Category Archives: Navy

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.

Engine Trouble

The Russian media report more trouble for project 11711 LST Ivan Gren (BDK 135). During state trials, the new tank landing ship has been unable to run astern (reverse engines and go backwards). [Did Yantar shipyard really not discover this issue during its factory underway testing?] This comes atop Gren’s earlier degaussing problem which kept the Russian Navy from accepting the ship before the end of 2017.

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Yantar announced on February 20 that it might launch unit two, Petr Morgunov, in the second half of May. It’s also sticking to its promise, however unlikely, to deliver the completed LST to the Russian Navy before the end of 2018.

Yantar indicated the second unit’s port and starboard 16ChN26/26 (aka 10D49) diesel engines will be swapped to see if this remedies the astern running problems Gren experienced. But the work on Morgunov has to be done by late April to keep to its launch schedule.

If the swap works, the same [actually, perhaps even more] difficult process will be performed on Gren. But it will apparently be accepted into the fleet in May before its engine trouble is fixed.

Flotprom.ru reports the engine swap will alter the turning of ship’s propellers and eliminate the astern running problem. Any naval engineers out there are invited to explain how this could work to the rest of us! The shipbuilding industry site indicates trading engine places is complex and can consume several months.

The media also report that Gren now lacks good seakeeping qualities due to the many design changes made during its protracted construction. They even claim that the Russian Navy will forego further ships in this class, basically a modification of the Soviet-era project 1171 Alligator-class LST. How Moscow would fill the gaps in its small and rapidly aging landing ship force is anyone’s guess. 

Gren and Morgunov are 5,000 tons displacement and 120 meters long, and can cruise at 18 knots. They have a 100-man crew, and can carry 13 tanks or 36 armored vehicles and 300 troops. They are outfitted with AK-630 30-mm gun systems and a landing deck for a Ka-27 or Ka-29 helo.

The Next Tsushima

Independent analysis of the Russian military has practically vanished under the weight of official reports on the ever-growing might of the Kremlin’s armed forces.

Almost. But not quite. Not entirely.

Critical exposés on the Russian Navy still appear because it’s had less conspicuous success in modernization than the other armed services. This despite the relative largesse the navy received from GPV 2011-2020.

Aleksandr Mozgovoy not long ago tackled the issue of exactly what Russian shipbuilding has or hasn’t accomplished over the past five years.

He correlates recent MOD “tallying” with Defense Minister Shoygu’s tenure. However, it seems more likely the military’s accounting is timed to demonstrate what RF President Vladimir Putin delivered during this term as he ramps up for the next one.

But, as Mozgovoy argues in the translation below, none of this is very impressive when it comes to the Russian Navy.

Putin flanked by Defense Minister Shoygu and Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

Putin flanked by Defense Minister Shoygu and Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

“Does a New Tsushima Await Us?”

“The Russian naval shipbuilding program is dead in the water, but expensive naval shows are being arranged”

“Every December the results of the year are tallied. Even the Ministry of Defense can’t ignore the custom. However, this time the military department began to sum up the results on November 7. It could appear that the opening meeting of the RF MOD Collegium, which evaluated the results of the 2012-2017 five-year plan, was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. But this impression is mistaken. In fact, there was another reason. Five years ago — on November 6, 2012 — Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu took over as head of the country’s defense department.”

“Since Sergey Shoygu somehow found it uncomfortable to talk about the achievements of the ministry himself, the Chief of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces — First Deputy Minister of Defense of the RF, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov stepped into the role of main spokesman. He drew an impressive picture of the changes that have taken place in the country’s armed forces during the five-year plan. However, even a casual observer could appreciate the sharp increase in the combat readiness of the troops and the fleet, and notice their outfitting with new models of weapons and military equipment.”

“Yet in Valeriy Gerasimov’s report there was one topic that could not but cause doubts. We are talking about naval construction. For some reason the Defense Ministry traditionally exaggerates here. ‘Over the period, the situation with equipping the navy with modern armaments has stabilized,’ the chief of the General Staff noted. ‘More than 150 ships and vessels, including more than 60 warships, among them 15 which carry precision ‘Kalibr’ missiles, entered its inventory.'”

