Intensive combat training of the Kuznetsov TAKR means its early access to the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of Syria in order to strengthen our group of VKS. But even with the full manning of the air group, the cruiser is unable to significantly influence the course of the hostilities.
The intensity of the "Syrian" aviation the videoconferencing group grew continuously and by the beginning of November, it seems, has reached the limit. The basis for such a conclusion can be not only data from "credible sources" from circles close to the headquarters of the Aerospace Forces, but also statements by officials of the Ministry of Defense.
In the sky a little, on earth closely
In particular, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Major General Konashenkov, said that Russian aircraft operating in Syria had switched to a new method of hostilities - flying missions not as part of groups, but singly. Such a step may be evidence that the capabilities of the Russian aviation grouping in Syria are not enough to solve the entire volume of combat missions. It should be noted that this is a necessary measure, and not a more perfect way of action. After all, flights in groups (at least a couple) are caused by the need to increase the combat stability of the aircraft, and in the event of the death of the aircraft, create more favorable conditions for the evacuation of the crew from the conflict zone, especially if this happened over enemy territory. Even in the most critical initial period of the Great Patriotic War, when our aviation was not enough, in the overwhelming majority of cases the aircraft operated at least in pairs. In Syria, the transition to solo flights is only partly justified by the fact that terrorists lack the ability to counteract our aircraft when they are operating from high altitudes.
This measure also shows that the command clearly understands that the existing aviation group is clearly not enough to turn the tide of military operations in favor of the troops of the legitimate government and in a short time to defeat the gangs. However, several factors hinder the build-up of the combat structure of our VKS group. First of all, it is necessary to note the clearly insufficient operational capacity of the Khmeimim airbase. Today, our aviation group also uses an airfield in the Syrian Tartus area (where the logistics center of the Russian Navy is stationed) for basing. Further strengthening it will require the expansion of the basing system in Syria, which is problematic under current conditions. Another important limiting factor is the potential of the supply chain. The existing composition of the air force seems to be the ultimate. Finally, its buildup will require the deployment of an appropriate ground support system, security forces and the defense of the aerodrome network. This requires a more numerous contingent of our Armed Forces. And this with a high probability will lead to the appearance of losses, which is absolutely unacceptable primarily from a socio-political point of view.
Alternative base "Hamine"
One of the most important directions for solving the problem may be the deployment of an attack group outside Syrian territory. In this regard, the use of the forces of the Russian Navy is very promising. The experience of the Caliber strike from the Caspian Sea demonstrated not only the effectiveness of the missile system, but also the feasibility of using fleet against stationary objects of the IG. However, the cost of the attack was very high - more than 10 billion rubles. Yes, and stocks of this weapons in the Russian arsenals are limited. In any case, such spectacular and effective attacks were not repeated, although it would be logical to demonstrate to the world the combat capabilities of our long-range and strategic aircraft using X-55 missiles or the like. There are three options. The first is to strike from bases in the Caspian regions of Russia with Tu-22М3, Tu-95 and Tu-160 aircraft with free-fall bombs flying to a target over the territory of Iran and Iraq. The second is to attract ship artillery to destroy the militants' positions. The third is to use deck aviation against terrorist formations of the "Islamic State".
The first option formally looks the most realistic. Iran and Iraq will surely miss our planes, strikes from high altitudes will make them invulnerable to the IS militants, and well-established rear support in their own territory will allow them to act with the utmost intensity. However, judging by the fact that this has not yet been done, despite the obvious need, there are serious reasons that do not allow us to attract our long-range and strategic aircraft. Probably the main ones are three. The first is the lack of precision weapons, which mainly goes to an air force already deployed in Syria. The second is the low efficiency of free-fall bombs on point targets - there is reason to believe that long-range and strategic aircraft are not equipped with the SVP-24 system. The third reason is the inadmissibility of noticeable civilian casualties, which are inevitable with a large dispersal of bombs.
Attraction of Russian ships for artillery strikes is impossible due to the fact that the entire coastline of Syria is controlled by the troops of the legitimate government and our guns are not able to reach the IS militants. And the fleet's fire capabilities are not so great as to render appreciable support to the troops on the coastal direction.
What is Kuznetsov preparing for?
It remains only to use our only heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser (TAKR) "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov." Preparations for sending the ship to Syria are in full swing. This is evident from the nature of its activities in recent weeks and is confirmed by information from reliable sources. The early withdrawal of TAKR from planned average repair and active combat training at sea with intensive flights of the air group indicate that in the near future it will be sent to the Eastern Mediterranean and will join the military operations. In this regard, it is important to assess how much our cruiser can contribute to the solution of the task of defeating the IS formations, how much it can increase the combat capabilities of the Russian air group.
The main and only tool for TAKR in the fight against the IG is its air group - Su-33 and MiG-29К / KUB. From various sources it is known that at present in its composition in a flightable state 14 Su-33 (seven more in storage), 10 MiG-29K and two MiG-29CUB. Total - 26 machines that can be brought to attacks on the objects of the IG. Back in the 279-m naval fighter regiment, there are eight Su-25UTGs. This training attack aircraft does not have sighting equipment, weapons control system units, girder holders and pylons, a gun mount, therefore it is not suitable for combat operations.
