Thinking Twice

Is the Russian MOD having second thoughts about modernizing Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy?  Or its sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov?  What about Kirov-class CGN Admiral Nakhimov already in the modernization process at Sevmash?

Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy

Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov himself raised the issue in a recent interview, according to a recap by Militaryparitet.com.

Militaryparitet cites Vpk-news.ru (currently launching a Trojan called Web Attack: Venom Activity 3 blocked by Norton thankfully).

Vpk-news referred to TASS, which itself indicated Rakhmanov’s statements came on Ekho Moskvy.  In any event, the original transcript of his remarks has eluded your author.

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov

As Militaryparitet puts it, the efficacy of repairing old, large surface ships like Petr Velikiy and Kuznetsov isn’t obvious.

The web resource quotes Rakhmanov:

“For us the existing approach toward the repair of large-tonnage ships — Admiral Kuznetsov, Petr Velikiy — isn’t quite straightforward and optimal for one simple reason — the scale of expenditures for the repair of ships which are already 30-35 years old approaches the cost of building a new ship, and their service lives are much shorter than that of a newly constructed ship.”

And, according to Rakhmanov, this is “being openly discussed with the MOD.”

He continues:

“And is it necessary to do this, and if it is, then under what conditions?  It’s a question of the general life cycle concept — if a ship’s service life is 30 years, then is it necessary to extend its life?  For us the question of repairing particularly large, technically complex ships isn’t obvious.  Therefore, before talking about where to do this, we need to ask why we are doing it.”

“There are exceptions, but even one-of-a-kind ships, for example, Kuznetsov, have limits to their lives.  There is metal and equipment fatigue.”

According to Vpk-news.ru, Rakhmanov feels contemporary approaches toward shipbuilding should take into account “economically justifiable” repairs and use of each ship and vessel.

Of course, OSK and its enterprises make money off repairs, modernization, and construction, but the conglomerate makes more off — and is therefore more interested in — building new ships.  For its part, MOD wonders if it can fund expensive construction projects, and whether OSK and Russia’s shipbuilding industry can actually deliver the new ships.

It’s interesting that there isn’t the same level of angst when it comes to modernizing older nuclear-powered submarines and not as much — although clearly a certain amount — in the case of building new ones. The real worry sets in when major surface forces are considered.

But it all comes down to this:  building and maintaining a navy is an expensive proposition.

Not OK in the OPK

OAO Radiopribor

OAO Radiopribor

Recent news reports indicate all is not well in Russia’s defense-industrial complex (OPK).  This despite several years of budgetary largesse in the form of an ever-increasing state defense order (GOZ).

Exhibit No. 1

Defense plant OAO Radiopribor in Vladivostok is officially bankrupt, but some remnant will be preserved in an 11th hour deal turning the company into a subsidiary of OAO Dubna Machinebuilding Plant (DMZ) in Moscow Oblast. How effectively DMZ can operate a money-losing business 6,500 km to the east is anyone’s guess.

Local press indicates that labor authorities in Primorskiy Kray are already working to place or retrain some Radiopribor employees (i.e. not all of them have a future at the old plant).

The industrial holding company AFK Sistema and its electronics subsidiary OAO RTI own DMZ.  DMZ makes components for military aircraft including external fuel tanks.

Radiopribor’s 1,500 workers hadn’t been paid in eight months, and the enterprise’s wage arrears amounted to 224 million rubles along with general debt of 3.5 billion rubles.

The figures on the salaries are interesting — the average employee may have been making a little more than 18,000 rubles per month. That was probably about two-thirds of average pay in Vladivostok last year.

Exhibit No. 2

Russia’s sole manufacturer of infantry fighting vehicles — BMPs, Kurganmashzavod (KMZ) in the Urals recently defeated a Moscow-based creditor’s attempt to have it declared bankrupt for failing to pay on 41 million rubles of arrears on its leasing contracts.

It defeated the effort because, as a subsidiary of Kontsern Tractor Plants, KMZ is a “strategically important enterprise” and can’t be bankrupt according to a longstanding presidential decree.

KMZ apparently also owes its gas supplier.

It has a state order for 200 BMPs in 2015-17 which should help it some.  It’s been a big supplier of civilian heavy equipment in the past, but that must not be going too well either.

Exhibit No. 3

Press from late March described OAO United Instrument-building Corporation’s effort to come up with an “anti-crisis” plan for its enterprises in Tambov Oblast southeast of Moscow.  OAO OPK is itself part of Rostekh.

OAO OPK’s Revtrud factory has 1 billion rubles worth of debt.  Revtrud’s wage and tax arrears come to about 150 million rubles.  It makes communications and electronic warfare systems.

OAO OPK says it plans to amalgamate affiliates Revtrud, Oktyabr, Tambovapparat, and Efir into a single production complex.  It will spend 4 billion rubles to recapitalize and reequip these enterprises.  Tambovapparat doesn’t seem to be doing too well either. Efir is doing the best; the MOD is buying its Borisoglebsk-2 jamming system.

