Written by Maksim Klimov; Originally appeared on Nvo.ng.ru; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Why the near zone of the domestic fleet was defenceless
“Fleet commander Admiral G.M. Egorov gave our squadron an introduction, to find areas of patrol of the Norwegian submarine. Virtually none of our nuclear submarines could enter or leave the main base unnoticed by them. We knew about their presence nearby, but we needed to find a way around their positions. We were asked to search for areas of battery charging and, to hang on to the boat, to follow her before coming to the patrol area. The squadron identified two pairs of submarines, acting as part of the tactical groups. To no avail, “wrote the flagship miner of the 4th squadron E.K. Penzin.
It should be noted that Admiral Egorov was perhaps the only commander of the fleet who understood this danger, thanks to his own military experience: in December 1944, while repairing his submarine on the ground, he was in the rendez-vous area of three German submarines and had a long hydro-acoustic contact with one of them.
There cannot be any talk about any distant zone, aircraft carriers, naval strategic nuclear forces (NSNF), cruisers, destroyer, if an exit from base is not provided through anti-mine action and ships would be blown up by enemy submarines practically “at the exit of the channels”.
This was well understood in the Soviet Navy and they had powerful forces of the water area protection (WAP). Today, the forces of the near zone of the Russian Navy have completely lost their combat value. And the situation with the forces of the near zone of the fleet can be described in one word – a disaster. So, in Kamchatka, in fact, there is no anti-submarine and anti-mine support for the group of strategic missiles submarines of Project 955, and the existing pair of small anti-submarine ships and three minesweepers are only able to “carry the flag” because of the “antiquity” of their weapons.
Without going into the classic definition of tasks of the WAP of the Navy (and much out-dated), we identify the critical ones: anti-submarine defence, anti-mine defence, anti-submarine warfare defence, the destruction of light forces and enemy surface ships, “control” (exploration) in the near zone and the exclusion of sudden actions of the enemy, as well as air defence. Taking into account the new capabilities of the Kalibr missile system, the destruction of ground targets was added to these tasks.
Currently, Russia cannot provide any secured part of the anti-submarine defence of the near sea area. To the point that the deployed naval strategic nuclear force was deliberately not protected. And the solution of this critical problem is not even planned, because:
– first, the proposed stationary systems obviously do not have the necessary survivability and combat resistance (can be disabled at any time);
– second, domestic aviation systems of the anti-submarine defence have extremely low tactical-technical characteristics and are extremely expensive to use;
– third, the ship’s composition is out-dated and extremely worn out, and the ships of the new projects have significant shortcomings in the part of the anti-submarine defence and can not solve the tasks at the minimum level.
The main anti-submarine ship for the WAP is nearly half a century old, that is, Project 1124/1124M of IPCs. For its time, the ship had a very effective, ground-breaking concept and model of application, which predetermined the long life of the project. As proof, I will quote the assessment of Project 1124 IPC of the professional with a capital letter Captain of the first rank A.E. Soldatenkov, commander of the Second Corps of the Pacific structure:
“In the course of solving the problem with conflicting requirements: to create a low-frequency descending sonar station (LSS) wtih minimum possible dimensions, the LSS MG-339 appeared. From the achieved weight and energy consumption, the search began for a suitable carrier for it…
The search for a submarine “on hold” significantly reduces the search performance… this indicator can be improved by moving between the points of lowering the container with the maximum possible speed… They did not come with just the anti-submarine LSS, but to the high-speed ship with artillery, anti-aircraft missile system, anti-submarine weapons… it turned out that what was conceived: surface carrier of long-acting means of detection of long-range submarines with self-defence weapons…
Subsequently, the second “Albatross” did a lot for the first time, for example, showed the maximum range of detection of the submarine corresponding to the LSS and hydrology at that time (38.6km). In fact it detected and escorted with the under-keel LSS the torpedo launched by the submarine… It provided combat training of ships (in particular, using the system of group attacks first used in the Pacific Fleet issued a target designation for the use of anti-submarine torpedo missiles to two patrol ships of Project 1135), combat training of submarines of the Second Flotilla, their deployment for combat training, combat service and return to base…
The appearance in Kamchatka of only the first two such ships forced our “presumptive friends”, the American submariners, to shift the areas of their patrolling nuclear submarines, who are permanently on reconnaissance in the Kamchatka area, further southeast of the previous positions. That is, even for these yahoos we were a real search force!”
