Forces: The Navies Of Central Asia


June 6, 2010: Kazakhstan wants to upgrade its navy, by obtaining three corvettes and three patrol boats. One problem with this purchase, if the ships are not obtained locally, is getting them to Kazakhstan, which has no ocean ports. However, Kazakhstan does border the world's largest lake, the Caspian Sea. The Caspian is huge, at 371,000 square kilometers (about the same size as Poland). It is about a thousand kilometers long and 430 kilometers wide. It's saline, but only has about a third as salty as ocean water. The Caspian has a 7,000 kilometer long coastline, and 1,900 kilometers of it belongs to Kazakhstan (the rest belongs to Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan).

Since 1952, a canal, linking the Don and Volga rivers, gives the Caspian Sea access to the Black Sea, and the world's oceans. However, the largest ships that can transit the canal must be no more than 140 meters (434 feet) long, 17 meters (52 feet wide) and a draft of no more than 3.5 meters (10.8 feet). The canal moves over 12 million tons of cargo a year. About half of that was oil, or oil products. The main reason for buying the new warships is to protect the offshore oil facilities, and the movement of oil cargoes.

Since the 19th century, a Russian (and later Soviet) flotilla was the largest naval force in the Caspian. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Kazakhstan inherited sone of that naval force, and currently has 3,000 naval personnel, but only a dozen coastal patrol boats (4 Almaty, 1 Dauntless, 5 Guardian, and 2 Zhuk class). Not all of these are in working order.

Russia, which controls the Volga Don canal, and has the largest overall fleet, can put a lot more warships into Caspian waters than any of the other Caspian nations. Although all Caspian nations have, sort of, pledged not to get involved in a naval arms race, Iran recently launched a 1,400 ton frigate into the Caspian. The Russians have brought in two frigates, and now Kazakhstan is shopping for three corvette class (about 1,000 tons) ships.




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