By 1995, even on Soviet reserves, we managed to prepare ten combatant pilots to work from the deck of our aircraft carrier. In the future, the preparation of new aces and the maintenance of their qualifications were very limited. In the middle of 2000-x, according to reliable sources, there were about eight people in Russia who had the skills to fly from the Kuznetsov deck. With the beginning of a real renaissance of our aircraft, great attention was paid to combat training, including an increase in the number of naval aviation pilots capable of flying the Su-33 and MiG-29К / KUB from the TAKR deck. However, soon after the completion of the Kuznetsov long-range campaign in May 2014, it was delivered for scheduled maintenance, flights from its deck became impossible. Nevertheless, the military leadership, well aware of the importance of naval aviation to protect Russia's interests in remote regions and realizing the high likelihood of drawing the country into a conflict in Syria, took measures. As a result, so far, it has been possible to staff the Kuznetsova air group with operational aircraft in full. But the problem with the pilots remains. The fact is that their training requires significantly more time than usual - it takes at least two years of special training to master the specifics of flying from the deck, even from an experienced pilot. It is probably for this reason that our TAKR, having entered the Barents Sea today, is actively working out take-off and landing operations. In view of the above, it can be assumed that after an accelerated course of training for flight personnel, an aircraft carrier will be able to reach the shores of Syria, having a fully staffed air group — both cars and flight personnel.
Cruiser enough for a week
The radius of action of the Su-33 and MiG-29K / KUB aircraft - a thousand kilometers (when flying with additional fuel tanks) - allows you to strike the objects of the "Islamic state" to the entire depth of the Syrian theater. The stock of aviation fuel is 2500 tons. There is no reliable open data on the number of units of aviation weapons on board the ship. Presumably, their stocks (based on data on American aircraft carriers) are 1500 – 2000 units with a total mass of 1000 – 1200 tons. We estimate the disposable resource of the ship’s aircraft group. In terms of fuel (including 10 – 15% NZ and allocation of 15 – 20% to helicopters in the interest of ensuring the safety of the ship and air group), these are 350 – 400 sorties, and for weapons only 250 – 300 (with full ammunition consumption at each departure) .
Data on the limiting intensity of flights from the deck of our TAKR is currently not available (for all history he never acted as a full air group with maximum intensity). When compared with the American and British aircraft carriers, taking into account the differences in the start technology (the Americans have an ejection, we have a ramp), the power plant and the number of service personnel, it can be assumed that the maximum daily intensity can be 35 – 40 of sorties, that is, 1,3 – 1,5 per vehicle day. This means that with the intensive use of its air group, the TAKR will use up ammunition and fuel for the aircraft for seven to nine days, after which it will need refueling. And if it is possible to replenish the stocks of aviation fuels and lubricants in the sea from a tanker, then there will be problems with the replenishment of aviation weapon stocks - at present, the Russian fleet does not have integrated supply ships that allow it to be done at sea. The only such ship in the Russian Navy, the Berezina, was removed from the fleet in 2002 and disposed of. Therefore, after a week of intensive actions, Kuznetsov will either have to go to Tartus, or, if this turns out to be unacceptable for some reasons, follow back to the Federation Council — the passage through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles may be impossible for him (Kuznetsov’s exit from the Black Sea in 1992, it was fraught with considerable legal difficulties caused by the international status of these straits).
"Drying" leave on the pier?
Opportunities for the destruction of ground targets in our naval aircraft vary significantly both among themselves and in comparison with those of the Russian Aerospace Forces grouping of Russia in Syria. First of all, it should be noted that the deck aircraft have not yet been equipped with the SVP-24 system. In combat operations against naval targets, being designed exclusively for static objects, it has limited value, and the tasks of defeating ground objects in this case have always been considered secondary. Therefore, first of all, the front-line aircraft, which we see in Syria, were upgrading the SVP-24 system. In this regard, it is necessary to recognize the limited suitability for strikes on the IG infrastructure of Su-33 aircraft. Optimized for solving air defense tasks of naval groups at sea, they can only use unguided ammunition for strikes against ground targets: NURS (80 80-mm C-8 units in four containers for 20 missiles, or 20 122-mm C-13 units in four blocks of five missiles, or four 266-mm C-25) and free-fall bombs in caliber from 100 to 500 kilograms with a total weight of up to four to five tons (taking into account the weight limit for take-off from the deck). The use of NURS involves strikes from low altitudes with a distance of no more than 1500 meters from the target, which makes these aircraft vulnerable to Islamist MANPADS, which is unacceptable for political reasons. Bombing from high altitudes leads to a significant dispersal of ammunition. Thus, these machines can be used either to accompany other strike aircraft (which is not yet relevant, judging by the situation in the sky of Syria), or for strikes against area targets located outside populated areas. The latter is also unlikely. That is, Su-33 will not be able to make a significant contribution to the fire defeat of the IG gangs.
Remaining 12 MiG-29K / KUB. These multi-purpose aircraft have great potential for attacking ground targets. Their control system and the use of weapons allows the use of new models of high-precision aviation weapons of destruction - X-29 and X-25 missiles, KAB-500Кр and KAB-500Л adjustable bombs. On the departure of such a plane can take two - four missiles or two adjustable bombs. Accordingly, under favorable weather conditions and visibility, as well as proper target designation, it is capable of destroying one or two militant objects reliably and with high accuracy during a sortie.
The available number of machines of this type allows you to perform daily up to 20 sorties. But then for the full-fledged use of the resource of these aircraft for a week or two and a half on board the TAKR, there should be about 250 – 350 high-precision ammunition, which Russia does not seem to have today. Therefore, the capabilities of the aircraft will be limited by the availability of weapons. But even if we assume that our TAKR will be equipped with the required number of WTO, in a week he will be able to destroy the order of 120 – 160 of typical targets. Compared to the results of the actions of the Russian aviation group in Syria, this is about 15 – 20 percent of its greatest combat capabilities.
That is, potentially, our Navy with its only TAKR can no more than once every six months (taking into account the need to return to the Federation Council) to increase the combat capabilities of the Russian Federation forces forces group in Syria by an amount that does not significantly affect the course of combat operations. This is the result of a quarter-century strangulation of the fleet, in particular the loss of four of the five domestic aircraft carriers.