During a recent reception for naval officers serving in Russia’s Northern Fleet hosted by Dmitry Dmitriyenko, the governor of Murmansk Oblast, changes to combat training and the achievements of the 2011 training year were highlighted. Admiral Vladimir Korolev, the Commander of the Northern Fleet, outlined these issues after reminding his audience of the significance of the fleet in protecting Russia’s security.
Korolev claimed that combat training in the Navy intensified during 2011, saying that crews of the nuclear submarines in the Northern Fleet had carried out eight successful launches of ballistic missiles, including four in the framework of the Bulava Sea-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). On December 23, 2011, the submarine missile cruiser, the Dmitry Donskoy, was rated as “excellent,” as a result of launching two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The performance of surface ships was also praised, particularly the six month tour in the Gulf of Aden by the antisubmarine warfare (ASW) ship, the Severomorsk, as well as the participation of the Northern Fleet in the four-sided training exercise FRUKUS 2011 (France, Russia, UK and the US) and a bilateral exercise with Norway (Krasnaya Zvezda, March 30).
Despite the glowing report presented by the commander of the Northern Fleet, some of the officers receiving awards during the reception were more circumspect concerning the combat readiness of elements of the fleet. For instance, Senior Lieutenant Aleksandr Shangin raised the issue of manpower in naval infantry. Although the intensity of combat training in naval infantry subunits has increased, the presence of large numbers of conscripts persists as a problem. Shangin explained, “It only grieves me that as soon as the personnel begin to feel confident in themselves and start achieving good results their service time is up and it is time to part ways with them. The lads are discharged into the reserve” (Krasnaya Zvezda, March 30).
The problems of manpower in the Russian Navy were largely glossed over, though the level of interest in international joint exercises surfaced in the Republic of Korea daily, Dong-A Ilbo, which carried a report on Sino-Russian naval cooperation. This article supported claims in the Russian media that a joint exercise in the Yellow Sea later in April and May 2012 will send a warning to the United States concerning its shift in strategic emphasis toward the Asia-Pacific Region. The joint exercise involving the Chinese and Russian navies is partly in response to US-led drills with South Korea and Japan, which both Beijing and Moscow perceive as growing in frequency. Each country is expected to send around ten vessels to participate in the exercise, and will also rehearse the joint seizure of regional air superiority and conduct ASW operations (Dong-A Ilbo, March 30).
In Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, Aleksandr Mozgovoy assessed some of the more colorful claims by the naval top brass in relation to the Mistral and the potential for aircraft carrier development in the future. Mozgovoy reminded his readers that Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, the Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of the Russian Navy had used the term “specialized warhead” with reference to equipping and arming the Mistral once it enters service. Indeed, Vysotskiy had touched on the need for assets to be deployed in the future to protect the Helicopter Landing Docks (Mistral-type): “We intend to install missile complexes for self-defense, so as to increase the degree of protection by PVO (air defense) assets. The employment of the helicopter component we will strengthen in terms of antisubmarine mission performance. Weapons armed with a Russian-developed specialized warhead can be deployed on the Mistrals being built for Russia’s Navy.” The author explained that the CINC of the Navy could only have referred to tactical nuclear weapons (http://nvo.ng.ru/armament/2012-03-23/10_mistral.html, March 23).
An anonymous defense industry source told ITAR-TASS that the two Mistral ships currently under construction will accommodate strike and ASW helicopters, artillery, amphibious landing assets, small craft, armored vehicles, along with additional hardware and weaponry. Mozgovoy examined the most likely procurement plans for the strike missile component on the Russian Mistrals, and concluded that it would involve Kalibr-NK and the Oniks. The Kalibr-NK system engages surface, underwater and shore targets, and was designed on the basis of the Granit cruise missile with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers. These are housed in general purpose shipboard firing complexes in below-deck vertical launchers. However, even by introducing such systems, artillery and attack helicopter assets, the Russian Mistrals would require sufficient support and protection from other vessels in order to offer real protection. Due to the extra height of domestically built helicopters, the hanger deck has had to be raised to accommodate these assets. However, heavy SAM systems, strike missile complexes, and artillery accommodated below-deck or on the upper deck will reduce the metacentric height of the vessels, increasing their instability and the risk of capsizing in a storm. In short, the declared plans for Mistral raise serious questions about the capacity of the Russian Navy to introduce such platforms successfully (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 23).
The near trance-like state of senior Russian naval planners was further revealed by Vysotskiy’s comments on the plans for a future aircraft carrier, using “super-armament,” principles. According to Vysotskiy, the ship will need to operate in all environments, engaging naval, air and shore targets, as well as “space,” “underwater,” and the surface component using unguided and guided devices (neupravlyayemyye i upravlyayemyye apparaty). No one quite follows what the Navy’s CINC has in mind in using these terms, though he evidently shows interest in promoting a network-centric capability for the Navy (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 23).
Unfortunately, as the author notes, these aspirations will face serious and long-term challenges: “There are no new-generation carrier-based aircraft for the future carriers. And (aside from the fighter-bombers) this means electronic warfare aircraft, long-range surveillance aircraft, ASW and transport aircraft. There is nowhere to base these ships. It was the lack of appropriately equipped bases of operations that brought about the premature decommissioning of the majority of the former Soviet air-capable ships. Aircraft carriers will necessitate the enlistment of tens of thousands of highly qualified specialists, which not even the most advanced Russian enterprises can boast of today. Finally, aircraft carriers themselves are not written into the 2010 Military Doctrine. Either it needs to be amended or changed altogether” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 23).