January 21, 2016

The Russian Navy and Indian Navy held a joint exercise in December, and nobody told you.

Naval exercises happen between friendly nations routinely to ensure integration between navies and to learn from one another.  These naval exercises have taken place between the Russian and Indian navies since 2003; usually a couple times a year.  I was unaware that India was a huge customer of Russian weaponry until recently, and they have been for fifty years!  I mentioned the Indra Navy 2015 (December 2015) exercises previously a couple of times, partially because it is a very public show of cooperation that isn't being covered at all by the Western media.  I can find mention of the exercises in the Russian, Indian, and (strangely?) Polish media - so it wasn't some sort of secret operation the Western media wouldn't have known about... but I think it likely poses problems for messaging.  While the US-narrative states Russia is an adversary of the West, India is allied with the West; so how can there be friendly cooperation between the two? The friendship between Russia and India has even gone as far as Russia helping miniaturize a nuclear reactor for the latest Indian submarine project, jointly developing a new 533mm torpedo, and Russian shipyards refurbishing India's Kilo submarine fleet.  I also find this interesting because of the timing of the new anti-submarine warfare destroyer, the INS Kadmatt (commissioned January 7th, quite soon after the exercises).  No mention was made about this new ASW destroyer taking part in the exercises, but I can't imagine it wasn't discussed at some point.

Here is the timeline of events regarding the ships that made up the flotilla as I understand them:

Early October 2015
The Russian Navy Varyag and Bystryy restocked ammunition at Pavlovsk Bay (Павловск), and proceeded to Vladivostok (Golden Horn Bay, I believe)

The Bing Map below shows Pavlovsk Bay, a former Soviet submarine base, with a derelict underground submarine shelter which was scrapped after the START I treaty; pictures here and here - There is nothing like it in Canada or the United States.

November 2nd 2015
All four ships in the flotilla depart Vladivostok with much fanfare.
Sovremenny-Class Destroyer Bystryy (Быстрый) №715 leaving Vladivostok
Photo Credit: Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy (here)

November 4th 2015
Japanese Defence Forces photograph the flotilla passing through the Tsushima Strait.

Slava-Class Missile Cruiser Varyag (Варяг) №011
Photo Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense
November 4th 2015 / Tsushima Strait

Sovremenny-Class Destroyer Bystryy (Быстрый) №715
Photo Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense
November 4th 2015 / Tsushima Strait

Ingul-Class Salvage Tug Alatau (Алатау) №02672
Photo Credit: Japanese Ministry of DefenseNovember 4th 2015 / Tsushima Strait

Boris Chilikin-Class Fleet Oiler Boris Butoma (Борис Бутома) №621
Photo Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense
November 4th 2015 / Tsushima Strait
December 7th - 12th 2015
"Indra Navy 2015" exercises held in the Bay of Bengal, staging from the port of Vishakhapatnam, India.

Participating ships (as reported by the Indian and Russian media)

Russian Navy:
  • Slava-Class Missile Cruiser Varyag (Варяг) №011
  • Sovremenny-Class Destroyer Bystryy (Быстрый) №715
  • Ingul-Class Salvage Tug Alatau (Алатау) №02672
  • Boris Chilikin-Class Fleet Oiler Boris Butoma (Борис Бутома) №621
Indian Navy:
  • Shivalik class stealth multi-role frigate INS Sahyadri (F49)
  • Rajput-class destroyer INS Ranvir (D54)
  • Deepak-class fleet tanker INS Shakti (A57)
  • Sindhughosh-class diesel-electric submarine INS Sindhuvir (S58)
After these exercises the RFS Varyag headed to the Mediterranean to replace the Moskva off the coast of Syria.

December 24th - 29th 2015
The RFS Varyag left the Omani port of Salalah, where it was reportedly replenishing food and water before heading to the Suez.

Slava-Class Missile Cruiser Varyag (Варяг) №011
Photo Credit: Sputnik / ildus Gilyazutdinov
Date and Location Unknown
~December 29th, 2015
Bystryy, Alatau and Boris Butoma arrive in Jakara's Tanjung Priok Harbor and hold "joint maneuvering and communication exercises".  Indonesia is on the way back from India, so goodwill stops along the route make perfect sense.

~January 4th 2016
The RFS Varyag makes a 12 hour transit of the Suez Canal on it's way to the Mediterranean to relieve the Black Sea Fleet Flagship the Moskva off the coast of Syria.

~January 6th, 2016
Bystryy, Alatau and Boris Butoma arrive in the port of Tien Sa, in Da Nang, Vietnam for another goodwill stop, visiting local attractions, dignitaries, and laying a wreath at the memorial to heroic martyrs.  Let's not forget that Russia supplies Vietnam with all their Diesel-Electric submarines, one of which is currently being transported to Vietnam by ship.  Could this trip have also served as a way to deliver munitions from Vladivostok to Da Nang for the new submarine? Reportedly they left on January 9th headed for Shanghai.

~January 17th, 2016
Bystryy, Alatau and Boris Butoma were reported to be expected in Shanghai, China on January 17th, but I haven't seen any press or confirmation of that.  Shanghai seems to be a favourite stop on the way to Vladivostok by other flotillas as well, but if not to refuel or restock, I'm not sure why.

Overall this paints a different picture than Russia the isolated evil empire, as it is portrayed in the Western media.  It seems Russia has normal friendly relations with several states which aren't considered enemies of the West.

Video of their stop in Da Nang, Vietnam

Video from their visit to Jakarta, Indonesia


January 17, 2016

Project 141 (Kashtan-class) Mooring Tenders of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet

Project 141 (Kashtan-class silhouette)
Credit: Ian Sturton
Ships and their equipment, their capabilities, are interesting to me because a buoy/mooring tender could be (and reportedly is) used for transporting cargo, or as a salvage ship.  These ships are huge, powerful, and multi-purpose.

