The Future of the Russian Navy Part 4: Summary and Conclusions

Over the last few weeks, I’ve reviewed the Russian Navy’s plans for building new ships and submarines over the next decade. Based on these plans, together with an assessment of how realistic they are, we can develop a picture of what the Russian Navy is likely to look like in 2020.

Ten years from now, Russia is likely to have a Navy that is focused primarily on coastal missions, though with some out of area capability and maintaining the submarine component of its strategic deterrent. The core of the surface fleet will consist of frigates and corvettes, including a significant number of new ships of the Admiral Gorshkov, Krivak IV and Steregushchii classes. More distant deployments will be carried out by the aging Udaloy destroyers and a few modernized Kirov and Slava class cruisers, though the Navy will be desperately working to replace these larger ships as they reach the end of their lives. They will be joined by foreign-designed Mistral (or similar) class amphibious assault ships, which will be used as command and control platforms for out of area operations. The navy will also be working on building a new aircraft carrier, but the project is unlikely to be anywhere near completion by 2020. Its existing Admiral Kuznetsov carrier will still be in the fleet, but will be spending more time getting repaired than actually sailing.

The submarine fleet will be centered on the Borei and Delta IV SSBNs, which will retain the fleet’s strategic deterrence mission. This mission will be considered even more critical by the navy’s leadership, as these submarines will be the only ships still controlled directly by Navy HQ, rather than one of the four operational commands. There will also be a renewed fleet of diesel submarines, consisting of a mix of improved Kilos and Ladas. The navy will still face significant problems with its SSN fleet, as the remaining Akulas and Oscars begin to approach retirement age without a sufficient number of Severodvinsk-class submarines built to replace them. A new small and cheap SSN, along the lines of the US Virginia class, will be in production, but not yet in the fleet (at best, one or two might be completed by 2020, but I don’t think it’s very likely given there isn’t even a design in place as of now).

The Northern and Pacific Fleets will continue to be the most important fleets of the navy. They will have the largest ships, including most likely the Mistrals and most of the modernized cruisers. At the same time, the Black Sea Fleet will be in some ways the most important fleet for operations, as it is the closest to the unstable Caucasus region. It will be re-equipped with new frigates and diesel submarines, as well as new amphibious ships (though most likely Ivan Gren class, rather than Mistral). The Caspian Flotilla may become more important over time as well, playing a potentially significant role as a counter to potential Iranian moves to control the southern part of the sea. To this end, it will likely receive at least a couple more corvettes.

Overall, the Russian Navy will be in somewhat better shape ten years from now than it is now. It will have fewer ship types, allowing for easier maintenance, and a number of new ships of classes that are now nearing completion will be in the fleet. At the same time, it will be more focused on coastal defense missions, with a high proportion of smaller ships and submarines not designed for distant cruises. Any potential return of a powerful blue water capability will take an additional 10-20 years to achieve.

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