Thursday, December 29, 2011

Break Out the Champagne!

After much trial and tribulation, Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Yuriy Dolgorukiy conducted a salvo launch of the SS-NX-32 Bulava SLBM on December 23.  Despite previous media coverage of the submarine's return to port, this time there have been no images or video released of the submarine tying up to the pier or of the crew receiving the traditional roasted pig for a successful mission.  Despite there being no image of a sickly-looking piglet, Russia's Channel 1 (Первый Канал) released footage this evening that it claims to be of the salvo launch.  Between 0:10 and 0:19, you can see two distinct contrails, along with a wonderful light show in the clouds.  Between 0:20 and 0:22, you can see two small, moving specks that would represent the two missiles in flight.  It will take some time (a month or more - especially given the upcoming nine-day holiday period that starts on January 1) until the results of the flight test are finalized and approved.  Only then will the Russian Ministry of Defense forward its recommendation to the Russian government to either accept the Bulava into the Russian Navy inventory or to continue testing.  On December 27, however, President Medvedev told senior military officers gathered in the Kremlin that the flight testing portion of the overall Bulava test program had concluded and that the missile would now enter into service... pending a favorable MOD recommendation, of course.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Lone Carrier

It's amazing how excited the Russian and Western press get when the Russian's Navy sole aircraft carrier ("heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser" (тяжелый авианесущий крейсер), in Russian parlance) steams beyond local waters.  Both sides are attaching undue significance to the deployment of the ship and its two (soon to be three) combatant escorts.  Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Admiral Kuznetsov (Admiral Kuznetsov herein) is on a training mission -- not unlike training deployments carried out by other maritime nations' navies.  The Russian aircraft carrier has performed such deployments a handful of times over the past decade.  And where is the best location to carry out at-sea carrier-based fighter training during the winter?  The Mediterranean Sea, naturally.

The Mediterranean Sea is home to much of the world's recent upheavals.  Libya, Egypt, and Syria are but a few of the countries engulfed in the Arab Spring that sprang last December.  According to Wikipedia, Syrian citizens jumped on the Arab Spring Express in March 2011.

March is four months into the Russian military training year.  And training year plans are laid out well before the new training year begins.  Thus, the Admiral Kuznetsov deployment was scheduled before the first Arab Spring demonstrations and protests even began.

So why are Russian and non-Russian news outlets so interested in this routine deployment?  The tagline that sells, it seems, is that Russia is racing to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to support the failing Syrian regime.  Really?  How exactly?

  • Showing the flag?  That mission could have been performed any time this past year by sending naval combatant ships and intelligence collection vessels from Russia's Black Sea Fleet to sit off the Syrian coast.  Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been to the Mediterranean Sea several times this year, and the only thing that came near Syria was the Amur-class floating repair vessel PM-56, which has been deployed to the Syrian port of Tartus for several few months.  It's not there to support the Syrian regime, but rather to provide support (if needed) for Russian Navy ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Gunboat diplomacy?  Despite its original specifications, Admiral Kuznetsov is no longer capable of firing SS-N-19 Shipwreck cruise missiles, the only surface-to-surface missile it was designed to carry; however, it is armed with surface-to-air missiles.  The accompanying combatants (Admiral Chabanenko, Yaroslav Mudryy, and (soon) Ladnyy) are armed with various surface-to-surface missiles (SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-N-25 Switchblade), surface-to-air missiles, and heavy artillery.  If you plan to sink some enemy ships, then you have the right missiles.  If you plan to conduct precision attacks on key enemy strongholds well inside Syrian borders, you're out of luck.
So, to the reporters and other bloggers who are trying to create something from nothing:  while it's the season of miracles, a Russian Navy carrier strike group providing direct support to the failing Syrian regime is one present you won't find under your Christmas tree this year.

Now, if you really want to find something of interest to report, why not look at what will happen at the tail-end of the deployment... that will be something to see!