Russian Navy

Thorny Way to Great Navy

Text: Independent Military Review, Konstantin V. Bogdanov, military analyst, RIA Novosti
Maritime Component of State Arms Program 2020: Problems and Prospects.

Missile cruiser Petr Veliky on patrol., Leonid Yakutin
Russian political leaders announced rearmament of the Navy as one of the top-priority objectives under State Arms Program 2020. Vladimir Putin affirmed not long ago that the Navy would receive RUR 4.7 trillions for that purpose in the next 10 years.

Some items of this ambitious plan are being slowly fulfilled, but things with basic classes of warships rather cause questions and concerns than optimism. Complicated but resolvable technical problems are neighboring with castle-building, remedial actions, financial screwups, and organizational fiascos.

Horizons and reality

The 'windmill fight' continued in June 2011 under colors of St. Petersburg International Maritime Defense Show IMDS-2011. Addressing the press conference, president of United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) Roman Trotsenko said that Russia would kick off an aircraft carrier building program in 2016. In such a case, the ship could be laid down in 2018 and join Russian Navy by 2023. According to Trotsenko, it would be a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Oceangoing nuclear-powered destroyers can be also built, mentioned Trotsenko. As far as one can judge on probable tasks for such ships, the question is escort guided missile cruisers for prospective carrier strike group.

The issue of aircraft carrier construction is regularly brought up, each time meeting cold-blooded rebuffs of defense ministry. In response for such 'self-presentation' of USC, Anatoly Serdiukov stated that things were not changing. As for him, the ministry was conducting only research works in order to determine specifications for a carrier, its missions and place in the Navy's combat structure.

No decisions on carrier construction will be even discussed until those research works are finished, emphasized defense minister. Anyways, such decision would be a prerogative of high-level political leaders who actually are the main addressees of the RD works.

Last year, Serdiukov told about that in a brown study of carrier fleet future. His arguments were the same then. Besides, adopted State Arms Program 2011-2020 (SAP 2020) does not provide any aircraft carriers.

USC is understandable too. Its ambitious project to withdraw all shipbuilding assets from St. Petersburg to Kotlin Island needs payback (roughly, RUR 30-60 bln). It can be only provided by guaranteed large orders for Novo-Admiralteyskie Verfi shipyard which is, by the way, also supposed to start production in 2016.

Of course, it is hard to resist a temptation to construct tankers and LNG carriers with displacement up to 200,000 tons, but the shipyard has not obtained such orders so far. But to get a firm governmental contract for a large warship with nuclear-powered escort group would be another pair of shoes.

Sea workers

Aircraft carrier is nothing but the Navy's symbol. Moreover, the hypothetical one. To renew Russian naval forces radically, one should begin with other types of warships.

Soviet-built large ASW ships and patrol vessels has become obsolete, and the Navy needs new ships of these classes. Project 22350 frigates developed by Severnoye Design Bureau and approved by the Navy command in 2003 are supposed to replace the old "sea workers".

Dithyrambs sung to those frigates were pretty impressive. They were announced nearly the main ocean-zone ships in the Russian Navy of 21st century. Reported number of those frigates was counted in tens and varied from 30 to 40 ships.

Orders for the frigates were placed at Severnaya Verf shipyard (St. Petersburg). But to say the least, the execution has been delayed due to a bunch of reasons. Laid down early in 2006, the project's lead frigate Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov was launched only in November 2010 and still is not going to start sea trials. Keel of the second frigate – Admiral Flota Kasatonov – was laid down in November 2009, but things have not come to launching so far.

Nevertheless, in spring 2011 the contract for Project 22350 frigates was optimistically expanded from 2 up to 6 ships. As is seen, there is a long step to materialization of ambitious plans to rearm all four fleets with tens of new frigates.

Numerous technical problems are not settled either. For instance, shipborne SAM system Poliment-Redut has not been adapted for maritime version of 9M96 kinetic "pencils" yet, and by all appearances, will be finished directly on the first frigates.

However, that is Project 22350 to be armed with versatile missile launcher for the first time in Russian Navy's recent history.

