Ocean capable corvettes could be affordable force enablers

Yesterday the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Soobrazitelnyy, a corvette from the Baltic Fleet, had passed through the Suez Canal from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean. This was the latest in a series of press releases covering the journey of two Steregushchiy class corvettes and an auxiliary vessel from the Baltic Fleet.

The three ships Boiky, Soobrazitelnyy, and Kola departed from Baltiysk on 14 October, and it was announced that they would complete tasks in the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, the ministry’s press service has been generous with updates on the journey. Reports have been made on the passage of the Strait of Gibraltar, AAW and ASW exercises, a port visit in Limassol, how the ships split up with Boiky completing tasks in the Mediterranean (I suppose around Syria) and Soobrazitelnyy passing the Suez Canal to participate in anti-piracy operations and visit the port of Djibouti. With the ships reunited in the Mediterranean I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the group will head home soon, perhaps in time for Christmas which in Russia is on 7 January.

Obviously, with this massive press coverage one has to wonder whether the point of the whole journey was to generate attention. Nevertheless I do think that the proof of concept is really interesting. Medium sized warships that are large enough to endure the ocean yet small enough to be affordable could prove very useful in the future.

These are ships with a displacement around 2000 tons. Aside from the Russian Steregushchiy class, I think the German Braunschweig class and the British Batch 2 River Class are interesting examples of such warships. A look at the Baltic navies reveals that most only have ships that are much larger or much smaller.

For countries like Denmark, Norway, and Poland such medium sized warships could permit the country to participate in low-risk maritime security operations while the larger frigates could focus on tasks where their broad warfare capabilities are needed. For other countries like Sweden ocean capable corvettes could make it possible to participate at all.

Why don’t Russians revolt?

Aimar Ventsel asks the reasonable question Why Don’t Russians Revolt? on Diplomaatia.ee. He gives a good account of the deteriorating socio-economic situation in Russia and some interesting explanations why this does not lead to a revolt, including:

  1. Vladimir Putin has a magnificent image as a benevolent leader. The notion is that the president is not aware of local issues, and upon hearing about them is able to solve all problems.

  2. Western sanctions have been portrayed as targeted against the population, and every chance is used to repeat the story that Russia is under attack. This has nurtured a resilience in the population around the belief that life is hard, and one must suffer for the preservation of the nation.

  3. The government is the most important job provider in many areas.

  4. There are large regional differences in Russia, so people have different concerns and problems.

  5. Russians are generally proud of their country and its achievements in a variety of fields like sports, culture, manufacturing, etc.

But perhaps the most important point in Ventsel’s analysis is this:

Finally, it can be noted that, today, the race between a TV and a fridge has been won by the TV—the population of Russia has united to protect themselves against a foreign enemy. However, there is no reason to believe that wide-ranging riots and revolutionary upheavals would bring any good to Russia’s neighbours, at least.

A revolt would most likely be a disaster for both the Russians and their neighbors.

Why does Russia lie about sizes of military exercises?

Lee Litzenberger in War On The Rocks on the possible reasons for Russia to avoid foreign observers at military exercises:

Russia pursues this destabilizing behavior, possibly out of a belief that its interests are served by being provocative. There may be several reasons for this. First, Russia may believe that the lack of transparency keeps the West guessing about its intentions, projecting an image of Russia as an unpredictable and potentially dangerous adversary. Second, limiting transparency enables Moscow to carefully script the narrative surrounding its exercises. Such scripting allows it to control how it reveals new weapons systems, maximizing their impression and masking their potential flaws. This helps the Kremlin avoid embarrassments such as when the new Russian T-14 Armata battle tank stalled on Red Square during the Victory Day parade rehearsal in 2015. A similar incident at Zapad 2017, where a Russian helicopter accidentally fired at spectators, illustrates the risk that transparency poses for Russia. Russia may also believe that designing its exercises to be provocative and intimidating maximizes their deterrent effect, even if it does so at the cost of increasing tensions in Europe.

Or perhaps it’s just about keeping the options open. It’s a lot easier to benefit from surprise if spontaneous force mobilization falls within the established normal behavior.

Russia has an inflatable regiment

Robert Beckhusen for War is Boring:

This tradition of inflatable dummy tanks and phony ballistic missiles — imitasiia or imitation — is still alive and well in Russia thanks to the 45th Separate Engineer-Camouflage Regiment based in Vladimir Oblast east of Moscow.

The unit has a variety of blow-up tanks, missile launchers, armored personnel carriers and other weapons. While these tactics are hardly new in Russia or elsewhere, Russia recently finishing reforming the 45th Regiment, nicknamed the “Inflator Regiment” in June 2017. In fact, the unit descends from the 45th Engineer and Sapper Regiment, which served during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

It’s also worth noting that the reformation was just in time for the Zapad 2017 exercises in September 2017, the largest Russian military exercise since the Cold War. The 45th took part in Zapad.

The pictures are priceless.

You have to practice being jammed

Estonian intelligence chief Kapo Rosin has an assessment of the Zapad exercise and Russian doctrine in Defense News:

The exercise basically [addressed] two factors. First, how to jam the enemy, which is logical; and second, how to operate [within those] conditions themselves. They of course know that an electronic field is both a challenge for them and a possibility, since Western militaries are very dependent on different electronic communications, reach back and so on.

They know that if they can attack it successfully, then they get the advantage in some fields; and they also know that the NATO is also technically advanced and has its own capabilities. So, the conclusion with Russians is they have to know how to operate under such conditions themselves. You need different skills, procedures and so on to conduct a successful war under those [circumstances]. You have to learn how to command your military with a paper map. So they did that, and I think they are definitely ahead of us [there].

