Tag Archives: Naval Aviation

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.

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.

BSF Gets an Unsat

A BSF Be-12

Kommersant reported Saturday that Defense Minister Serdyukov presided over an unscheduled collegium at which the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) commander received a month and a half to rectify problems identified during an inspection this fall.

The inspection — conducted by Chief Military Inspector, General-Lieutenant Gennadiy Borisov — focused on the state of operational and combat training, the weapons and equipment inventory, logistical and medical support, and fire safety.  Kommersant’s source said the results were unfavorable, and there were deficiencies in many areas.  Serdyukov received the inspection report, and wanted to hear the BSF commander speak about it at the collegium.

A Main Navy Staff source told the paper two of three formations inspected at Novorossiysk Naval Base got unsatisfactories in artillery, missile, and torpedo firing, and mine warfare.  The 11th Independent Coastal Missile-Artillery Brigade and 184th Ship Brigade received comments, and General-Lieutenant Borisov also noted problems in the Naval Infantry battalions at Temryuk.

But no one got fired.  Serdyukov gave BSF Commander, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Fedotenko, and Navy CINC, Admiral Vysotskiy, until February to remedy all defects before a repeat inspection.

On a related note, Monday the Defense Ministry announced BSF Naval Aviation bases at Gvardeyskoye and Kacha will consolidate into the 7057th Aviation Base.  The unified base will have ground attack, ASW, and transport airplanes and helicopters.  Press reports weren’t explict, but Kacha is the 7057th.  So Gvardeyskoye — the 7058th — will apparently close.

Naval Aviation Chief Interviewed

Hero of Russia, General-Major Igor Kozhin

On Sunday, RIA Novosti interviewed Naval Aviation Chief, General-Major Igor Kozhin on his branch’s 95th anniversary.

The news agency’s recap reminded that Naval Aviation lost its strike assets to the Air Forces on 1 April.  And, by year’s end, all remaining Su-27, MiG-31, Tu-22 and part of its transport aircraft will move to the VVS.  Only land-based ASW and carrier aviation will remain.

Asked about training, General-Major Kozhin focused on cost and retention.  He claimed training a pilot costs a rather exorbitant $1.5 to 2 million annually.  He indicated the need to keep older, experienced personnel — even in a civilian capacity — to train his younger pilots.

On upcoming training, Kozhin said his one regiment of 20 carrier-qualified pilots will conduct 100 takeoffs and landings from the Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov in August and September.

Kozhin said Kuznetsov is currently preparing for sea, and there’s no plan for capital repairs even though a replacement isn’t foreseen at this time.

He gave no hint of any impending carrier deployment as rumored earlier this year. 

RIA Novosti asked about renting the NITKA carrier trainer in Ukraine.  Kozhin answered by updating the construction of a similar facility at Yeysk, in Krasnodar Kray.  He said toward fall the takeoff and landing strip will be complete, then landing systems will be installed, and the ground-based carrier simulator will be functional in 2013.  He said the entire Naval Aviation training complex will be finished in 2015.

Finally, on new aircraft, Kozhin said the first four MiG-29K for Naval Aviation could apppear in 2012, but the Defense Ministry will have to sign the contract before mid-August.  Otherwise, the first delivery will be in 2013.  In all, a Navy buy of 20 is planned, but the factory is busy now filling India’s order for fighters for the ex-Gorshkov being renovated at Sevmash.

VVS Taking VMF’s Land-Based Fighters and Bombers

Vesti.ru has rebroadcast Interfaks information from a Main Navy Staff source who says, on 1 April, Naval Aviation (VMA) will begin transferring its land-based fighter and bomber aircraft to the Air Forces (VVS).

By year’s end, the VVS will get the Navy’s remaining Su-27 fighters, MiG-31 fighter-interceptors, long-range Tu-22 [sic] supersonic bombers, and also part of the VMA’s transport aircraft.

Russian Naval Aviation Tu-22M3

The Interfaks report will probably get garbled into all aircraft, or all land-based aircraft, going to VVS, which is not the case, as it makes its way into other Russian and English language news stories.

VMA will retain control of its Il-38, Tu-142, and Be-12 ASW aircraft, and its deck-based aircraft, the Su-33 fighter and Ka-27 helicopters, according to the Interfaks source. 

According to the Vesti.ru article, missile-carrying naval aviation has deteriorated since the Soviet collapse, and only the Northern and Pacific Fleets have long-range ASW aircraft which, it claims, amount to only 25 Il-38 and 15 Tu-142.  It says the Baltic Fleet has no ASW aircraft, and the Black Sea Fleet only four old Be-12 likely to be completely worn out by 2015.

The article notes that the Su-33, Su-25UTG trainer, multipurpose Ka-27 and Ka-29 combat-transport helicopters will remain in the air wing of heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.  There are reported plans to procure 26 MiG-29K fighters for Kuznetsov.

Here’s a nicely done, data-filled Russian language Wiki article on Russian Naval Aviation.

VMA lost something else recently.  A BMW-X5 used by VMA Chief, General-Colonel Igor Khozhin was stolen in Moscow on Friday, according to Interfaks.

ITAR-TASS also reported Friday that more than 80 RVSN aircraft — An-72, An-26, and Mi-8 helicopters — will also be going over to the VVS starting on 1 April.

