A Couple Jokes

Courtesy of Anekdot.ru, here’s a sample of recent Russian military humor . . .

The best color for army camouflage is purple.  Has anyone ever seen a purple army?

The Mongolian Army’s been called the world champion in maskirovka.  To this day, no one’s ever seen it.

A general heard an old saying:  “Whoever has served in the army doesn’t laugh at the circus.”  Voyenkomat workers went around to circuses looking for those who weren’t laughing.  The country’s armed forces were populated with thousands of soldiers.

When the young man learned that the girl was still waiting for his return from the army [on conscript service], he signed up on contract.

Only a country which first builds roads to move its army can go to war with Russia.

- If they ban profanity in the army, the country’s combat readiness would be threatened.  – Why?  – You try to explain to a soldier with just particles, conjunctions, and prepositions how he has to defend the Homeland.

It’s possible to do everything three ways:  correctly, not so correctly, and like they do it in the army.

There’s reinforcement in the RF Army:  into the inventory have come pilotless aircraft, turretless tanks, and brainless generals.

Russia is a unique country, it has a gun which has never fired (Tsar Cannon), a bell which has never rung (Tsar Bell), and an army general who has never served in the army (Shoygu).

They go on forever . . . alas, we cannot.  Enjoy.

The Next China Deal

IA Regnum military observer Leonid Nersisyan recently took a stab at preparing Russian public opinion for the eventual sale of S-400 SAMs and Su-35S fighters to China.  A major arms deal with China should be expected, especially given Moscow’s turn further east in the wake of Western sanctions.

Nersisyan aims to refute usual complaints about exporting Russia’s most advanced weaponry to China, i.e. that Beijing will quickly copy and sell it more cheaply.  He dials back to the early 1990s.

The sale of S-300 SAMs began in 1993, amounting to something between 24 and 40 battalions of three variants.  Along the way, China developed a copy, the HQ-9, similar but less capable than the original in many performance parameters.  If it had been a really good knock off, Nersisyan argues, the HQ-9 would be found in many of the world’s armies, but it isn’t.

China's S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

China’s S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

The S-300 has grown old, and the money earned from China went into S-400 development and saved Almaz-Antey from bankruptcy at a time of little, if any, Russian military procurement.  Nersisyan concludes that:

“. . . the deal was successful — the system was copied (with deficiencies) only two decades after the first deliveries, when it had already grown old, and Russia had more modern analogues.”

Nersisyan points also to the Su-27 sale.  First Russia sold Beijing 24, then 200 kits for assembly in China.  But the Chinese stopped the transfer at 100, and began producing a copy, the J-11B.  However, its engine proved unreliable in comparison with Russia’s AL-31F, which the Chinese opted to buy for their domestic fighters.  Similarly, China bought nearly 100 Su-30 variants beginning in 2000 before producing a copy, the J-16, which also lacks a reliable engine. China’s difficulty, according to various reports, is manufacturing turbine blades and plates.

Neither the J-11B nor the J-16 is being produced in volume, and Russian aircraft remain the foundation of Chinese fighter aviation.

So, concludes Nersisyan, it will take China 20 years to copy the more complex S-400, while Russia is deploying the S-500.  Copying the generation 4++ Su-35S will be complicated by its more advanced thrust-vectored AL-41F1S engine, and Russia will be fielding the PAK FA / T-50 in the meantime.

Nersisyan writes that becoming a real competitor in the global arms market requires original RDT&E, not copying.  He sums up in three maxims:

  • Modern technologies don’t lend themselves to quick copying.
  • Copiers always lag behind.
  • The copy is often worse than the original.

What do others say about the threat of Chinese copying?

CAST’s Vasiliy Kashin agrees that fears are exaggerated because people don’t understand the obstacles to successful copying or that China’s military modernization is directed against the U.S. (something that, he adds, benefits Moscow).  He also blames much of the copying of Russian fighters on Ukrainian technical cooperation with China.

Vasiliy Sychev has written that S-400 and Su-35S sales to China will be straight sales without any technical or production licenses.  Moscow typically wants to sell more, and Beijing buy less, but the sides have worked toward the middle.  A new deal (or deals) will be for 2-4 SAM battalions and 24 fighters ($1.5 billion, or $60 million per).

Nor does Viktor Murakhovskiy see anything critical because Russian capabilities will be ahead of what China gets.

