Ocean Shield 2020 - After action report

Between August 03 and August 12, the Russian Baltic Fleet held its annual Ocean Shield exercise in the Baltic Sea. While smaller compared to last years exercise with only 30 warships participating, this years exercise was more imported because it was build on an offensive scenario, rather then a defensive one during 2019. While the opposing forces of the 2019 exercise were identified as NATO forces, the opposing force of the 2020 was less easy to identify. The offensive nature and swift sea control gained by the Russian Navy could suggest an surprise attack against NATO when few NATO forces are present, or the attack against a neutral country with significant maritime forces, most likely Sweden.

Just like last year, the exercise could be monitored through the use of open source material but unlike 2019 there was less available. Especially the Russian open sources such as state media and main newspapers were less vocal about the progress of Ocean Shield 2020. The third part of the exercise between August 9 and 12, was difficult to monitor as few sources were available, most of them lacking specific details. Nevertheless, a sufficiently detailed after action report could be distilled from OSINT sources in order to see how Ocean Shield 2020 progressed. The after action report will first comprise of the daily information, followed by a summary that looks at the overall scenario.

August 03

The Ocean Shield 2020 kicked off with the departure of the participating warships from their bases while minesweepers provided an escort. The specific mission of these minesweepers was not reported by Russian Media though minesweepers usually serve a dual purpose in these exercises. Their first task is to ensure that the routes taken by the warships are free of mines and unexploded ordnance. Their second task is to use their sonar systems to detect and track underwater drones. Given the high amount of sea mines and explosives left over from both World Wars and the Cold War, the first task was most likely the main reason for the deployment of the minesweepers as an escort. [1]

Russian sources did not provide a detailed overview of which ships were deployed for the Ocean Shield 2020 exercise. Most pictures that were made available on this day showed a fleet formation sailing in line. It later turned out that this was the line up of the Navy Day Parade in Saint Petersburg. This was confirmed as the Udaloy class destroyer RFS Vice-Admiral Kulakov was shown in these pictures. On august 3, this destroyer was passing through the English Channel on her way to a deployment in the Mediterranean. [2]

The first major exercise of Ocean Shield 2020 involved an amphibious landing of the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade on the coastline of the Khmelevka training ground in the Kaliningrad Region. Over 20 surface warships and 18 aircraft and helicopters and aircraft took part in this exercise.

The amphibious group itself was made up of the three Ropucha class landing ships, the RFS Korolev, RFS Minsk and RFS Kaliningrad. The Zubr class hovercraft RFS Evgeny Kocheshkov and the Dyugong landing craft RFS Lieutenant Rimsky-Korsakov were also present. In total, this amphibious group landed 25 BTR-82As Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs)

The amphibious landing itself followed the standard procedures which were observed during previous exercises. Ka-27PS helicopters landed detachment of engineers on the coastline who were tasked to create safe passages through the minefields on the beach. Air support for the engineers was provided by at least four Mi-24 helicopters, at least one Mi-8 helicopter and at least two Su-34SM fighter aircraft.

Once the engineers created the passages, the amphibious group approached the coast started to offload the Naval Infantry. Only the Zubr class hovercraft landed on the beach to disembark the vehicles it carried. The BTR-82As embarked on the Ropucha and Dyugon landing craft disembarked close to the shoreline and moved towards the coast under their own power. Surface warships in the meantime provided fire support and suppressed enemy positions. [3] [4] [5] [6]

A total of 25 BTR-82As were debarked on the beach which corresponds to a small battalion of two companies with a small staff and support unit.

August 04

The second day of exercise Ocean Shield 2020 focused on base security and logistic tasks both within the naval base and at sea. Units of the Naval Infantry had to fight of attacks on the naval base by groups of saboteurs and insurgents. The first group used diving gear to approach anchored vessels undetected. The Russian marines patrolled the area with rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) and fired their small arms and grenades at locations where the divers were suspected to be. Once the divers were forced to come to the surface, they were captured and dragged into the RHIBs.
The second attack took place at a guard post on one of the roads leading into the naval base. an unmarked white van approached the gate and upon inspection by the sentry, two attackers armed with Kalashnikovs leaped out of the back and started to engage the guard post. The guards were eventually supported by a BTR-82A armoured personnel carrier which provided suppressive fire. Members of the military police arrested both insurgents after the firefight. Both exercises were reported as completed successfully by Russian media. [7]

Meanwhile, base logistic services were instructed to repair a damaged missile corvette. Russian news articles showed a picture of the Nanuchka III class missile corvette RFS Liven being towed by two tugs. This would suggest that the RFS Liven was used to play the role of the damaged missile corvette though it not certain if this picture was taken at the exercise itself. Aside from repairs to the ship itself, the logistic services also trained in providing medical aid to wounded crew mates.

