Category Archives: Navy

Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man

Last week KZ ran a piece titled “Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man.”  Easy to overlook, it turned out to be about the Black Sea Fleet’s new 127th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The article informs us that the brigade was formed after last year’s invasion.  It has the latest and greatest in weapons and equipment, including mobile EW and ELINT systems and Orlan and Leyer UAVs.  But its men, the article says, are the main thing.

The new brigade is 100 percent contract-manned, according to the article, but it is less than clear on the point.  Is it fully manned and all personnel are contractees or is it less than 100 percent manned but men on-hand are all contractees?  The article offers no other information on the brigade’s TO&E.

KZ notes that the commander and sub-unit commanders have combat experience and medals.  Colonel Aleksandr Beglyakov commands the 127th.  But there’s precious little about him.  What looks like a fragment of an Odnoklassniki profile appears below.

Beglyakov's Odnoklassniki Profile?

Beglyakov’s Odnoklassniki Profile?

If it’s him, he’s young at 37, but not exceptionally so for a Russian O-6.  He attended the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School — cradle of Russian Army reconnaissance men.  He’s completed his mid-career school — VUNTs SV “Combined Arms Academy of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”

The brigade’s recon men appear to be organized into groups like GRU Spetsnaz. At least one sergeant came from an independent Spetsnaz regiment in Stavropol. He says we are the “most polite” of all “polite people.” We come quietly, fulfill our mission, and leave quietly, according to him.

The KZ author describes another soldier as a “fifth generation reconnaissance man” — physically strong, equally skilled with weapons and modern digital systems.

This article brings us to the independent reconnaissance brigade, the ORBr — what it is, its origin, and what its future will be.

The first modern Russian Army ORBr, the 100th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade, is based in Mozdok.  It was formed in 2009 under former defense minister Serdyukov and was branded “experimental.”  There have been reports it would disband, but it apparently hasn’t.

One apparently knowledgeable observer shared this description:

“The 100th Experimental Independent Reconnaissance Brigade (Mozdok, North Ossetia) was formed in the summer of 2009 on the basis of the 85th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment [ooSpN] of the 10th Independent Spetsnaz Brigade:”

“command, air-assault battalion, reconnaissance battalion (two reconnaissance companies + a tank company), SP howitzer battalion, SpN detachment, UAV detachment, anti-aircraft missile-artillery battalion, EW company (expanding into an independent ELINT battalion), engineer company, maintenance company, material-technical support company, medical company, in the future its own helicopter regiment.”

“A mixed squadron transferred into the brigade from Budennovsk.  The helicopter sub-unit carries out missions for the ground formation and is operationally subordinate to it.  The squadron provides cover for the brigade’s armored columns, transports supplies, and conducts all types of reconnaissance.”

“The brigade’s command was formed on 1 December 2009.”

It’s a very interesting and unique brigade by Russian Army standards.  It has surprisingly robust combined arms firepower to go along with its reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities.

ORBr roots extend to Soviet times.  But it was different then.  The 25th ORBr in Mongolia had three reconnaissance battalions, a “deep reconnaissance” (SpN??) battalion, and fewer technical intelligence systems.  Its helo squadron had 20 Mi-8s and an Mi-2 for the brigade commander.  Soviet forces in Mongolia also included the 20th ORBr.  Most Russians who served in or comment on these formations are pretty adamant that they reported to the GRU.

Looking Landward

The newest deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet is former deputy chief of the MOD’s Main Combat Training Directorate (GUBP), General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrovich Petrov.

The media quoted Petrov several times in that post, addressing either last year’s tank biathlon or Rheinmetall’s pullout from the Mulino training center contract.

Moscow apparently isn’t neglecting the landward defense of Crimea. Petrov’s arrival might presage a beefing up of ground units on Russia’s most recently acquired territory.  

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

According to Mil.ru and KZ, the 50-year-old Petrov was born in the Dnepropetrovsk oblast (former Ukrainian SSR), and graduated from the Kiev Higher Combined Arms Command School in 1985.

