Russian Navy

Big ship, big problems

Russia is a leading naval power according to the naval doctrine signed by the president in 2001. For an illustration of this, one has to look no further than the Gulf of Aden, where our ships are protecting the cargo ships of various countries from pirate attacks. But the war machine built to the highest standards by the Soviet Union has been, since its disappearance, continuing along only by inertia. As a result, ships are ageing, while not enough new ones are being built, and even they spend way too much time on production lines.

We will be left with no warships in five years

The biggest stumbling block for today’s Russian Navy is the so-called “big ships.” They include cruisers, aircraft carriers, escadrille minesweepers, and big antisubmarine ships capable of carrying out missions in distant seas and oceans.

In the words of the chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Naval Policy, the commander of the Russian Navy until 2002, Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, Russia has not built “big ships” in the last 20 years.

“Without resorting to extreme measures, we will end up without ships of that level in 5 years,” he stressed in a speech at the Baltic Information Agency (BIA).

To lose the distant-ocean fleet will mean losing our influence in the World Ocean, and the command of the Russian Navy understands this. That is why, Popov added, the commander of the Russian Navy has decided to call for a speedup of the construction of such ships.

“Unfortunately, the window of opportunity has closed. The problems will begin materializing to their full extent in 7 to 10 years. The current ships will be decommissioned faster than new ones can be built,” said the admiral.

We can still build ships

What’s encouraging is that we are still capable of building ships. Some 110 factories produce equipment for the shipbuilding industry; from energy to metals, to the most complex electronics and armament systems.

“Fortunately, we did not allow a complete destruction of the military-industrial complex. The collapse initiated in the ‘90s was halted,” said the admiral. But for those factories to work effectively, an economic stimulus is necessary. Therefore, Popov believes, to successfully build ships, we must seriously revise the tax-customs policy of our state. It must be made more flexible, more stimulant in order to create incentives for factories.

In addition, we must not scrub projects of strategic importance just because we are short of funds. “We must not set tasks under the diktat of financial resources but rather look for resources to solve the tasks that arise,” Popov believes.

Idiots, bad roads and bureaucracy

It is clear that for the tasks to be fulfilled it is necessary to make decisions and control their execution at every step. Coordinated actions in part are a crucial element of success. That is why Popov considers the confusion amongst various government bureaucracies to be, in addition to idiots and bad roads, Russia’s most daunting enemies.

As an example, he mentioned the situation with the tongue of the Barents Sea, where 20 meters from each other observation posts for the navy, air defense, and the border service are all located. All of them are pretty similar and serve the same purpose. But setting up a joint post that will provide information to all three agencies has not even been explored.

This is true in big and small questions: issues related to the navy are resolved at various agencies. The navy is subordinated to the Defense Ministry, the Fisheries Ministry, while the shipbuilding industry is subordinated to the Economic and Development Ministry.

The president of the Naval Assembly of St.Petersburg, Nikolay Orlov, says he believes that in times of crisis subordinating the entire navy to one single ministry will be the right thing to do, “So that the money directed toward the navy is spent on rebuilding the navy.”

“This is not a permanent solution, but a temporary one, given the situation we face. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort has been done,” he said.

The navy can’t attract enough competent young recruits

The problem is in that decisions need to somehow be implemented at the local level. The young men recruited by the navy today are way less apt than those who served until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Orlov explained that many youngsters are recruited today because the pay is so modest. They work, of course, at night, mostly as security guards. When tired and weary they finally find themselves in the classroom, they are less than well-prepared.

“We must understand that the student with a ‘D’ someday will become an admiral: and that is scary,” the head of the Naval Assembly warned.

He added that the St.Petersburg Naval Assembly was doing all in its power to improve the level of instruction of the cadres of the navy: it has instituted a stipend at all military-naval colleges in St.Petersburg, and for the military-naval academy, it has also funded the production of teaching material.

The role of the navy and civilian sea shipping is difficult to overestimate. The enormous reserves under the Arctic Shelf will be useless without ships that can study, process, and protect them. Nuclear submarines armed with missiles help maintain balance in the world. Therefore, one of Russia’s main tasks is to maintain and strengthen its naval power.

Source:, author: Maria Popova. 20.02.09

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