Category Archives: Navy

Second Tier Pacific Power?

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Militaryparitet.com wrote recently about Jane’s Defence Weekly’s report on the possible start of construction of an indigenous Chinese aircraft carrier on Changxing, near Shanghai.  A new one, not an old one bought abroad and refurbished.

It may, or may not, be a carrier in the end.

Nevertheless, Militaryparitet quoted a 23 [sic] December Russia Today story about the Chinese carrier program:

“China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier will be a larger version of Liaoning.  The design is reportedly based on drafts of a Soviet-era, nuclear-powered, 80,000 ton vessel capable of carrying 60 aircraft.”

In other words, a later-day Ulyanovsk.

Militaryparitet also cites Voice of Russia.  It quoted Pavel Kamennov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the Far East, who claimed China will build two conventionally-powered carriers by 2015 [sic?] before constructing a nuclear one by 2020.

The government broadcaster tends to see a threat from China.  Its report came against the backdrop of Liaoning’s first deployment.

Then VoR turned to nationalist military commentator, retired naval officer Konstantin Sivkov to describe how the “geopolitical situation” will change when Chinese carrier groups take to sea in the future:

“. . . somewhere across 10 years China could put naval power comparable to the Americans on the Pacific Ocean.  This will signify that Russia has moved to the second tier on the Pacific Ocean, and the main players will be the USA and China.”

Now it seems likely China will soon surpass Russia as a carrier power.  Though one notes Moscow, even with a less than robust program, still has years of experience operating Kuznetsov that constitute a final remaining advantage over Beijing.

China catching the U.S. Navy is altogether different.

To its credit, Militaryparitet wrote that acquiring carriers is complex and expensive.  They take years to build, and many more to master their tactical and strategic operation.  There’s no substitute for experience in controlling carriers and battle groups under real-world conditions.  And the U.S. Navy has launched aircraft into combat from flattops for decades.

Those aren’t the only hurdles.

As the Russians learned, and the Chinese are learning, perhaps the most difficult step is fielding a high performance, carrier-capable fighter that can deliver a large combat load.  As RIA Novosti’s military commentator wrote in 2008:

“. . . to turn an ordinary fighter into a deck-based one through a small modernization is not possible.  The aircraft has to be designed from scratch, because the airframe of a deck-based aircraft experiences stress 2-3 times greater on landing than its ‘land-based brethren.'”

Not to mention the stress when the cat hurls it skyward.

So where does this leave us?

It’s no surprise Russian military observers and nationalist-minded elements lament the rise of China’s naval power and its fast-developing and emblematic carrier program.

But were it not for politeness, they could be reminded that China quite some time ago supplanted Russia as a “first tier” power in the Pacific in many ways.  Demographically, economically, diplomatically, and perhaps even militarily.

Other China-watchers (including many Russian ones) have a more benign, less zero-sum view.  They see Beijing as simply preparing to represent and defend its interests, which may or may not conflict with Moscow’s (or Washington’s for that matter).

Meanwhile, Western Russia-watchers tend a little cottage industry of trying to divine how Moscow really feels about China.  And the wisest ones probably say there’s more than one correct answer to this question.

Missile Away!

Missile Cruiser Moskva Fires SS-N-12 (photo: Mil. ru)

Missile Cruiser Moskva Fires SS-N-12 (photo: Mil.ru)

Definitely don’t be on deck for this.  Mil.ru covered Black Sea Fleet flagship Slava-class CG Moskva (121) firing one of its deck-mounted SS-N-12 ASCMs during inter-fleet training in the Atlantic this week.

TK Zvezda provided video of this firing and lots of others.

SS-N-12 Launch (photo: TK Zvezda)

SS-N-12 Launch (photo: TK Zvezda)

This might be one of the few times (possibly only the second!) in Moskva’s career that it’s fired its primary weapon system.  In 2008, New Times covered what it reported as the very first.