“Yes, the firing of this missile system against terrorists in Syria was not only highly effective, but also had great resonance in the world. But the results of naval shipbuilding as a whole don’t impress.”

“In Russia, to put it mildly, there are not very many combatants in the navy’s order-of-battle. Therefore, it doesn’t present any great difficulty to track this process. Since 2012, three project 955 ‘Borey’ nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), one project 885 ‘Yasen’ nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), six project 06363 ‘Paltus’ diesel-electric submarines, two project 11356 frigates, four project 20380 corvettes, one project 11661K ‘Dagestan’ missile ship, five project 21631 ‘Buyan-M’ small missile ships (MRK), one project 21630 ‘Makhachkala’ small artillery ship and project 12700 ‘Aleksandrit’ base minesweeper ‘Alexander Obukhov’ have joined the fleet. So we have 24 combatants. Even if 14 project 21980 ‘Grachonok’ anti-sabotage boats, two similarly designated project 12159A ‘Mangust’ boats and 11 project 03160 ‘Raptor’ patrol boats, whose full displacement is 23 tons, and 8 project 21820 ‘Dyugon,’ 11770 ‘Serna’ and 02510 ‘BK-16’ assault boats are added, you still in no way get ‘over 60.'”

“It’s impossible to understand why such distortions are necessary.”

“Concerning the general picture, for the past 10 years, in the period from 2007 to 2017 the overwhelming majority of units delivered to the fleet are base afloat assets: small raiding and diving boats, floating cranes and floating targets. According to accepted international classification, they are not even referred to as auxiliaries, but as service craft. Of course, the fleet can’t get along without them, but they don’t bear any relation to combatants.”

“THE HOLE OF A DONUT”

“Compensating for the deficit in real combatants, the fleet’s addicted to various types of shows which call for it to demonstrate its growing might. Often such measures are conducted in the presence of Supreme Commander-in-Chief President Vladimir Putin.”

“So, on September 6 of this year [2017] the head of state visited the newest project 20380 corvette ‘Sovershennyy,’ anchored in Ayaks Bay on Russkiy Island where at the time the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was being held with the participation of the heads of a number of states and governments, and also representatives of big business in the Asian region. It’s hard to say why it was necessary to arrange a review of the ship during the EEF. But this event got wide coverage in the media.”

“The official parade boat ‘Uragan’ brashly came alongside ‘Sovershennyy,’ which entered the Pacific Fleet’s inventory on July 20 of this year [2017] and became the first reasonably large surface ship to populate this large formation over the entire post-Soviet era. At the brow, the head of state was met by the ship’s commander Captain 3rd Rank [LCDR or O-4] Blinov and the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s 36th Surface Ship Division, based at Fokino near Vladivostok, Captain 1st Rank Kovalev [CAPT or O-6]. ‘Sovershennyy’ is temporarily assigned to the 36th Division, but is designated for service as part of the Kamchatka Flotilla.”(1)

“The division headed by Kovalev consists of the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser ‘Admiral Lazarev’ (former ‘Frunze’) which awaits scrapping, Guards missile cruiser ‘Varyag’ and two project 956 destroyers, one of which — ‘Burnyy’ — has been under repair at ‘Dalzavod’ since 2005, and the second — ‘Bystryy’ — seldom goes to sea because they are simply afraid to send it out. So, in essence, the division only has one real ship — cruiser ‘Varyag,’ which entered the order-of-battle 28 years ago.”

“Division commander Kovalev rather than ship commander Blinov took the head of state to familiarize him with ‘Sovershennyy’ apparently because of his seniority in rank. He began the tour by acquainting his high-ranking guest with the anti-submarine/anti-torpedo system [Paket-NK], reinforcing his report with a demonstration of the system on a poster. Listening to the explanations, the president nodded approvingly. Paradoxically, they didn’t show the Supreme Commander-in-Chief the system, but literally the hole of a donut because the launcher for the system is missing on ‘Sovershennyy’ for some reason. There was only a framework for it. Where did it go? Didn’t they manage to produce it over those 11 years while they built the ship? Or did they simply not install it? Perhaps someone stole it and sold it for scrap? Answers to these questions weren’t given. In fact, they weren’t even asked.”

