Will the Kirov cruisers be restored?

I owe readers a final report on Center-2011, and also the rest of the update on Navy procurement, but I can’t pass up the argument that seems to now be brewing between the military correspondents of NVO and Izvestiia. In today’s NVO, Viktor Litovkin launches a broadside against what he terms the “sensationalist” coverage in Izvestiia (though he doesn’t refer to that paper by name, it’s clear enough from the description), arguing that its recent articles on the upcoming removal of Aleksandr Shliakhturov, the head of the GRU, the scrapping of Russia’s remaining Typhoon submarines, and some other topics were all denied by defense officials.

I take no particular stand on this argument. We all know that defense officials are paid to deny certain news right up until the minute that they are officially announced. We will see soon enough whether Shliakhturov retires, whether the Typhoons are scrapped, and whether Russian soldiers continue to wear berets. What made this particular article by Litovkin interesting and relevant is that most of it is devoted to arguing about whether the Kirov cruisers that I discussed in my last post will actually be modernized and returned to the fleet.

Litovkin is skeptical, because 1) he could not get confirmation from the Ministry of Defense and 2) there is no money for this task in the current state armaments program. These don’t seem to be definitive reasons, after all 1) the ministry spokespeople may not be authorized to make an official statement and 2) if a political decision is made to go ahead, money will be found quickly enough. The SAP-2020 is not a bible and changes along the way should be expected.

But Litovkin adds some interesting commentary on why this project is not very feasible and would be a bad idea even if it were. He notes (and here I think Kramnik would agree with him) that these cruisers would not have an obvious mission for the Russian navy. They were originally designed to fight American aircraft carriers, a task that is not very relevant to the 21st century Russian navy.

He then points out that Russian shipyards do not currently have the capacity to carry out this modernization. There are only a few shipyards that have sufficiently large drydocks, and most of these are already being used for other tasks. Sevmash in Severodvinsk is fully occupied building nuclear submarines (both Borei and Yasen class). Zvezdochka in Severdvinsk has the capacity, but doesn’t have a license to work on nuclear reactors, which would be one of the main tasks of the repair. Severnaia Verf in St. Petersburg is fully booked building smaller ships. The Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, which originally built the ships in the 1970s and 80s, could do it but is near bankruptcy because of various political conflicts. It may well be closed and taken over by interests seeking to develop its territory for commercial ends.

Given this list of shipyards, I wonder whether the push for restoring the Kirov cruisers is, in fact, an effort by the Baltic Shipyard to counter the efforts to close it. If it is the only possible candidate to modernize the ships, and a decision is made to go ahead, then the shipyard will gain a new lease on life and powerful political protectors who could ensure its survival for at least the next decade.

Of course, it could be longer than a decade. Litovkin points out the danger of corruption through dolgostroi, as a number of Russian shipyards have used long-term construction and renovation projects such as the Vikramaditya project (10 years) and various nuclear and diesel submarines to get continuing financing from the Russian budget and from foreign governments. Specific instances of theft of state funds in connection to the overhaul of the Peter the Great and Admiral Kuznetsov in recent years do not inspire confidence either.

Litovkin concludes that the only benefit to overhauling the Kirov cruisers would accrue to specific individuals, while the Russian navy would derive little use from the ships. By and large, I would have to agree with this assessment.

By the way, here are some pictures of the three ships under discussion which give a sense of their current condition… (from worst to best). Pictures originally found here.

1. Admiral Lazarev

2. Admiral Ushakov

3. Admiral Nakhimov

7 thoughts on “Will the Kirov cruisers be restored?

  1. Derive little use from the Kirovs?

    Once the Kirovs and Kuznetsov have their upgrades their electronic command systems will be compatible with the rest of the Russian fleet, and they will share information from battle cruiser and carrier down to corvette.

    What else should escort the Kuznetsov?

    The Kirov was designed to attack US carrier groups.

    Little surprise for you, China will have carrier groups eventually… the UK might cancel theirs, but there are plenty of other carrier groups operating around the world and not only will Kirovs be an excellent tool for dealing with those, they will also form the core of Russian carrier groups.

    The whole purpose of a strong navy is to have a global powerful reach.

    The great naval powers of the world… Spain, France, Britain and then the US after them, didn’t become powerful and then build a navy… they built up a powerful navy and that made them a global power.

    Also it should be pointed out that when the Indian Navy ordered three frigates the contract was given to a shipyard in poor condition to build them. The construction of those three frigates was also used to renovate that shipyard and create a skilled workforce and upgrade tooling and production capacity.

