/Pogled.info/ In the eastern Mediterranean, the flags of squadrons of NATO ships, which are preparing for battle, simply shine in the eyes, writes Sergey Ishchenko for “Svobodnaya Pressa”. In the face of the escalating Palestinian-Israeli crisis, how can a standing operational unit of the Russian Navy based in Tartus, Syria, stand up to this power in the region?
It is impossible to discuss this topic without tears. Simply because, at least since 2015, “they” have never been so strong in these latitudes. And we are so depressingly weak.
But – in order. What is the largest naval group of the alliance in recent decades in these waters, on the near and far approaches to Israel and the Gaza Strip, right now?
Please go to the map. What do we see on her? Let’s start with the western part of this rapidly “boiling” sea.
As of November 1, the British aircraft carrier R08 Queen Elizabeth, with approximately 24 F-35s on board, had just passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and was moving rapidly to the scene of the crisis, accompanied by escort ships.
According to London’s plan, the Times newspaper claims, “Queen Elizabeth” should be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean together with the British aircraft carrier of the same class HMS Prince of Wales. But the latter has not yet left its own base due to protracted repairs.
Near Cyprus, this formidable reinforcement is expected from the same Royal Navy task force already in the area, consisting of the casualty reception ship RFA Argus and the auxiliary amphibious dock ship RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) with British marines and special forces .
From Gibraltar we look towards the coast of France. From the Gulf of Lyons to the shores of Israel and the Gaza Strip moves that country’s Navy’s versatile amphibious assault ship Tonnerre (the Mistral type, remembered by many as the ship we never got).
Paris claims the helicopter carrier went on a cruise in its version of a hospital ship. Seemingly only to treat wounded Palestinians. The event is expected to be in place by the end of this week.
But with the injured Palestinians, I guess it’s up to you to decide. In total, the capacity of Tonner’s cargo bays includes two landing craft, a battalion of Leclerc tanks (31 units) or 70 units of other, lighter armored vehicles. The ship’s crew consisted of 160 men and 450 soldiers and officers of the French marines.
To the west, near the Italian island of Sardinia, an American carrier group led by USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) is anchored.
This floating “monster” with a nuclear reactor is guarded by the missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG-58), the destroyers USS Gravely (DDG-107) and USS Mason (DDG-87), as well as the frigate Virginio Fasan ( F 591).
The nearly identical US nuclear aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, with an air wing of nine dozen fighter jets, is waiting in the wings west of Cyprus. Surrounding it are the cruiser USS Normandy, the destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage (DDG-61), USS Carney (DDG-64) and USS Roosevelt (DDG-80).
And to the south of the said island were concentrated the warships of the NATO naval forces, led by the naval frigates FGS Baden-Württemberg and HS Adrias (German and Greek navies, respectively). Next to them are the German corvettes Erfurt and Oldenburg, as well as the Turkish TCG Heybeliada.
In this brief review, however, it would be militarily short-sighted to limit ourselves to the waters of the Mediterranean. Because very close, in the Red Sea, from where it is also easily accessible to Israeli territory, the US UDC USS Bataan (potentially up to 1,700 Marines) and the San Antonio-class dock ships USS Mesa Verde and USS Carter Hall (up to another 800 paratroopers each) .
The actions of this entire armada, which, according to the foreign press, significantly exceeded the one that in early 1991 the United States and its allies were gathering near the Persian Gulf to crush Saddam’s Iraq at that time, was directed by the headquarters of the 6- th fleet of the US Navy from its flagship USS Mount Whitney. It is still anchored near Cyprus.
And further. Did you notice: there is still no mention here of the presence of American, British and French nuclear submarines near the shores of the Middle East? But no one doubts that there are! Secretly and massively.
On November 1, the American SSGN USS Florida appeared in the press. On which, theoretically, there can be just a gigantic arsenal of high-precision long-range cruise missiles BGM-109 Tomahawks – up to 154 units.
According to the Russian website “Submarine Fleet Bulletin”, the “Florida” has just surfaced and entered the “Greek-NATO base” on the island of Crete, apparently for demonstrative and threatening purposes. But even from there, her tomahawks are capable of shelling the entire Middle East at any second.
But what can the Russian fleet counter to this most serious strategic threat in the Mediterranean? Honestly, almost nothing. Or very little.
And only if our multi-purpose nuclear submarines of the Northern Fleet are secretly monitoring NATO’s actions in the depths there. At least two or three units.
And I repeat, you cannot look without tears at what remains on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea as part of the permanent operational formation of the Russian Navy based in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Because the flagship of the remains of this former Mediterranean squadron has now become the corvette “Merquius”, which is extremely modest for any ocean voyages. True, with eight very decent long-range Kalibr cruise missiles in launchers.