President’s Tough Talk to Defense Minister Serdyukov

Medvedev at Security Council Meeting

Let’s look at President Dmitriy Medvedev’s criticism of the Navy and the Defense Ministry, his warnings and dismissals of some Navy officers.  It looks somewhat like a script torn from Vladimir Putin’s ‘tough guy’ handbook. 

Kommersant recounted the details of what sparked the President’s ire.  On 29 July, a fire burned the 2512th Central Aviation-Equipment Base of Naval Aviation and Air Defense near Kolomna, several dozen kilometers southeast of Moscow.  The Prosecutor’s Investigative Committee (SK) said the blaze destroyed the staff headquarters, finance unit, club, two bays of vehicle parking, 13 warehouses with various items of aviation equipment, and 17 open equipment storage stands with vehicles on them. 

Medvedev addressed yesterday’s Security Council meeting: 

“I instructed the Defense Ministry to take part in the firefighting effort and help to protect the civilian population, but sadly, in a number of cases, the ministry has proved unable to protect itself.  A fire took place in Moscow Oblast that has caused very serious damage.  The ministry has already carried out a preliminary internal investigation, and the investigation will continue of course.  The evidence so far indicates that this is quite simply a case of neglect of duty and criminal negligence, when personnel failed to bring under control a fire that was not spreading particularly fast, and no one even knew where the base’s commanders had gone.  I have therefore taken the following decision.”      

“Regarding the Navy’s senior command:  Navy CINC Admiral Vysotskiy has been warned about not fulfilling his duties; Chief of the Navy Main Staff and First Deputy CINC  Tatarinov has been warned about not fulfilling his duties; Deputy Chief of Navy Rear Services Sergeyev is dismissed; Chief of Naval Aviation Kuklev is dismissed; Deputy Chief of Naval Aviation Colonel Rasskazov is dismissed; Acting Deputy Chief of Naval Aviation Rear Services Monakov is dismissed; the chief of base 2512 is dismissed.”  

“I am also instructing the Defense Ministry to dismiss a number of other officers and personnel for disciplinary violations.  If anything similar happens in other places and other departments I will do exactly the same again, and without the slightest regret.” 

After discussing the fire situation with other ministers, Medvedev turned back to Defense Minister Serdyukov later in the meeting: 

“Now the Defense Ministry.  I already announced certain decisions.  The Minister needs to take everything under direct control.  Conduct a meeting today with the Ministry’s leadership and say that, if anything else like this burns, everyone will answer for it.” 

“Are there any concerns about the current situation?” 

Serdyukov responded saying plans have been made, operational groups established at all command levels.  Personnel and equipment have been put at the disposal of MChS and regional authorities.  And he noted that Deputy Defense Minister, General-Colonel Dmitriy Bulgakov is his point man for the fire emergency. 

Medvedev chided Serdyukov because the Vladimir Oblast governor had to go to the Defense Ministry for help instead of suitably empowered local commanders. 

Serdyukov said ‘corresponding’ orders have gone to all commanders and garrisons.  He continued with the Defense Ministry’s support of MChS — 11,000 servicemen, thousands of pieces of equipment, 33 kilometers of water pipelines laid in four rayons.  After Bulgakov’s visit to the Federal Nuclear Research Center in Sarov yesterday, another two battalions and special equipment were allocated to efforts there.  Serdyukov said another 28,000 troops can be brought into firefighting in the Central Federal District within 3-12 days. 

Serdyukov concluded: 

“We are taking all steps in full measure, we reinforced all facilities (there are 164 of them, but in immediate areas where there are fires there are 22) behind every responsible commander.  We are conducting all measures there:  increased volumes of water reserves for extinguishing fires, equipment has been brought in, extra personnel, everything literally transferred into a barracks condition, therefore all necessary steps for this, in fact, have been accomplished.  Therefore I submit that this sad incident that happened at base 2512 will not be repeated.” 

Kommersant helped out with a full run-down on the ranks and names of the lesser known Navy officers:  Rear-Admiral Sergey Sergeyev, General-Major Nikolay Kuklev, Colonel Sergey Rasskazov, Colonel Sergey Monakov, and Base Chief Colonel Viktor Biront. 

RIA Novosti covered Serdyukov’s firing of other officers at the base.  They included:  Deputy Base Chief Major R. Gidayatov; Deputy Chief Main Engineer Lieutenant Colonel V. Marchenko; Support and Security Company Commander Major A. Yermolov; Chief of the Material-Technical Support Department V. Karandak; and Chief of the 7th Storage Department V. Melsisidenkov. 

Today the SK said a criminal negligence case has been initiated.  Gazeta ru said, per usual Russian practice, top officials have blamed lower-ranking ones, in this case Navy officers, allowing the ‘untouchables’ to demonstrate their toughness and avoid responsibility.  Kommersant noted that the warnings for Vysotskiy and Tatarinov are just a step from dismissal.  But history shows other general and flag officers have gotten such warnings and still moved forward in their careers. 

Gzt.ru broached the subject of whether this could provide Medvedev an occasion to purge the Defense Ministry and fill it with his ‘own people.’ Konstantin Sivkov and Aleksandr Konovalov agree that he could use this opportunity.  But one has to ask, does this make sense in the scheme of tandem politics?  Medvedev has changed few in the cast inherited from Putin, and he’s very unlikely to start with a stolid Team Putin guy like Serdyukov.  Especially when he appears to be the first man to make some real headway in fixing the post-Soviet military.