In a previous article "On the role of the Russian Navy in the prevention of nuclear war" I came to the following conclusion. The main task of the naval fleet In order to prevent a counterforce nuclear strike, Russia will timely detect the increased activity of multipurpose nuclear submarines of the United States and its allies in our near sea zone, areas of combat services of strategic missile submarine cruisers (SSBNs) and on the approaches to them.
Solving this problem will allow us to systematically thwart attempts to detect and escort our SSBNs and promptly put the Russian Strategic Missile Forces (Strategic Missile Forces) on high alert. Obviously, under such conditions, the counterforce strike cannot be successful, which means it will not be delivered.
And it is also obvious that we do not need an ocean-going fleet to solve this problem. This requires minesweepers, PLO corvettes, possibly small anti-submarine ships, nuclear-powered torpedo submarines of medium (or even small) displacement (PLAT), focused primarily on anti-submarine warfare, patrol aircraft and PLO helicopters, as well as a system for lighting the underwater environment ( stationary hydrophones, specialized reconnaissance ships, etc.).
In fact, it is the forces listed above, together with the SSBNs themselves, that are the basis, the backbone of the fleet. For the simple reason that preventing an unprovoked large-scale nuclear missile attack on our country is the main and most important task of the Russian Navy. Of course, there is no point in building aircraft carriers, UDCs, ocean destroyers, large nuclear submarines - carriers of cruise missiles, and so on, if at the same time the tasks of equipping the fleet with corvettes, minesweepers, patrol aircraft and the rest of the above means of identifying and "arresting" underwater threats. It is even more senseless to build an ocean-going fleet instead of such means.
But preventing a counterforce strike is not the only task of the Russian Navy. For the simple reason that a big war can break out in a different scenario.
A little about politics
The world is periodically shaken by political and military crises, when the armed forces of the nuclear powers are brought to increased combat readiness. The Americans announced DEFCON 3 (DEFCON 5 - peacetime readiness, DEFCON 1 - maximum readiness for a full-scale nuclear conflict) during the Cuban missile crisis, the Yom Kippur War and after the September 11, 2001 attacks. DEFCON 2 was announced for Strategic Air Command during the Cuban Missile Crisis and for all military forces during Desert Storm.
But DEFCON 1, the highest form of readiness, was announced only once - during the "Experienced Archer" exercise. Everything would be fine, but these exercises took place exactly at the moment of extreme cooling in relations between the USSR and the United States. It happened after R. Reagan called the USSR an "evil empire", when the first Pershing-2s were on alert in Europe, and we, through a tragic misunderstanding, shot down a South Korean Boeing 747. These exercises were planned for November, and were being prepared to them so thoroughly that the leadership of the USSR was seriously afraid that these were not exercises, but preparations for an attack.
And it had to happen that it was on the eve of these exercises that on September 26, 1983, the newest space-based early warning system "Oko" issued messages about an American missile attack ...
Fortunately, thanks to the competent reaction of people on the ground, we sorted it out in time, did not disturb anyone and did not inflict a counter-counter. But this was far from the first time in stories.
I would not want to be in the place of Zbigniew Brzezinski, when he was woken up in the middle of the night by a call - the USSR launched 250 missiles at the USA! It is clear that in such news I somehow do not want to believe, so Brzezinski asked for confirmation. Alas, according to updated data, 2 Soviet missiles flew to North America ... To Brzezinski's credit, he had enough nerves to wait a while, and not immediately ask the president for permission to retaliate. He didn't even wake his wife. If there is no blow, then there is no need to fuss, and if the USSR nevertheless attacked, then in less than half an hour both he and his wife will still be dead. Fortunately, the Americans also figured it out in time, and the matter did not come to Armageddon.
I consider Zbigniew Brzezinski to be an enemy of the Russian people, but he cannot be denied his intellect and willpower. Alas, since then the quality of the administration of American presidents, how to put it politically more correctly, has not been getting better. Imagine for a second what could have happened if someone with the mentality and outlook of D. Psaki were in the place of Brzezinski!
At the same time, the world constantly smolders somewhere, and where military conflicts flare up. We are bombing the Syrian "barmaley", the Americans are portraying something there in Syria and Afghanistan, the military of the Russian Federation and NATO countries regularly look at each other through the crosshairs. And sometimes they press the trigger. So, in 2015, the Turks shot down our Su-24M, and in 2017 we inadvertently dropped something heavy on their servicemen, which killed three Turkish soldiers and injured 11 more. Due to the provocative actions of the Israelis, our Il-20 was shot down.