It turns out that in the mid-60s the research institute of the Navy and the Zelenodolsk design bureau were able to develop a new, completely original concept of the small ship of anti-submarine defence, which had not only an under-keel hydro-acoustic station (HAS), but also a powerful long-range LSS in combination with the new tactics of the search. The capabilities of the anti-submarine ships of Project 1124 made it very dangerous for the enemy’s submarine with its high speed on the “jump” and group actions of the ship’s search and strike group. In fact, before the appearance of the large anti-submarine ships of Project 1155, which had eight times the displacement of the anti-submarine ships of Project 1124, were the most effective anti-submarine ships of the USSR Navy.
Alas, in the 80s and subsequent years, naval science was unable to develop a new effective concept of small ships (or multi-purpose). It all came down to the “small frigate” (Project 20380) whose cost “suddenly” turned into a frigate.
The effectiveness of solving the tasks of anti-submarine ships without anti-submarine missiles is certainly not provided, and the presence of a hangar with a helicopter gives little, since to ensure operational use for suspicious contact, it is necessary to find it directly on the runway, despite the fact that the effectiveness of the means of independent search of the submarine at the Ka-27LP helicopter for modern submarines is extremely low.
One major national professional evaluated the current situation: we need to continue to build Project 20380 with universal shipboard firing systems (USFS) and “Kalibr”, but with altered composition of electronic weapons (instead of “Fourka” and “Monolith” to put “Positiv” and “Mineral”); instead of the expensive SAM, install a pair of “Pansir” on board; leave the helicopter and acoustics as is. Change from powder-fired to air-borne for the “Paket”. It will not be cheap (because of the “Kalibr”), but it is the only alternative in terms of replacement of 1124.
However, at first glance, this view is logical, is in fact, wrong, because it does not provide solutions to the most acute problem in the near zone – control. And the latter requires a significant number of effective gas (and “optimally distributed), that is, ships. The high cost of even “simplified” Project 20380 vehicles eliminates an effective solution to this problem.
Despite good search means for the new corvettes of Project 20380, it is a simple goal for the enemy submarine (due to the lack of anti-submarine missiles) and roads for mass production. A new project is needed, which will no longer be a “game” for the submarine, but will become a hunter for submarines.
At present, the most effective means of searching for submarines is the towed sonar station (TSS) “Minotaur”. The obvious solution in this situation is the mass “minenisation” of the near-field zone. That is, we need a carrier with “Minotaurs”, anti-submarine and anti-ship missiles, as well as means of self-defence, which has a limited cost and is suitable for mass production. Strictly speaking, the “almosts” of the Navy and plans, in the form of the “Corvette WAP” programme. However, the Navy commander Viktor Chirkov without any justification closed it. Publicly “new stationary systems” were announced, which in fact were non-existent and the combat stability was close to zero.
Are the Navy stationary lighting systems of the underwater environment needed? Absolutely! But only as an element of the general missile defence system in the theater of operations. And they will not replace the ship’s component.
Instead of the WAP corvettes, a completely incomprehensible programme of building patrol ships was launched, which today turned out to be too weak for the new tasks in the far zone (instead of hungry pirates with rusty machine guns, hardened and well-trained terrorists became a reality), but at the same time received a significant shortage of speed and a limitation of seaworthiness. The opinion on the possibility of implementation on the basis of Project 22160 “WAP Corvettes” has no basis in view of the extremely low tactical-technical characteristics of such a ship. The problem with Project 22160 has the only reasonable solution, which is their transfer to the Baltic Sea to create a security system, namely patrolling the areas of the NordStream gas pipeline to exclude acts of sabotage against it.
