Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cam Ranh Bay Submarine Base

Location of Cam Ranh Bay Submarine Base
Below are some photos taken this year of the Cam Ranh Bay Submarine Base, which was established to support the six Kilo submarines built by Russia between 2010 and 2016.

View from HQ building towards barracks, club, and sports center
View from HQ building towards administrative buildings and barracks
View from HQ building towards club and training center
HQ building
Submarine piers
Floating dry dock
Parade grounds

Below are snapshots of Google Earth showing the timeline of construction of the new submarine base.

August 24, 2009
June 27, 2011
July 13, 2012
January 10, 2013
March 25, 2013
March 2, 2014

Friday, June 19, 2015

Update: Pacific Fleet Preparing for Large-Scale Exercise

Kilo submarine spotted near La Perouse Strait -- June 18
(credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense)

It took a little time, but the Eastern Military District has finally announced what was already evident: the Pacific Fleet is carrying out a large exercise. According to today's announcements:

The readiness of fleet forces (troops) to carry out actions as part of tactical groups will be inspected during the exercise, which will be under the control of combined unit commanders in the Sea of Japan, the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, and in Avacha Bay.

During the phased inspection, levels of combat readiness of execution of elements of combat training will be assessed for ship, submarine, naval aviation and coastal troop commands on the Kamchatka Peninsula and in the Primorye Kray. Nearly 50 ships and auxiliary vessels, 40 aircraft and helicopters, and up to 14,000 servicemen and civilian specialists will be part of the inspection.

Additionally, Kamchatka-based SSC-1 Sepal coastal defense cruise missile units have been put on alert and deployed to launch points as part of the exercise.

Not much in terms of naval ship participation has changed since this unfolding exercise was first discussed on Monday. According to social media, Sovremennyy destroyer "Bystryy" and Udaloy I destroyers "Admiral Vinogradov" and "Marshal Shaposhnikov" departed Vladivostok earlier this week after loading weapons at nearby Fokino. And Kilo submarine activity continues to be observed near the La Perouse Strait.

While the official announcements so far only point to a naval exercise, there have been some other notable training events in the Eastern Military District this week that may suggest the naval training activities could morph into a larger military district event.

  • During one training event, 300 district-level peacekeeping troops were ordered to provide security at an unspecified Primorye Kray airfield as humanitarian aid was being flown in and as refugees were being flown out of an area that had experienced some type of emergency. Nearly 300 soldiers and naval infantrymen were activated for this event.
  • On June 18, Airborne Troops, along with MI-8 Hip and MI-24 Hind helicopters, SU-25 Frogfoot close air support fighters, and IL-76 Candid transport aircraft, held a command-staff exercise at the Sosonovyy Bor training range near Ulan-Ude. One of the BMD-2 vehicles dropped during the training fell to the ground after its parachute failed to deploy. The accident may have led to a forest fire which has spread to nearly 730 hectares, although local officials are still investigating.
  • Nearly 2,000 district troops and 600 pieces of heavy equipment are deploying to the Sergeyevskiy training grounds in the Primorye area for live-fire drills.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pacific Fleet Preparing for Large-Scale Exercise

Grisha frigate "Koreyets" conducts eastbound transit of La Perouse Strait - June 1, 2015
(credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense)
It appears that Vladivostok-based naval units are heading towards Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Islands, and the Kamchatka Peninsula for what has become an annual event: preparing for the next Eastern Military District-level exercise.

It's hard to hide their movements when they transit the La Perouse Strait, which runs between Russia (Sakhalin Island) and Japan (Hokkaido). Below are the dates and units that have conducted an eastbound transit of the La Perouse Strait so far:

June 1 Grisha frigates "Koreyets" and "Metel"
June 5 unidentified Kilo submarine
June 7 Tarantul III patrol ships R-19, R-29, and R-298
June 9 unidentified Kilo submarine
June 10 unidentified Kilo submarine

Unidentified Kilo submarine conducts eastbound transit of La Perouse Strait - June 10, 2015
(credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense)
Based on social media clues, the following ships are also heading out on voyages lasting anywhere from one to two months, thus making them prime candidates for whatever events are about to occur east of the La Perouse Strait:

  • Alligator landing ship "Nikolay Vilkov"
  • Grisha frigate "Sovetskaya Gavan"
  • Slava cruiser "Varyag"
  • Sovremennyy destroyer "Bystryy"
  • Udaloy I destroyer "Admiral Vinogradov"
  • Udaloy I destroyer "Marshal Shaposhnikov"
  • Vishnya intelligence collection ship SSV-208 "Kurily"

Past Eastern Military District-level exercises have been spread out across a vast region, from Sakhalin Island to the Bering Sea. Some of these units will not transit beyond Sakhalin Island, while others will preposition to the Kamchatka area to await further orders. As a reminder, last year's workup for the "Vostok-2014" operational-strategic exercise also took place east of Kamchatka.

