Kuznetsov’s willingness to operate in Syria raises doubts
The heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser (TAKR) "Admiral Kuznetsov" will head for the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of the board of the military department on Wednesday. “At present, the Russian naval grouping in the eastern part of the Mediterranean includes at least six warships and three to four supply vessels from all fleets. In order to increase the combat capabilities in the grouping, we plan to include in its composition a ship-based aircraft carrier group with the cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, TASS quotes him.
If you carefully follow the messages dedicated to the only Russian aircraft carrier and its wing, it becomes clear that the campaign announced by Shoigu was preparing at least since the end of last year. Moreover, there have already been numerous leaks about where the cruiser will go during combat service in the winter of 2016 / 2017 and what tasks it will perform.
Back in July 2016, a certain military-diplomatic source announced the upcoming fall of an aircraft carrier’s campaign with the aim of delivering “attacks on terrorist groups in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The cruiser was refurbished - but not quite ordinary. As the repair company officially stated, weapons the ship’s cellar was prepared to store new ammunition. On the whole, the ship was pretty modernized in order to prepare to base on its board a new type of aircraft - the MiG-29KR and MiG29KUB fighters (the corresponding plans were reported back in November 2015). In particular, a new ship flight support system was installed. aviation "Ilmen-11435" and additional communication modules. They also promised to join the air group and the new Ka-52K helicopters - the very ones that were planned to be based on the Mistral. On Thursday, the chief of naval aviation of the Navy, Major General Igor Kozhin, confirmed that the ship would set off on a long voyage to the Mediterranean Sea with full-time armament and full air wing.
It is important to note that the appearance on the Kuznetsovo MiG-29KR and MiG29KUB should - at least theoretically - significantly expand the range of combat use of the ship. Whereas so far the Su-33s used from the cruiser are mainly air defense fighters, MiGs are capable of carrying weapons that hit ground targets (for example, in Syria).
In parallel, since last year, pilot training for the 100th Separate Naval Aviation Regiment (OKIAP) recreated in December last year at the NITKA complex in Crimea and a similar complex in Yeysk was conducted fleet (SF). It was he who was handed the 24 latest MiG-29KR and MiG29KUB. A rare case - the Navy admits that these fighters are still being tested and will pass them until 2018 - however, a limited series of fighters will begin operation on an aircraft carrier before they are completed. This even then gave reason to believe that the presence of the air group in this composition is attached great importance, which means that it is facing important tasks, and soon.
And indeed - in the summer the ship began to be re-equipped with the air group. First, in July, the Navy announced that for the first time after a long hiatus, the Kuznetsov began to take on board deck aircraft from the other (279-th OKAAP) (which had flown from the ship for a long time). The first pair of 279 aircraft, one “big” (Su-33) and one “small” (Su-25UTG), landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The pilots of this unit also studied all summer at the NITKA complex. In August, the MiGs joined them - and this was the first such landing in stories the ship.
Thus, to date, as many as two air regiments and as many aircraft as it has never housed before have been prepared for basing on Kuznetsov - about five dozen (24 MiG, 14 Su-33 and several helicopters). At least, according to open sources and statements by the military. Let us omit the question of the extent to which all the machines are in good condition, for example, all of them are able to rise into the air and perform combat missions (which is never the case). Another question is much more important - in what condition are the personnel? How many pilots are there and how prepared are they?
Strictly speaking, the answer to this question is a military secret, but even from open sources and statements that are not directly related to the air group of specialists, some conclusions can be drawn. And these conclusions, as they say, are disappointing.
As already mentioned, we know from open sources that the 100-th regiment was recreated less than a year ago, in December of the 2015-th. We know that the pilots of the regiment began training, and not from the deck of the aircraft carrier, but on the simulator in Yeisk, from the spring of 2016, and the first landing on the aircraft carrier was carried out quite recently, in August. We know that by the middle of the 2000-x pilots of the 279-th regiment, with skills at least take off and sit down with Kuznetsov, there were no more than ten - and most of them were of pre-retirement age. We know that for two years Naval Aviation of the Navy has been trying intensively to prepare a whole group of inexperienced young pilots to work with the Kuznetsov. We also know that every pilot (even a high-class one), before being recognized as ready to perform a combat mission, must undergo a so-called KBP — a combat training course unique to each aircraft.
