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Russian Navy will surpass the US one only in diversity

Text: Independent Military Review, Vladimir Scherbakov
Photo: Central Navy Portal
Russian Navy steps on the same rake again and risks of repeating old mistakes.

Launching of new Stereguschiy class corvette
It is commonly supposed that Russia is continental and even land country. This assertion is generally correct, with the only exception that Russia is entirely sea-bordered in the north and the east, and that great part of western and southern frontier goes along seas and rivers. Make no mistake – northern and eastern sea borders give access to the Arctic and the Pacific oceans. Russian and foreign experts are sure in 21st century these water areas will become a scene of hot political, economic, and probably, military rivalry. Mention may be also made of the fact that politicians, economists, and military analysts say 21st century will be the "ocean era".

Thus, after a short "journey into geography", the continental and "purely land country" becomes a state which national security equally depends on protection of land and sea borders. The conclusion was made by no other than Petr the Great, the first Russian Emperor – our country needs both powerful army and navy. Although having too miscellaneous fleet and sometimes incompatible weapons, the Soviet Union did have powerful navy, in contrast to the present-day Russian one with its densely fogged future.

On the leftover principle

Navy ex-commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov recently adduced following numbers. Financing of Russian Navy since 90's till early 2000's had been maintained at the level of 12-14% of defense budget. Moreover, as was stated in Kuroyedov's work written jointly with Navy Commander's assistant for scientific issues Rear Admiral Lev Sidorenko and deputy director of industry analytic center Mikhail Moskovenko, even with that miserable financing the Navy had not received over RUR 60 bln within the period of 2001–2006. Considering that security of our country in the north and east almost fully depends on the navy's effectiveness, such attitude of Russia's political leaders is nothing but derision or even "genocide". And their words about "significance of the Navy in Russia's national security" look like typical hypocrisy.

Of course, naval component of Russian strategic nuclear force was a separate financing item. That made possible to realize plans on repair and even partial modernization of all nuclear-powered ballistic subs (SSBN) of Project 667BDR and Project 667BDRM remained in Russian Navy's inventory after avalanching arms reduction followed the USSR's breakup. By the way, the threat of Soviet nuclear missile submarine fleet was so high and unforgettable that utilization of written-off SSBNs was financed by western sources.

Besides, the top-priority financing of nuclear triad enabled to launch a "long-playing" program of a new-generation SSBN and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) Bulava. However, this resulted in the fact that carriers of the new missile were completed earlier than their basic weapon. So far, it is still uncertain when Bulava would be commissioned and when, therefore, new subs would become full-fledged assets of naval strategic force. So we have the situation when the Navy's general-purpose force turned out to be in such sorry state as just has faced a new Tsushima.

Nonetheless, combat stability of naval nuclear force is impossible without developed and well-balanced general-purpose assets and naval aviation, not speaking of advanced aircraft-carrying force which could provide the higher viability for "nuclear leviathans". The fact that the most prominence was given to strategic component but not general-purpose force brings up the question. Of course, combat potential of naval nuclear force could be maintained for relatively long time by upgraded Project 667BDR/BDRM submarines (with revival of SLBM Sineva production) even ignoring Project 921 nuclear subs laid up for dismantle; but the runaway decommission of obsolete surface ships and boats, nuclear attack and conventional submarines of the "past age" has placed in jeopardy not only distant zone capability of Russian Navy but even safety of sea borders.

Ambitious arms program

At last, things seem to be put into motion.

In December 2010 Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reported it was planned to appropriate somewhat RUR 4.7 trillions for systematic re-equipment of Russian Navy; by the way, one third of this sum would be assigned within the nearest five years. But no later than on March 21, 2011 Vice Premier Sergei Ivanov specified the sum of expenses for the Navy rearmament at the level of RUR 5 trillions.

A new State Arms Program 2011-2020 was adopted early this year. According to deputy defense minister Vladimir Popovkin, the program provides "construction of eight nuclear-powered submarines armed with Bulava ballistic missiles... and about 100 surface ships of different classes. Designing of key assets for general-purpose naval force is in progress; they are Project 885 Yasen nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), Project 22350 frigates, and Project 20380M corvettes". Besides, according to a high-ranking official, experts of appropriate agencies "are developing design of a new 5-generation SSN and a new destroyer"; by the way "basic weapon of those projects will be advanced shipborne missile system Caliber operating both antiship cruise missiles 3M-54 and long-range cruise missiles 3M-14 capable to destroy enemy's land objects". Moreover, "development of Zircon-S ship-based hypersonic missile system is also scheduled", said Popovkin.

However, the top-priority objective of the new arms program presidentially approved on December 31, 2010 is still "maintenance and development of national strategic nuclear force". Take note, the program budget implies appropriation of 10% only for modernization of its land component.

The second high-priority target of the State Arms Program 2020 is improvement and reinforcement of strategic defenses. In particular, the question is missile warning system (planed to be modernized and enlarged with new stations and space-defense layer), air/missile defense systems (SAM systems S-500 capable to destroy high-altitude aeroballistic targets are currently developed and will be purchased soon; procurement of S-400 systems will go on). Speaking only of S-500, it is planned to purchase about 100 systems under the program. The third-priority task is to buildup number of short-range missile systems Iskander; it is intended to arm 10 brigades with this system.

If one subtracts financing of strategic nuclear and defensive forces, Iskanders and research/development activities (10 per cent), funds planned for rearmament of Army and Air Force (officially, portion of advanced arms does not exceed 30% there), naval general-purpose force would get a chickenfeed financing.