He got a platoon in the old Turkestan MD and, rather immediately, another graduation present — two years in Afghanistan (1986-1988).

On his return from that tour, he commanded a reconnaissance company and served as chief of reconnaissance for a regiment in the Far East MD.

He completed the mid-career Frunze Military Academy in 1994, commanded a battalion, and then served as chief of staff for a division in the Moscow MD.

In 2005, Petrov finished the General Staff Academy and took command of one of the Far East MD’s machine gun-artillery divisions.

Petrov proceeded to head the Siberian MD’s combat training directorate. He was acting chief of the combat training directorate of the Ground Troops, then deputy chief of GUBP.

He wears several combat decorations.

Petrov likely will serve as Chief of Coastal Troops, Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet for Coastal Troops.  If this is the case, he’ll replace General-Major Aleksandr Ostrikov.  Russia’s other fleets have Ground Troops generals in similar positions.

Pacific Fleet Patrols

Pobedonosets Concludes Patrol (photo: Mil.ru)

Pobedonosets Concludes Patrol (photo: Mil.ru)

On 29 December 2014, Pacific Fleet Delta III-class SSBN Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets returned home from a combat patrol, according to Mil.ru.  

The MOD site reported that the submarine arrived in Vilyuchinsk after completing missions at sea.  The chief of staff of Pacific Fleet submarine forces greeted its commander and crew with a traditional roast pig.  Mil.ru said Pobedonosets will be ready to fulfill new tasks after replenishing its stores.

34-year-old Pobedonosets is one of only three (two operational) SSBNs in the Pacific Fleet order-of-battle.

It conducted an inter-fleet from the Northern to the Pacific Fleet in late 1983. From 1993 to 2003, it was laid up at Zvezda shipyard for extended “medium repair” due no doubt to a lack of funding at the time.

Then-president Dmitriy Medvedev visited Pobedonosets in 2008.

The submarine fired SS-N-18 SLBMs during strategic forces exercises in 2013, 2012, 2010, and 2009.  The 2013 shot occurred while the SSBN was on patrol and came from the Sea of Okhotsk, according to the VladNews agency.

The Russian Navy conducted only five SSBN patrols in 2012, according to a FOIA response obtained from U.S. Naval Intelligence by Federation of American Scientists scholar Hans Kristensen.  He concludes five were not enough for Moscow to resume continuous SSBN patrols as its Navy CINC promised  in mid-2012.  They would be 73-day patrols end-to-end.

It seems likely Pobedonosets spent 40-50 days in the Sea of Okhotsk or not far off Kamchatka in the extreme northeastern Pacific.

Podolsk Returning to Port in 2014 (photo: Eastern MD Press-Service)

Podolsk Returning to Port in 2014 (photo: Eastern MD Press-Service)

35-year-old Delta III-class SSBN Podolsk patrolled in 2011, VladNews reported. PrimaMedia indicates that Podolsk fired an SLBM, conducted other training, and possibly even an abbreviated combat patrol in mid-2014.

Russianforces.org noted it was the first launch from Podolsk in more than a decade; all other recent Pacific Fleet firings came from Pobedonosets.

32-year-old Delta III-class SSBN Ryazan inter-fleeted in 2008, launched an SLBM in 2009, but has been inactive undergoing repair since 2011.

So the fleet’s old two-submarine SSBN force performs the arduous job of maintaining some kind of Russian strategic patrol presence in the Pacific. There’s some evidence for maybe four Pacific Fleet SSBN patrols in the last four years.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Fleet awaits the inter-fleet of Borey-class SSBN hulls two and three, Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh, in the fall when, the Navy hopes, their new base facilities will be complete.  They are already officially Pacific Fleet assets but based temporarily  in Gadzhiyevo.

Two additional Boreys (for a total of four) are intended for the Pacific at some point.  But, in the meantime, the aged Pobedonosets and Podolsk will apparently conduct occasional patrols.

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.