Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Yauza" Heading to Black Sea

AIS tracking of "Yauza" -- September 10-27, 2015
Since September 10, a vessel named "Yauza" has been making its way from Severomorsk, Russia, to the Turkish Straits, presumably headed for the Black Sea. The day before getting underway, the vessel was at a Severomorsk weapons handling facility (home of the 571st Technical Missile Base), where it was located between 0946 UTC on September 9 and 0456 UTC on September 10. What activity was conducted there is a mystery.
AIS tracking of "Yauza" showing it at a Severomorsk weapons handling facility on September 8-10, 2015
The vessel has made no known port calls since leaving Severomorsk. "Yauza" was noted tracking north through the Turkish Straits today when it unexpectedly turned around between 1222 UTC and 1510 UTC. The vessel continued tracking to the southwest until 1647 UTC when it reached a holding point located ~14 nautical miles east of the Greek Island of Lemnos.
AIS tracking of "Yauza" on September 27, 2015
Given the name and departure port, this appears to be the Northern Fleet cargo and personnel vessel "Yauza". If true, its apparent voyage to the Black Sea would be unusual and could be related to the ongoing transfer of Russian military personnel and materiel to Syria.
Amguema cargo vessel "Yauza" in 2007 -- before conversion
credit: Denis Nemetovskiy
Amguema-class cargo vessel (Rus: Project 550M special-purpose large naval dry cargo vessel) "Yauza" was built at Kherson Shipyard for the Soviet Navy. It was laid down in April 1974 and joined the Northern Fleet in 1975. In 1988, the vessel was resubordinated to the Ministry of Defense's 12th Main Directorate, which oversees military nuclear safety and security programs. Since then, the vessel had been used to transport cargo between the Russian mainland and Novaya Zemlya.
Commemorative booklet celebrating Nerpa Shipyard's 50th anniversary in September 2015
credit: Nerpa Shipyard
On April 3, 2008, the Ministry of Defense signed a contract (253/05/7/K/0329-08) with Nerpa Shipyard in Snezhnogorsk (Murmansk Oblast) to perform capital repairs, modernization, and conversion of "Yauza", to include increasing the number of passengers it could carry to 98. The vessel's superstructure was lengthened, and two new cranes were installed: one on the bow (Liebherr CBW 60/16, 60 metric ton lift capacity) and one on the stern (9 metric ton lift capacity). Other changes included the installation of new main (4 х 1,500 kW) and emergency (1 х 200 kW) diesel generators, steam boilers (2 x 4,000 kg/h), and modern control, safety, and communications systems. The vessel has four cargo holds.
Amguema cargo + passenger vessel "Yauza" in June 2014 -- after conversion
On October 8, 2012, “Yauza” was relaunched. The vessel commenced post-modernization factory sea trials in June 2014 and was turned back over to the Northern Fleet in May 2015. In July, employees of the 51st Central Design and Technology Institute of Ship Repairs received awards for developing design documentation for the vessel's repairs and modernization.

The “Yauza” conversion was not completed without a few scandals. In October 2013, investigators claimed that Nerpa Shipyard had not completed RUB 415 million in work for which it had already been paid. Additionally, the price of the original contract had grown an additional RUB 159.8 million. Contracts fulfilled just between July 2013 and December 2014 totaled RUB 28,006,934, including RUB 6,000,000 for round-trip towing services between Nerpa Shipyard and Severodvinsk in 2014. The final cost of the project reportedly more than doubled from the original RUB 1.6 billion to nearly RUB 4 billion. In July 2015, former Nerpa Shipyard general director Aleksandr Gorbunov was sentenced to four years in prison and fined RUB 600,000 for falsely claiming the shipyard had completed repairs on "Yauza" for which it received RUB 10 million. In September, shipyard employees were still waiting to be paid salaries for June through August. When one worker asked via social media where the money for employees' salaries had disappeared to, another responded it had "sailed away" with "Yauza".

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Russian Navy Exercise in Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Flight bans (yellow) and flight route restrictions (green) for Russian Navy combat drills -- September 30-October 7, 2015

Amidst the ongoing transfer of military personnel and materiel from Russia to the Syrian port of Tartus and the deployment of Russian aircraft to Syria comes the announcement that Russian Navy ships will hold drills in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in September and October. According to a September 24 Russian defense ministry press release, Slava-class cruiser "Moskva", Kashin-class destroyer "Smetlivyy", Alligator-class landing ship "Saratov" and an unknown number of auxiliary vessels will conduct anti-submarine, anti-air, and anti-ship warfare drills in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the coming weeks; "Moskva" will serve as the command ship for the exercise.

