Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why Did "Rostov-na-Donu" Return to the Baltic Sea?

Screenshot of Ilya Kurganov blog posting -- October 29, 2015

Very early this morning, St. Petersburg blogger Ilya Kurganov (citing unnamed "navy officials") reported that Kilo-class submarine "Rostov-na-Donu" had arrived in Kronshtadt for unscheduled repairs of its electrical plant. According to the blogger:

" began its scheduled transfer to its home port of Novorossiysk on October 16, 2015, but within literally a few days it was necessary to call for a rescue tug, with which it headed to a location where unscheduled repairs will be performed by technicians from Admiralty Shipyards, where the submarine was built."

Interfax, citing an unknown source in the shipbuilding industry, confirmed that the submarine is in the Baltic Sea, but the source would only say that "it was forced to return to the Baltic for technical reasons." Finally, Admiralty Shipyards denied that any Russian Navy officials had contacted the shipyard to provide any technical assistance to the submarine.

Taking a closer look at the Ilya's blog post, we see:

  • The submarine was not in Kronshtadt when the blog posting was published. "Rostov-na-Donu" and the rescue tug, "SB-406", did not arrive in Kronshtadt until 11:50 this morning (local time), nearly 11 hours after the blog posting was published.
  • It was towed to Kronshtadt instead of Admiralty Shipyards, which is located less than 20 miles from Kronshtadt. Why would shipyard technicians have to travel to Kronshtadt to repair the submarine when the submarine could be repaired more easily at the shipyard where it was built? Vietnamese Navy Kilo submarine "Da Nang" left the shipyard yesterday, so there is plenty of room to accommodate "Rostov-na-Donu".
  • If this happened "within literally a few days" of its October 16 departure from Polyarnyy, why was it not towed back to Polyarnyy vice towing it to Kronshtadt - and, again, not even the shipyard that built it? Why risk any other mechanical failures over the course of another week or so of transit time?

In summary, Ilya's reporting doesn't add up, and it's hard to tell who's to blame: Ilya, his sources, or both.

Minutes before the submarine and tug moored in Kronshtadt, a Ministry of Defense official told Interfax that the purpose of the submarine's visit to Kronshtadt was to take on supplies. That makes little sense as the first Kilo submarine to transfer to the Black Sea this year, "Novorossiysk", was able to make it all the way from Polyarnyy to Ceuta, Spain, before having to take on fresh supplies.

This has all the appearance of a public affairs failure that has been noted before. Earlier this year, the Western Military District press service tried, but failed to cover up an actual emergency on board Steregushchiy-class frigate "Steregushchiy" during at-sea training. And military officials have yet to officially discuss what happened on board Delta IV-class ballistic missile submarine "Bryansk" in July 2015 when a crew member drowned in the submarine's sail.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Drafting Commercial Ships into the Russian Navy

"Alican Deval" (aka "Dvinitsa-50") underway in Novorossiysk - October 10, 2015
(credit: Oleg Sushkov)
Moscow apparently has figured out that landing ships are not the most effective way to move large numbers of vehicles and other military hardware to Syria. According to a blog linked to the Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technology, as many as eight commercial vessels were recently purchased for use by the Russian Navy. The ships will be manned by a mix of military and civilian sailors. As many have noted, military ships, which include the newly acquired commercial vessels flying the Russian Navy flag, are not subject to at-sea inspections.

Last AIS position broadcast for "Alican Deval" -- October 11, 2015

The first newly acquired cargo vessel, "Alican Deval", arrived in Novorossiysk on October 7 and was last noted transmitting AIS from the same location at 13:58 UTC on October 11. The last position placed it at the Novorossiysk Trans-Shipping Transportation/Expeditionary Company (NUTEP, for short) [Новороссийское Узловое Транспортно-Экспедиционное Предприятие - НУТЭП]. On October 14, the vessel, now renamed "Dvinitsa-50", was photographed heading south through the Turkish Straits by Alper Boler (@alperboler) and Yörük Işık (@YorukIsik). To date, there have been no known AIS transmissions from a vessel named "Dvinitsa-50".

