Russian Navy Tsirkon missile integration trials stalled, late October 2020

After the much heralded firing of a 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile by the Project 22350 class frigate SKR-454 “Admiral Gorshkov” in the White Sea on 7 October 2020, it appears the missile integration programme may have stalled.  The first launch, timed to coincide with President Putin’s 68th birthday, was widely reported by the media and three further tests firings from SKR-454 were planned for the remainder of the year.

ARKH PRIP 51/20, 20-24 October 2020

When Russian maritime authorities issued a closure area (PRIP) for the White Sea between the 20-24 October 2020 it looked certain a second firing was about to take place.  However, the new closure, ARKH PRIP 51/20, (effectively a re-issue of ARKH PRIP 48/20 which was successfully used by SKR-454 on 7 October) appears not to be used.  Although some light vessel activity was noted in the White Sea during the forenoon of 20 October it was probably routine and not firing related; similarly, the dearth of media reporting likely indicates that no firing actually took place in ARKH PRIP 51/20.

Admiral Gorshkov, which highly likely returned to Severodvinsk on 7 October, appears to have remained in the port throughout the duration of ARKH PRIP 51/20 and was imaged in the same berthing position during the 24 October.

The reason for this apparent break is not known and there are several likely causes.  Obviously, problems brought about by the current pandemic cannot be ruled out however, it is thought more likely to be a platform or missile system problem has caused the delay. 

As of 28 October 2020, no further White Sea PRIPs had been issued.  Therefore it is unlikely further White Sea based 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic missile firing activity from Admiral Gorshkov can be expected in the short term. 

Three Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet units conduct coordinated entry to the Baltic Sea, 23 October 2020

Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet subordinate Project 22160 class patrol ship “Vasiliy Bykov”, Kilo Type 636.3 class conventional diesel-electric submarine (SSK) B-237 “Rostov-on-Don” and Project 22870 rescue tug “Capitan Gurev” were VISID entering the Baltic Sea via the Great Belt Bridge during the 0900Z hour, 23 October 2020. 

Pr.22160 Vasily Bykov entering the Baltic Sea


B-237 Rostov-on-Don, and tug Capitan Gurev, which travelled together from Russia’s forward operating base at Tartus, arrived in the Skagerrak area on 20 October and uncharacteristically, loitered until late on 22 October.  It is highly likely this loiter was deliberate in order to await the arrival of patrol vessel Vasily Bykov; thereby enabling a coordinated Black Sea Fleet entry into the Baltic Sea.

Kilo class SSK, Poss B-237 Rostov-on-Don, 230936Z OCT 20

Patrol ship Vasily Bykov originally entered the Baltic Sea in August after providing escort duty to high interest Gazprom vessels Ostap Sheremeta and Ivan Sidorenko which are currently located in Kaliningrad.  Following participation in St.Petersburg Navy Day celebrations Bykov transited to the White Sea in order to conduct likely Klub-K weapon system integration trials along with Baltic Fleet subordinate Project 22160 Buyan-M class MRK-562 “Zeleny Dol” and Project 22800 MRK-584 “Odintsovo” who transited via inland waterway.  Bykov likely spent some time at Northern Fleet HQ at Severomorsk before her likely choreographed return to the Baltic this morning.

Pr. 22870 tug Capitan Gurev entering the Baltic Sea

B-237 Rostov-on-Don is one of the Black Sea Fleet based Kilos which was previously noted operating out of the Russian Navy forward deployment base at Tartus, Syria.  It is almost certain this unit is enroute Admiralty shipyard in St. Petersburg for routine maintenance.  The security and safety services role was provided by rescue tug Capitan Gurev.  This journey is similar to that conducted by Black Sea Fleet Kilo T636.3 class B-265 “Krasnodar” and Project 23470 class seagoing tug “Segey Balk” in July 2020

Further Russian Navy missile firings expected in the White Sea, 20-24 October 2020

Russian maritime authorities issued a closure area (PRIP) for the White Sea between the 20 -24 October 2020, 0100Z-1700Z daily.  The White Sea closure area, ARKH PRIP 51/20, is designated for missile firing and comprises a large part of the southern/central White sea from Divina Bay to the southern Kandalskha Gulf and eastwards through to the central area of the Gorlo Strait. 


