Category Archives: Navy

Akula Update Progressing, Slowly

Russia’s effort to extend the service lives of its Akula submarines and increase their capability to the level of new Yasen-M boats is progressing, but not as quickly as Moscow planned.

The Russian Navy counts on refueled reactors and new major systems to enable project 971 Akula-class SSNs to operate at least 15 more years. This would provide needed time for construction of new Yasen-M submarines. The modernization of the Akulas, to include possible deployment of Kalibr missiles on them, will bring them closer in capability to new fourth generation Yasen-M SSNs.

Akula-class SSN Vepr returned to service in the Northern Fleet around August 5, according to an OPK source. The submarine arrived at Nerpa, in Snezhnogorsk near Murmansk, in 2012 for repairs and modernization. Vepr was originally scheduled to rejoin the fleet in 2014, but this was delayed several times.

Nice photo of renovated pr. 971 Akula SSN Vepr (K-157) from Murmanskiy vestnik

Vepr is the second renovated Akula. Kuzbass was modernized at Zvezda in Bolshoy Kamen between 2009 and 2016 when it returned to the Pacific Fleet. Kuzbass reportedly received Kalibr cruise missiles during its modernization. But that capability has not been demonstrated.

Vepr gives the Russian Navy maybe three operational Akula SSNs. Six Akulas, all 25 or more years old, are currently located at Zvezdochka, Nerpa, or Zvezda.

The Northern Fleet’s Leopard arrived at Zvezdochka for repair and modernization in 2011 , with a planned return to service in 2015. That deadline passed, as did ones in 2016 and 2018. Completion of work on Leopard is now expected in 2020 or 2021.

Volk arrived at Zvezdochka possibly as early as 2011 and repairs began in 2014. The Pacific Fleet’s Bratsk and Samara arrived in late 2014 on a heavy lift vessel via the Northern Sea Route. Serious work on Bratsk and Samara likely awaits the completion of Leopard and Volk. Volk may be ready in 2023.

Northern Fleet boat Tigr was towed to Nerpa in 2017. According to Izvestiya’s source in the Russian MOD, Tigr will be renovated, armed with Kalibr missiles, and returned to the fleet in 2023.

In mid-2019, a Vladivostok news agency reported the repair and modernization of Magadan had commenced at Zvezda in Bolshoy Kamen, although some initial work may have started in 2018. The submarine arrived at the shipyard in 2015 or even earlier. It will not to return to operational status before 2023.

On September 25, an MOD source claimed it will return in 2021 or early 2022. It will receive a new name given that Magadan has been assigned to a project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine under construction for the Pacific Fleet.

The Akula repair program first and foremost entails refueling the nuclear reactors and restoring the hulls of the SSNs. Reactor and propulsion system components – steam generators, turbines, turbogenerators, motors, gears, shafts, rudders, and propellers – likely require major work.

The modernized Akulas probably are receiving new major ship and combat systems including command, control, and communications, navigation, fire control, sonars and non-acoustic sensors, and weapons possibly including the Kalibr anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile system. Its land-attack 3M-14 missile has a range possibly up to 2,500 km.

Despite frequent announcements that Kalibr is being incorporated, no firing of the missile from a modernized Akula has been reported. A test launch of the new system would be a normal part of combat certification for returning to operational status. Moreover, when it occurs, the MOD can be expected to publicize it widely.

Delays in the Akula repair and modernization program are endemic. In 2016, Zvezdochka’s press-service reported that the shipyard routinely had to begin repair work – dismantling the hull and equipment – while awaiting design documents. Zvezdochka also indicated it faced difficulty in obtaining new or repaired components because some original manufacturers are defunct. The shipyard has retooled and re-equipped to support the program, but making changes inside its shops has pushed the completion of the Akulas to the right.

Russian shipyards are likely at capacity with submarine repairs. Zvezdochka has been maintaining and upgrading Russia’s Project 667BRDM Delta IV-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and it modernized Oscar II-class cruise missile submarine Orel. This work has slowed progress on the Akulas. Similarly, at Zvezda on the Pacific, modernization of Oscar IIs, specifically Irkutsk — now supposed to be finished in late 2022 or 2023 — competes with work on Akulas.

Despite these challenges, Moscow is committed to returning modernized Akulas to operation to retain its capability for long-range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare while it awaits new SSNs. The first Project 885M Yasen-M SSN, Kazan, has been undergoing trials since 2017 and is expected to be delivered in 2020. The Russian Navy plans to add seven Yasen-M by 2027, but at the current pace of construction, it is unlikely to have its full complement of new production SSNs before the early 2030s.