Navy seeks uniformity

In terms of arms architecture, one circumspect decision of our naval command should be noted. It is the trend to introduce versatile missile launch systems.

In Soviet times, ship-based missile systems and wide range of launchers for them sprouted like mushrooms after summer rains. On the other hand, the US Navy was working on standardized vertical launch systems. And now this ideology has come to Russia.

Versatile missile launch system constitutes a modular weapon equipped with multifunction launchers capable to use antiship, antisubmarine, and ship-to-land cruise missiles.

By the way, all those types of munitions are related to versatile missile system Caliber. Take note, its missiles can be mounted in submarines as well (launched by 533-mm torpedo tubes). There are also coastal missile systems armed with antiship Calibers. All those things give the Navy additional unification capability.

However, supersonic antiship system Onyx is expected to become the key striking force in this area. Its export variant – Yakhont – served as a basis for Russian-Indian joint project, i.e. well-known BrahMos missile. In prospect, versatile missile launch systems would be armed with antiaircraft missiles too.

Standardization of missile launch systems should be recognized as a reasonable and opportune step both from tactical and economic viewpoints. It will not only improve flexibility and effectiveness of naval arms but help Russian defense ministry to economize a nice bit of money, and the industry – to focus on standard weapons.

Twing frigates

As noted above, attempts to put Project 22350 ships in service rapidly, had failed. So, in order to fill gaps in combat strength, it was decided to employ the lighter platform well-proven in export contracts – Project 11356 frigate. In addition, the old ships of 11356-generation were well-known in the Navy, so the command could not ignore the ready-made engineering solution matching needs of Russian mariners.

Three such ships have been already built for India. They are so-called Talwar-class frigates. Other three are under construction. While the first trio was built by Baltiysky Zavod shipyard, the second one was transferred to Yantar Shipyard (Kaliningrad) by high-level political decision.

At that time, the handover of the second three frigates to Yantar was a political project supporting economy of Kaliningrad enclave. But now this yard is becoming the leader in Project 11356 frigate production due to current problems around Baltiysky Zavod.

As was recently reported by Indian defense ministry, delivery terms of the frigates will be delayed for 12-14 months. However, considering submarginal conditions of Yantar when started working on this contract, such "scheduled frustration" can be even regarded as success. Hopefully, soon the shipyard would settle staff problems, adjust paced cooperation, and get into working schedule.

Russian Navy has already ordered three frigates of "localized" version (Project 11356M) from Yantar shipyard. Lead ship – Admiral Grigorovich – was laid down in December 2010, Admiral Essen – in July 2011. The third frigate (possibly named Admiral Makarov) is expected to be laid down this fall. The contract for other three frigates was signed on a recent day.

By the way, "localization" issue is ambivalent in the extreme. According to some sources, there was a decision to draw on the export project, and eventually part of equipment supposed to be installed on Russian frigates still has no analogs in Russia.

However, the yard has mastered Project 11356; in addition, it is much cheaper than Project 22350. Reportedly, one frigate would cost the Navy RUR 10 bln.

To compare, the cost of a Project 22350 frigate is at least RUR 16 bln. Besides, there are some problems with production. Construction process at Severnaya Verf shipyard goes on slowly, and the things are complicated by unsettled debates over title to the shipyard's assets belonging to bankrupted Mezhprombank and are currently in pawn at the Central Bank of the Russian Federation.

SAM system Fort at missile cruiser Petr Veliky., Leonid Yakutin

Corvettes at risk

Order for nine Project 20385 corvettes was also placed at Severnaya Verf shipyard (in total, this order along with Project 22350 frigates exceeds RUR 220 bln). Project 20380 lead corvette Stereguschiy was commissioned in 2008, Soobrazitelny (Project 20381) started sea trials in July 2011, Boiky (Project 20381) has been already launched. Corvette Stoiky (Project 20381) is under construction, and the keel for Provorny (Project 20385) hąs been already laid down. In addition to ships of Severnaya Verf, corvette Sovershenny (Project 20380) is being built since 2006 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

The change-over to more expensive Project 20385 was associated with standardization of on-board weapons. Instead of Uran antiship missile launchers, the ships will be equipped with standard 8-tube launching systems. Thereby, the Navy's "intermediate" force – new frigates and corvettes – will receive completely compatible arms system with good tactical flexibility. However, so far perspectives of this series are muddy as well as Project 22350. Until the issue of Mezhprombank assets is settled, it seems presumptuous to expect stable work from Severnaya Verf shipbuilders on such large-scale defense orders.