“Mercury” is the first corvette of project 20380, which was completed in St. Petersburg for the Black Sea Fleet only in May 2023.
But it has not yet reached Sevastopol within a day due to Turkey’s blockade of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to all warships until the end of hostilities in Ukraine.
Another eight Calibers in Syria can be launched from the launchers of the small Black Sea missile ship Orehovo-Zuevo (project 21631 of the Buyan-M type), which is much smaller even than the Mercury.
And with that, the list of Russian attack ships in the Mediterranean, alas, is complete. Also recently based in Tartus, but in principle the Sevastopol radio-technical reconnaissance ship “Kildin” (project 861M) and the tanker “Elnya” do not have serious armament on board.
Thus, at the beginning of November 2023, the total “Caliber” missile salvo of our operational naval compound in the Mediterranean Sea can be no more than 16 units. Which, frankly, in the current geopolitical circumstances seems downright unfortunate.
Yes, NATO alone has many more aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers in these waters than we have Calibers in launchers!
So, if now the Russian ships are able to pose at least some threat to the enemy, then, unfortunately for us, it has long been vanishingly small. How and why did we get here?
In fact, by the middle of last month, we had one and a half times as many attack ships in Tartus. That is, three. The combat capabilities of the two surface “caliber carriers” were at least somewhat supplemented by the diesel-electric submarine of the Black Sea Fleet B-265 “Krasnodar” of project 06363. But it served in the Mediterranean Sea for an unprecedentedly long time.
Almost two years. And at the most inopportune moment, when the crisis in the Gaza Strip was already heating up, it was in complete technical exhaustion, and on October 14 it was forced to leave the Mediterranean Sea via Gibraltar. The goal is a long-term repair in Kronstadt, the postponement of which is clearly just dangerous.
In September of last year, our other heavily worn diesel-electric submarine, which was part of the operational unit from the very beginning of the special operation in Ukraine, B-261 Novorossiysk, crossed from Syria to the Baltic on exactly the same route.
Kronstadt shipbuilders are now making heroic efforts to get her back into service. But that definitely won’t happen before the coming spring. This means that we won’t have a single diesel-electric submarine in the Mediterranean until at least next summer.
It should be added that even earlier, in April 2023, our largest “caliber carrier” in these waters in recent months, the Black Sea frigate “Admiral Grigorovich”, left Syria for long-term repairs in the Baltic Sea. When will he return back to Tartus? Even in Moscow they hardly have a clue about it.
A natural question: how did the General Staff of the Russian Navy not know about the impending disaster with the technical condition of our attack ships in Tartus? He certainly knew.
Surely he even planned a worthy replacement for those who left. In the form of a much more serious ship – the frigate “Admiral Golovko” (project 22350), long promised by the industry to be transferred to the operational staff of the Navy.
The first among this “admiral” series, even at the factory, equipped with launchers for launching not only “Caliber”, but also hypersonic “Zircons”.
First, in January 2023, a TASS source close to the military-industrial complex said the ship would be handed over to military sailors in March.
Later, representatives of “Severnaya Verf” specified that they plan to hand over the frigate to the Russian Navy in the second quarter. But “Admiral Golovko” is not in the lists of warships of the fleet to this day.
And those few ships with the same or similar power to the new frigate, which are part of the Northern and Baltic fleets, are for various reasons not ready for an urgent trip to the Mediterranean.
The Black Sea Fleet, as they say, has been “combat bound” with Ukraine for a long time. And the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, as we have already said, have been blocked by the Turks for nearly two years.
What is left? The Pacific Fleet, miles from the Middle East? He seems to be the only one. And probably in Vladivostok they received an order long ago to prepare for sailing at least the little we have even in those areas far from Israel and the Gaza Strip.
If you follow naval news, you may have noticed that in the first ten days of October, a detachment consisting of large anti-submarine ships of the 1155 project “Admiral Tributs” and “Admiral Panteleev” and the sea tanker “Dubna” urgently departed from Vladivostok on a long voyage with undeclared purposes.
These ships recently visited the Indonesian port of Tanjung Perak in Surabaya on a business visit. And then they continued to cross the Java Sea in a northwesterly direction.
To where? One can only speculate about this. But the most logical route for them seems to be through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. Where in the middle of a dense and almost enemy environment we were just waiting for at least new St. Andrew’s flags.
Yes, Admiral Tributs and Admiral Panteleev were originally intended to perform purely anti-submarine missions. And for this reason, they are practically devoid of striking weapons against surface enemies. But in the absence of anything else, they should do the job. Is that correct?
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