Today, the need to return to the WAP Corvettes in the optimal form is obvious, and it should become the main project of the near zone. And the appearance of such a corvette is close to the WAP Corvette of Project 056 of the Chinese Naval Forces.
Realising that to solve problems in the near zone, a significant number of ships are needed, the command of the Chinese Navy went for their significant simplification with a consistent capacity building in the process of serial production and modernisation. As a result, initially modest in capabilities the corvette Project 056 has found an effective means of search, TSS, with a high probability, anti-ship missile (instead of the ASCM), and was able to ensure the use of the helicopter (runway without permanent basing helicopter on board).
It is obvious that to provide mass serial production we need to exclude the use of expensive and problematic components and complexes. Thus, the project should have not only significant modernization reserves to ensure the increase of combat capabilities in the process of production and operation of the ship, but also provide the possibility of carrying out such works in a short time and with a low cost. The latter should be incorporated into the project initially and constructively. This is what should be the real purpose of the fashionable “concept of modularity”, and not only putting everything in 20- and 40-foot containers.
Work on the modernisation of the project should be planned and laid immediately, including to ensure the deployment of the production of corvettes in the shortest possible time (in the minimum configuration), followed by an increase in their capabilities (to exclude the situation when the ship is standing and waiting for the complex).
Due to the significant time required to prepare for the departure from the provisions of the “helicopter hangar” (the lack of the ability for quick reaction to a threat) and the low combat capabilities of the means of search of the helicopter permanent basing on the corvette, the WAP corvette is impractical. Notwithstanding the necessity of the runway and the possibility of its refueling. It is definitely necessary to have onboard the complex at least two large boats (in the future, non-crew boats) with descent-lifting devices, providing their use in sea waves of up to 5 points inclusively.
Against light forces
Given the US withdrawal from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, the role of “missile gunners” is sharply reduced, it is much more profitable for us to deploy cruise missiles on land and aircraft carriers (or large ships), and the destruction of sea targets in the near zone is already well provided by coastal missile systems and aviation. Thus, there is no need to boost the “fire series” of small rocket ships (SRS) of Project 22800. Moreover, in order to open up the full possibilities of this project, it is advisable to wait for the completion of the work on gas turbines (for the Far Eastern series not yet laid down by the SRS).
In this connection, the implementation of a reliable and effective interspecific intelligence system and the exchange of data on the situation is a critical issue of countering the enemy’s light forces. The situation we had during the events of the 08-08-08 war when it shot “somewhere” without knowing by whom, is unacceptable.
A separate issue is the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fleet. It is an absolute plus, the presence in the fleets of regular structures of UAVs of type “Forpost” and “Orlan-10” (using them from the shore). However, there is a catastrophic backlog with ship drones – there are simply none. Moreover, the available details on the work in this direction indicate an extremely low level of their organisation and level. For example, the UAV “Orlan” tests on the frigate “Admiral Grigorovich” of the Black Sea Fleet ended with the drone crashing into the hangar of the ship, and the installation of the “launch” for “Orlan” on the SRS “Uragan” at the rehearsal of the main naval parade clearly says that they included it in the parade and on the question of the use of the UAV in reality did not think: the take-off of the aircraft in the opposite direction to the movement of the ship, it is something new in naval aviation and contrary not only to its experience but also to the common sense meaning.
An extremely acute problem is the armament of ships of the near zone against light forces, namely the complete absence of light missile systems in the Russian Navy. On the one hand, it is not critical for boats with 76mm artillery, but for smaller boats it can be fatal. The situation when the commander of the Black Sea Fleet reported to Headquarters about the battles of the boats: “we are fighting on carts against tanks”, we have already passed through the Great Patriotic War. Today in our media it is customary to ridicule the new Ukrainian boats, including those transferred to the area of the Azov Sea. However, they have low visibility, using EW means, as well as missile weapons, that is, all that are not on our boats. As a result, they are an extremely dangerous enemy, far superior in power and effective range of destruction the weapons of our boats of the “Raptor” and “Grachonok” type.
There is an obvious need to create in the shortest possible time light missile systems (for example, on the basis of the “Kornet-D” or “Atak”) and equip the Navy boat with them.
