Originally appeared at Svpressa, translated bhy AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
On March 2, the Black Sea Fleet frigate Admiral Grigorovich (Project 11356) sailed from Sevastopol into the Mediterranean Sea and once again headed by the permanent operative connection of the Russian Navy off the coast of Syria. Thus started the fourth distant expedition of this ship with its short biography, which is not even a year old. Before this, the Admiral Grigorovich was in the same waters in May-June of 2016. Then in September-October, and later in November-December. This time the Sevastopol-based frigate sailed on February 27. We will see for how long.
In the meantime, this same ship took part in Navy exercises in the Black Sea testing areas and in search and rescue operations at the site of the Tu-154 crash near Sochi. All this despite the fact that the newly built in the Baltic frigate arrived to its permanent base in Sevastopol barely nine months ago.
In short, the first year service schedule is absolutely ruthless in relation to technology and its crew. The crew simply does not have time for sensible service on the materiel, or training of personnel at the naval base, or making decisions on many organisational questions, providing naval structures. Even more so, there is at least some sort of shore leave for sailors and their families.
Why it is happening this way? Because, today, there is simply no one to replace Admiral Grigorovich’s command in the Mediterranean Sea. The missile cruiser Moscow, which in previous years carried almost the same load in the continuous campaigns, was absolutely driven and has been a full year at the main base, waiting for its turn for long technical repairs to restore readiness and modernisation in Severodvinsk. There are no other large strike ships at the disposal of Admiral Aleksandr Vitko, commander of the Black Sea Fleet.
“How come?”, you may ask. After all, almost a year ago (on July 7, 2016), Vitko received under his command the second frigate of Project 11356, built at the Yantar shipyards in Kaliningrad, Admiral Essen. It is been crewed by the Black Sea Fleet for a while now. It has been almost a year since the ship could be a replacement for Admiral Grigorovich in the Mediterranean Sea.
Alas, he could, but did not. The fact is, with long-passed June the Admiral Essen did not reach Sevastopol. We are told that all the matter is in the unfortunate navigation incident. But there is a good reason to doubt this.
Actually, on October 16 of last year, in the poorly organised production on a mooring barrel of the Admiral Essen damaged bolts and the line shaft. Instead of the transfer to the Black Sea for repairs it was put in the floating dock. And it left the dock on December 23! That is, almost three months ago. And still in Sevastopol, at the place of permanent service, where the frigate is waiting, there is no hurry. Unwittingly there are sneaking suspicions that in fact the case is not only in an incident, the consequences of which have long been resolved by the shipbuilders. But in something we do not know yet. However we will try to surmise.
It is not excluded, the true key in solving the oddities, happening in the frigate series of Project 11356, lies in the mishaps of the third one, Admiral Makarov. It was also built in the Kaliningrad shipyard and is intended for the Black Sea Fleet. Launched at sea in September 2015, but still crisscrossing the Baltic waves and still not integrated into the Black Sea Fleet. And when will it join the inter-fleet transfer to the main base, God knows.
It is true that since March 2016 the Admiral Markov goes through a series of mooring and state tests in the Baltic Sea. However, with these tests something is clearly wrong. Judge for yourselves.
Last year on October 7 this frigate in the busy Baltic Sea made the transition to the Barents Sea, where in the training ranges of the Northern Fleet shot all kinds of weapons, cruise missile Kalibr at land targets, anti-aircraft missiles Shtil-1 (Calm-1) and artillery at difficult land target positions. According to the Navy command, the programme of state tests in the Arctic was carried out entirely.
On November 25 the new frigate once again moored in the Baltic. The representative of the Yantar consortium Sergei Mikhailov stated to the journalists that now, on the ship “there will be preparations to put to sea, after which the Admiral Makarov will return to the factory in Kaliningrad, there will be revisions and final finishing of the ship, painting, cleaning. Only then will it host a flag-raising and the transfer of the ship to the customer”.
This way, from the point of view of the industry, with all the work of the ship builders behind, sailors can together with them drink a glass of champagne and with peace of mind take Admiral Makarov with them. But there it was. Instead of the final handshake for the employees and admirals, seemingly completing in the North the comprehensive inspections and technical readiness of the frigate, decided to continue it in the Baltic Sea.
