It was 21 October 1967, when a three-missile salvo from a Soviet built 62-ton, Egyptian Komar-class missile boat sunk the INS Eilat with a new weapon, the P-15 Termit-class antiship missile (ASM).
Naval warfare changed dramatically. In fact, the revolution Jeune École [“Young School”] sought to launch a century before happened because the technology arrived. The Soviet Navy immediately recognized both the advantages and shortcomings of this new technology, and saw its enormous promise. This was not the case with the U.S. Navy, which didn’t consider any cruise missile to be important enough to supplement, let alone substitute, U.S. carrier aviation.
Later, Elmo Zumwalt would recite in his memoirs a message he received (at the time he was serving as the head of the Division of Systems Analysis) through the Chief Naval Officer’s aide system that the new Harpoon cruise missile should not have a range of more than 50 miles. The Soviet Navy, not burdened by the politics of internal “trade unions,” had no problems with the range and, wanted both range and speeds of its ASMs to be as great as possible.
A new Russian Navy announced its arrival on 7 October 2015 with a salvo of 26 Kalibr (3M14) cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea at Islamic State targets in Syria. Out of the four ships which launched missiles, three of the project 21631 Buyan-class missile corvettes barely displaced 900 tons and would not be considered a serious combatant by any large navy. Yet, there they were small, inexpensive, and with a strategic reach of 2500 kilometers for their land attack weapons and ability to strike any surface target 600 kilometers away.
The Soviet and Russian Navy placed a great emphasis on its Mosquito missile fleet. So much so, that deploying those small ships to the Mediterranean became a permanent feature in operations of what was the Soviet Fifth Operational Squadron. But only with the maturing of missile and targeting technologies, which was demonstrated in Syria to a devastating effect, has the Jeune École promise envisioned by Admiral Aube has been fulfilled:
Tomorrow war breaks out; an autonomous torpedo boat—two officers, a dozen men—meets one of these liners carrying a cargo richer than that of the richest galleons of Spain and a crew and passengers of many hundreds…. The torpedo boat will follow from afar, invisible, the liner it has met; and, once night has fallen, perfectly silently and tranquilly it will send into the abyss liner, cargo, crew, passengers; and, his soul not only at rest but fully satisfied, the captain of the torpedo boat will continue his cruise.
The operations of Russian Navy’s Buyan-class missile ships made an impression globally, so much so that Milan Vego, a long-time authority on small combat craft and professor of joint military operations at the U.S. Naval War College, noted that many navalists overlook the capabilities of smaller craft. “We have been somehow dismissive about the increasing combat power of small combatants,” he said. “The US Navy and other navies, blue water navies, really have to pay more attention to what is going on. These smaller ships are less than 1,000 tons. It is very dangerous to be dismissive, especially in smaller straits where they can do a lot of damage.”
The Soviet and Russian Navy has never been dismissive of smaller ships. In fact, today these ships play an important role in a multipronged approach to Russia’s antiaccess/aerial denial (A2/AD) force structure, including the ability for inter-theater maneuvers with such ships, using Russia’s river waterways.
Construction plans for both the Buyan-class and the brand new Karakurt (project 22800) small-missile ships are impressive. Karakurts, unlike their Buyan-class predecessors, despite smaller displacement are much better sea keeping platforms, which also feature a more respectable organic air defense capability represented by a navalized version of the Pantzir air defense complex. Construction of 18 of these ships is planned.
Together with a dozen operational or under construction Buyans, such a force gives the Russian Navy both operational flexibility and distributed lethality. When operational, these small ships will give the Russian Navy around 240 missiles, both land attack and antiship, in a theoretical “first salvo” across several theaters.
When integrated into Russia’s A2/AD force with its air defense and air force components and combined with other naval assets, these small combatants will become a game-changer. They also are a perfect indicator of Russia’s limited naval ambitions, which are primarily defensive.
Considering a transitional period for Russia’s shipbuilding industry from foreign (Ukraine, Germany) power plant suppliers to domestic ones, and the inevitable delay in commissioning larger combatants such as the Frigates of project 11356, the role of Russia’s Mosquito fleet grows even larger in defense of Russia’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Source: US Naval Institute Blog