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Spectacular Photos From Russia's Huge Ongoing 'Vostok' Military Drill

Along with a report on the activities


Vostok 2018 Day 1

In Eastern MD: 5th, 29th, 35th, 35th combined arms armies (CAA) + 11th Air and Air Defense Army from EMD. In Central MD: 2nd and 41st CAAs + 14th Air and Air Defense Army. VDV and VKS are beginning to shift forces to their designated training ranges. In terms of logistics, they activated military and civilian elements of the transport network, including regional infrastructure belonging to the Ministry of Transport, other federal transportation agencies, trains, rail cars, rail beds, etc. 1,500 rail platforms, 50 transport air craft, and 60 or so various military units. The numbers sound incredibly round such that they’re probably ‘stylized’ but it paints a picture.

This year there’s an emphasis on logistics, organizing forces and moving them large distances across Russia, which is sort of the major challenge in the Eastern/Central MD. Lots of distance, not a lot of infrastructure. Exercise announcements highlight efforts at jointness, having ground, naval and aerospace forces work together, along with combined arms maneuver. The picture I offer here is somewhat incomplete, as there are a few exercises taking place elsewhere, but here we will focus on what is being billed as part of Vostok 2018.

Already there is interesting news of VDV experimenting with a new formation and air assault maneuver, whereas the Navy is practicing combined naval infantry and motor-rifle amphibious assault. A lot of information early on about setting integrated air defenses, high bandwidth comms networks, and various engineering preparations such as false targets.

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Training range list:

Combined arms ranges: «Цугол», «Бамбурово», «Радыгино», «Успеновский», «Бикинский»

Air and Air Defense ranges: «Литовко», «Новосельское», «Телемба» и «Бухта Анна»,

Maritime: Берингова и Охотского морей (seas), Авачинского и Кроноцкого заливов (gulfs off of Kamchatka).

Airborne VDV – Not only are strategic maneuvers a deviation from the typical strategic command staff exercise, but there will also be some interesting force structure and combat maneuver experiments taking place. They plan to test an experimental VDV air assault formation during the exercise at Tsygol range, equipped with latest C2, and specialized equipment, to be used in some sort of air mobile assault variant. According to Col General A. Serduykov (head of VDV) this test will determine future tactics and overall development of VDV forces. Who is coming so far? One large battalion tactical group formation, composed of units from Ulan-Ude (11th), Ulyanovsk (31st), and Ussuriysk (83rd), and 38th independent VDV communications regiment. This is an interesting formation, if as reported, it consists of elements of three independent air-assault brigades.

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Central MD – 2000 Motor riflemen are completing a march to Zabaikal with 500 pieces of equipment, including T-72B3, BMP-2, BM-21 Grad. They will be drilling at Tsygol, the range being used jointly with PLA units. A communications brigade from 2nd CAA Samara is also joining them, including 1000 troops and 300 pieces of equipment. More than 60 fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft are moving to Eastern MD as well, including Mi-26, Mi-24, and Mi-8AMTSH-V + about 30 fixed wing tactical aviation.

Eastern MD – They’ve setup an integrated air defense network, leveraging automated C2, and expect to test their ability to conduct air defense under jamming conditions. So far only mention of Pantsir-S1, S-300 and S-400 units. Communications units have setup more than 150 comm links, including a comm system running 2800km from Vladivostok to Anadyr, 3500km from Ulan-Ude to Petropavlovsk (9800000 sq  km total). Perhaps more interesting, they’ve setup a high bandwidth line running about 900km to connect other federal agencies/civil authorities to ensure closer coordination with the General Staff.

Combat service support (MTO) in Eastern MD – Lot’s of exciting statistics, 80 ammo and fuel dumps setup, 100 supply points, more than 2000 mechanics and specialists supporting training at Tsygol, etc. All in all, they claim that 36,000 MTO troops are involved in this exercise (seems inflated but then again what isn’t when it comes to Vostok).

Engineers are busily setting up bouncy castles, otherwise known as the dreaded Russian ‘maskirovka.’ At every field range they will setup false targets, inflatable tanks, IFVs, air defenses, and fake Iskander units.

