Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where in the World is "Aleksandr Nevskiy"?

"Aleksandr Nevskiy" and her crew -- December 2010
On August 27, Russian media outlets ran two competing stories about the transfer of Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Aleksandr Nevskiy" from the Northern Fleet to the Pacific Fleet. TASS, citing an unnamed General Staff source, reported that the submarine departed port in mid-August and will arrive "in Kamchatka" [presumably its new homeport of Rybachiy] in the first week of September. Later that day, Interfax, citing its own unnamed shipbuilding industry source, reported that the submarine remains in the Northern Fleet base of Gadzhiyevo and won't depart for the under-ice transfer until mid-September. The Russian Ministry of Defense has made no statement to support or refute either claim.

So, who's right? Since the Interfax article was aimed at refuting the TASS article, we'll start with the TASS article.
  • The submarine departed in mid-August. This is true if you believe in coincidences. A survey of the submarine's crew members' social media accounts shows many of them were active up until 18 August, but none of them have been active since. And with comments like "I'll be gone until October" and "I'm planning to head to sea (with several bags of candy bars, cookies, and other snacks)," one might conclude that the submarine did, in fact, depart port on August 18 or a few days later.

  • The submarine will arrive in Rybachiy during the first week of September. The distance from Gadzhiyevo to Rybachiy is approximately 4,000 nautical miles. In order to travel that distance in 21 days (using August 18 as the departure date and September 7 as the arrival date), the submarine would have to travel 190.5 nautical miles per day at an average speed of ~7.9 knots. Of the eight Delta I/III SSBN under-ice transfers conducted between 1980 and 2008, four completed the transit in 24-32 days. The other four conducted patrols after transferring to the Pacific Fleet area (but before arriving in Rybachiy), extending the total length of their transfers  to 78-84 days. If TASS's source is correct, then "Aleksandr Nevskiy" will make a direct transit and may even break the SSBN transfer record.

As for the Interfax report, all that can be said is that the source's claims are in direct contradiction to those of the TASS source. Moreover, it should be noted that all eight Delta I/III SSBN transfers mentioned above began in mid- to late-August -- never in September.

Thus, based on previous SSBN transfers and on clues provided by the submarine's own crew, it appears more likely that "Aleksandr Nevskiy" commenced its under-ice transit in mid-August and is no longer in Gadzhiyevo. If true, then Interfax's source is clearly uninformed, or someone may be intentionally trying to confuse those who read the TASS story.

The below image depicts the most recent ice-edge reporting and the locations of Russian icebreakers and ice-capable research vessels in the Arctic region. While they may not be tasked with directly supporting the under-ice transfer, they could be called upon to respond in the event of an emergency involving the submarine.

Ice-edge reporting and locations of select vessels in the Arctic region -- August 30, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Did Egypt Take Possession of a Russian Tarantul?

Egyptian President el-Sisi and Russian President Putin meet in Moscow - May 9, 2015

Ten months after Russian Air Force tankers deployed to Egypt to support Russian strategic bomber flights...

...six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Egypt...

...five months after Egyptian defense minister General Sedki Sobhi visited his Russian counterpart (General Sergey Shoygu) in Moscow...

...three months after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Moscow on one of Russia's holiest of holidays (Victory Day)...

Exercise Bridge of Friendship-2015

...two months after Egypt and Russia held their first joint naval exercise (Bridge of Friendship-2015)...

...and one week after a Russian Navy patrol ship took part in celebrations marking the opening of the new Suez Canal (attended by Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev)... appears Egypt may have just acquired that same missile-armed patrol ship from Russia.

According to unofficial reporting, the Russian Baltic Fleet's Tarantul-class patrol ship "R-32" was officially handed over to Egypt in a ceremony held in Alexandria, Egypt, on August 10.

[UPDATE: Egyptian officials have now disclosed that "R-32" was transferred from the Russian Navy to the Egyptian Navy.]