And another MOD "surprise inspection" before the main event should be no surprise to anyone.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Where in the World is "Admiral Panteleyev"?

Udaloy I destroyer "Admiral Panteleyev" - undated

On February 4, a Russian Navy Pacific Fleet surface action group led by Udaloy I-class destroyer "Admiral Panteleyev" departed Vladivostok for what was supposed to be a three-month deployment. That deployment has now stretched into its fifth month, and no one knows for sure when it will return to its home port.

The group, which also includes two auxiliary vessels (Dubna tanker "Pechenga" and Goryn rescue tug "SB-522"), was reported to be conducting training in the South China Sea a week later. The group was supposed to arrive in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, but that port call never happened due to changes in operational plans, according to an anonymous source.

Following a short port call in Sattahip, Thailand, in early March, a six-day port call in Langkawa, Malaysia, in mid-March, and a brief port call in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in late march, "Admiral Panteleyev" and its support vessels headed into the Indian Ocean. The official story ends when the ships departed Colombo on April 1.

The reason the Russian MOD has not released any new information on the group's whereabouts may be connected to the mission it is currently performing. On April 12, the MOD announced that Black Sea Fleet Vishnya intelligence collection ship SSV-201 "Priazovye" was involved in evacuating combat zone refuges from Yemen to Djibouti, even though the spy ship's participation began at least two weeks earlier. If the "Admiral Panteleyev" group were some how involved in an ongoing humanitary mission, one might expect the MOD to publicly tout the destroyer's efforts. But there has only been silence.

Social media, on the other hand, has provided a few clues. In early May, the destroyer was reportedly anchored near Africa, but not in a port. In early June, "Pechenga" made a port call in Salalah, Oman, to take on supplies before returning to the destroyer's location. It seems the destroyer hadn't moved from the same anchorage at which it arrived in May. While the exact whereabouts remain a mystery, according to one source, the ship is supposed to conduct a port call - somewhere - in the coming days. As for when it might return to Vladivostok, one source indicated mid-August as a likely time frame.

What is "Admiral Panteleyev" doing that is so secret?

MOD vs Zvezdochka Shipyard: Oscar II "Orel"

Oscar II submarine "Orel" undergoing dock repairs at 82nd Shipyard (Roslyakovo) - March 31, 2012
credit: avsky
On December 30, 2010, the Russian Ministry of Defense signed state contract R/1/2/0137/GK-11-DGOZ with Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center for service maintenance and repairs of Northern Fleet ships and submarines, to include Oscar II submarine "Orel", Sierra II submarine "Pskov", and Victor III submarines "Obninsk" and "Tambov". Costs included in the table of work to be performed on "Orel" totaled RUB 10,529,136. While the contract was signed in December 2010, the specific repairs for "Orel" were not approved by the MOD until May 22, 2012 - nearly 17 months after the contract was signed. According to the contract, all work under the contract was to be completed by December 31, 2012.

On December 25, 2014, the MOD filed papers with the Arbitration Court of Moscow seeking RUB 3,042,920 in compensation for the shipyard's failure to complete the agreed to work on "Orel" by the specified deadline. According to its complaint, the MOD stated that some elements of the submarine's repairs were not completed as of October 16, 2013, or 289 days after the contract deadline.

The court determined that nearly all contract line items for the "Orel" repairs were completed by the deadline. Two line items, totaling RUB 7,260,831, were completed by May 13, 2013. However, this delay was caused in part by the MOD's failure to finalize the specifics of the submarine's repairs as they related to those two line items until May 2012.

On April 2, 2015, the court issued its decision (A40-217314/2014) in which it found Zvezdochka was not authorized to unilaterally stop work under the contract, as it violated Articles 309 and 310 of the Russian State Code. The court, however, dismissed the MOD's claim that a contract having multiple line items can only be considered complete when all line items have been completed. Since the shipyard did complete all but two of the line items within the stated deadline, the court limited the shipyard's compensation to the MOD to RUB 500,000 (about 16% of what the MOD was seeking), plus another RUB 13,000 in court fees.

