Monday, May 25, 2015

If a Target Sinks Before You Strike It, Does It Make a Noise?

*** updated on May 26 to provide additional details of launch location ***

"PM-140" sinking before being used as a CDCM target -- May 22, 2015

On May 16, an area closure in the Sea of Japan was announced for May 20-23 and was designated for missile firings.

HYDROPAC 1618/15

DNC 23, DNC 24.
41-38.5N 132-43.6E, 42-32.0N 132-51.0E,
42-41.0N 133-02.2E, 42-39.4N 133-19.0E,
42-01.3N 134-11.5E, 41-40.0N 133-32.0E.
2. CANCEL THIS MSG 231100Z MAY 15.//

Authority: NAVAREA XI 350/15 161746Z MAY 15.

Date: 161748Z May 15
Cancel: 23110000 May 15

Missile launch area closure -- May 20-23, 2015

Given that the area closure covers land, it was logical to assume it would be used for the launch of a coastal defense cruise missile (CDCM). The range between the two farthest points measures approximately 120 kilometers (65 nautical miles). The last Russian CDCM launch in the Sea of Japan occurred on April 28, when at least one SSC-6 Sennight (Russian: 3K60 Bal) was launched from a position adjacent to the Shepalovo recreational facility - about 21 kilometers (11.5 nautical miles) southeast of Nakhodka. The area closure for the April launch was longer - nearly 170 kilometers (92 nautical miles) between the farthest points - and narrower than this month's area closure.

Pictures posted to the internet on May 26, but dated May 21, show an SSC-6 being deployed to the vicinity of Cape Povorotnyy.

SSC-6 Sennight deployed near Cape Povorotnyy -- May 21, 2015
SSC-6 Sennight deployed near Cape Povorotnyy -- May 21, 2015
Using the towers as visual clues, we can easily find them within the announced area closure and can project the general launch position.

Northernmost portion of SSC-6 Sennight area closure
Cape Povorotnyy radar/communications towers
Cape Povorotnyy radar/communications towers
Cape Povorotnyy radar/communications towers, reoriented towards the sea to match the SSC-6 launcher images above

Cape Povorotnyy has been a popular site for earlier CDCM launches, as these photos from 1992 and 1994 show..

CDCM launch from Cape Povorotnyy -- 1992
CDCM launch from Cape Povorotnyy -- 1994

Despite the differences in size and configuration, it's evident that another CDCM launch was planned. Had another SSC-6 launch occurred, one would have expected naval officials to tout the second successful launch of the missile. Yet there have been no reports from the Russian Navy about any CDCM launch this past week.

The mystery behind the silence may be the premature sinking of the target ship for the exercise, retired Amur-class floating workshop "PM-140".

According to a video uploaded to YouTube on May 23, the target ship sank while being towed by Sorum-class oceangoing tug "MB-37". Subsequent internet chatter indicated the launch of an SSC-6 was scheduled for May 22, but the loss of "PM-140" forced fleet officials to quickly find a replacement target ship and try again on the next day, which, according to one source, most likely occurred.

Since retiring, "PM-140" had served as a target ship during multiple anti-ship cruise missile and artillery events. Since all strikes occurred well above the waterline, the ship was able to be towed back to port and reused during subsequent exercises.

"PM-140" used as target ship during "Vostok-2010" exercise -- June 26, 2010
"PM-140" waiting for its last missile exercise -- April 7, 2015

What was the replacement target? And why hasn't the Pacific Fleet issued a press release about the latest launch of its newest CDCM - if, in fact, there was a launch on May 23?

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Admiral Kuznetsov" Taking a Long Nap

"Admiral Kuznetsov" being loaded into 82nd Shipyard floating dry dock (May 14, 2015)

On May 13, the Russian Navy's sole aircraft carrier, "Admiral Kuznetsov", was towed to the 82nd Shipyard in Roslyakovo for out-of-water maintenance. The next day, the Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier was placed in the shipyard's PD-50 floating dock.