Pacific Fleet – The Naval Infantry brigade based on Primorskiy Kray have moved to loading points, embarking onto three LSTs. They’re bringing BTR-82A, BMP-2, 2s1, and BM-21s. Their objective is to form an amphibious assault detachment, and of course seize Gotland Island from Primorskiy Kray (just kidding). Their real objective is to practice different types of amphibious landings, supported by smaller surface combatants from the Pacific Fleet.

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The Pacific Fleet has also launched a surface action group and what they’re calling a search strike group (might be a naval variant of recon strike). The fleet is fielding different types of strike groupings and anti-submarine groupings of ships. Initial goal is to practice air defense, command and control, and survival skills in the water. However, they expect to be taking out enemy surface action groups and submarines soon.

Northern Fleet – Elements of NF have already made it to Chukotka, which means they’re going to be fighting the Pacific Fleet fairly soon. They’ve been traveling since August 8, taking breaks for different drills along the way. It seems they have three LSTs with naval infantry and units from the arctic motor-rifle brigade onboard. Apparently they conducted an amphibious assault on Chukotka, supported by fire from Kulakov (Udaloy-class), whereby the naval infantry first seized the beachead and the main body of forces then arrived via LST. Not much mention of other ships, hope they brought more than Kulakov along, but Eastern Med is probably sucking in a lot of available naval power. Marshall Ustinov (Slava-class) is heading the E. Med squadron instead of participating in these exercises.

Chinese participation: 24x rotary wing consisting of 6x Mi-171, 9x Z-9, 9x Z-19 + 6  fixed wing aircraft (looks like JH-7) and an unknown number of ground troops at ~3200 total?

Fun photos for our caption contest:

If you camo net the front of the TEL then nobody can see the launch tubes


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Day two is here, and I’m a bit behind in posting. Usually I get to these the night of. Photo-ops have begun, and there will be a large review of forces ala Zapad-1981 style, which I hope to cover later tonight. However, September 12 is still the preparatory phase. Special thanks for colleagues Kate Baughman and Jeff Edmonds who helped me put some of this together.

So far logistics and VDV seems to have the most interesting roles. The VDV commander is clearly making changes and experimenting with a few items in this exercise. Air defense and aerospace attack are taking place early, as are live fire launches for the navy. Much of the action seems to be planned for Tsygol, but Telemba range is seeing a lot of early activity.

Shoigu and Fenghe – Minister of Defense Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart visited the command point setup by 29th CAA from the Eastern MD, together with the one setup by the PLA. Supposedly Wei Fenghe complimented the Russian side, stating that the Chinese field command point was simple whereas the Russian one was more solid in nature. Shoigu in turn remarked that much of this comes from Russian combat experience in recent conflicts, and they’ve also leveraged the integration provided by the national defense management center.

Shoigu remarked that they’ve had several operations where the General Staff were able to directly control events in real time, and they’ve made great strides in C2 when it comes to controlling forces in a theater of military operations (TVD). The claim being that much of what is taking place in Tsygol can be controlled directly by the GS via the center in Moscow. No less interesting in this exchange is Fenghe’s supposed comment on the importance of Russian-Chinese military cooperation at the operational and strategic level. Shoigu then stated that they’ve agreed to hold exercises  of this sort regularly from now on.

beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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VKS Aerospace Forces – Russian Tu-95MS took off from an air base in Eastern MD, launched cruise missiles from an altitude over 5000 meters at the range in Telemba (2000km away). Air cover was provided by Su-35s, and in-flight refueling by Il-78 (at that range Tu-95MS doesn’t need it so probably practice for strategic mission).

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VDV Airborne – Cadets at Ryazan airborne school practiced loading different types of equipment onto Il-76MD aircraft as part of the strategic maneuvers. Serduykov seems to have included cadets and those in officer school in this exercise, which is a new development. The idea being to give those in late stages of education practical experience. According to the press, about 6000 airborne troops and 900 pieces of equipment from three units (mentioned in a previous post as 3 independent air assault brigades), and two detachments, are participating in Vostok. On Sept. 11 I saw discussion of three battalions being sent in total, one from each of these brigades, together with a separate comms detachment.