Exhibit No. 4

On 22 March, TASS quoted Jan Novikov, general director of S-400 maker Almaz-Antey, who indicated he was considering a 30 percent cut in his workforce for economic reasons.  A week later, he walked this back saying savings might come through other means, according to a TASS report of an interview he gave Rossiyskaya gazeta.  Novikov stated that cost-cutting is needed to pay the bills for financing and starting up production at new plants in Nizhegorod and Kirov.  This from what is arguably Russia’s best-performing arms producer.

On top of these reports from various corners of the Russian OPK, we have interesting news from important characters in Moscow.  They seem to agree that the GOZ is turning downward, and taking the fortunes of these companies with it.

On 5 March, Deputy Defense Minister Tatyana Shevtsova, who oversees the military’s budget, said its financing would be trimmed by 5 percent this year, but claimed weapons procurement would be untouched.

A week later, Rostekh Chief Sergey Chemezov told The Wall Street Journal that the GOZ could be slashed by 10 percent in 2016.

On 26 March, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin — tsar of the arms sector — told TASS that Russia needs “patriots of industry” ready to do everything necessary to renew not just the armed forces but industry too.  He continued:

“Then we won’t depend on the oil and gas needle, because we’ll rely on industry.”

President Putin’s administration chief Sergey Ivanov traveled to Tula on 29 March to preach about a time when the GOZ will decline and defense enterprises will have to diversify.

On 31 March, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee Viktor Ozerov admitted there could be problems financing military procurement in 2017, but insisted the Defense Ministry would not abandon its goal of 70 percent modern weapons and equipment by 2020.

At the outset of the armaments program in 2011, more than one or two wise observers said Russia’s industrial obsolescence and its reliance on hydrocarbon rents needed fixing before making heavy investments in defense industry.  Why?  Defense industrial investment has a smaller multiplier effect in the overall economy.  The time and money to make these changes has been wasted, and now is an inauspicious time for them.

What’s It Cost? (Part III)

48N6E2

48N6E2

We might never be done with this topic, and that’s OK.

On 17 March, TASS reported that Russia will sell China two “regimental sets” of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles in a deal reportedly worth $3 billion.

The first will be delivered in December 2017-January 2018 and the second in May-June 2019, according to the news agency’s “military-diplomatic source.”

Moscow and Beijing signed the S-400 contract in September 2014.

Each “set” has two battalions of four S-400 launchers.  Or a total of 16 launch vehicles.  Or 64 missiles and an unreported number of reloads.

Recall that previous reports claimed China was after no less than six S-400 battalions for that same $3 billion price.

The September 2014 deal includes training for Chinese personnel beginning in the last quarter of 2017, according to TASS.

Its source also stated that the first “regiment” will have the same missiles as the S-300PMU-2 SAM systems China already has.  The 48N6E2 with its 200-km range.

The second will have missiles “with improved characteristics.”  Presumably, the newer 400-km 40N6E.

But it’s not clear that the 40N6 (or export-version 40N6E) missile is fully out of testing, if some press reporting is accurate.

China is, of course, the first foreign customer, but India will apparently be the second.  According to RIA Novosti, India is negotiating for five S-400 battalions for a reported $5.8 billion.

However, it seems unlikely New Delhi would pay that kind of premium for a fifth battalion, even with all 40N6E missiles.

Defender’s Day Promotion List

On 20 February, President Vladimir Putin signed out a decree with nine two-star and 28 one-star promotions.  Find the updated list with more than 300 officers here.  And the decree itself.

Among those who couldn’t be identified, the various military academics, personnel types, and logisticians, the list also included:

  • Two directorate chiefs from the NTsUO;
  • Chief of the Navy’s Shipbuilding Directorate;
  • Commander, 6th Air and Air Defense Army, Western MD;
  • Commander, Kola Composite Forces Flotilla;
  • Commander, 25th Submarine (SSBN) Division, Pacific Fleet;
  • Commander, 7th Military Base, Abkhazia;
  • Commander, 9th Motorized Rifle Brigade (moving to Voronezh); and
  • Commander, 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade.

General-Major Andrey Vladimirovich Boldyrev commands the 74th MRB in Yurga, near Kemerovo.  It’s part of the 41st CAA, Central MD.  Troops from the 74th fought in both Chechen campaigns and reportedly also in the Donbass more recently.

General-Major Andrey Vladimirovich Boldyrev

General-Major Andrey Vladimirovich Boldyrev

Boldyrev made general at the tender age of 38.  It didn’t hurt that his father is retired Army General Vladimir Boldyrev, former Ground Troops CINC.

Army General Vladimir Anatolyevich Boldyrev

Army General Vladimir Anatolyevich Boldyrev

The elder Boldyrev also commanded three of Russia’s military districts.  He spent considerable time in the old Siberian (now Central) MD where his son serves and in the former Transbaykal MD.

New Division in Rostov-na-Donu

Rostov-na-Donu and the Western Direction

Rostov-na-Donu and the Western Direction

A Southern MD staff source told TASS on 24 March the Russian Army will establish a “full-blooded” motorized rifle division in the vicinity of Rostov-na-Donu this year.  The source indicated orders to this effect came from Chief of the General Staff Army General Valeriy Gerasimov.

