Russian military shipbuilding: an update (part 1)

The cover article of the brand new issue of Moscow Defense Brief (subscription required) from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, examines developments in Russian military shipbuilding in 2012, written by Dmitry Boltenkov. Since the article is not publicly available, I thought it might be useful to provide a brief summary. Part 1 covers submarines and surface ships. Part 2, coming soon, will cover auxiliary ships, export contracts, and provide some analysis.

Submarines

Construction of Borei-class (project 955) submarines progressed significantly in 2012. The navy took delivery of the Yury Dolgoruky, the first sub of this class, at the end of 2012. After some training exercises, the sub is expected to enter regular service by the end of 2013. The second sub, the Alexander Nevsky, is expected to be commissioned in the fall. The third sub, whose construction started in 2006, was launched in January 2013, while construction of the fourth started in July 2012. Two more subs are to be laid down this year. Given the 7-8 year construction times on these submarines, it seems unlikely that all eight will be completed by the 2020 target date.  2023 seems to be a more realistic goal. Furthermore, the lack of new tests on the Bulava missile in 2012 is concerning, though additional tests are expected this autumn — most likely using a new automated missile launch control system.

The Yasen-class (project 885) nuclear attack submarines are being built far more slowly, with the first submarine in the class (the Severodvinsk, which was laid down back in 1993) currently undergoing tests and expected to enter the fleet later this year. The Kazan (the second submarine of this class) will be commissioned in 2015 at the earliest, with the third to be laid down in July. Again, the chances of all 8 contracted subs being completed by 2020 is virtually nonexistent.

Diesel submarines are also being built, including the recently restarted, but still troubled, Lada class. The first sub in this class, the St. Petersburg, entered sea trials in 2004. Problems with its propulsion systems have prevented its commissioning and led the project to be suspended indefinitely several years ago. The project was restarted in 2012, but the St. Petersburg still has not been commissioned. Construction on the two other subs in this class that were laid down before the suspension has resumed and they are expected to be ready for sea trials in 2015 and 2016, respectively. MDB reports that  the second boat may be equipped with new lithium-ion batteries, while the third may have air-independent propulsion. It seems unlikely that any more subs of this class will be built, which means the navy will get three essentially different boats, each with its own maintenance needs. This is precisely the sort of the thing the Russian military has been trying to get away from. The hope is that a fifth-generation conventional sub currently being designed by Rubin Design Bureau will soon be ready for construction, obviating the need for the Lada class. In the meantime, the navy will have to depend on old and new Kilo-class submarines. The first of a set of six improved Kilos is expected to be launched later this year. Two more are under construction and another is to be laid down by the end of 2013. All six are expected to be in service by 2016.

Surface ships

The first of the two Mistral-class ships ordered from France is currently under construction, with the second to be laid down sometime in 2013. Both ships are to be completed and delivered to Russia by the end of 2015. Boltenkov reiterates that both will be assigned to the the Pacific Fleet. Furthermore, he notes that the Russian Navy has ordered four assault-landing boats from STX L’Orient in France. The fate of the third and fourth Mistral-class ships, which were to be built entirely in Russia starting in 2016, remains unresolved.

Two types of frigates are being built for the navy. The first of the Admiral Gorshkov class (project 22350) frigates is expected to enter sea trials in late 2013. Two others are under construction, with a fourth to be laid down later this year. Two more ships of this class have been ordered, with hopes of completion by 2020. MDB reports that the project is facing serious delays with its primary Poliment-Redut SAM weapon system, which is being developed by Almaz-Antey (a company that has had many problems successfully completing the development of new weapons systems in recent years). The second type of frigate (project 11356R) is essentially the Talwar class previously built for the Indian Navy. This is an updated version of the Soviet Krivak class. Russian defense industry is much better at building updated versions of tried and tested designs than at building something completely new. It’s therefore not surprising that construction on these ships is proceeding quite quickly, with three ships already under construction and another to be laid down this year. The first ship of this class, the Admiral Grigorovich is expected to be launched this summer and to enter service in 2014.