“Kovalev conducted the president and his retinue into the bow of the ship where he indicated with a pointer the place where the missiles of the latest surface-to-air (SAM) system [Redut] should be located. It was obvious that they weren’t there since this system still hasn’t gone through state testing. Since 2011, project 20380 corvettes have plied the seas and oceans without anti-aircraft missiles, that is they are actually unarmed against air strikes. When the 36th Division commander talked about the combat potential of the SAM system, the president also nodded but without enthusiasm somehow. He was certainly aware of the problem, which undoubtedly was discussed more than once at conferences conducted yearly in Sochi with high command personnel of the RF Armed Forces and directors of defense industries.”

“Today the Kh-35 ‘Uran’ anti-ship missile system and the 100-mm A-190 standard automatic artillery gun in ‘Sovershennyy’s’ armament allow the corvette to fulfill the functions of a large missile boat and patrol ship, and also to fire on targets ashore. However, the basic missions of a ship of this class, connected with providing anti-air (PVO) and anti-submarine (PLO) defense, are unavailable to it.”

“MYTH CREATION”

“However the most striking naval event of the past year was the Main (that’s how it’s written with capital letters in official documents) Naval Parade in St. Petersburg and Kronshtadt on the occasion of Navy Day observed on 30 July. ‘We decided to revive the Main Naval Parade which will be held in Petersburg,’ Vladimir Putin announced on the eve of the holiday at a joint press-conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. ‘I assure you this isn’t saber rattling, it’s the reestablishment, the rebirth of traditions already more than 100 years old.’ Sergey Shoygu spoke in the same spirit. ‘On this holiday we recreate one of the most important military rituals, which is in itself a source of pride for the country, a striking and unforgettable spectacle,’ he said. By order of the Minister of Defense a medal ‘For Participation in the Main Naval Parade’ was even struck.”

“Everyone more or less familiar with the history of the Russian fleet knows that imperial reviews and naval parades have been conducted since Petrine times. In 1939, Iosif Stalin resurrected this tradition on Navy Day. But no main parades were ever organized — not with capital or lowercase letters. The Main Parade is a modern invention, or more precisely myth.”

“WHAT DID WE SEE IN THE PARADE?”

“We’ll begin with the appearance of the participants. All admirals, generals and senior officers were buttoned up in ridiculous and heavily gold-embroidered uniforms of the late Stalin era. Vladimir Putin and Sergey Shoygu officiated. They went around the formation of ships on the Neva in white-painted Raptor-class boat P-344, not in its patrol but in its VIP variant which is designated for the travels of the chief of the RF defense department. Normally this Russian Navy ‘combatant,’ which belongs to the Baltic Fleet, is tied up at the mooring barge of the Russian Federation National Defense Command and Control Center on the Frunze Embankment of the Moscow River. But for the occasion of the main parade the boat was brought to the northern capital. And, as we’ll become convinced, not just it.”

“After the ship review, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and the head of the military department debarked P-344 on the Admiralty Embankment and climbed the podium set up on Senate Square. Along the stands on the Admiralty Embankment sailors carried the parade’s symbol — the unfurled cloth of the St. George ensign of ship-of-the-line ‘Azov.’ It was first to receive it for heroic actions in the Battle of Navarino on 20 October 1827. However the banner didn’t look old. Who would allow taking a 290-year-old(2) relic from the Naval Museum where it’s kept? This supposition was confirmed when they didn’t have time to get the flag to the Admiralty building but it fluttered happily in the wind over the cupola of its Western Tower. This means there were two copies of the relic at a minimum.”

“Then speeches, greetings, and congratulations suited to the occasion were made. Parade crews on foot proceeded in a solemn march in front of the stands. And then came time for the most spectacular part of the event — the procession of ships on the Neva. It was really magnificent.”

