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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval

Russia Has Big Plans for its Marines and Amphibious Warfare; Naval Infantry an Increasingly Lethal Asset for Power Projection

July 03rd - 2018

Officially called the Russian Naval Infantry, more commonly known as the Russian Marines, serve as an amphibious force similar to its U.S. counterpart though under the Russian Navy rather than as a separate arm of the military. While America’s vast navy and numerous military interventions abroad since the Second World War have led to the Marine Corps’ growth into a small army of its own, numbering 180,000 soldiers and over 1000 manned aircraft, as a more defensively oriented military power which has maintained a far smaller military footprint abroad the Russian Naval infantry remain a considerably smaller force of just 12,000 personnel - including several hundred elite naval Spetsnaz units. Also unlike the U.S. Marines, which played a leading role in the invasions of Imperial Japanese held territories across the Pacific, were key to turning the tide in the early months of the Korean War and saving the Army from a months long retreat, and have since played key roles in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the Russian Marines have played a far quieter roe in the country’s own military history - with their only prolific deployment being in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Perhaps as a result of seeing the value of an amphibious assault force, combined with the growing strategic importance of the Pacific theatre where such capabilities are highly valuable, Russia has increasingly invested in upgrading the capabilities of its Marines into a major tool for power projection - possibly one that can qualitatively rival that of the United States in years to come. To this end, alongside the commissioning of new amphibious landing ships, the Russian Navy is also set to built four amphibious assault ships capable of transporting Marine divisions complete with armoured vehicles and air support to shore - either for beachhead assaults on enemy positions or to rapidly respond to threats against Russia’s allies. With France having cancelled a joint program to build four amphibious assault ships with Russia, two at French shipyards and two in Russia itself, Russian military shipbuilders have embarked on by far their their most ambitious and largest surface warship building program since the Soviet era.

According Navy Deputy Commander in Chief Viktor Bursuk two amphibious assault ship variants are planned, which he referred to as a “universal amphibious assault ship” and “large amphibious assault ship.” These warships are estimated to carry approximately 700 and 1,200 Marines respectively, and will be able to deploy heavily armed attack helicopters such as the Ka-52 Alligator to provide air support. A number of sources have also indicated that, alongside investment in developing helicopter carrying warships, Russia has also invested in developing fixed wing combat aircraft capable of deploying from their decks to support Marines in combat - much like the U.S. Marine Corps rely on the Harrier Jump Jet and F-35B. Restarting of the Yak-141 vertical takeoff and landing (VOTL) jet, a platform which reached late development stages with four working prototypes at the time of the Soviet Union’s disintegration, remains a considerable possibility, which alongside elite combat helicopters would provide key support to the Naval Infantry’s amphibious assaults. Armoured support may also be provided by the BMMP armoured fighting vehicle, a heavily armed, tracked naval variant of the BMP. A naval infantry version of the Bumerang BTR armoured fighting vehicle is also under consideration, and these vehicles will be able to embark on the assault vessels alongside the marines and aircraft.

Russia’s Marines have notably begun to play an increasingly important role in recent years, and in late 2017 they staged a major show of force in country’s Far East near the Korean Peninsula at a time of escalating U.S. threats against North Korea. The exercises coincided with both American Vigilant Ace drills in South Korea simulating an attack on Pyongyang and massive drills by 40 Chinese naval vessels in the nearby East China Sea demonstrating their anti missile and emergency response capabilities. With the Marines’ deployment coming shortly after both Russia and China announced red lines should Washington initiate military action against their neighbour, and with both states having moved extensive air defence assets to the Korean border with enough coverage to protect North Korean airspace, the Russian naval infantry played a key part in demonstrating Russia’s ability to rapidly intervene in its partner’s defence in the face of a Western attack. With increasing investments being made in modernising the capabilities of Marine units, which according to the Ukrainian government have also been involved in aiding the defence of the separatist self proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic near the Russian border, it is likely that the Russian Naval Infantry will increasingly be relied on as a key tool of Moscow’s foreign policy beyond its borders. With Russia looking to establish itself as a major power in the Asia-Pacific region, this remains a highly viable strategy.

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