October 31, 2016

Russia set to unleash carrier aircraft and SLCMs on IS in Syria


In defiance of Western criticism of Russia’s air war over Syria President Putin is assembling a small armada (fleet) of Russia's only carrier, cruise missile firing ships and submarines to demonstrate that the Russian navy is again becoming a powerful force. Russia’s land based aircraft and missile forces in the Syrian region are already sufficient to attack Islamist rebels. But Russian inter-service rivalry demands (and other reasons - see FURTHER COMMENTS below) the Russian Navy also gets to demonstrate its land attack abilities.

Western forces have had long histories of three or four services (army, navy, airforce and marines) jockeying for position to get the lion's share of elective warfighting. Hence all services in UK and US forces in the Middle East's First and Second Gulf Wars wanted to serve there, no matter the iinefficiencies. 

Now Putin wants all to know its Russia’s turn to show what it can do in the Middle East. Western powers resent Russia's new presence in the Middle East. A particular concern is that Russia, as the second largest oil exporter, should not also have large military forces right next to the world's major oil exporter, Saudi Arabia.


In late October 30, 2016 UK authorities were advised by Russia that it was sending three submarines  from north to south through the Irish Sea (between the UK and Ireland). These subs were from Russia's Northern Fleet, based in the Murmansk region. The subs may have stayed on the surface (in “innocent passage” mode) through the busy Irish Sea, to prevent collisions with ships, boats, rocks, avoid fishing nets and to avoid revealing submerged operational secrets to snooping UK ASW forces. 

The three subs consisted of two Akula SSNs  and one Kilo SSK. The Akulas and the Kilo can all fire Kalibr (3M14K variants) submarine launched land attack cruise missiles (SLCMs) through their horizontal torpedo tubes. They have no vertical launch tubes that I know of.

A sea baseed Kalibr land attack missile see the 3M14K (different reference) which may be approaching the performance of the US Tomahawk SLCM.

The blue arrow points to Tartus (Syria) Russia's only foreign naval base. A Russian fleet may tend to operate just offshore from Latakia (up the coast from Tartus) to be in closer carrier aircraft range to key targets (Aleppo and Islamic State HQ at Ar Raqqah). (Map courtesy Hashmonean). 

The subs are on their way to join the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov carrier group which is on station in the Mediterranean Sea, perhaps ready to strike IS in Aleppo or Raqqa, Syria. The group consists of the heavy nuclear propelled (and armed) missile cruiser Peter the Great, large destroyers/frigates Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov and smaller maintenance vessels. 

No-one, this side of military intelligence agencies, would know what the Russian strike plans are. This is talking carrier aircraft dropping bombs and cruise missiles from the Russian subs. Also, in early October, it was reported that three small missile corvettes (MirazhSerpukhov and Zeleniy Dol), armed with Kalibr cruise missiles, had left Black Sea Fleet anchorages, with an expectation they were sailing into the Mediterranean for missile strikes on Syria (and accompanying the Kuznetsov group). 

All of these Russian vessels can get missile and bomb reloads from Russia’s Tartus naval, air and sigint base on Syria’s coast (see map above). The Syrian targets could include Islamic State, the Free Syrian Army,  al Nusra or other Islamist groups.

As stated in COMMENTS (above) for Russia to lay high explosive on Syrian targets the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier group is not really needed. Ground attack aircraft already operate from air bases in the Tartus base region and long range Russian heavy bombers have been operating from Russia and reportedly Iran to hit targets in Syria. Russia also has short to medium range surface-to-surface missiles.


The reasons Russia wants to project land attack firepower from the sea then falls to:

1.  inter-service rivalries

2.  propaganda, showing Russia's/Putin's rising military might, 

3.  weapons testing under real operational conditions. Russian testing of its Kalibrs has not
     yet been fully refined. Russia has never used its carrier aircraft to drop ordinance on an enemy.

4.  the West has naval might in the region, so Russia, to a limited degree, wants to match this.

5.  Russian ship and submarine intelligence collection on Western naval forces, and

6.  Russia wants to demonstrate it has legitimate interests, that it will service militarily, in the
     Middle East.

Please connect this with Submarine Matters article Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov may conduct first airstrikes (against IS) of October 17, 2016.



GhalibKabir said...

Points 1 to 6 are mixing up a number of strategic and tactical aims IMVHO

Points 2,4,6 are strategic and interlinked points that incl. cause and effect.

1.3.5 are more peripheral and kinda not very directly valid to the discussion

1. Inter service rivalry does not seem to me as a very important reason as larger strategic aims of Russia are play ---> at best a peripheral issue.

2. Propaganda and simultaneous demonstration of Russia's renewed military resurgence to address what Putin like Soviet era folks think of as Western affront through encroachment into Russia's near neighborhood in Central Asia and Eastern Europe ---> Strategically key

3. Agreed. Kalibr getting good war time exposure.---> a peripheral aim fulfilled

4. Match is a term I think does not do justice. 4 is linked to 2, Russia has strategic aims in the middle east and eastern europe. Assad is a key pawn in the Russian chessboard. Russia is reminding the US that in a 'multipolar' world, Russia can stymie US aims with tools at its disposal. Kuznetsov sailing towards Syria is a potent demonstration of this limited but important capability never the less

5. Russia does anyway with or without a burning middle east ---> not very relevant here

6. this point is linked to 4 and 2. Russia is signalling that the days of near unfettered US dominance in the middle east is not so unfettered any more. The US will be forced to acknowledge other 'stake'holders behind closed doors at least...

The Russian Naval exercises with China in the West Pacific and South China Sea are another key piece of the emerging global picture that is related to overall Russian assertiveness listed above...

Peter Coates said...

You have a way with words GhalibKabir.

So I'll reply in brief.

"IMHO" your attempted comment above is (those immortal words) "kinda not very directly valid to the discussion" :)

GhalibKabir said...

Your reply is Well noted Sir :)

I assume as a tyro i might not have factored in points that needed to be considered before I typed my comment, ( or being the gormless gargoyle that I usually am, could have completely missed the intended sarcasm if any)

Happy to be taught/schooled any time sir, might walk away with some valuable nuggets of knowledge :)

Have a good day.

Peter Coates said...

Perhaps a good spanking GhalibKabir?

Anonymous said...

Hello, Pete
Neither of these submarines are able to launch Kalibr missiles. In the Nortern fleet, there are only Severodvinsk (projet 885 Yasen) and Obninsk (project 671RTMK).
Russian flett mayrely on 06363 Improved Kilo ot Black Sea fleet to provide such opérations.

Peter Coates said...

RT reports 12 Nov 2016, "Russian carrier-based jets perform ‘interaction’ flights in Syria"

"Aircraft stationed on the decks of Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which recently arrived near Syria’s shores as part of a Russian battle group, have begun carrying out flights aimed at working out interaction with a coastal airfield, the ship’s captain reported."