Dead-moored squadron: Russian Navy at Syria’s Coast

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Missile cruiser “Varyag” is due to replace “Moscow” in the Mediterranean. What next?

Dead-moored squadron: Russian Navy at Syria's Coast

Varyag

Originally appeared at Interpolit, translated by James Cooksey exclusively for SouthFront

Probability is high that the crew of the guided missile cruiser project 1164 “Moskva” (Black sea fleet), who performs combat duty off the Syrian coast will meet the New year or Orthodox Christmas in Sevastopol. He will be substituted by almost indistinguishable vessel of the same project, – “Varyag” (Pacific fleet).

Today, the “Varyag” along with the “Bystriy” destroyer (project 956), a large sea tanker “Boris Butoma” and rescue tug ship “Alatau” takes part in joint Russian-Indian exercises in the Bay of Bengal. On December 12th when the exercises are complete, and the of Pacific Fleet (PF) ships detachment would make haste into the Mediterranean sea.

At first glance it is almost a routine rotation. Actually it is a constrained decision, which the Main Navy headquarters makes out of indigence. The problems of our fleet are so interconnected and tied in such a tight knot that even near Syria it fails to solve one problem, without failing in another.

To begin with, Russian Navy command had virtually no options for “Moskva” replacement.  Primary objective of the Black sea cruiser on the Latakia raid is strengthening of the Russian “Hmeymim” airbase air defense. Airbase that sends dozens of combat jets and helicopters to strike terrorist’s positions. It’s true, that recently in the vicinity of the airfield a division of the anti-aircraft missile system S-400 “Triumph” was hastily deployed from Russia to Syria. But what a the division consists of? Eight launchers, each containing with two missiles. So, therefore, division can hit a maximum of 16 targets in one salvo. Then a long reload. But if there is more attacking enemies?

In this case in the vicinity of the S-400 positions self-propelled surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery complexes “Pantsir-S1” are deployed. The same is done in Syria. But in the case of a massive air strike combat capabilities of “Pantsirs” may be not enough. Therefore “Moskva” was positioned on anchor close to Latakia. It’s armament include air-defense complex S-300 “Fort” with a decent combat range of 90 kilometers and ammunition of 64 missiles.

This is how layered in range and altitude defense of “Hmeymim” works.

But the ships can’t perform their combat duty in isolation from maintenance facilities for long. It’s seen not just in increasing physical and psychological fatigue of the personnel. Continuously working mechanisms, weapons and life support systems are also limited in resources. We do not know and should not know, how things are on the cruiser “Moskva”. But some suspicion creeps. Because in May of 2015, when the ship once again returned from the Mediterranean sea, Black sea fleet commander admiral Alexander Vitko has announced that in December its planned to be transferred in Severodvinsk for a four-year renovation. And also for modernization purpose.

But December came. And where’re the repairs? Just at the beginning of autumn, when the decision was made about the beginning of operations in Syria, it became clear that there are no seaborne capabilities to support our pilots’ efforts. There were no considerable attack ships on active duty neither in the Black nor in the Baltic or Northern fleets being able to leave urgently. All that was available was being repaired. The only one available was “Moskva”.Thus, it, already pretty battered was assigned to its mission in Syria.

And in the early fall a senior source at the headquarters of the Black sea fleet said in regard to departing for the Bosphorus cruiser: “The technical condition of our flagship is such that, without repairs and upgrades he can do for at least another year.” Maybe it’s true. But almost half of that year has expired. So delaying the return of the “Moskva” to the base is going to lay more risks with every overdue day.

However, over the past months the miracle did not happen nor on Black, neither in the Baltic or in the Barents Sea. None of those who were repaired in the summer didn’t return for duties. So for the Navy Main headquarters there was but one thing to do — deploy “Moskva’s” sister-ship “Varyag” from Vladivostok to Mediterranean. And the exercise with India is just a side job to go along.

