miércoles, 26 de octubre de 2016

El por qué de una flota


¿Por qué motivo envían los rusos una flota importante (liderada por el portaaviones Almirante Kuznetsov) a las costas sirias en estos días? Primero veamos la nota de Alexander Mercouris aparecida recientemente en el sitio web The Duran:


Título: Confirmed: Russia deploys Kuznetsov aircraft carrier to defend Syrian coast

Epígrafe. Russia's use of its aircraft carrier in the Syrian conflict is principally intended to learn lessons for the design of more potent such warships in the future, rather than to change the situation in Syria itself.

Texto: On the one hand it is described as a major escalation, as if the Admiral Kuznetsov was a US style supercarrier.  On the other hand there has been a great of deal of derision, with the ship called an obsolete rust bucket dangerous mainly to its crew.

Where does the truth lie?

The Admiral Kuznetsov is the first and only Russian aircraft carrier capable of launching fighter aircraft conventionally.  The preceding Kiev class carriers were smaller ships, which could only launch a small number of aircraft vertically.

Contrary to what reports say, Admiral Kuznetsov is by the standards of navy carriers a relatively new ship.  She was launched in 1985, commissioned in the then Soviet navy in 1990, but only became operational after prolonged trials in 1995.

The US navy currently operates 10 Nimitz class supercarriers.  If the age of a ship is determined by its date of launch; then three of the US navy’s Nimitz class supercarriers are older than Kuznetsov;  if by date of commission, then five are;  if by entry into service then six are.
The Russian navy had no previous experience of operating carriers, so the lengthy time scale of her sea trials between commission and entry into service is not surprising. 

In addition what undoubtedly extended this period before her full entry into service was the political and economic crisis Russia experienced during the 1990s.  Given the severity of this crisis, it is a wonder a ship as large and complicated as Kuznetsov was brought into service at all.

Either way talk of Kuznetsov as some sort of archaic ship from a bygone era is exaggerated, whilst jokes about Kuznetsov being “….practically old enough to have been deployed in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war….” are simply silly.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is expected to deploy off Syria, carrying 15 warplanes, including new MiG-29K/KUB fighters and the Su-33a, shown here.

Aircraft carriers as it happens tend to be long-lived ships. Coral Sea, a US Medway class carrier, served in the US Navy from 1947 to 1990.  By the standards of aircraft carriers Kuznetsov is not an old ship.

What is true about Kuznetsov is that because she was the first of a type of ship of which the Russians had no previous experience, and because of the fraught period during which she was commissioned and brought into service – which made it impossible to sort out her teething problems properly – Kuznetsov suffers by comparison with US navy carriers from design flaws and from engine problems.

The ship’s engines are unreliable, because they are insufficiently powerful for a ship of this size. 

The Russians when they built Kuznetsov lacked suitable nuclear reactors for this type of ship (they were designed for the intended follow-on Ulyanovsk carrier, which because of the 1990s crisis was however never built).  They also lacked conventional engines large enough for a ship of this size, which was roughly twice as heavy as the largest other ship the Russian or Soviet navy had commissioned before. 

The Russians accordingly came up with a complicated solution of using multiple steam turbines and turbo-pressurised boilers to make up for the lack of power of the individual engines.  Like all complicated arrangements, this arrangement is unreliable and prone to breakdown, with the engines experiencing stress especially in heavy seas.

To compound the trouble with the engines, they were built by a plant in what is now independent Ukraine.  As political relations between Russia and Ukraine deteriorated, servicing of the engines by this plant became increasingly erratic, and has now stopped completely.

It is these problems with the engines that account for the practice of accompanying Kuznetsov on long range deployments with a tug. 

The tug in question – the Nikolai Chiker – is the most powerful tug in the world.  This same tug played a key role in successfully hauling Kuznetsov’s uncompleted sister ship Varyag from Ukraine to China in 2005, where she has now become the Chinese carrier Liaoning.

The fact Kuznetsov is accompanied by a tug on long range deployments has provoked some derision.  However it is common practice in any navy to accompany large surface warships with service ships, and accompanying Kuznetsov with a tug ensures in Kuznetsov’s case that the carrier will get to where the Russian naval staff are sending it. The engine problems will not affect Kuznetsov’s Mediterranean deployment when the carrier finally reaches its position.