The navy is also receiving some smaller combat ships. Construction on various versions of the Steregushchiy class (projects 20380 and 20385) of corvettes continues, with two in service, one in sea trials, one expected to begin sea trials later this year, three under construction and another to be laid down in July. Severnaya Verf is building these ships in about three years, while Amur shipyard is taking much longer. Various sources indicate that contracts have been signed to build another 10 of these corvettes, which would bring the total number in service to 18 by the time the program is complete.

Several types of ships are being built expressly for the Caspian Flotilla. The Dagestan missile ship, equipped with Kalibr-NK long-range cruise missiles, was commissioned into the Caspian Flotilla in November 2012. No further ships of this type are planned, however. Two Buyan-class (project 21630) small artillery ships were commissioned into the flotilla in 2012. An updated version of this class (project 21631), to be armed with Kalibr-NK cruise missiles, has been ordered. Five ships are now under construction with an estimated completion date of 2015. A contract for three more of these ships was signed in January 2013. The Caspian Flotilla is also expected to receive three Serna class (project 11770) high speed air-cavity landing craft this year, built according to an existing late Soviet design.

Finally, the navy is building a number of specialized surface ships, including the Admiral Gren (project 11711) large tank landing ship, which has been under construction since 2004 and was finally launched in May 2012. Completion will be no earlier than 2014 and initial plans to build another 4-5 of these ships have been shelved. Four Dyugon class (project 21820) high speed amphibious landing craft are also under construction, though Boltenkov reports that problems with the design mean that no more ships of this type will be built once these four are completed. The first ship of the Aleksandrit class of minesweepers (project 12700) is under construction as well, with three more expected to be built in the near future. Two Grachonok class (project 21980) anti-sabotage boats were commissioned in 2012, with two more expected to be completed by the end of 2013 and another four currently under construction. A total of about 20 are expected to built in the next few years.

 

The modernization of Russia’s nuclear submarine forces

Yet another Oxford Analytica brief. This one from January. Planning to resume new posts in June, though there will be a couple more OA briefs posted in May.

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The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Yury Dolgoruky officially became part of the Russian navy on January 10, more than a decade after it was initially contracted. It is the lead vessel of the Borey class, equipped with the new marine-launched ballistic missile system (SLBM) Bulava, which has a maximum range of over 8,000 kilometres. The Yury Dolgoruky was commissioned soon after the launch of SSBN Vladimir Monomakh, the third submarine in the series, in late December. These developments have led to conjectures that Russia may again pose a serious security threat to the United States and its NATO allies.

Impacts

  • Work on the Borey and Bulava projects will help Russia assess quality control issues and improve production in other areas.
  • The Russian defence budget will continue to prioritise nuclear weapons, limiting Moscow’s ability to modernise its conventional military.
  • Moscow’s defence upgrades will not have a major impact on US-Russian relations, which are increasingly focused on other issues.

ANALYSIS: In February 2011, Russia’s former deputy minister of defence announced the launch of the State Armament Programme 2020, stressing that the modernisation of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons would be a top priority.

Motivating factors

Moscow’s decision to focus on nuclear modernisation is motivated by several practical and strategic considerations:

  • Outdated nuclear arsenal: The bulk of the arsenal is approaching the end of its service life.
  • Insufficient conventional forces: Russia’s non-nuclear forces cannot, on their own, deter potential conflicts with major powers.
  • Protection: A solid nuclear arsenal would help protect Russia’s interests, including its economic stakes in the Arctic.
  • ‘Superpower’ status: Nuclear forces are one of Russia’s few remaining claims to a prominent position in the international system.

Critically, modernisation efforts should not be misinterpreted as a serious new threat to NATO.

Strategic naval forces

The Russian navy currently operates a fleet of six Delta IV and three Delta III SSBNs.