On December 8 the representative of the press services of the Baltic Fleet Captain 1st rank Roman Martov announced that the ship is once again “reached the final stages of state tests”. According to Martov’s words, the “ship’s crew and navy aviation of the Baltic Fleet provide the next stage of the final phase of state testing of the patrol ship Admiral Makarov. There are thirteen ships and support vessels involved in the test programme, as well as fighter jets Su-24, Su-27 and on-board helicopters Ka-27”.
Once again the artillery frigate fired at targets, imitating coastal and air targets. How all this training race will end, we cannot tell. But apparently, the customer is not particularly satisfied. At least, the same official representative of Yantar Mikhailov has not promised early delivery of the frigate to the fleet, was even more cautious.
On January 11, 2017 he said “Our immediate plans are tied with the frigate Admiral Makarov, but it still has to complete state tests. In particular, test shots must be carried out from the Shtil anti-aircraft missile complex. As soon as they take place, the ship will complete the government tests programme and will be ready to be transferred to the Baltic Fleet. We want to do this as soon as possible, we expect that the transfer to the Baltic Fleet will take place in the first quarter of the current year”.
We will note the most important in this quote: for the first time in open sources the main snag with the Admiral Markov is identified, which in fact prevents the timely delivery of this ship to the Black Sea Fleet – the technical readiness of its anti-aircraft missile system Shtil-1.
As we might guess, further attempts to do at least something with the capricious Shtil-1, the problems simply acquired a feverish character. Perhaps under pressure from Moscow, which has long been more concerned about the regular frustrations with the performance of our shipbuilding programme. In any case, in a week’s time the frigate once again sailed for testing the anti-aircraft fire. And once again, as we can guess, with the capricious Shtil-1, not everything went smoothly. The unfortunate Mikhailov, is trying to publicly explain what is happening, flipping as if in a frying pan in front of journalists.
On January 20 he made an announcement from which ensued that the “testing programme of the frigate is not complete 100%, the ship as before is at the state of completing state tests. The tests of the anti-aircraft system Shtil so far are not completed”.
And once more he raised a smokescreen, stating that a “revision of material parts” started on the frigate. From which, obviously, follows is that on board the Admiral Markov special additional developers of the SAM arrived from the Yekaterinburg “Start” scientific-production enterprise, previously part of the “Aviation Equipment” holding (presently, Technodinamika, JSC) state corporation Rostech.
The disruption of the timeline of the transfer of the ship to the Navy, once set at first for the beginning of 2014, then, for the end of 2016, the representative of the workers somehow explained very childishly – allegedly, the weather conditions in the Baltic Sea in December did not allow the frigate to fire on time on the targets. As if Shtil was named after it, not trained in shooting down the target in a storm. But if only the matter was truly only about the weather…
The fact is that the anti-aircraft missile complex Shtil-1 in its time was already becoming a problem on a national scale. At first it was put on the frigates of Project 11356 (several modernised presently for the Russian Navy, including Kalibr), which then sailed from Kaliningrad for India. That contract, I will remind, was concluded in 1997. Its essence was our commitment to build for Delhi three such boats for the sum of close to one billion dollars. The basis of the air defence of new constructions was also made up of the SAM Shtil-1.
The first frigate was planned for transfer to the customer in May 2002, the second, in November 2002, the third, in May 2003. At first, all went smoothly. In March 2002 the state commission took the first ship. However, in May during the acceptance tests it was the same SAM Shtil-1 that screwed us up. All missiles launched after the start self-destructed. It took a long time to find the technical reasons, then to carry out additional work to correct them. The orders were quickly cancelled.
Between the factory and the developers arose a bitter financial dispute: who will pay the damages? Not only those that India sustained but our own, additional sorties to the sea, providing test ships, unplanned flights of aircraft and helicopters of the Baltic Fleet. Then the developers did not recognise the workers’ claims that the cause of unsuccessful firings, simultaneously with SAMs was the work of other electronic systems of the ship.
No matter how things were, it is obvious that one SAM Shtil-1 in 2002 was very “raw”. But once the Indians took it nevertheless, that means that, we brought this weapon to the required standards. However, a decade and a half already passed since the execution of the mentioned Indian order. According to the general director of NPP “Start”, Marat Ishutinov, the design of the SAM was substantially amended.
The previous launcher was located on the carrier deck, which negatively affected on the electronic visibility of the ship and lowered the rate of fire. The missiles could be launched with a maximum interval of 12 seconds. On the new frigates of the Admiral Grigorovich class, designed for the Russian Navy, transport-launch containers were placed under the upper deck. The firing rate of the complex increased six-fold. The ships’ cellars turned out to be one and a half times roomier, which allowed to significantly increase the ammunition.
