Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blackjack in the Caribbean: The Russians Continue to Hit

Allegedly footage taken during the first training flight flown by Tu-160s out of Venezuela over the Caribbean. The flight lasted about six hours and wasn't approached by foreign interceptors. Hugo Chavez, who had expressed his desire to fly in one, was not on board.

Comment: I wonder how long this strategic bomber deployment will last. Until the November exercises and beyond? That's two months away. Are there multiple crews? Will they fly every day? Will they switch out bombers and crews between now and November? Will the deployment last beyond November? Anybody have any firm answers to any of these questions?

Upcoming Russian SLBM Tests

Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces is reporting that it may be an interesting week for the naval leg of the Russian strategic nuclear triad:

A RIA Novosti report quoted an unnamed representative of the military that the Russian Navy is planning to conduct SLBM launches in the Pacific, most likely on September 15th (although the launch window would last until September 20th). The missiles will be launched from submarines deployed in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea.

What's interesting, the missiles will be launched to the Kura test range in Kamchatka and not to the usual Chizha test site at the Kanin Peninsula. This means that the missiles would be tested at an unusually short range (this would require a lofted trajectory) - no more than about 1500-1700 km and maybe as short as 600 km. The purpose of these tests is not entirely clear at this point (although I'm sure we'll hear obligatory references to missile defense).

Another interesting aspect about the upcoming launch is that while the report mentions submarines of the Pacific Fleet, it says that these are Project 667BDRM/Delta IV submarines even though the Pacific Fleer does not have submarines of this type. It is probably just a journalistic error, fairly common in Russia, but it could be something else - some Project 667BDRM submarines may have been moved to the Pacific. I hope we'll find out soon.

Another launch that we should expect next week is the long-awaited flight test of the Bulava missile. It's about time - the Dmitri Donskoy submarine recently returned from sea trials and presumably is ready for action. Also, I have some information that the test is indeed scheduled for some time next week.

This is going to be an interesting week to watch for Russian SLBMs. Stay tuned.

A couple of questions immediately spring to my mind:

1) Did the Russians deploy on a temporary basis a Delta IV to the Pac? If they have, I haven't seen the slightest indication of it.

2) Is the short, lofted trajectory intended to be a response to Polish acceptance of the missile defense system on it's soil? A cursory examination of Google Earth reveals that the distance from the White Sea to Redzikowo, Poland, site of the future interceptor base is, wait for it, 1600km. Conincidence?

3) Are there going to be multiple launches, a short range launch from the Delta IV in the Pac and a long range test from the Dmitriy Donskoy from the White Sea?

4) Or is this just typical civilian journalist attention to detail on military matters?

I guess we'll have some answers by next week...

NVO: An Analysis of the Caribbean Exercises, Part II

The Rebirth of the Fourth Fleet

The construction of bases like this can’t be a cause for enthusiasm, especially since the American 4th Fleet has been stood up in the Caribbean area since the 1st of July, disbanded 58 years ago due to disuse. Now it is again one of the numbered fleets on duty for the United States.

Originally the 4th Fleet was formed in 1943 during the fires of World War II to defend American and British shipping lanes from German submarines. German submarines sank 25 Allied tankers during this period in this region. The Hitlerite forces also launched attacks on the Lago oil refinery on the island of Aruba, not far from Venezuela. This was the largest facility of its type in the world and an important strategic facility for the United States.

What is the mission of the new-old fleet? First of all, patrol of the oceans around the carbon rich “revolutionary shores”, from the Caribbean Sea to Cape Horn in the south. Its main port will be Mayport, Florida, and the fleet will subordinate to the United States Southern Command. Rear Admiral James Stevenson, commander of Naval Forces, Southern Command, declared that “the Navy and the DoD have recognized the importance of the region to the south of the United States, which includes the Caribbean Sea, the western Atlantic and the eastern Pacific and all of our partners there.”

