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Revolutionary Navy - History

Prior to 1959, the US-trained and -equipped Cuban Navy effectively performed its primary mission of guarding Cuba's coast. Although the Navy did not actively participate in the anti-Batista, Castro-led revolution, about 400 naval personnel had staged an unsuccessful revolt at the Cienfuegos Naval Base in September 1957. After Castro seized power in January 1959, he initially allowed the Navy to remain relatively intact, largely because he believed that the Cienfuegos revolt was an indication of the Navy's potential loyalty to him.

However, when it became apparent that the majority of naval personnel were really anti-Batista rather than pro-Castro, Castro purged the Navy, stripping it of virtually all its trained personnel by the end of 1960. Castro began to rebuild the Navy by restaffing it with a small nucleus of politically reliable personnel. By mid-1961, Cuban naval personnel were being sent to the USSR for training and a large number of Soviet naval personnel were assigned to Cuba to serve as instructors and to help staff naval ships.

In 1962, the Cubans received 12 KOMAR-class Missile Attack Boats, 6 KRONSHTADT-class Submarine Chasers, and 12 P-6 and 4 P-4 Small Torpedo Boats. Also in 1962, the Cuban Navy received its first SAMLET (SSC-2b) cruise missiles. Cuba has continued to receive additional craft and weapons from the Soviet Union over the years.

On 3 August 1963, the Cuban Revolutionary Navy (Marina de Guerra Revolucionaria or MGR) was officially dedicated and Cuba's Western Naval Flotilla was created. It was several years, however, before the MGR was able to assimilate completely its large amount of new equipment. In addition, it was not until after 1965 that Cubans, who had received training in the USSR, reached levels of significant operational responsibility. In April 1972, the Chief of the MGR was elevated to Deputy Minister (as was the Chief of the Air and Air Defense Force (DAAFAR)).

By 1980 the MGR is the only significant naval force in the Caribbean, and one of the best-equipped and best-trained navies in Latin America. In terms of equipment and missions, it is a coastal defense force and consequently did not pose a threat to United States territory. The MGR was capable of defending the island against invasion by other than a major power. Close cooperation by the MGR with the Border Guard Troops enables the Cubans to detect and intercept most seaborne infiltration and escape attempts. Due to the length of the Cuban coastline (3,735 kilometers), however, it was doubtful that Cuban forces are able to prevent all illegal entry and exit. All of the MGR's ships were small and therefore have operational limitations. A primary problem is their short range, and the lack of an at-sea replenishment capability prevented extending the range. The small size of the vessels also hinders their ability to operate during rough weather.

The KOMAR and OSA Missile Attack Boats formed the backbone of the Cuban Navy's defense capability. These craft carry the STYX (SS-N-2) surface-to-surface missiles which had a maximum range of approximately 40 kilometers. The STYX missile proved to be an effective weapon system in both the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and in the 1973 Indo-Pakistani War. The primary uses of the Cuban Submarine Chasers were patrol and escort. Since these vessels were the largest in the MGR, their longer range and seakeeping ability enable them to effectively perform these functions.

The antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capability of the MGR is restricted due to the age of the KRONSHTADT and SO-1 Submarine Chasers, which are more than 20 years old. Since Cuba did not acquire a submarine until early 1979, its ASW proficiency has been limited by the lack of a submarine to provide realistic training. The Cubans relied on occasional joint, rudimentary exercises during Soviet deployments. The Submarine Chasers are at a distinct disadvantage if challenged by nuclear or modern conventionally-powered submarines.

The single FOXTROT Attack Submarine had increased Cuba's antiship capabilities slightly. However, the diesel submarine, which was armed with torpedoes, can be detected by a naval force equipped with modern sonar instruments.

The small (at least 200 strong) marines have very limited ground and over-the-shore capabilities. The P-6 and P-4 Small Torpedo Boats are also affected by age since their construction dated to the 1950s. The main weaponry carried by the PTL Boats are two "aimed" torpedoes which are used solely in an antisurface ship role. As with other MGR units, the principal peacetime function of the Small Torpedo Boats is patrol.