However, once we take those 12-14% from the State Arms Program 2020 budget, we would have by no means "hand-to-mouth" RUR 2.4-2.8 trillions which could be spent on a certain modernization of Navy's general-purpose force. Of course, on conditions that the money would be appropriated in due time and due scale, and Russian politico-military leadership would have well-defined navy development program. This program is practicable only if we clearly understand the role of naval forces in present-day wars – both on global basis and regarding Russia's national security. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have such understanding so far.

Same mistakes again

Clear evidence of underestimated role of naval forces (to be more specific, Russian Navy's function in national security except for maritime nuclear force's part in strategic deterrence) is diversity of naval assets planned to reinforce Navy's general-purpose force till 2020. Make your own opinion.

First. Russia is going to spend EUR 1.5 bln for purchasing two Mistral class assault landing ships which radioelectronics at least 90-95% incompatible with those installed in currently operable and to-be-launched Russian warships. Thus and so, what we'll get is an extremely small parcel – either two ships or four, which would need independent supply and repair system.

Noteworthy is the statement of Vladimir Popovkin saying that "when negotiating with French partners, we consider that it would be not purely military technology". Take note, French shipbuilders used civilian technologies wherever possible when designing Mistral class ships in order to reduce costs. Technologically, military shipbuilding methods are not critical in this project. So, perhaps it would be better to purchase a bunch of foreign tankers and cargo ships just to "improve" Russian civilian shipbuilding? It'd be cheaper though. If our leaders wanted to buy a "two-in-one" variant – warships and shipbuilding technology – they would better purchase, say, French Fremm class guided missile frigates which are one of the Europe's best in their class. But who would sell them to a country which says no to "democratic West" intending to punish "tyrant Gaddafi"?

Second. According to the new state defense program, it is planned to start procurement of already designed or finish development of new surface ships and non-strategic submarines of at least 10 types:

– Project 885 Yasen nuclear-powered attack submarines. Design of a new SSN is being developed. If one recalls the statement of Navy ex-commander Admiral Vladimir Masorin, this sub will be more "compact" – apparently, project Yasen developed late in the cold war era is deemed "too powerful" (at present, Russian Navy operates relatively new but having good upgrade potential SSNs of projects 949, 945 and 971);

– Project 677 Lada non-nuclear submarines. In addition, it is planned to construct series of Project 636 diesel subs as a temporary measure until "problems" with Lada project are resolved (presently, Russian Navy has twenty subs of project 877/636);

– Project 22350 frigates. Series of Project 11356 frigates will be also built (presently, this "weight category" is represented by large ASW ships of projects 11551, 1155, 61M, and Project 956 destroyers);

– Project 20380 corvettes. Modernized version of this project – 20380M – is being currently designed (on that score, Russian Navy has in inventory escort ships of projects 1135, 11540, and 11660);

– Project 11771 large landing ships. At least it has not been said about shutting down of this program (lets have it straight, things look black here – we can only count on operable ships of project 775/775M);

– A new destroyer is being designed; analogously, it was declared of same plans for an aircraft carrier.

As is seen, even at current stage the structure of general-purpose force is going to be variegated again. Only speaking of the brand-new projects and excluding an aircraft carrier, we would get four types of non-strategic submarines and five surface warships of corvette/frigate/destroyer classes. Plus, "new again" escort ships of projects 11540 and 11660. Large ASW ships of projects 11551 and 1155 won't disappear either. Missile cruisers of projects 1164 and 1144 have no alternative in view at all. Perhaps, that is just why it is intended to repair and upgrade the latter ones.

Eventually, as a mid-term prospect we have 6 types of non-strategic submarines (if Project 945 is completely written-off) and 12 types of surface ships – corvettes/frigates/destroyers/large ASW ships/cruisers (if Projects 61M and 1135 are decommissioned). So, what maintenance services and ship-repair plants should do with such diversified assortment? We seem to forget negative experience of Soviet Navy too fast. By the way, strategic nuclear component will face diversity as well – projects 667BDRM and 955/955A ballistic missile nuclear submarines which differ at least in dimensions, displacement, and number of SLBMs, plus two new types of ballistic missile systems.

Russia's current politico-military leadership, especially top-ranking officers are keen on referring to American military as a leading light. Okay, let us have a look at their fleet with regard to strategic and attack submarines and surface ships of corvette/frigate/destroyer/cruiser classes. As a result we have the following (take note, US Navy operates 289 warships):

– one type of nuclear-powered ballistic submarines; moreover, in 2008 all Ohio class SSBNs were uniformed as related to missile weapon and armed with Trident II D5 ballistic missiles;

– four types of nuclear-powered attack submarines; by the way, Los Angeles class submarines will be gradually decommissioned (as of today, 19 out of 62 subs have been written off), and Virginia would remain the only class of attack submarines (Sea Wolf project was abandoned after the cold war was over, and four Ohio class SSGNs compatible with shipborne systems of Ohio class SSBNs will remain in service);

– one type of cruisers (Ticonderoga class); perspectives of a new guided missile cruiser remain doubtful;

– two types of destroyers; Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer is the basic project, and the DDG-1000 destroyer program most likely will be shut down – neither orderers nor the Congress put up with slow-speed defect elimination process and pretty high procurement price exceeding $3 bln for one ship; however, Americans will build three ships anyway;

– two types of frigates and littoral combat ships (LCS); they are Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigates and LCS, although the Navy will have to choose one of them.

Totally, there are 10 types built in series of 3 or more ships. At the same time we have 20 types and much less amount of warships. As the phrase goes, comments are needless. Before dealing with a problem of ships' diversity, one should settle the breakup in minds.