Kuznetsov suffers from other problems, which are unsurprising given that Kuznetsov is so much bigger and so different to any other ship the Russian navy has ever previously commissioned, and the unhappy times when it was launched. 

There are for example known to be problems with Kuznetsov’s water pipes, which have a history of breakdowns and of freezing up in Arctic weather.  These problems too however will not affect Kuznetsov’s capabilities as a warship when the carrier finally reaches the eastern Mediterranean, and the close proximity of Russian bases in Sevastopol and Tartus means they can be dealt with quickly if they arise.

Once this deployment is ended Kuznetsov will go through a lengthy refit, which unlike previous refits is intended to be practically a rebuild.  With Russia developing a new range of much larger and more powerful engines, Kuznetsov’s current unsatisfactory engines will finally be replaced, and the other teething problems like the problem with the water pipes will finally be addressed. 

Ultimately this is a potent warship, bigger than any other carrier other than those operated by the US navy, and once the refit is done it will be a powerful asset.  In the meantime the ship already provides the Russian fleet with a carrier capability matched by no other navy apart from that of the US. 

In saying this it is important to stress however that the US navy carrier force – with its 10 nuclear powered supercarriers – dwarfs the capability of any other navy, including Russia’s, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Neither the Kuznetsov, nor any other carrier the Russians might build, nor any other navy, can match or rival it.

A more pertinent criticism of Kuznetsov is that though Kuznetsov is a large ship (at 55,000 tonnes standard weight and with a 305 metre length Kuznetsov is midway between a US Medway class carrier and a US Forrestal class supercarrier) the air group it carries at 40-50 aircraft is relatively small (by comparison a smaller US Medway class carrier carried an air group of 75-80 aircraft in the 1980s).

This suggests that Kuznetsov is inefficient in its use of its spaces, a fact which again reflects Russian inexperience designing this sort of ship when Kuznetsov was built.  However it also partly reflects differences in Kuznetsov’s intended role. 

At the time Kuznetsov was built the Russians did not envisage using their carriers for the sort of long range carrier type operations carried out by the US navy.  Unlike US navy supercarriers Kuznetsov prioritises air defence of the fleet rather than long range strikes.  That explains why Kuznetsov’s fighter aircraft take off from the carrier using a ski jump rather than steam catapults. 

Ski jump takeoffs put less stress on the pilots and shorten takeoff times, enabling more aircraft to take off from the carrier more quickly, which can be important in an air defence situation.

The penalty is that aircraft are limited in the loads they can carry by comparison with aircraft launched by steam catapults.

For air defence – the purpose for which Kuznetsov was designed – this is unimportant since fighter aircraft carrying out air defence missions only carry light air to air missiles rather than heavy air to ground missiles and bombs. 

However it does significantly reduce the air group’s capability to carry out long range strikes.  Combined with the relatively small size of the air group, this means that Kuznetsov’s ability to carry out long range ground strikes is fractional compared to that of a US navy supercarrier.

If Kuznetsov is not really designed to carry out long range ground strikes, why are the Russians deploying Kuznetsov off the coast of Syria?

The plan to deploy Kuznetsov to the eastern Mediterranean was made many months ago, long before the recent collapse in relations with the US over Syria.  The decision therefore can have nothing to do with deterring the US from declaring a no fly zone over Syria, as some people are suggesting.

Most likely the intention is to gain experience operating aircraft against ground targets from an offshore carrier.  This is not something the Russians have ever done before.  Even if Kuznetsov’s capability to do it by comparison with a US navy supercarrier is marginal, the fighting in Syria does at least give the Russians an opportunity to try it out to find out how it is done and what it involves. 

That way they can learn lessons that will help them with the design of the far more powerful ships that are to come (see here and here).

In other words the deployment of the Kuznetsov to the eastern Mediterranean is essentially a training exercise.  It does not merit either the derision or the hype that has been created around it.


***


Y acá va la nota de “The saker” para UNZ Review:


Título: Making Sense of the Russian Naval Task Force Off the Coast of Syria

Texto: The AngloZionst Empire’s propaganda machine, otherwise known as the corporate media, has had great difficulty deciding what it should say about the Russian naval task force that has been sent to Syria. The Americans have decided to express their usual contempt for anything Russian and describe this force as centered on the “geriatric” aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, while the Brits chose to describe it as a formidable “armada” about to completely obliterate the moderate terrorists in Syria.