This seems somewhat improbable.  Moskva, née Slava, surely fired its reputed “carrier-killing” SS-N-12s at some time during the zenith / denouement of the Cold War in the mid- and late 1980s.  There also had to be acceptance-related firings by the lead unit of the guided missile cruiser class during the early 1980s.

However, very casual research leads one to conclude that most Russian Navy cruise missile firings come from subs or “small missile ships” and “missile boats.”

Nevertheless, Moskva heads Russian Navy ships currently training and bound for a number of Western hemisphere port calls.  No one can really deny that the Navy is getting more miles under the keel than five or ten years ago.

Ulyanovsk Redux

Artist’s Rendering of Ulyanovsk Under Construction (photo: Soviet Military Power, 1984)

A Glavkomat source has told Izvestiya the Navy plans to send a draft plan for a  60,000-ton displacement nuclear-powered aircraft carrier back to the designers for revision.

The Krylov TsNII and Nevskiy PKB have been on the task for 2 and 1/2 years, and have not received official word back from the Navy, according to the paper.

The source said:

“They essentially proposed the old Soviet ‘Ulyanovsk’ aircraft carrier to us, which wasn’t built due to the USSR’s collapse.  At the end of the 1980s, it was a modern carrier, a worthy answer to the American ‘Nimitz,’ but today it’s literally last century.”

This is the same complaint made by at least some generals and defense officials and commentators — the OPK is proposing (or providing) Soviet- or 1990s-era weapons systems to the military.  By the same token, that may be about all it can do in its current condition.  The Russians don’t seem to have an answer for breaking this vicious circle.

The Russian carrier design is half the size of the future Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), envisions steam rather than electromagnetic catapults, and lacks AWACS aircraft.  But the designers claim the Navy gave them little to go on.

Izvestiya recalled former Navy CINC Vladimir Vysotskiy saying last year he hopes for one carrier strike group each for the Northern and Pacific Fleets by 2027.

Navy Main Staff Moved

Admiralty (photo: http://www.1tv.ru)

The Navy Main Staff’s officially moved to St. Petersburg after several years of on-again, off-again plans and delays.  Pervyy kanal covered a Senate Square ceremony and the raising of the Andreyevskiy flag over Admiralty in a light snowfall last Wednesday.

Wonder if there’s a “for sale” sign on the building on Bolshoy Kozlovskiy in Moscow.

SSBN Patrols

A Delta IV SSBN (photo: ITAR-TASS)

Not all interesting commentary on the Navy’s future came from Deputy Prime Minister and OPK steward Dmitriy Rogozin last week.  

Media outlets quoted Rogozin saying Russia would soon be able to build an aircraft carrier and six submarines a year.  Subsequently, he claimed he was misquoted, and actually said Russia would be finishing renovations on the Admiral Gorshkov for India and building/repairing six submarines this year.

Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy also had curious comments of his own.

According to ITAR-TASS, on Friday, Admiral Vysotskiy told an audience that, by June or a little later, Russia will resume continuous SSBN combat patrols.  Then he added, “We’ve waited 26 years for this event.”

That would be, or will be, quite a news story.  To see where the Russians have been on SSBN patrols, consult Hans Kristensen.  He reported Russia conducted ten SSBN patrols in 2008, and might have reached, or be headed back toward, a continuous SSBN combat patrol posture.  But there is, apparently, no patrol data for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

A continuous SSBN patrol would be in line with more strategic bomber patrols and mobile ICBM deployments.  It would make sense for a Kremlin worried about U.S. insistence on fielding missile defenses.

But the difficulty comes with doing it.  Russian SSBNs are down to ten aging boats — six Delta IVs (possibly only three active due to overhauls and repairs) and four Delta IIIs.  The newest Delta IV is 22 years old, and the newest Delta III is 30.  Constant patrols could stress this force to the limit. 

Pinning a return to constant SSBN patrols to the year 1986 [26 years ago] is interesting too.  Did General Secretary Gorbachev order the Navy to reduce patrols?  Did the Yankee I SSBN (K-219) sinking near Bermuda have anything to do with it?

