Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Transshelf" Departs Russia with Nuke Boats

Locations of "Hai Yang Shi You 278" (pink) and "Transshelf" (green) on August 30
The Dockwise semi-submersible heavy-lift vessel "Transshelf" departed Avachinskaya Guba (Russia) today after having onloaded two Russian Navy Pacific Fleet Akula I-class nuclear-powered submarines last week. At 1200 GMT today, it was located about 8nm southeast of Mys Mayachnyy. "Transshelf" is now expected to transit the Arctic Northern Sea Route and arrive in the White Sea in approximately two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Dockwise semi-submersible heavy-lift vessel "Hai Yang Shi You 278", with an Oscar II-class nuclear-powered missile submarine on board, remains anchored in Avachinskaya Guba.

For previous reporting, see my August 14 and August 28 blog entries.

Russia Keeping Tabs on Alaska

Location of Balzam-class intelligence collection ship "SSV-80" [Map courtesy of Google Maps]

The Russian Navy Pacific Fleet's Balzam-class intelligence collection ship "SSV-80" (aka "Pribaltika") was spotted in late August in the Chukchi Sea, about 57nm northwest of Icy Point and about 147nm west of Point Barrow, Alaska. I wonder if this is part of the upcoming (already ongoing?) exercise Vostok-2014 that I mentioned a few days ago. Or, perhaps, the Northern Fleet task group that is preparing to depart Severomorsk will travel farther east than the New Siberian Islands as has been reported by the RF Ministry of Defense.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nuke Boats Loaded on Heavy-Lift Vessels

Akula I SSN "Samara" (left) and "Bratsk" (right) loaded on TRANSSHELF [photo: Express-Kamchatka]
                                                     [click here for August 30 update]

As a quick update to my previous post, Both Akula I-class nuclear-powered submarine "Bratsk" and "Samara" were loaded on the semi-submersible heavy-lift vessel "Transshelf", and Oscar II-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine "Chelyabinsk" on the semi-submersible heavy-lift vessel "Hai Yang Shi You 278" over the past few days. The loading operations took place in Avachinskaya Guba near 5258N 15832E. Both vessels are expected to begin their respective transits in the next 48 hours.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Russia's Secret Naval Exercise

Depictions of area closures [Courtesy: Google Earth; Data: GEBCO, NGA, NOAA, SIO, U.S. Navy]

Russian Navy public affairs officers must be on extended summer vacations, because they haven't been churning out press releases on a major exercise off the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russian Far East) set to commence as early as this Thursday. I mean, with all these recent reports of ghost submarines appearing off Russian coastlines, someone's got to be in the office -- those intelligence leaks didn't just happen by themselves. [More on the ghost submarines in a later blog entry.]

Two area closures have been announced for August 28 through September 5:
  • HYDROPAC 2470/14 (larger area closure)

    DAILY 28, 29 AUG, 04 AND 05 SEP
    50-06-18N 161-38-54E, 50-34-48N 160-14-30E,
    51-23-54N 159-44-24E, 52-16-24N 158-31-30E,
    53-05-48N 160-01-48E, 51-28-54N 163-34-00E,
    51-08-18N 163-18-30E, 50-16-12N 162-11-00E.
    2. CANCEL THIS MSG 060900Z SEP 14.//

    Authority: NAVAREA XIII 77/14 230915Z AUG 14.
    Cancel: 06090000 Sep 14
  • HYDROPAC 2482/14 (smaller area closure)

    52-30N 52-41N AND 159-44E 160-07E.
    2. CANCEL THIS MSG 040900Z SEP 14.//

    Authority: NAVAREA XIII 79/14 250916Z AUG 14.
    Cancel: 04090000 Sep 14
So, what's happening here? According to internet chatter, the following surface combatants recently transited (or soon might) from the Pacific Fleet's main naval base in Vladivostok to ports on the Kamchatka Peninsula (arriving on August 25):
  • Slava-class cruiser "Varyag"
  • Sovremennyy-class destroyer "Bystryy" (may have engine problems)
  • Udaloy I-class destroyers "Admiral Panteleyev", "Admiral Vinogradov", and "Marshal Shaposhnikov" (the latter will join up in September)
  • Grisha III-class light frigate "Kholmsk"
  • Grisha V-class light frigate "Sovetskaya Gavan"

The large area closure is well suited for the SS-N-12/Sandbox and SS-N-22/Sunburn anti-ship cruise missiles fired by the Slava and Sovremennyy, respectively.

