usual increased Russian naval activity around Christmas time

The Christmas period is traditionally a busy time for the Russian Navy, with new warships entering service for the turn of the year and major naval exercises, before the fleet enters a quieter period due to the Orthodox New Year in January. This year, too, we see increased activity at both Russian shipyards and training areas.

Velikiye Luki was launched in Saint Petersburg on Friday. Twelve of these boats are planned. The Lada class has a displacement of approximately 2700 tons and is 72 meters long. The boats have six torpedo tubes for torpedoes, mines and Kalibr cruise missiles. (Photo: Russian Navy)

New submarines
On December 21, the Russian Navy commissioned the Borei-A-class submarine Generalissimus Suvorov, state news agency TASS reported. The submarine, armed with Bulava nuclear ballistic missiles, was taken out of the dock at Christmas 2021 and has been extensively tested in recent months to meet the required qualifications set by the Russian Navy. Generalissimus Suvorov is the sixth Borei-class boat and the third of the Borei-A variant. The submarine will serve in the Pacific, making it the fourth Borei submarine to be assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Only Yury Dolgorukiy and Knyaz Vladimir currently serve in the Northern Fleet.

Two days later, on 23 December, the Lada-class submarine Velikiye Luki was launched at the Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg. This was announced by the Russian Navy on its website. The Lada class is a design by the Russian ship design agency Rubis and was developed to replace the successful Kilo class. The Lada class is more automated, so it needs less manpower and water displacement can be significantly reduced. The Lada class also has a single skin, unlike the Kilo class which has a double skin.

Velikiye Luki is the third boat in the Lada class and was redesigned after the troubles in St. Petersburg, entering service in 2010. Two other boats, Vologda and Yaroslavl, are under construction. Construction of both boats started simultaneously in June this year. The second Lada-class submarine, the Kronstadt, has started its state tests so that the boat can be handed over to the Russian Navy.

Admiral Golovko in the Baltic Sea. These ships have 32 cells for a wide range of weapons against ships and land targets: Kalibr, Oniks and the hypersonic Zircon. (Photo: Russian Navy)

Sent back into operation
In addition to submarines, Russian shipyards continue to build and modernize the surface fleet. The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is taken out of its dry dock in Murmansk. The special dry dock was built by connecting two existing docks. The evacuation would take a full month because the new dry dock does not yet have a lock gate, meaning the current barrier will have to be torn down.

However, on December 22, a fire broke out on board the Admiral Kuznetsov. The fire started on the port side, but – according to the Russian website Flotprom based on information from the shipyard – it was quickly contained by the local security teams and the damage was limited to six square meters. If true, it could be an indication that safety procedures on board have improved significantly since December 2019, when a fire destroyed more than 500 square meters of the aircraft carrier, killing two and injuring 14.

In the Baltic Sea, the frigate Neustrashimy (of the eponymous class) is in the final stages of her sea trials after a period of repairs and modernization. All sea trials and tests were to be completed by 23 December, after which the ship, which was commissioned in 1993, can return to active service with the Baltic Fleet. As a final test, the frigate had to defend against an enemy air attack by deploying its air defense systems. Neustrashimy was launched last December at the Yantar shipyard and took a full year to pass sea trials and acceptance tests.

The frigate Admiral Golovko (Gorshkov class) began the second part of her sea trials on Boxing Day, after a short initial period focusing on propulsion and navigation systems. The second phase of the sea trial will test the operation of guns and anti-aircraft missiles, the systems of the command center, as well as sensors and communication equipment, the Russian Navy said. Golovko is the third Gorshkov class frigate. Five ships are currently under construction, with fifteen ships planned.

In the Northern Fleet, the frigate Admiral Gorshkov (Gorshkov class) looks set to return to active duty in January after a period of maintenance. Admiral Gorshkov is reportedly equipped with the Zirkon hypersonic anti-ship missile and will therefore fulfill an important operational and strategic role within the Northern Fleet. Her sister ship, the Admiral Kasatonov, is currently active in the Mediterranean and is believed to be equipped only with conventional missiles such as the Kalibr.

Increased maritime activity due to exercises
The Christmas period is also a busy period for the Russian Navy when it comes to exercises. The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, this is a direct consequence of the training cycle within the Navy, where conscripts who were called up during the summer period are sufficiently trained to participate in large naval exercises. In addition, in the first weeks of January there is a traditional calm due to the Orthodox New Year, when Russians traditionally spend their time with family. The Russian Navy is anticipating this by quickly conducting naval exercises before the Orthodox New Year begins.

The highest activity is currently reported in the Pacific and Baltic Fleets. The Pacific Fleet is actively training with units from the Chinese Navy between December 21 and December 27. The Slava-class cruiser Varyag, the modernized Udaloy-class frigates Marshal Ustinov and Aldar Tsydenzhapov, and the Sovershennyy (Steregushchy-class) corvettes make up the Russian part of these exercises. These ships passed through the Tsushima Strait on 20 and 21 December to make contact with the Chinese ships south of the Chuja Islands on 23 December. The Chinese squadron consists of the destroyers Baotou (Type 052D) and Jinan (Type 051) together with the Type 054A frigates Binzhou and Yancheng. Logistical support is provided by the Chinese supply vessel Gaoyouhu (Type 903A). A Chinese submarine and several aircraft were also part of the joint exercise. This was announced by the Chinese Navy.

According to the Russian Navy, the joint exercises include joint maneuvering, setting up communication networks, air defense, surface combat and anti-submarine operations. Notably absent from this Sino-Russian exercise are the Renhai-class cruisers and the aircraft carrier Liaoning. Those ships have departed on a separate exercise in the Philippine Sea, according to reports from the Japanese Navy.

The Baltic Fleet has also started a series of maritime exercises near Kaliningrad. These exercises involve a dozen ships in cooperation with aircraft and helicopters of the naval aviation service in the Baltic Sea, the Russian Navy announced earlier. However, the Steregushchyclass corvettes Stoiky and Soobrazitelny are in the Mediterranean. As a result, the Baltic Fleet’s naval exercises are carried out by the smaller warships from Kaliningrad such as patrol boats. The exercises focus mainly on setting up naval air defenses and conventional warfare against surface ships. These exercises are standard for the fleet and serve, among other things, to achieve a precise assessment of the readiness and deployability of the ships involved.

The increased maritime activity of the Russian Navy thus follows a traditional pattern and will slowly decrease as the Orthodox New Year on January 14 approaches. It is expected that the Russian fleet will then adopt a calmer pattern during the winter months.

Frederick Author: Frederik Van Lokeren
Frederik has been writing as a freelancer for since 2022. As a logistics officer in the Belgian navy (2010-2017), he was unit commander for minehunter BNS Lobelia during the maintenance period and head of the logistics service in M ​​frigate BNS Louise-Marie. Frederik is now a manager in Supply Chain Business Consultancy at Moore Belgium. In addition, Frederik closely follows maritime and amphibious developments with particular interest in the Russian navy and marine infantry.

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