Surface Forces: Fleets Of The Caspian

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August 17, 2016: Since 2010 the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan has been working to upgrade its navy in order to better to protect its offshore oil facilities and the movement of oil cargoes. Oil accounts for about 13 percent of the Kazakhstan GDP. The initial plan was to purchase three corvettes from South Korea and three patrol boats. Instead of bringing in 1,200 ton corvettes (difficult but not impossible) Kazakhstan ordered three smaller (250 ton) missile (anti-aircraft and anti-ship) boats from a local shipbuilder. The first of the Kazakhstan class missile boats entered service in 2014 and two more are on the way. Local ship yards also built some new patrol boats and refurbished some of the older ones. The latest new naval ship to be delivered is a 13 meter (42 foot) “special operations” boat. This one is equipped with underwater detection sensors that can spot human swimmers approaching under water. The new patrol boat is meant for upgrading port security.

Kazakhstan has received large warships built elsewhere (like from Turkey) despite being landlocked. However, Kazakhstan does border the world's largest lake, the Caspian Sea. The Caspian is huge, at 371,000 square kilometers (about the same size as Poland). The Caspian is about a thousand kilometers long and 430 kilometers wide. It's saline, but only has about a third as salty as ocean water. The Caspian has a 7,000 kilometer long coastline, and 1,900 kilometers of it belongs to Kazakhstan (the rest belongs to Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan).

In 1952 a canal linking the Don and Volga rivers became operational giving the Caspian Sea access to the Black Sea and the world's oceans. However, the largest ships that can used the canal must be no more than 140 meters (434 feet) long, 17 meters (52 feet wide) and a draft of no more than 3.5 meters (10.8 feet). The canal moves over 12 million tons of cargo a year. About half of that was oil, or oil products.

Since the 19th century, a Russian (and later Soviet) flotilla was the largest naval force in the Caspian. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 Kazakhstan inherited some of that naval force and in 2010 had 3,000 naval personnel, but only a dozen coastal patrol boats (4 Almaty, 1 Dauntless, 5 Guardian, and 2 Zhuk class). Not all of these were in working order. By 2016 there were 15 patrol boats (including the new special operations one), most of them operational plus one 250 ton missile ship and two more on order.

Russia, which controls the Volga Don canal, and has the largest overall fleet and can put a lot more warships into Caspian waters than any of the other Caspian nations. Although all Caspian nations have, sort of, pledged not to get involved in a naval arms race, in 2010 Iran launched a 1,400 ton frigate into the Caspian and has brought in more warships large and small. The Russians still have the largest fleet in the Caspian and plan to keep it that way.

 


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