Article by Brigadier General Koutsogiannopoulos, former Director of International Relations of the Ministry of Defence. Translated from post on Strategy-Geopolitics.
The immediate immobilisation of the 2 out of 4 Zubr hovercraft of the Hellenic Navy raises serious questions. According to press reports the “Zakynthos” (L-183) and “Ithaca” (L-181) have been immobilised with immediate effect and will possibly be immobilised permanently with the aim of acting as a source of spare parts for the other 2 hovercrafts, “Corfu” (L-182) and “Kefalonia” (L-180).
The hovercrafts, which are of Russian and Ukrainian technology, started being delivered in 2001 with the last one arriving in 2005. The Zubr is designed to quickly transport landing forces by sea to prepared or unprepared beaches by the theatre of operations as well as to transport and lay mines. The Zubr can transport 3 medium battle tanks or 10 armoured personnel carriers or 500 troops. With a full load the craft is capable of landing on a beach with a 5% upward slope and to overcome obstacles up to 1.6 metres in height. It can operate at a speed of 60 knots. Personnel are protected from WMDs through airtight seals and with individual suits. The craft is also protected from mines due to the horizontal air layer created inside the “skirt” which lowers its magnetic signature. It carries 2 six-barrel AK-630 30mm Gatling guns in the anti-air role and 2 MS-227 140mm multiple rocket launchers with 22 launch tubes each as well as a removable mine laying system for 20 to 80 mines.
Many Navy officers in the past were not too fond of the Zubr. However, during the course of their service on these ships many officers now feel that if the Zubrs were properly used in the rapid reaction role they could significantly change the operational picture in the Aegean.
Especially for the 6th Amphibious Commando Squadron, which was created after the Imia crisis as a rapid reaction force, the Zubrs can be a fast mode of transportation. The ability to lay mines to deny areas and passage routes in the Aegean should also not be overlooked. Finally, it should be noted that during his recent official visit, the head of the US Navy, Admiral Gary Roughead, was impressed by the Russian made hovercraft and their operational abilities.
Hellenic Defence News note: At one point only one of the four hovercrafts was operational. Supposedly steps were undertaken to procure spare parts to keep at least 3 of these operational. These ships have completely transformed the Navy’s ability to transport elements of the Marines to remote islands quickly and safely. If anything even the original 4 hovercrafts were not enough to cover needs. Now it looks like the Navy will be left with 2 operational craft from the moment the Turkish Navy is looking to acquire their own hovercraft for assault operations against Greek islands.