The Russian Caspian Flotilla: A Brief Overview (INFOGRAPHIC)
Russia’s Caspian Flotilla made a splash recently when five of its vessels were redeployed out of the Caspian. The move comes just a month prior to a meeting on a strategically significant potential agreement on the Caspian Sea’s legal status and during ongoing preparations to move the flotilla’s headquarters from Astrakhan 550 miles south to Kaspiisk. On the eve of such dramatic changes to the Caspian’s Sea’s security landscape, where is the rest of the flotilla, and what is it doing?
Russia’s Caspian Flotilla has existed since 1772, and throughout its history, played a key role in projecting Russian power over the sea. In 1992, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the flotilla was divided between Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. After that division, the Russian Caspian Flotilla found itself too reduced to fulfill its directives and has been being reinforced ever since. Today, the flotilla consists of twenty-eight warships: two guided missile frigates, eight corvettes, four patrol boats, seven minesweepers, six landing boats, and one gunboat.
Types of Ships
Frigates: The flotilla holds two Gepard-class frigates: the Tatarstan, the flotilla’s flagship, and the Dagestan. Gepard class frigates are equipped with Kh-35 anti-ship missiles and two antisubmarine torpedo tubes as well as a 12-barrelled RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launcher.
Corvettes: The Caspian flotilla has eight corvettes total: three Buyan class corvettes – the Volgodonsk, Astrakhan, and Makhachkala; three Buyan-M corvettes – the Veliky Ustyug, Grad Sviyazhsk, and Uglich; and two Tarantul corvettes – the MAK-160 and Stupinets.
Buyan class corvettes are outfitted with one A-190 100mm cannon, two AK-306 30mm close-in weapons systems and a 122 mm MS-73M Grad-M launcher. Buyan corvettes also have a four-tube 3M47 Gibka naval missile launcher and gun mounts for machine guns.
Buyan-M corvettes are armed with an eight-round launcher for 3M54 Kaliber (SS-N-27) anti-ship cruise missiles, Igla 1M anti-aircraft missiles, a 100-mm main gun and two 30-mm air-defense guns. The Veliky Ustyug and Grad Sviyazhsk have both been used to fire missiles into Syria from the Caspian, a distance of around 1500 km or 930 miles.
From the Tarantul corvettes, Stupinets is armed with a 76-mm AK-176 gun mount, two 30-mm antiaircraft gun system AK-630s, four P-15 anti-ship missile launchers, and a 4 SAM system. MAK-160 is armed with two Moskit launchers instead of the P-15 launchers, and one MANPADS Igla instead of a 4 SAM system.
Missile/Patrol Boats: The flotilla has four Project 1204 Shmel patrol boats: AK-248, AK-201, AK-209, and AK-223. Each one is armed with one 76 mm D-56TS, two 25mm 2M-3Ms, two 14.5mm 2M-6, one
7.62mm SGMT, seventeen 140mm rocket launcher BM-14-17, one 30mm grenade launcher, and four mines.
Minesweepers: The Caspian Flotilla has two Sonya-class minesweepers – the German Ugrumov and Magomet Gadzhiev; two Lida-class minesweepers – RT-233 and RT-234; two Project 697TB minesweepers – RT-59 and RT-181; and one Yevgenya class minesweeper – RT-71. Sonya-class minesweepers are equipped with SAM system 9K34 Strela-3 launcher, two 30mm AK-230Ms, two 25mm 2M-3M, and six 30mm AK-306. Lida-class minesweepers are armed with eight launcher SA system 9K310 Igla-1 missile launchers, six 30mm AK-306, and four mines. Project 697TB minesweepers carry two 25mm 2M-3M. RT-71 carries two 14.5 mm 2M-7 machine guns, seven 55mm MRG-1 grenade launchers, and twelve depth charges.
Other: The Flotilla has six landing boats, the Dyugon-class Ataman Platov; the Serna-class D-156, D-56, D-131, and D-172; and the Akula class D-185. It also has a gunboat, AK-326 that is armed with a 12.7mm Uteus-2M.
In June, it was reported that five more Buyan-M class corvettes are under construction, some of which will become part of the Caspian Flotilla.
Location data on the Caspian Flotilla is scarce, but the main ships, including the two frigates and the corvettes are relatively well-tracked. The Dagestan, Tatarstan, and Uglich are in Astrakhan preparing for Navy Day on July 29th. The Grad Sviyazhsk and Veliky Ustyug were redeployed to the Mediterranean last month. RT reported that the two corvettes were moved to support Russia’s operations in Syria, specifically in response to a U.S. carrier striking group led by the USS Harry S. Truman entering the eastern Mediterranean. The Makhachkala embarked on a tour covering about 1,000 miles of the Caspian in mid-June. The thirty-day trip will include a visit to Iran. The Volgodonsk and Astrakhan were both last reported in the Caspian Sea, where they were engaging in air defense drills with the Dagestan, Tatarstan, Uglich, Grad Sviyazksk, and Makhachkala in February.
Amateur Russian navy watchers reported seeing three of the Caspian Flotilla’s patrol boats in the Sea of Azov’s Kerch Strait in May. The AK-201, AK-248, and AK-326 may have been deployed to guard Russian fishing vessels operating in waters off the shores of Crimea and defend Russia’s construction of a bridge over the Kerch Strait.
Much of the remaining open source data is well out of date. Russian Ministry of Defense Statements placed most of the minesweepers, including the German Ugrumov, Magomed Gadzhiev, RT-71, RT-233, RT-234, and RT-59, in open waters of the Caspian as part of the Center-2015 exercises. However, these exercises took place in late 2015.
The Center-2015 exercises remain among the largest and most comprehensive undertaken by the Caspian Flotilla. In these exercises, the Volgodonsk and Makhachkala both fired artillery at sea targets, and did so in bad weather. The Grad Sviyazhsk, Uglich, Veliky Ustug, Makhachkala, and Astrakhan practiced defending civil targets like commercial ships and oil facilities against small, fast-moving vessels. All six ships successfully performed combat firings at sea and aerial targets. The minesweepers successfully trawled and installed mines, and also practiced launching grenades.
More recently, the flotilla underwent more than four hundred combat exercises in 2017, including the first combined live-fire exercise among the Grad Sviyazhsk and Tatarstan using the Kalibr and Uran missile systems. Rear Admiral Sergei Pinchuk told the Military Council that this demonstrates that the formations are “operationally ready, and can accomplish assigned tasks in the area of responsibility”.
The unit’s main purposes, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, are combatting terrorism, guarding Russia’s southern borders, and overall protecting Russia’s national interest.