Tsar-Boat

Russian military television, TV Zvezda, not long ago ran a 35-minute show on the construction and acceptance of Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh in Severodvinsk.  Pretty interesting footage showing test launches of Bulava SLBMs and engineers checking design specs on reams of paper documents.  Props to someone for putting the video on YouTube.

The program follows MOD military representatives, civilians, and crew through the final process of delivering and accepting the new submarine into service.  It also has footage from Votkinsk showing the manufacture of Bulavas for the Borey-class.

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.

Aerospace Forces

At some point, probably next summer, the Air Forces (VVS) will cease being one of Russia’s three armed services.  The Aerospace Forces (VKS or ВКС) will take their place.  The Aerospace Defense Troops (VVKO) will likewise disappear as a branch and get rolled into the new VKS.  Russia will be left with three services and two branches (not three of each).

RF and Air Forces Flags (photo: Mil.ru)

RF and Air Forces Flags (photo: Mil.ru)

The Aerospace Forces will be responsible for all Russian air forces and air defense (and more).

This news comes on the heels of six months of studious MOD denials that such a move was even contemplated.

It began quietly on 1 December  with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s remarks to a regular military leadership videoconference.

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Shoygu discussed changing the organizational structure of the Air Forces in connection with turning VVKO aerospace defense brigades back into air defense (PVO) divisions.  He said the decision was made in mid-2013 after an analysis of mission fulfillment by the Air Forces.  He explained that:

“The goal of the changes being made is to increase the effectiveness of VVS [Air Forces] command and control, to improve the quality of the organization of everyday activity and planning for the combat employment of the troops.”

It echoed an earlier decision to reverse course on Anatoliy Serdyukov’s large composite air bases and groups and put aircraft back into more dispersed divisions and regiments.

By 10 December, Interfaks-AVN reported that the decision to replace the VVS with the VKS awaited only an official announcement.  

The news agency’s MOD source said:

“Formation of the new service [VKS] will proceed gradually, and, as expected, take several years.  In the course of this period, the forces and means entering the VKS must develop in the direction of unification and standardization of command and control, information and strike systems.”

The source also claimed the first CINC of the new service would be a general officer with experience commanding large inter-service [unified or joint] troop groupings, including aviation and PVO.  The most likely candidate — according to the source — Central MD Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy.

Then Defense Minister Shoygu made it official on 18 December when he said creating Aerospace Forces would be a priority task for 2015.

TASS reported the VKS CINC will have deputies for aviation, air defense, missile defense (PRO), and space.  It also indicated that VKS will control all current VVS aviation, including frontal and army aviation.  But its sway over the latter two — with the exception of fighter aircraft — will be “purely nominal,” and they will be employed in “coordination” with MD commanders.  Troop PVO will apparently continue to protect army formations.

Military commentator Igor Korotchenko captured the essence of VKS as a reaction to the possibility of a devastating U.S. aerospace attack on Russia:

“The main function [of VKS] is to guarantee realization of the Russian Federation’s concept of aerospace defense, proceeding from the need to counter existing plans, particularly of the United States of America, to implement the prompt global strike concept.  The Americans are planning in the conceivable future to use precision weapons, including hypersonic ones, to destroy [launch] positions and silos of intercontinental ballistic missiles, command centers, communications centers.  The fact here is that this concept will potentially be a great threat for Russia.  These new structures, the new service of the Russian armed forces will be occupied with its deterrence and neutralization.”

Such a potentially disarming threat might mobilize the military and public against America, but Korotchenko and the VKS will have to wait a very long time for it to materialize.  And if it doesn’t appear, then the deterrent worked, right?  A no-lose proposition from Moscow’s perspective.

VKS will be something of an effort to resurrect or reconstruct Soviet PVO Strany — national air defense — that was dismantled beginning in the late 1970s. Serdyukov’s reorganization of the VVS and creation of VVKO are criticized now as focused solely on saving money.  The current thinking is that all aerospace defense systems should be concentrated in a single service and single CINC with authority and responsibility for protecting the country’s aerospace borders.

The new VKS will be anything but compact, as President Putin often calls on the army to be.  They will be a sprawling enterprise that may be challenging to link and inter-connect for operations as a unified command.  If Serdyukov’s changes were too economy-minded, this one errs on the side of Soviet-style giantism. And now isn’t an auspicious time for expensive undertakings.

There are practical issues too.  How will the VKS CINC manage competing requirements for modern fighter aircraft from frontal aviation and air defense?Their number is limited and insufficient for both needs.  So creation of VKS won’t change the fact that they will be spread thinly over a gigantic landmass.

Moral of the story:  Reform, reorganization, and reshuffling never really end no matter the boss — Serdyukov, Shoygu, etc.  VKS may be the answer for a time, but they’re very unlikely to be the last word. 

P.S.  Various reports on VKS provided some indication of deployments in 2015. What is currently the VKO brigade (or will become a PVO division) in Novosibirsk may receive the S-400 this summer.  Shoygu said the MOD will put an air and air defense army (AVVSiPVO or АВВСиПВО) in the Arctic.  More recently, TASS reported an S-400 regiment will be deployed on Novaya Zemlya.

Year of Accomplishments

Krasnaya zvezda called this story “Year of Accomplishments,” but might have called it Day of Military Acceptance . . . .

President and Supreme CINC Vladimir Putin visited the NTsUO for the first time on 18 December.  He familiarized himself with the new national command center and its capabilities for accommodating and coordinating the work of the military and other high-level government organs.

Putin Touring the NTsUO (photo: Mil.ru)

Putin Touring the NTsUO (photo: Mil.ru)

Putin’s seat is in the upper balcony opposite the big screens.

Another View of the NTsUO (photo: Mil.ru)

Another View of the NTsUO (photo: Mil.ru)

The first real order of business, however, was reviewing fulfillment of the State Defense Order in 2014.