New Dry Dock

SSK Zvezda has completed a massive dry dock at Bolshoy Kamen, reportedly four years ahead of schedule.

The Rosneft-owned facility will build ships to support Russian oil and gas extraction and transport.

The dock is 485 meters long, 114 in width, and 14 deep. It is outfitted with internal gates to create separate compartments that can be flooded independently. Besides the massive 1,200-ton gantry crane, the dock has four 60-ton tower cranes.

This image from May shows the new dock in the lower left, and the existing buildingway (also pretty new) just right of center adjacent to DVZ Zvezda. Recall DVZ Zvezda is Russia’s sole sub repair yard on the Pacific Ocean.

Bering Patrol

Your author has been distracted since late March, but here’s an effort to regain (and possibly maintain) focus….

On April 9, the U.S. Air Force intercepted two Russian Il-38 May ASW aircraft in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutians. The Russian planes were in the Alaska ADIZ but didn’t enter sovereign U.S. or Canadian airspace.

Two random Il-38Ns

Two random Il-38Ns

According to the Russian Pacific Fleet’s press-service, the Il-38s were conducting a “flight-tactical exercise” to their max combat radius — about 2,200 km (1,188 nm).

The precise track is known only to the Russians and to NORAD. A full-range flight from their base at Yelizovo could have taken them to the Bering Strait and back, or perhaps along the Aleutian chain. Or maybe somewhere in between. The distances are great enough, however, to limit any search or loitering time.

The aircraft practiced ASW with radar and acoustic sensors and notional delivery of on-board weapons, according to the report. MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors provided air cover. An-12 Cub and An-26 Curl transports flew in a surface recce role.

“Special attention” was given to coordinating the activity of the Il-38s with the Marshal Krylov and tactical ship groups. The Marshal Krylov is an old missile range instrumentation vessel reportedly now serving as the Pacific Fleet’s command ship.

The Pacific Fleet and Il-38 aircraft have been wrapping up the winter training period with some fairly vigorous exercises.

The Russian Navy and its Il-38s are obviously interested in U.S. military systems in Alaska and how they react to ingressing aircraft. They’re also interested in U.S. subs operating in the Bering, whether headed for the Arctic or possibly tracking Russian subs based on Kamchatka.

Flying to max radius (for Il-38s which have typically been used close to home) is most curious. Perhaps it’s sensor system testing. Maybe it was the chance to train with Marshal Krylov as a tactical controller. Why not rebase and fly from Anadyr?

Russian Naval Aviation may operate as few as 20 Il-38s at this point. The Yelizovo-based 317th Mixed Aviation Regiment has an ASW squadron of probably 8 Il-38 and 4 Il-38N aircraft. The Northern Fleet probably has another 8 airframes.

All Il-38s are likely 40 or more years old, but perhaps seven were modernized to Il-38N during the 2010s. In 2017, the chief of Naval Aviation claimed to have 30 Il-38s that would be upgraded to Il-38N by 2025.

The Il-38N is the old airframe plus the new Novella P-38 system to replace the original Berkut-38. That sensor suite mounted rather awkwardly atop the fuselage increases the range of the plane’s air and surface target detection and tracking. More enthusiastic reports say it can find submarines by magnetic, wake, and IR detection, and is four times more effective in target search.

Talk of a new medium-range ASW aircraft is heard from time to time. The Beriyev-designed A-40 Albatros amphibian was once a possibility. Now the Il-114 is often mentioned. However, no clear move to replace the aged Il-38 inventory is evident.

Improved Kilo for Northern Fleet?

This week featured the normal ramp-up for Submariner’s Day (March 19).

According to Interfaks-AVN, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev stated on March 16 that the Northern Fleet will receive a new project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine in 2021. The Improved Kilos are Kalibr LACM (SS-N-30A) shooters that Admiralty Wharves have busily built for the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets since the early 2010s.

Admiralty is currently at work on units 3-6 for the Pacific Fleet. A unit beyond number six has been postulated for the Baltic Fleet. But if Moiseyev’s Northern Fleet is to get an Improved Kilo in 2021, it’ll have to be one forecast for the Pacific (probably Magadan). Moiseyev said his fleet is preparing a crew for the boat this year.

Not as much a news story, Moiseyev said (again per Interfaks-AVN) that Northern Fleet submarines are widening their training and patrol areas.

In his briefing dedicated to the impending holiday, the Northern Fleet’s commander said:

It’s become normal practice for us when we have more than a dozen submarines of various classes at sea working on different tasks.