ARKH PRIP 51/20, 20-24 October 2020,
0100Z-1700Z daily

ARKH PRIP 51/20 is effectively a re-issue of ARKH PRIP 48/20 which was used by Project 22350 class SKR-454 "Admiral Gorshkov" to carry out the first launch of a 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic missile on 7 October 2020. On that occasion the missile flew across the Murman peninsula and hit a target barge located 450km away within MURM PRIP 248/20 in the southern Barents Sea.  However, at the time of reporting a Barents Sea PRIP had not been issued to correspond with ARKH PRIP 51/20. 

Russian reporting indicates that further Tsirkon missile tests are expected in 2020 and it is highly likely SKR-454 "Admiral Gorskhov" returned to Severodvinsk after the 7 October firing and remains in the White Sea area.  Therefore, it is highly likely ARKH PRIP 51/20 is a Tsirkon missile related closure.

Alternatively, the lack of corresponding Barents Sea PRIP may indicate a different missile system is fired this week.  It is worthy of note that the second ship of the Project 22350 class, SKR-431 "Admiral Kasatanov" fired a Kalibr family missile from an analogous PRIP (ARKH PRIP 45/20) in the White Sea on 29 September 2020.  Interestingly, "Admiral Kasatanov" sailed from Severomorsk on the 14 October and is active in the Barents Sea to check weapons and technical systems.  There is a realistic possibility she could transit to the White Sea and utilise this PRIP. 

An excellent article on the development of the 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile may be found HERE

Russia conducts BASTION-P cruise missile firing from Arctic base, 16 October 2020

Russian Naval Northern Fleet tactical forces stationed in the Franz Josef land archipelago carried out a coastal defence cruise missile firing on 16 October 2020.  The group, operating from Russia’s Arctic Trefoil Base on Alexandra Island and armed with the BASTION-P (NATO: SS-C-5) coastal defence cruise missile system, fired a P-800 Oniks (NATO: SS-N-26 STROBILE) anti-ship cruise missile at a target barge located within announced closure area MURM PRIP 255/20.  A TASS report stated the missile hit a barge 200km away.  

MURM PRIP 255/20 (Red) used for the Bastion firing on
16 October 2020

Range sanitisation & security for the firing was likely provided by several elements of the Northern Fleet Arctic group including Project 1155 Udaloy I class BPK-619 “Severomorsk”, Project 775 Ropucha class BDK-027 "Kondopoga" and Project 21180 ice breaking tug “Ilya Muromets” which have all been operating in the high Arctic and along the Northern Sea Route during the Summer.  Using commercially available Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors, imagery expert Frank Bottema (Twitter: @bottem37) located several units operating from a safe position off Northbrook Island during the 0400Z hour on 16 October.  At least five vessels are believed to have been involved in the sea control aspect of the firing.


Three likely support vessels off Northbrook Island, 16 October 2020
(courtesy of Frank Bottema)

This is the first firing of the BASTION-P missile system from Alexandra Island and is a clear indicator of Russia’s determination to expand its military influence and attempt to control freedom of access across the wider Arctic region.  It is also perhaps, a clear message to NATO forces which have carried out several high-profile operations in the Arctic circle this summer, that Russia is able to conduct A2/AD in its key strategic maritime areas.

PRIP 255/20 has been reissued as PRIP 261/20 and is open from 17-20 October 2020, between 0500Z-1900Z daily.  It is therefore likely further BASTION-P firings could take place over the weekend.