VDV praciting loading.JPG

At Tsygol, units from Ulyanovsk VDV air assault brigade will practice three different types of simultaneous assault, low altitude parachute, standard air assault, and assault without parachutes – repelling from helicopters (100-150m). They claim to be using as many as 45 Mi-8 helicopters at the same time in this simulated attack, with two Mi-26 (that will carry quite a few VDV if true), gunship support provided by 8x Ka-52s and 14x Mi-24s. Supposedly Mi-26 helicopters will be used to transport VDV Tigr vehicles, recon ATVs, and in ‘airborne-transport’ configuration can carry about 82 soldiers.

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VDV drilling.JPG

Eastern MD – At Telemeba air defense units from both VKS, and ground formations belonging to the Eastern and Central MD practiced air defense against massed aerospace attack, units employed include S-400, S-300, Buk, Tor, and Pantsir-S1. About 500 pieces of equipment and more than 1000 servicemen listed for this one.

Engineer and sapper units – busy setting up pontoon bridges, river crossings, and practicing demining with UR-77 Meteorit, and BMP-3M demining variants. Meanwhile in Zabaikal, CBRN units from Central MD were working to cover air fields with smoke and aerosol to hide them from visual, infrared, and radar based detection. They used TDA-3 smoke/aerosol machines, which create cover at about 15 meters, covering 7 hectares worth of terrain.

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Electronic warfare – Russian forces plan to use the latest generation EW and drone systems during the exercise, including Silok-01, Zhitel (the second one is quite old actually). Their objective is to defend against drone attack. Silok in particular is advertised as a system for detecting drones, while Zhitel can jamm their sensors. Supposedly both have been tested in Syria.

Russian Military Police used horses to patrol the area, and defend it from enemy reconnaissance units. Presumably they’re able to move much quieter  on horseback and sneak up on would be ‘diversionary-recon groups’

Central MD – Tactical aviation from CMD rebased to Krasnoyarsk and Perm regions, the exercise simulates them launching on alert to avoid incoming aerospace attack at their air bases and shifting to forward air fields. Mig-31BMs setup a combat air patrol, launching ‘under fire’ and practiced taking out incoming cruise missiles.  Missile brigade units from 41st CAA in Sverdlovsk have moved via rail to Astrakhan, and will be firing Iskander-Ms as part of the exercise. Apparently they’ve already conducted simulated electronic launches in preparation – planned firing range is several hundred kilometers, i.e in that operational-tactical 300-500km range.

Pacific Fleet – About 15 small anti-submarine ships, together Il-38 naval aviation and Ka-27PL helicopters conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise. Meanwhile 10 minesweeper ships practiced finding and destroying mines with contact and non-contact means. A surface action group consisting of one Sovremenny destroyer (Bystruiy) and two small missile boats launched three Moskit anti-ship missiles (looks like the destroyer did the firing) against a surface target at about 100km range.

Moskit fire

Northern Fleet -Seems to be busy navigating the ice on its way down to meet the Pacific Fleet. Kulakov’s small surface action group was on its way to Kamchatka, with ice breakers in the lead.

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Interesting photos from this day:

Gerasimov thinking of the choices he made in life that led to this exciting moment, undoubtedly he is paralyzed by the historic moment of a new Sino-Russian entente forming.

Gerasimovn thinking.jpg

Later on, trying to explain something to angry looking Shoigu (this is not possible since Shoigu knows everything).

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Vostok - Day 3 (September 13)

Russian and Chinese leadership at Tsygol range opened up Phase 2 of the exercise with a large review of forces. The optics were clearly meant to rekindle the images of Zapad-1981, with numerous vehicles and infantry arrayed in parade formation on the grounds of the range. Indeed the display was quite large, and it seemed clear by the number of Chinese tanks, SPA, wheeled and other vehicles that probably about 3,000 troops and several hundred pieces of equipment did actually come to join Russia in these strategic maneuvers. Judging by the reporting, it is likely most of the drills during Vostok are taking place at Tsygol and Telemba, i.e. it’s quite difficult to picture Vostok being all that large as an exercise. Right now, going off of fairly little (but still a lot more honest than 300,000), around 50,000 seems a much more reasonable number of participants.

