Russia: RF Could Turn Kurils’ Mantua Island Into Fortress To Defend Borey Class Subs
Moscow Svobodnaya Pressa in Russian 08 Jun 17
[Sergey Ishchenko report: “Kurils’ Mantua Fortress Will Cover Kamchatka Boreys; Russian Federation is Converting Former Japanese Military Base Into a ‘Restricted Access Zone for American Tomahawks”]
A second Russian Federation Defense Ministry expedition recently started work on the tiny uninhabited island of Matua in the Kuril range (an area of about 52 square kilometers). An impressive detachment of military ships and vessels under the command of Vice-Admiral Andrey Ryabukhin, deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, arrived on the island from
Vladivostok. The detachment included the BDK [large amphibious warfare ship] Admiral Nevel, the KIL-168 lifting vessel, and the SB-522 rescue tug. They carried about 100 researchers and 30 pieces of engineering equipment in support of various operations.
Exactly one year ago, the first such expedition on the same Admiral Nevel already was in Matua. And Vice-Admiral Ryabukhin also led it. Specialists conducted more than 1,000 laboratory studies on physico-chemical and biological indicators, made more than 200 measurements of the external environment, and conducted radiation and chemical reconnaissance. Divers inspected both tiny bays of this piece of land — Ainu (maximum depth up to 25 meters) and Yamato (depth up to 9 meters). During World War II it was through here that supplies were provided to the 7,000-strong
Japanese garrison on Matua, on which was located the largest well-equipped military base for the Imperial Army. Most of its defensive fortifications were carved into the surrounding rocks and served as a safe shelter for personnel and munitions.
But the main thing on the island was not the many covered artillery emplacements and underground tunnels. What mattered was the largest military airfield for those times, which allowed the Japanese from there to control from the air a large part of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk and also a large part of the Kuril Islands. Three concreted runways, heated by thermal underground springs, each 1,200 meters in length, made the airfield almost all-weather.
However, in 1945, the Japanese defenders of the 41st Separate Mixed Regiment (numbering 3,000 soldiers and officers, the rest of the garrison having already been evacuated) surrendered to Soviet assault troops without a shot fired.
Despite the fact that after World War II the island remained virtually deserted and almost never used by the Soviet authorities, it became clear that the airfield even today is in quite good condition. In any case, Russian military helicopters have been landing there since the summer of 2016. Can the island’s airfield also take airplanes after a little restoration work? And if so, what types? That was also clarified last year by Vice-Admiral Ryabukhin’s expedition.
The aim of such unprecedented activity by the Far East sailors is not a secret. It was announced for the first time in May 2016 at the Military Council of the Eastern Military District by Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin: the possibility of deploying a new Pacific Fleet base on the island is being studied. Moreover, on 29 June, when the first expedition was still in full swing, some unnamed source in the Russian Defense Ministry told RIA Novosti that the construction of a base on Matua will start just the same at a rushed pace — by the end of 2016. However, despite these plans there is still nothing happening. Why?
At least one unexpected problem encountered by the Command of the Pacific Fleet is known about: fresh water. When there was a Japanese garrison here the water on Matua was plentiful. This is evidenced by the huge concrete reservoirs preserved in the rocks. And also the network of ceramic pipes leading from them to defensive structures. The pipes, of course, are currently empty. Our engineers to date have not figured out how to refill the ingenious Japanese water pipes.
According to Vice-Admiral Ryabukhin, “we still do not understand exactly what flowed to and where from.” And while that is a secret there can be no construction started on Matua. Tankers and water vessels cannot meet the demands for liquid refreshment.
But all this, apparently, is temporary difficulties and our navy will get a new base on the island some time. As things look, it is important to try to understand what good will it do us? And, anyway, what kind of base will it be?
What is certain today is that for warships and support vessels there can only be temporary berths. The reasons are not only that the Ainu and Yamato bays are naturally too open and not adequately protected from ocean winds and storms.
Even though on pilot charts they are identified as possible anchorages.