“Roiling the waves, the numerous ‘Grachonok’ type anti-sabotage boats and ‘Raptor’ type patrol boats quickly went first. This ‘crowd’ was managed thanks to the fact that for a month or longer before this these boats went to the northern capital not only from the Baltic, but also from the Black and Caspian Seas, and also from the Northern Fleet. By the by, Il-38N anti-submarine aircraft, which came from the Far East, participated in the aerial part of the Main Parade.”

“Minesweepers, missile and assault boats, small missile and anti-submarine ships — the majority still of Soviet construction — followed the small boats. Frigate ‘Admiral Makarov,’ corvette ‘Stoykiy,’ large assault ship ‘Minsk’ and diesel-electric submarine (DEPL) ‘Dmitrov,’ that is 2nd rank ships, the last two of which are again an inheritance of the Soviet era, and a frigate still not in the navy’s inventory remained at their mooring buoys.”

“Then the not less impressive second Kronshtadt part took place. Logically, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Minister of Defense and those accompanying them should have gotten on helicopters and flown to the island which you could practically reach out and touch. But it went more simply: they lowered a huge screen on which they broadcast from Kronshtadt. They could have done the same thing without leaving Moscow. In fact, until the mid-1950s naval parades took place in the capital. Torpedo boats, large and small sub chasers and even small submarines lined up in the channel along the embankment of the Central Park of Culture and Leisure named for Gorkiy, that is opposite the current National Defense Command and Control Center of the RF. To arrange a boat parade wouldn’t be hard even now. It would be possible to conduct simultaneous broadcasts on a big screen not only from Kronshtadt, but also from Baltiysk, Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, Severomorsk and Astrakhan. And to show the holiday salute and illuminated ships from Vladivostok.”

“But let’s return to the Kronshtadt part of the parade.”

“Mainly large 1st and 2nd rank ships and submarines took part in it. The line ahead formation stretched for several miles. Missile cruiser ‘Marshal Ustinov,’ which finished a five-year repair in December of last year [2016], large anti-submarine ship ‘Vice-Admiral Kulakov’ and DEPL ‘Vladikavkaz’ represented the Northern Fleet. Large assault ship ‘Aleksandr Shabalin,’ MPKs [small anti-submarine ships] ‘Zelenodolsk’ and ‘Kazanets’ were delegates of the Baltic Fleet. The latest project 06363 DEPLs ‘Velikiy Novgorod’ and ‘Kolpino,’ later glorified for delivering massed precision strikes on terrorist facilities in Syria were then only still being prepared to transfer to the Black Sea.”

“To the south of the naval channel northern sea heavy RPKSN [ballistic missile submarine] ‘Dmitriy Donskoy’ and heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser ‘Petr Velikiy’ stood independently. They didn’t participate in the parade since their size makes this difficult. Of course, it was dumb, as it’s acceptable to say now, to drive these huge ships from the North to the Baltic around Scandinavia. Their cruise brought a reaction from West European countries, but, it seems not the one on which the RF MOD was counting. After all it’s well-known that ‘Dmitriy Donskoy’ — the largest submarine in the world — is not used as a combatant, but only as a test bed with the help of which new types of weapons are tested. Now if it carried two-three hundred cruise missiles as earlier foreseen, then the effect from this ‘cruise,’ undoubtedly would have been completely different. It’s also known that ‘Petr Velikiy’ needs repairs, but, when this time is coming still no one can say. And is it even generally necessary? It’s not NATO combatants but environmental protection ships constantly throwing probes in the water to sample for increased radioactivity that followed these two nuclear monsters in the northern seas and Baltic. But the fears of West European countries turned out to be in vain. Everything went without incidents.”

DOLGOSTROY(3) RECORDHOLDERS

“It’s especially necessary to talk about the project 23500 frigate ‘Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Gorshkov’ and project 11711 large assault ship (BDK) ‘Ivan Gren’ which participated in the main parade of 2017 although they, like ‘Admiral Makarov,’ haven’t entered the navy. Both are referred to as dolgostroy recordholders.”

