Afraid of Ukrainian missiles, Russians chain air defense vehicles to ships

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The Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet still attaches Tor air defense vehicles to at least one of its corvettes, clearly hoping to protect the warship from Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.

Although not as hopeless as it first appears, the M2KM model of the base Tor system is supposed for shipboard use, it’s debatable whether tethering the Tor actually helps in combat conditions. The Ukrainians knocked out a bunch of vehicles, including at least one aboard a ship.

Photos circulated online Wednesday showing a 308ft Project 22160 patrol vessel – one of four in service with the Black Sea Fleet – sailing near Sevastopol with a Tor-M2KM chained to its helicopter deck .

A Tor is an autonomous system with its own generator, radars and missiles. Weighing just 15 tons, it is suitable as an add-on for ships lacking major organic air defenses. In 2017, the Black Sea Fleet tested a Tor-M2KM aboard one of its frigates.

That is to say, the Russians do not improvise when rolling a Tor on a ship. This has been the plan for years. But that don’t mean the plan works.

The Black Sea Fleet paints the hull numbers of its ships in order to complicate ship tracking efforts, so it’s hard to say for sure if the gun-armed Project 22160 in the recent photo is the same ship that packed a parked Tor in photos from early June.

Either way, it’s obvious that the Black Sea Fleet would combine patrol ships and Tors. After losing the Missile Cruiser Moscow to a pair of Ukrainian Neptune missiles in April, the Black Sea Fleet is reduced to just two air defense ships, both Admiral Grigorovichclass frigates -, each with 24 Buk medium-range surface-to-air missiles.

To prevent the frigates from suffering the same fate as Moscow, the fleet usually keeps ships about a hundred miles from the Ukrainian coast. It’s too far for the Ukrainian Neptune and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. But it’s too too far for the frigates with their 30-mile Buks to provide sufficient protection for the smaller, more lightly armed vessels patrolling closer to the coast.

Surviving patrol boats, support ships, landing craft and corvettes from the Black Sea Fleet stand alone as they ply the waters of the western Black Sea, where the Russians are struggling to maintain a blockade of Ukrainian grain ports. While Odessa, Ukraine’s biggest port, remains closed, cargo ships have started transporting grain from inland ports via the Danube Canal.

The Ukrainian Navy no longer has a surface fleet, but its missiles and drones have proven to be effective sea denial weapons. The navy, with great help from the army and air force, late last month withdrew the last Russian troops from Snake Island in Ukraine, 80 miles south of Odessa and only 20 miles east of the Danube Delta.

The liberation of Snake Island was key to the opening of inland ports. The battle on this small treeless island was also a spectacular demonstration of the effectiveness – or ineffectiveness – of Tor in its anti-missile role.

The Russian garrison on Snake Island had at least two Tors. A Ukrainian drone destroyed one. The Russians abandoned another as they fled the island.

One of the ships of the Black Sea Fleet making the dangerous supply run from Crimea to Snake Island, the salvage tug Vasily Bekhhad a Tor on board when a Ukrainian harpoon sank the ship on 17 June.

It’s possible Vasily Bekh simply dispatched the Tor to the island to reinforce the garrison. It’s also possible that the tugboat crew used the Tor the same way the crew of Project 22160 uses their own Tor: as a defense against missile attacks. If the latter, it should go without saying, it didn’t work.

Indeed, various Tors – at sea and on Snake Island – failed to prevent the Ukrainians from creating a virtual no-go zone for Russian forces in the western Black Sea. If a Neptune or Harpoon battery draws a pearl on this Project 22160 with its air defenses attached, the corvette crew could be in big trouble.

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