Two Russian guided missile cruisers from Russia’s Northern and Pacific Fleets met off the coast of Syria as part of a formation of 16 Russian Navy ships, satellite photos showed on Thursday.
Slava RTS-class cruisers Marshal Ustinov (055) and RFS Varyag (011) were part of a 16-ship formation in Syrian territorial waters near Russia’s only foreign naval base in Tartous, captured by European Space Agency satellite imagery, reported Naval News.
“It is the concentration of almost the entire Russian Navy in the Mediterranean, in one place. Ordinarily, these ships would operate in separate groups,” the report read. Naval News.
The formation includes the two Slavas, two Udaloy-class destroyers, two guided missile frigates, two Kilo diesel-electric attack submarines, a Buyan-class corvette, two assault boats and a variety of auxiliary vessels.
The two Slavas had operated at either end of the Mediterranean at the head of two separate surface action groups. A third Slava, RTS Moscow (121), is in the Black Sea.
The 11,500-ton Slavas were designed around launchers that could hold 16 SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship cruise missiles – each the size of a telephone pole. The ships and missiles of the 1970s were designed to combat US and NATO aircraft carriers by overwhelming them with a barrage of high-speed cruise missiles to sink the ships.
The training resembles a photographic exercise rather than military training. PHOTOEXs, held by navies around the world, are designed to produce spectacular photographs of ships in naval formations that otherwise have limited operational value.
While the Slavas operations are partly aimed at sending a provocative message to NATO forces, officials say the actual capabilities of the Russian surface fleet in the Mediterranean are exceeded by the sole US assets deployed in the region.
On Tuesday, defense officials confirmed that the cruisers’ intent was likely to complicate the operations of three NATO carrier battle groups also operating in the Mediterranean.
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), TSI Cavour (CVH-550) and French Navy aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) their air escorts and wings were part of an ongoing comfort mission to NATO allies in the run-up to Thursday’s invasion.
There are about a dozen US guided-missile cruisers and destroyers in the US 6th Fleet, and some have broken into the area in the past two months.
Four East Coast Guided Missile Destroyers – USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), USS Mitscher (DDG-57), USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) and USS González (DDG-66) – departed in January for Europe as Russian ships left the Arctic and the Pacific, USNI News reported.
These ships are in addition to the forward deployed USS Ross (DDG-71), USS Roosevelt (DDG-80), USS Carry (DDG-78) and USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), and the escorts of the Harry S. Truman CSG.
Last week, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said the US Navy was well prepared to interact with the Russian Navy in the region.
“We operate in and around Russians and Chinese all the time. So it’s nothing new,” he said on Friday when asked by reporters about Russian cruisers.
“Given the current situation, the risk of miscalculation is greater. That is why we are training at a very high level so that when we find our ships in situations like this, [commanders] that we act in a way that is not provocative and that we communicate very clearly that we are not cowboys there. Our intentions are to be responsible professionals there.
The next moves for the Slavas are unclear. The latest surface action group to visit Russia’s Tartous naval base resupplied its ships and headed to the Black Sea to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.