More Questions Than Answers
Mysteries of the August Battle
The Black Sea Fleet "alert force" set sail for Abkhaz shore the night of 7 August. Included in the task force were the Project 775 large landing ship (BDK) Tsezar' Kunikov with a reinforced marine company embarked, the small antisubmarine ship (MPK) Muromets and the small missile ship (MRK) Mirazh. The BDK Saratov joined them, having set sail from Novorossiysk.
The first sea battle in history between the Russian and Georgian Navies quickly ensued. It was described by one of the hosts of the program "Special Correspondent", Arkadiy Mamontov. It was up to him to describe the unknown details of the battle.
Below is an excerpt from the broadcast (See Russian Navy Blog post, Russian Navy Blog: Vesti Gives More Details on The Battle of the Black Sea):
More and more details have come out over the past week concerning the Georgian intrusion into South Ossetia. The author of the program "Special Correspondent" Arkady Mamontov has discovered more detail about the battle that took place on the Black Sea between Russian and Georgian forces.
It happened the night of August 10th. The first sea battle between Russian and Georgian forces has already taken place. It was on the third day after the beginning of the bombardment of a sleeping Tskhinvali ordered by Saakashvili. Not everyone knows the details of this clash.
Early in the morning on that day, a group of Black Sea Fleet ships departed from Novorossiysk port and set course for Sukhumi, Abkhazia. On board two large landing ships (BDKs) were 500 peacekeepers with their equipment. They were being transported to Abkhazia to ensure the security of the local population and deter an attack by the Georgian Army. They were escorted by two ships, including the small missile boat (MRK) "Mirazh".
At the same time five high-speed Georgian boats departed Poti on an intercepting course. Their task - attack and sink our ships. The tactics for this attack were worked out by American specialists: fast-moving small boats, armed with powerful anti-ship missiles suddenly strike the BDKs and depart. Upon a successful attack the result would be shock and awe. Hundreds of dead marines, burning ships and a victorious communique for Saakashvili: "We cut off the intervention" and "The Russian Navy isn't good for anything." But it turned out the other way. "Vesti" has succeeded in getting more information from participants in the clash.
18:39 - Russian radar detected a couple of high-speed surface targets heading on an attack course toward our line of ships.
18:40 - An enemy boat approached at a critical distance. Then the flagship issued a command to the BDK "Tsezar' Kunikov" to open fire with a warning shot. One of the ships launched an anti-aircraft missile which landed between the Georgian ships. But they didn't stop, instead gaining speed and tried to reach the so-called "dead zone", where missiles are useless. And then the MRK "Mirazh" recieved the command to destroy the enemy. The distance to the target was 35km. Preparation to fire, calculations, all of that was done in literally a few minutes. Sea battles always go quickly.
18:41 - The commander of the "Mirazh" gave the command to fire. The Georgian sailors had the advantage of speed while ours had the advantage of reaction time. The first missile was launched at the target. A few seconds later and the second was on its way. The flight time to the Georgian ship "Tbilisi" - a minute and 20 seconds. Range to the enemy - 25km.
The first missile hit the machinery spaces on the "Tbilisi". A second later and the bridge was hit. There was a bright blotch on the radar screen of our ship for 30 seconds which meant complete destruction of the target, accompanied by a large burst of heat energy.
18:50 - The commander of the "Mirazh" gave the command to change position. The ship changed course and made for shore at high speed, completing a turn and again turning on an attack course. The radar showed only four targets. One of them was a Georgian boat, gaining speed and closing our ships. The "Mirazh" opened fire with a salvo from the "Osa" (SA-N-4).
At that time the range was down to 15km. The first missile hit the Georgian boat, which immediately began to smoke, slowed and attempted to exit the line of fire. The rest of the Georgian ships disengaged, sharply turning about. As our sailors noted, this maneuver was executed competently. The "Mirazh" did not pursue the beaten enemy as there was no order to finish them off.
At 19:28 after sweeping the area, the "Mirazh" got back into line and continued to Sukhumi. From the commodore's report: "One target was destroyed out of five, one was damaged and three fled. Missile expendature: two anti-surface missiles, one anti-air missile, no loss of personnel. No damage to friendly ships."
There was no official commentary about Arkadiy Mamontov's report. Many questions came up in internet forums about the report.
Why didn't Georgian missile boats open fire upon detection of the enemy? The enemy could have launched up to 16 cruise missiles and sank all the ships in the task force. Why didn't the Georgians open fire on the MRK Mirazh at a range of 13km (the range of the Osa-MA SAM (SA-N-4)) when the Mirazh's intentions were clearly hostile? Why didn't the Mirazh use her AK-176 gun, which has a range similar to the Osa and fires 90 rounds a minute?