Padded Su-24M. Photo: Russian Ministry of Defense
Today, all these clashes do not develop into something more. But in general, the overall political situation, in my opinion, is developing from bad to worse:
1.With the collapse of the USSR and the OVD bloc, world peace somehow went wrong. NATO expanded eastward, the United States and Europe in their foreign policy did not take our interests into account at all, and when we did not agree with this, sanctions began, the demonization of the Russian Federation in the world media, and our relationship with the United States quickly slipped into the Cold War era. That is, after a short period of detente (when the Russian Federation practically abandoned its independent foreign policy), the usual tension in relations returned.
2. The quality of governance of the militarily strongest powers is not getting better. Yes, dear reader has the right to reproach me with propaganda that "before the grass was greener and the sky was bluer", but still, in my personal opinion, Biden and Trump do not look like worthy successors of Ronald Reagan, although he did not shine against the background of those who preceded him. presidents. B. Johnson does not look at all against the background of M. Thatcher, Macron against the background of Mitterrand, etc. etc. Yes, and our situation is not in the best way.
3. Abroad, the Russian Federation is no longer perceived as a superpower. As a result, some countries consider it possible to achieve their geopolitical goals at our expense. Not that this was not the case under the USSR (yes, here at least remember the same Damansky), but still ... Turkey in the days of the USSR could only dream of "Great Turan", but now - with might and main is pursuing an appropriate policy, risking clashes with our Armed Forces in Syria and supporting Azerbaijan. Japan is tightening its rhetoric on the Kuril Islands. Georgia, which cannot be found on the globe without a magnifying glass, went on to kill our peacekeepers during the attack on Tskhinvali.
In other words, during the times of the USSR, the world repeatedly froze on the verge of a nuclear war, but thanks to the rationality and professionalism of the responsible persons, it still did not happen. Today, tensions between countries are perhaps even greater, and the quality of crisis management has declined. Such a situation is fraught with the possibility of a major non-nuclear and even nuclear conflict, for which our armed forces must be prepared.
On the possibility of a major non-nuclear conflict
We talk a lot about nuclear deterrence, but you need to understand that its capabilities are very, very limited. For example, in the period 1945-1949, the United States possessed a nuclear weapons, but the USSR did not, but this did not at all prevent the unprecedented expansion of the USSR's influence. The United States did not dare to use nuclear weapons in either the Korean or Vietnamese conflicts; we did not use them either during the Soviet-Chinese crisis or in Afghanistan. The French did not use nuclear weapons in Algeria, the British in the conflict with Argentina.
You need to understand that nuclear weapons are taboo. In 1961, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution banning the use of nuclear weapons, which states:
"Any state using nuclear or thermonuclear weapons should be considered as violating the Charter of the United Nations, acting contrary to the laws of humanity and committing a crime against humanity and civilization."
Therefore, those who are ready to use nuclear weapons in any local conflict should understand one very simple thing. The use of even tactical nuclear weapons is a direct path to the very bench where Goering and Ribbentrop once sat.
Of course, you can put the question bluntly: "Who will put us there, with our nuclear arsenal?"
They will be imprisoned, at least in absentia: the use of nuclear weapons in a local conflict will make the Russian Federation a rogue state, by analogy with North Korea. Only now the North Koreans were building their "iron curtain" from the inside, and for us they will build it outside. Yes, such that today's sanctions seem like heavenly manna.
Consider the issue of nuclear deterrence in relation to Japan.
Why don't we give the Japanese the Kuril Islands, which they are so worried about?
There are many reasons for this. Having given Habomai, Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan, we will suffer both economic and geopolitical damage, since many natural resources are located around them, and the Japanese and US navies will receive open gates to the Sea of Okhotsk. In addition, such a decision is a revision of the results of the Second World War: such a process is easy to start, but impossible to finish, because the transfer of these islands would set a very bad precedent.
In other words, handing over the islands they so desired to the Japanese, we will incur significant economic, military and reputational losses. But here's the thing: if suddenly the Japanese decide to return these islands by force of conventional (conventional) weapons, and we cannot prevent them from doing so and will be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons, then our economic and reputational costs will be significantly higher than if we accept defeat and we will give up the indicated islands. Therefore, I cannot rule out a situation in which the Russian leadership would prefer to accept the loss of the Kuril Islands, but not to use nuclear weapons.
The Japanese understand all this very well, while for them the Kuril Islands is a very painful issue. Therefore, if at some point the government of the Land of the Rising Sun is confident that we will not be able to defend the Kuril Islands with conventional weapons, it can really decide to invade. And it attacks in the expectation that the Russian Federation, even losing, will not dare to "print" its nuclear arsenals.
