Russian Navy

Elephant and whale

The third for the last one hundred fifty years shipbuilding program of the ocean going fleet escalated the discussion that lasts for many decades already pertaining to the necessity of the strong fleet and heavy surface ships in particular for Russia. Taking the relevance of the subject and the heat of the discussion that affects the highest circles it is seems necessary to consider the reasoning of the opponents.

The argument came into being in the times of before Peter the Great yet and occasionally coming to light still live today. The participants of the discussion can be divided into fleet-lovers and fleet-haters.

The fleet-lovers defending the necessity of high-seas or “grand” fleet building for Russia as a rule use such reasons as “necessity to gain sea supremacy”, “necessity to pursue active foreign policy”, and “need to maintain nation’s prestige”.

The fleet-haters as a justification of fleet’s futility usually adduce two arguments namely “Russia is a continental power” and “The opponent is stronger anyway”. The last 50 years added up another reasoning “The fleet is useless in world atomic war”.

The first two arguments of the fleet-haters – continental location of Russia and historical supremacy of other naval power (read the British Empire before the II World War and the USA afterwards) entail the statement that the high seas fleet in the present day situation is nothing but useless toy with Russia having no overseas colonies or bases that require protection of this kind and the conflict in the open sea with a outnumbered opponent means inevitable invitation for defeat. As a result there is the requirement of building solely coastal defending fleet to meet the challenges on protection of economical zones and strategically vital areas of the coast covered by land-based aviation. The maximum what is acceptable for the fleet-haters is the availability of strong submarine warfare capable to deliver an atomic strike to the enemy territory and attack enemy shipping.

If to summarize this reasons in one statement the outcome may have the form of the following “We are not capable to build the fleet that would be able to defeat NATO’s navy, therefore we do not need it”.

The argument of ocean going fleet futility in an atomic war was first announced in the times of Nikita Khrushev who amounted the building of the surface fleet in anti-submarine crafts as for the anti-surface warfare such a role was placed onto submarines and aircrafts.

Such arguments rarely meet reasoned opposition. The reasoning of the fleet-lovers upon the named above arguments is beaten by the statement “We ar not capable to defeat the NATO’s navy” amounts in the necessity to find allies in order to piecemeal NATO’s forces, selection of “more convenient” theater of military operations and other tricks that would help “an elephant to beat a whale”.

Actually the argument towards the building of the Russian high seas fleet is only one. Such argument is the necessity for the country to have stable and battle-worthy forces at hand. In this case the battle-worthiness means the capability to inflict an enemy unacceptable damage in a non-nuclear conflict and stability means maintenance and reestablishment of the battle-worthiness under enemy’s interference.

Should the forces incapable to keep the field in a non-nuclear war then the country's only hope is for preventive atomic strike or for powerful allies. The hope for nuclear response might fall short of expectations in case of absence of stable and battle-worthy general-purpose forces as an opponent not bound fighting with general-purpose forces could use all available means of destruction from intercontinental missiles to ship-borne aviation to eliminate our nuclear capability. After such an impact the majority of survived missiles would be intercepted by anti-missile defense with the rest not capable to inflict unacceptable damage.

Judging on the above mentioned the forces of general-purpose as important in a possible nuclear engagement as strategic rocket forces. Availability of the battle-worthy fleet at two theaters (Northern and Far Eastern) would allow to divert at least several hundreds of winged missiles and sorties of ship-borne aviation from the launch facilities of strategic rocket forces and radars of missile warning system. The main navy forces of NATO would not be able to keep a blind eye on strong fleet detachments in the North Eastern Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The aircraft carriers within the fleet groups should act the same as large gun ships battleships and cruisers before i.e. the core providing for the battle stability of the group. The present day situation makes it possible to redeploy carrier forces rather efficient from one theater to another via Northern Sea Route the shipping season of the latter extends from year to year due to the global warming. Such maneuvering allows strengthening the forces at the most dangerous direction.

Apart from the amount of numerical superiority whether times or percents the naval force including five or six guided-weapon ships supported by an aircraft carrier would require many times more efforts to be eliminated than the same force stripped of a carrier and enforced to rely on scarce land-based fighters operating at the limit of their range. It should be noted that a carrier force would posses more stability in comparison with an ordinary one apart from the theater whether home waters of the Barents or Norwegian Seas with the support of numerous coastal crafts and corvettes accompanied by land-based aviation or the area of Azores with squadron to rely upon scarce nuclear submarines and apparently heavy bombers.

The aircraft carriers can not be a plaster for all sorts. Their construction is reasonable only within the general program aimed at forces increase and battle-worthiness maintenance. The successful implementation of the shipbuilding program will become an argument towards the “peaceful coexistence” – no one would risk challenging the strong opponent.

The supporters of the statement on the impossibility to gain the upper hand over an outnumbered opponent should refresh their memory with the history of naval battles of the II World War. Setting aside epical case of the “New Year Eve action” when four His Majesty destroyers managed repel Kriegsmarine’s pocket battleship, heavy cruiser and six destroyers from the convoy, we can recall the two year campaign in the Mediterranean when the British Fleet under Admirals Andrew Cunningham and James Summerville fought against severely outnumbered Italian Fleet that was enforced additionally by strong German-Italian air force. Out of the earlier instances we can pick the victory of Admiral Spiridov at Chesma over the Turkish Fleet. As the history shows the numerical superiority of an opponent can not guarantee hem a victory.

Source: Rambler Based upon:, by Ilya Kramnik
Text translated by:

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