Monday, February 20, 2012

Russia Sending Subs to Black Sea?

In early-February, Rear Admiral Aleksandr Fedotenkov, Commander of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, told a RIA Novosti reporter that the fleet expects to receive six Kilo-class diesel submarines by 2017.  His statement requires a little dissection in order to understand the likelihood of this happening and reasoning behind such plans.

1.  Wording.  Given the propensity of Russian news outlets to paraphrase what an interviewee actually says, let’s look at what Fedotenkov was quoted as saying:
“Подводные лодки проекта 636 в серии из шести кораблей, которые уже заложены на судостроительном заводе "Адмиралтейские верфи" в Санкт-Петербурге, придут на флот до 2017 года. Первые три корпуса мы получим в 2014 году, одну - в 2015 году и две - в 2016 году . Эти лодки станут основой для формирования полноценной бригады подводных лодок Черноморского флота. К тому времени в боевом составе флота останется фактически единственная подлодка "Алроса" проекта 877. На основе опыта подводной службы моряков-подводников Черноморского флота будет сформирована бригада подплава флота из кораблей 636 проекта.”
“A series of six Project 636 [Kilo] submarines, which have already been laid down at Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, will arrive in the fleet before 2017.  We will receive the first three hulls in 2014, one in 2015, and two in 2016.  These submarines will be the basis for establishing a complete brigade of Black Sea Fleet submarines.  At that time, the sole Project 877 [Kilo] submarine Alrosa will still be in the fleet’s combat inventory.  Based on the experience of submarine service by Black Sea Fleet submariners, a brigade of Project 636 [Kilo] submarines will be established.”
The phrase “already laid down” is an overstatement, at best.  What Fedotenkov could have said - or meant to say - was the metal bending may have started for six new Kilo (Project 06363 (636.3)) units, but not that the keels had been laid down.  Not having the luxury of hearing an audio recording of his statement, it’s hard to know if Fedotenkov misspoke or if the RIA Novosti reporter (Sergey Safronov) paraphrased what the admiral said.  The first two units of the new Kilo design to be laid down are named after Russian cities in the Black Sea area (Novorossiysk and Rostov-na-Donu), which strongly suggests these two likely will end up in the Black Sea.

2.  Basing.  Can the Black Sea Fleet provide support for six additional submarines?  Let’s remember that the Russian Black Sea Fleet was left with seven submarines in 1997:

  • Beluga [Project 01710] SS-533
  • Bravo [Project 690] SS-226, SS-256, SS-310
  • Foxtrot [Project 641] B-9
  • Kilo [Project 877] Alrosa
  • Tango [Project 641B] B-380

The Beluga, Bravo, and Foxtrot units have been stricken.  This only allows for five (not six) new units to be based in Sevastopol.  Note that the Mod-Romeo [Project 633RV] floating recharging station PZS-50, based in Sevastopol’s Yuzhnaya Bukhta, is not listed in the 1997 agreement that divided the forces between Ukraine and Russia.  The submarine still flies the Russian Navy flag and supports Russian Navy operations in Sevastopol.  It is unclear to me what status this unit has.  But if rumors are true, PZS-50 will be scrapped soon, and B-380 will become the new floating charging station.  And if PZS-50 was not counted against Russia’s inventory of seven submarines, then B-380 would not.  Thus, if B-380 is scrapped or converted, then the final number of six “new” units can be reached.  Fedotenkov’s statement that the submarines would be based both in Novorossiysk and Sevastopol suggests the Russians eventually will get serious about upgrading the port of Novorossiysk to support at least a few submarines.

3.  Construction.  It is feasible that six new Kilos could be built by 2017.  Two are currently under construction at Admiralty Shipyards.  It is rumored that SevMash will begin construction of a third unit next month.  And there are more rumors that Krasnoye Sormovo in Nizhniy Novgorod soon could get back in the submarine construction business.

4.  Why the Black Sea?  According to a September 2009 document uncovered by the WikiLeaks project, Admiral Mark Fitzgerald (Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe) informed the Spanish Ministry of Defense of its European Phased, Adaptive Approach (PAA) to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD).  Admiral Fitzgerald “noted the extensive plans and requirements for ship-based ballistic missile defense in the Black Sea region.”  Fitzgerald told reporters in April 2010 the BMD ships probably would need to patrol the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea.

The Russians can read WikiLeaks and Navy Times, too.  And so it is no surprise that Russia now views any Aegis-capable ship (equipped with either AN/SPY-1A or AN/SPY-1B) operating in the Black Sea as something worthy of taking a closer look.  In 2011, Ticonderoga-class cruisers USS ANZIO (CG 68), USS MONTEREY (CG 61) and USS PHILIPPINE SEA (CG 58) conducted operations in the Black Sea.  In January 2012, Ticonderoga USS VELLA GULF (CG 72) also operated in the Black Sea region.  Obviously, the U.S. Navy has both an interest and the will to operate in the Black Sea despite Russia’s negative perceptions of the United States’ plans to deploy BMD assets in its backyard.

Having seven Kilo submarines in its arsenal would allow Russia to counter U.S./NATO forces operating in the Black Sea should tensions worsen in the region.  Given that the new Project 06363-type Kilo will be armed with the Kalibr missile system, capable of launching the 3M54/SS-N-27 antiship cruise missile and the 3M14/SS-N-30 long-range (in excess of 1,000 kilometers) land-attack cruise missile, U.S./NATO forces will have fun trying to keep track of how many LACMs actually are deployed at sea and at which facilities those missiles are targeted.