Military forces around the world routinely put out highlight reels to celebratespecial dates or their achievements, especially around the New Year in order to recap the past 12 months of activities. The Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet is no different and has put out a particularly action-packed montage of its live-fire training exercises during 2017.
The Russian Ministry of Defense released the video, set to rock and roll score, on its official YouTube channel on Jan. 6, 2017. There’s a lot packed into the nearly 3 minute long film, including appearances by a number of major submarines and surface vessels, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the Borei-class ballistic missile submarine Yury Dolgorukiy, the Yasen-class cruise missile submarine Severodvinsk, the Kirov-class battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, the Slava-class cruiser Marshal Ustinov, and Udaloy-class destroyers. There are clips showing air defense missiles, close-in protection systems, 130mm guns, self-defense decoys, and more in action.
“The Northern Fleet fulfilled all the tasks assigned to it in the past year,” the video title proudly declares. According to the description, the ships of the unit conducted approximately 4,700 exercises in total, more than half of which involved the employment of live weapons.
That’s not necessarily surprising. The Northern Fleet is the largest of the Russian Navy’s four main combat fleets and has control over the service’s main flagship, Kuznetsov, as well as the bulk of the country’s remaining large surface combatants, including the Pyotr Velikiy. The unit is spread out among a number of facilities located n Russia’s far north, often operating near the Arctic Circle, a region of steadily increasing strategic importance to various countries in Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States.
The video opens with a passing clip across Kuznetsov’s flight deck, with both its MiG-29K and Su-33 fighter jets visible. In 2017, the carrier had a rather embarrassing deployment to the Middle East, with one of each type of aircraft crashing into the Mediterranean Sea. In the end, it reportedly sent its aircraft ashore to support Russia’s intervention in Syria from the Khmeimim Air Base in Latakia Province.
The only other clips we see of the carrier is of it shoot a 3K95 Kinzhal surface-to-air missile, a navalized variant of the low-to-medium altitude land-based Tor system, and anti-missile decoys. There are numerous clips of other surface ships firing these same systems throughout the video. The 3K95s, also known as the SA-N-9 Gauntlet, sit inside particularly interesting eight-tube rotary vertical launchers arranged in a circular configuration.
Pyotr Velikiy and Marshal Ustinov both have S-300F Fort long-range surface-to-air missiles, naval versions of the land-based S-300, inside similar, but significantly larger vertical launch systems. The video offers a below-deck clip showing the massive worm gear mechanism that rotates the entire assembly, before moving up above to show the system in action. On land, it takes large eight-wheeled transport-erector-launchers or tractor trailer-mounted launchers to move these missiles into position.
There are great shots of Pyotr Velikiy firing its massive P-700 Granit anti-ship missiles, which are also known by their NATO reporting name, Shipwreck. Her sister ship the Admiral Nakhimov is in the midst of a major refit that will replace these Cold Warriors with a mix of more modern hypersonic, supersonic, and subsonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles. After she returns to service, Pyotr Velikiy is supposed to go to the shipyard for an overhaul into the same configuration. Our own Tyler Rogoway has written in depth about this upgrade plan here and you can find his overview of Shipwreck missile here.
Interspersed throughout the rest of the run time are clips of various ships firing their twin 130mm AK-130 main guns, as well as Kashtan and AK-630 close-in weapon systems. The AK-630 is a single, turreted six-barrel 30mm rotary cannon. The Kashtan is a larger combination weapon with two of those guns along with eight 9K311 short-range surface-to-air missiles. The Russian Navy plans to begin replacing the Kashtans with a version of the Pantsir short-range air defense system, the Pantsir-ME, in 2018, which you can find out more about here.
There’s even a portion of the video that looks to show Marshal Ustinov moving one of her five-tube torpedo launchers into position before firing one of the weapons. When not in use, the system sits inside the ship near the waterline behind a door that closes flush with the hull.
The video ends with a number of clips of what are likely the submarines Yury Dolgorukiy and Severodvinsk launching ballistic and cruise missiles while submerged. In June 2017, Yury Dolgorukiy in particular achieved a major milestone when it successfully fired a RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, which subsequently flew a complete flight cycle as it would have during a real launch with live nuclear warheads. The inert multiple independent reentry vehicle warheads all hit their targets at the Kura Missile Test Range in Kamchatka.
In October 2017, submarines from both the Northern and Pacific Fleets also fired both ballistic and cruise missiles during a snap strategic exercise. This event also included the launch of a ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers releasing air-launched cruise missiles.
Altogether, the video is an impressive and interesting demonstration of a wide array of capabilities within the Russian Navy. Its overall tone is in line with the Kremlin’s increasingly assertive domestic and foreign policies, as well.
In 2018, it seems likely that we will only continue to see Russia work to expand its presence and influence in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, and elsewhere around the world. Its geo-political competition with the United States and its European allies is only likely to escalate, as well.
A major limiting factor in the Navy's ability to contribute will be continued cuts to the overall Russian defense budget, a result of both a significant drop in the international price of oil, one of Russia's major exports, and international sanctions following the Kremlin's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and subsequent support for separatists fighting the government in Kiev.
Moscow has a desire to significantly expand and modernize its Navy, but has lacked the funds to expand the necessary shipbuilding capacity and otherwise pay for these big budget items. This has already forced the country to shelve plans for new aircraft carriers and destroyers, cut funds for the overhaul of the Admiral Kuznetsov, and delay finishing the refit of the Admiral Nakhimov, and calls into question plans for new amphibious assault ships and fixed-wing naval aircraft.
But the Northern Fleet has already been an important tool in implementing Russia revanchist policies and if this video is anything to go by, it looks set to continue to do so in the New Year.
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