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upon landing. In both cases pilots ejected and were
picked up by a Ka-27PS helicopter.
Kuznetsov returned back to home port on 9
February. Two week later, the Russian president
met with her crews and said: "I knew you would
experience some difficulties and would act so as to
overcome them, which you did..... It was a difficult,
complex mission. It is a pleasure that we have
managed to deal with all of its elements. Besides, this
is a good step forward in further development of the
Russian navy in all of its components".
Putin revealed that it was he who insisted that the
carrier task force be dispatched to the Mediterranean.
Preparatoty orders had been issued about a year
before the ships set sail. This period was a busy time
for Kuznetsov's seamen and pilots, but even more so
for industry. Several companies were called upon to
introduce modifications and upgrades to naval assets.
"In one year, the military personnel and the industry
acted so as to make sure the equipment and training
of crews are up to the role the task force was going
to play", Putin noted.
He admitted that, since 1991, when the carrier
joined the Northern Fleet, "she had been doing
nothing but training and flag demonstration missions...
industry was challenged to make sure that the carrier
can be used in anger, for which she must have a
proper air wing. As a result, the MiG-29K/KUB
aircraft were made ready."
MiG-29K/KUBs were used in a combat
environment to carry out strikes on ground targets
using precision guidance munitions (PGMs).
Operating two types of supersonic fighters in a
combat environment enabled a comparison between
them. It is interesting to note that Kuznetsov pilots
characterised the MiG-29K as "a multirole aircraft",
while referring to the Su-33 to as "a modernised
fighter". Both types were described as easy to
operate, reliable and highly accurate.
More details came from Captain Cyril Revyakin,
a squadron commander with the 100th ship-borne
fighter aviation regiment. He had his first carrier
landing in August 2016, and performed seventeen
missions from the carrier in Syria. Thus, Revyakin
represents young pilots who had qualified in carrier
operations on the eve of the Syrian deployment,
during which they fought alongside the veterans
of naval aviation who began flying from the deck in
Revyakin pointed out that the modern sighting and
navigation systems on the MiG-29K provide for lesser
pilot workload, so that they can spend more time
on situational awareness and decision-making, and
thus perform better in action. The MiG-29K differs
from the Su-33 in having a "glass cockpit" in lieu of
dial instruments. According to Revyakin, this makes
the newer aircraft more effective, and gives aircrews
more chances for planning in advance, using tactical
displays with mission picture. It allows for selection of
a tactical maneuver to attack a target, and for actions
in a group.
Getting the MiG-29K into mature condition was
important, and yet the most challenging task for
industry on the eve of Kuznetsov's Syrian deployment
was to introduce modifications to the Su-33. These
were aimed to transform the pure interceptor (as it
was conceived in the 1980s) into an aircraft capable
of accurate strikes with free-fall bombs. The required
accuracy was achieved through an upgrade kit (SVP-
24-33 from "Gefest i T" company) derived from a
similar one tried earlier on the Su-24M frontal bomber
NOTES FROM NAVAL COMMANDERS
Kuznetsov's commanding officer Captain 1st rank
Sergei Artamonov said that, apart from the MiG-29K/
KUB, the navy made use of the Syrian deployment
to test the Ka-52K Katran. "This one also lived up to
its promise, especially on duties to protect the ship,
and to carry out its main supply/auxiliary tasks. We
expect this helicopter to be accepted into service
shortly". Testing the Ka-52K in Syria was important
for capability demonstration purposes, since this type
is being considered by neighboring Egypt to equip
the French-made Mistral class landing ships.
Captain 1st rank Andrei Saloshin, chief of staff with
the task force, said that during the Mediterranean
deployment, the ships spent 117 days at sea and
covered seventeen thousand nautical miles. He
further noted that up to eight NATO warships trailed
the Russian task force all the time, and "their actions
cannot be described as friendly".
Vice-Admiral Sokolov, senior officer on the task
force, said that watching the Russian warships in
action was "an eye-opener" regarding "the ability
of our fleet air arm to perform combat tasks". The
main task was to execute bombing raids and missile
strikes on armed groups of international terrorist
organisations. In addition to bombing raids, the naval
fighters also provided air cover for strike groups
and special mission flights operating out of air force
bases in Syria.
Sokolov further said that in addition to 420
combat sorties carried out by MiG-29K/KUB and
Su-33 pilots, helicopter crews performed over
750 flights from the deck on search-and-rescue,
air reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, anti-
sabotage, transportation of cargoes and escort. It
is interesting to compare Saloshin's and Sokolov's
figures with those for the three-month Mediterranean
deployment of 1995/1996, when Kuznetsov covered
14,156 nautical miles and served 524 flights by jet
airplanes and 996 by helicopters.
During the Mediterranean deployment the Russian
navy acquired some vital experience of handling
cargoes - including munitions - and transporting
them between warships at sea. According to
Sokolov, the warships in the task group took over
50,000 tonnes of liquid cargoes to sea during their
recent deployment, while the intake for the Russian
expedition group in Syria averages at 2,000 tonnes
a day by air and sea transports.
"Our task force was the most powerful and
balanced in the entire history [of the Russian navy],
when Black Sea Fleet warships joined in and
cooperation was established with other services of
the Russian armed forces, including Air and Space
Force group at Khmeimeem AFB", Vice-Admiral
Concluding, President Putin said: "Our mission has
been to stabilise the legitimate authority [in Syria] and
commit decisive strikes on international terror. Let's
act according to these tasks which have thus been
formulated". Russian intelligent services estimate the
number of jihadists who came to Syria from Russia
at four thousand and from former Soviet Union
republics at five thousand. The task force "has inflicted
considerable losses to the terrorist groups, their bases
and weapon depots, equipment and infrastructure".
Putin called for the combat experience to be carefully
studied for future use by the current and coming
generations of Russian seamen.
SHIP-BORNE FIGHTER JETS
The first jet type operating from Soviet navy warships
was the Yak-38 vertical takeoff and landing aircraft
developed by the Yakovlev design bureau. At
10,300kg all-up weight, it can become airborne
from a small spot on the deck with a 195 km range.
The figure doubled with a short takeoff run, using a
bow ramp or an angled deck of the Kiev-class heavy
aircraft carrying cruisers (Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk
and Gorshkov). The production run totaled 231
Starting on 15 November, carrier-borne fighter jets began flying combat
sorties against the radical Islam militants in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
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