Special Operations: Spetsnaz Go To Sea

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October 8, 2018: During the naval exercises the Russians conducted off the Syrian coast in early September 2018 small teams of combat divers were seen operating from a submerged Kilo class diesel electric submarines. The Russian divers were using Western diving equipment they had purchased before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and before Russia was subject to sanctions. The Russian divers were seen using French and Italian scuba gear and German Black Shadow 730 DPVs (diver propulsion vehicles). These weigh 110 kg (221 pounds) and use lithium batteries to operate a water-jet propulsion system, visible underwater operator display and controls (speed, sonar, depth). The 730 can operate up to six hours underwater but three hours is more common. It all depends on speed and diving depth (up to 60 meters/192 feet). The 730 can travel as far as 30 kilometers underwater and are small enough to be stored in a 523mm (21 inch) torpedo tube (using a circular metal cage to carry the DPV) and extracted by divers under water. The combat divers can also exit and reenter the sub via the torpedo tubes. This would be done close to the surface, probably from periscope depth (10 meters/32 feet underwater). One 730 DPV can haul two divers or one diver and additional equipment. The Black Shadow DPVs are mainly sold to commercial divers or sports divers. There is a smaller version of the 730 called the 414 and updated (more compact and capable) versions of both have since been introduced. Given the limitation of these DPVs they would be most useful deploying small teams of combat divers for reconnaissance missions.

The Syria naval exercises also used two new FAC (Fast Attack Craft); the 25 ton BK-18 and the similar RM-17. Both are from the same manufacturer. The BK-18 has a crew of three and can carry 19 passengers (soldiers or civilians). Top speed is 72 kilometers an hour and cruising speed is 46 kilometers an hour. Max range is 720 kilometers and max endurance is two days. The RM-17 has a higher top speed (90 kilometers an hour) and range of only 320 kilometers. It has a remotely controlled 14.5mm machine-gun and mountings for two smaller caliber machine-guns. The RM-17 has passive optical sensors that can spot small objects at sea up to 3,000 meters away. The RM-17 also has a lot of lightweight armor and bullet resistant glass. Both the RM-17 and BK-18 entered service in 2015 for service in the Black and Baltic Seas. Both these boats were transported to the Syrian exercises on a larger ship.

Russia developed their first combat divers in the late 1930s and used them extensively during World War II. A force of over a thousand combat divers was maintained during the Cold War, more for defense against Western divers than for offensive operations. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the combat diver programmed declined through the 1990s. Many combat divers quit and sought commercial diving jobs. Others transferred to land-based Spetsnaz units. At the end of the 1990s the rebuilding began and over the next decade the Cold War era combat diver force was restored, at least in terms of numbers. There was not enough money to develop new equipment or buy foreign stuff. About 65 percent of the current combat divers are used for base defense (to detect and deal with enemy divers) while the rest are used for reconnaissance (from the sea) and sometimes for commando operations. Russia developed a lot of novel underwater weapons and other defensive gear during the Cold War. Some Russian defense firms have resumed developing and manufacturing combat diver gear. This stuff is offered for export as well as for Russian forces (when they can afford it).

 


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