The Baltic Fleet also trained replenishment at sea with the use of a floating platform equipped with a crane. During this drill the frigate RFS Steregushchiy, lead ship of her class, docked next to the platform so that ammunition could be offloaded. The crane was used to take of a quadruple missile launcher from the mid section. The platform allegedly is also capable of supplying fuel. The platform also served as a logistical hub from which divers could be deployed to inspect the underwater parts of warships, most notably the steering and propulsion systems. [8]

August 05

A group of warships was observed off the coast of Kaliningrad on satellite imagery. This group of warships were identified by Twitter user @Bottema37as a Steregushchy class frigate, two Buyan-M class corvettes, the RFS Pyotr Morgunov landing ship, the research vessel RFS Yantar class sub, the Ladoga oceanic research vessel as well as a Kashtan class vessel.
It is unclear which kind of exercise was ongoing at the time the satellite picture was taken. The relative close position of these vessels suggest that an intership exercise could be taking place. [9]

Intership exercise of Kaliningrad - copyright @Bottema37

August 06

New combat related exercises took place in the Baltic Sea with several ships training in anti-submarine and anti-air warfare as well as electronic warfare by jamming sensors of opposing forces. Russian sources reported that the exercise included the search for a simulated submarine, the electronic launch of missile systems against a simulated surface task force and defending against enemy airstrikes. [10]

Russian sources claim that the ships involved in these exercises were the Steregushchy class frigates RFS Steregushchy,  RFS Boikiy and RFS Stoikiy, Karakurt class corvettes RFS Mytishchi and RFS Sovetsk, the Buyan-M class corvette RFS Serpukhov, Ropucha class landing ships RFS Korolev, RFS Kaliningrad and RFS Minsk. [11] [12]

During the evening, three Ropucha class landing ships passed the Oresund`around 2015 Zulu. The vessels were heading north towards the Kattegat and the North Sea. These vessels were identified as the RFS Kaliningrad, the RFS Korolev and the RFS Minsk. Several minutes later, a German replenishment vessel of the Elbe class passed by, shadowing the Russian warships. [13]

August 07

Around 0500Z, the Karakut class corvettes RFS Mytishchi and RFS Sovetsk and the Buyan-M class corvette RFS Serpukhov passed the Oresund on a northbound course, leaving the Baltic Sea and heading towards the North Sea. [14] According to the Danish armed forces, the Steregushchy class frigate RFS Boikiy was also heading northwards towards the North Sea. [15] [16]

August 08

Two surface action groups were formed in the North Sea in order to exercise the launch of cruise missiles against surface and land targets. The vessels that took part in this exercise were reported as the frigates RFS Steregushchy, RFS Boikiy and RFS Stoikiy as well as Karakurt class corvettes RFS Mytishchi and RFS Sovetsk and the Buyan-M class corvette RFS Serpukhov though the exact composition of each task force was not reported.

The missile exercise involved simulated and simultaneous launches of Kalibr and Uran missiles against simulated targets, both on land as at sea. According to Russian Media, all targets were hit during the exercise. The ships also practiced electronic warfare during the exercise by jamming electronic systems and sensors.

Once the missile exercise was completed, the ships completed a further program focused on damage control, anti-sabotage defense, communication between ships and joint navigation. [17] [18] [19]

British warships HMS Mersey and HMS Tyne and Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster, together with the NATO warships of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1), reportedly shadowed and escorted the Russian warships as they operated in the North Sea. [20]

August 09

The Karakurt class corvettes RFS Mytishchi and RFS Sovetsk and the Buyan-M class corvette RFS Serpukhov left the North sea and passed the Oresund on a southward course around 2000Z. OSINT sources did not report any other warships passing the Oresund at this period. [21]
Karakurt class corvette passing Oresund - copyright @shipohollic

August 10

Steregushchy class corvettes RFS Steregushchy, RFS Boikiy and RFS Stoikiy are reported in the Baltic Sea and were involved in an anti-submarine warfare exercise. No details regarding this exercise were reported. [22]

August 11

Tarantul-III class corvettes RFS Dmitrovgrad, RFS Zarechniy and RFS Morshansk were involved in an gunnery exercise at the training ranges in the Baltic Sea. The result of this exercise was not made available. [23]