Visiting our garrisons you can’t but notice that many piers are empty. This says yet again that submarine crews are occupied with carrying out missions — they are improving their at-sea training, fulfilling combat training tasks, carrying out combat duty or combat patrol. 

Recently the Northern Fleet has significantly broadened the regions in which we are occupied with planned combat training.

Moiseyev reminded his audience that, in 2019, Delta IV-class Tula and Borey-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy fired SLBMs and crews of Delta IV-class Karelia and Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk “confirmed their readiness to operate as designated . . . .”

Vice-Admiral Moiseyev reported reconstruction of piers and shore facilities at Gadzhiyevo (SSBNs and SSNs) is complete and similar work is focused on Zaozersk (Severodvinsk and SSGNs).

Worth stating the obvious. Empty piers could also mean that sub numbers are low or some subs are under repair.

Bears Leaving Hibernation

RAF Typhoon intercepts Bear F

RAF Typhoon intercepts Bear F

Russia’s Tu-142 / Bear F ASW aircraft are waking up at the end of the winter training period. The Russian media highlighted four evolutions recently.

We probably haven’t seen a surge in long-range naval surveillance flights like this in some time. Possibly not since Soviet times. 

On March 7, two Bear F flew a patrol into the Atlantic. A Russian Northern Fleet spokesman said the aircraft were refueled over the southern Norwegian Sea during the 15-hour flight. The aircraft trained over waters near Spain and Portugal before returning home.

On March 6, three Pacific Fleet Bear F over the Sea of Japan practiced locating, tracking,  and attacking a notional enemy submarine.

On March 4, at least one (probably more) Bear F aircraft was refueled over the Black Sea. TVZvezda provided this video. Northern Fleet air crews trained at the Russian Navy’s Combat Training and Combat Employment Center in Yeysk during the week.

On 26-27 February, two Bear F flew a mission south of the Faeroes and Iceland, possibly to gain contact on U.S. or British subs enroute to ICEX 2020.

At present, there are likely about 24 Tu-142 aircraft in the Russian Naval Aviation inventory. One air group or squadron of 12 each (possibly as many as 15) in the Northern and Pacific Fleets. The former at Kipelovo-Fedotovo and the latter at Mongokhto.

Tu-142 Bear F bases

In the late 1960s, the Tupolev design bureau developed the Tu-142 on the blueprint of the Tu-95 / Bear bomber with a range of roughly 10,000 km.

The Bear F has carried various ASW systems including surface search radars, airborne acoustic detectors, Korshun search-targeting system, magnetic anomaly detectors, IR direction finders, gas analyzers, and Korshun-K. The Korshun-K system is found on the Tu-142MK. The Tu-142MZ is distinguished by its newer NK-12MP engines.

The Bear F, while aged in most cases, has been a reliable aircraft. It’s suffered three known crashes, the last in 2009 occurred in the Strait of Tatary.

The current fleet was produced mainly in the late 1970s and 1980s. A number, perhaps most, of them received capital repairs in the late 2000s and 2010s.

The oldest Russian Bear F are likely 40-45 years old. The youngest perhaps 30. But relatively restricted flying hours have helped keep them in the air. Flying them hard, however, would stress the limits of the force. 

The Russian Navy is reportedly thinking about acquiring civilian Tu-204 or Tu-214 airliners for conversion into new ASW aircraft but this would be expensive and hasn’t advanced beyond the requirements stage yet.

More on the Damage Estimate

Additional thoughts regarding the damage to Admiral Kuznetsov . . . .

The gulf between OSK chief Rakhmanov’s 300 million rubles and 95 billion rubles from Kommersant’s Northern Fleet staff officer source is as wide as it gets. How do we parse what we’ve heard? Whom do we believe?

Admiral Kuznetsov on fire

Interesting that Rakhmanov had something of an estimate, but, at the same time, said, “We simply weren’t allowed on-board for a long time.” He also rejected the possibility of critical damage right after the fire. Can he really know the extent of damage if experts haven’t been on-board?

The same may go for Kommersant’s source. Have he and other naval officers been on-board? Maybe 95 billion was misheard? Doesn’t seem likely though in the case of a quality paper like Kommersant.

We’re in a “he said, she said.”

So let’s try to understand 300 million and 95 billion rubles.

  • A TASS feature in July indicated that a Krylov center design for a 44,000-ton catamaran-hull carrier, the design alone, would cost 3-4 billion rubles.
  • In December, an OPK source told RIAN development and construction of an unspecified new carrier would likely cost Moscow 300-400 billion rubles ($4.7-6.3 billion).
  • Even the “medium repair and limited modernization” of Admiral Kuznetsov, as envisaged in 2018, is likely to cost at least 55 billion rubles ($860 million), per Bmpd.
  • To get your bearings, first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) cost $12.8 billion to build with $4.7 billion in R&D costs.