How does the situation look like now? Now on the huge spaciousness of the Pacific and Indian oceans Russia does not have a single major surface combat ship. Apparently, our admirals were trying to avoid such occurrences. Obviously, the calculation was based on the fact that for the current winter season from Severodvinsk plant “Star” was finally released, the third (and last) Russian cruiser of project 1164 “Marshal Ustinov” (Northern fleet). He is clearly bored by the seas, perfectly would replace off the coast of Syria “Moscow”. Alas, and “Ustinov” yet nothing happened.

North Sea missile cruiser is at the shipyards moorage since 2011. It was due to return to the combat duty in 2014. Today it is clear that the return will happen only in 2016. And this is despite the fact that now “Marshal Ustinov” occupies almost all of the huge “Zvezdochka” ’s personnel. According to local journalists, every day the ship employs over five hundred professionals from this shipyard and also from other plants and organizations.

In a great haste it was ordered to start mooring trials at the beginning of this month. This is despite the fact that by December 7th, lighting was installed on only five of the fifteen compartments of the cruiser. And the repair of decks and corridors was not completed. Also undone was the hull exterior painting.

Why is everything so overstretched? As explained by official representative of the “Zvezdochka” Evgeny Gladyshev, when vessel was put on maintenance in the shipyard it was never mentioned of weapons replacement for “Marshal Ustinov”. This possibility was mulled though, but the contract was never signed. Hundreds of kilometers of cable routes were changed, navigation system was improved, a new long-range three-coordinate radar station “Podberezovik” installed. Quite a number of new systems and mechanisms were also mounted.

Then it was decided also to polish the performance of the main weapon — anti-ship long-range cruise missiles complex P-1000 “Volcano” (with a range of up to 1000 kilometers).

The fact is that originally, in 1986, “Marshal Ustinov” was commissioned to Navy with 16 anti-ship cruise missiles launchers containing P-500 complex “Basalt” (these are still active on “Moskva”). But soon the “Volcano” appeared with rockets whose firing range is twice as much. During the three-year renovation period 1994-1997 “Volcano” was mounted on “Ustinov”. But for some reason (probably for economic) old fiberglass missile launchers had not been changed with new, heat-resistant alloys.

In the end it was revealed that the use of the standard P-1000 starting stage in the previous launchers is absolutely impossible due to them burning out. As a compromise it was decided that the new missiles will be equipped with older units starting with the P-500. As a result the range was decreased significantly — at several hundred kilometers. Now this deficiency was decided to eliminate. But time will surely be lost.

But leaving the shipyard is not all there is. Before joining active service the crew has to do a lot. With the help of military industry representatives they have to adjust operation and maintenance of all systems and mechanisms, rebuild and restore their capabilities, work out the organization of the naval services, pass all training objectives and shoot from all weapons at the shooting ranges . It takes almost six months.

However, beside “Marshal Ustinov” no one will be able to replace “Varyag” near the coast of Syria by September. “Moskva”, apparently, will immediately occupy the newly freed space at the Severodvinsk pier and will proceed with the long-promised four-year modernization.

However, anti-aircraft missile systems S-300F Fort, necessary for the defense of the “Hmeymim” airbase are the “Orlans” — nuclear-powered missile cruiser project 1144. But they are plagued with difficulties.

The youngest – “Peter the Great” – is in repairs in 82th shipyard, in the village of Roslyakovo near Murmansk. He arrived there last September.

Nuclear-powered missile cruiser “Admiral Nakhimov” hasn’t been to sea since 1999. It is also ongoing modernization which is due for completion in 2018.

There is no one left. Except, of course, for nuclear-powered missile cruiser “Admiral Lazarev” of the PF, whose fate is especially bleak and gloomy. Since 1999, the cruiser, with a skeleton crew and without nuclear fuel is awaiting its fate in auxiliary dock in the Far Eastern Bay of Arrows.

Apparently, PF flagship missile cruiser “Varyag” was already given unprecedented long for current conditions combat service term off the Syrian coast— until September  2016. And it must accomplish its mission. Until that time, the reinforcement won’t arrive.

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