The author of this article has attempted to reconstruct the August Battle of the Black Sea using information gleaned from the internet and from a few independent sources in the fleet.
Our ships proceeded to the Abkhaz littoral, to the 12 mile territorial waters or its limits when they detected four or six Georgian boats. The mission of the Georgians wasn't clear at this point. It's possible that they wanted to launch a cruise missile attack on the Russian ships, but it is more likely that the enemy was planning to land troops or fire at Abkhaz coastal targets and didn't suspect that a Black Sea Fleet task force was approaching.
The Tsezar' Kunikov fired a warning shot at a range of 38km with the A-215 122mm extended range MRLS maritime variant. Naturally, it missed. (The system is designed to fire against coastal targets). The Georgian boats were not deterred and continued to sail on an intercepting course. It was completely possible that they still didn't detect the Russian ships and decided that the salvo was fired by the Abkhaz from shore or from some fishing boat (both the Georgians and Abkhaz equipped merchant shipping with Grad launchers in 1992).
After about 10 or 15 minutes, the MRK Mirazh launched two P-120 Malakhit (SS-N-9) missiles at the Georgians. By that time range had closed to between 20 and 24km, while the minimum-maximum range of a Malakhit is 20-120km.
Why the Malakhits weren't fired immediately instead of the Grad, which was designed for completely different targets, isn't clear to me.
One of the Malakhits supposedly hit a Georgian boat, but probably not. The second missed entirely. The P-120 has two guidence systems - a radar homer and an IR homer. Targeting data is loaded into the system, that is the systems are turned on immediately or with a delay, depending on the firing range. I suggest that the Mirazh entered the wrong delay and the warheads simply failed to lock on to the Georgian boat (maybe one missile failed to lock, maybe both).
One or both of the missiles turned on the "free hunt" mode. And toward the end of their run they obtained a target. This turned out to be the Moldovan ship Lotos 1 loaded with 1475 tons of wheat, bound for Poti from Yeysk. At that moment, the ship was located 30 miles northwest of the Georgian port of Poti about 25 miles from shore.
One of the missiles overshot the freighter. Then fragments from the second missile, exploding 50-100m off the port side at an altitude of about 20-30m, inflicted minor damage to the superstructure. All memebers of the crew survived. The ship didn't lose speed and, after spending some time in the danger zone, tankfully made it to Kerch'. Missile fragments were photographed on the deck of the ship. It must be noted that Moldova has neither a Navy nor a merchant fleet since Moldova doesn't have access to the sea. The republic serves as a "flag of convenience" and 215 ships of various nationalities fly the Moldovan flag.
Why didn't the Malakhit, with its powerful warhead, sink the Lotos? If you believe the internet, the radar homer acquired the freighter at a range of 30km, but the solid rocket engine was spent and the missile couldn't maneuver. In the end, it exploded or self-destructed.
After the Malakhit launch, the ships opened fire on the Georgian boats with the Osa-MA SAM systems. Up to ten missiles were fired. It should be noted that the Osa-MA has been constantly updated over the last quarter century for use as a sea-skimming anti-ship missile. It is curious to note that even back in 1973 during the Mediterranean Sea standoff that Soviet ships would have had to destroy American ships with the Volna (SA-N-1) and Osa missiles. While the warheads are smaller than on an anti-ship cruise missile, the target ship reaction time is 5-10 times less.
Between one and three Georgian boats were sank by Osa missiles. The rest of the boats retreated to the south-east, back to Poti it seems.
By the way, according to the internet, the Mirazh came under fire from a Georgian coastal artillery battery and suffered at least one hit. I think the fire could have come from the Georgians or from Abkhazians mistaking the Mirazh for a Georgian vessel. That, and other, artillery batteries are equipped with the 100mm coastal artillery system KS-19 with the SON-4 radar guidence system. The range of this system is about 19km.
After the battle, the Mirazh went to Novorossiysk and then Sevastopol'. There it was observed that the superstructure on one side had been freshly painted.
In any case, the commander of the MRK Mirazh K3R Ivan Dubik was awarded the Order of Valour.
"There were five Georgian ships: two missile boats and three patrol boats", Ivan Dubik told a reporter for a Moscow newspaper by telephone. "They tried to attack us at high speed. We warned the Georgians, but they pressed the attack. All 60 crew members on board Mirazh worked as one unit and we answered them with a salvo. One of the Georgian boats went to the bottom in a moment. I am not allowed to say at what range we opened fire. The other four boats immediately turned away after the salvo."
But this testimony from participants in the first sea battle by the Russian Navy in the 21st Century does nothing to answer the many questions posed by the professionals and amateur-experts.