Recall this year the political leadership and Defense Ministry launched a quarterly exercise of enumerating what was procured the previous three months on what they call the Day of Military Acceptance (День военной приёмки).

It’s almost as though the Kremlin is irritated someone has audaciously suggested that Russian output of new armaments and other military equipment hasn’t been especially impressive in years past.  

The Supreme CINC said:

“At recent meetings in Sochi we already noted that practically all Gosoboronzakaz tasks for this year have been fulfilled, and its general volume increased by almost half in comparison with 2013.”

Putin went on to say that 4,500 weapons, military, and special equipment were acquired in 2014, including:

  • 142 aircraft;
  • 135 helicopters;
  • 4 submarines;
  • 15 surface ships and boats / craft;
  • 19 SAM systems;
  • 590 tanks and BMPs;
  • 3 Yars ICBM regiments;
  • 7 modernized Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers.

It isn’t clear which four submarines the Russian president means.  Probably the third Borey-class (proyekt 955A) SSBN Vladimir Monomakh and Improved Kilo-class (proyekt 636.3) diesel-electric Novorossiysk.  But Borey unit 2 Aleksandr Nevskiy was accepted late last year.  And it would be a stretch to accept the next two Improved Kilos before January.

KZ then turns to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and his words before an expanded MOD collegium in the NTsUO.

He said Russian strategic forces received 38 intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2014 — 16 ICBMs and 22 SLBMs — most of the latter placed on Borey unit 1 Yuriy Dolgorukiy.  He claimed that 56 percent of Russia’s strategic weapons are now “modern.”

Shoygu said Russia’s 14 UAV sub-units (companies or platoons) received 179 UAVs.

He expounded a bit on the Supreme CINC:

“The Ground Troops were supplied with two brigade sets of operational-tactical missile systems ‘Iskander-M,’ 294 modernized tanks, 296 other armored combat vehicles, two ‘S-300V4′ Ground Troops air defense systems, almost 5 thousand vehicles.”

“The Air Forces received 142 aircraft, of which 53 are multipurpose Su-30 and Su-35S aircraft systems, 16 Su-34, 28 transport and training aircraft of various types, 18 modernized fighter-interceptors MiG-31BM, 135 helicopters, including 46 combat and 72 transports.”

Mil.ru posted the videos and texts presented to Putin and the collegium.  They address all of the priority tasks of the military this year.  One, of course, is “Equipping with Modern Armaments and Military Equipment.”  It provides the following data (different from Putin and Shoygu):

  • 294 modernized T-72B3;
  • 7 S-400 SAM systems;
  • Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk (accepted in 2013?!@#) ;
  • Novorossiysk;
  • 5 surface ships and 10 boats / craft of various classes.

This account mentions that the serviceability of weapons and equipment rose from 80 to 85 percent.

Accepting submarines at year’s end seems to enable Moscow to claim that they were accepted, or to count them as “produced,” in two years rather than just one.

All in all, more weapons and equipment were acquired in 2014 and 2013 than in 2012, 2011, etc.  But it’s a little like comparing something and nothing. Serious procurement on a fairly wide front didn’t begin until after 2012.

The Most Recently Promoted

New Russian general and flag officer promotees have been added to the list. They show 12/13/2014 for a date of rank.  KZ ran a copy Putin’s ukaz.

Some notes:

  • The Pacific Fleet commander put on his third star.
  • Newly-minted General-Colonels Lentsov and Dvornikov look like possible candidates to command military districts / unified strategic commands in the future.
  • Four army commanders — Gurulev, Kaloyev, Kuralenko, and Teplinskiy — put on their second stars.
  • Chiefs of some specialized branches (comms, coastal defense, missile troops and artillery, air defense) got promoted.
  • RVSN, Airborne, VKO, Spetsnaz, and motorized rifle formation commanders got their first stars.
  • Friend-of-Putin and head of Russia’s military police Sidorkevich also got a star.

Item 30

PAK FA

PAK FA

HT to Militaryparitet.com for pointing to Lenta.ru on the status of work on PAK FA’s advanced “second phase” engine.

Lenta (citing Interfaks) says a source close to ODK General Director Vladislav Masalov says a PAK FA with the “second phase” engine will fly in 2017.

He reportedly said the “second phase” engine will replace “item 117″ and give PAK FA supercruise capability while being 15-18 percent more fuel efficient and cheaper to maintain.

Lenta notes the developmental engine is “item 30″ not “item 129″ as cited previously in Russian media.

The AL-41F1 is “item 117.”  Current PAK FA prototypes and the Su-35S have “item 117S” (AL-41F1S) engines.

Recall, in 2010, ODK along with NPO Saturn hoped the “second phase” engine would fly by 2015.  However, OAK President Pogosyan was considerably less sanguine, saying that the advanced engine might come in 2019, or later.

What’s It Cost? (Addendum)

There’s reason this week to return to the issue of what the S-400 system costs. Specifically, what it might cost China.

Vedomosti reported Wednesday that Russia has signed a deal with China to sell it the S-400 / Triumf.

The business daily’s defense industry source claims the agreement inked by Rosoboroneksport and the Chinese military will send off not less than six battalions of the advanced SAM system for more than $3 billion.

That would be at least $500 million per battalion (against the previously ventured guess of about $320 million).  Or in excess of $80 million per TEL.

The Russian Defense Ministry has consistently maintained that the S-400 won’t go abroad before 2016.

Vedomosti notes China’s last big purchase was 15 battalions of S-300PMU-2 completed in 2010.

RIA Novosti pretty quickly reported that an official of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) said an S-400 contract hadn’t been signed with China as yet.

Rosoboroneksport and Almaz-Antey just declined comment.