Outdated fleet

The older Delta IIIs, based in the Pacific Fleet, are armed with 16 SS-N-18 missiles per boat, carrying three warheads each. These submarines first entered service in the late 1970s and are now approaching the end of their lifespan. The Delta IV SSBNs, which are based in the Northern Fleet, are each armed with 16 SS-N-23 Sineva missiles carrying four warheads per missile. They entered service in the mid-1980s and are gradually being overhauled in order to extend their lifespan by an additional ten years. The oldest submarines will be decommissioned in 2019 and the last of the class is expected to be retired by 2025. Because of the overhaul schedule, in recent years, between six and seven strategic submarines were on active duty at any one time.

Modernisation

The Delta IIIs are slated to be replaced by three Borey-class submarines, which are expected to be commissioned over the next two years. Following the commissioning of Yury Dolgoruky, the first of these SSBNs, earlier this month, the navy will be commissioning the Aleksandr Nevsky later in 2013 and the Vladimir Monomakh in 2014. Each of the nuclear-powered submarines will contain 16 launch tubes for the Bulava missile. Subsequent hulls — known as Project 955A — will be modified to carry 20 Bulava missiles.

According to the State Armament Programme, another five modified Borey submarines will be commissioned by 2020, bringing the total number of next generation SSBNs to eight. Since the six Delta IV submarines are slated to retire between 2019 and 2025, the construction schedule for the new submarines can be extended by up to five years without forcing the Russian military to reduce its current active fleet of eight SSBNs, which it perceives as the necessary minimum for maintaining Russia’s strategic deterrent capability.

Expansion

In the longer term, there is a chance that Russia will increase its SSBN fleet from eight to ten units either through the procurement of two additional modified Borey submarines or the construction of a new class of SSBNs. The ultimate decision to expand will depend on the availability of funding as well as the successful completion of the Bulava missile tests.

Missile problems

The Bulava is the sea-based version of the SS-27 and RS-24 missiles. In contrast to its land-based prototypes, its development ran into serious obstacles during the initial testing phases. In eight of the first twelve flight tests, the Bulava suffered critical failures.

Bulava problems rectified?

According to the weapon’s lead designer, the problems were due to lack of necessary equipment and insufficient oversight. Moreover, the Russian industry was unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with the necessary components in a timely manner. The production team has recently increased control over the production process, which appears to have paid off: since October 2010, there have been seven consecutive launches of the Bulava, all of them successful.

Further production issues

In July 2011, the Ministry of Defence announced its plans for the serial production of the Bulava. The next launch was expected to take place in October 2012. However, it was postponed until July 2013 because of unresolved problems with automated control systems for the launch mechanism. As a result, the Yury Dolgoruky submarine was commissioned with 16 empty missile containers. Without the missiles, the submarine has little practical value, which places a great deal of pressure on the defence industry to solve the outstanding problems as quickly as possible.

Implications

Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear arms have become largely peripheral to US-Russian relations. Instead, issues such as energy security, international terrorism and the future of newly independent states on Russia’s periphery have taken centre stage. The ongoing dispute with NATO concerning plans to erect a missile defence shield over the alliance’s territory appears to be primarily due to Russia’s perception of having been excluded from the European security infrastructure, rather than to fears of a nuclear attack by the United States or its allies.

CONCLUSION: The defence industry will endeavour to resolve the remaining technical problems with the Bulava, indispensable to the new generation of strategic submarines, which were designed simultaneously with the missile system. The missile will likely be fully operational by the end of 2013. Given that the new submarines are primarily intended to replace existing SSBNs that are nearing the end of their lifespan and that the role of nuclear arms has become less prominent in the US-Russian security relationship over the past decades, SSBN modernisation should not be misinterpreted as a new threat to NATO.

 

Popovkin provides more details on armaments program

Last week, Vladimir Popovkin gave a lengthy interview to VPK, in which he went into greater detail on a number of issues raised in his press conference the previous week (which was thoroughly covered here). Here are some highlights from the interview:

2010 procurement. The Russian military received the following equipment in 2010: 8 satellites, 23 airplanes, 37 helicopters, 19 air defense systems, 16 anti-aircraft radars, 6 missile launchers, 61 tanks, almost 400 armored vehicles, and 6500 automobiles. Specific types were not mentioned.

