Russia's Defended Submarine Base In The Med: Tartus, Syria
During the Cold War the Russian Navy (then Soviet Navy) maintained a permanent squadron of warships in the Mediterranean. With the collapse of the USSR and subsequent low-point of the Russian Navy this was abandoned. However, since Russia's intervention in the war in Syria the naval squadron has been reestablished. In the future it may have a base in Libya, but for the moment its only base is in Tartus in Syria.
The squadron includes two submarines, which are stationed in Tartus. This article is about the base's defenses.
Two Pr.636.3 Improved-KILO Class submarines from the Black Sea fleet are routinely deployed there. This is controversial as it stretches interpretations of the Montreux Convention which is intended to prevent submarines from passing between the Black Sea and Mediterranean. The submarines are equipped with the Kalibr land-attack cruise missile.
To protect the naval and logistics assets Russia has deployed an array of radar and local air defenses directly to the port area. P-18 SPOON REST-D, Kasta 2E FLAT FACE-E, Podlet K1 and Monolit-B radars are all present. And a multitude of communications systems. The Monolit-B is placed on the end of the pier, while the rest are in a protected area on the north-east shore line.
The most visible air defense unit is a single Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 GREYHOUND) missile/gun system. This appears to be permanently positioned on the to northern harbor wall. Less obviously, there are also at least two Tor (SA-15 GAUNTLET) systems in the same area.
Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 GREYHOUND) missile/gun system
The Russian Navy deployed marine mammals to Tartus in Syria during September-December 2018. The animals, most likely dolphins, were positioned next to the harbor defense units which were also being boosted around that time.
It seems most likely that they were there to perform harbor defense duties of some kind. The Russian Navy is known to train sea mammals to perform anti-diver operations. They could possibly also be used to protect the undersea pipe lines near the port which have been targeted by opposition divers.
Based on analysis of satellite Imagery, the marine mammal pens were present on September 30 2018, and again on November 8 2018. But they were not present on February 4 2019. Using lower resolution Sentinel Hub data, with correspondingly lower levels of confidence, they do not appear to have been present on September 18 2018. But were there by September 28. And they appear to have been removed by December 22 2018.
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The marine mammals likely came from the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet. There is a unit based near Sevastopol in Crimea. The Black Sea Fleet regularly deploys warships to Tartus.
source Capt_Navy, Twitter
This unit, at Kazachya Bukhta near Sevastopol, was the Russian Navy's main marine mammal establishment during the Cold War. However it found itself in the newly independent Ukraine after the fall of the USSR, and was inducted into the Ukrainian Navy. Like many units it lapsed into non-operational status and was used as a tourist attraction. More recently it was re-established as an operational unit, but then captured by Russia during the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The unit is still active and is known to use dolphins. It may use seals also.
It is unclear why they were there for only a few months. Their mission may have been specific and of a fixed duration. Or possibly it was an experimental deployment to build the Russian Navy's resurgent marine mammal program's capabilities. Or possibly the deployment was not considered a success and was abandoned.
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The port is defended by an array of anti-sabotage units. There are counter-divers armed with
APS-5 underwater assault rifles and SPP-1 underwater pistols. There are two Pr.21980 Grachonok Class anti-sabotage boats, four assault boats and an array of smaller craft used to patrol the harbor. Russian warships are generally equipped with pedestal mounted multi-barrel anti-diver grenade launchers.
In June 2019 five underwater pipelines have been damaged and put out of order after a sabotage attack. Divers placed explosives on the pipeline off the coastal town of Banias, about 25 miles north of the port.
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