And what should the leadership of the Russian Federation do if the Japanese attack and we lose the “battle for the Kuriles” using conventional weapons?
To accept the loss, or to use TNW?
Both options doom the Russian Federation to a world that will be worse than the pre-war one, that is, we will lose in any case. We will lose despite our entire nuclear arsenal. Yes, by using nuclear weapons in such a situation, we can make it so that for the Japanese things will end much worse than for us. But it won't make it easier for us.
"Why then do we need strategic nuclear forces (SNF) if they do not protect from anything?"
- an indignant reader may ask a question.
The answer is simple. Nuclear weapons are super-powerful, but they really protect us well only from super-global threats. A potential aggressor knows: if suddenly the Russian Federation is subjected to a massive nuclear attack or an invasion with the use of conventional weapons, which we cannot resist and which will be aimed at destroying our state, we will respond. Let us answer in such a way that the world will shudder in mortal terror. But only when the existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state is at stake. Or, to put it simply, when we have nothing to lose. Our geopolitical opponents know about this and therefore will not risk driving us into such a situation.
This is the main nuance of nuclear deterrence. It provides reliable protection only against total aggression. But if an aggressor country does not claim to destroy a nuclear power, but seeks to resolve some local issue in its favor, it may well attack, not believing that nuclear weapons will be used "for such an insignificant reason." There have already been precedents - both Damansky and Falklands. Theoretically, such a non-nuclear war "on a secondary matter" is possible even between the United States and the Russian Federation.
In order to protect oneself from "local aggression", powerful non-nuclear general-purpose forces are needed.
Let's go back to the example of the Kuril Islands.
If our Aerospace Forces and the Navy in the Far East are weak, then the Japanese may at some point convince themselves that we will not risk using nuclear weapons - and will attack. But if our general-purpose forces are powerful enough to repel aggression without nuclear weapons, an attempt to resolve the issue by force will lose all meaning for the Japanese.
On scenarios of "accidental" nuclear war
Unfortunately, today and in the future there will be a nonzero probability that the Russian Federation will be drawn into a nuclear conflict. I assume 3 quite realistic scenarios for its beginning:
1. The USA and the Russian Federation are facing a severe political crisis. Both sides begin to actively "rattle weapons", showing each other the seriousness of their intentions, and then some kind of failure occurs in the warning systems of a nuclear attack. It will not be possible to quickly figure out its causes, and - welcome to the post-apocalypse.
2. A military clash with one of the NATO powers, which will occur as a result of an incident on the territory of third countries. Let's say they shoot down our next plane. In response, the incumbent president will not confine himself to "tomato" sanctions, but will order a local operation of retaliation (or enforcement of peace), and all this will develop into a full-fledged war between the two countries. Other NATO countries, faithful to their commitments, will intervene, we, not having enough resources for such a war, will respond with tactical nuclear weapons, they will retaliate against us with a limited nuclear strike with strategic weapons, and everything will end with Armageddon.
3. The Russian Federation will undergo a non-nuclear attack (yes, those are the Kuriles), but as a result of the escalation, the conventional war will develop into a full-scale nuclear missile conflict. Moreover, the reason for the escalation will not necessarily be the use of tactical nuclear weapons: for example, one of the parties will accidentally (or not entirely accidentally) destroy the enemy's nuclear power plant and ...
In general, many paths lead to Armageddon in addition to the counterforce strike. And those that we are considering now have two things in common:
1) initially no one wants a total nuclear war;
2) the beginning of full-scale hostilities will be preceded by a certain period of tension (or even hostilities without the use of nuclear weapons), which can be measured in days, weeks and even months, during which the parties will have the opportunity to deploy a significant part of their armed forces.
In such conflicts, the Russian Navy must be ready to fulfill the third (but not in importance) task facing it: "repelling aggression from sea and ocean directions."
What do you need?
First of all - to understand the approximate composition and size of the enemy forces that will threaten us, and the tasks that the enemy will solve.
What forces can threaten us?
Let's consider the most dangerous conflict possible: in it the United States will become our main adversary.
The Americans have the most powerful fleet in the world, the general purpose forces of which meet the multipower standard, that is, stronger than all other navies in the world combined.
However, even if the period of tension extends over several months, the US Navy will certainly not be able to deploy its full strength. Some of their ships will undergo major or current repairs, the other part will not have time to restore their combat effectiveness after repair, and the part that is in an unsatisfactory technical condition will await repairs. Therefore, of course, we should not expect the deployment of all 11 US aircraft carriers off our coast in any case.