Within a few days, both sides filed appeals with the 9th Arbitration Appeals Court, which is scheduled to begin reviewing the case on July 7.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Upgrading Barents Sea Undersea Surveillance

Sierra II nuclear-powered submarine "Kostroma" after collision with "USS Baton Rouge" in 1992
The Russian Ministry of Defense is planning to install a new, modernized MGK-608M fixed undersea surveillance system in the Barents Sea by the end of 2016. The announced contract covers the installation, set-up, and calibration of the system, but not the production of the system – which suggests that the system has already been produced. The contract also covers training of operators at the Northern Fleet’s Experimental Sonar Facility in Severomorsk. The total cost of the MOD contract is RUB 216,349,700.

Based on the contract (RA/1/04/Р/0347/2015), at-sea installation of the MGK-608M will be performed by a Northern Fleet cable ship. This most likely will be the fleet’s only operational Klasma-class cable ship – “Inguri”. The contract also contains other interesting details:

  • this MGK-608M will replace a prototype MGK-608M system installed some time earlier
  • there are passive and active elements of the system
  • the current passive section will be lengthened by 105 kilometers
  • the system will be connected to an Alevrit “functional surveillance control system” [procurement and installation of the Alevrit system is covered under state contract RA/1/04/Р/0346/2015]
  • the cable ship will spend 218 days in port and 50 days at sea loading, checking, installing, and calibrating elements of the system

An earlier version of the undersea surveillance system, MGK-608, has been in operation since the mid-1990s. Contracts for repairs of the MGK-608 in 2007-2008 indicate that the older system was still functional at that time.

Annual stockholder reports (2011-2013) for the Special Draft Design Bureau of Control Systems showed that the company was working on software improvements for MGK-608 systems under a State Defense Order for the “Severyanin” program; its efforts were to continue into 2015. Additionally, the reports indicated that the company has been working on a component of a Scientific Research Project (OKR) called “Silda” under state contract 253/10/8/К/0028-07 (signed September 28, 2007). The contract stipulated that work on OKR “Silda” was to occur between September 2007 and March 2015. Thus, while there appears to be a link between MGK-608, the “Severyanin” project, and OKR “Silda”, the link between these efforts and either the prototype or newer MGK-608M is not yet clear.

MGK-608E undersea surveillance system offered for export
(credit: Atoll Scientific Research Institute)

The MGK-608 has been offered for export (MGK-608E) by the Atoll Scientific Research Institute. According to the company’s website:

The MGK-608E fixed passive sonar system is made up of a number of linear phased antenna arrays, consisting of receiving elements (hydrophones), which are installed on the seabed and can be extended to a range of dozens or hundreds of kilometers from the shoreline.

The system, which has a reported 90% accuracy rate in detecting submarines, can be installed at a depth of up to 1,000 meters, with the hydrophones extending up to 200 kilometers from shore.

Locations of 1992-1993 submarine collisions in the Barents Sea
(credit: Wikipedia)

With claims of multiple detections of foreign submarines operating in the Barents Sea dating back as far as the 1960s, Russia views the presence of NATO submarines in the Barents Sea as a constant irritant. Submarine collisions in 1986, 1992, and 1993 have added to Moscow’s concerns that NATO boats regularly operate in their back yard with impunity. In August 2014, Russian submarines detected what they believed to be a Virginia-class submarine conducting operations in the Barents Sea. This February, Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer published an article written by Rear Admiral (retired) Sergey Zhandarov in which he stipulated that the U.S. Navy Virginia-class submarine “New Hampshire” operated in the Barents Sea for some period between February 11 and August 13, 2014, likely referring to the same submarine detection reported above.

Daily Operations Center at the National Defense Command Center - 2015
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)

While installation of the newer MGK-608M undersea surveillance system may provide local officials improved warning of the presence of foreign submarines in the Barents Sea, it will also keep decision-makers at the new National Defense Command Center apprised of ongoing activity in the area as part of the growing Common State Maritime and Undersea Surveillance System (Rus: ЕГСОНПО). The MGK-608M, along with other sensors and data sources, will provide Moscow with a common operating picture of activities occurring in and around Russia. Not only will duty officers in Moscow be informed in near-real time when the fleet has detected a foreign submarine, they will be able to monitor the fleet's response to the intruder, as well.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Russia’s Anonymous Sources Try to Sink U.S. Destroyer

