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.

OPK Write-Off

Yesterday Russia’s Deputy PM Yuriy Borisov was in Kazan to inspect Tupolev’s work on strategic bombers and gave the media details on the plan to deal with defense-industrial complex (OPK) debt.

Borisov (right) with Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov

Borisov (right) with Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov

The government arms tsar and former deputy defense minister said the plan will restructure 750 billion rubles ($11 billion) in debt. Actually, 300 billion rubles in non-performing loans will be written off. The other 450 will be restructured into 15-year loans at three percent interest.

For Russia’s defense producers, Borisov concluded:

It’s a very serious measure that will allow them to be free of big payments to bankers and free up resources for their own development.

For anything more specific, however, one would have to read President Putin’s secret ukaz on the issue.

This result is somewhat the reverse of what Borisov wanted. More favorable to enterprises than bankers, he sought a 400-450 billion write-off and restructuring of 300-350 billion for 15 years at two percent with a five-year payment holiday to start.

Before that, he sought a complete write-off but Russia’s big banks flatly refused.

Recall this 750 billion rubles represents only Russia’s most troubled defense industry debt. The total burden on the sector is 2.3 trillion rubles ($34 billion).

Pchela’s Daughter

Order the flowers . . . Russia’s March 8 (and 9) celebration of International Women’s Day has started.

On February 27, KZ highlighted Yekaterina Olegovna Pchela who may become Russia’s first female LRA pilot.

She’s a cadet at the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation Pilot School (KVVAUL) and the only woman currently studying to fly Russian strategic bombers.

Cadet Pchela’s the start of what Russians like to call a “military dynasty.” Her father — Oleg (promoted to one-star general-major rank on February 20) — has commanded the 22nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Donbass Red Banner Division at Engels since 2017. It operates Tu-160 / Blackjack and Tu-95MS / Bear H bombers.

Cadet corps at KVVAUL

Cadet corps at KVVAUL

The Russian MOD first allowed women to attend KVVAUL in 2017, but restricted them to transport aircraft.

According to the school’s deputy chief, now there’s at least one woman studying each of four specialties: one in attack aviation, one in long-range aviation, seven in fighters, and the balance in transports.

On average the women get higher marks than the men. KZ’s editor adds there are 45 women enrolled in KVVAUL.

Female second- and third-year cadets will fly for the first time this spring.

The number of women in the armed forces hasn’t gone up much over the past decade. There were 50,000 in 2012. Perhaps only 40,000 now despite increased opportunities for them in the ranks. Polling indicates about two-thirds of Russians don’t want their daughters to serve.

The move to a Russian Army more reliant on volunteers than draftees, however, means Moscow can’t ignore a large pool of valuable human capital — young women.

A land where male chauvinism has long prevailed, Russia still trails Western countries significantly in this respect. U.S. service academies were open to women by the second half of the 1970s and the first female USAF B-52 pilot was flying in the early 1990s.

Yekaterina Olegovna

Then there’s nepotism. We don’t know anything about Ms. Pchela’s selection for KVVAUL. We have to assume she was a qualified applicant and is a promising future officer. She’s been getting a bit of media star treatment though. Not at random, she was picked to ask Putin questions during last June’s “direct line” with the president.

Russian mothers and fathers worry about hazing and violence against their sons in the army. So they certainly worry about sexual harassment and assault on their daughters. Oleg Pchela’s presence and position in LRA protects Yekaterina in this regard. But it’s likely more difficult for female cadets without fathers who are senior military officers.

Blessing the Bomb?

Blessing a Su-34 and its weapons in Volgodonsk

Blessing a Su-34 and its weapons in Volgodonsk

The debate over the propriety of Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) priests blessing Russian bombs and weapons of mass destruction (OMP) is heating up.

According to Interfaks, first deputy chief of the synod’s public relations and media department Aleksandr Shchipkov has expressed disagreement with a possible ban on the consecration of certain types of armaments.