Is this the start of this year's premier military exercise - Vostok-2014? Previous mentions of Vostok-2014 only indicated that the exercise would occur in September, and most recently, in mid-September. And one netizen wrote, "[Vostok-2014] will last the entire month of September." Military public affairs officers oddly have not provided more definitive dates. If this week's events aren't part of Vostok-2014, then they certainly are meant to prepare ships' crews for it.

Also, according to internet chatter, many of these combatant ships will be away from Vladivostok for up to one month, leaving them plenty of time to conduct additional combat drills. This tidbit of information could confirm the "visible" (to the media) part of Vostok-2014 exercise will occur mid- or late September. We'll need to track President Putin's and Minister of Defense Shoygu's travel schedules over the next few weeks.

As for non-naval participation in Vostok-2014, internet chatter indicates elements of the 38th Separate Motorized-Rifle Brigade have deployed (or soon will) to the Kamchatka Peninsula. About a dozen or so Su-27SM and Su-35 fighters (from Dzemgi and/or Uglovaya) have been deployed there since at least mid-August.

Furthermore, according to internet chatter and somewhat confirmed by this company-press-release-turned-news-article, "Varyag" will continue on an extended deployment to the Indian Ocean following the Vostok-2014 exercise. The deployment has been described by one source as lasting up to six months -- unsure if that six-month counter started when "Varyag" left Vladivostok, or if it will start after Vostok-2014 is over. In either case, a sailor on board the cruiser reported recently that he is going on a deployment that will last until February 2015 during which "Varyag" will make port calls in Indonesia, Singapore, (South?) Korea, and two other unnamed ports.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why is the Netherlands Helping the Russian Navy Right Now?

"Transshelf" ferries two Victor III SSN, July 2009 [photo: HeavyLift RU]
                                                               [click here for August 28 update]
                                                               [click here for August 30 update]

As the world continues to wait for officials to finish their investigation of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tragedy in which 193 Dutch citizens perished, the Dutch company Dockwise Shipping BV is quietly preparing to assist the Russian Navy ferry three nuclear-powered attack submarines to Russian shipyards. With the possibility of Russian complicity in the MH17 tragedy, why would the Netherlands allow these operations to continue?

The semi-submersible heavy-lift ship "Transshelf" departed Singapore on July 24, briefly stopped in China in early August, then continued towards Rybachiy Submarine Base on the Kamchatka Peninsula, where it arrived on August 12 (local time). Locals mistook it for "Blue Marlin", another Dockwise ship. As of August 15, "Transshelf" was anchored in Avachinskaya Bukhta near 5258N 15833E. The ship is scheduled to ferry two Akula I-class SSN ("Bratsk" and "Samara") – via the Arctic Northern Sea Route (NSR) -- to Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center in Severodvinsk (White Sea). The approved window for the NSR transit is August 25-September 15, 2014.

The second ship, "Hai Yang Shi You 278", departed Dalian, China, on August 10 and is scheduled to arrive at Rybachiy Submarine Base on August 18. It will be used to ferry an Oscar II-class SSGN ("Chelyabinsk") to Zvezda Far East Shipyard in Bolshoy Kamen (near Vladivostok).

I hope the grieving families of those who perished on MH17 are okay with this...

Update 1: Here is a news item (+ video) from July 2009 when "Transshelf" conducted the world's first ferry mission of two nuclear-powered attack submarines (Russian Victor III SSN).

Update 2: A review of the NSR Administration website indicates Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center (on behalf of Dockwise Shipping BV) submitted a request on April 14 for "Transshelf" to transit the NSR; the NSR Administration approved the request two days later.

Update 3: Updated arrival date for "Transshelf" in the Rybachiy area (August 12).

Update 4: Updated latest position for "Transshelf" as of August 15.