President Vladimir Putin has warned that naval vessels will be put on permanent standby due to continued threats faced by Russian forces in Syria. The statement came amid growing tensions between Russia and the Western bloc in the region, particularly following a joint attack by U.S., French and British forces on Syrian government infrastructure in April 2018 which Moscow labelled an illegal act of aggression against its longstanding Middle Eastern ally. The President stated regarding the development in the Russian military: “Due to the remaining threat of incursions by international terrorists in Syria, our ships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles will be constantly deployed in the Mediterranean Sea." The threat of terrorism may well have been used a pretext for placing the Navy on high alert aimed at deterring further military action by the Western bloc. While the threat posed by Islamist groups has notably subsided as their territory has been lost the threat posed by a potential Western armed intervention, frequently threatened by European leaders, remains high.
The President continued regarding the naval component of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces: “Some 102 sea campaigns by Russia's ships and submarines are to take place. It is necessary to bolster the marine component of the strategic nuclear forces. It will enhance the Navy’s capacity in nuclear deterrence. Developing multifunctional vessel groups, which should effectively fend off military threats on the sea, remains an important task. I also require special attention to be paid to coordination of such groups with the Aerospace Forces and other troops… As before, the quality and timing requirements for the state defense orders should be kept most stringent. There are, of course, problematic issues related to manufacturing new equipment and to repairing surface ships and submarines. We’ll listen to concrete solutions on these issues.”
Russia’s emphasis on asymmetric capabilities, including nuclear weapons, submarines and cruise missiles capable of travelling several times the speed of sound, are all key to its military doctrine - particularly following deep cuts recently made to defence spending to free resources for economic development. The Kalibr cruise missile, currently relied on heavily to protect Russian forces in Syria, entered service in 2012, and is currently deployed by the Navy's submarines and surface warships. Similarly to the Brahmos missile developed by Russia for the Indian military, the Kalibr is designed to maximise impact speeds and devastate enemy surface warships with a single strike - differing starkly from Western navies which rely on subsonic platforms such as the Tomahawk. The Kalibr can skim water surfaces at extremely low altitudes, making difficult to detect and near impossible to intercept. Its impact speed can reach Mach 2.9 - enough to tear a medium sized warship in half with the sheer kinetic force imparted by its impact. The Kalbr’s sizeable 500kg warhead further contributes to its lethality, and the missile is capable of carrying out tactical nuclear strikes using specialised warheads. The missile had been used to target Islamist insurgent groups in Syria in the past, and is set to be developed into air launched variants much as the Brahmos has. The Kalibr is key to providing Russian forces with an asymmetric advantage against larger naval forces, and has been exported to India, Vietnam, Algeria and China to arm Russian made Kilo Class attack submarines. Iran is also reportedly negotiating for the purchase of the missiles for its own submarine fleet.