The supply of such floating craft for the Ukrainian Navy makes many people laugh - explained, however, only by ignorance. In this photo "RHIB" is used by combat swimmers. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
It would be worth starting this material, perhaps, with the fact that the active naval development of Ukraine is by no means new or secret information. In the domestic media, however, it is fanned with a mass of ridiculous rumors, conjectures and outright ridicule that distort the real state of affairs for the sake of the propaganda component.
Today I propose to understand what is actually happening in the naval forces of the adjacent and, alas, now unfriendly state to us.
Unfortunately, Russian news agencies and various analysts often focus on insignificant acts of activity of NATO military specialists in Ukraine and technical assistance provided to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Navy. So, for example, news about the supply of RHIB motorized rigid-hull inflatable boats is taken out of context, but the elements of the system, which are actively being built on the other side of our border, are completely overlooked.
The strategy of the possible
Any military development begins with a study of the theoretical aspects of subsequent practical activities. Fortunately or unfortunately, Ukraine was extremely unlucky with this: after losing almost everything fleet During the return of Crimea to Russia and the subsequent presidency of Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian Naval Forces were in a deep crisis, both conceptual and organizational.
In the period from 2014 to 2018, the top military leadership of Ukraine absolutely seriously considered the possibility of creating a large military fleet as a symmetrical response to the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Most likely, this "inertia" of thinking can be associated with the officer and admiral cadres, who for the most part had a predominantly Soviet military education. The general unfavorable situation in the country only intensified the senselessness of all attempts to form a more or less combat-ready Navy, already burdened with extremely meager funding from the defense budget.
Over the past years, however, a lot has changed: the military development of Ukraine is increasingly coming under the leadership of military experts, officials and analysts from the NATO bloc countries, which definitely has a beneficial effect on the processes taking place in the country.
The first major step in reforming the Ukrainian fleet was the development of the "Strategy of the Navy-2035", prepared in the period from 2017 to 2018 with the participation of 50 officers of the Naval Forces command and specialized specialists from four countries of the NATO bloc.
This document, no doubt, was compiled by people who are well-versed in matters of military development: it takes into account the current and future capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy (including personnel and financial), the forces of a hypothetical adversary (in the person of Russia), the prospects for expanding the ship's composition, functionality taking into account involvement of allied forces, analysis of the operational situation and many other factors, which, of course, make it possible to form a list of adequate tasks and concepts that determine the position of the naval forces in matters of ensuring the defense capability of Ukraine.
The main tasks of this normative act are arranged in priority order, and they can be designated by three points:
1. Protection against aggression at sea and from sea areas.
2. Protection of the national economic interests of Ukraine.
3. Participation in international operations to ensure maritime security.
In turn, these tasks are supposed to be completed in three stages (five years each):
1. The implementation of the tasks of the first stage should ensure the safety of river deltas and ports, depriving the enemy of the opportunity to operate in the coastal zone (12-40 miles) and create the potential necessary to break through the naval blockade.
2. The second stage involves the creation of conditions for operations in the exclusive economic zone (up to 200 nautical miles). For this purpose, it is planned to create a monitoring system for the surface, underwater and air spaces. At this stage, the naval forces must acquire the capabilities necessary for a physical presence in the BMZ, with the concomitant ability to launch missile attacks on the enemy's fleet.
3. At the third stage, it is envisaged to ensure the actions of the Ukrainian fleet outside the 200-mile economic zone and at a considerable distance from their bases.
This approach is based on an assessment of the priority of current threats and the financial capabilities of the military budget - this is critically important for Ukraine, which can allocate only $ 3,5 billion annually for defense needs (including $ 576-600 million for the purchase of equipment). This is how the economic component of each of the three stages of development can be described:
1. 70-90 million dollars (annually) in the first stage.
2. 100-250 million dollars in the second period.
3. 150-400 million dollars in the third stage.
Thus, the theoretical part of the "Strategy of the Navy-2035" looks extremely realistic: it implies a competent phased development of the fleet. And it focuses not only on the aspects of the procurement of equipment and weapons, but also takes into account the importance of training relevant personnel, infrastructure and material and technical supply, without ambiguity defining the role and place of the Ukrainian Navy in ensuring national security. Moreover, it is understandable for the countries acting as Kiev's allies - having a competent organization and a long-term plan of action, Ukraine does not encounter obstacles in obtaining funds from outside for the development of the armed forces.