Flight bans and route restrictions for the exercise were announced in early and mid-September:
THE AREA INCLUDES BUFFER ZONE. SFC - FL660, SEP 30 AND OCT 05-07 0500-1500, 30 SEP 05:00 2015 UNTIL 07 OCT 15:00 2015. CREATED: 03 SEP 07:25 2015

2.R/UR78, M/UM978 (ALSUS-NIKAS).

SEP 30 AND OCT 05-07 0500-1500, 30 SEP 05:00 2015 UNTIL 07 OCT 15:00 2015. CREATED: 03 SEP 07:30 2015

THE AREA INCLUDES BUFFER ZONE. SFC - FL660, 01-07 0500-1700, 01 OCT 05:00 2015 UNTIL 07 OCT 17:00 2015. CREATED: 17 SEP 09:55 2015

2.R/UR78, M/UM978 (TOSKA-TOBAL).
01-07 0500-1700, 01 OCT 05:00 2015 UNTIL 07 OCT 17:00 2015. CREATED: 17 SEP 10:03 2015
"Moskva" departing Sevastopol on September 24, 2015
(credit: A. Balabin)
Flight bans and route restrictions for Russian Navy activity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea have become a routine occurrence. Similar activity took place as far back as July 2012 (A0614/12) and more recently in July 2015 (A0819/15 + A0820/15 + A0821/15 + A0822/15) and August 2015 (A0959/15 + A0964/2015).

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Impending Bulava Missile Launch

Area closure, flight bans, and flight corridor restriction for Bulava missile launch -- September 11-15, 2015

On September 9, RIA Novosti and TASS, citing their separate anonymous sources, reported that Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered submarines would launch Bulava (SS-N-32) ballistic missiles in the October-November time frame. According to RIA Novosti, "Vladimir Monomakh" would launch first, followed by a dual launch by "Aleksandr Nevskiy" and "Vladimir Monomakh". TASS's source stated that "Vladimir Monomakh" will perform a salvo launch in November, and that no other Bulava launches will occur this year.

It is odd that neither of them mentioned this week's scheduled ballistic missile launch.

Area closures, flight bans, and flight corridor restrictions have been issued for a missile launch that will occur between 11 and 15 September. The missile will be launched from the White Sea and impact at the Kura Test Range on the Kamchatka Peninsula.


DNC 22.
1. HAZARDOUS OPERATIONS 111300Z TO 112000Z, 131000Z TO 132100Z, 141000Z TO 141900Z SEP AND 1000Z TO 2300Z DAILY 12 AND 15 SEP IN AREA BOUND BY 73-05N 051-00E, 72-30N 052-47E, 71-24N 049-25E, 72-00N 047-20E.
2. CANCEL THIS MSG 160001Z SEP 15.

SFC - UNL, 11 1300-2000, 13 1000-2100, 14 1000-1900, 12 15 1000-2300, 11 SEP 13:00 2015 UNTIL 15 SEP 23:00 2015.

720000N 0472000E-730500N 0510000E-724700N 0514000E-714500N 0504000E-712400N 0492500E.
SFC - UNL, 11 1300-2000, 13 1000-2100, 14 1000-1900, 12 15 1000-2300, 11 SEP 13:00 2015 UNTIL 15 SEP 23:00 2015.

SFC - 1500M AGL, 11-15 1000-2300, 11 SEP 10:00 2015 UNTIL 15 SEP 23:00 2015.

SFC - 1500M AGL, DAILY 1000-2300, 11 SEP 10:00 2015 UNTIL 15 SEP 23:00 2015.

SFC - UNL, 11 1300-2000, 13 1000-2100, 14 1000-1900, 12 15 1000-2300, 11 SEP 13:00 2015 UNTIL 15 SEP 23:00 2015.

1. ПУСКИ РАКЕТНЫЕ 11 СЕНТ 1300 ДО 2000 12 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 2300 13 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 2100 14 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 1900 15 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 2300 ЗАПРЕТНОМ ПЛАВАНИЯ РАЙОНЕ 65-13.0С 036-27.0В 65-38.0С 036-27.0В 66-12.0С 037-17.0В 65-52.0С 038-35.0В 65-13.0С 037-39.0В
2. ОТМ ЭТОТ НР 152359 СЕНТ

