blog
This article focusses on the new build programming and commissioning of ships and boats in 2021 and 2020. It provides an insight into the significantly less visible part of the Russian Navy and its ongoing modernisation programme.
Russian support vessels are the backbone of any of the Fleets and the Caspian Flotilla, since they underpin the combat ships and submarine operations and allow them to deploy farther and more often. In 2020, there were 445 seagoing and harbour vessels in service, (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020). There are a huge variety of types, ages and activities, ranging for day-to-day harbour operations, carrying out specialist tasks to support naval ships in far flung places home and abroad.
[link http://redstar.ru/vremya-obnovleniya/ ]
All too often, they are the unsung workhorses for the fleet, nevertheless, they play a vital role in maintaining and enhancing combat readiness and capabilities. This is certainly the case in point is the provision of logistical support for the forward-deployment squadron based out of Tartus, Syria. The support ships are often rotated from the different Fleets.
In other words, the Russian Navy is effectively limited by the ability to deploy the necessary auxiliary support ships . The important factor to retain is the need to maintain a high degree of mobility, both in deployments and with maintenance. To give a sense of this perspective on this, in 2020, auxiliary ships supported other vessels and tasks on 211 occasions when deployed overseas. This is the reason why the main focus of this article is on the sea-going auxiliary ships.
Starting with the latest ship to enter service. Right now, there is a new ship heading to its homeport in the Black Sea region:
Image 1: Screenshot of AIS position of the Vsevolod Bobrov in the Mediterranean. VesselFinder
Another factor to consider is the construction and development of vessels suited to Arctic operations, a particularly important aspect since this region is getting more attention militarily and economically.
The current composition of the auxiliary ships is a mix of largely Soviet-era specialist vessels and some very new, (mostly multi-functional), vessels. An example of this stark contrast is with the submarine rescue (salvage) ships, consisting of Soviet-era ships for the Black, Baltic and Northern Fleets, (such as the ‘Mikhail Rudnitsky’) with the one modern ship, the ‘Igor Belousov’ with the Pacific Fleet.
This situation is a legacy of the total decay in infrastructure experienced in Russia in the 1990s and a stagnation in naval building programmes until the 2010’s. Not only was the combat fleet aging but also the auxiliaries. It goes without saying, the total absence of functioning repair bases at home meant that the ships generally did not venture far and wide. This aspect wasn’t largely remedied until the 2010’s. Now the increasing focus is on improved mobility at sea as improvements in coastal facilities and infrastructure.
As it currently stands, the auxiliary ships are the only ones in which women serve onboard, in various capacities from catering, communication, hydrographers to navigators.
The construction of the auxiliary vessels follows the general trend regarding both the ‘Universal’, (promotion of standardisation), and modular concepts. These concepts are slowly gaining acceptance by navies worldwide and various modular systems have been tested out by the Northern Fleet last year and this shows in the arrangements design for the latest series of support ships.
Not only can containers be designed to take weaponry and missiles, but also have been designed to carry aerial and underwater drones, medical facilities, RHIBS and hydrographic equipment. Modular systems and facilities can be quickly transported and installed. This infrastructure will be geared into both the latest generation of Project 20386 corvettes and Project 22160 patrol ships.
Importantly, the elderly Soviet-era specialist vessels will gradually be replaced by multi-functional vessels, largely based on 4 categories of standardised designs specifications: multi-purpose tanker, general-purpose transport, logistic support vessel and mooring vessel. A total of 27 seagoing support vessels have been built in the period from 2012-2020.
It is believed that better interoperability is obtained by implementing the requirements for a ‘universal’ design for certain auxiliary vessels. It may eventually reduce both production and maintenance costs in the medium to long term.
The ‘Vice-Admiral Paromov’, a Project 03182 multi-purpose tanker was commissioned into service for the Black Sea Fleet in June 2021.
This ship is part of the latest generation of ships with multi-functionality designed into it, somewhat different to the last Soviet tankers built in the late 70’s still in service. It can provide liquid (fuel, fresh water) bulk and dry stores, (including containerised) replenishment, as well as participate in pollution-control measures and in emergencies, take part in rescue, firefighting, and salvage operations. Additionally, it also it is equipped to remove garbage and waste products.
This is the lead ship of a total of 4 under construction, two are being built in Vladivostok for the Pacific fleet). Built with a helipad, this enables the ship to deploy a Ka-27 and reconnaissance drones as needed.
Tankers are always deployed due to the necessity of having power plants adapted to take on domestic diesel oil.
Support and Logistics
The ‘Vsevolod Bobrov’ is the 2nd of its series, with a number of improvements and upgrades on the first ship, the ‘Elbrus‘. The Project 23120 ship was commissioned into service for the Black Sea Fleet in August 2021.