August 12

Russian sources announce the end of exercise Ocean Shield-2020. Most vessels at sea are ordered to return back to their ports. The Steregushchy class corvettes RFS Steregushchy, RFS Boikiy and RFS Stoikiy however only returned at Baltiysk on August 13. [24] [25]

Russian frigates returning to Baltiysk - copyright @Bottema37

Ocean Shield 2020 summary

Ocean Shield 2020 turned out to be a more aggressive naval exercise compared to Ocean Shield 2019. In 2019, the exercise centered on maintaining a maritime supply route with Kaliningrad in order to transport reinforcements towards the enclave, as well as evacuating wounded soldiers and damaged equipment. In order to maintain this supply route, Russian maritime forces had to gain sea and air control in the Baltic Region in order to allow the safe passage of the amphibious warships to and from Kaliningrad.

The 2020 exercise did not use Kaliningrad as an isolated position but as a forward base from which offensive maritime operations could be launched. The exercise started immediately with the landing of a battalion sized force on a simulated hostile shore, using Kaliningrad as the port of embarkation.
The use of Kaliningrad as a forwards base remained a central theme on the second day with the exercise focusing on base security, repair capabilities as well as supplying warships through the use of special build pontoon.

Special attention should be given to the Russian amphibious assault. Russian sources claim that over 2.000 troops were landed during the exercise but this number seems to be regarding the total military personnel involved both in the marines and navy. The Ropucha class itself can carry 12 BTRs and 340 soldiers, with the Zubr carrying 10 and 140 respectively and a Dyugong landing craft carrying 100 soldiers and 4 BTRs. The total lift capacity of the amphibious task force should thus be 1.260 soldiers and 50 BTRs max. It appears thus that by landing 25 BTRs and a small battalion sized unit, the amphibious group was loaded around 33% of its infantry capacity and 50 % of its vehicle capacity.

Following the initial amphibious assault, the warships were then brought together to hold several maritime exercises which centered on maintaining sea control by engaging and neutralizing enemy forces both on and underneath the sea, as well as dealing with an enemy air threat. This exercise was held on August by the main formation of the Ocean Shield 2020 exercise. This formation was made up of the Steregushchy class frigates RFS Steregushchy, RFS Boikiy and RFS Stoikiy, Karakurt class corvettes RFS Mytishchi and RFS Sovetsk, the Buyan-M class corvette RFS Serpukhov, Ropucha class landing ships RFS Korolev, RFS Kaliningrad and RFS Minsk.

Once this battle for sea control was over, the surface task force then left the Baltic Sea through the Oresund and headed into the North Sea. While it is speculated that the amphibious landing ships held a mine laying exercise to interdict the passage into the Baltic Sea, no verification of this exercise was made.
Once in the North Sea, the surface task group held a missile drill against both simulated hostile warships and land targets. According to Russian Media, the attack was successful and following several smaller exercises, the task forces headed back to the Baltic Sea where another anti-submarine exercise was held, followed by a small gunnery exercise by three Tarantul-III class corvettes.

Unlike the 2019 exercise, this years exercise saw less media attention by Russian Sources. While it was possible to keep track of the exercise through OSINT channels until August 08, there was a several lack of detailed information from the period between August 09 and August 12. this could be seen as an further indirect prove that Ocean Shield 2020 was offensive minded. Ocean Shield 2019 was defensive in nature and thus it made sense for Russia to boost its capabilities against an attack by possible enemies. With offensive operations being involved, it is better to keep those capabilities hidden for as much as possible in order to keep a potential adversary off balance.

The 2020 exercise saw a clear offensive scenario, namely using the naval infantry as a theater opening force who secure an initial beachhead that can be used to raid enemy positions or as a point of insertion for larger units belonging to the army.
Once the beachhead was established, the fleet is tasked with eliminating the hostile warships, submarines and aircraft which are send in to counterattack.
As soon as the Baltic region was clear of enemies, the surface task force left for the North Sea where it intercepted a second surface task force and struck vital infrastructure, either belonging to the initial enemy or its allies. A possible mining of the Danish Straits would further limited the influx of reinforcements into the Baltic Sea and isolate the opposing forces.
Following the destruction of the opposing forces in the North Sea, the surface task forces headed back into the Baltic Sea to eliminate the remaining forces in the area. At this point, the Baltic Fleet is expected to have gained total sea control over its adversaries in the Baltic Sea while also having eliminated a potential first wave of reinforcements stationed in the North Sea.


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