The Russian military operation in Syria was two years old - and one of its most important symbols was the so-called "Syrian Express." This conventional name received flights of large amphibious assault ships, supplying Syria with weapons and equipment, and the Russian military group. Why did Russia choose this type of supply, how long will the Syrian Express exist?
The military operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria, which began exactly two years ago, would have been impossible without the "Syrian Express" - regular shuttle flights of large landing ships (BDK) on the route Novorossiysk - Tartus. During the aggravation of Russian-Turkish relations, a well-known Istanbul blogger, somewhat exaggerating, said that in the event of the Bosporus and Dardanell blocking, the Syrian grouping of the Russian Armed Forces would be in the same position as the Paulus army in Stalingrad.
To understand the origin of the phrase "Syrian Express", it would be necessary to conduct a historical and linguistic study. Some sources claim that the term was introduced into use by Russian media (without naming any date or authorship), others believe that it was borrowed abroad, while others say about the oral folk art of military seamen. One thing is clear: the now universally accepted name of the largest military transport operation of the Navy, which is the largest in modern Russian history, goes back to 16 August 1942, when four Japanese destroyers and three vehicles with landing and supplies - from the Rabaul to Guadalcanal - the first flight of the "Tokyo Express" about half a year.
It should be noted that from the point of view of economic efficiency, the BDK is not suitable for cargo transportation. In civil shipbuilding, there is such a thing as the coefficient of displacement using the net load capacity, equal to the ratio of the mass of the cargo to the total displacement. When considering projects, this parameter often appears as the main characteristic of transport ships. For dry cargo ships of general purpose, its value is within the limits of 0,45-0,61 (on average - 0,53), for BDK pr. 1171 (designed largely according to civil norms), it is equal, according to different data, 0,22-0,23, and for BDN pr. 775 and at all 0,11-0,13. Thus, taking into account the number of ships 775 / 1171 (11 / 3) operating in the "Syrian express", the efficiency of cargo transportation by large landing ships is almost four times lower (3,80) than that of conventional dry cargo ships. However, as it often happens in practice, life makes its own adjustments.
The beginning of the civil war in Syria is considered to be 15 March 2011, when some anti-government protests grew into mass protests, and then into an armed uprising against state power in the framework of the US special services project and their satellites called "Arab spring". However, Russia did not abandon Syria to the mercy of fate and continued military and technical cooperation with the Assad government, using for the supply of cargoes chartered civilian vessels. Everything complicated when 10 May 2011 year the regulation of the Council of the European Union No. 442 as a response to the actions of the official Damascus against the participants of the protest movement was introduced the first package of anti-Syrian sanctions. In the regulations, in particular, it was said:
"The member states are obligated to inspect the air and sea vessels of third countries that are going to Syria (with the consent of the flag state of the vessel, as provided for by international law) if the member countries suspect that the cargo carried contains weapons or equipment for suppression protests. This measure will be applied at airports, seaports of EU states, as well as in their territorial waters. If such [goods] are detected, they will be delayed. Moreover, the aircraft and vessels following Syria through the territory of the European Union will have to provide additional information before the arrival and departure of all cargo. "
The first call was an unsuccessful inspection by the Cypriot Coast Guard and the customs service of a small cargo ship Chariot, who went to Limassol 10 January 2012 year to wait out the storm and refuel with fuel. Despite the fact that, according to the intelligence data, weapons and ammunition for Asad were on board, the Cypriots either could not, or did not want to inspect the ship (rather the second - we have mutual sympathy for them) and released it on all four sides. The next incident overflowing the patience of Russia was the attempt to inspect the Russian dry cargo ship Alaid, which, like Chariot, was under the "convenient" (in the commercial sense) flag. The attempt was made by the authorities of the European Union near the shores of Scotland 18 June 2012. According to available information, Alaid was carrying reconstructed helicopters to Syria and something else.
Consent to the inspection was not given, the ship had to return to Murmansk, and some 20 days later earned the "Syrian Express."
As mentioned above,
The use of amphibious ships for the transport of goods is economically unreasonable, but it guarantees that the cargo will be delivered to its destination.
BDKs are warships that, according to Article 95 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, "enjoy the full sea immunity from the jurisdiction of any state other than the flag state", and in the territorial sea (article 32) - subject to a number of cases concerning the sovereign rights of coastal States. Immunity, as is known, is understood as inviolability, including from examinations and detentions. Even more rigidly interprets the concept of immunity (without using the term itself). The ship's charter of the Russian Navy. In the first lines of which (article 2) states: "No foreign state has the right to interfere in the life of the ship (ship) of the Navy. Any attempt in this direction should be stopped in the most decisive manner, at the worst, by force of arms in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation. "
The first two BDK "Syrian Express": "Caesar Kunikov" and "Nikolay Filchenkov" - came from Sevastopol for loading to Novorossiysk in the early days of July 2012. According to the source of Interfax, 8 July "Kunikov" "was ordered to follow the Mediterranean Sea", and 11 July passed the Black Sea straits. "Filchenkov" either went with him in one order, or with some time interval. In the future, both ships operated together, escorted 10 July released from the main base of the Black Sea Fleet SMR "Smetlivy". At the same time, a convoy consisting of three BDKs (Alexander Obrakovsky, Georgy Pobedonosets and Kondopoga) came out of Severomorsk and covered the BCP Admiral Chabanenko, and from Baltiysk - SKR Neustrashimy and Yaroslav the Wise. 17 July "Chabanenko" passed the watch to the watchmen and went home, and the combined detachment of combat ships SF-BF 2 August began to perform tasks in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On the whole, large-scale interflot maneuvers were obtained, the purpose of which, perhaps, was to conceal two flights of the nascent "express train". What was transported by the Black Sea BDK is unknown, but the cargo of Alaid was likely on board the North Sea warships. If this assumption is correct, it once again demonstrates the difference in the carrying capacity between maritime transport ships and landing ships. "Alaid" with deadweight 9000 t, net load capacity (at very rough estimation) 7700 t and maximum length 122 m against three BDKs of length 112,5 m and load capacity of 500 t (in the sum of 1500 t). That year, four more flights were completed, and from the year 2013, the Syrian Express is starting to gain momentum.