Early this month Meduza reported the ROC’s Inter-Council Presence (an advisory body that helps draft church policy) suggested ending the practice of consecrating some conventional weapons and OMP. Its proposal will considered until at least June 1. The Presence argued that consecrating armaments doesn’t reflect the church’s traditions and should be “abolished from pastoral practice.”

The debate on blessing bombs apparently began last summer.

Interfaks reported that the proposed ban would stop the consecration of weapons which can kill “untold numbers of people” as well as “indiscriminate weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”

Priest consecrates mobile ICBM launchers

Priest consecrates mobile ICBM launchers

Shchipkov, however, said:

The essential motive of the document’s text really separates the soldier from his weapon, asserting, figuratively speaking, that it’s possible to bless the armor, but not the sword. But the Church can’t bless the man and his mission halfway . . . . Including the topic of banning the blessing of this or that type of weapon on the political agenda is an indirect blow to the people’s trust in the army and to the country’s sovereignty.

Responding to the biblical call to “turn the other cheek” against violence, Shchipkov said, “We have a right to turn our own cheek, but we are obligated to protect the cheek of those close to us.”

He claimed a ban on consecrating arms will be viewed as a sign of weakness by Russia’s enemies. (Seriously? Does he think blessing them makes the country stronger?)

Addressing nuclear weapons specifically, Shchipkov concluded:

It’s not necessary for us to repent an inclination toward the unjustified use of nuclear forces. It remains for us to say only that our policy of reasonable defense sufficiency lies in the mainstream of Christian principles.

We recall that military duty is highly valued in Orthodoxy. A weapon is sanctified by serving just and noble aims just as is any involuntary use of force. The subject of discussion should be the purposes of bearing and employing arms not blessing them. It’s important precisely who and how a weapon is used and with what intentions, but not specifically what he uses. Arms themselves don’t kill, but the people using them do, therefore it’s absurd to evaluate a weapon by the degree of its “morality.”

Wouldn’t want to spin into debating just war theory, etc. Suffice it to say it’s interesting that the Russians are discussing it. The argument’s been going on in the West since the dawn of the nuclear age.

Nevertheless, the image of Russian Orthodox priests sprinkling holy water on ICBM launchers isn’t a particularly good look for them, the Russian military, or the Kremlin. At least to Western eyes. But the average Ivan probably doesn’t worry about it too much.

Because of the ROC’s traditional subservience to the state, look for the church to go as Vladimir Putin indicates. That means more tanks will get sprinkled. 

Defenders’ Day Promotions

On February 20, RF President Vladimir Putin signed out his ukaz with military promotions in advance of Defenders’ Day (February 24).

For the MOD, Putin’s list includes nine two-star promotions (seven general-lieutenants and two vice-admirals). As well as 15 one-stars (ten general-majors and five rear-admirals).

By contrast, the Natsgvardiya got one new general-colonel, two general-lieutenants, and three general-majors.

Rustam Muradov

General-Lieutenant Rustam Muradov

The rising star of the MOD group is probably newly-minted General-Lieutenant Rustam Muradov.

Muradov’s a combined arms officer and Deputy Commander of the Southern MD. He commanded two different motorized rifle brigades. He was first deputy commander, chief of staff of the 41st Combined Arms Army. He served with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and was a military adviser in Syria. In that capacity, he received Hero of the Russian Federation from Putin. Muradov commanded the 2nd CAA for a year.

Three new general-lieutenants are army commanders — Sergey Kisel in the 1st Tank Army, Andrey Kolotovkin in the 2nd CAA, and Oleg Tsekov in the 5th CAA. New two-star Vladimir Kravchenko commands the 11th Air and Air Defense Army.

General-Lieutenant Maksim Penkov heads the Mozhayskiy Military-Space Academy. and General-Lieutenant Yuriy Bobrov is a directorate chief in the MOD’s Main Personnel Directorate.