More Sinophobic, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says there’s an active and effective pro-China lobby in Moscow’s power ministries and OPK, and he believes Russia needs to understand it faces a grave threat from China.

Sorry, Not a Victor

Sorry, Not a Victor (photo: Reuters / Yuriy Maltsev)

Sorry, Not a Victor (photo: Reuters / Yuriy Maltsev)

What great fun when the general press covers Russian military issues!  Business Insider ran this pictorial presuming to show an outdated Victor-class SSN headed for scrap.

In fact, it’s two not-quite-so-old Pacific Fleet Akula submarines headed for overhaul.

But what great pictures!  

One supposes this is how the hull looks when it hasn’t seen a drydock in many years.

Su-35 Deliveries

Su-35

Su-35

RBK-TV ran a short segment on 3 October indicating that OAK, Sukhoy, and KnAAZ (aka KnAAPO) will deliver (or will have delivered) 22 Su-35 aircraft to the Air Forces by the end of 2014.

Twelve Su-35 were reportedly delivered in 2013, so 22 plus delivery of 14 more in 2015 would fulfill Sukhoy’s 2009 contract for 48.  There’s been talk all along about a follow-on contract.

The report briefly covered the aircraft’s capabilities and noted that China would be the primary foreign customer for it.  However, according to RBK, the export variant will not carry the same avionics as the domestic version.

The video features OAK President Mikhail Pogosyan saying that the corporation’s military production is fully independent of foreign suppliers (and therefore unaffected by Western sanctions).

The broadcast ends noting that more than 12 billion rubles have been invested in Sukhoy’s modernization over five years.  More than 3 billion from targeted state programs have gone into financing Su-35 development.

Russified Dokdo

It is, by no means, clear that the first Russian Mistral won’t be delivered when it’s due at the end of October 2014.  Maybe it will be just quiet enough on the eastern front of Ukraine for Paris to fulfill its contract with Moscow.

But CAST’s Andrey Frolov suggests in a recent VPK article that, if the first Mistral isn’t delivered, Russia could team with South Korea to build its own LHD at Zvezda shipyard in Komsomolsk.

South Korea's Dokdo

South Korea’s Dokdo

Frolov says:

“If we leave parenthetical the question about the need to have a UDK [multipurpose assault ship] in our Navy and accept as an axiom that our fleet needs them, next the question arises about the possibilities of Russian defense industry for import substitution for such a class of ships.”

Then he turns to what it would take and the rather large obstacles Moscow faces:

“Obviously neither Russian nor Soviet shipbuilders had experience in similar construction, especially on such a technological level.  Those large assault ships [BDK], which entered the USSR Navy and were inherited by the contemporary fleet, represent a completely different direction conceptually and technologically.  Taking into account the fact that, according to well-known data, in the post-Soviet period the design of an UDK has not been ordered from a Russian KB [design bureau], it is possible to suppose:  in the best case, only draft drawings, done on initiative, exist.  That is, in the event of a possible order from the Defense Ministry, several years would be needed just to prepare a design.  The experience of developers of designs like aircraft carriers by OAO Nevskoye PKB as well as a ship of less displacement in the destroyer class (the design has been in the works for several years already) speaks eloquently about the possible difficulties on this path.”

“It is possible to trace the pitfalls in the construction of our own forces in the history of the modernization of CVHG project 11434 Admiral Gorshkov for India, in the serial frigates of project 22350, and also in the lead unit of large assault ship project 11711 Ivan Gren, which we note, is much simpler to build than Mistral.”

Russia’s shipyards are so busy with naval and civilian orders that laying down even two LHDs seems improbable, according to Frolov.

Nor, with sanctions in place, does Frolov think it’s realistic to believe that Russia can obtain all the dual-use technology it needs for such ships.  It’s also doubtful it can develop its own.  And the cost of these ships is a large issue.

But, says Frolov, the possibility of foreign cooperation remains.  European partners are already irrelevant because of sanctions.  Daewoo Marine Shipbuilding and Engineering (DSME), however, already partnered with Zvezda in an effort to land the contract Mistral won.

Frolov believes Russia and South Korea have similar views for an LHD:  a ship for littoral operations close to home rather than for transoceanic expeditionary warfare.

Russia would have to develop some equipment, components, and systems for a Russified Dokdo to replace U.S. ones that Washington would certainly not permit the South Koreans to provide to Moscow.