“‘Ivan Gren’ was laid down on 23 December 2004 — 13 years ago! The project was reworked several times at the customer’s request. When the idea of ‘Mistralizing’ the fleet’s assault force arose, the BDK was generally dismissed. But after Paris turned its back on Moscow, to put it mildly, and tore up the deal for helicopter carriers, they remembered ‘Gren.’ To speed its completion, the project was once more ‘improved,’ that is simplified. In testing last summer [2016], it was explained that the ship’s magnetic field exceeded permissible norms and the BDK could play a role in clearing mine barriers since naval mines with magnetic or combined fuses would inevitably work if ‘Gren’ turned up beside them. At the end of October 2016, the BDK was put in drydock for ‘modification of its degaussing system.’ It involved the replacement of cables, the extension of which required dismantlement of a number of pipes and other equipment. This operation is akin to the replacement of a person’s blood vessels with the temporary relocation of vital organs. Factory underway testing was restarted only in the spring of this year [2017], and on 30 November the BDK started its state testing program.”

“The frigate ‘Gorshkov’ has been under construction for a little less time. On 1 February of next year [2018] it will be 12 years since it was laid down. The ship passed numerous testing phases, but wasn’t accepted by the fleet because its weapons system isn’t working. Deputy RF Minister of Defense Yuriy Borisov announced this again on 29 November. He expressed hope that the missile launches will be completed successfully by the end of December and the frigate will enter the inventory. He was echoed by Deputy CINC of the RF Navy for armaments Vice-Admiral Viktor Bursuk. ‘Now ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ is completing state testing, we are expecting it as well as ‘Ivan Gren’ this year,’ — he told a TASS agency correspondent. — ‘Both ships are now in the final phase of state testing, as is project 11356 frigate ‘Admiral Makarov.’ But this isn’t the first year we’ve heard similar assurances…”

“‘Admiral Makarov’ was ready long ago. Testing of the new version of the surface-to-air missile for the ‘Shtil-1’ SAM, which they say has finally been successfully completed, delayed it for more than a year. Even ‘Ivan Gren’ will probably be ready by the New Year. But with ‘Gorshkov’ everything’s not so simple. The ship has also performed a large part of its state testing program, but problems have arisen again with the newest PVO [air defense] system installed on it. Though the problem isn’t new. The project 12441 frigate ‘Novik,’ laid down back in 1997, that is 20 years ago, was supposed to receive it. But they didn’t build the ship because a number of the weapons systems weren’t ready. Now ‘Novik,’ at first reclassified into a training-experimental ship and renamed ‘Borodino,’ they’ve decided to, as sailors say, ‘turn it into razorblades,’ that is send it for scrap.”

“Our new corvettes have sailed without working SAMs for many years already. But they belong to the ships of the near maritime zone, which in the event of air threats could possibly, at least theoretically, be covered by the aircraft of land-based aviation. The frigate ‘Gorshkov’ has to serve in distant maritime and ocean zones. There you can’t call for an interceptor to repulse an attack by strike aircraft and cruise missiles.”

“As presented to the author, the fleet and Ministry of Defense long ago were ready to give the ‘OK’ to including ‘Gorshkov’ in the navy’s order-of-battle. But, it seems, as in every case recently, the president opposed it. Now facing new elections, even the head of state can waver in order to please the electorate.”

“PARADE FLEET”

“Alas, one has to recognize that combat ships in Russia take a long time to build and are often not high quality. There are often not the necessary engines, some types of weapons and other internal components for them. During the main parade one was left to envy Chinese sailors arriving from half-way around the world at the event transpiring on the banks of the Neva and in the Gulf of Finland in magnificent ships — the type 052D destroyer ‘Hefei’ with its combat command and control system analogous to the American ‘Aegis,’ and type 054A frigate ‘Yuncheng.’ Since 2014, the PLA Navy has received six type 052D destroyers, eight launched and at a minimum one hull still on the buildingways, but since 2008 the Chinese fleet has been populated by 25 type 054A frigates, and three more fitting out.”