Regular exercises of the Naval Forces of Ukraine with NATO countries are by no means a reason for fun. Photo source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
From words to actions
Further analysis of the topic of the modern Ukrainian fleet should begin with a description of the current work aimed at creating an infrastructure for basing the ship's composition.
This topic, perhaps, is extremely painful for Russia as well, as a consequence of the legacy of the unbalanced financing of the USSR Navy. The Soviet Union invested a lot of money in the construction of ships, but had a disproportionately weak logistical component to ensure their further functioning. After the loss of Crimea, Ukraine lost not only the fleet, but also the entire basing infrastructure. That is why its construction is currently a priority task for the construction of the Naval Forces of Ukraine.
Berdyansk (Sea of Azov) and Ochakov (Black Sea) were chosen as the main bases of the Ukrainian fleet. The naval bases will be built according to Western standards with the involvement of specialists from the UK and the United States.
According to the projects, they should include infrastructure for the repair and basing of ships, training of personnel and housing for the families of naval sailors (including schools, kindergartens, shops, leisure centers, etc.). The last items on the list are by no means idleness, but cold calculation: without attractive conditions of service and residence, the Naval Forces of Ukraine will not be able to stimulate the influx of recruits.
Work on the construction of the naval base has already started. Some of their elements have already been built with the help of countries allied to Ukraine - such, for example, as the United States: the building of an operational center for the headquarters of the Naval Forces Division, a local raid control point and other small infrastructure facilities in Ochakov have been built.
Ochakov, however, is remarkable not only for this detail. Back in 2011-2012, America began building facilities there for training combat swimmers. Since then, NATO has been investing a lot in training and equipping one of the most combat-ready units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces - the 73rd Naval Special Operations Center.
In general, the tendency for the purposeful training of Ukrainian special forces by Western specialists has been outlined for quite some time. But in recent years it has taken on the shape of a working system: the elimination of militia commanders, an ever-growing spy network and operations in the border regions of Russia indicate alarming signs of the growth of both the activity and professionalism of the Ukrainian MTR.
Work in this direction has an extremely logical rationale: it makes no sense for Western countries to invest forces and funds in the training of ineffective combined arms units. They place a natural emphasis on the development of special-purpose teams with both the best human resources and a high level of morale and motivation. Together with training by NATO specialists, Western weapons and equipment, these units can provide a very real threat of sabotage operations, both on land and at sea.
By the way, it is for them that the United States supplies RHIB motorized rigid-hull inflatable boats, which have proven themselves to be excellent for operations behind enemy lines ...
Despite the scanty budget, the Ukrainian Navy pays great attention to regular combat training. Photo source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
The scattered news about the re-equipment of the Naval Forces of Ukraine mainly causes laughter: the eyes of the Russians are presented with a comical picture in which untalented amateurs haphazardly buy up weapons in various parts of the world, hoping to scare someone else.
Is it true?
The text of the "Strategy of the Navy-2035" quite specifically defines the subsequent vector of development of the naval forces of Ukraine: NATO experts have chosen the most reasonable and suitable for the financial state of the country path of building the so-called "mosquito" fleet.
One way or another, but the current state of affairs does not allow Ukraine to "hit" megalomania. A similar attempt was undertaken by the administration of Petro Poroshenko (who, however, had his own financial interest in this), but failed: the Soviet shipbuilding industry no longer functions, and the new private one is not designed for the construction of any large warships.
Moreover, as mentioned above, Ukraine no longer has any infrastructure for the operation of serious surface combat units. As, however, there are no funds to buy them abroad.
Separately, it is worth mentioning the common sense of the Naval Forces officers, who are aware of the current uselessness of any military vessels of a larger class than the "missile boat". In the coastal and near sea zones, they have no combat value (taking into account the factor of the dominance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet), and the Ukrainian fleet is not ready for operations far from bases.
Which of these can be concluded?
We need a "mosquito" fleet.