"Dvinitsa-50" (formerly "Alican Deval") heading south through the Turkish Straits -- October 14, 2015
(credit: Yörük Işık)
"Dvinitsa-50" (formerly "Alican Deval") heading south through the Turkish Straits -- October 14, 2015
(credit: Alper Boler)
A second vessel, which arrived in Novorossiysk by October 10, has been renamed "Kyzyl-60". On October 18, it transferred from NUTEP to the neighboring Novorossiysk Naval Base and could depart port at any time to begin its first cargo transfer mission to Syria. And a third vessel bearing the new name "Kazan-60" also appeared in Novorossiysk by October 18. As with "Dvinitsa-50", neither of these two new additions to the Russian Navy are broadcasting via AIS.

Formation of crews to man these new naval auxiliary ships only recently began. However, not all prospective crew members are satisfied with conditions on board the former commercial vessels. On October 9, a boiler plant technician on the Russian Black Sea Fleet's cable ship "Setun" was ordered to report to Novorossiysk to serve as Third Engineer on "Dvinitsa-50". After a brief inspection he determined that only two of the ship's three diesel generators worked, but both of them also had problems. Having discovered other material issues, the sailor complained up the chain of command, where his complaints were met with profanity and accusations of him being a coward and a traitor. On October 10, he signed a resignation letter that effectively ended his civilian naval career. He has since appealed to the Black Sea Fleet Prosecutor's Office to look into the incident.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kalibr vs Klub: There's a Difference

Defense News' "Is Caspian Sea Fleet a Game-Changer?" article from October 11 demonstrates a confusion between Russian missile systems that has plagued other articles published following the October 7 launch of long-range land-attack cruise missiles by Russian Navy ships operating in the Caspian Sea. The main thing to remember is that Kalibr is the name assigned to the Russian domestic version of a missile complex that can launch several types of missiles (3M14 [SS-N-30 land-attack cruise missile], 3M54 [SS-N-27 anti-ship cruise missile], and 91R [antisubmarine missile]), while Klub is the name assigned to the export version of the same missile complex.

Other confusing points include:
"The inland sea features naval forces from the four bordering countries — Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan in addition to Russia..."
It's actually five, if you include Kazakhstan.

"...the Kalibr long-range version has only recently reached operational status."
Relatively recently; it reached operational status when the first launch platform, Gepard-class frigate "Dagestan", was commissioned in November 2012.

"But until now it was not clear that smaller ships, including the Project 21631 Buyan-M corvettes that also took part in the Oct. 7 attacks, could operate the weapon."
-- There should be nothing unclear about this. The first two units of the Sviyazhsk class of guided missile patrol combatants, "Grad Sviyazhsk" and "Uglich", were delivered to the RF Ministry of Defense in December 2013 after sea trials and state testing, which included launches of the SS-N-27 and SS-N-30. The ships were subsequently commissioned into the RF Navy and joined the Caspian Flotilla in July 2014. The third unit, "Velikiy Ustyug" was delivered to the RF Ministry of Defense in November 2014 following a similar sea trials + state testing period; it was commissioned into the RF Navy and joined the Caspian Flotilla the next month.

"This was not a missile seen as being normally carried by the corvettes, which had [shorter-range] Klub missiles as opposed to the land-attack version..."
None of the Sviyazhsk ships were ever armed with the Klub missile complex.

"So far, the Vietnamese versions do not seem to be armed with the Kalibr missile."
-- Again, Kalibr = domestic; Klub = export.

"The six Buyan-M corvettes were known to be fitted with an eight-cell vertical launch system mounted amidships, capable of launching the SS-N-27 Klub[1] missile, but this is the first demonstration[2] of their ability to use the longer-range Kalibr."
-- [1] Should be 'Kalibr'; [2] Except for all the launches performed as part of pre-acceptance state testing.

In Putin's Own Words: Why We Launched Kalibr Missiles

Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - October 2015
(credit: All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcast Company)

Today's broadcast of Voskresnyy Vecher [Sunday Evening] led with an interview with President Vladimir Putin that included a couple interesting items related to Russia's presence in Syria and the October 7 launch of SS-N-30 [3M14] land-attack cruise missiles.

