All original photos by alper böler Twitter @alperboler
Russian Naval vessels traveling from bases in the Black Sea to Syria, have to pass through the narrow Bosporus, a narrow strait between Europe and the Middle East. Turkey sits both sides of the strait, with the vessels passing directly through Istanbul. This means that Russian boats heading to Syria are closely monitored so cargos are normally carried below decks. However, some cargoes are too large to carry below, so are heavily camouflaged with netting. This does appear to be moderately effective against amateur observers (we can assume NATO intelligence sees straight through the nets) and some local newspapers have, understandably, misidentified what is being carried and reported Tanks being sent to Syria. Astute observers (particularly Twitter @alperboler) have however correctly identified two Assault Boats being transported through the Bosporus this morning.
The nets appear to be about 20-23m long and 7m high. The boats inside are likely shorter, maybe 17m long. We cannot be certain at this stage that they are Assault Boats, but they do match in terms of size, shape and context. And the ship carrying them, a Kashtan Class multi-role transport, is unusual in that it can load boats over the stern, making it a natural choice for this type of operation. They could be Kalashnikov BK-16 or BK-18 Assault Boats, at least one of which is based in Crimea on the Black Sea. However I suspect that they are more likely Project 03160 ‘Raptor’ which is 16.8m long and 7m from keel to radome, with aerials folded. Two Raptors have been sighted in Novorossiysk on the black Sea since end of December last year. It is possible that these are the two being transported.
What: The most likely cargo is two Project 03160 ‘Raptor’
Why: At this stage two scenarios can be put forward. The first is that the craft are intended to support Russian Spetsnaz employed in harbor defense in Syria. Assault boats appear to be employed in that manner in Crimea. They would also have the potential to serve as Special Forces transports and utility transports for future Russian operations along the Syrian coast and to a limited extent, on inland waterways. The second possibility is that these boats are being supplied to the Syrian Government to help reinvigorate the decaying Syrian Navy.
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Note that the above schematic shows a scale, revealing the boat to be 22m long overall. This contradicts the specs above. However, the Raptors deployed to the Black Sea have been confirmed as ~17m long per the below photograph which shows them against two patrol boats of known length.
Kalashnikov Pr.02510 BK-16 & BK-18
The BK-16 and BK-18 are shorter than the Raptor with the hull lengths indicated in the designation, e.g. 16m and 18m respectively. The overall length is possibly slightly longer, but noticeably shorter than camouflage netting on the Kashtan Class transport. They are also shorter. The BK-16/18 cannot be ruled out, but I feel that they are less likely than the Raptor.
One slightly confusing ID point however, is the vertical fender visible behind the netting in the below picture. This matches the BK-16/18 more than the Raptor. However, it is a common item which could easily have been tied to the Raptor’s railings.
More info at Kalashnikov Concern website.
Naval Spetsnaz in Hybrid Warfare (Russian SDVs and DPVs)
Jan 2016: Russian Raptor SF assault boats arrive in Black Sea
Jan 2016: New Russian SOF base in Crimea