The new routine of Russian warship transits through the English Channel continues into 2018 as the sustained involvement of the Russian Navy in Syria delivers a regular series of headlines.
A number of ships returning from the Mediterranean generated some interest from the Royal Navy and UK newspapers as they neared UK and French waters. An official statement from the RN said that HMS Westminster was deployed to track the vessels on 05 January. Two Steregushchiy-class corvettes were transiting the channel, Boikiy and Soobrazitelnyy were supported by Paradoks and Kola tankers and activity in the channel on Monday 08 January pointed to a combined Anglo-French effort.
Kola has been a familiar sight on AIS tracking as the tanker supports most transits for the Russian Navy. RFA Wave Knight appeared to be returning to Falmouth or Plymouth whilst the appearance of newly commissioned RFA Tidespring on AIS tracking suggested it could be taking over to support RN tracking operations.
(Will update as necessary)
Russia’s prototype high speed helicopter, the Mi-24K, appears to have a series of aerodynamic modifications in the most recent images of the testbed airframe to appear online. The Mi-24K first flew in 2015 and is being used as a flying laboratory for the development of a new generation of high speed helicopters under the Russian Advanced Commercial Helicopter (RACHEL) programme. Testing of the airframe has been ongoing since 2016 and images of the helicopter since then have showed a variety of wing configurations. The most recent modifications appear to have taken the aerodynamics of the helicopter into careful consideration, with improvements seemingly designed to reduce drag. The photo, dating from October this year, shows the removal of external aerials and instrumentation; a smaller engine exhaust port; and a number of aerodynamic fairings covering protrusions on the aircraft’s skin. Russian media reported that the testbed airframe reached a top speed of 405 km/h in October 2016 and credited the speed to new composite rotor blades.
Russian Helicopters signed a two year development contract with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) in August 2017 during the Army 2017 showcase. The agreement promised the “formation of the concept of a high-speed combat helicopter” and will build on the development work carried out on the Mi-24K. “Both the Ministry of Defense and our holding believe the parameters received during the tests and the experience gained to be enough to move on to the next stage - the development of a high-speed combat helicopter.” Said Russian Helicopters CEO Andrey Boginsky. During an Air Force annual celebration last month, Oleg Chesnokov, commander of the combat training of the army aviation of the Air and Space Forces (VCS) explained to Russian media that the future platform will use lessons learned from the Mi-24K to develop a future platform “It will be a completely new aviation complex, not based on the Mi-24 helicopter” he said.
Whilst it is not clear how long the development project will take, the agreement between the MOD and Russian Helicopters aims to determine the requirements behind developing an entirely new aircraft. The recent improvements to the Mi-24K testbed airframe suggest that the two year assessment phase is underway and the particular platform will be integral to the work.
Credit to Oleg Podkladov and others at RussianPlanes.net for his great work in photographing the Mi-24K, see his work here.
The Russian Navy conducted simultaneous submarine rescue exercises in Kola Bay in the Barents Sea and Avacha Bay on the Pacific coast. The exercises were carried out on Monday 27 November and demonstrated a range of rescue capabilities including Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and the AS-34 Priz-class Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV).
Demonstrating the capability simultaneously on entirely different sides of the planet, on the same day, seems to offer a clear signal that this rehearsal was prompted by the recent loss of the ARA San Juan. The Russian Navy will be especially sensitive to the San Juan tragedy due to the loss of the Kursk and exercising their submarine rescue units might be just as much to boost confidence in the capability internally as it is for external demonstration.
The exercises are all the more significant as the navy has deployed rescue equipment to support the search for the San Juan. The support team flew to Argentina on Saturday 25 November and deployed on board a local vessel with a Panther plus ROV and a diving team.
Earlier this week the Russian Navy confirmed it was developing the next variant of the country’s strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). The Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces announced that the development of the Borey-B had begun and the General noted that 5 of the Borey-A are now under construction. The first of the Borey-A is due to launch this month so the announcement seems appropriately timed to coincide with this.
General Valery Gerasimov said "Work has begun on the creation of an atomic submarine cruiser with improved characteristics of Borey B," at a meeting of the Defense Ministry's board and he also pointed out that 102 ballistic missiles were acquired for the SSBN fleet in the past five years.
The announcement of a Borey-B variant and the imminent launch of the first Borey-A expected this month will likely cause some discussion over class naming as and when the various boats come into service and depending on how much the classes vary. The Borey-B announcement seems to meet with the rearmament programme announced by President Putin in May 2017, which mentioned a future ‘Husky-class’ SSBN through the 2025 timeframe.
The US Air Force announced last week that it would deploy F-35As to Japan for the operational debut of the variant in the region. The announcement stated that the 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings would deploy 12 F-35A Lightning II jets to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa for six months in ‘early November’ but RBC News showed the first 2 aircraft arriving in Kadena on 30 October turning ‘early November’ into ‘late October'.
Some 300 personnel will deploy for the six month period, joining US Marine Corps F-35Bs already in Japan and amidst rising tensions in the region. US President Trump is also due to arrive in Japan as part of a regional tour on 05 November so it is likely that the USAF are keen to demonstrate the F-35A’s deployment capability to such a high profile audience. It wouldn’t be surprising if the deployment is recognised or if Trump makes an official visit to US forces in Japan during his 3 day visit.
The USAF official statement said “This long-planned deployment is designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.”
A series of reports by Zvezda News showed the Russian Navy using a brand new Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) off the coast of Tartus in Syria in mine countermeasure (MCM) operations for the first time . The video and article call the AUV 'Galtel' which appears to translate as 'fillet' and Zvezda explain that the AUV is being used to 'illuminate' the seabed to search for mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and weapon caches.
The reports appear to outline that recent operations in Tartus represent acceptance trials for the Galtel AUV and that it will be used in conjunction with additional MCM equipment such as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and mine clearance divers. It goes on to state that the Galtel was developed by the Institute of Marine Technology Problems (IPMI), a government research agency based in Vladivostok.
It seems the Galtel began life as the ANPA MT-2010 back in 2010 when the IPMI developed the AUV, then under the name ‘Pilgrim’, for the Ministry of Emergency Situations and a series of trials were made between 2011 and 2013. The Galtel name appears in 2012 and it seems this is when a military role was spotted for the AUV.
The testing off the coast of Syria occurred in August and September of 2017, the use of an operational environment seeming to provide the perfect place to carry out acceptance trials of the AUV. The Zvezda videos show the AUV being deployed exclusively from shore or from the Grachonok-class anti-saboteur boat Unarmeec Kryma (pennant number 836). The Unarmeec Kryma travelled to Syria in April 2017 and does not appear to have returned to her home port at the time of writing.
It is unclear how much further testing will be carried out or whether it has successfully passed. Should the system enter regular service it will likely remain in use by MCM and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) forces before additional roles such as Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) can be considered.