The November 21 “Extended” update adds two more panels to the infographic: The transit of two Buyan-M-class corvette from Sevastopol to Baltiysk in October (the panel was already included in the first edition of the infographic, but had to be removed in the last update due of space problem) and the Russian strikes in Syria from November 16, launched with Kalibr-NK missiles from the Admiral Grigorovich. Additional strikes were made with 3M-55 Oniks — an anti-ship missile with land attack capabilities — fired with a land based Bastion AShM battery and with FAB-500 M-54 delivered by Sukhoi Su-33.
The deployment of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to the Eastern Mediterranean, which started mid-October near Severomorsk, is not a surprise. By winter, the Kuznetsov is usually deployed somewhere southward. She made her first Mediterranean deployment between 23 December 1995 and 22 March 1996. Because of extensive service work, absent funding and the explosion and sinking of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, the second Mediterranean deployment was more than ten years later, between 5 December 2007 and 3 February 2008. Further deployments to the Mediterranean were between 5 December 2008 and 2 March 2009, 6 December 2011 and 17 February 2012, 17 December 2013 and 17 May 2014. It seems that the Russian Navy abstained of another deployment at the end of 2015 because the 100th Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment with its MiG-29KR light fighters and MiG-29KUBR combat-capable trainers was not adequate trained for air operations from the carrier (Sergey Ishchenko, “Admiral Kuznetsov Preparing for Syria Duty“, South Front, 17 January 2016). The MiG-29KR/KUBR should replace the ageing Sukhoi Su-33 in the long-term.
According to the Russian classification the Admiral Kuznetsov is called a heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser instead of an aircraft carrier, essentially because according to the 1936 Montreaux Convention, passage of “aircraft carriers” through the Turkish Straits is prohibited (Robin J. Lee, “A Brief Look at Russian Aircraft Carrier Development“, 9 January 1996; see also: F. David Froman, “Kiev and the Montreux Convention: The Aircraft Carrier That Became a Cruiser to Squeeze through the Turkish Straits“, San Diego Law Review 14 (1976): 681-717). The Annex II of the Convention states that “Aircraft-Carriers are surface vessels of war, whatever their displacement, designed or adapted primarily for the purpose of carrying and operating aircraft at sea. The fitting of a landing-on or flying-off deck on any vessel of war, provided such vessel has not been designed or adapted primarily for the purpose of carrying and operating aircraft at sea, shall not cause any vessel to fitted to be classified in the category of aircraft-carrier.” Indeed, in contrast to U.S. carriers, the Admiral Kuznetsov was designed specifically to sail alone and carries offensive firepower (especially worthy of mention are the 12 long-range surface-to-surface anti-ship Granit cruise missiles). Consequently, the Kuznetsov’s carrier battle group is rather small and comprises a Kirov class nuclear battlecruiser (Pyotr Velikiy), two Udaloy I class anti-submarines destroyers (Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov), three replenishment oilers and two rescue tug. The battle group has been joined by the Admiral Grigorovich, the flagship of its class, a Kashin class destroyer (Smetlivy), an additional replenishment oiler and two rescue tug coming from the Black Sea in November 5. The Admiral Grigorovich, which was commissioned only in March 2016, is a frigate armed with Kalibr-NK missiles (“Russia’s state-of-the-art frigate Admiral Grigorovich sets off to Syria“, Pravda, 03.11.2016).
Aboard of the Kuznetsov, there are approximately ten Su-33 of the 279th Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment (at the moment, eight are confirmed by their serial numbers) as well as four MiG-29KR and MiG-29KUBR of the 100th Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment only set up in January, 2016. Sunday evening, November 13, one of these MiG-29 (most likely the one and only two-seated MiG-29KUBR on the Kuznetsov) crashed into the eastern Mediterranean after takeoff from the carrier because of mechanical difficulties. According to Russian defense officials, a rescue helicopter picked up the pilot, who ejected from the fighter jet (“Russian Navy MiG-29K lost in Mediterranean“, Combat Aircraft, 14.11.2016; Lucas Tomlinson, “Russian fighter jet crashes near its aircraft carrier in Mediterranean, US officials say“, Fox News, 14.11.2016). Additional to the fighter jets, there are approximately four KA-27PL/PS, two KA-29TB, two KA-31 and one KA-52K helicopters on board.
Arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Kuznetsov battle group probably will operate east of Cyprus near the Syrian coast till January, 2017. According of the plans of the Russian general staff, the fighter jets and the combat helicopter of the Kuznetsov should participate in air operations in Syria and in trainings with other Russian-friendly states, most likely with the Egyptian Navy.
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