Although it cannot be verified, a video from the Zvezda channel reportedly showing this launch can be see HERE

More information on Russia's Arctic Trefoil Base can be found HERE

Improved Russian Navy submarine "Orel" conducts Barents Sea cruise missile firing, 13 October 2020

Russian Navy Northern Fleet Project 949AM improved Oscar II class nuclear powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN) K-266 “Orel” carried out a P-700 Granit (NATO: SS-N-19) Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) firing in the southern Barents Sea on 13 October 2020. 

The submarine highly likely conducted a west-to-east orientated launch within announced missile closure area MURM PRIP 257/20 towards a target barge probably located around the 6926N 04043E area of the south eastern Barents Sea. 

MURM PRIP 257/20, opern 13-16 October 2020, 0300Z-1700Z daily

An unidentified Russian Naval maritime patrol aircraft which was noted active between 0950-1235Z likely conducted pre-firing range sanitisation/security as well as the post firing damage assessment of the target.

The firing was also supported by Sorum class oceangoing tug MB-56 which in addition to providing local “on-the-ground” range security, highly likely conducted towing of the target barge back to the Severomorsk area.

Using commercially available SAR data, imagery expert Frank Bottema (Twitter @Bottema37) was able to locate a cluster of probable range security vessels loitering at the western end of PRIP 257/20 just before the firing.  He was able to determine a probable target barge around 130KM down range to the east.  

Cluster of ships in the western area of PRIP 257

Possible target barge located 130KM down range

This firing is important because it is perhaps the first confirmation that Russia did not, as thought, upgrade K-266 Orel to be able to fire P-800 (NATO: SS-N-26A) and 3M54 Kalibr (NATO: SS-N-27A/30A) missiles. This would have effectively trebled her missile load-out and likely enabled K-266 to fire more capable missiles including the 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile system currently under test in the Barents Sea by Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov class frigate SKR-494 Admiral Gorshkov and likely SKR-431 Admiral Kasatanov 

Why the Russian Navy chose not to improve the missile carrying capability of K-266 while she was in maintenance at JSC Zvezdochka during 2014-2016 is not known but the reason is likely finance related or was dictated by operational requirements.  With more capable missiles now coming on line it appears that Russia may have missed an opportunity to significantly improve the lethality of this platform into the future.  

An alternative hypothesis is that K-266 Orel was never upgraded to 949A-M standard and merely conducted a deep maintenance period during 2014-16.  In this case, she would effectively remain a Project 949A submarine and therefore, retain her original SS-N-19 armament. 

A TASS report on the firing can be seen HERE

For more information on this and other submarine related topics see Covert Shores

Russian Navy probable surveillance vessel active in the Moray Firth, 12 October 2020

An unidentified Russian Navy probable electronic surveillance vessel (AGI) was noted active 17NM north east of Fraserburgh on the Scottish east coast during the 0700Z hour, 12 October 2020.  The unit, possibly Project 864 Vishnya class SSV-520 “Fedor Golovin”, is almost certainly conducting routine surveillance operations against the biannual multi-national exercise JOINT WARRIOR 20/02 which began on 10 October 2020 and is held predominantly off Scotland.


Approximate location of Russian surveillance ship Fedor Golovin,
120700Z OCT 20

It is not unusual for transiting Russian warships to conduct weather avoidance in the Moray Firth however, Fedor Golovin is almost certainly engaged in electronic surveillance in what is a sensitive area.  It is interesting to note this location is only around 60NM east of RAF Kinloss and even closer to RAF Lossiemouth, home to the RAF’s new P8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft. 


