Russian Navy submarine rescue ship "Mikhail Rudnitsky" enroute to collect DSRV "AS-36", 15 March 2021

On 15 March 2021, Russian Navy Northern Fleet Project 05360 class submarine rescue ship "Mikhail Rudnitsky" was highly likely enroute St. Petersburg to collect Project 18270 Bester class Deep Sea Rescue Vessel (DSRV) "AS-36" from the Kanonersky shipyard. 

Mikhail Rudnitsky which departed homeport Severomorsk on 10 March 2021, was noted north of North Cape on 11 March heading west and had entered the North Sea, 70NM north west of Stavangar, by the forenoon 15 March.  The Auxiliary Shipping Forecast is fortunate to work in cooperation with perhaps the foremost maritime OSINT imagery analyst, Frank Bottema (Twitter: @OSINT_1), who was able to pinpoint Mikhail Rudnitsky at several points during her southerly voyage. 

Mikhail Rudnitsky in the Barents Sea, 10 March 2021
(Frank Bottema: @OSINT-1)

It is highly likely Mikhail Rudnitsky is enroute to the St. Petersburg area to collect Pr.18270 Bester class DSRV AS-36 which has been undergoing modernization at Kanonersky Shipyard since at least May 2020.  

Speaking in November 2020, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Nikolai Evmenov, indicated that AS-36 would receive upgrades to significantly increase its ability to render assistance to submarines in distress including a new positioning system, search sonar, television & upgraded life support systems.  This work was scheduled to be complete in 2021.  Interestingly, back in November 2017, experts from the Lazurit design bureau in Nizhny Novgorod which had prepared a technical project for the modernization of AS-36, indicated that the upgraded version would be to Bester-3 standard. 

Mikhail Rudnitsky heading southbound under the Great Belt Bridge
at 160922Z MAR 21

It is unusual for this class of vessel to leave the confines of the Barents Sea and White Sea however, Mikhail Rudnitsky is one of two Northern Fleet submarine rescue ships which are based in Severomorsk.  Sister ship, Pr.05461 "Georgiy Titov" was recently filmed conducting in-water harbour work-up activity with Northern Fleet Pr.1855 PRIZ class DSRV "AS-34" in Severomorsk and is likely providing on-station cover whilst Mikhail Rudnitsky is out-of-area.  It is worthy of note that in 2017, AS-34 conducted a deep dive from Mikhail Rudnitsky to a depth of 1005 metres.  

Mikhail Rudnistky off North Cape, 11 March 2021
(Frank Bottema: OSINT_1)

The SAR department of the Russian Navy Northern Fleet, headed by Captain First Rank Vladimir Gorban, recently celebrated their centennial anniversary.  In addition to two submarine rescue ships in Severomorsk a smaller detachment of SAR personnel is based at Severodvinsk to cover the White Sea area of operations. 

Mikhail Rudnitsky was noted to have arrived at Khronstadt Naval Base by the 20 March 2021. 

Alternatively, Mikhail Rudnitsky may be entering the Baltic Sea to conduct DSRV training operations with Kilo Type 636.3 class submarines that have completed build or maintenance at Admiralty shipyards in St. Petersburg. 

Russian Navy Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) Kilo T636.3 conventional diesel-electric submarine SSK B-274 "Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy" & B-603 "Volkhov" which have both been accepted into the Russian Navy are yet to complete their delivery voyage to the PACFLT.  Both units, which conducted an inter-base transit from Khronstadt to Baltiysk 11-16 March 2021, are scheduled to conduct L2 certification training in the Baltic Sea & may conduct DSRV training with Mikhail Rudnitsky before beginning their interfleet transit likely in May 2021. 

Similarly, Algerian Navy Kilo T636.3 SSK-021 "Messali el Hadj" which conducted post maintenance sea trials in the Baltic 17 February to 5 March 2021 and returned to Admiralty shipyard, may also be a candidate for DSRV training operations.  Although a vital part of a submarine's operational certification, DSRV operations are not as common as submarine escape training however, the customer may have specified this type of serial ahead of delivery.   

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 Navy submarine rescue ship "Mikhail Rudnitsky" enroute to collect DSRV "AS-36", 15 March 2021

On 15 March 2021, Russian Navy Northern Fleet Project 05360 class submarine rescue ship "Mikhail Rudnitsky" was highly likely enro...