“The course of combat training consists of hundreds of exercises, which are divided into a number of programs. All this needs to be studied, to fly off the required number of flights, so that the pilot can be allowed to fight, - a senior retired Russian Air Force officer tells the newspaper VIEW. “In the short time that the 100 regiment existed, its pilots most likely could have been prepared at all qualitatively only for taking off from the deck and landing on it, and the pilots had yet to learn the rest. They probably do not even know how to use weapons. But only first-class pilots can be sent to a combat operation. These are years of preparation. In the past years, the passage of the full course (of the total number of the PCU) was secretly established for no more than three years. ”
Another source, related to the Naval Aviation Marine, told the newspaper VIEW that the aircraft carrier is unlikely to be able to perform a different task off the coast of Syria, except a purely symbolic one. “The 279 th regiment, even in good old times for aviation, was never in combat readiness. He wasn’t in constant readiness forces for a single day, he never sat in DSHs - these were duty forces capable of taking part in solving suddenly arising tasks. And I never even carried air defense duty, and now, at the stage of retraining for a new aircraft, they are putting it to war, ”the source is outraged.
Representatives of the veteran organization of the Crimean garrison, Saki Alexander Sannikov, also publicly expressed concerns about the training in the Crimea of young pilots of carrier-based aviation. In a conversation with the “Military-Industrial Courier”, Sannikov suggested that the lack of proper attention from the commanders to the problems of NITKA (a training airline in Saki, Crimea) could lead Admiral Kuznetsov to go on a long hike with a truncated wing. “There are well-founded fears that the pilots of this regiment will not have time to go through all the necessary preparatory procedures by the exit of the ship,” he warned. Speaking about trainings in Saki, Sannikov indicated that they passed under the simplified program: the flights were performed with a touch of the deck, and the passes - without a hook on the cable of the aerofinisher, which did not allow to master the skills in full. “In addition, the test cycle was not fully conducted at the MiG-29KR and MiG-29KUBR,” he confirmed.
True, there is another point of view. Military expert Dmitry Litovkin believes that Russian pilots are quite ready for an air war in Syria. “The pilots are ready. This year, they flew on landfills from May to July. In addition, the pilots were trained on the MiG three-dimensional simulators in Moscow on Leningradsky Avenue. Realistic training on such simulators is provided by 3D technology, as well as the use of hydraulic devices to simulate the oscillations of an airplane cabin. They practiced landing, taking off from an aircraft carrier, refueling in the air. There is a very good team, a tough one is young, ”Litovkin told the newspaper LOOK.
It is necessary to make a reservation after all that flying on simulators will never replace real-life practice to a combat pilot. Especially since, as Litovkin admits, the personnel did not even train on the use of simulators, but they were sent to Syria, where real combat operations take place. Of course, even if, as a result, the pilots of the Kuznetsov air group take part in the operation in Syria, for them, in fact, this will be just a new proving ground - difficult and tense, but without real opposition from the enemy. Any participation in real hostilities - and who knows how the situation will develop in Syria? - turn unqualified pilots into an easy target.
But not only this is alarming. For the first time in its history, Russia is preparing to use its only aircraft carrier and its air group for its direct military purpose. Any professional will tell you how difficult it is to ensure the failure-free operation of dozens of aircraft in heavy combat use, recall the many tragic examples that occurred in similar cases with the main military power of the world for decades maintaining aircraft carriers - the United States. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defense decided to send people to the area of hostilities, who - we repeat, according to open information - certainly did not receive the necessary professional training. At a minimum, such doubts are valid. God forbid, but the risk of possible losses - even non-combat - with this approach increases many times.
It remains to understand exactly when the "Kuznetsov" will be off the coast of Syria.
As reported by TASS at the beginning of September, the commander of the Naval Aviation of the Russian Navy, Igor Kozhin, warned that the tests of the renewed Admiral Kuznetsov air group, more precisely, their main part, would be completed only by the end of this year. It follows from Kozhin’s recognition that the pilots will not be ready for combat sorties before December.
Usually the ships of the Northern Fleet set out on a long voyage just in December, since the polar night is set in the Arctic and it is difficult for the pilots to begin to recover the skills of similar flights over the sea in almost around the clock darkness. Therefore, for the winter of the only Russian aircraft carrier, it is desirable to get out much further south. There, pilots can improve their flying skills in more favorable conditions, and the ship is safer.
The previous seven combat services of "Admiral Kuznetsov" for the entire quarter-century history of this ship were built according to this scheme. It can be assumed that this time the ships will go from Murmansk in early December, at the same time the "main part" of the tests will be completed by January, and in January the first MiGs will be launched from its deck to attack the ISIL detachments *.
We wish them an equal number of takeoffs and landings.
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