The Admiral explained that the main mission for the fleet will be security of sea lanes in its zone of responsibility. Meanwhile, Stevenson hasn’t ruled out the specter of an evolving mission for the fleet. In part, it is designed to take part in delivering humanitarian aid in the event of natural disasters and development of cooperation with countries of the region in the security sphere.

DoD officials believe that the 4th Fleet will play a role in rescue operations, counter-drug operations and also foster cooperation with all interested governments in Central and South America. Nothing else except “aid, which the United States will offer its partners in the region”. The Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead added that he considers the formation of the 4th Fleet as a response to the “growth of the significance of maritime security in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere”. According to Roughead, this decision “represents an important signal to all the people and militaries of Central and Latin America”. And to make sure that this signal was heard, by 2009 the strength of the 4th Fleet should be as high as the 5th, 6th or 7th Fleets which operate in the Indian, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific areas respectively.

It follows that ships of the Russian Pacific Fleet simply wont be able to compete with the old-new 4th Fleet; most of all because of distances to their own bases. And the American fleet is right in its own back yard. They don’t have to send ammunition and fuel to the other end of the Earth. Support from their military-industrial complex in the form of shipbuilding and ship repair is on hand, its fighters and bombers are based at nearby air bases and the Pentagon has enough old allies in that part of the world. To drag the Russian military to that area isn’t easy. And there is scarcely anybody for whom such a confrontation would be desirable. Saber rattling and showing the flag off foreign shores – that’s another thing. And it is relatively cheaper.

NVO: An Analysis of the Caribbean Exercises, Part I

The Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie offers a rather sober analysis of the upcoming exercises with Venezuela and the geopolitical factors entitled "Caribbean Crisis Syndrome". Part I of the translation of this aricle follows:

A new political standoff between the United States and Russia is forming in Latin America. Signs of this include sale of SU-30MK2 multi-role fighters to the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez and the construction of a factory to manufacture Kalashnikovs. Moscow is ready to send a detachment of ships to the Caribbean Sea and Washington is re-creating the 4th Fleet which was originally disbanded in 1950 which will constantly cruise off South American shores.

Asymmetric Answer

The standoff between Moscow and Washington enters a new phase. Between 10 and 14 November, immediately after the American presidential elections, joint exercises between the Bolivar Republic’s Navy and the Russian Pacific Fleet (sic) will take place in the territorial waters of Venezuela, or more exactly, in the Caribbean Sea which washes the shores of Central America. This is a first in the history of the Latin American continent. And although these maneuvers were planned last year (that is Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotskiy has talked about sending a detachment of ships across the Atlantic without giving away any details), but after the entrance into the Black Sea by ships of the American 6th Fleet and other NATO navies, they took on a new quality; that is to say, a clear call upon the White House by the Kremlin.

That is attested by the announcement by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting with journalists on 02 September underlining that our reaction to the presence of American ships in the Black Sea will be adequate. Then, he didn’t give any specific details. He said, “You’ll see.” Now, after the Sunday edition of the Venezuelan program “Hello, President!” the head of the Venezuelan state Hugo Chavez announced to his countrymen that, “Ships of the Russian Navy are planning to visit Venezuela in the near future for a friendly port call,” and the official Venezuelan Navy spokesman Rear Admiral Salvadtor Cammarata Batistas even named the time frame in which the exercises were to be held as well as the participants, it has become completely clear that the exercises must be accomplished. Colonel Chavez also did not fail to mention that, “Venezuela is a strategic ally of Russia and in the framework of the proposed exercises the Venezuelan side, despite her meager resources, will do everything possible to ensure that the exercises that take place are of the highest quality.”

