Monday, May 16, 2022

Who is Helping Ukraine Build the Riverine Force They Need?

Time to raise a topic we first brought up the first year of this blog over 17-years ago; riverine.

As we discussed at the time, we invaded a nation, Iraq, dominated by major river systems, yet because of the stupidity of the 1990s defense policies, we divested of our riverine forces. The last units left the reserves just a few years before we would need them again.

As a result, we not only did not have the ability to take advantage of the unique mobility riverine environments can provide for our own military operations, we surrendered the waters to the enemy's use unopposed. 

The requirement was still there, we just ignored it in DC while the US Army did what it could with locally sourced fishing boats.

As we have over the years discussing this under-loved topic, let's dig in to it in the context of the Russo-Ukraine War.

As always, let's first go the the map room.

The Dniester, Bug, Dnieper, and the now famous for the failed river crossing, Donets rivers. Heck, throw in the small part of the Danube in the southwest on the Romanian border. This Texas sized nation is full of large, economically and militarily significant, deep, navigable river systems.

I've been thinking even more about this since the video came out last month of the riverine raiding party of Ukrainians and their remarkable fleet of ...

Yes, they used a collection of fishing, ski, and pleasure boats. Remind you of the images linked above from 2005's Iraq? Read the related article about the raid - it was successful. 

Before the war, the Ukrainian Navy knew riverine was important, and they had a small fleet, but there wasn't enough time and money - a common pre-war Ukrainian situation. 

It was on their mind. 

Just not enough.

The Russians are making better use of the riverine environment;
Russian patrol boats are racing up the Dnieper River to conduct covert operations deep behind enemy lines, a Ukrainian think tank has said.

Boats that can reach Kyiv have been seen speeding upstream from the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, the Centre for Defence Studies (CDS) said.

The Dnieper is the fourth longest river in Europe, measuring 13 miles wide at points, and potentially allowing Russian boats to travel deep into Ukrainian-held territory undetected. Defence experts said Russian special forces could be using the missions to mark out targets for air strikes and artillery fire in cities such as Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro and the Ukrainian capital itself.

The CDS said that Mangust patrol boats had been deployed from Kherson to conduct operations upstream. “The Dnieper River may be the fastest way for them to covertly reach many of the river’s cities, including Kyiv,” the think tank warned.

The Mangust patrol boat, which means “Mongoose” in Russian, can travel at speeds of up to 50 knots or about 58 miles per hour. It is armed with a 12.7mm machinegun, two Igla surface-to-air missile launchers and two 30mm grenade launchers. The Russian Black Sea fleet has 26 Mangust boats in its arsenal.

This makes sense. There is a shared history of such operations for Russians and Ukrainians.

Have you ever heard of the Danube Flotilla?  

As the Red Army cleared Crimea and the Dniester River of German troops, the Danube Flotilla was re-constituted on the Dniester in April 1944 to assist further offensives.

The flotilla assisted the Red Army in operations including the clearing of the Dniester Estuary and the clearing of the Danube Delta, including both troop-carrying and gunfire support for landings at Prymorske and Vylkove on August 23–24, 1944, and at Kiliya on August 25.

As the Red Army moved upriver, the Danube Flotilla followed and participated in the Belgrade Offensive, the Budapest Offensive, and the Vienna Offensive.[4] Flotilla operations included assisting in landings at Raduevats and Prahovo on September 29–30, 1944 (even well into the 21st century, the wrecks of about 200 vessels sunk by the Germans to block the landings remain in the Danube at Prahovo), at Smederevo on October 16, at Vukovar on December 8–10, at Gerjen on November 30–December 1, at Esztergom on March 19–23, 1945, and at Radwanska on March 28–30.

On April 13, 1945, as the Battle of Vienna was ending, the Flotilla landed troops in a surprise stroke at both ends of the Imperial Bridge in Vienna. This enabled the Red Army to cut the demolition cables and seize the bridge intact.

It is almost criminal malpractice not to take full advantage of such river systems. 

Looking at this note from Jane's in January ... has this been sped up?

Time. Never enough and what you need is always late.

Plans to rebuild Ukraine's naval capability have taken a further step forward after US company SAFE Boats International received an USD84.2 million contract to deliver six MK VI patrol boats.

The award, confirmed by the US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) on 30 September, combines Building Partner Capacity (BPC) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds. The contract includes an option for a further two MK VI craft.

The US State Department in June 2020 approved a Foreign Military Sales case for the supply of up to 16 MK VI patrol boats and associated equipment to Ukraine. “The proposed sale will improve Ukraine's capability to meet current and future threats by providing a modern, fast, short-range vessel ... to better defend its territorial waters and protect other maritime interests,” said the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in a statement issued at the time.

SAFE Boats International was awarded a USD20 million contract by NAVSEA in December 2020 for long lead time material and associated pre-production and planning support for an initial two MK VI patrol boats for Ukraine. The new award announced at the end of September funds detail design, construction, outfitting, reactivation, and training for six MK VI craft, plus the option for two more units.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 BPC funds using Ukraine Security Assistance Funding to the amount of USD43.7 million and FY 2021 FMF (Ukraine) funds to the amount of USD40.5 million have been obligated at the time of award. Work is expected to complete in March 2025; the completion date will be extended to March 2026 if the contract options are exercised.

There must be more that we can do. 

Fun note. Guess where the memorial for the Danube Flotilla's Sailors is?

Izmail, Ukraine.

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