As a matter of fact, the inability to deploy the available forces in full is by no means the prerogative of either the fleet as a branch of the armed forces or the United States as a power. So, for example, to date, out of seven large anti-submarine ships in the Northern and Pacific fleets of the Russian Navy, two are under repair, another, which has recently completed its modernization, probably has not yet managed to restore combat readiness after a long break.
In other branches of the armed forces, everything is the same. At any given time, the same US Air Force has only a fraction of its aircraft operational: usually 55–75% of combat vehicles are in this state, and the rest cannot be put into operation "at the snap of a finger." And the same is true for the air forces of other countries.
Analyzing the current composition of the US Navy, as well as the speed of deployment of their forces during Operation Desert Shield, it can be assumed that if the Americans shake up a little, pulling up the combat capability of the fleet closer to the level of the last century, then in a few months of a period of tension they may well deploy against our country about half of their strength.
In numbers, this will be 5-6 carrier strike groups (AUG) with various means of reinforcement and separate squadrons of submarines, not counting amphibious groups.
At the same time, a separate AUG will include an aircraft carrier, 1-2 missile cruisers, from 3 to 6 ships of the destroyer and frigate classes, as well as 1-3 nuclear submarines. That is, from 4 to 8 escort ships will be "attached" to the aircraft carrier, and if there are 4–5, then at least two nuclear submarines should be expected, but if there are 7 or 8, then, rather, one.
If we assume that the Americans will not include promising frigates in the AUG, then the composition of the forces that will threaten us can be roughly estimated in:
- 6 aircraft carriers (as part of the AUG);
- 40–45 ships of the "missile cruiser" and "destroyer" class, of which up to 36 will be part of the AUG;
- 25-30 multipurpose nuclear submarines, of which 10-12 will be part of the AUG.
In addition, in the future, the Americans will be able to deploy a number of frigates and LSCs, which they plan to build, and other warships, as well as the Navy of their allies. Of course, the Americans will also deploy significant amphibious forces, but I will not be engaged in forecasting their number - they will not be involved in sea battles.
As for the deployment, it should be expected that the Americans will form three aircraft carrier strike forces (ACS), 2 AUG in each, one ACS for the Far East, the Norwegian and Mediterranean Seas. Moreover, if, say, it is possible to form only 5 AUG, then AUG will be deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, and not AUS. However, this, of course, will depend on the reasons that caused the political crisis and the period of tension.
In the future, in order not to multiply entities beyond what is necessary, I will consider a possible confrontation only in our north. Taking into account all of the above, the combined forces of the US, Norwegian and British navies should be considered as opponents of our Red Banner Northern Fleet (KSF).
It can be expected that during the threatened period in the Norwegian Sea 2 American and 1 British AUG will be deployed against us (the latter, presumably, will include an aircraft carrier, 3-4 Daring-class destroyers, 2-3 frigates and one nuclear submarine) , as well as the Norwegian Navy, consisting of 6-7 frigates and corvettes and 4-5 non-nuclear submarines. In addition, we can expect deployment in the Barents Sea and on the routes of our SSBNs up to 7-9 American and 2-3 British multipurpose nuclear submarines. It is also possible to send one boat of the "Ohio" type, converted into a carrier of cruise missiles.
At the same time, it should be expected that not only multipurpose submarines will be concentrated in the Norwegian Sea. If the Americans consider the crisis serious enough, then a pair of Ohio-class SSBNs should be expected to be deployed in the Norwegian Sea, and the British may add one or two SSBNs to them. In this case, the general-purpose forces of the United States and NATO in the theater will, in addition to the projection of force, also perform the role of covering the deployment of the US and NATO naval strategic nuclear forces.
Accordingly, the total number of ships opposing our KSF can be estimated as:
- 3 aircraft carriers (2 - USA and 1 - England);
- 15-16 ships of the "missile cruiser" and "destroyer" classes (12 - USA and 3-4 - England);
- 8-15 ships of the frigate, corvette, LCS classes;
- 3 SSBNs (2 - USA);
- 1 converted into a carrier of cruise missiles "Ohio";
- 12-17 multipurpose nuclear submarines (9-13 - USA, 3-4 - England);
- 4-5 non-nuclear submarines (Norway).
The bulk of these ships will be deployed in the Norwegian Sea, up to 9–12 nuclear-powered multipurpose and 2–4 non-nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea.