It is true that after Hugo Chavez corrected his admiral, he noticed that the training would take place in the November-December timeframe, but nothing has changed about the proposed maneuvers. A slight correction was applied to the announcement of Russian ships deploying to American shores and to the statements of Venezuelan officials. It turned out that the ships would come from the Northern Fleet and not the Pacific as earlier announced. The heavy missile cruiser (TRKR) Peter the Great, the large anti-submarine warfare (BPK) ship Admiral Chabanenko, a tanker and a fleet tug are participating. On the Venezuelan side, missile frigates, patrol boats, submarines and aviation assets will participate. Russian aviation will also make an appearance – anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft which will subsequently land at Caracas’ military airfield, and also strategic bombers and accompanying IL-78 tankers. American officials announced that they know about the proposed exercises. The assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs Thomas Shannon said that, “The two sides have different intentions with regards to the exercises,” while a representative for the foreign political branch in Washington Sean McCormack even snarked, “The Russians found some ships that can make it that far.”

In the background to these announcements and situations which lurk in the relations between Caracas and Washington and between Washington and Moscow, it is becoming clear that the proposed naval exercises have already become not only an example of the cooperation between two navies, the Russian Navy and the Venezuelan Navy, but also, above all, a demonstration of political force and a clear signal to the White House: we can also deploy our task forces to your shores. Draw your own conclusions from that.

During a meeting of the European countries this summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that she doesn’t like the flights of the “Bears” (Tu-95MS) along the coast of America. And last Saturday, 30 August, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev expressed his dissatisfaction with the delivery of humanitarian aid to Georgia by US warships. He noted that, “It is interesting how they (the USA) would feel if we delivered humanitarian aid to the countries of the Caribbean basin that recently suffered from hurricanes using our warships”. And the latest announcement about the Caribbean deployment, practically to the southern shores of the United States shows that Moscow and Washington aren’t planning on greeting one another with a “friendly dip of the ensigns”. As to what that could lead to isn’t hard to imagine.

The Exercise Scenario

It became known to the Nezavisimoe Boennoe Obozrenie that in addition to the thousands of personnel who will accompany the four ship surface task force (including a battalion of marines), submarines will also go to Venezuela. First and foremost nuclear submarines. Multi-role as well as strategic. Strategic Tu-95MS bombers of the type that annoyed Rice and her colleagues in the US government will also fly there in the framework of the “complex of exercises”.

In addition, as opposed to the exercises that took place in December and January 2008 in the Atlantic Ocean, when those bombers made a circle above the Russian ships and went home, now these planes will make a landing at airfields in Caracas, seemingly demonstrating that the “Bear” flights can be more than training flights; that the USA is as vulnerable to military threats as the USA poses to other countries. And the American anti-missile system in Europe cannot guarantee the absolute security of Washington like they suppose it can. And most of all Russia now has a reliable ally in Latin America.

It is true that four Russian ships off the coast of Venezuela, even operating jointly with submarines and strategic bombers wont change the weather in the area. The United States has rather more political, diplomatic, economic, financial and military power potential to show Russia who is the boss in the Caribbean basin. And to reinforce Russian forces in the area would require a build up in Venezuela, on Cuba or wherever else and the construction of serious military and navy bases and construction of the corresponding infrastructure – piers, barracks, resort facilities, warehouses for ammunition and fuel, POL as well as the ability to defend these facilities from the land, sea and air with supporting systems of reconnaissance, communications, radio-electronic warfare and other systems. A pair of IL-78 tankers would have to be maintained there on a permanent basis. In one word, a lot of money would have to be spent on this.

Whether Moscow is prepared for this kind of investment is an open question. An equally good question is for how long the friendship with the Chavez regime will last. There are optimistic historical precedents in Cuba and Chile for partnership with Russia in Latin America.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blogger U-96: "Humanitarian Aid to Venezuela Season is Now Open"

Really, there must be an easier way to deliver arms Pampers to Venezuela than in the bomb bay of a Tu-160. You'd think that Petr Veliki could deliver a lot more.

Who knew that Russian bloggers could be so snarky?

Annotated Overhead of Poti

Battle Damage Assessment of the Port of Poti dated 25 August by Unosat.

Heavy Lifting Ship KIL-158 in Syria


Amateur navy watchers talk warships. Professionals talk auxiliaries.From the Ministry of Defense website:

The Black Sea Fleet ship KIL-158 returned from the Syrian Arab Republic where the crew has restored the floating pier in the Technical Support Base in Tartus, Syria.