“However, in Russia there is a class of afloat asset which populates the fleet with enviable regularity and without special problems. On 10 October of this year [2017] at Kronshtadt the acceptance signing ceremony and raising of the St. Andrew’s flag on the project 21270 ‘Burevestnik’ communications boat ‘Ioann Kronshtadtskiy’ took place. This vessel, or more precisely VIP-class yacht, included in the Baltic Fleet order-of-battle, is intended for service-related travel of high command personnel, and also parade reviews. On 27 January of this year [2017] the Black Sea Fleet was populated by the similarly-typed ‘Sapsan.’ It was a little delayed, since it was supposed to enter the inventory at the end of last year [2016], because of problems with domestic engines installed in place of MTU diesels in the framework of the import substitution program.”

“‘Sapsan’ and ‘Ioann Kronshtadtskiy’ are the fifth and sixth boats of this type. Their main mission is the comfortable and secure delivery of highly-placed officials to the site of naval celebrations. So on 31 July of last year [2016] President Vladimir Putin on Navy Day reviewed a ship formation on the Neva from aboard project 21270 boat ‘Serafim Sarovskiy.'”

“During construction, even these very expensive boats usually don’t experience problems with financing, component supply, etc., with which practically all combatants and auxiliaries struggle in Russian yards. But there aren’t enough ‘Burevestniks.’ In the Pacific Ocean, 10 years ago project 02065 patrol boat T-299 was turned into a VIP vessel receiving the name ‘Uragan.’ It was precisely on it that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief went alongside the corvette ‘Sovershennyy’ in Ayaks Bay.”

“At ‘Sokolskiy Shipyard’ on 27 October of this year [2017] an improved modification of project 1388N3 ‘Baklan’ communications ship was launched. This is the fourth vessel of the family, and two more have been ordered. The ‘Baklans’ are also intended for VIP duty. Compared with the ‘Burevestniks’ they have better seakeeping qualities, 10-day endurance and 1,000 mile range.”

“The Minister of Defense’s P-344 boat is of the same VIP-class. This ‘Raptor’ is not a combatant at all, but also a luxury yacht. Two air-cushion boats of the premium-class ‘Pardus’ type, which also don’t have any kind of military significance, reside at the mooring barge of the RF National Defense Command and Control Center on the Frunze Embankment.”

“The other power departments even have their own parade yachts. For example, the Coast Guard of the FSB Border Service has two of the newest project 21600 ‘Khosta’ special border service (PKASS) boats. Since they’re based at Sochi, it’s not hard to guess what constitutes their ‘special service.’ The majority of ‘sharp’ boats of predominantly foreign construction belong to the Federal Protective Service.”(4)

“Isn’t this a lot of charming yachts for a fleet that’s not very large?”

“In the present circumstances, when the naval shipbuilding plans being realized by the fleet command and shipbuilding enterprises are dead in the water, all these parade boats are something like ball gowns for the naked ship which is today’s Russian Navy.”

“Parade measures require large resources. The fun of the Main Parade in 2017, active training which went on for two months and included the repair of ships and aircraft, but also innumerable crew training events, not to mention the long-range transfer of many participants to the place of action, required not less than a billion rubles, if not more. Fuel expended, parts worn out, crews taken from combat service(5) and combat training. The event could be more modest.”

“In an interview with ‘Krasnaya zvezda’ newspaper published on 1 December, RF Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev announced that from the current month intensive training for the 2018 main naval parade is beginning. The show continues!”

___________________________

(1) The Russians are keeping Sovershennyy close to where it was built for the time being. Repairs are more expedient in Vladivostok. But ultimately they want this new unit supporting the Pacific Fleet SSBN force on Kamchatka.

(2) A typo here…it would be only 190 years since 1827, not 290.

(3) Dolgostroy is difficult to render without losing its impact, so it’s used here in the hope it becomes a loanword one day. It’s been translated previously on these pages as “long unfinished work.” It refers to buildings or public works projects but has also been used to describe military programs remaining incomplete after many years of effort. It often implies the cause may be financial difficulties, corruption, or general incompetence.

(4) The FSO is the powerful security agency charged with protecting the RF President and other high-ranking Russian officials.

(5) Ships, submarines, and other units conducting combat patrols and missions.