9 months, 1 week ago
I’m a little late to the punch here, but it appears as if Russia is testing its expeditionary warfighting skills.
Amid the continued uprising in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday issued somewhat contradictory statements about a group of its naval warships steaming into the eastern Mediterranean.
The first statement said the warships were not planning to call on Tartus, a naval base Russia maintains in Syria. The second, issued several hours later, said it was possible that service boats from the group might call on Tartus to replenish supplies “if the time period of the trip is extended.”
Earlier in the day, Interfax quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry source as saying three landing assault ships, an anti-submarine ship and four smaller vessels might call on Tartus by Sunday. The ships are carrying a contingent of about 360 marines and amphibious armored personnel carriers.
The source didn’t specify whether the marines would remain in Tartus or leave with the warships. Tartus is a small port and won’t be able to dock more than two warships at a time, the source said.
Defense experts debated whether the naval group might be in the region to evacuate Russians based in Syria.
“I am absolutely confident that most likely their task will be to evacuate the personnel and equipment of the base,” Alexander Golts, a defense expert and deputy editor-in-chief of the popular liberal online publication Yezhednevny Zhurnal, said in an interview.
“However, this group is not sufficient enough to evacuate from 30,000 to 60,000 Russian citizens working and living in Syria,” Golts said, “unless the marines will be ordered to gain control of a landing strip at Damascus airport and help establish an air-bridge to take all Russians out.”
“Whatever their task, it is clear that given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria the Kremlin wants to have some sort of military presence close to its shores,” Golts added.
Uh huh. 360 Marines, barely more than a company. And expeditionary warfighting is hard work. It is fraught with difficulties – ships that leak, ships that break, parts that fracture, lack of replacement parts, the need to weld and perform complex in-situ refurbishment and maintenance, the need for replenishment of resources, the need for at-sea supply, the need for fuel, the need for involved medical treatment up to and including complex surgery, the need for egress from the sea-borne crafts should they fail, the need for air transport to and from the sea-borne craft, the need to be able to perform complex maintenance on that air transport, the need for complex logistics, and so on.
And in this case, they need all of the Marines necessary to be able to perform the mission. 360 isn’t nearly enough. Should they actually be needed for land-based operations, they see combat, or they cannot use the port if it is not secure, this is a disaster in the making.
The Russians are curious about their current ability to conduct expeditionary warfare, and as commenter and loyal reader Jean and I remarked to each other, so are we. While it is sad that the Middle East has devolved into a morass (at least in part I fault the current U.S. administration for that), this seems to be an opportunity for us. It’s time to retask all available satellites, and queue up the signals intelligence. I want to know how the Russians do at this.