НАВАРЕА 200 139/15 КАРТА 11163
1. ПУСКИ РАКЕТНЫЕ 11 СЕНТ 1300 ДО 2000 12 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 2300 13 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 2100 14 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 1900 15 СЕНТ 1000 ДО 2300 ПЛАВАНИЕ ЗАПРЕЩЕНО ТЕРВОДАХ ОПАСНО ИХ ПРЕДЕЛАМИ РАЙОНЕ 73-05.0С 051-00.0В 72-30.0С 052-47.0В 71-24.0С 049-25.0В 72-00.0С 047-20.0В
2. ОТМ ЭТОТ НР 152359 СЕНТ

Reporting from last week indicated "Vladimir Monomakh" had arrived in Severodvinsk in advance of a scheduled Bulava launch. As there is no other submarine known to be currently available in the White Sea to launch a ballistic missile, the most likely scenario is that "Vladimir Monomakh" will launch at least one Bulava. "Vladimir Monomakh" last launched a Bulava in September 2014.

Is it just a coincidence that this missile launch will occur on the eve of the opening of the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, which will be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Follow-Up 1: Where in the World is "Aleksandr Nevskiy"?

Since "Aleksandr Nevskiy" departed Gadzhiyevo in mid-August for its interfleet transfer, Russia's three main news outlets have all taken a stab at reporting when the submarine will arrive in Rybachiy. Below is a summary of their reports.

Note: In Russia, a calendar month can be broken into three 10-day periods, known as a dekada. Thus, the first dekada equates to the first 10 days of the month, and so on.

  • Source: "source familiar with the situation"
  • Comment 1: "arrival in Vilyuchinsk is expected in the early part of the third dekada in September" -- This would roughly equate to September 21-24.
  • Comment 2: "[source] linked the submarine's interfleet transfer to the actions of a number of Northern Fleet ships currently operating along the Northern Sea Route" -- This seems unlikely, as the Northern Fleet ships, as in previous years, are likely hugging Russia's northern coastline to avoid frequent interaction with ice, while the submarine should be operating under the ice.
  • Source: "fleet headquarters source"
  • Comment 1: "departed Gadzhiyevo on August 15" -- That seems to be incorrect based on the previous blog entry showing crew members updating their social media accounts through August 18.
  • Comment 2: "expected in [Rybachiy] in the second dekada of the month" -- This would equate to September 11-20.

  • Source: "highly placed Pacific Fleet HQ source"
  • Comment 1: "will arrive in Kamchatka, as planned, in the third dekada of September" -- This would equate to September 21-30.
  • Comment 2: "Vladimir Monomakh" will arrive in Kamchatka either in late 2015 or in 2016 -- This is a strange statement for two reasons. First, under-ice transfers appear to be timed to coincide with the period when the ice edge has receded to its farthest northern point in a given year. Thus, an under-ice transfer later than October seems unreasonable. Second, all previous statements (albeit unofficial) on the transfer of "Vladimir Monomakh" indicated the submarine will transfer in the fall of 2016. That being said, there have been a few instances of submarines transferring between the two fleets via a southern route: Atlantic Ocean > Drake Passage > Pacific Ocean. This route was used in February-March 1966 for the transfer of two nuclear-powered boats, an Echo II and a November. It was also used for the transfer of two Delta III-class ballistic missile submarines in January-April 1979.
As the above shows, all of the sources had incorrect or highly implausible information that suggests the dates they provided are speculative and may or may not be backed up by any substantive knowledge of the transfer. The fact that the Interfax and RIA Novosti sources both stated the submarine will arrive in Rybachiy in the third dekada is probably just a coincidence. And if "Aleksandr Nevskiy" arrives during the second dekada, it doesn't necessarily mean TASS' source actually knew that time frame to be true when he (or she) provided the information to TASS.

When it comes to any media outlet anywhere in the world... beware of anonymous sources, despite any official-sounding job title attributed to them.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Musical Submarine Rescue Ships

"Sayany" submarine rescue ship in Valletta, Malta - September 3, 2015
[credit" Emmanuel L.]
On August 31, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Black Sea Fleet Prut-class submarine rescue ship "EPRON" had departed the Black Sea en route to India for unspecified "international military cooperation" with that country's naval forces. The ship transited the Suez Canal, entered the Red Sea on September 3, and is scheduled to arrive in India in early October. "EPRON" last deployed out of the Black Sea in 2011 to support NATO's Bold Monarch submarine rescue exercise near Spain.

What exactly "EPRON" will do in India and for how long is unknown. With the departure of the Black Sea Fleet's sole fully functional submarine rescue ship, this would appear to indicate no submarine operations will occur in the Black Sea for some time. However, Pacific Fleet Rudnitskiy-class submarine rescue ship "Sayany" is currently in the Mediterranean Sea. It was photographed in Valletta, Malta, on September 3, and there is reason to believe it will head into the Black Sea in the near future.