The heavy lifting ship KIL-158 was built in 1989 at the Neptune Shipyard in Rostok, German Democratic Republic. It has been in the Black Sea Fleet since 1989. KIL-158 is designed for lifting and placing roadstead equipment, attaching and detaching floating docks and also for transporting a wide range of cargoes.

According to the captain, Nikolay Perun, all the work planned for the ship in port was done. The dock was not used for a long time as the massive mooring space was silted in and the anchoring points were broken. The sailors of the heavy lifting ship with the assistance of divers lifted 16 50 ton anchors holding the floating dock, changed out the chains and tightened them up again. The concrete coverings were restored and welding and painting was also done. The crew also offered help to port services and laid an underwater fresh water pipe.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Moskva to Return to Sevastopol' - Again

(Allegedly the Moskva at the Novorossiysk roadstead, 21 Aug 2008, user Vasyakl)

A source in the Russian Navy General Staff informed RIA Novosti that "The missile cruiser Moskva departed port Novorossiysk today and will arrive around 0900 on Wednesday in Sevastopol'".

Black Sea Fleet: Battles on Shore

From the Russia Today propaganda channel dated 07 September of this year in English. A good overview of the situation on the Crimean Peninsula, with the caveat that it is a Russian propaganda outfit. Great footage of Black Sea Fleet ships and facilities. Of note: the narration denies that the Moskva was at August's Battle of the Black Sea.

Official Russian Navy Paranoia Alert

The official Russian Navy website passes on this nugget:

The USA could create a permanent navy base in Georgia while avoiding the provisions of the Montreux Convention...according to the Ukrainian weekly "2000".

"American ships can remain permanently in the Black Sea according to the Monteux Convention this way: some Black Sea littoral state, say Georgia, obtains American navy ships which would be based in Poti or Batumi and sail under the Georgian flag, but the crew remains American and is actually under the Pentagon's command."

"There has been similar historical precident. For instance, at the beginning of the First World War, Germany fictively gave Turkey the best cruiser of its time, the Goeben, which was renamed the Sultan Selim, but the crew remained German. This led to the Goeben going to Sevastopol' and Turkey's entry into that war," the paper reminds its readers.

According to the authors, while this looks like fantasy, it can't be ruled out that the USA would try that in Crimea, where it is possible that "a Ukrainian flag be raised on an American cruiser, allowing the possibility of it being based in the Sevastopol' while skirting the Montreux Convention."

Comment: The authors are wrong - it doesn't look like fantasy, it IS fantasy. In my mind, there are three options here:

a) there is some really good shit in the bong at the Russian Navy PAO shop,
b) the Russians are paranoid to believe this tripe,
c) the Russians are doing their best to whip up anti-American/anti-NATO sentiment in their public.

I suspect it is a combination of b) and c) above, although I wouldn't rule out all three options in the end.

Changes in the Humanitarian Mission to Georgia

According to this report, American warships will no longer be conducting humanitarian aid port calls to Georgia. Those will only be done by civilian ships from this point forward. The report also notes that more than 60 aid flights were made to Georgia.

Comment: The cynical view in Runet is that now that warships have stopped making port calls in support of the humanitarian mission, now they can get back to the work of re-arming Georgia.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Peter the Great to Venezuela

(Petr Veliki in Severomorsk, August 1997, author's Photo)

The official spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Andrey Nestorenko announced that the Petr Veliki, the Admiral Chabanenko, the supply ship Ivan Bubnov and the salvage tug Nilokay Chirikin as well as submarines and anti-submarine aircraft will deploy to take part in exercises with Venezuela in the Carribean 10-14 November, 2008. The Ministry of Defense cofirmed that the exercises were planned during Hugo Chavez's visit to Moscow in July.

(Large anti-submarine ship Admiral Chabanenko during FRUKUS-2007, June 2007, author's photo)