My friend Alexander Mercouris has recently written a superb analysis explaining that, in reality, this task force was neither geriatric nor that formidable. Rather than repeating it all here, I prefer to write what I will consider a follow-up to this excellent piece with a few more details added. The first step will be to debunk a few fundamental misconceptions.
Let’s begin with the Russian aircraft carrier.


The “Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Cruiser Admiral of the Soviet Fleet Kuznetsov”

Did you know that the Russian don’t even call the Admiral Kuznetsov an aircraft carrier? The official designation of the Kuznetsov is “Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Cruiser”. It is important to understand why.

What is, in your opinion, an aircraft carrier? Or, let me put it this way, why does the United States maintain a force of 10-12 heavy aircraft carriers? If you believe Ronald Reagan, it is to “forward deploy” and bring the war to the Soviets (that was, then, the rationale for a 600 ship navy and US carriers in the northern Atlantic). Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that US, British, French aircraft carriers are a colonial rule enforcement tool. You park one or two aircraft carrier battle groups a few hundred miles from a disobedient country, and you bomb the shit out of it until it rolls over. That is, in reality, the only rationale for these immense structures. And the beauty of it is that you can threaten most of the planet and that you do not depend on allies agreeing to your mission. So, we can say that US and other western aircraft carriers are a long range power projection capability used against weak and poorly defended countries.

Why weak and poorly defended only?

Here is the ugly secret that everybody knows: aircraft carriers cannot be defended against a sophisticated enemy. Had the Cold War turned hot, the Soviets would have simultaneously attacked any US carrier in the north Atlantic with a combo of

* Air launched cruise missiles
* Submarine launched cruise missiles
* Surface ship launched cruise missiles
* Submarine launched torpedoes

I cannot prove the following, but I can just testify that I had plenty of friends in the US military, including some who served on US aircraft carriers, and they all understood that US carriers could never survive a Soviet saturation attack and that in case of a real war they would have been kept away from the Soviet shores. I will only add here that the Chinese apparently have developed specialized ballistic missiles designed to destroy carrier battle groups. That was then, in the early 1990s. Nowadays even countries like Iran are beginning to develop capabilities to engage and successfully destroy US carriers.

The Soviets never built any real aircraft carriers. What they had were *cruisers* with a very limited number of vertically launched aircraft and, of course, helicopters. These cruisers had two main purposes: to extend the reach of the Soviet air defenses and to support the landing of a force from the sea. One very special feature of these aircraft carrying Soviet cruisers is that they had very large (4,5-7 tons) cruise missiles designed to strike at high-value enemy ships, including US aircraft carriers. You can read up on the “Kiev-class” aircraft carrying cruiser here. Another key characteristic of these Soviet aircraft-carrying cruisers is that they carried a rather lame aircraft, the Yak-38which was plagued by problems and would have been a very easy target for US F-14s. F-15s, F-16s or F-18s. For that reason, the Kiev-class air-defenses were centered on its surface-to-air missiles and not on its complement of aircraft. By time the Kuznetsov was built, the Soviet had developed aircraft which were at least equal, if not superior, to their western counterparts: the MiG-29 and, especially, the SU-27. And that gave them the idea of building a “real” aircraft carrier.

The decision to built the Kuznetsov was an extremely controversial one which faced a lot of opposition. The Kuznetsov’s “selling points” were that she was a much superior air defense platform, that she could carry vastly superior aircraft and, last but not least, that she could compete for prestige with the US heavy aircraft carriers, especially the planned but never built nuclear-powered follow-on generation. I find that argument wholly unconvincing and nowadays I am pretty confident that most Russian naval force planners would agree with me: Russia does not need US-style aircraft carriers and if she needs any aircraft carriers at all, then they would have to be designed around a *Russian* mission requirement and not just to copy the Americans.

[Sidebar: I would love to get on my favorite soapbox and tell you all the bad things I think about aircraft carriers in general and why I think that the Russian Navy should be submarine and frigate centered, but this would take up too much space. I will just say that I much rather have many frigates or corvettes than a few heavy cruisers].