Missile and air defense systems. The military will procure 100 S-500 air defense systems and 56 battalions of S-400s (the standard deployment model is 8 launchers per battalion and 4 missiles per launcher) and equip 10 brigades with Iskander missiles by 2020.  Development of the S-500 will be completed by 2013, with deliveries to the armed forces scheduled to begin in 2015. (Note that he is quite explicit that this will be 56 battalions of S-400s (i.e. 448 units), not 56 units.

Nuclear missiles. A new liquid fueled ICBM will be developed to replace the SS-18 Satan. It will be MIRVed with 10 warheads and will be ready by 2018. Bulava testing is planned to be completed this year with the goal of commissioning the missile and the first and second Borei SSBNs by the end of the year.

Strategic Bombers. The technical parameters of the new strategic bomber (PAK DA) will be determined in the next 2-3 years. At that point, the military will make a decision about procurement. The requirements for the aircraft include  supersonic speeds, long range, stealth, and ability to use precision-guided munitions against both air and land targets.

Naval forces. A new 5th generation multi-purpose nuclear attack submarine is currently in design, as is a new destroyer. Both will be armed with versions of the  Klub missile. There are also plans to design a new ship-based supersonic missile system labeled “Tsirkon-S.”

The Mistral deal. Popovkin confirmed some aspects of the Mistral deal that I have previously reported in this blog, including that it will include SENIT-9 combat information system for each ship, though without a license. He also makes the most explicit statement I’ve seen about the reason why Russia is acquiring these ships: “It must be underlined that having the combat information system on board the Mistral turns it into a flagship/command ship.” He goes on to say that the Mistral will provide fire control for various forces in the open seas, including dividing targets among surface ships, submarines and aviation, all working on the same frequency. In other words, as I have written before, the Mistral is not being acquired for its amphibious assault capabilities, but to serve as a naval command ship for Russian forces.

Furthermore, Popovkin confirms that a secondary but significant aspect of the deal is the opportunity it provides to reconstruct domestic shipyards, which will improve their capabilities for both military and civilian shipbuilding.

Foreign imports. The production of Iveco LMV light armored vehicles in Russia under license will begin this year, with the first vehicles being completed in 2012. Eventually, the production will use 50 percent Russian domestic components.

Russia may purchase two samples each of  the French (??) Freccia infantry fighting vehicles and the Italian Centauro heavy armored vehicles for testing purposes. Other foreign purchases that are being made, including UAVs, large combat ships, sniper rifles, etc, are being made with the goal of transferring modern technologies to domestic defense industry in order to then develop these types of equipment at home in the future.

Electronic components remain the greatest problem for domestic defense industry. This will require a special subprogram of the State Armaments Program to rectify.

Financing. In the past, 70 percent of the financing for the 10 year program was left for the last five years. This time, the financing will be spread out evenly over the entire cycle.

There’s a lot of food for thought here. No real surprises, but a lot of detail to flesh out previously made statements on various procurement related topics. As with all such pronouncements, I expect many deadlines will slip, but it’s worthwhile for the moment to focus on the intentions of the MOD in its procurement decision-making.

UPDATE: As noted by a commenter, the Freccia is actually Italian. Popovkin is mistaken either about the type of IFV or the country of origin.

Bulava launch successful

Pavel Podvig reports that today’s launch of the Bulava SLBM was successful. RIA-Novosti reports that the missile reached the target area in the Kura test range.  This is the first successful launch since November 2008, which was followed by three consecutive failures. The defense minister had indicated that in the event of a failure, the missile’s construction process would have to be completely revamped. Two more test launches are scheduled for this year, one from the Dmitry Donskoi and one from the Yuri Dolgorukii.