The new division will reportedly be based in three garrison towns in Rostov Oblast.  Staff buildings and barracks will be constructed initially, with other facilities to follow in 2017.  Housing the division, storing its equipment, and providing training grounds and other essential infrastructure improvements will cost at least 5 billion rubles [$73 million].

Headquarters to the Southern MD, Rostov-na-Donu is opposite Donetsk and was the staging area for Russian forces that intervened in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

On 12 January, Defense Minister Shoygu announced that three divisions would be established in the western direction during 2016, but didn’t say where.  He also didn’t indicate if they would be completely new formations or existing ones moved to a new location and beefed up.

Most Southern MD forces are located south of Stavropol (headquarters of the 49th CAA) and are oriented on the Caucasus.

But Aleksey Ramm has suggested that an MRD at Rostov-na-Donu might be formed out of the current 33rd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain) now based in Maykop and Novocherkassk.  There aren’t other good candidates except to make a new division out of whole cloth.

If Rostov-na-Donu is one division, what about the other two?

The reincarnated 1st Tank Army just west of Moscow probably needs its 6th Tank Brigade to become a division for the army to be a real tank army (at least two tank divisions).

The 20th CAA — moved from around Nizhniy Novgorod to Voronezh — could have either its 9th MRB or 1st Tank Brigade (both near Boguchar) turned into a division.

But in light of increased tension with NATO, especially with its newest and easternmost members, it seems the Kremlin might want a new division opposite the Baltic states, or perhaps even in Kaliningrad. The latter would be a low-cost reorganization since the Ground Troops already have an independent brigade and regiment in the Russian exclave.

Some MPs Fail First Test

Denis Mokrushin pointed out an interesting item from Lifenews.ru about new military police recruits in the Urals who recently paid 3,000-ruble [$45] bribes to their company commander.

Aleksandr Tsoy

Aleksandr Tsoy

32-year-old Captain Aleksandr Tsoy reportedly demanded 3,000 rubles from each of the 112 recruits under his command for retraining as MPs.  In exchange, Tsoy promised good living conditions, but he also threatened them with failing the training if they didn’t pay.  He certainly helped them fail their first test in any event.  In all, 106 paid the young officer a total of 318,000 rubles [$4,700] — the equivalent of several months pay for him.

Tsoy was relieved of duty during the investigation.

It’s interesting and inauspicious that only six trainees refused to pay. The Russian military should be worried that Tsoy apparently didn’t think he’d get caught.

Tupolevs Over Tajikistan

Tu-95 MS Bear (photo TVZvezda)

Tu-95MS / Bear (photo: TVZvezda)

Moscow integrated Tu-95MS / Bear and Tu-22M3 / Backfire bombers into a “large-scale” exercise with Tajikistan this week.

Bears and Backfires (and Tu-160 / Blackjacks) participated in strikes on Syrian targets last November, and we’re accustomed to Russian bombers probing U.S. and NATO air defenses.  But this might be the first time the Russians have deployed strategic bombers for training over a former Soviet / CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization partner.

If not, it is uncommon.

This somewhat dubious distinction might indicate that Kremlin concern about Tajikistan’s security (and its impact on Russia’s) is a notch above worries about other allies right now.

The Bears flew from their base at Engels in Saratov Oblast by way of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to get to Tajikistan.  The TVZvezda video below shows one hooked up to a tanker aircraft.

The Backfires operated from Tajik airfields along with 30 Russian Su-24M and Su-25SM aircraft and combat helicopters, according to TVZvezda.

The “anti-terrorism” exercise began on 14 March, and involved roughly 2,000 troops from the two sides, news agency TASS reported.

The combined force, including troops from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, VDV, and VDV Spetsnaz, blocked and destroyed a large notional motorized insurgent group that violated the country’s border.  The VDV conducted tactical airborne and air assault operations against the notional enemy along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Central MD commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo observed the exercise.

So why the bombers?  First, it’s good to get flight familiarization over terrain where one might fly a real combat mission one day.  Second and more important, bombers armed with cruise missiles make a more immediate and tangible impression than equally threatening submarines cruising in the Black Sea or Med.  It’s almost the inverse of Syria where subs got the first action but LRA also had the chance to conduct real-world operations.

What of Tajikistan, the ostensible reason for the entire military display?

For Jamestown.org, Paul Goble has written about its vulnerability to Islamic State or Taliban forces.  But, he says, Turkmenistan might actually be a more vulnerable and more attractive target.  It has natural gas for the taking and it lacks a fairly strong and proactive ally like Russia.

Also writing for Jamestown, Steve Blank speculated that Tajikistan could become a “fourth front” for Russia, along with Ukraine, Syria, and the North Caucasus. Tajikistan is a key part of Moscow’s “domino theory.”  If Dushanbe falls into hostile hands, the rest of Central Asia and Russia itself become more vulnerable.

Come what may, an exercise involving strategic aviation just beyond Russia’s periphery is an interesting and rather unnoticed event that we could see again.