So, what's really going on?

All of Russia's four fleets have submarine rescue ships in their inventories:

- The Northern and Pacific Fleets each have two Rudnitskiy-class ships equipped with deep-submergence rescue vehicles (DSRV); the Pacific Fleet also has the DSRV-equipped Elbrus-class ship "Alagez". Both fleets also have two DSRVs; however, one of the Northern Fleet's DSRVs is currently undergoing a two-year maintenance cycle at Kanonerskiy Shipyard (St. Petersburg).

- The Baltic Fleet has one DSRV-equipped Kashtan-class ship - SS-750.

- The Black Sea has the "EPRON" and the 100-year-old Kommuna-class ship "Kommuna". While "EPRON" is equipped with a rescue chamber, since 2007 the "Kommuna" has had no equipment capable of bringing stranded submariners to the surface. It is equipped only with small remotely-operated vehicles (ROV) capable of surveying the distressed submarine and providing limited support to rescue operations.

Thus, the Pacific Fleet is the only fleet with two operational DSRVs, and the only fleet capable of deploying it (on board "Sayany") to the Mediterranean Sea. As with the Baltic and Northern Fleets, the Pacific Fleet can continue submarine operations with a single operational DSRV.

"Kommuna" submarine rescue ship with "AS-5" DSRV on board - December 2005
In a July 17 Krasnaya Zvezda article about "Kommuna" was this tell-tale paragraph:

In the future, "Kommuna" will again have rescue work. In the near future, six new diesel-electric submarines will arrive in the Black Sea Fleet, and the safety of their operations needs to be ensured. And so plans for "Kommuna" include receiving a rescue submersible and carrying out rescue ship missions.

"Kommuna" was last equipped with a DSRV (Project 1837-class "AS-5") between 1998 and 2006. In 2007, "AS-5" was transferred to the Baltic Fleet, where it served until being stricken from service last year. The above statement, however, suggests the rescue ship may once again serve as the mothership for a DSRV. And that DSRV may be delivered by "Sayany".

If the Krasnaya Zvezda article is correct in suggesting "Kommuna" will take on the Pacific Fleet DSRV on a permanent basis, that means "Sayany" will return to Vladivostok empty, leaving the Pacific Fleet with only one DSRV. While that may be workable for a short time, it would be impossible to operate submarines were the sole remaining DSRV to be out-of-service, either for routine or unscheduled maintenance, for many months. And while Russian Navy's four newer Project 18551/Priz-class DSRVs can be transported via air, road, and train between fleet areas, that is far from the optimal way of providing submarine rescue support.

Yet, the Pacific Fleet was forced to operate in just this way in 2005-2008 and 2012-2013 when the fleet's two DSRVs took turns undergoing long-overdue repairs and upgrades. And it is under these conditions that the Northern Fleet is currently operating - one operational DSRV, one undergoing upgrades. However, from a geographical perspective, the impact on the Northern Fleet is negligible compared to the Pacific Fleet. The farthest distance between Northern Fleet submarine bases (Kola area and Severodvinsk) is approximately 330 nautical miles. Placing a rescue ship somewhere between those two bases would ensure a DSRV could be on station to support operations near both bases and could arrive at the location of a distressed submarine in less than 10 hours. The Pacific Fleet, on the other hand, has two submarine bases (Vladivostok and Kamchatka Peninsula) that are located nearly 1,200 nautical miles apart. Placing a DSRV-equipped submarine rescue ship at 600 nautical miles from either base means it would not arrive at the location of a downed submarine for nearly 30 hours.

"Igor Belousov" with "AS-40" DSRV on board - May 7, 2015
[credit: Curious]
Enter Russia's newest submarine rescue ship, "Igor Belousov", with the fleet's newest DSRV, Project 18271/Bester 1-class "AS-40". Since leaving Baltiysk in August for Phase 4 of factory sea trials, the "Igor Belousov" crew has been testing the ship's diver chamber and Pantera Plus ROV at design depths in the Atlantic Ocean. After being commissioned, the rescue ship will eventually join the Pacific Fleet, probably in 2016, which means the fleet will once again have two DSRVs in its inventory.

The transfer of the Pacific Fleet DSRV will provide the Black Sea Fleet with a much needed boost in submarine rescue capabilities. With the arrival of the first new Kilo-class submarine in the Black Sea later this month and five more over the next 18 months, the Russian Navy cannot risk supporting its growing undersea arsenal using 1950's technology.