As for aviation, then here the arithmetic is as follows. American aircraft carriers normally carry:
- 48 fighter-attack aircraft "Hornet" F / A-18 and "Super-Hornet" F / A-18E / F;
- 4-8 aircraft electronic warfare and air defense breakthrough "Hornet" E / A-18 "Growler";
- 4–8 AWACS E2-S Hawaiian aircraft;
- 2 transport aircraft C-2 "Greyhound";
- 8-10 multipurpose helicopters MN-60NK Sea Hawk.
And in total - from 66 to 74 aircraft and helicopters. However, as you know, much more aircraft can be “piled” on an aircraft carrier. For example, "Theodore Roosevelt" fought in Iraq, having on board 84 aircraft, including 57 fighters and attack aircraft, 9 AWACS and EW aircraft, 8 PLO aircraft, 4 tankers and 6 helicopters. And this despite the fact that part of the air group was made up of F-14 Tomcat fighters - heavier and larger machines than today's Super Hornets.
Given the deployment plans that existed back in the days of the USSR, the following can be assumed. The American AUS will go to the shores of Norway, packed with planes "to the eyeballs", taking up to a hundred combat aircraft on board. There, some of the aircraft will be relocated to land airfields in Norway to be based on them. And there will fly at least a dozen modern US patrol aircraft, the same P-8A Poseidon, for operations in the waters of the Norwegian and Barents seas. The total number of naval aviation in the theater can be estimated as:
- 12 or more P-8A Poseidon (USA);
- 12-16 aircraft electronic warfare and air defense breakthrough "Hornet" E / A-18 "Growler" (USA);
- 12-16 AWACS E2-D "Hawkeye" aircraft (USA);
- 3-4 AWACS helicopters (England);
- 144 fighter-attack aircraft "Hornet" F / A-18 and "Super Hornet" F / A-18E / F, or F-35C (USA);
- 24 multifunctional fighters F-35B (England);
- 30–35 helicopters in the PLO or rescue version.
As for the amphibious forces, I will not calculate them, as mentioned earlier, but we should expect that they will be enough to provide tactical landings up to the Marine Corps Brigade, inclusive.
Of course, the navies of NATO countries are not going to fight in a vacuum, the Americans have long demonstrated the ability to conduct joint operations with the forces of the air force, ground forces and navy. But, again, in order not to multiply essences beyond what is necessary, we will make the assumption that the NATO Air Force in the theater will be busy with "land affairs", and our KSF will be opposed only by the NATO Navy.
On the tasks of the US Navy and NATO
In comparison with the era of the USSR, perhaps not much has changed. It should be expected that in the event of a conventional war, the US and NATO navies in the north will strive to achieve the following goals.
In the period immediately preceding the hostilities:
- search and escort SSBN KSF in the Barents Sea and adjacent areas of the Arctic;
- identification and tracking of surface and submarine forces of the KSF in the Norwegian Sea.
At the first stage of hostilities:
- the maximum weakening of our nuclear forces by destroying the SSBNs of the KSF by the MAPL and patrol aircraft;
- ensuring the combat stability of SSBNs by gaining complete domination in the Norwegian Sea by destroying all Russian surface, submarine and air forces, if such KSF forces are deployed in this sea;
- the destruction of KSF forces in naval bases, naval aviation at land airfields, as well as disruption of air defense, control and communications, etc. by striking high-precision weapons from the waters of the Norwegian and Barents Seas.
It should be expected that during this period, US and NATO aircraft carriers will operate from the southwestern part of the Norwegian Sea, together with aircraft deployed at land airfields.
At the second stage of hostilities - the destruction of surface, submarine and air groupings of the KSF in the Barents Sea. It can be assumed that for the implementation of this stage, the AUG will move to the northeastern part of the Norwegian Sea.
At the third stage:
- the deployment of the main forces of the fleet in the Barents Sea and the infliction of systematic strikes from its water area by carrier-based aviation and cruise missiles at land targets located in the depths of the Russian Federation;
- it is possible to conduct tactical landings on the Kola Peninsula.
Of course, all of the above is an outline of the broadest plan. For example, if the KSF does not begin to deploy forces in the Norwegian Sea, the AUG may move to its northeastern part already at the first stage, etc.
Also, of course, such a clash can develop into a nuclear conflict at any stage.
In this case, one should expect a missile attack by SSBNs concentrated in the Norwegian Sea, as well as the use of nuclear warheads from carrier-based aircraft and sea-based cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.
The author expresses his deepest gratitude in advance to all those competent readers of "VO" who will find the time and desire to point out the mistakes made in the composition of the forces or their tasks.
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