The Future of the Russian Navy Part 3: Submarines

Strategic Submarines

The future of Russia’s sea-based strategic deterrent force revolves around the Borei-class submarines, eight of which are planned to be built by 2017. The first was completed in 2008 and is currently undergoing sea trials. Another three are already under construction. While the submarines themselves seem to be in good shape, the project is currently mired in uncertainty because of continuing failures in testing of the Bulava SLBM with which they are to be equipped. The Bulava is the first solid-fuel SLBM to be used in Russian/Soviet submarines. The Bulava is the first SLBM used in Russian/Soviet submarines that was designed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), rather than the Makeyev Design Bureau.

The Bulava test missiles are being launched from the Dmitry Donskoy, the last of the Typhoon SSBNs, built in the late 1970s and modified a few years ago to launch the Bulava. Two other Typhoons are currently listed as inactive and may be modified in the future to carry conventional cruise missiles instead of SLBMs.

The Russian Navy currently operates six Delta IV SSBNs, all based in the Northern Fleet. Four of the subs have already been upgraded to carry Sineva SLBMs. Two others are currently being overhauled, with expected relaunch dates in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The expectation is that these subs, which were all built in the late 1980s, will continue to serve through 2020-25.

The Pacific Fleet currently has four active Delta III SSBNs, all built between 1979 and 1982. These subs carry the SS-N-18 SLBM. They are expected to be withdrawn from service in the near future, as the new Borei-class SSBNs enter the fleet. Original plans called for them to have been withdrawn already by 2010, but problems with the Bulava have so far prevented the Borei submarines from replacing the Delta IIIs.

Assuming that the Bulava’s problems are resolved, 10-15 years from now, we are likely to see Russia maintaining a fleet of 12 SSBNs, most likely including 6-8 Boreis  and 4-6 Delta IVs.

Multi-purpose Nuclear Submarines

The Russian Navy currently operates several kinds of multi-purpose submarines. The largest are the Oscar II class cruise missile submarines, built mostly in the 1980s and armed with P-700 Granit cruise missiles. Eight of these submarines are available to the navy, though at least three are currently in reserve or being repaired. As currently configured, their sole real purpose is to hunt down US carrier groups, though this is made difficult in practice by their large size and noisiness, characteristics that make them relatively easy to spot. In the future, they could be equipped with newer cruise missiles to expand their range of missions. Two more Oscar IIs were never completed but could be finished in the future, though it seems to me that this would not be a wise expenditure of limited procurement resources.

The Akula is the main type of attack submarine currently in the Russian Navy. There are eight in active service, mostly in the Northern Fleet, though several more are being held in reserve. The older boats in this class are likely to be retired over the next decade. In addition, the Navy still operates four Victor III attack submarines and three Sierra I and II attack submarines. All of these are likely to be retired in the near future as well.

The only replacement for these submarines, at the moment, is the Severdvinsk class, a modification of the Akula class that is considered by some experts to be the most sophisticated nuclear submarine in the world, able to travel at 33 knots, armed with 8 torpedo tubes and able to launch up to 24 cruise missiles simultaneously. They are similar in some ways to the American Sea Wolf submarine. At the same time, these submarines are very expensive and some analysts doubt the need for building too many of them given that the Sea Wolf program was canceled after only three were built. For the moment, one submarine of this class has been launched and another is under construction. Navy officials have stated that they hope to start building one of these a year starting in 2011, but this seems highly unlikely given the financial constraints and technological limitations of Russian submarine building.

It seems that this is the most problematic category for the Russian Navy’s submarine fleet. Ten years from now, the navy is likely to have at its disposal around 4 Oscar IIs, 4-5 Akulas, and no more than 3 Severdvinsk submarines. And the remaining Oscars and Akulas will have to be retired by 2025-2030. Given these numbers, what the navy desperately needs is a relatively basic, cheap, and easy to build attack submarine along the lines of the American Virginia class. While there are rumors that various bureaus are working on designs for such a submarine, there has been no official word on this process.

