The Russian Defense Ministry and the Zelenodolsk Shipbuilding Plant reached an agreement in September on new deliveries of the Buyan-M corvettes (Project 21631) – one of the newest ships in the Navy’s inventory. The agreement was signed at the Army 2016 Forum by Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov and Renat Mistakhov, chief executive officer of the Zelenodolsk Shipbuiding Plant.
Five ships of this class are currently in service with the Russian Navy: three with its Caspian Flotilla and two with the Black Sea Fleet. According to the plans, ten Buyan-M class missile corvettes armed with Kalibr cruise missiles will join the Russian Navy by the end of 2019.
The ship’s main purpose is to protect Russia’s offshore economic zones and engage enemy warships along littoral areas. But not only. With a relatively small size, the ship stands out for its capability to strike at targets deep into enemy territory. It was instrumental in launching the first Kalibr SS-N-30A cruise missiles in October 7, 2015 from the Caspian Sea to strike terrorist targets in Syria.
Three of four Caspian Sea flotilla warships that fired the missiles were Buyan-M corvettes. The missiles traveled 1,500 km through Iranian and Iraqi airspace and struck terrorists’ positions in Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib provinces. The capability of relatively small ships, such as Buyan-M corvettes, to fire the weapon was a demonstration of distributed lethality with weapons and sensors spread out to multiple units instead of being concentrated on a few large platforms.
In February the Zeleny Dol Buyan-M class missile corvette joined the Russia’s permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean near the Syria’s shore.
The design incorporates stealth features to reduce the radar cross section. The flexible open architecture of the ships allows for modifications according to the future requirements. The corvette features better sea-keeping capabilities for navigation in stormy conditions. It can use weapons in conditions of sea state 4.
The Buyan-M class missile corvette has a displacement of 949 tons, a length of 75 meters, a width of 11 meters and a draught of 2.5 meters. The ship is powered by a twin screw combined diesel and diesel (CODAD) propulsion system. The propulsion system consists of two Zvezda M520 radial 56-cylinder diesel engines driving two pump-jet propulsors. The propulsors, with reduced noise and running vibration, provide high manoeuvrability. Each engine delivers a maximum power output of 3,970kW at 2,000rpm.The engine is comprised of seven banks of eight cylinders.
The usage of aluminium castings reduces the weight of the engine. A crankshaft driven supercharger provides boost pressure to the engine. The supercharger is equipped with water chilled inter-cooler. The propulsion system provides a full speed of 25 knots and a mission endurance of up to 2,300 miles at 12 knots. With a crew of 52 sailors and officers, the ship navigates on its own up to 10 days.
The Buyan-M is equipped with the Kalibr missile system, the A-190 gun mount of 100 mm caliber, Gibka launchers for the Igla anti-aircraft missiles and the AK-630-2 Duet air defense gun system.
The Kalibr 3M-54 («Sizzler», SS-N-30A) is a long-range, low-flying cruise missile capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads. It has land-attack, anti-ship and anti-submarine variants. The Kalibr cruise missiles can travel 50 to 150 meters above the ground and hit sea targets up to 350 kilometers away and ground targets more than 2,500 kilometers away. The circular error probable is only three meters. The missile has a second stage that performs a supersonic sprint in the terminal approach to the target, reducing the time that target's defense systems have to react.
With the displacement of less than 1,000 tons the Buyan-M has the land targets strike capability comparable to the US Arleigh Buke class destroyer with the displacement of 6900 tons. The Kalibr missile is a weapon to change the calculus of the reach and effectiveness of smaller naval combatants. The use of Kalibr during the Syrian conflict demonstrated that today Russia is second to none when it comes to long-range precision strike capability.
The ship has an important advantage to make it unique. Its displacement allows it to effectively operate in rivers. The Volga and the tributaries form the biggest riverine system in Europe connected to the Caspian Sea. Armed with the weapons not covered by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the relatively cheap corvette can be easily redeployed using Russia’s inland waterways. The Buyan class corvettes based in the Caspian Sea can use the riverine ways to operate in different areas.
A ship of this class can go to Moscow, «the port of five seas», through the Moscow Canal and then move to the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the White Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Baltic. The corvette can launch cruise missiles from a vast expanse of territory. The Buyan-M ship with long range missiles on board does not violate the Intermediate Forces Treaty (INF), which bans only ground-based intermediate range missiles. The NATO ballistic missile defense sites in Romania and Poland are within the range of its cruise missiles.
The corvette is highly mobile and difficult to track. According to a US naval intelligence report, «The new technologically advanced Russian Navy, increasingly armed with the Kalibr family of weapons, will be able to more capably defend the maritime approaches to the Russian Federation and exert significant influence in adjacent seas».
The Buyan-M is a unique example of the Russian Navy’s ability to make general purpose naval forces perform the function of non-nuclear deterrence against potential enemies. The corvette is a perfect tool to carry out peacetime missions, including the fight against terrorism in local and low-intensity conflicts. The Syrian campaign clearly showed the need for such ships.
The operational range of the missiles installed on the Buyan-M ships homeported in the Caspian and Black seas covers the entire Caucasus and large parts of Central Asia and the Middle East – the areas where threats to Russia’s national security are most likely to emerge, especially from international terrorist organizations. The ship is a good example of effective deterrence against contemporary threats.