So the Kuznetsov ended up being a mega-compromise and, as compromises go, a pretty good one. Think of it: even though the Kuznetsov packs 12 massive Granit anti-ship missiles, it has, at least potentially, a complement of aircraft bigger than the French Charles de Gaulle (50 vs 40). Initially, the Kuznetsov carried 12 pure air to air SU-33, but now these will be gradually replaced with 20 much more modern MiG-29K and its 24 Ka-27 helicopters will be replaced by the most advanced reconnaissance and attack helicopter on the planet, the Ka-52K. The Kuznetsov still has two major weaknesses: a frankly dated propulsion (see the Mercouris article) and a lack of on-board AWACs aircraft. The latter is a direct consequence of the design philosophy of the Kuznetsov which was never intended to operate much beyond 500-1000km from the Russian border (again, the crucial roughly under 1000km Russian force planning philosophy).

To sum this all up: the Kuznetsov is a fine aircraft carrier which nevertheless reflects a compromise design philosophy and which was never intended to project Russian power at long distances the way western, especially US, carriers have.
Now let’s turn to the rest of this Russian naval task force


The rest of the Russian naval task force around the Kuznetsov

One big name immediately stands out: the Heavy Nuclear Rocket Cruiser Peter the Great. This is one heavy beast and currently the most heavily armed ship on the planet. I won’t even go into all the details here, check this article for a list of armamentsif you are interested, suffice to say here that this battlecruiser can do everything: anti-air, anti-ship, anti-submarine. She is packed with top of the line sensors and advanced communications. Being the flagship of the Northern Fleet she is also the de-facto flagship of the entire Russian Navy. Last, but not least, the Peter the Great carries a formidable array of 20 Granit anti-ship missile. Please note that the combined firepower of Granit anti-ship missiles of the Kuznetsov and Peter the Great is 12+20 for a total of 32. I will explain why this important below.

The rest of the task force is composed of two Large Antisubmarine Ships (destroyers in western terminology), the Vice-Admiral Kulakov and the Severomorsk, and a number of support vessels. The Kulakov and the Severomorsk are based on the Udaloy design and are modern and all-around capable combat ships. All these ships will soon be merged into one force, including two small missile ships (corvettes in western terminology) which carry the famous Kalibr cruise missiles and which specialize in attacking surface ships. Finally, though this will not be advertised, I believe that this task force will include at least two Akula-class nuclear attack submarines, one Oscar-II cruise missile submarine (armed with another 12 Granit cruise missiles) and several Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines.

To sum this all up.

The Russian naval task force is a Russian attempt to bring together a number of ships which were never designed to operate as a single naval task force far away from Russia. If you wish, it is a clever Russian “hack”. I would argue that it is also a rather successful one as this task force as a whole is a very impressive one. No, it cannot take on all of NATO or even the USN, but there are a number of things which it can do very effectively.

Now we can turn to the big question,


What can the Russian naval task force in Syria really do?

Before looking at the bigger picture, there is one detail which I think deserves to be mentioned here. Nearly every article I read about the Granit cruise missile says that it is an anti-ship cruise missile. I also wrote that above in order to keep things simple. But now I have to say that the Granit probably always had a “B” mode, “B” as in “beregovoy” or, if you prefer, “coastal” or “land” mode. I don’t now whether this mode existed from day 1 or whether it was added later, but it is now certain that the Granit has such a mode. It was probably a fairly minimalistic capability, without fancy guidance and other tricks (which the Granit has in its main anti-ship mode), but the Russians have recently revealed that the upgraded Granits now have a *real* (“complex”) land attack capability. And that requires a totally new look at what that means for this task force. This is what we know about the new and improved Granit (which the Russians refer to as 3M45):

* Mass: 7 tons
* Speed: Mach 1,5-2
* Range: 500-600km
* Warhead: 750kg (conventional and nuclear capable)

The Granit is also capable of some very advanced things, including having one missile flying at 500m or higher to detect the target and the rest of them skimming the surface while receiving the data from the high-flying one. These missiles are also capable of automatically attacking from different directions to better overwhelm air defenses. They can fly as low as 25m and as high as 17,000m. What this all means is that these Granits missiles are very capable tactical-operational range missiles in their own right. And considering that there are at the very least 32 such missiles in the Russian task force (46 if a Oscar-II class sub is also present), that means that this task force has a tactical missile firepower similar to an entire rocket brigade! Should things go very wrong, this task force could not only seriously threaten any USN/NATO surface ship within 500km of Syria, but also every single city or military base in this range. I am rather surprised that the western fear-mongers missed this one because it ought to scare NATO pretty badly 

To be honest here, some specialists are expressing major doubts about the land-attack capabilities of the Granit. Everybody knows that these are relatively old and very expensive missiles, but nobody knows how much effort was really put in their modernization. But even if they are not nearly as capable as advertised, the fact that 32 to 46 of such missiles we be sitting just off the Syrian coast will be a formidable deterrent because nobody will ever know what these missiles can do until they actually do it.

