sábado, 22 de octubre de 2016

NATO has some long-term questions to answer ...

The Kuznetsov questions for NATO

By Nick Childs, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

The Russian Navy's sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has been deployed and is thought to be headed to the eastern Mediterranean. Nick Childs argues that despite the carrier's somewhat limited capabilities, NATO has some long-term questions to answer about how to respond to Moscow's willingness to use its maritime assets more assertively.

The Russian Navy's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has now embarked on its much-heralded and much-anticipated latest deployment from the Northern Fleet with a group of accompanying warships and support vessels, including the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Pyotr Veliky and the Udaloy-class destroyers Vice-Admiral Kulakov and Severomorsk.

Their presumed destination includes the eastern Mediterranean. They have already been tracked by Norwegian naval and maritime air assets, with other NATO surveillance capabilities on standby, and the carrier has already been observed conducting some limited air operations.

In one sense, this deployment fits into an established pattern of periodic sorties by the Admiral Kuznetsov in recent years. But the timing and strategic backdrop means that, this time, it is set to attract even more attention, not least given the ever-sharpening frictions with the West and the anguished debate over the trajectory of the Syria conflict and Russia's ambitions and intentions there.

The Admiral Kuznetsov itself is an elderly platform with a questionable reliability record. It remains uncertain the extent to which the carrier is deploying with a comprehensive air group. So far, only limited numbers of Su-33s and newer MiG-29Ks have been observed on the flight deck. Likewise, the accompanying warships are legacy platforms from the Soviet era.

Nevertheless, they do carry some significant capabilities. The carrier and the battlecruiser in particular are armed with the SS-N-19 Shipwreck/3M45 Granit surface-to-surface cruise missile. So they represent more than just a symbol of power projection. One uncertainty is what submarine assets may be accompanying the group and – equally – what NATO might also be deploying in terms of unseen surveillance.


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