SKR-550 & SKR-532 passing the Great Belt Bridge,
8 October 2020

Fedor Golovin is not the only Russian Military vessel near the UK this week.  The Russian Navy Baltic Fleet subordinate Project 20380 Steregushchiy class frigates SKR-550 “Steregushchiy”, and SKR-532 “Boikiy” were visually identified passing under the Great Belt bridge on 8 October along with their support vessel Project 02980 rescue tug "SB-123". Whilst SB-123 is providing support from the Skagerrak area (18NM south east of Skagen), SKR-550 & SKR-532 are conducting routine exercise activity in the North Sea.  A press report from the Russian Ministry of Defence indicates that both frigates conducted missile drills against notional targets however, it is quite clear that both units were highly likely operating against HMS Queen Elizabeth UK Carrier Strike Group which formed up in the North Sea ahead of Joint Warrior 20/02. 


Rescue Tug SB-123 passing the Great Belt bridge,
8 October 2020

Russian Naval “Tsirkon” missile firings expected in the Barents Sea, 12-16 October 2020

Russian maritime authorities issued a series of closure areas (PRIP) for the Barents Sea between the 12-16 October 2020.  The closures, MURM PRIP 253/20, 255/20, 256/20 & 257/20, are designated primarily for missile firing and stretch from the southern Barents Sea to the coastline of Zemlya Georga in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. 

The closure areas are suitable for a wide range of Russian Naval missiles and mixed missile system firings, including submarine launched weapons could take place.  However, it is likely these closure areas will be used by either or both Russian Navy Northern fleet subordinate Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov class frigates “Admiral Gorshkov” and “Admiral Kasatanov” to test fire the 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile system.

The lead vessel of the Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov class, SKR-494 “Admiral Gorshkov” carried out a successful firing of a 3M22 Tsirkon (NATO: SS-N-33) hypersonic cruise missile from the White Sea (within ARKH PRIP 48/20 & MURM PRIP 248/20) over the Murman peninsula to the Barents Sea on 6 October 2020.  Recent press reporting indicates that Admiral Gorshkov will conduct a further three 3M22 Tsirkon firings through to early November 2020. 

The recently commissioned SKR-431 “Admiral Kasatanov”, which successfully launched a 3M14 Kalibr family (NATO: SS-N-30A) cruise missile in White Sea (within PRIP ARKH 45/20 & MURM PRIP 242) on 29 September 2020, was imaged in Severomorsk on 4 October.  This vessel is equipped with the 3S14 universal shipborne firing system (UKSK) and is therefore, likely to be able to embark the 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile with relative ease.  

The PRIPs can be seen below.

MURM PRIP 253/20

South of Franz Josef Land

Missile & Artillery firing

12 - 15 October 2020, 0500Z - 1900Z daily

Comment: Likely to be used for shipborne gunnery/rockets suggesting a vessel presence in the area. May be used by Project 1155 Udaloy class BPK-619 "Severomorsk" which is part of the Northern Fleet's Arctic task group.

MURM PRIP 255/20

South of Franz Josef Land encompassing the coast of Zemlya Georga

Missile Firing

14 - 16 October 2020, 0500Z - 1900Z daily

Comment: Probably the 3M22 Tsirkon impact area. A target barge will likely be placed within this PRIP to simulate a real-world target.  The dissimilar timings to MURM PRIP 256 suggest a dual use area.

MURM PRIP 256/20

Southern Barents Sea

Missile Firing

14 - 16 October 2020, 1200Z - 2359Z daily

Comment: Likely the launch area from where the 3M22 Tsirkon will be fired towards MURM PRIP 255/20.  The timings suggest that this PRIP may have dual use.

MURM PRIP 257/20

Southern Barents Sea

Missile Firing 

13 - 16 October 2020, 0300Z - 1700Z daily

Comment: Probably a further 3M22 Tskirkon associated closure, possibly for use by a different firing platform. Alternatively, this could be used for another type of naval missile. 

MURM PRIP 253/20, 255/20, 256/20 & 257/20

Russian Navy closure areas (PRIP) for 12 - 16 October 2020


Russian Navy Tsirkon missile integration trials stalled, late October 2020

After the much heralded firing of a 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile by the Project 22350 class frigate SKR-454 “Admiral Gorshkov” in ...