The main problem in creating a complete ship base, obviously, is the active Sarychev volcano on Matua with a height o1,446 meters. In the past century it has strongly erupted four times, in 1928, 1930, 1946, and 1976, with an eruption in 2009. That was when two streams of molten lava slid into the ocean, solidiied, and increased the area of the island by 1.5 square kilometers. No wonder in the language of the Ainu people who once lived in these parts Matua was called a “small burning creek.”
But the volcano is not the only problem for Matua. This is an area of high seismic activity. Regular powerful earthquakes cause destructive tsunamis. For example, the most powerful Sumushirskiy earthquake in the history of the Kuril Islands, on 15 November 2006, created a gigantic wave on the island, sometimes reaching a height of 20 meters. That, apparently, is comparable with the effects of a nearby underwater nuclear explosion. What would remain in this case of the moorings and our ships on Matua?
Thus, we are unlikely to build a new Pacific Fleet ship base on Matua. Then why the fuss? Shall we restore the military airfield? Taking into account the three splendid runways built by the Japanese, their restoration obviously would not require much effort. But, as has been said, the length of each one is 1,200 meters, and their width 80 meters. That is more than enough to land even a helicopter regiment. Likewise for fighters such as the Su-27, Su-35, and MiG-29.
Admittedly, that will be small for Tu-22M3 heavy bombers, and the runways will have to be almost doubled. For it is precisely the landings of Russian long-range aircraft that is seen by most Russian military experts as the main point of a new military base on Matua. Because in that case the Pacific coast of the United States would be within the reach of our heavy bombers. So it is not only “strategic” Tu-95MS and Tu-160 aircraft that will be able to fly on patrol of US borders.
The range of potential threats to the Americans from Russia will be much wider.
Army General Petr Deynekin, former commander of the Russian Federation Air Force, is full of optimism on this score: “With regard to the airfield on Matua island, it is currently too small to provide for flights by heavy aircraft. But in the future everything will be done to convert this airfield into an air base.”
The only question is, will the terrain allow? Because at least one runway for the Tu-22M3 will have to be more than doubled in length to 3-3. 5 kilometers. With a maximum length of the island is 11 kilometers and a width of 6.4 kilometers this may prove to be a problem. Especially when it is considered that a significant part of the territory is occupied by the Sarychev volcano. And certainly Vice-Admiral Ryabukhin’s expedition today is laboring over a solution to this problem.
Meanwhile, even if Russian Long-Range Aviation cannot be put on Matua and it is limited to just fighters, there will still be a lot of sense in a new island base. Because it will appreciably extend the boundaries of our capabilities for air cover of the nuclear strategic missile cruiser submarines base, including the new Boreys, in Vilyuchinsk (Kamchatka).
For nowadays the task of providing fighter cover of Kamchatka rests mainly with the 865th Separate Regiment, which flies MiG-31 interceptors. The regiment is based at the Yelizovo airfield near Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. And Matua is about 700 kilometers south-west of the 865th Separate Regiment’s aircraft ramps. Accordingly, the far edge of potential interception of enemy air attack assets will be shifted by the same amount in this direction to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The gain in time and space for us in the event of a sudden attack is more than impressive.
Needless to say, the same thing will certainly be done on Matua with Bastion and Bal anti-ship cruise missile systems as well as Triumf anti-aircraft missile systems. Such weapons have already been deployed since last year on the Kamchatka Peninsula, which immediately caused an understandable sharp reaction in the USA and Japan. They voiced concern that Russia is creating on the peninsula another “A2/AD restricted access zone,” as such areas are called in the Pentagon.
Until now it was believed that we had already created “A2/AD zones” in Kaliningrad, Crimea, near Saint Petersburg, Murmansk, Yerevan, and Tartus in Syria. But they are all in the north-western, western, and south-western directions.
Now it is the turn of the Russian Far East. The transatlantic strategists now have to add Kamchatka to the previous list.
However, if we succeed in quickly transforming Matua Island also into a fortress, even the defense of the Russian nuclear missile cruiser base will be in-depth. And there will be no sneaking in close to the peninsula with impunity.