Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Are Kalibr Ships Transferring to the Baltic Fleet?

"Zelenyy Dol" -- February 14, 2016
(credit: Yörük Işık)
This morning, shipspotters Alper Böler, Devrim Yaylali, and Yörük Işık photographed Russian Navy patrol combatants "Serpukhov" and "Zelenyy Dol" as they headed south through the Turkish Straits. The two ships earlier returned to Sevastopol on September 17 following a 38-day deployment to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. During that deployment, both ships launched 3M-14 Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles into Syria.

After a three-week break, "Serpukhov" and "Zelenyy Dol" are headed back to the Mediterranean Sea - possibly with a final destination in the Baltic Sea.

(credit: Main Intelligence Directorate - Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

On September 16, the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense reported on its website that the two patrol combatants were scheduled to begin a transfer to the Baltic Fleet on September 24 using Russia's inland waterway system. Such a transfer would have required sufficient lead time to remove a portion of the ships' superstructures. With such a tight timeline (September 17-24), this option seemed unlikely. And the ships remained idle until they departed port yesterday.

"Serpukhov" and "Zelenyy Dol" could temporarily increase the Russian Navy's presence in the eastern Mediterranean; however, the Malta Ship & Actions Photos website claims the two ships will call in Valletta, Malta, in mid-October. According to the website, the ships will be supported by salvage tug "SB-36", which has been deployed to the Mediterranean Sea since last month. It should be noted that Malta Ship & Actions Photos reported last month that "Serpukhov" and "Zelenyy Dol" would visit Valletta on September 29-October 2, which did not occur. As the website has a good record of reporting on future Valletta port calls, the discrepancy in the Russian ships' port call dates is likely related to a scheduling change.

Having traveled that far west with a tug, it seems even more likely that "Serpukhov" and "Zelenyy Dol" will continue to the Baltic Sea. But the small patrol combatants will require several port calls (Ceuta? Lisbon?) and/or logistical support by a naval tanker.

The Baltic Fleet would benefit greatly from the introduction of Kalibr-armed warships. While Kalibr-capable ships and submarines are tested in the Baltic Sea before being transferred to the Black Sea Fleet, the Baltic Fleet currently has no Kalibr-capable ships or submarines in its own permanent inventory.