The most probable outcome here is full control of USC over Baltiysky Zavod and Severnaya Verf with further reorganization of works on defense orders. It is hard to predict what impact monopolization of military shipbuilding would have on execution effectiveness of defense contracts (especially in pricing transparence). Anyways, the current situation when two leading shipyards are a kind of turned adrift in severe financial conditions and without political protection looks much worse.

Underwater reefs

The situation in submarine construction industry is more transparent, although this transparency draws some questions.

Regarding strategic ballistic missile submarines, things seem clear – the stake is placed on Project 955 Borei. Having spent 20 years on drafting tables and slipways, the project had received the third and, hopefully, the last missile system – SLBM Bulava. Lead sub Yury Dolgoruky has already shot its standard missile, the second sub – Alexander Nevsky – is expected to start sea trials in the current year. The third one – Vladimir Monomakh – is under construction, and the fourth sub (possible name Svyatitel Nikolai) is being prepared for keel-laying.

One problem with Borei subs has already become apparent and will come on surface soon. The question is that Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky were assembled with wide use of readymade hull sections of projects 971 and 949A subs stored at Sevmash. On the other hand, Vladimir Monomakh and Svyatitel Nikolai will be built from scratch, and it is hard to say what impact it will have on manufacturing costs. Perhaps, it will result in another episode of defense ministry's fight against "groundless overpricing", as recently flourished Navy CIC Vladimir Vysotsky. Especially as the ministry and Sevmash has agreed upon nuclear submarine contracts of 2011 just few days ago.

Second type of nuclear subs for our renewed navy is Project 885 Yasen also built by Sevmash. The lead sub SSGN Severodvinsk started sea trials on September 13, 2011. Reportedly, the Navy is about to purchase up to 10 submarines of this kind till 2020.

Defense ministry had been severely criticized Sevmash's pricing policy as of Yasen-class subs. The first hull built on the background of 1993 did fit somehow into price demands, although in 2005 its final cost was frozen at RUR 47 bln due to price rise.

But according to the military, for the second sub – SSGN Kazan – shipbuilders asked RUR 112 bln without a moment's doubt. Sure, it is hard to claim something without transparent computation of prices at hand, but this sum obviously includes not only structural inflation in industry but consequences of price freezing of SSGN Severodvinsk.

With all that in mind, no one is about to design and build light and cheap nuclear-powered "hunters" which could become successors of currently operable but not ageless submarines of projects 671RTM(K), 945, and 971. By the way, at the sunset of Soviet era it was planned to reduce variety of nuclear-powered attack subs to one type, so-called Project 957 Kedr. However, drawings failed to turn into metal.

There is an opinion that Yasen-class subs would functionally replace not only heavy-armed "batons" (Project 949A antiship submarines armed with Granit cruise missiles) but all types of light "hunters". This assertion looks a bit questionable. Of course, it is prematurely and hard to discredit tactical capabilities of Project 885. It is also concern the sub's technical parameters. Undoubtedly, Yasen is quite capable to accomplish tasks traditional for light ASW submarines.

However, in current conditions it will be impossible to build large number of such multifunctional subs as they are pretty big, sophisticated and expensive. That is why they would not be enough to seal off all underwater breaches of our extended country.

So far, it is planned to build ten Project 885 submarines till 2020, while twenty years ago it was believed that the Navy should have at least 30 Yasens in inventory. It is still not clear how many of them Russian Navy really needs to accomplish all tasks currently performed by submarines of projects 671, 945, 971 and 949A. They are not more than thirty in service, and this number is considered insufficient.

Although talks about the need to design a so-called fifth-generation sub are regularly sounded, it is still unclear what is exactly meant by this phrase and whether any substantial works are being held.

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