The minesweepers, currently in the combat composition of the Navy, have long been obsolete and their combat value is actually lost. Moreover, the new project of sea minesweepers of Project 12700 has a number of key shortcomings:
- outdated anti-mine ship concept “before the first modern mine”;
- deliberately actual explosion resistance not provided;
- limited efficiency at shallow depths;
- inability to solve multi-purpose tasks (at least at the Project 266M level;
- the possibility of serial production is limited by the capacity of the public company “Zvezda” (one set of diesels per year).
With this in mind, it is clearly necessary to implement the following set of measures:
- execute the modernisation of Project 12700 with the elimination of existing shortcomings;
- start the immediate production of a series of inshore minesweepers, based on Project 10750E with a condition for import substitution and improve the performance characteristics (at the same time, the unsuccessful French complex and its analogues should unequivocally be replaced by a complex that is really capable of solving the problem);
- start work on a promising project for a new anti-mine ship;
- begin the immediate development of crew-less boats, carriers of non-contact trawls, without which the work of an extremely expensive self-propelled remote-controlled device (SRD) ISPUM will only be “up to the first mine-defender”, on which it will be blown up.
In this case, the new raid minesweepers should become a “complex boat” for securing the base, including the ability to solve the problems of anti-submarine warfare defence and air defence, for which the ship is equipped with a weapon module with a large-caliber “Kord” machine gun and guided missiles.
We will especially focus on the appearance of our minesweepers. It turned out very badly with a self-propelled remote-controlled ISPUM device. In fact, this is a “piece of hydro-acoustic complex” weighing a ton and significant physical fields, which were supposed to destroy mines (in fact, drive in nails with a microscope). Our designers borrowed the idea of SRDs and LSSs from the Swedes (the SRD “Double Eagle” with a powerful LSS mine searching capability), but in the West it was implemented differently – the SRD and the LSS were just a search tool, and the “hammers” for the mines were much more simple RAR-104 machines, massively complemented with a small SRD anti-mine defence. For example, on the 450-ton minesweepers such as “Tripartite”, which came on a visit during the International Naval Salon-2009, there were two SRD-destroyers RAR-104 and one LSS-seeker “Double Eagle”. We have in Project 12700 only one seeker-destroyer.
The problems with a high probability of undermining a heavy and expensive SRD LSSs led to the mass emergence of small SRD LSSs and a renaissance (in the West) of self-propelled non-contact trawls, but not for minesweeping, but first and foremost to ensure the implementation of SRD LSSs. Thus, small SRD LSSs are not able to solve the whole range of LSS tasks (for example, to ensure the destruction of silted mines), and other optimal interaction with heavy SRD LSSs is necessary.
So, to ensure small serial production and accumulation of the necessary ammunition to the fleet, the SRD-destroyers must have a minimum cost. The creation and mass serial production of such devices taking into account the requirements of the criterion “efficiency-cost” is impossible without the widespread use of components for general industrial purposes.
The fight against saboteurs
The most massive “unity” of the WAP today has become anti-sabotage boats, of the “Grachonok” type. Despite the good seaworthiness and habitability (important characteristics taking into account the specifics of their tasks), they have a number of critical disadvantages:
- low efficiency of search facilities (hydro-acoustic search and survey complex (SSC) “Kalmar”) which do not provide effective and reliable search on the move, during the “hunter” mode;
- no media targets such as midget submarines and “closed” transporter divers (the effectiveness of RG-55 grenades against them is extremely low);
- inability to counteract the enemy’s small boats;
- low combat survivability.
It is obvious that a significant part of these shortcomings is associated with the weakness of the “Kalmar” complex (in fact, a mediocre imported multi-beam echo sounder), consequently, when equipping new coastal minesweepers with effective means of search, it is advisable to involve them for effective solutions for the anti-submarine warfare defence tasks, and stop the production of a series of “Grachonok” boats with simultaneous modernization and elimination of shortcomings on already built boats.
Maksim Aleksandrovich Klimov, Captain 3rd rank, reserve.