In general, everything is fine, except for one thing: as with all new complex technical devices, the updated Shtil-1, as shown by the sad experience of the Admiral Makarov, so far, it is a lot of junk. No one seems to doubt that with these growing pains our designers will eventually solve the problem. And of course one must give them the necessary time.
However, here is a question, as much as that same technology has long been siting on the Admiral Grigorovich, sailing today for Syria, how reliable its air defences are? How and with what means the Admiral Essen, long integrated into the battle structure of the Black Sea Fleet, is ready to strike at an air attack and getting ready to sail from the Baltic to Sevastopol?
True, we did not hear anything that there were problems in the course of state testing with Shtil-1. Although it is quite possible that no one talked about it in the open. And rightly so, since it is still understood that “military secrets” are not cancelled. But can problems not exist with Shtil-1 on the first two frigates, if the work done on the Admiral Makarov shoddy, and for many months did not return to normal?
If our suppositions are true, if missile men experience similar difficulties on the Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, then all is left is to suppose that sometimes in Russia the old vicious Soviet practice of interaction of industry and the military continues. In the USSR the warships were often taken with enormous deficiencies. Under pressure from powerful lobbyists from the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers, certificates were signed in order not to interrupt the fulfillment of government plans, in order to pay awards to the personnel of the plant, in order not to spoil the industry or plant accountability and so forth. Under oath all somehow will be finished later.
Examples? Please, large anti-submarine ship of Project 1155. The main one is the Udaloy (Brave), came in into the Northern Fleet in 1981. But, in fact without the main air defence weapons, the anti-aircraft complex Kinjal (Dagger), installed on it, (the naval equivalent of the land based Thor short range missile). The industry simply did not have time to finish Kinjal by the deadline, when the ship was completed. As usual, all promised to finish very quickly.
I had to go to sea on the Udaloy at a time when it was commanded by captain 2nd rank Nikolay Skok. Thus, I testify – spaces for the missing equipment for combat duties of the ship were simply boarded up with wood boards. That did not prevent the fleet command to send the half armed Udaloy not only for combat training ranges but even into the Atlantic. And the SAM Kinjal was completed and adopted by the Navy of the USSR only in 1984.
Tell me, cases of bygone days, a typical “Soviet” fraud? Take your time. Do you remember, in July last year the sensation of the statement of the chief of armaments of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation Lieutenant-General Anatoly Guliaev about serious problems with other SAMs on ships, Poliment-Redut? In particular, the general then said, that because of half-cocked ideas the Redut, time after time, the delivery of the main frigate to the fleet of Project 22350 the Admiral Gorshkov was delayed. And added, “the Ministry of Defence suspended the tests, including and because all intended targets and ammunition for testing were shot. There is no sense, it is planned to create the interdepartmental commission and investigate, because these experiments lead to nothing. If we do not find the reasons, why missiles were falling at the third second, problems are expected”.
That the Ministry of Defence does not want for the Admiral Gorshkov to be in the same condition that once the Udaloy was, of course, is pleasing. But what to make of the facts that for a long time in the ranks of the Baltic Fleet with these weapon deficiencies, of “missiles falling at the third second”, corvettes of Project 22380 the Soobrazitel’nyi (Savvy), Boikyi (Courageous) and Stoikyi (Resistant)? Why, according to him, in the very recent times, the admirals signed the certificates of acceptance?
And now we have the strange saga with the SAM Shtil-1 and frigates of Admiral class. These ships of the fleet are necessary as air. But with a full set of superior weapons. And only with them. Even if someone from the industry tends to think otherwise.
The Shtil-1 complex is developed by the scientific-industrial enterprise “Start”. It was created to replace the out-dated missile complex Hurricane and includes modules with launchers of anti-air-craft missiles of short and medium range, and fire control systems. One combat unit with a vertical launcher includes 12 missiles. The system can be installed on ships of various sizes.
Shtil-1 is capable of striking air targets at up to 50 kilometres and at an altitude of up to 15 thousand metres. It is capable of firing up to 12 air targets at the same time. The missile complex is equipped with a fragmentation warhead and capable of hitting targets flying at speeds of up to 830 metres per second. In the launcher, the missile at the time of the launch is ejected from the container as a powder catapult to a height of not less than 25 metres, after which, start the main engines.