[link https://www.kchf.ru/eng/ship/auxiliary/vselolod_bobrov.htm ]
Ignoramuses may wish to label it as another type of support vessel resembling the much-derided Russian naval ocean-going tug. Yet, this type of multi-purpose ship is appropriately configured with the necessary deck layout and low freeboard, (along with a heavy capacity crane aft), to enable it to carry out a range of tasks in an expeditious manner. This may include transferring stores, diving (as it has a decompression chamber) and rescue missions, hydrographic surveying as well as towing other vessels. Not bad for a so-called glorified tug.
The first of its class, the ‘Gennady Dmitriyev’, was launched in June 2021. It is designed to store and transport ammunition for submarines and surface ships. That would include the Zircon missile and likely the Poseidon torpedo. Additionally, as the Russian Navy is trialling modular systems for their warships, using ISO containers, the ‘Gennady Dmitriyev’ will able to transport and cross deck containers, (its potential payload includes up to 40 shipping containers apparently).
[link https://tass.com/defense/1300373 ]
The ‘Yevpaty Kolovrat’ icebreaker, (project 21180M), built by Almaz Shipyard is expected to join the Navy in 2022. This follows on the successful operation of the ‘Ilya Muromets’ icebreaker commissioned in 2017, the larger version on which the design of the Yevpaty Kolovrat’ was based on.
[link https://tass.com/defense/1220769 ]
These particular ships will be key assets for the Russian Navy to operate in challenging and remote areas, without necessarily needing the use of the civilian fleet of icebreakers.
Another factor to consider is the creation and development of vessels suited to Arctic operations. Significantly, all the above vessels are ice-classed since the Russian Navy is actively developed its capacity to not only be able operate along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) but also in harsh winter conditions elsewhere.
This aspect particularly important since the Arctic region is getting more attention in recent years. Thus, an essential need to have a variety of support ships designed to operate in certain ice conditions, as the statement given back in 2020 shows:
“The Russian Navy considers its provision with ships, icebreakers and support vessels as a priority task, considering Russia’s active development of the Arctic, efforts to provide for the normal operation of the Northern Sea Route and Arctic hydrographic surveys.” TASS November 2020
Every new ship and vessel will expand the capabilities of each Fleet and Flotilla, especially the support and replenishment ships supporting routine and overseas military missions. The newest ships have already proven their worth, as was the case of the ‘Akademik Pashin‘ that went to the Gulf of Guinea this year and the ‘Vice-Admiral Paromov‘ that is currently deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean. The ‘Akademik Pashin‘ was the first oceangoing naval tanker to be built for the Navy in 37 years.
[link https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/12562701 ]
Self-sufficiency and self-reliance were already important operational aspects for the Soviet Navy of the 80s and it is equally valid these days as well. In fact, this aspect is more valuable these days as the number of places that the Russian Navy can resupply in aren’t even on the same scale as that of the U.S. or Royal Navies.
Lastly, the commissioning of auxiliaries in the last couple of years clearly indicates the progression from Soviet-era quantity to one based on quality and versatility. Similarly, this approach is embedded in the naval procurement philosophy, including that of combat ships, (especially the minor combatant classes). Hence, the trend towards the operation of multipurpose vessels to optimise the use of them and fulfil most of the Russian Navy requirements for support and logistics. Added into this design factor, is some leeway for potentially upgrading and modernising at some future date so as to extend the operational life of these vessels.
Next part: Russian Navy auxiliary vessels — research and hydrography.
Good summary, thank you.
Too many people forget about the logistics side of military operations, but a rifle without cartridges is a poor club, just as a ship without fuel makes a poor canoe.
Facts speak louder than words, Excellent article.
So long as these auxiliaries are well-armed unlike SS Atlantic Conveyor during the Falklands which in contrast to Q-Ships was armed neither actively nor passively and was lost with 33 crew to Exocet missiles.
Hopefully Russia will stick to its policy of heavily armed floating platforms
The Atlantic Conveyor was a containership taken up from trade at very short notice. Hardly the kind of ship to be armed. Neither are the Russian auxiliary ships, discounting armed guards. As per the naval convention. Each particularity of ship has its role and place in a Navy.
Q-ships had a totally different role to an 80’s containership. Confusing to mix them up.
Unsure what is meant by “heavily armed floating platforms”, other that I know of such ships, warships, major combattant classes such as the Slava.
I hear chatter about using merchant ships as low cost, high capacity, easily disguised missile platforms in U.S. Neocon websites. Sometimes as an accusation that Iran is doing this and sometimes as ‘hey, why don’t we do this?’ (note the contradiction).
Anyway my question is this, what is the obstacle to using current merchant marine fleet to do resupply since they already have long range and high carrying capacity, is it mostly about the training required to do sea to sea resupply?
Well some questions, two different issues mentioned if I understand your comments correctly.