"R-32" in Baltiysk -- May 28, 2015

"R-32" is the little ship that no one wanted:
  • laid down at Vympel Shipyard in 1994, launched in 1999, then transferred to the Black Sea for fitting out and sea trials;
  • after being mothballed for several years, "R-32" was transferred back to Vympel Shipyard in 2007 for repairs;
  • transferred to Caspian Flotilla in October-November 2008, then to Makhachkala in the spring of 2009 to prepare it for transfer to Turkmenistan;
  • after Turkmenistan backed out the contract to acquire "R-32", the unit was commissioned into the Russian Navy in June 2010;
  • beyond its participation in annual Navy Day parades in 2010-2013, the unit remained inactive;
  • transferred to Baltic Fleet in October-November 2013;
  • transferred from St. Petersburg to Baltiysk in January 2014;
  • several of the ship's onboard components were inspected and/or repaired earlier this year: M-15E.1 main gas turbine, refrigerator units, Afalina emergency communications radio-buoy, and emergency lighting equipment.
Oddly, there has been no official announcement yet by either country regarding this possible transfer.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Russian Combatant Participates in Suez Canal Opening Ceremony

If you were watching coverage of today's opening of the new Suez Canal, you were probably surprised to see that the Russian Navy was quietly represented in the ceremony by the Baltic Fleet's Tarantul-class patrol combatant "R-32" (visible at 1:47:55, 1:49:11, 1:52:09, 1:55:47, and 1:56:11; see screenshots at the bottom of this post). Neither the RF Ministry of Defense nor the Baltic Fleet made any prior announcements that the patrol ship would be visiting Egypt or participating in the celebrations.

So, when did "R-32" arrive in Egypt? Polish amateur radio operator Tomasz Golojuch may have provided the only clue in this July 28 tweet:

While Tomasz provided no other data, the presence of "SB-921" (a Baltic Fleet Sliva-class tug) in Egypt last week suggests the possibility that "SB-921" is supporting "R-32" during its unannounced deployment.

"R-32" spotted in Baltiysk in early July 2015
(credit: Lex Kitaev)
The participation of a Russian combatant in today's was surely arranged to coincide with Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev's visit to Egypt and attendance at today's ceremony.

Where will "SB-921" and "R-32" head to next?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

"Bryansk" Officer Dies in Submarine's Sail

"Bryansk" surfaces through the ice -- August 21, 2007
One week ago, July 25 - the day before Russian Navy Day, a 45-year-old warrant officer (Vitaliy Shimanskiy) died on board Delta IV-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Bryansk". Investigators remain tight-lipped while they continue questioning crew members, as well as relatives and friends of the officer. The only details to emerge so far are that he was found dead in the submarine sail after the submarine surfaced and that he was tied to something inside the sail.

The first clue that something had gone wrong came in the form of an urgent plea via social media for Shimanskiy's contact information during the early afternoon hours on July 25. And then silence... until Komsomolskaya Pravda published the first article about the incident two days after Navy Day. The item quickly spread through social media and was republished by regional and national media outlets.

While there are few other clues about Shimanskiy (he was a member of the submarine's Second Crew), a quick internet search revealed that a Senior Warrant Officer Vitaliy Vitoldovich Shimanskiy had appealed to the Gadzhiyevo Garrison Military Court in February 2014 to force defense officials to pay him money owed following decrees by the Western Military District that had increased his salary. The description of Shimanskiy's job title matches that of a technician working on a nuclear-powered submarine.

Many questioned why Shimanskiy remained in the sail as the submarine was submerging (no one knew he was missing? possible suicide?) and why he was tied to the sail (so his body would be found?). Several current and former servicemen from the submarine's home port of Gadzhiyevo did admit that there was at least one other similar situation, although the submariner(s) in that instance survived.

Warrant Officer Shimanskiy is survived by his wife and daughter. A memorial service was held on July 30; the burial will take place in St. Petersburg.