The question on everyone's mind is: how long will repairs last? Fleet officials would only say that workers needed to complete a survey of the ship before they could determine the full scope of work and finalize work orders.

Today, the first 13 contracts for the aircraft carrier's repairs were released. Based on a review of the contracts, it appears "Admiral Kuznetsov" will be out of business until at least December 2016. The combined total cost of the initial contracts: RUB 1,308,808,984. Below is a breakdown of the contractual information.

Time Costs (RUB) Description
May 2015        607,360 survey of Svetlana-2N and Svetlana-23N.5 systems
May 2015     2,845,300 repairs of piping and sea chests
May 2015        986,000 repairs of 3D12AL main engine
Jun 2015     7,663,811 repairs of gas turbine generators
Aug 2015   93,768,131 repairs of Svetlana-2N system
Aug 2015     2,974,414 repairs of heating and separation systems of bilge water separators
Sep 2015   99,963,064 repairs of coolant machinery
May 2016 675,578,027 repairs of environmental systems
Nov 2016 167,394,664 repairs of navigation systems and equipment
Nov 2016   16,443,429 repairs of self-degaussing equipment
Dec 2016   31,403,960 repairs of Compartment 7 equipment
Dec 2016   97,180,824 repairs of radar and sonar systems
Dec 2016 112,000,000 repairs of NTsV pumps

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Baltic Fleet Tries to Forget the "Steregushchiy" Fire

"Steregushchiy" undergoing routine dock repairs, early 2015
credit: RF Baltic Fleet
What was supposed to be a somewhat routine exercise in mid-April turned into a real emergency for one of the Baltic Fleet's newest combatants.

Prior to the exercise, Steregushchiy-class frigate "Steregushchiy" had completed a routine 59-day out-of-water repair period at the Yantar Baltic Shipyard in Kaliningrad before returning to Baltiysk Naval Base on March 21. According to the March 21 edition of the fleet's newspaper, Strazh Baltiki (released the same day as the frigate's return to Baltiysk), shipyard work included repairs to hull fittings, propellers, the main engine, and diesel engines, as well as a fresh coat of paint. The ship's commanding officer, Captain 3rd Rank Aleskey Suslov, told the newspaper that "Steregushchiy" was to complete all combat certifications by the end of April.

On April 17, 2015, the Western Military District press service issued a press statement regarding a recently held anti-air and antisubmarine warfare exercise involving all four of the Baltic Fleet's Steregushchiy-class frigates: "Boykiy", Soobrazitelnyy", "Stoykiy", and "Steregushchiy". Also included in the list of participants were two firefighting vessels, an AN-26 Curl fixed-wing transport, and a KA-27 Helix helicopter. The inclusion of firefighting vessels in live-fire exercises seemed odd until you reached the end of the article in which the press release stated that the ships also practiced "rendering assistance to one of the ships, which was simulating a casualty."

It should be no surprise that even before the press release was broadcast by the major Russian news outlets, hints of a true emergency on board "Steregushchiy" began to leak out. According to one source, "Steregushchiy" was supposed to be underway for four days, but the frigate was forced to return within six hours of getting underway due to a fire. Two weeks later, a different source indicated the fire may have started after fuel somehow entered the frigate's exhaust funnel. That source also indicated there were some injuries, although the exact nature of the injuries and the number of injured personnel were not provided.

It is not known whether the AN-26 and KA-27 were part of the exercise, part of the response to the fire on "Steregushchiy", or both.

Thus, the Western Military District's inclusion of firefighting vessels and the rescue drill in its press release appears to be an attempt to cover up a response to an actual at-sea emergency. With NATO's Baltic partners keeping a vigilant eye on Russian military activity in the region, the Russian military press officers have to quickly devise explanations for any unusual military activity, such as an accident. Sometimes, however, their explanations fail.