A. Carrying missiles on a merchant ship, as beloved of some Hollywood films. The Saker did write a while about the Klub K, the Iranians certainly looking at it as well as the U.S. Modularisation of armaments. All the rage these days.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves first, yet to have combattant ships fitted with interchangeable containers. Used effectively as well.
B. Resupply of warships by merchant ships, long distance.
Equipment, cargo handling equipment that suits the transfer of loads cross-deck. Doable at anchorage but at sea, requires either helicopters transfer or RAS transfer.
Waste not want not. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, ship in continuous service since launch and currently serving based in Sevastopol for the last years and completely overhauled and refurbished in Sevastopol in the last few years is Kommuna. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the Wikpedia link provided but at least you get a history of the ship and some images. Think 1912.
Never The Last One, paper back edition. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1521849056 Never the Last One: a Novel of Spetznaz, opens your eyes to the Russian world not described in American news or fiction.
An Incident On Simonka paperback edition. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1696160715 NATO Is invited to leave Sevastopol one way or the other.
Yes, I wrote about the incredible Kommuna, I’d love to visit that ship. Hoping that it will become a a museum as a whole.
Thank you for this article and the next parts to come.
This is an important time for the Russian navy, and it would be fantastic to hear about it from a holistic perspective, considering the potential combat use of the warship fleets, naval aviation, land based missiles & loitering munitions, auxiliary fleets, and merchant fleets. I’m not sure of the scope of the series of articles you plan to write, but I have been looking all over the place to get myself an overview of the Russian navy in the broadest sense, and as a non-naval expert it isn’t easy to do by any means.
I read HI Sutton, other sources for insight into the naval warfare world, but its all specific things and there is no ‘intro to how a whole navy works, including shipbuilding programming and operations and capabilities’ articles to learn the big picture.
I also often read USNI news which posts positions of US carrier deployments every couple of weeks.. something like that for observing the movements of Russian, and other navies’ warships would be very desirable as well.
Thanks again for this excellent article. I hope to see more content like this and about the Russian navy in general in the future.
Thank you very much for the feedback. The series started a while back in 2017. Time for a review maybe, although the essence remains the same.
Your comment is gratefully appreciated
Corvettes and patrol vessels
Submarine /salvage rescue
On the other topic “something like that for observing the movements of Russian, and other navies’ warships would be very desirable as well.”
Well, I used to do this, but it took a lot of effort for practically no interest in return. You’ll find some examples on my blog https://natsouth.livejournal.com/
To be frank, the naval sitreps didn’t really change from year to year, although if seen at a glance, it might be worrying, such as the arrival of an U.S. carrier in the Med, but the fact they do this every year for decades. The longer and bigger picture is very different to a single snapshot.
Best wishes for 2022
МОЖЕТ БОГ СПАСИТЬ РОССИЮ. КОГДА-ЛИБО
Yandex translation. Mod:
GOD CAN SAVE RUSSIA. EVER
The mention of transporting ammunitions to other vessels rang a bell on a story that I read yesterday.
Not too many miles away from me in Kent, coastal England, there’s a big hoo ha going on regarding an American supply vessel, SS Richard Montgomery, which hit a sandbank in 1944 while delivering ammunitions for the war effort. They were only able to unload two-thirds of the munitions before the ship flooded and sunk. Now in 2021 the British Navy/Authorities are fearful that an explosion could cause severe damage to the surrounding environment (as if the poor locals don’t have enough to worry about, covid cancelations et al ). The Bomb Disposal specialists reckon it could take up to 6 months, weather permitting, to begin unloading the rest of the materials, for a duration of 2 months.
Maybe Putin should think twice about timelines for the implementation of his Russian Security Measures as these folks he’s dealing with are not only sociopaths, they’re incompetent ones. Also it shows us yet again, that Americans can’t navigate vessels for toffee.
The Americans unloaded the munitions when they were at their most lethal and none exploded. The salvage was stopped due to weather and underwater conditions and once the Americans left the scene, no subsequent British salvage attempts were made.. There is an annual assessment by Royal Navy divers to check on underwater slippage (the boat is apparently sitting on unstable sub-surface, most likely quicksand,
off the Southend coast. As a young and foolish but adventurous kid i walked out to a German fighter aircraft that crashed a mile off-shore in Allhallows.opposite Southend and had to turn back when the tide started coming in with the threat of quicksand. I got a thrashing for my escapade but was rewarded with the memory of that German fighter aircraft and the many AA positions and ‘dragons teeth’ that are still there to this day…i dont personally assess the SS Montgomery as posing any threat today based on what i have read of the divers reports….
Hi, could you elaborate on your comment that the wreck could be on quicksand, also your comment
about walking to the airplane wreck, that the surface could become quicksand as the tide came in.
This is something I am not aware of and it is fascinating.
Sailed past it enough times. But anyway, I don’t think it a pressing concern though, it is surveyed and checked on a regular basis.