The Russian Navy’s shipbuilding constraints

Last week, the press in the U.S. briefly got excited about the Russian state armaments program. Fred Weir’s article in particular talked about the bear sharpening its claws, etc. There was no mention of the failure of all previous such programs, and no discussion of the overall likelihood that the program would actually be carried out in its entirety. I have for awhile been arguing that there’s no way that these grand pronouncements can be met given the current capacities of Russia’s defense industry. I’m currently in the middle of putting together a fairly lengthy analysis of the Russian air force’s acquisitions in light of these limitations, which will hopefully see the light of day within the next week or so.

While that’s in progress, I thought I’d share a note that I received recently from Dave Baker regarding the extent to which Russia’s shipbuilding industry is likely to meet its GPV targets, written in response to an AP article about Russia’s plans to acquire 600 planes and 100 ships in the next 10 years.

Despite this being an official announcement, I’d not put too much credence into it, and I seriously doubt that the stated goals can be met or even distantly approached. Within the last couple of weeks there was another official statement that, instead of five Graney-class SSNs being completed by 2015, there will now be only one more past the prototype laid down 15 years ago. Another Russian yard official stated that no work would be begun on the pair of Mistrals to be built in Russian until 2020 (when the new yard at Kotlin Island would be completed; prior announcements, not that long ago, have said the yard would be finished in 2017).

At the same time, the new corvette program has already been cancelled after only two launchings, due to stability and weapons system integration problems. Just read that the new submarine rescue ship laid down in 2007 at Admiralty has had very little done on it since due to funding shortages, and, of course, the Lada program seems very likely to have been halted at the one in the water, since by switching to building Kilos for domestic use at Admiralty, there’s no longer any yard space to build Ladas (not sure what’s happening to units two and three, which are on order — unit two may be the one laid down as an export demonstrator back in 1996, but the fourth was never ordered).

Etc., etc.   On the other hand, there’s a yard near St. Petersburg cranking out a slew of new yard tugs to replace the ancient and decrepit fleet now in use. Perhaps the 100 ships will mostly be yardcraft. Oh, and Putin is getting a very large and expensive yacht out of the Russian Navy budget.

I am very much in agreement with this line of thinking. While my understanding is that at least two more of the new corvettes will be completed (and possibly as many as four for a total of six altogether), it is clear that the project has been declared a failure and will eventually be replaced by a new corvette design that is light (1500 tons or less), inexpensive, and can accommodate a wide range of armaments — including missiles that can hit both land and sea targets (perhaps the Klub?), anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defenses, and mine-laying capabilities. However, the timeline on this project is quite long, as design has only just begun.

Similarly, the Lada submarines are a failure because of largely unsolved propulsion problems. A return to the Kilo, at least for the near to medium term, seems to be the only solution. I’m also not at all surprised that there will only be one more Graney (aka Severodvinsk)-class attack submarine. Back in September, I noted that plans for building one of these a year starting in 2011 were completely unrealistic and that the submarine type in and of itself was too expensive and unnecessary given the cancellation of the similar Sea Wolf program by the United States after only three subs.

In other words, don’t expect 100 new Russian navy ships by 2020. Unless you count the yard tugs…

UPDATE: In fairness, I should note that Fred Weir’s article does talk about problems related to the armaments program, particularly about whether the weapons being procured will be useful for Russia’s defensive needs, the lack of fresh designs, and the deteriorating capabilities of the military industrial complex. As I note in the comments below, it’s more the headline that’s the problem, rather than the piece itself.