Next.

The combined capabilities of the Russian naval task force and the S-300/S-400 missiles deployed in Syria give the Russians a world-class air-defense capability. If needed the Russians could even throw in A-50 AWACs from Russia protected by MiG-31BMs. What most observers do not realize that is that SA-N-6 “Grumble” which forms the core of the air defenses of the Peter the Great is a S-300FM, the modernized naval variant of the S-300. It is also capable of the amazing Mach 6 speed, has 150km range, an added infrared terminal capability, a track-via-missile guidance system which allows it to engage ballistic missiles and an altitude envelope of 27,000m. And, guess what – the Peter the Great has 48 such missiles (in 20 launchers), roughly the equivalent of 12 S-300 batteries (assuming 4 launchers per battery).

One of the major weaknesses of the Russian deployment in Syria has been the relative low number of missiles the Russians could fire at any one time. The US/NATO could simply saturate Russian defenses with large numbers of missiles. Frankly, they can still do it, but this has now become much, much harder.

Can the Russians now stop a US attack on Syria? Probably not. But they can make it much harder and dramatically less effective.

First, as soon as the Americans fire, the Russians will see it and they will warn the Syrian and Russian armed forces. Since the Russians will be able to track every US missile, they will be able to pass on the data to all the air defense crews who will be ready by the time the missiles arrive. Furthermore, once the missiles get close, the Russians will be able to shoot down a lot of them, making it necessary for the Americans to conduct battle damage assessment from space and then re-strike the same targets many times over.

Second, stealth or no stealth, I don’t believe that the USN or the USAF will risk flying into Russian controlled airspace or, if it does, this will be a short-lived experiment. I believe that the Russian presence in Syria will make any attack on Syria a “missile only” attack. Unless the Americans take down the Russian air defenses, which they could only if they want to start WWIII, US aircraft will have to stay outside the Syrian skies. And that means that the Russians have basically created their own no-fly zone over Syria and a US no-fly zone is now impossible to achieve.

Next, the Kuznetsov will be bringing a number of fixed and rotary wing aircraft including 15-20 Ka-27 and Ka-52K helicopters, and 15-20 SU-33K and MiG-29K (I don’t think there has been an official figure announced). What the Russians have said is that the fixed wing aircraft will be upgraded to be able to attack ground targets. Will all that make a difference? Maybe, on the margins. It will definitely help deal with the expected influx of moderate terrorists coming from Mosul (courtesy of the US operation to flush them into Syria), but the Russians could have simply moved more SU-25 or even SU-34 to Khmeimin or Iran at a much smaller cost. Thus in terms of its air-wing, I fully agree with Mercouris – this will be mainly a real-life training opportunity and not a game changer.


Conclusion

This deployment is highly uncharacteristic of what the Russians have been training for. They have basically found a way to reinforce the Russian contingent in Syria, especially against Hillary’s “no fly zone” nightmare. However, this is also a case of making virtue out of necessity: the operation in Syria was always too far from the Russian border and the Russian force in Syria always to small for its task. Furthermore, this deployment is not sustainable in the long term, and the Russians know it. They have successfully imposed a “Yankee no fly zone” over Syria long enough for the Syrian to take Aleppo and for the Americans to vote for their next President. After that, the situation will either get dramatically better (Trump) or dramatically worse (Hillary). Either way, the new situation will require a completely different Russian strategy.

PS: I am aware of the semi-official Russian announced plans to build a modern aircraft carrier, probably a nuclear one, with catapults and all. For whatever it’s worth, I am very much opposed to this idea which I find wasteful and which does not fit the Russian defense doctrine. The new generation of Russian subs (SSNs and SLBMs), however, gets my standing ovation.

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