Frolov reminds that Russia already has a record of weapons development cooperation with Seoul.  For example, the Russian radar developed for the ROK’s KM-SAM will be used on Russia’s new Vityaz SAM.

He concludes that a Russian-Korean LHD could become “a more threatening player on the world arms market” and fill Zvezda’s construction program.

Where’s My Sub Base

Not His Happy Face (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneyev)

Not His Happy Face (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneyev)

Now they’ve done it.

They’ve failed to finish new facilities for Borey-class SSBNs on Kamchatka expeditiously, and they’ve forced Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to demand “strict control” over their work.

But who “they” are isn’t exactly clear.

According to Mil.ru and RIA Novosti, the annoyed Shoygu said:

“These things are too serious to joke about the time period for their construction.  The joking is over.”

As regards the current plan to base Borey units 2 and 3 at Rybachiy (presumably in 2015):

“At that time everything must be ready.”

Mil.ru reported that the Defense Minister was also dissatisfied with the quality of the construction he observed.

Shoygu laid responsibility on General Staff Chief, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov and Eastern MD Commander, General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin, ordering them to take the work at Rybachiy under “strict control” and to give him a weekly progress report.

Shoygu should have turned to his old friend and subordinate from MChS days, Aleksandr Volosov, who directs the Federal Agency for Special Construction (Spetsstroy).  Spetsstroy is building the new pier zone at Rybachiy.  It used to be known as the Main Directorate for Special Construction (GUSS) in the old days when it fell squarely under the MOD.

Rybachiy and Environs

Rybachiy and Environs

The current Defense Minister’s not the first to ask when his sub base will be ready.

In 2012, President Vladimir Putin revealed that he arranged significant financial assistance from two Russian oil companies to keep the Pacific Fleet strategic sub base open in 2002.

He visited periodically to check progress in modernizing its naval and social facilities.  He was usually unhappy with what he found.

Speaking from Vilyuchinsk in 2004, Putin said:

“They told me here in the past two years an improvement [in military living conditions] was being felt, but I didn’t see this.  The material base of public facilities here is in a pathetic state.  This situation is absolutely intolerable.”

By 2007, according to Izvestiya, he saw some improvement, but still said officials were “just picking their noses” instead of getting Gazprom to gasify Kamchatka.  Army General Anatoliy Grebenyuk, chief of the MOD’s billeting and construction service, and the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate were unceremoniously retired for failing to finish their respective work on the remote peninsula.

Gazprom reports that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy was gasified in 2010, but it’s unknown if local gas lines have, as yet, reached the sub base.

As it has long planned, Moscow intends to homeport four Borey-class SSBNs on Kamchatka, starting with Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh.  But first it wants a fully functioning system in place to support their operations.

In March, a Navy Main Staff source told ITAR-TASS that the complete system for basing the new submarines – piers, utilities, logistical support, weapons storage facilities, and other infrastructure – still needs to be finished. Consequently, neither SSBN will arrive in the Pacific Fleet earlier than the fall of 2015.

Simmering War

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Russian news agencies marked the 15th anniversary of the Unified Group of Troops (Forces) — OGV(s) or ОГВ(с) — in the North Caucasus on September 23.

The OGV(s) was, and is, the inter-service headquarters established at Khankala, Chechnya to command all Russian “power” ministry (MOD, MVD, FSB) operations at the start of what became the second Chechen war in 1999.

The war that would bring Vladimir Putin to prominence and the presidency, and preoccupy him during his first years in power.

The ITAR-TASS headline proclaimed:  “The OGV in the Caucasus has killed more than 10,000 fighters over 15 years.”

Fighters means insurgents or terrorists from Moscow’s perspective.

That’s a lot.  On average, even through today, over 600 per year, or at least a couple every day.  Earlier this year, a news headline read “Russian MVD has killed more than 350 fighters in 4 months.”

Six Killed in Makhachkala (photo: ITAR-TASS)

The body count isn’t the only metric.

The MVD noted that OGV(s) units have conducted more than 40,000 “special measures,” destroyed 5,000 bases and caches, confiscated 30,000 weapons, and disarmed 80,000 explosive devices.

The Hero of the Russian Federation has been awarded to 93 MVD servicemen in the OGV(s) (including 66 posthumously).  More than 23,000 MVD troops have received orders and medals.

And the disparate North Caucasus insurgency still simmers.