Russian Pacific Fleet Holds Exercises Off Siberia, Near Alaska

September 22, 2023 1:03 PM
Russian Navy cruiser RFS Varyag (011) and destroyer RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543). Japan MOD photo

Over the past two weeks, the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet has been conducting drills in the Chukchi and Bering Seas and the Chukchi Peninsula of Eastern Siberia, some of which have been observed by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Meanwhile, Royal Australian Navy ships have set out for a regional presence deployment to Southeast and Northeast Asia.

The Russian exercise – Fiscal 2023 – involves 10,000 Russian Navy Pacific Fleet personnel, ships, submarines, aircraft, helicopters, and coastal missile systems, and is focusing on communications defense along Russia’s Northern Sea Route. “All stages of the exercise are defensive in nature and are intended to improve the training of forces for operations on Russia’s north-eastern borders,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry (MOD) releases issued during the exercise.

On Monday, the Russian MOD stated that during the first stage of the exercise, cruiser RFS Varyag (011), submarine RFS Tomsk (K-150) and a K-300P Bastion-P mobile coastal-defense missile system conducted live cruise missile firings in the Bering Sea against a target position simulating a group of enemy ships. P-1000 Vulkan cruise missiles from Varyag, P-700 Granit cruise missiles from Tomsk and P-800 Oniks cruise missiles from the Bastion system all successfully hit their designated targets hundreds of kilometers away from the launch points, according to the release.

Both the U.S Navy and Coast Guard observed the Sept.15 exercise, with a Coast Guard release on Monday stating that USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756), in coordination with U.S. Northern Command, provided U.S. presence. Kimball patrolled approximately 300 miles southwest of St. Lawrence Island, in the vicinity of U.S. fishing vessels operating within the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) during the Russian military operations.

“Though military operations and exercises in international waters are lawful,” said Rear Adm. Megan Dean, 17th Coast Guard District commander, “we will continue to ensure there are no disruptions to U.S. interests or commerce in the maritime environment around Alaska.” The Russian MOD–owned TV station Zvezda, which was onboard Varyag during the exercise, showed footage of a U.S. Navy P-8 flying overhead and Kimball nearby as Tomsk surfaced.

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, September 19, 2022. Coast Guard Photo

A Tuesday Russian MOD release stated that two MiG-31 fighters launched from Anadyr airfield intercepted and used air-to-air missiles to destroy aerial targets simulating cruise missiles over the Chukchi Peninsula. On Wednesday, another Russian MOD release stated that corvette RFS Gremyashchiy (337) fired Kalibr cruise missiles and successfully hit a naval target 186 miles away. The target was simulating an enemy ship approaching the border of Russian territorial waters. A Thursday release stated that Gremyashchiy, together with corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333), RFS Ust-Ilimsk (362) and RFS MPK-107 (332) carried out antisubmarine drills with Il-38 antisubmarine aircraft of the Russian Pacific Fleet Naval Aviation and a Russian Pacific Fleet submarine acting as the adversary. Russia has not revealed when the drills will end.

Meanwhile, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has begun a regional presence deployment to Southeast and Northeast Asia, deploying destroyer HMAS Brisbane (DDG41), frigate HMAS Toowoomba (FFH156) and fleet oiler HMAS Stalwart (A304). Australia has released few details in regard to the deployment but Brisbane and Toowoomba are expected to divide. One ship likely will head to Northeast Asia to engage in exercises and conduct patrols in support of UN sanctions on North Korea. The other ship is expected to conduct activities in Southeast Asia, including the upcoming Five Power Defence Arrangements exercise Bersama Lima Oct. 8–18 around Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, and the U.S.-Philippines Exercise Sama-Sama, with France, Japan and the U.K. also participating.

Toowoomba, together with Indian Navy frigate INS Sahyadri and Indonesian Navy frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332), conducted the maiden Trilateral Maritime Partnership Exercise between Australia, India and Indonesia in the Timor Sea from Wednesday to Thursday.

Fleet oiler Stalwart is expected to split between supporting the two warships and providing replenishment to partner-nation ships in the region. In recent years, fleet oilers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada have been deployed to the Indo-Pacific not only to support their own deployed ships but also the deployed ships from partner nations. Likewise, USNS oilers in the region also have been supporting partner-nation ships operating in the region, enabling long-term naval presence in the region.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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