Bottom line: we have to wait and see how much this fire costs the Russian Navy, if we ever find out. We have to watch for Russia’s financial calculus vis-à-vis continuing the repair and modernization of Kuznetsov. But here’s a guess. The fire damage from December 12 will be closer to Kommersant’s number than Rakhmanov’s.

Kuznetsov Damage Estimate

We’re still waiting to learn (and may never know) how much the December 12 fire aboard the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov will cost the Russian Navy.

According to Interfaks, OSK chief Aleksey Rakhmanov said the bill will exceed 300 million rubles ($4.7 million).

Fire on Admiral Kuznetsov

Rakhmanov told Russian journalists:

. . . there’s no final figure. The commission continues to work. Given that the work of firefighters and law enforcement organs has been gathered up, I think we still require some time to reconcile it. We simply weren’t allowed on-board for a long time.

. . . I don’t want to scare or delight anyone, but there’s definitely no 90 billion [$1.4 billion] there. But I think we won’t get away for 300 million.

Recall the fire took a day to extinguish and two Russian naval personnel — an enlisted contractee and an officer — died, and 14 others were injured.

In the immediate aftermath, Rakhmanov claimed Kuznetsov didn’t sustain critical damage. He rejected a December 19 Kommersant story indicating that the bill for fire repairs could reach 95 billion rubles. The business daily said the estimate came from a Northern Fleet staff officer.

The OSK chief said equipment in the engine room where the blaze occurred was already dismantled. Welding sparks started the fire and it apparently spread to electrical cables.

Completed in the early 1990s, the ill-fated sole Russian carrier is being renovated under an April 2018 contract. The ship was damaged in late October 2018 while floating out of the PD-50 dry dock at Roslyakovo. Kuznetsov was initially set to be finished in 2021, but the date has slipped to 2022.

The carrier reportedly will receive a navalized version of the Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) gun-missile air defense system, new boilers, pumps, flight control and communications systems, as well as repairs to its turbines.

Navy Command Swapped Out

At the outset of the May 8 MOD collegium, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced a shake up in the Russian Navy’s leadership.

Admiral Vladimir Korolev — Navy CINC for just three years — was retired by a May 3 presidential ukaz. He will be 65 next February 1. Shoygu was gracious saying in 46 years of service Korolev strengthened Russian defense capabilities, returned the fleet to the world’s oceans, and rationalized fulfillment of the shipbuilding program to 2050.

Northern Fleet Commander, Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov, who recently turned 57, replaced Korolev. Yevmenov’s a submariner and Pacific Fleet sailor generally.

Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov

Born April 2, 1962, Yevmenov graduated the Higher Naval School of Submarine Navigation (Leningrad) in 1987. He was assigned to the navigation department of a Soviet Pacific Fleet submarine. He completed his senior service school, the Naval Academy named for Kuznetsov in 1999.

Yevmenov then served as an executive officer before commanding Delta III-class ballistic missile submarines K-490 and K-506 Zelenograd. Following a stint as chief of staff for the Pacific Fleet’s 25th Submarine (SSBN) Division, he graduated the General Staff Academy in 2003.

He returned to the 25th as deputy commander and then commander before becoming chief of staff and commander of the 16th Submarine Squadron (all Pacific Fleet nuclear-powered ballistic missile, cruise missile, and attack subs). In 2012, the 16th was renamed simply Pacific Fleet Submarine Forces.

In September 2012, Yevmenov switched fleets with an appointment as chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Northern Fleet. He became Northern Fleet Commander in April 2016 as a vice-admiral (two-star). He was promoted to admiral in December 2017.

After a very brief stint as Black Sea Fleet commander, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev replaces Yevmenov in the Northern Fleet. Moiseyev’s also an SSBN driver, and his career is very similar to Yevmenov’s but far more illustrious.

He wears two Orders of Courage and a Hero of the Russian Federation. One Order for helping to plant the Russian Federation flag in the North Pole seabed in 2007 and the second for the underice inter-fleet transfer of Delta III SSBN K-44 Ryazan to the Pacific Fleet in 2008.

Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev

Moiseyev’s Hero came in early 2011 after he’d commanded the Northern Fleet’s 31st Submarine (SSBN) Division. He was awarded for successfully testing new weapons and conducting a series of missile launches (probably tests of R-29RMU Sineva — SS-N-23A Skiff SLBMs).