The current military-technical cooperation with the United States, Great Britain and Turkey is spelled out within the framework of the "Strategy of the Navy-2035" - and this is by no means a feverish set of meaningless actions, but a systematic and pragmatic approach arising from a sober assessment of one's own forces.
The current concept of procurement of naval weapons can be described in several points:
1. Creation of patrol boat divisions. The ship's composition is represented by boats of the "Island" type (supplied by the United States in the framework of military cooperation).
2. Support for the actions of special operations forces. The ship's composition is represented by boats of the Mark VI type (supplied by the United States in the framework of military cooperation).
3. Formation of shock groups. The ship's composition is represented by Barzan-type missile boats (under construction in Great Britain).
4. Creation of expeditionary formations. The ship's composition is represented by corvettes of the "Ada" type (made in Turkey). These vessels will be purchased only at the last stage of the implementation of the "Strategy of the Navy-2035", that is, approximately no earlier than 2030.
As we can see, our "neighbors" are not at all inclined to indulge in fantasies about the "great navy", as the biased media often try to expose. By no means, this is an extremely balanced approach to the formation of an asymmetric naval potential based on both our own strengths and the weaknesses of the enemy (for example, the fact of training Ukrainian combat swimmers for conducting mine warfare is obvious, which is a "sore spot" of the modern Russian fleet ).
Standing apart, however, are the problems of renovation and development of the coastal aviation... This topic is critically important for the armed forces of Ukraine as a whole: the resource of Soviet-made aircraft is on the verge of its complete exhaustion, and no replacement is foreseen yet.
The fleet of the Naval Forces of Ukraine was recently replenished with Turkish attack UAVs of the "Bayraktar TB2" type with an increased flight range. These vehicles, however, were not purchased for the purpose of conducting an "air blitzkrieg" - the Ukrainian fleet is going to use them as patrol aircraft to illuminate the surface situation. This approach is quite correlated with the pragmatic "Strategy of the Navy-2035": drones will be an excellent addition to the battalions of coastal boats, and can also play an important role in both anti-sabotage and sabotage actions of naval special operations forces.
Ukrainian combat swimmers are one of the most serious threats to the "asymmetric response" of the Ukrainian Navy. Photo source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
However, it is worth noting that such measures leave open the question of both the fighter cover of the Ukrainian Navy and the provision of anti-submarine and mine action. Probably, in the future, Ukraine will receive multipurpose sea helicopters "Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk", which will significantly expand the functionality of its coastal aviation, but so far this is just speculation. Given the nature of predominantly coastal operations, the "anti-aircraft umbrella" for surface forces is likely to be formed from air defense units of the Air Force.
One way or another, but the loss of almost the entire fleet, perhaps, rather, went to the Ukrainian Navy even to the benefit: before the fact of the complete disappearance of the naval forces, Ukraine found the strength to renew the command and officer personnel, competently use the advice of foreign military experts and develop a surprisingly realistic strategy development of military construction.
Perhaps, statements about a serious threat to Russia in the Black and Azov Seas may turn out to be premature, but with the current energy and pragmatic approach of the Ukrainian Navy, these words may become reality. All the planned actions prescribed in the "Strategy of the Navy-2035" carry a rather specific message: in the "new round" the Ukrainian fleet will be firmly aimed at inflicting the maximum possible losses on the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
In any case, it is worth noting that low-quality propaganda is absolutely at odds with reality - in the next 5-10 years, our soldiers and sailors will not be waiting for great armada of inflatable boats, but high-speed missile boats, minelayers and detachments of naval saboteurs with motivated and trained personnel.
The NATO bloc, in turn, is going to stay in Ukraine for a long time. One of the key points of the "Strategy of the Navy-2035" is both the expansion of military-technical cooperation with Western countries and allies in the region (in particular, the emphasis is on active interaction with the Turkish Navy), and the strengthening of sea trade and industrial capabilities of the former republics of the USSR.
In this, NATO has its own direct benefit. The economic stability of Ukraine will create and maintain a constant military threat to the southern and western borders of Russia. A well-developed port infrastructure will facilitate the creation of additional cargo flows from Asia to Europe (Turkey and Britain are extremely interested in such projects).
One way or another, this puts Russia in the face of new challenges that we will have to answer.