DigitalGlobe had good satellite photos of some of the parade grounds at the range and exercises for a different perspective.

satellite

Of course Putin came to look through binoculars, because it wouldn’t be a strategic exercise otherwise. Note unlike in Zapad, where Putin and Lukashenko were not together in the same command center, we can see the Chinese counterparts sitting further along the table.

Putin came.JPG

More photos can be found on BMPD. But here’s s sample of some of the gear Chinese brought with them.

Chinese tanks.jpg

Chinese forces.jpg

As this is the opening of Phase 2, most of the activity was characterized by VDV air assaults, VKS bombing missions, combined arms artillery and motor rifle unit actions. Strong emphasis on employment of drones, integrated C2, and more ‘jointness’ so to speak between ground, airborne, and VKS forces. VDV seems to be conducted several force structure and air assault experiments, including with new light high mobility vehicles, creating a air mobile reserve, etc. Ground units are mostly doing what they do best, lots of artillery and MLRS fire, armored assault, etc.

Vostok 2018 military exercise in Transbaikal Territory, Russia

VDV Airborne – More than 700 soldiers and 51 vehicles (BMD-2) made a parachutte jump at Tsygol range. At the Belaya airfield near Irkutsk, a detachment of the Ulan-Ude air assault brigade loaded 25 Il-76MD transports. They were then air lifted ~1000km towards Zabaikal where they conducted a jump at 600 meters. The scenario was air assault and seizure of an enemy airfield. All together about 6000 VDV  and 900 pieces of equipment are taking part in Vostok, in earlier posts I mentioned these are units from 3 independent air assault brigades, and two additional special detachments.

VDV Ulan Ude assault brigade.JPG

As part of the scenario unfolding at Tsygol range, an air mobile battalion belonging to the 31st independent air assault brigade conducted an air assault on an enemy command center, with air support.  About 40 helicopters of Mi-8AMTSh were used (supposed capacity 26 soldiers), two Mi-26 helicopters, and more than 10 Mi-24 helicopters in support. They are billing this exercise as an experiment of a ‘new type’ of air assault detachment. There was also a mobile reserve in support of this assault, composed of light wheeled high mobility vehicles (pickups). Mi-26s delivered 8 of these light pickups, together with 4 armored Rys light vehicles equipped with Kornet ATGMs and Kord heavy machine guns.

airborne ATVs.JPG

VKS Aerospace Forces – About 40 bombers and strike fixed wing aircraft were used in an attack on opposing ground forces, key infrastructure, and staged reserves. Units involved fielded Tu-22M3, Su-34, Su-24, and Su-25SM strike aircraft. Air cover provided by Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters. Strikes were coordinated via ground based C2 system Strelets, and Orlan-10 drones.

Tu-22M3.JPG

Eastern MD – Other activities of note: CBRN units used smoke and aerosol covers on more than 60 sq km, covering moving units and critical infrastructure – equipment used includes TDA-3K smoke machines, and RP3-8x aerosols. Anti-tank units belonging to a battalion tactical group of motor rifle and artillery units simulated strikes against enemy armor and fortified positions with 130mm Shturm-S ATGMs and Konkurs-M. Sapper units plan to use not only UR-77 Meteorit, BMP-3M, but also Uran-6 and Uran-9 UGVs for demining.

Tsygol Range – Seven artillery battalions created a rolling artillery barrage ahead of an advance, covering a line of ~3000 meters. A motor rifle battalion advanced, and there are photos of host of T-72B1 tanks engaged in a live fire exercise as part of this maneuver. They employed more than 150 pieces of artillery, including 2s3, 2s1, 2s19, Giatsint, and Pion. Meanwhile Iskander-M units fired two cruise missiles at critically important targets, at the same time a large artillery and MLRS barrage hit the opposing force. All together they employed 2 Iskander TELs, 52 MLRS systems, and 72 tube artillery. Targeting for the strike conducted via an air based system called Klever, with Su-24MP recon aviation, and Orlan-10 drones – they used live video feed for battle damage assessment. In one scenario, Russian and Chinese artillery units simultaneously attacked enemy forward command posts. Russian BM-27 Uragan were employed together with Chinese Type-81 MLRS.