Vysotskiy said there’s noticeable momentum in the fleet, and the state’s leadership sees its development as a priority comparable to VKO.  He continued:

“Yesterday I together with directors of ministries and departments ranking as ministries and deputy ministers conducted a very serious event in Severodvinsk where the shipbuilding program to 2035 was roughly reviewed.  Our Duma, Federation Council have long awaited it, in order to review it.  Proposals were prepared, I won’t say what kind, in my view faithful to taking fleet construction to the state level, lifting it somewhat from a ministerial ‘slot.'”

Vysotskiy sees putting the Navy’s development before the national leadership as a panacea for its ills.  He’s probably long felt the Navy doesn’t get a fair shake from the Defense Ministry.  But it’s likely even Putin 2.0 won’t be able to give the Navy the kind of attention and resources its CINC wants.

Barabanov’s Top 20

Defense commentator Mikhail Barabanov published his annotated list of the top 20 military stories of 2011 in yesterday’s Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer.

Some we’ll just note, but Barabanov’s provided interesting details for others.

1.  The continuation of military reform.  The start of the next phase of reforming the Air Forces and Navy.

Barabanov says Air Forces’ reform included the formation of VVKO and the enlargement of Russian air bases.  The reform of the Navy started December 1 and it will soon be restructured into a “new profile.”

2.  Establishment of VVKO.

He comments, “The given construct essentially looks fundamentally like a return to Soviet Voyska PVO Strany (National Air Defense Troops) in the form of a separate service [well, branch] of the Armed Forces.”

3.  The new pay system effective this year.

4.  GPV 2011-2020.

5.  The increase in the Gosoboronzakaz.

Barabanov puts GOZ-2011 at 460 billion rubles, 570 if RDT&E is added.  This was 20 percent more than GOZ-2010, and allowed for the series production of weapons and equipment.

6.  The war between industry and the Defense Ministry.

7.  Development of the PAK FA.

8.  Large helicopter procurement.

Apparently a post-Soviet record.  About 100 new helos, including Mi-28N, Ka-52, Mi-26, and Mi-24 (Mi-35M), were expected to reach the troops.

9.  Bulava began to fly.

10.  OSK “megacontracts” for submarines.

About 280 billion rubles for modernized proyekt 885 and 955.

11.  Ending serial procurement of many ground systems and equipment.

The Defense Ministry said it didn’t need the T-90, BMP-3, or BMD-4 (!?).  Development of an entire spectrum of new armored vehicle platforms began for procurement after 2015.

12.  Domestic space sector failures.

They evidenced the decline of the OPK’s production capability in the space sector.

13.  “Tsentr-2011″ exercises.

They checked the “new profile,” and the greatly enlarged military districts.

14.  Importing arms.

Mistral, Rheinmetall’s training ground in Mulino, foreign sniper rifles, and Israeli UAVs.

15.  Continued growth in Russian arms sales.

$11 billion as opposed to 2010’s $10 billion.  This despite the revolutions in the Arab world.  Rosoboroneksport’s order portfolio is $36 billion.

16.  Arab revolutions.

17.  NATO intervention in Libya.

18.  Military actions in Afghanistan, American troops leave Iraq.

19.  Deadend in missile defense negotiations.

20.  Start of reduced U.S. military spending.

Kuznetsov Air Ops

Colonel Nikolay Deriglazov

We’re gradually reaching the end of the slow news season . . . here’s a picture and a couple videos.

Colonel Deriglazov commands the Su-33 squadron aboard Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.  He speaks about flying off the Russian carrier in the video below.

Hat tip to Militaryparitet.com for highlighting this Vesti.ru report on Kuznetsov pilots in action.  The video shows an officer (an LSO-type) at the “visual landing post.”  Some Russian carrier pilots have 160 landings to their credit, according to Vesti.

The Defense Ministry’s TV Zvezda had this video as well.

The Kuznetsov group remained in port (or at least at anchorage near) Tartus, Syria today, as RIA Novosti reported.