Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Russia's Moves Into The Mediterranean Sea Part Of A Larger Chess Game

"Aircraft Carriers" of Russia's Northern Fleet head to Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea

Various Russian Naval Craft , Russian Navy Day 2010, Photo U.S. NAvy
Editor's note 5/15/2015: Since publication of this post Elements of Russia's Northern Fleet and Black Sea Fleet have regularly entered the Mediterranean. Our own 6th fleet is now down to only one permanently assigned ship, a large command and control ship ("Flag ship) while we have an impressive number and quality of war ships in the Mediterranean Sea at any given moment, these are on temporary assignment from the Atlantic Fleet. We are playing a shell game . The Italian Navy and Coast Guard are none the less a more impressive force than anything the Russians have been able to send in so far. Unfortunately they are being overwhelmed by a "refugee" problem that includes an extraordinary number of embedded terrorists and is driven by ISIS which has threatened and is in fact , turning the Mediterranean "into a sea of chaos".


"A group of the Russian Northern Fleet's aircraft carriers embarked on a deployment to the Northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, in accordance with the Russian Navy's combat training plan."
"The naval group includes the heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Soviet Union Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov, the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Levchenko, the large assault ship Olenegorsky Gornyak, as well as support vessels such as the rescue towboat Nikolai Chiker and the tankers Sergei Osipov and Kama," the Northern Fleet's spokesman, Captain 1st Rank Vadim Serga, told Interfax-AVN on Tuesday."

Editor's Note: We Borrowed the Headline from "RUSSIA BEYOND THE HEADLINES" but put the words "Air Craft Carriers" in quotes. What Russia has sent into the Mediterranean are one large and several smaller "Air Capable Ships". An "air capable ship" is quite different from an "air craft carrier". A number of U.S. Coast Guard medium and high endurance cutters are "air capable", meaning able to carry, service, and launch/recover a single small helicopter; on the other end of the "air capable spectrum are U.S. Navy Flat topped "amphibs" whichj look like fair sized air craft carriers with their classic flight decks. Some times they are called "helicopter carriers" but they frequently carry Harrier jets as well. But these ships feature a well deck from which landing craft full of marines can be launched. The air craft carried though impressive in number are for the support of amphibious operations. A true air craft carrier specializes in the launch and recovery of fighters and fighter bombers in sufficient numbers to perform major missions. In short the true "air craft carrier" vice the "air capable ship" has air craft as its "main battery". The Russians at the moment operate only one true Aircraft Carrier, what they sent to the Mediterranean this trip were larger "air capable ships".
Italy has a true Air Craft Carrier that they are quite proficient at operating and over 82 naval combatant air craft based both on board and on shore, not counting the anti ship capability of Italy's air force of over 720 war birds with incredible reach over the Mediterranean. In short what Russia sent was hardly a credible threat to Italy much less NATO. But that wasn't Russia's point, it was far more than the U.S. nominal Sixth Fleet. Part of the point was to shake confidence of U.S. allies in the ability of the U.S. to respond. Russia doesn't have to break the alliance for a big gain. Suppose the move created caution in NATO about America's ability to respond. How much support would America get for further transfer of Atlantic fleet assets to make up an Arctic fleet? Given our present budget woes, how much support would the American tax payers give to building a fleet large enough to both flesh out the Sixth Fleet and create a new purpose built Arctic Fleet?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not long ago we posted on the U.S. Sixth Fleet, our official Mediterranean naval presence and how it had degenerated into a shore side headquarters organization, resident flag ship, and basically rotating ships "borrowed: from the Atlantic Fleet. With the U.S. Navy greatly reduced in size this important part of the world which once was served by an actual American resident fleet is still an area where we have vital interests and treaty commitments. The EU and NATO have vital interests and commitments as well. Russia has a naval base in Syria and other interests in the Mediterranean including one new one. Notice how the Russian Mediterranean naval presence parallels the U.S. Sixth Fleet being made up largely of ships dropping down from the Black Sea Fleet and Northern Fleet for exercises. This is a rather inexpensive way to stress U.S. Naval assets. Italy is the real guardian of the Mediterranean. and Russia hasn't yet fielded a squadron in the region that actually rivals Italian naval strength. But eventually they will. Russia is building naval strength and the U.S. and most of NATO continue to reduce naval strength, with the U.S. actually shifting naval strength from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There is a real need for an actual, vice notional Sixth Fleet stationed in Italy that exercises weekly with the Italian Navy and other regional forces. By driving that need with ever increasing presence using mostly temporarily assigned notional forces Russia stresses the already strained U.S. Naval Budget making both our Pacific build up and most importantly, from the Bear's view point, any Arctic build up much more difficult. We still have the best ships and sailors in the world but we have less than 300 ships in a world that requires over 600. We ham string ourselves with rules requiring equal treatment of all military services on budget cuts, and rules that require the majority of budget cuts to come from the defense budget if the gridlocked Congress can't craft a budget. We have to realize that sometimes "quantity has a quality all its own".   

 We have to strengthen our Sixth Fleet but that doesn't mean that we need another nuclear powered carrier task force as a permanent presence. Italy competently operates smaller air craft carriers we need to augment our ally with a realistic daily, permanently assigned presence in Naples. Its time for us to consider some type of "jeep carrier" similar to the escort carriers of WWII. Smaller for fitting into more Mediterranean ports, conventionally powered for a semi closed sea with lots of near by friendly ports, but a large air wing, with its own escorts. The Russians aren't throwing super carriers at us there yet. We don;t have to have a resident "Death star" yet. But we need to keep serious vessels comparable to our allies in the region permanently in the region. Not so many that the stressed tax payers of the regional nations feel they can reduce defense spending to nominal levels but enough to insure that if shooting starts we are there and contributing to the collective defense immediately. This small but standing and operating fleet would be our assurance of being there with our back up big carrier task forces when needed. NATO and the EU nations generally may not be spending like they should on defense, but Italy apparently is. However, Italy is small nation. We should not be under an Italian defense umbrella. We need to return a small but efficient fleet permanently stationed in Naples. Italy has already provided the space, We are not unwelcome, and we are obligated in the region. It is time for the United States and Great Britain to start naval rebuilding. Its a chess game about naval potential at any given moment in any given area. In many instances in history these naval chess games have not resulted in shooting naval wars. But he who withdraws or fails to respond loses. He who wins dictates regional conditions of commerce movement, and these days exploitation of ocean resources. If we over spend in the Mediterranean we could lose in the Arctic, if we under spend Southern Europe could be under stress. Fortunately the United States and her allies are not imperial powers today, we only seek freedom of the seas and fair, equitable, peaceful, and environmentally safe ocean development. We have lots of allies for that, and interested non aligned states willing to jump into coalitions when their region is at stake. Russia and China are back to their old imperial ways and can at best only muster some rather unreliable and unpredictable allies like North Korea and Syria. For freedom to survive and economies to prosper with dragons and bears on the prowl we need right sized forces. Everyone needs an oar in the water, meaning operating the best navy and coast guard forces they can afford. Not everyone is on board yet. But in recent days we have introduced our readers to small nations both formally allied and non aligned from Italy to Malaysia that have shouldered the load. We have introduced our readers to nations that are building capacity in response to direct threat like Japan and the Philippines.We have introduced our readers to the ready naval forces of India guardian of the Indian Ocean.  It is time for America, Great Britain, Germany, and others to stop shrinking naval assets and resume naval build up . The naval chess game is on once again and likely to last 50 years. If we don't play we become vassal states of those who do. We are already near the end of the first quarter and behind.

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