He’s just two weeks younger than Yevmenov.

It’s difficult to see how Yevmenov got ahead of Moiseyev, but he did. There must be a logic obvious to the Kremlin in the choice of Yevmenov, it’s just not apparent to outsiders right now.

Moskva Decision

Undated photo of Moskva in drydock

Undated photo of Moskva in drydock

An Interfaks-AVN source has told the news agency the fate of Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva is undecided. For now, the cruiser remains at Sevastopol’s 13th Ship Repair Plant (13 SRZ) with a caretaker crew. And the Navy Main Command faces a complex choice.

Option 1 is a “deep modernization” costing perhaps 40-50 billion rubles the navy lacks. It would be “deeper” than Marshal Ustinov’s (which was really a protracted overhaul). The Northern Fleet’s Ustinov was laid up at Zvezdochka from 2011 until late 2016. But with Moskva, the superstructure would reportedly be modified to accommodate a VLS for the Kalibr-NK to replace the ship’s aged SS-N-12 / Sandbox ASCMs. But Moskva itself is already 35 years old.

Option 2 is scrapping Moskva. AVN’s source says this would be a blow to Russian and navy prestige, but he claims two new Gorshkov-class frigates (project 22350) could be built with funds not spent on Moskva.

In 2018, Moskva was expected to begin a three-year repair at Sevastopol’s Sevmorzavod — a Zvezdochka affiliate.

That three-year repair is actually Option 3, a middle point between “deep modernization” and scrapping. And it’s usually the choice settled upon.

Not mentioned by AVN is the 40-50 billion rubles for “deep modernization” is just a little less than what the navy planned to spend to return its Kuznetsov carrier to service (before PD-50 sank damaging the flight deck in the process).

Moskva was active in the Med supporting Russian operations in Syria from 2014 through early 2016, but has been virtually inactive since.

At some point, the navy will also have to decide what to do about the third and final Slava-class CG, the Pacific Fleet’s Varyag. It has 28 years of service and many miles under its keel.

Meanwhile, we wait for word on Moskva.

Anti-Ship Iskander-M?

Russia may view the Iskander-M as an effective weapon against high-value ships and aircraft carriers in particular. There is, however, no openly available information indicating the Russians have actually tested it as an anti-ship ballistic missile.

In late July and early August, the Russian Army conducted two exercises for the first time featuring notional launches of the land-based mobile 9K720 Iskander-M (SS-26 ‘Stone’) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) against ships in the Black Sea. Reports on the drills appeared on Mil.ru and government-controlled newspaper Rossiyskaya gazeta.

The 1st Missile Brigade of the Krasnodar-based 49th Combined Arms Army departed garrison in late July for combat readiness drills under the personal control of Southern Military District commander Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov. The brigade performed the Iskander-M launch drills at some point before they were reported on July 27 and August 2 respectively.

The MOD press-releases stated that the Russian forces “delivered an electronic missile strike on notional enemy ships and shore facilities” and conducted “electronic launches on notional enemy targets detected in the Black Sea and ashore.”

An “electronic” launch likely means a field combat simulation where the missile unit prepares and performs all procedures for a real-world launch without firing a live missile.

Exactly which ships the Russians used as notional targets for the Iskander-M is unknown. However, the annual NATO Sea Breeze exercise took place in Black Sea waters during mid-July. Forces from 13 alliance members as well as Georgia, Moldova, Sweden, and Ukraine participated in the multinational training. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high since Moscow seized Crimea and sent forces to fight in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The Iskander-M has the capability to attack moving targets including ships. Its 9M723 missile flies a low, semi-ballistic trajectory at Mach 6-7 with possible maneuvering in the terminal flight stage. It has inertial navigation as well as active radar or electro-optical terminal guidance. Active radar would be employed against ships at sea. However, a successful SRBM strike on a moving naval target would likely also depend on real-time inputs and updates from space-based surveillance and intelligence systems.

The deployment of the Iskander-M as a possible anti-ship system comes just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. The Kinzhal uses a modified Iskander-M missile and has also been advertised as an anti-ship weapon and “carrier killer.”

Compared to the relatively long-range Kinzhal, the 500-km declared range of the Iskander-M makes it less threatening to foreign aircraft carriers and battle groups which could remain outside its reach. However, combined with existing sea- and land-based anti-ship cruise missile systems, Iskander-M’s hypersonic speed would be a major contribution to Russia’s robust anti-access/area denial strategy on the approaches to its four fleet areas.