Motor rifle bttn.JPG

Artillery units will also practice employing precision guided munitions called Krasnopol, these will be fired by MSTA-S and 2s3 Akatsiya, Granat-4 short range drones are to be used for targeting. Krasnopol is a 152mm semi-active laser guided munition which can be used by most self-propelled and towed artillery.

life fire.jpg

Of course a detachment of Terminator BMPT, heavy tank support vehicles will make another debut at Tsygol, undoubtedly in the hope that someone will buy them. They were first  featured in Zapad 2017 in desert camo paint, undoubtedly marketed towards a certain set of countries that like to buy equipment in such colors.

Interesting photos emerged of drone companies, fielding both Orlan-10s, but also counter drone hand held weapons, that are worth noting.

drone company.JPG

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Not much from the two fleets today, except that the squadron in the Eastern Mediterranean is still there, and recently concluded a first time joint exercise with Russian VKS. A sizable grouping of ships and a few submarines remains there.

Some additional photos of note:

Parachute jump skeptic

in airborne now.JPG

Of course you can’t assault an enemy airbase without taking a photo first

can't assault an enemy airbase without a photo.JPG

And a time honored tradition emerging from modern exercises, people pointing at screens:

pointing at screens.jpg


Vostok Day 4

Most of the exercises are taking place at Tsugol and Telemba, but there was word today of various live fire events from a few of the other ranges. Elements of 5th CAA are at Bikinskiy, and the air force is doing most of its bombing runs at Mukhor-Kondui. More word from the two fleets, the Northern Fleet is exercising in the Bering Sea, while the Pacific Fleet has launched a surface action group together with support ships and a number of smaller vessels. Less news from the airborne on this day, but some interesting simulations among air defense forces, CBRN troops, and engineer units. Across the ranges where most of the forces are staged the day was taken up by artillery and MLRS fires, together with combat maneuvers by motor rifle battalions.

VKS Aerospace Forces – At Tusgol, Russia employed A-50U (AWACS system) in conjunction with Mig-31BM, Su-35S, and Su-30SMs conducting combat air patrols and simulating intercepts. Meanwhile at Mukhor-Kondui, another  range with targets for the air force, Russia’s air force conducted several air strikes with mostly unguided munitions. Including about 30 aircraft consisting of Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-24M, and Su-25s. Their target was a column of enemy armor and artillery on the march. Coordinates and targeting relayed by Su-24MP.

Su-25s about to fire unguided rockets (Mukhor-Kondui)

Su-25s.JPG

Followed by bombing passes from Su-30SM and Su-24 bombers

Su-30sm.JPG

Some word on the earlier air strike with cruise missiles, IZ reported it as 4xTu-95MS and 6xTu-22M3 participating. The Tu-95MS flight in the first two days of the exercise clearly cut through the Alaska air identification zone for the United States, as F-22s were sent up to greet them. The need for air refueling during this flight now makes sense since they seemingly made a large lap before firing missiles at the target range.

F-22 and Tu-95MS.JPG

VDV Airborne – Seems they conducted an airborne drop of one battalion, together with a heliborne assault with soldiers repelling. I honestly can’t say if this took place on the 14th, or if the photos are from the 13th. Part of the problem is some nice people seem to have taken down the Russian MoD website making it a bit difficult to compare announcements and images from the two days.

airborne repelling.jpg

Eastern MD – CBRN troops simulated an emergency chemical cleanup whereby several railcars carrying dangerous/toxic chemicals spilled their load, presumably onto the roadway and the surrounding area. Supposedly about 1,500 CBRN troops, and 300 pieces of equipment are taking part in the exercises, using RHM-6 chemical detector systems, and RPM-2 radiological detectors. Engineer units also simulated a natural and/or man-made disaster, testing their ability to manage flooding, evacuation of the local population, dealing with unexploded ordnance, etc. About 350 soldiers listed for this one, with 80 pieces of equipment including excavators, cranes, floating transports, etc.

At Telemba range, Col Tikhonov, commander of 76th Air Defense division, highlighted the use of air defense targets designed to simulate small radar profiles, i.e. low observation aircraft and cruise missiles. Not only did they use the typical dummy missiles, and conventional targets, but they wanted to replicate a large scale aerospace attack with cruise missiles. The addition of targets with small radar cross sections seems new  compared to previous exercises.

