Ships involved in the exercise include two corvettes, the Serpukhov and Zeleny Dol, armed with cruise missiles Russia used last year to hit Islamic State targets in Syria. That was an important first for Russian military technology. Only a handful of countries have sea-launched cruise missiles, which can hit with extreme precision at very long range, and Russia lagged far behind the US and the UK in this regard. Last year, the debut of the missiles, called Kalibr, against Islamic State showed Russia can match the Americans and their allies in an important military capability, reports Vice News.
Through its Black Sea Fleet, based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, the Russian navy has “certainly one of the most capable maritime forces in the region,” according to a paper published by the US Naval War College. Passing through the Dardanelles Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, Russian ships from Crimea are just a few days away from Tartus. There, they can land troops, tanks, helicopters and other equipment to support the Assad regime, which is locked with rebels in a tough battle for control of the key city of Aleppo, again reports Vice News.
Russia has 42 ships and six submarines in the Black Sea Fleet, the Naval War College paper noted, while the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean has only a command ship and four destroyers. However, the US can count on the navies of its NATO allies, while Russia is essentially by itself. Its ally Syria’s navy is a small force that cannot do much beyond coastal defense.
“The drills will check the ability of the fleet’s forces to operate in the conditions of resolving crisis situations of terrorist nature. The naval strike group comprising the small missile ships Serpukhov and Zelyony Dol will practice a number of assignments together with warships of the Russian Navy’s permanent grouping in the Mediterranean, including artillery and missile live-firing in the conditions maximally close to a real combat environment,” the Defense Ministry’s press office said in a statement, reports Russian state news agency TASS.