The MGR had a very modest mine warfare capability. Each KRONSHTADT carried two stern-mounted mine racks. In addition, the P-6 Small Torpedo Boats can be rigged to carry mines instead of torpedo tubes; however, no Cuban I'-6s have been observed with this configuration.

To enhance their coastal defense capability, the MGR had an inventory of about 50 SAMLET (SSC-2b) cruise missiles. This weapon, which looks like a scaled-down, pilotless version of the MiG-15 FAGOT fighter, had been in the Soviet inventory since the late 1950s and in Cuba since about 1962. It is believed that this system had been deactivated because of its age but it would likely be deployed if needed to help counter a naval threat to Cuba.

The MGR is very dependent upon DAAFAR for antiair protection. Its vessels have no fixed surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers and only a limited number of antiaircraft guns. Although it is possible that some ships carry the GRAIL (SA-7) shoulder-fired missile, the missile does not greatly upgrade the MGR's antiair defense.

In the early 1980s Cuba had a small, capable navy that was being expanded and modernized. Two recently acquired Foxtrot class submarines were well manned and capably handled, and Castro was expected to receive more of them in the near future. Cuba's single Koni class frigate could operate effectively throughout the Caribbean Basin; it was the nucleus of a blue-water capability. Nearly two dozen Osa and Komar missile attack boats armed with the SS-N-2 Styx ship-to-ship missile and recently acquired Turya hydrofoil torpedo boats represented a significant wartime threat to military and civilian shipping throughout the Southern United States coastal area.

The range of its missile boats and the narrow waters around Cuba made it formidable to an opponent who has not established air superiority. The missile boats are the Osa-I and II and Komar class, with a range of 800 nautical miles at 25 knots and 400 nautical miles at 30 knots respectively. They are armed with the Styx missile, which has a range of 18 miles and carries a 1100-pound conventional warhead.

As recently as 1990, the MGR counted in its inventory three submarines, which had been delivered by the Soviets between 1979 and 1984, and two frigates, the last of which was also received in 1984. It was one of the few countries in the region to have such an ocean-going fleet.

By 1997 the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that the Cuban was drawing down its blue-water capability and was becoming a coastal-defense force. The last of two Russian Koni-class frigates arrived in April 1997 at the Cienfuegos Naval Base, the site for scrapping vessels that are obsolete or not operational through disrepair. The sole anti-submarine warfare vessel, a Russian Pauk II ship, was also is at the site awaiting possible scrapping. Of the three submarines in the inventory, none were operational as of 1997. The Osa-class patrol boats, equipped with Styx [anti-ship] missiles continue to deteriorate because they are not being maintained. The Osa boats are Cuba's last remaining water-based, anti-ship missile platforms.

The 1997 the Defense Intelligence Agency report noted that Russian-made SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missiles had been taken off some coastal-patrol boats and adapted for shore batteries equipped with Cuban-built Bandera VI mobile launchers. Styx-equipped Bandera had been spotted by US intelligence at shore batteries near Havana, to provide coverage of ships near one of the few landing beaches where Havana anticipates hostile amphibious landings. Styx-equipped Bandera were also deployed to the Nicaro Naval Base in eastern Cuba, where they could threaten US ships entering the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The mobile ground-based Bandera VI can deploy to provide coastal coverage for defensive positions throughout eastern Cuba. But by the end of the 1990s, none of these vessels remained in operation, and only just over a dozen of the MGR's remaining surface vessels were held to be combat capable. The fast-attack boats that were equipped with Styx (SS-N2B) surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles provided the MGR with a continuing, yet weak, anti-surface warfare capability. The MGR's shore-based naval infantry reportedly was armed with approximately fifty Samlet (SSC-2B) and two Styx (SSC-3) surface-to-surface missiles. According to the United States Naval Institute, auxiliary ships that remained in operation as late as 1998 included a replenishment oiler, an intelligence collector, a cargo ship, and several hydrographic survey vessels.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2013 18:26:16 ZULU