[video time 02:00-04:05]
"I would like to confirm the fact, which is already known, that we warned our partners - our American partners, many other partners, especially those in the region - of our intentions and our plans in advance. There are those who say we did this very late. But I would like to point out that no one ever informs us in advance when they are planning such operations or when such operations begin. But we did... out of good will, out of expediency, and with the hope of showing that we are open to working together. I want to emphasize again that we are operating in full compliance with international law based on a request by official leaders of the Syrian Arab Republic. All other countries that to date have taken part in such actions are doing so illegally because there has been no resolution from the United Nations Security Council to do so, and there has been no official request from Syrian leaders. I would like to remind you that by the time our operation began, 11 countries had already carried out various strikes against Syria, in one way or another. And all this has been going on for more than a year. Understanding and knowing this, we informed our partners and recommended they work with us. The simplest thing would be to join our effort, thereby legalizing their own actions on Syrian territory. Because we have a mandate from official leaders, the simplest thing would be to join us and operate within the framework of this mandate. Unfortunately, we have not yet come to an agreement on this with our partners and colleagues. But we haven't lost hope that this can still be achieved."

[video time 09:49-11:37]
"Kalibr missiles: they have not been in service very long - since 2012. They have a range of 1,500 kilometers, as a matter of fact, which has already been stated. But these are, of course, technologically advanced, high-precision modern weapons. We plan to rearm the entire Russian military not only with these types of missiles, but also with this new generation of land-based hardware and aviation technology. These are truly complex systems, and, as their employment has proven, extremely effective... As you yourself said, [they flew] over the territory of other nations. Along the flight path, they made 147 turns, flew at altitudes of between 80 and 1,300 meters... at a speed comparable to a jet aircraft - everyone knows this. The thing is that this isn't classified information. In principle, all of our partners, at a minimum at the expert level, are aware that Russia has such [high-precision] weapons. It's one thing, at the expert level, to know that Russia supposedly has such weapons. It's another thing to be convinced that: first - they really exist and our defense industrial complex is producing them; second - that they are of high quality; third - that there are well-trained, well-prepared people who can effectively employ them; and fourth - that Russia has the will to use them if it satisfies the national interests of our state and our people."

It won't take long for others to see through Putin's own words that a driving factor for launching land-attack cruise missiles was, in fact, to prove to the rest of the world that Russia can and will carry out such launches if doing so satisfies Russia's interests -- despite the hefty price tag of the missiles.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Impending Ballistic Missile Launch From Sea of Okhotsk

Flights bans for probable SS-N-18 ballistic missile launch -- October 12-17, 2015
Flight bans have been declared for three areas in the Sea of Okhotsk for the period of October 12 through October 17:
 1. 475400N 1510600E-480600N 1514000E-475200N 1515800E-473600N 1512100E-475400N 1510600E.
 3. CIRCLE RADIUS 51KM CENTRE 5709N 14033E. SFC - UNL, DAILY 0600-1300, 12 OCT 06:00 2015 UNTIL 17 OCT 13:00 2015. CREATED: 08 OCT 08:24 2015
The number and arrangement of the three areas are identical to those used for an SS-N-18 Stingray submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) event on May 8, 2014 [NOTAM P2906/14 (May 8-11, 2014)], during which Delta III-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Podolsk" launched a single SLBM from a submerged location in the Sea of Okhotsk.

"Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets"
(credit: TASS)

The Russian Pacific Fleet currently has two operational Delta III submarines - 36-year-old "Podolsk" and 35-year-old "Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets". A third unit, 33-year-old "Ryazan", has been undergoing service life extension work at Zvezda Far East Shipyard since 2011. With the arrival of Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Aleksandr Nevskiy" in Rybachiy on September 30, Moscow can begin thinking about retiring the veteran "Podolsk" and "Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets". As such, next week's SLBM event may mark the final launch for one of them.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Combat-Proven: Russia’s SS-N-30 (3M14) Land-Attack Cruise Missile

"Dagestan" frigate launches multiple land-attack cruise missiles against Syrian targets -- October 2015
(courtesy: RF Ministry of Defense)
According to Russian Ministry of Defense reporting, during the nighttime hours between October 6 and October 7, Russian Navy ships positioned in the southwestern Caspian Sea launched 26 long-range land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) against 11 reported Islamic State (ISIL) targets in the Syrian provinces of Al-Raqqah, Aleppo, and Idlib. The targets were characterized as “factories for manufacturing [artillery] shells and explosives, command posts, storage facilities for munitions, armaments, and petroleum-oil-lubricants (POL), as well as terrorist training camps.”