I started looking at the KIL-168 specifically, but soon figured out the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet had two more such vessels - the KIL-498 and the KIL-927. (In Russian they would be КИЛ-168, КИЛ-498 and КИЛ-927 respectively)

Warfare.be states the KIL-168 is part of the "79 EMERGENCY RESCUE PLATOON" while KIL-498 and KIL-927 are part of "697 SQUAD OF SUPPORT SHIPS".  All three part of the Pacific Fleet, but it's unclear where they are normally located.  Interestingly, the Igor Belousov will join the 79th Unit of the Pacific Fleet’s Emergency Response and Rescue Force based in Vladivostok in the spring (http://mil.today/2015/Industry2/), suggesting that the KIL-168 is also based in Vladivostok.

Jane's/IHS classifies the Kashtan-Class as Buoy Tender, but also as a:
ABU: Boom defense vessel
AGL: Mooring/buoy tender
ARS: Rescue/Salvage Ship (NB: Not an ASR - Submarine Rescue Ship)
As Kashtan-Class vessels have been modified and repurposed, I suspect these classifications are somewhat fluid.  Jane's also states he ship has "one 130 ton lifting frame, one 100 ton derrick, one 12.5 ton crane and one 10 ton derrick.", and therefore the ability to lift 130 tons off the ocean bottom.  That's some serious salvage, or would allow them to lift a really big cable on the ocean's bottom.

I find it a little surprising, or maybe it's just disappointing, that none of the Pacific Fleet Kashtan-Class ships seems to show up on AIS. (here, here or here)  The ships may broadcast their location by HF using morse code, but I don't have the equipment necessary to pick that up, yet.  The ship's call sign may be UHJR.  The Shipspotting community is clearly keeping a keen eye out for these vessels, so they come up with some current pictures of KIL-168, and KIL-498, but none of KIL-925... with some Google-Fu I found a few pictures of all of them.

KIL-168 (КИЛ-168) extending the rear gantry, presumably preparing for operations
Photo Credit: Andre Burmenskiy / 2008.06.08

KIL-168 (КИЛ-168) extending the rear gantry, presumably preparing for operations
Photo Credit: Andre Burmenskiy / 2008.06.08

KIL-927 (КИЛ-927) carrying AS-28
Photo Credit and Date unknown; thought to be ~2012 in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (Петропа́вловск-Камча́тский)

KIL-927 (КИЛ-927) carrying AS-28
Photo Credit and Date unknown; thought to be ~2012 in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (Петропа́вловск-Камча́тский)

Early photo of the Soviet Navy KIL-168
Photo Credit: 08-10-1990 Wolfgang Kramer

Early photo of the Soviet Navy KIL-168
Photo Credit: 08-10-1990 Wolfgang Kramer
More recent video of the KIL-168, part of the Russian Pacific Fleet:

January 14, 2016

The Remains of the Pavlovskoye (Па́вловское) Submarine Base

While looking for something rather unrelated I found a fantastic place on the other side of the planet to perform some Urban Exploration (Urbex).  An abandoned Soviet underground submarine base / shelter.  I have absolutely no chance of actually doing any Urbex there myself, but if you're in the area, this is something extremely rare and should be checked out.  There were three Soviet Navy underground shelters / bases constructed to shield and protect ballistic missile submarines from a first strike, and hide them from prying eyes at the same time.  I have not found a lot of information on this facility but here is what I could come up with.

But first, it seems like there is some debate regarding why the facility was shut down.  Well, it was part of the first nuclear disarmament treaty, the START I treaty, back in 1991, signed by George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Here is precisely the paragraph where the Pavlovskoye Submarine Base was negotiated into closure.

July 29, 1991
Pavlovskoye Submarine Base (Date Unknown)
The U.S. side believes that construction of any additional underground structures adjacent to waters in which ballistic missile submarines operate and comparable in size and configuration to the ones located in the immediate vicinity of the Ara Inlet, the Yagelnaya Submarine Base, and the Pavlovskoye Submarine Base, would raise concerns regarding compliance with the obligation provided for in Article V, paragraph 26 of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. For its part, the United States does not have such underground structures, does not plan to construct and
will not construct any such underground structures while the START Treaty remains in force. The U.S. side proceeds from the premise that the Soviet side will exercise similar restraint. 
July 29, 1991
Pavlovskoye Submarine Base
Date Unknown / Source Unknown
Since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has underground structures located in the immediate vicinity of the Ara inlet (Kola peninsula), the Yagelnaya submarine base (Kola peninsula), and the Pavlovskoye submarine base (Primorskiy kray), in connection with the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms and in order to settle the issue of these underground structures once and for all, the Soviet side states that these underground structures have no adits that make them accessible to waterborne craft of any displacement from adjacent waters and that the Soviet Union has no plans to construct and will not construct such adits as long as the Treaty remains in force. Effective verification of this shall be ensured by national technical means.
The Soviet side proceeds from the premise that the United States of America does not have and will not construct similar underground structures as long as the Treaty remains in force. 
From the Annexes of the START I treaty, the Pavlovskoye naval base had five (5) Delta I ballistic missile submarines and 60 SS-N-8 SLBMs deployed between them; an additional 85 SLBMs were in storage at the base.

But you probably want to SEE the base, and not just hear about it.  Well, it seems that englishrussia.com has posted a series of pictures, a superset of what io9 posted, and both got the pictures from a blogger who's account is no longer in existance.  So, here they are!