Diesel Submarines

The Russian Navy currently operates 12-15 Kilo class diesel-electric submarines, most of which were built in the 1980s. Several additional submarines are in reserve and a couple are under repair and will likely return to operational status. These are extremely quiet submarines, intended for anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in shallow waters. They are armed with torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles.

The successor to the Kilo is the Lada, the first of which (the St. Petersburg) was launched in 2005 but not commissioned until May 2010. Despite being listed in active service,  the St. Petersburg continues to experience problems with its propulsion systems, which had been the cause of the delays in completing the sub’s sea trials. In the meantime, two other submarines of this class are under construction, though their completion is likely to be delayed until the problems with the St. Petersburg are resolved. The Russian navy hopes to build a total of eight Ladas by 2020, and more thereafter.

Because of the urgent need for new diesel submarines in the Black Sea Fleet and the continuing problems with the Lada, in August 2010 the navy announced that it will build three improved Kilos (of a type previously built only for export) for the Black Sea Fleet. Construction of the first submarine has already begun and all three are expected to be completed by 2014. These are realistic timelines, given the speed with which these submarines have been built for the Chinese and Algerian navies.

Later this week, I’ll have a summary and analysis of what I think the RFN will look like in 10 years based on all the available information.

Medvedev’s military priorities for 2010

In his recent annual address,  President Medvedev focused on top priorities for the military in the coming year. These priorities can be subdivided into three categories: personnel, education, and procurement.

In the personnel realm, he lauded the government’s success at increasing funding for the construction of housing for officers and soldiers and called for the backlog in this realm to be eliminated over the next three years. He also called for the establishment of a new salary scale for members of the military, asking for a law to this effect to be passed by 2012. Earlier, the defense ministry had stated that salaries would be increased earlier than this, so this time frame may represent the recognition that funds for an earlier increase are not available.

In the area of education, Medvedev noted the establishment of three centers for officer education, which will focus not just on professional training, but also on the inculcation of patriotism. He also mentioned the establishment of seven presidential cadet schools, one for each federal district, and the importance of establishing a corps of professional sergeants.

But perhaps the greatest emphasis was placed on the procurement of new weapons systems and platforms in the context of a fundamental reform of the military’s procurement system. He called for the heads of defense industry facilities to increase the quality of production while decreasing costs. How this might be done was left as an exercise for the managers and for military analysts.

The range of new weapons and platforms that will enter service in 2009 was described with great specificity, however. They included 5 Iskander ballistic missile systems, 300 ballistic missiles, 300 tanks and armored vehicles, 30 helicopters, 28 combat aircraft, 3 nuclear submarines, one corvette, and 11 satellites.

Michael Balabanov provides further details, noting that the tanks and armored vehicles can be subdivided into 63 T-90A tanks, 120 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, and a range of infantry fighting vehicles: 60 BMP-3M,  40 BTR-MD Rakushka, and 40 BMD-4. The helicopters would include 6 Ansat light multi-purpose helicopters, 12 Mi-28H attack helicopters, 3 Ka-52 “Alligator” attack helicopters, and 9-10 Mi-8 transport helicopters. The missiles will be more or less evenly split between 16 Sineva nuclear missiles for Delta-IV SSBNs and Topol-M and RS-24 ICBMs. Given the continuing test failures of the Bulava SLBM, there are currently no plans to purchase any of these for the active military.

The 28 combat aircraft would consist primarily of MIG-29SMT fighter planes, which were built for the Algerian air force but rejected in 2008 due to quality concerns. I guess they’re considered good enough for Russian needs, even if they have too many defects for Algeria. There are also plans to procure 4 SU-34 bombers, 2 Su-27SM fighter planes and 2 Su-25UBM close air support aircraft. Note that there seem to be no plans to purchase more of the newest types of aircraft, such as the Su-34, Su-35 or MIG-35. Or more specifically, there are such plans, but it seems that none will be completed next year.