The launch platforms were identified as Gepard-class guided missile frigate “Dagestan” and Sviyazhsk-class guide missile patrol ships “Grad Sviyazhsk”, “Uglich”, and “Velikiy Ustyug”. This constitutes the entire inventory of LACM-armed ships in the Caspian Flotilla. Not mentioned in any of yesterday's reporting was the departure of Astrakhan-class patrol combatant "Makhachkala" (not LACM-armed) and Finik-class hydrographic vessel "Anatoliy Guzhvin", which departed port a few days ago to conduct "scheduled combat service missions." It is possible that these two ships provided some level of support for the strike operation.

Defense minister Sergey Shoygu briefs President Putin on Russian military actions in Syria -- October 7, 2015
(credit: RF Presidential Public Affairs)
The announcement coincided with a meeting between defense minister Sergey Shoygu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Shoygu provided an update on Russian military actions in Syria to support the Syrian government.

Simulation of missile flight route over northern Syria
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)
The computer-generated simulation of the flight route indicates the missiles flew within a dozen or so miles of the southern Turkish border, but within Syrian airspace. It is important to note that the appearance of a TU-160 Blackjack bomber icon at the beginning of the simulation (00:57-00:59) may indicate this was simply a simulation used for mission planning purposes only and not the actual approved mission profile (the MOD made no mention of a TU-160 flying over the Caspian Sea).

Simulation of missile flight route over northern Syria
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)
Key: ЗПБВ [factories for manufacturing munitions and armaments]; КП [command post]
НВФ [illegal armed formation (group)]; СклБВ [storage facilities for munitions and armaments]
The MOD video also shows that all of the missiles were launched with an interval between launches of less than five seconds, as well as "Dagestan" conducting a five-missile salvo launch. A video uploaded to Twitter reportedly shows two of the missiles in flight. Another video uploaded to YouTube reportedly shows damage caused by one of the missiles striking a target near Aleppo.

General-Colonels Andrey Kartapolov (l) and Viktor Bondarev (r) brief reporters -- October 7, 2015
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)

Yesterday afternoon, General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov (Chief, Main Operational Directorate – Russian Federal General Staff) confirmed the details of the LACM strikes. He also stated that intelligence information received from Iran, Iraq, and Syria is being used to target strike locations.

«Все объекты для поражения нами тщательно изучаются, при этом используются данные космической и радиоэлектронной разведки, съёмки с беспилотных летательных аппаратов, информация, полученная по данным радиоперехвата. Мы также используем данные сирийской, иранской и иракской разведок, в том числе из агентурных источников» , — подчеркнул Андрей Картаполов в беседе с журналистами.

“All strike locations are carefully studied; additionally, data from space and radio-electronic reconnaissance, footage from unmanned aerial vehicles, and information received through communications intercepts, are used. We also use data from Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi intelligence, to include from their human sources,” Andrey Kartapolov emphasized in his discussion with reporters.

Indeed, the four nations have established a joint information center in Baghdad for coordinating actions in the fight against ISIL. As the video released by the RF MOD indicates, the missiles flew through Iranian and Iraqi airspace, something that certainly would have been coordinated via the Baghdad center.

If one assumes that a new long-range land-attack cruise missile is an expensive commodity, why would you employ it if there was a cheaper way of striking a target? The Russian defense ministry has been touting the successes that its Syria-deployed air assets have achieved since strikes first began last week. As long as Russian aircraft have unfettered access to the targets from the air, they can use much cheaper ordnance than the SS-N-30.

According to one source, India paid USD 6.5 million per unit for the export version of the missile, but that sounds exceedingly high: a single U.S. Tomahawk LACM only cost USD 1.59 million in FY2014. Despite the possibly overstated cost in the report, it is logical to assume that missiles cost more than air-delivered bombs in Russia, as they would anywhere else.

An analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington says the LACM strike “was specifically done to show bravado... it’s chest-thumping.” Well, that’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum, some analysts assert that Russia is using this opportunity to prove its latest military weaponry can be employed to solve modern day missions. And still others state that nearly all of the aircraft currently deployed to Syria would be needed to achieve the same level of damage that the 26-missile strike achieved, and that the departure of this large number of aircraft at nearly the same time would have tipped off someone about the operation. Somewhere in the middle is the oft-used “strategic messaging” explanation. And way off in left field is Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin's explanation:

"A gift for ISIL for digging graves"
(credit: Dmitriy Rogozin/Twitter)
Of course, some would argue that the SS-N-30 LACM strike was well-timed to serve as a gift, of sorts, to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who celebrated his 63rd birthday on October 7.

Wouldn’t it have been simpler and cheaper to give him a new pony?