"USS Ross" conducting northbound transit of Turkish Straits – May 23, 2015
[credit: Yörük Işık]
Russian news outlets were overly active this weekend recycling and enhancing a story that originated from two anonymous sources who want you to believe that a U.S. destroyer operated in, or extremely close to, Russia’s territorial waters until it was chased away by fighter-bombers – all while the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Russian Deputy Minister of Defense were both in Singapore discussing security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer “USS Ross” (DDG 71) entered the Black Sea on May 23 to “work closely with [U.S.] allies and partners to enhance maritime security, readiness, and naval capability, and to promote peace and stability in the region.” The U.S. destroyer is the latest in a long series of naval ships from the U.S. and other foreign nations to regularly operate in international waters in the Black Sea much to the dismay of Russia. Moscow considers naval operations by non-Black Sea littoral countries – more specifically by NATO countries – in the Black Sea to be provocative.

After completing drills with Romanian naval forces on May 28, the destroyer continued independent operations in the Black Sea, apparently in the vicinity of the Crimean Peninsula. On May 30, RIA Novosti (aka MIA Russia Today) published a news article in which an unnamed “source in a Crimean power structure” reported that Black Sea Fleet SU-24 Fencer fighter-bombers were scrambled and successfully “forced” the U.S. destroyer, which was operating in a “provocative and aggressive” manner, “to depart for neutral waters in the eastern portion of the Black Sea.”

As the source never said “USS Ross” was operating within Russia’s territorial waters, this story could be characterized as routine activity for the two nations’ navies as viewed by an excitable RIA Novosti anonymous source. But then the source loses all credibility when he says that the “Americans have not forgotten the incident in April 2014 when one SU-24 actually ‘shut down’ all of the instruments on the new American destroyer ‘USS Donald Cook’, which has ballistic missile defense elements.” Even the Russian Ministry of Defense had to chuckle at that version of the April event.

Seeing an opportunity to prove it’s still relevant,, masquerading as, published its own amazing details in an article titled ‘SU-24s Almost Sink NATO Destroyer in Black Sea’. According to its article, the U.S. destroyer was “lit up by a ‘Bastion’ system from a Black Sea Fleet missile ship.” That’s a mistake – Bastion is a coastal defense cruise missile, not a sea-based weapon. The article goes on to say, citing an unnamed “highly-placed” MOD source, that “USS Ross” was within 50 meters of the “border” – presumably Russia’s territorial waters.

What’s strange is that both anonymously-sourced reports would have you remember, but then forget, that one or more Russian naval ships, armed with guns and anti-ship cruise missiles, were trailing the U.S. destroyer at the time. This raises several obvious questions:

  • Why did the escorts not operate between Crimea and the destroyer to prevent the latter from entering or coming that close to Russian territorial waters?
  • Why were SU-24s scrambled to deal with the incursion? Where the escorts incapable of dealing with that mission?
  • Why would the destroyer even attempt such a dangerous undertaking knowing that the Crimean-based SSC-5 Stooge and SSC-6 Sennight coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as the escort ships and land-based fighter-bombers, could and likely would respond to an incursion?

If this incident occurred on Friday or Saturday, then it would have coincided with the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, which was attended by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoliy Antonov. And Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s introduction of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa region.

Did SU-24s fly near “USS Ross” as it operated in the Black Sea? Yes, as the U.S. 6th Fleet confirmed on Sunday. No official statement has yet been made by either side as to exactly when and where this activity occurred. The RF Ministry of Defense and Ministry for Foreign Affairs have been silent about the “incident” all weekend – probably because no serious “incident” actually occurred. The official websites for both agencies were open for business and publishing news over the weekend, but not a single mention of any "incident."

RF Ministry for Foreign Affairs silent on Black Sea "incident"

But “non-incidents” don’t sell newspapers, nor do they generate advertising money. So, expect both Russian and non-Russian media outlets alike to rehash the event on Monday as they bring in “experts” (with no reliable access to the details of the event) who will state unequivocally that Russia or the U.S. or NATO (depending on which country you’re in) is destabilizing regional security in the Black Sea. Expect flashy, nonsensical headlines, like “NATO-Russia Cold War Stand-Off in Black Sea” or “Did Putin Order Strike on U.S. Destroyer?”

It would be interesting to attend the next INCSEA [English] [Russian] talks to hear what either side has to say about the most recent event... if anything.