The focus here is primarily on purchasing tried and true systems for the ground forces and the air force. The Navy will get just one Steregushchii class corvette and three nuclear submarines that represent merely the completion of ships that have been under construction for years. This means that completion of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate will be delayed yet again and that the completion of further Borei-class SSBNs may be suspended pending the outcome of coming tests of the Bulava missile.

But even the army and air force will get few or none brand new systems — the new equipment will still be based on late Soviet designs that have been around in one way or another for the last 10-15 years. In some cases, these designs have been somewhat modernized, but the military will have to continue to wait, and perhaps for a long time, for the new generation of weapons and equipment.

 

Update on the Navy

Before I started writing on Russian military reform, I used to cover the Russian Navy. There have been a few new developments in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d briefly mention them here, just for the record.

1) The on-again, off-again move of the navy’s headquarters to the Admiralty building in St. Petersburg has been suspended. For the moment, the Admiralty will house a backup control center (in case Moscow is conquered???).

2) China is copying the design of the Varyag aircraft carrier (similar to the Admiral Kuznetsov) as it begins a program to build its own carriers. The 75 percent completed Varyag was sold several years ago, ostensibly for the purpose of serving as a casino in Macao.  Instead, it is been used to reverse engineer a Chinese aircraft carrier. If China succeeds in develop such a craft (something that is still highly doubtful), it will certainly carry copies of Su-33 naval aircraft, since China has procured a prototype plane of this type from Ukraine.

3) The purchase of a French helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ship seems to be moving forward. The Mistral itself will visit St. Petersburg in the near future. The goal continues to be to buy one actual ship and then to license the production of four more in St. Petersburg or Severodvinsk.

According to Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev, the first deputy chief of staff of the navy, the ships would be based in the Northern or Pacific Fleets (not the Black Sea Fleet, as recently claimed by Jacob Kipp). They would be used for amphibious landing operations, for peacekeeping and rescue operations, and to fight pirates (where their helicopters would come in handy).

There is some skepticism in the media about whether the Russian-built ships will be completed in a reasonable period of time (i.e. less than 10 years per ship), how they will be supported in terms of ASW and AAW, and whether the promised modernization of the potential forward base in Tartus will materialize. Russian analysts are also questioning whether the navy will be able to afford the ship’s cost, estimated at 400-500 million euros per ship.

4) Alexander Khramchikhin, for one, blames the Bulava for the inevitably coming demise of the Russian Navy. The article is worth quoting at length:

[The Bulava's] effectiveness has turned out to be simply amazing. The missile has not entered serial production, and never will, but it has already destroyed the Russian Navy. Almost all the money allocated to the Navy’s development have been spent on this mindless dead-end program.

Any person who can see the real situation well understands that in a few years the Russian Navy as a whole, as well as all four of its component fleets, will cease to exist. This is already absolutely inevitable — the situation will not be changed even by mass purchases of ships from abroad.

In light of this, it is especially amusing to observe the fierce “battle for Sevastopol.” Why do we need it after 2017? To pay Kiev enormous sums to rent empty piers? By that time, at best the Novorossiisk naval brigade will be all that’s left of the Black Sea Fleet. And the discussion of whether we need a blue-water navy or a coastal one is a complete farce. We won’t even have a coastal force — the maximum that our “navy” will be able to accomplish in ten years is the immediate defense of a few main naval bases. Because we built the Bulava.

While I wouldn’t blame all of the navy’s problems on the Bulava, Khramchikhin is exactly right in his analysis of the future trajectory of the Russian Navy. Despite relatively generous financing over the last few years, its shipbuilders have shown time and again that they are incapable of producing ships in a timely manner. All of the navy’s shipbuilding projects have been repeatedly delayed. As the existing ships approach (and in many cases pass) the end of their expected lifespan, there are few replacements in the works.

In any case, there is little if any cause to fear that the Russian Navy is making progress in its oceanic ambitions, whether or not it still has any. Instead, we should be thinking of it as living out the last years of the leftover glory of its Soviet years. In another 10 years, its major ocean-going ships will be gone, with nothing but a few corvettes and a couple of French LSTs to replace them.