Interesting concept to be ahead by being old fashioned.

Russia continues military line with 2018-2027 armament program

Dmitry Gorenburg in a policy memo for PONARS Eurasia:

By the end of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin will approve Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027. […] Based on these plans, Russia seems primed to stay ahead of its competitors in some capabilities (anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare, air defenses), narrow the gap in areas such as drones and precision-guided munitions, and continue to lag well behind in a few areas such as surface ships and automated control systems.

Also interesting that Russia seems to boost investments in the army, whereas the navy looks like the big loser.

Overall, Russia transitions from a period of intense catch-up across the board to a more regular procurement schedule with fairly stable and sustainable budgets.

Russia completes transformation to Iskander in Kaliningrad

Russia has completed the transformation to the Iskander-M missile system in Kaliningrad, according to Russian defense blog bmpd. That happened when the 152nd Missile Brigade officially received the modern missile at a ceremony last Monday to replace the old Tochka-U missiles (NATO name SS-21 Scarab).

Russia is modernizing its fleet of tactical ballistic missiles at a pace of about two brigades per year, and the Ministry of Defense has announced that the process will be completed in 2020. In fact, 11 brigades already have the Iskander-M missile and only one still uses the Tochka-U (the 448th Missile Brigade in Kursk). However, Russia is not only replacing old equipment but also forming new brigades, most lately in June when a missile brigade was established in the Eastern Military District.

So while Russia has 12 brigades with tactical ballistic missiles today, that number may increase to 17 over the next three years. Of course one of those brigades could also be placed in Kaliningrad.

Russia’s new strategic bombers will fly soon

Dave Majumdar for The National Interest:

Early next year in February, the first of Russia’s new production Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers will take to the air.

The new bomber is essentially a prototype of a next generation variant of the venerable Blackjack, the first generation of which was built during the 1980s in the last days of the Soviet Union. Russia operates 16 of the surviving aircraft as long-range cruise missile carriers as a key part of its strategic bomber force. The aircraft have performed well during Russia’s Syria campaign acting as launch platforms for the stealthy MKB Raduga H-101 cruise missile, which is thought to have a range between 4,500MKm and 5,500Km.


The Russians plan to buy about fifty of the new Tu-160 variant. It is also likely that the 16 original model Tu-160 airframes will be upgraded to the new standard. Moscow can make do with the upgraded Tu-160M2 for its strategic bomber force because unlike the United States Air Force, the Russian Air Force does not expect the massive aircraft to penetrate into enemy airspace to deliver its payload. Instead, the Tu-160—which is capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0—would dash into position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles. As such, stealth is not considered to be particularly important. Indeed, one of the advantages of a highly visible strategic bomber is that it enables nuclear signaling.

Interesting point that if the missiles have a range of over 4000 kilometers, the aircraft doesn’t need to be stealth.

Confusion in the Kremlin is a terrible idea

Michael Hikari Cecire in The National Interest arguing that NATO should react asymmetrically to military provocations from Russia:

“What would this look like in practice? Exhaustively fortifying the Baltic States is likely a strategic nonstarter, as even a perfect defense would likely only invite Russian countermoves elsewhere. Instead, Western states might link Russian provocations with measured counter-escalations calibrated to wrest back the initiative and sow confusion in the Kremlin. These responses need not be military. One idea might be to create policy mechanisms that could shepherd embattled Western partners like Georgia and Ukraine into NATO; such a move would not guarantee accession, but would complicate Russia’s habits of cultivating separatist proxies to inoculate its neighbors against Euro-Atlantic integration. Or, Western attentions could be better organized in the Arctic to confound Russian plans to dominate that region’s increasingly viable sea lanes and mineral wealth.”

This is a terrible idea. The goal is not to sow confusion in the Kremlin but to deter from aggression. That requires a clear message and consistent communications.

The last thing NATO should do is to escalate the situation in Ukraine, Georgia or the Arctic. NATO has no credible deterrence in these places so it’s like an open invitation to a proxy war.

The message to Russia should be very simple: A violation of any NATO country will be met with massive military retaliation – everywhere else the goal is to restore a system of diplomacy and international law.

A solid fortification of the Baltic States and Poland is a good way to communicate this message. Will it anger some people in the Kremlin? Probably. But it is a consistent message that the Russian strategists will understand. Nobody in the Russian leadership seriously believes that NATO would attack Russia from the Baltic States, because they trust their own deterrence. They will make a lot of noise about it, but at the end of the day the result will be a more stable situation where the mutual deterrence is in place.

General Gerasimov describes state of Russia’s armed forces

Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov held a speech on 7 November 2017 where he described the state of the armed forces.

Valery Gerasimov
General Valery Gerasimov, image from Russian Ministry of Defense
On 7 November 2017 Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov held a speech where he described the state of the Russian armed forces. The speech was given at an open session at the Ministry of Defense in connection with a conference on the implementation of the presidential decrees of May 2012 and the 2020 plan of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Gerasimov is famous for straight up talk, and he has said interesting things in the past. He is a representative of the Russian government, so obviously he adheres to a certain protocol. The developments that he describes happened on his watch in the General Staff, so a certain inclination to a positive view must also be expected. With those two abstractions, however, Gerasimov’s speech stands out as matter-of-fact account of the state of the Russian armed forces as seen through the lens of the military leadership.

I thought it would be interesting to look closer at the speech. The point has been to show Gerasimov’s message, so the following is not a critical review. Instead I have tried to make a loyal description of what Gerasimov said. The speech itself is detail-oriented and rich on factual information, and I have omitted much of that to make the message stand out more clearly. …Continue reading