MOSCOW, February 20 (RIA Novosti) – The combat capability of Russia’s naval task force in the Mediterranean will increase significantly following the first deliveries of Varshavyanka-class submarines to the Black Sea Fleet in 2015, Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov said Thursday.
Russia formed a permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean last year to defend its interests in the region. The move was widely seen, however, as a response to calls for international intervention in the worsening civil war in Syria, Russia’s longtime ally.
The task force currently consists of 12 warships and auxiliary vessels, including the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky and aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.
According to Chirkov, the Russian warships are taking part in an international operation to remove chemical weapons stockpiles from Syria.
“In general, the tasks assigned to the Mediterranean group are absolutely clear: to thwart any threat to Russia’s borders and security,” the admiral said, adding that it is normal practice for any country to keep naval assets in vital regions around the globe.
Chirkov said that the first Varshavyanka-class diesel-electric submarine, the Novorossiisk, will join the Black Sea Fleet in 2015.
The Defense Ministry has ordered a total of six Varshavyanka-class subs, dubbed “black holes in the ocean” by the US Navy because they are nearly undetectable when submerged.
According to the Admiralty shipyard in St. Petersburg, the second and third subs in the series will be floated out in May and June, respectively, “to be delivered to the customer by yearend.”
Construction of the fourth submarine – the Krasnodar – began at the shipyard Thursday.
The Varshavyanka-class (Project 636) is an improved version of the Kilo-class submarines and features advanced stealth technology, extended combat range and the ability to strike land, surface and underwater targets.
The submarines are mainly intended for anti-shipping and anti-submarine missions in relatively shallow waters.
The vessels, crewed by 52 submariners, have an underwater speed of 20 knots and a cruising range of 400 miles (650 kilometers) with the ability to patrol for 45 days. They are armed with 18 torpedoes and eight surface-to-air missiles.
The Black Sea Fleet has not received new submarines for decades and currently operates only one boat: the Kilo-class Alrosa, which joined the navy in 1990.