Turkish shippotters (at turkishnavy.net and twitter.com/yorukisik) have been actively monitoring the naval traffic in the Bosporus for several years now. In addition, a lot of useful information is contained in the reports of the press service of the Ministry of Defense of Russia. According to the information from the sources mentioned, the author of this article, systematized by the author of this article, for the duration of the "Syrian Express" functioning, carried out a total of 318 BDK flights 775 (265) and 1171 (53), which, in full capacity, equals 185 500 tons of military cargo.
For years the picture is the following: 2012 year - 9 flights (warm-up), 2013 year - 61, 2014 year - 54, 2015 year - 83, 2016 year - 77, 2017 year (for 9 months) - 34. Monthly on average, 5,4 flight was performed, in 2015, 6,9. The peak falls on the pre-threatened September 2013 year (when Obama was going to bomb Syria) - 10 flights and for September-October 2015 (preparation and start of the military operation of the Russian Armed Forces) - 10 and 12 respectively.
The distribution of flights according to the ships belonging to this or that fleet looks like this: the lion's share falls on the Black Sea Fleet - 174 (55%), which is not surprising. It is followed by BF - 88 (28%), then SF - 47 (15%) and, finally, Pacific Fleet - 8 (2,5%). One BDK pr. 775 managed to hide its onboard number and name from vigilant Istanbul observers. The trip was 19. The average duration of a business trip (minus the first three 50-days with SF on a "back and forth" basis) is 297 days (about 10 months). Top 5 most hardy BDK and crews is headed by the North Sea "Alexander Obrakovsky" (588 day), followed by "Alexander Shabalin" (BF, 392 day), "Kaliningrad" (BF, 343 days), "George the Victorious" (SF, 335 days) and Minsk (about 300 days).
The BDK PF route is simple: Sevastopol (point of permanent basing) - Novorossiysk (loading point) - the Black Sea straits - Tartus. Distances: Sevastopol - Novorossiysk - 220 miles (18 hours at 12 economic nodes), Novorossiysk - Bosporus - 460 miles (1 day 15 hours), length of the torrential zone (Bosporus - Sea of Marmara - Dardanelles) - 164 miles (14 hours), Bosporus - Tartus - 820 miles (2 days 20 hours), Novorossiysk - Tartus - 1280 miles (4 days 11 hours). On average, the flight from the Bosphorus to the Bosphorus takes 10 days, from Novorossiysk to Sevastopol (after calling in Syria) - about 13 days.
For ships dispatched from other fleets, the first and last flight, of course, is much longer and longer: Baltiysk - Tartus (around Denmark) - 4400 miles (15 days 7 hours), and it is possible that the cargo is not in Kaliningrad, but where in Ust-Luga; Severomorsk - Tartus - 4900 miles (17 days 2 hours); finally, Vladivostok - Tartus - 8300 miles (28 days 20 hours). It seems that the unprecedented expeditionary operation of the Pacific Fleet, in which BBC Admiral Panteleev, BDK Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoy took place, 19 March 25 December 2013, was a kind of experiment on people and technology to mobilize available forces all fleets. People and equipment have withstood, but it is hardly worth waiting for an early repetition of something like this - the BCC has enough tasks in its troubled region, they are far from young, and their resource should be taken care of. As for the ships of 775 SF and BF avenue, they will have to walk to the Mediterranean in order not to stagnate at the berth and relieve some of the Black Sea counterparts.
In early September, there were some doubts about the future of the project called the Syrian Express.
The fact is that during the previous three months his activity was close to zero: in June - one flight, in July - two, in August - again one. There were legitimate suspicions that the Navy was going to hand over to civilian cargo carriers one of its tasks, which it had conscientiously carried out for more than 5 years (to date - 5 years and 3 months). Moreover, photographs of the chartered "peaceful" dry cargo ships, containerships and roller-coaches going to Syria with various cargoes have become more and more popular.
However, as if refuting such thoughts, 15 September, the Bosporus passed Yamal, 19-th Azov, 20-th Caesar Kunikov, and 25-th, after passing the Strait of Gibraltar, Alexander Ozerkovskiy entered the Mediterranean Sea, who left Severomorsk 13 September. Thus, on 27 September 2017 year in the Mediterranean at the same time were four Russian BDK, which is not too far from the average monthly value.
It seems that until Syria finally establishes peace and order, the Syrian Express will work. Even if the sea transport ships will take a significant part of cargo transportation in this direction, there will be necessarily such cargoes that are better to transport, having absolute immunity (under the Andreevsky flag). For example, the latest (Sovetsretnye) samples of weapons and military equipment, designed for testing in combat conditions.
And after the war is over, when the good old BKP pr. 775 will be replaced by the ships of new projects and excluded from the Russian Navy, one of them must become a museum ship. In Tartus or Latakia, future generations of the Syrians will not forget who saved their country from destruction.