New Vice-Admiral Denis Berezovskiy is the turncoat Ukrainian admiral and one-time commander of Ukrainian naval forces who threw in his lot with Moscow after the seizure of Crimea. He’s deputy commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet. Vice-Admiral Vladimir Dmitriyev commands the Pacific Fleet’s Submarine Forces.

The one-stars don’t ring any bells except new Rear-Admiral Aleksey Yuryevich Sysuyev. He commands the Pacific Fleet’s 25th Submarine Division (three SSBNs — an ancient Delta III and two Borey SSBNs Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh). Previously, he was first deputy commander, chief of staff of the 31st Division in Northern Fleet, also SSBNs. So he’s a riser.

His father is likely retired Admiral Yuriy Sysuyev who was a submariner, one-time 5th Eskadra commander, and naval educator.

Tanks in GPV-2027

According to a February 13 report from Vedomosti’s Ivan Safronov, Russia’s Ground Troops could receive 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks before the current State Armaments Program (GPV) ends in 2027. The article is paywalled, but Bmpd recapped its contents.

Nine hundred — 500 T-14 and 400 T-90M — seems quite an optimistic forecast.

T-90

According to Safronov’s story, a source close to the Russian MOD said there were three contracts between 2017 and 2019 to deliver more than 160 T-90M (Proryv-3) tanks. The first two called for 60 tanks in 2018-2019, of which 10 would be newly built, 50 would be older T-90 tanks modernized to T-90M, and 100 would be T-90A tanks from the inventory improved to T-90M.

However, an industry source said the deliveries slipped because its fire control and target tracking system needed to be finished, and the turret with its dynamic defense — the tank’s main feature — had to be tested.

These issues are supposedly resolved, and the tank is in series production. The MOD should get not less than 15 T-90M tanks in 2020.

A source close to the MOD leadership indicated that President Vladimir Putin wants to renew Russia’s tank inventory over the next five years. Currently, only 50 percent of the Ground Troops’ armored vehicles are “modern” — the lowest indicator of any branch or service of the RF Armed Forces.

Upgrading Russia’s armor will involve both new production and modernization. There may be a contract in 2020 to improve another 100 T-90s to T-90M. Deputy Defense Minister and arms chief Aleksey Krivoruchko has indicated there are 400 T-90s in the Ground Troops that could be upgraded.

State testing of the newest T-14 tank on the Armata chassis is set to begin in 2020. A Vedomosti interlocutor says there could be a state order for 500 T-14s by 2027.

Recall after debuting in 2015, the T-14 was supposed to enter state testing in 2017 but that didn’t happen.

Ground Troops are hoping for 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks to arrive by 2027, but they won’t supplant some 2,000 T-72B3 tanks as the foundation of Russia’s tank inventory, according to military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy. He adds that the T-72B3 can’t really be considered a “modern” tank without serious modernization.

For those keeping score, the T-72B3 is a 2010 upgrade of the T-72B not really improved since the mid-1980s. The T-72B3M is a 2016 modification adding Relikt reactive armor, a more powerful engine, etc. The T-90 and T-90A are early 1990s upgrades on the T-72B. The T-90M is a 2018 update with the same gun as the T-14, Afganit active protection, Relikt reactive armor, etc.

T-72B3M

Not addressed in the Vedomosti report is what (if anything) the Russian Army plans regarding the future of upgraded T-80BVM tanks. It received an unspecified number in 2017-2019. The Ground Troops often prefer its gas turbine engine over diesel for extreme cold in the Arctic and Eastern MD.

It’s difficult to assess even what happened with tanks in GPV 2011-2020. Putin and the MOD called for 2,300 tanks in 2012 even though Ground Troops procurement wasn’t a priority in that GPV. The naive assumption they’d be new ones soon gave way to realization that all tanks received were ones modernized as described above. Complicating matters further, Russian MOD descriptions of what they actually received typically lump all armor — tanks and armored vehicles — together making it virtually impossible to tell how many upgraded tanks of which type (re-)entered Russia’s forces.

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.