At Tsugol there was a sizable artillery and MLRS live fire exercise, different types of self-propelled and towed artillery involved, together with BM-21 and BM-27 MLRS.

2s3 firing.jpg

Tsugol BM-27 firing.JPG

At Bikinskyi range, in Khabarovsk, a motor rifle unit of the 5th CAA stopped an advancing opposing force. Air defense units assigned to them, including ZSU-23-4 shilka, and Igla manpads, were fired to simulate defending against enemy air power. Artillery units with BM-21 Grad were similarly engaged in supporting the defending motor rifle formation. All together at this range they are listing 200 pieces of equipment, and 1700 troops. The number suggests that this is a battalion tactical group, with short range air defense and MLRS units assigned to it.

Elements of 5th CAA

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This is rather small by the way, and I suspect at the end of all the announcements, if we add up all the troops listed as participating at the individual ranges over the period of these eight days, we’re going to have a hard time coming up not only with 300,000 but probably with anything approaching 50,000-70,000. Recalling we have 5 combined arms ranges, 4 air defense ranges, and two gulfs as the overall area of the exercise.

tanks at Tsugol.jpg

As an aside, there are several exercises, annual certification checks, and live fire drills going on in other military districts. At the same time, the Southern MD is hosting a sizable exercise with about 5,000 troops, including air defense, artillery, missile, and air force units. About 500 pieces of artillery, MLRS, listed, including BM-21, BM-27, BM-30, Tulpan 240mm mortar, Iskander-M, and several ships participating. About 20 fixed and rotary wing aviation involved in this exercise. Black Sea Fleet coastal defense forces (ground forces part of its army corps) held several smaller exercises of their own, simulating defense against diversionary forces attacking its bases. Dvornikov is placing emphasis on working out the recon-strike contour, command and control across his district for employing long range firepower, i.e. cruise missiles and the like at operational ranges. It seems he’s trying to bring experience from the Syrian war to the district.

Pacific Fleet – Several ships from the fleet escorted a Russian squadron near the Sea of Okhotsk. Varyag (Slava-class guided missile cruiser), together with Bystruy (Sov destroyer), two  Udaloy class large anti-submarine warfare ships and other smaller vessels served as escorts to Irtysh, a hospital ship, and several LSTs. The SAG seems to consist of 2x Udaloy, 1x Sov, and 1xSlava-class with a few support ships and LSTs. The exercise involved changing formation, arraying the surface action group for air defense, signaling, C2, and anti-submarine warfare. Ka-27 helicopters carried onboard the larger combatants also participated in the exercise. All together about 15-20 ships from the Pacific Fleet are listed for this exercise. I say 15-20 because Russian MoD announcements can’t agree whether it was 15 or 20, depending on which one you read.

Pacific SAG

Pacific Fleet.JPG

Northern Fleet – Elements of the Northern Fleet’s specialized Arctic brigade, which were dropped off two days ago on Chukotka, marched from their landing point to the Pacific coastline, i.e. they drove 270km on their articulated DT-10P vehicles over the course of two days. Along the way they practiced raiding enemy formations, some live fire drills, etc. This is an interesting exercise, noting that the small surface action group sent by the Northern Fleet has been traveling since August 8th, conducting multiple landings with both naval infantry and the arctic brigade detachment. The rest of the surface action group spent this day in the Bering Sea, practicing search and rescue operations. Their mission was to aid a ship in distress along the northern sea route. Kulakov (Udaloy-class) conducted search operations with its Ka-27 onboard helicopter, which then practiced evacuating individuals from the supposed vessel, together with a rescue party launched from the ship on small high speed boats. Meanwhile their large tug, Pamir, and the diesel-electric ice breaker Ilya Muromets, practiced firefighting at sea.

Kulakov launching Ka-27

Kulakov

Ilya Muromets firefighting together with the large ocean going tug

firefighting.JPG

I would note that today the Russian MoD website appears to be down, and I would bet a good deal of money that it is likely due to a DDOS attack.

Some additional photos of note:

Russian and PLA forces coordinating something

lost in translation

The display signs at Tsugol – this seems to be the Chinese contingent section

best friends forever.jpg


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