01 August 2008

* Russia: The Challenges of Global Reach

Russia plans to upgrade its Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile
submarines and eventually build a small fleet of new aircraft carriers, the
chief of the Russian navy said July 27. Russia has slowly been turning its
military fortunes around from the decay and decline of the 1990s, and it
could be close to having the foundation for reaching some of its goals.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the Russian navy.
During the celebration of Russia's Navy Day on July 27, the country's senior
naval officer, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, articulated two points and echoed a
third made July 25 about the future of the Russian fleet. Though his claims
remain just that, they warrant further analysis, given that they will go to
the heart of Russia's global military reach.

Back on July 25, Vysotsky insisted that new nuclear-powered ballistic
missile submarines (SSBNs) and attack submarines (SSNs) are top priorities
for the Russian navy. Two days later, he further explained that the new
Borei (Project 955) SSBN design will be upgraded starting with the fourth
hull of the class -- the next to be laid down -- while preliminary research
is under way on a new architecture for future aircraft carrier groups,
including coordination and contact with a "space group." Vysotsky hopes to
one day have five or six such carrier groups, though design work has not yet


The lead boat of the Borei class, the Yuri Dolgoruky, was only just launched
last year, more than a decade after its keel was laid. It underwent a
dramatic redesign when the initial submarine-launched ballistic missile
(SLBM) with which it was to be outfitted failed repeatedly in testing and
was scrapped. Though the Yuri Dolgoruky is now being fitted out and two
sister ships are already under construction, the replacement Bulava SLBM
(known to NATO as the SS-NX-30) also has yet to mature. The Bulava fared
poorly in testing, with three consecutive failures toward the end of 2006
and another in 2007. (There are rumors that testing will resume soon.)

An SSBN and SLBM represent a complex synthesis of some of the most advanced
technologies available to mankind. One must be carefully designed and
tailored to work with the other. To develop, design, alter and produce both
at once is a very risky proposition. Further complicating the matter, a rush
forward with production has left Moscow working with not just one, but three
hulls at various stages of completion even before the missile -- also
supposedly entering production -- is flying properly, and before integration
has been completed on a single boat.

Vysotsky's point about "upgrading" the fourth hull simply means that the
Russians hope to have the kinks hammered out and the SLBM fully integrated
by the time the fourth hull really starts to take shape. In other words, the
hope is that the fourth hull will be the first true "production" hull -- the
first with the design more or less fixed from the start.

While this is obviously less than optimal, Russia is working with what it
has in hand, and it would be wrong to assume that the Russians' troubles
with the Bulava are insurmountable.

Ultimately, Russia is committed to the sea leg of its nuclear triad and is
working deliberately -- if slowly -- to build the submarines that will carry
its deterrent toward the middle of this century.


Meanwhile, the last Akula II attack boat, laid down in the mid-1980s, is
currently in trials (though there are rumors that this boat might be leased
to India). The Akula IIs are by most accounts exceptional attack submarines,
with levels of quieting comparable to or better than the U.S. improved Los
Angeles class.

The launch of the Severodvinsk (of the Yasen or Project 885 class), the
first new SSN to be designed and built since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, is expected in 2009. Some sources suggest that a second of the class
is already under construction, and that more could follow.

Though the Yasen class incorporates some modern design features with which
Russian engineers have little experience, there is little doubt that the
architecture relies substantially on the success of the Akula series, and
comparable or better quality can be expected.

The SSN fleet is important for Moscow because of its geography. Split not
only between two oceans, but also among many bodies of water, Russia's fleet
is based far from the world's major sea lines of communication and often on
the wrong side of chokepoints and technologically superior naval forces. The
Soviets favored SSNs to hold those lines at risk, because their stealth and
range allowed them to operate far from home port.

The Carrier

Russia's talk of aircraft carriers is at once the most treacherous and the
most ambitious. Stratfor has remarked before that the pursuit of a massive
carrier fleet can be a path of folly, given not only the investment, but
also the institutional skill needed to conduct deployments and flight deck
operations -- to say nothing of doing it well. The commitment of resources
and effort, in other words, can often be used more effectively elsewhere.

Moreover, the Soviet Union has long struggled with carriers. Though it
repeatedly had ambitions of a carrier fleet comparable to or second only to
the United States', the Kremlin only commissioned a full-deck carrier
capable of launching conventional fixed wing aircraft in 1990: the Admiral

At nearly 60,000 tons and capable of embarking a large squadron of some 18
navalized Su-33 Flanker fighters, the Kuznetsov is larger than any other
aircraft carrier in the world except those of the U.S. Navy. While five or
six carriers over anything but the very long term might be ambitious to a
fault for Russia, Russian shipyards are capable of building a ship of that

While Russia lacks much institutional knowledge about flight deck
operations, the capability to regularly park very capable Flankers in the
Mediterranean and beyond would be a significant shift in the global maritime
balance, even if the ship and its escorts would likely fare poorly in an
actual shooting war with U.S. and NATO naval formations.

While Vysotsky's hint was only vague (and it largely looks like research is
still ongoing), Russia's new concept for carrier groups might include much
higher integration with space-based sensors and platforms than ever before
-- an important objective if Russia hopes to even attempt to operate
effectively far from its own shores in the 21st century.

In Context

Ultimately, Russia is beginning to rebuild from the ashes of the Soviet
Union (in many cases with the benefit of the height of Soviet technology).
But rebuilding a navy is about more than just hardware, and complex tasks
like sustained flight deck operations and anti-submarine warfare are some of
the most advanced techniques a navy can learn -- in other words, they are
often the last things a navy learns and the first it forgets.

Though some drills and occasional deployments are taking place, the Russian
navy has a long way to go before truly regaining its proficiency from Soviet
days. Nevertheless, it is wrong to judge the Russian military by the
established standards of modern military thought. The Soviet solution to a
problem was always a bit more quantitative and brute-force than a U.S. or
NATO solution.

None of this is to deny or understate the challenges that Moscow faces.
Rather, Stratfor is highlighting that the Russian navy is currently slated
to have several new SSBNs and several more new SSN hulls in the water in
three to five years, and could actually be investing significantly in
constituting a small carrier fleet by then. While this might not win Moscow
any wars with the world's first-rate naval powers, it could begin to afford
the Kremlin global military capabilities that it has long suffered without.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.