    When the Indian Navy liked the frigates and ordered 3 more the order went to a totally different shipyard, which went through all the same problems the other shipyard went through of having to hire and train a workforce and upgrade tooling and learn new production techniques and in the end they built three frigates.

    The result is that India got 6 frigates and two Russian shipyards got to build frigates again after a very long period of doing not very much.

    The customer got their products and Russia got two shipyards that can build some frigates for their navy now, so the ship building infrastructure in Russia got upgraded more than if the focus was just to produce for the customer.

    Of course further orders from India can now be built at two shipyards instead of one and the Russian navy can also order similar frigate designs for itself from two yards.

    If the Baltic shipyard is looking at bankruptcy then work for them is long overdue… get them to upgrade the Kirovs and work their way out of debt.

    It is always more profitable to sell shipyards or anything when it is a viable entity. Selling bankrupt companies, or putting them in receivership is just giving them away.

    • I think you’re making a couple of assumptions that may not be warranted

      1) Warfare in the 21st century will be like warfare in the past. I absolutely agree about the role having a powerful navy played in the past in various countries becoming global powers. However, this was before the age of the jet airplane, not to mention missiles. Power in the future will not accrue to the largest navy, but to countries with advanced cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft. If Russia wants to restore its position as a global military power, it should focus (and to some extent is focusing) on making more advanced electronics, not on rebuilding late 20th century steel hulks. Upgrading electronics will not mean that they will be able to share information in the way you describe

      • Dr. Gorenburg,
        1. “Warfare in the 21st century will be like warfare in the past. I absolutely agree about the role having a powerful navy played in the past in various countries becoming global powers. However, this was before the age of the jet airplane, not to mention missiles.”
        (a) Your conclusion is not based on any precedent or fact. On the one hand you have 500 years of history (Spain, Dutch Republic, France – to a certain extent, England, the USA) as global powers. On the other hand you suggest a hypothesis which so far has not been proven by facts.
        (b) Arguably, the future warfare will depend on the conquest of space. In part, today’s navy, the army and the air force depend on space based satellites for guidance, communication, etc.
        (c) India has jet planes and missiles, but its not a global power. Even Pakistan has missiles with nuclear weapons and plenty of jets, but its not a global power. With all its missiles and jets, China is a not a global power (albeit a major regional power with global aspirations).
        2. A commercial fleet, along with the global navy, is a requisite of a global power. See the examples above at 1(a).
        3. In order for Russia to be a global power, it must have a global navy (a) to project power abroad, as Garry B correctly pointed out – “[A] powerful navy gives Russia a global reach that a 3 million strong Army or Air Force would not give her, (b) a commercial fleet, (c) a geopolitical strategy (see below # 4), (d) other things which are not subject to this discussion.
        4. Such geopolitical strategy will state (expressly or impliedly) that the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea are part of Russia’s sphere of influence.
        (a) For example, Russia’s policy should be to undermine the Baltic states by placing pro-Russian governments or dismembering them. Maybe there is such evidence, but so far, I haven’t seen it.
        (b) Logically, Turkey, as the most powerful nation in the Black Sea, should be Russia’s enemy for its domination of the southern waters. Today is the opportune time for Russia to weaken or ultimately dismember Turkey, which is having serious problems: (i) tensions with Greece, to the point of having a secret defense agreement with Israel against its eastern NATO “ally”, (ii) direct naval confrontation with Cyprus, (iii) a major change in Israel-Turkish relationship from allies to adversaries and shortly enemies, (iv) Armenia – Russia’s ally, which has historical claims against Turkey, including the genocide of Armenians in 1915, (v) powerful Kurdish awakening with autonomy or outright independence, including Diyarbakir declaration, (vi) Syria’s ruling elite’s antagonism during recent unrest, (vii) Iranian’s anxiety, unease or silent hostility against “Great Satan’s” local sheriff and “secular” Sunni Turkey, (ix) USA is tied in Iraq and Afganistan and is facing major confrontation in the Gulf region. This is an opportune time. Yet, yet, Russia’s specific, measurable conduct is absent. It is nowhere to be seen.
        Stated differently, BEFORE building, rebuilding or modernizing any ship, Kremlin must define its geopolitical goals, specifically re its naval ambitions. Russia’s misguided stance is good news for Turkey and Baltic states (as well as the USA, etc.)
        5. Russia is so weak or so clueless of its NAVAL geopolitical strategy that it did not even occupy Batumi during 888 (“Russia-Georgian war of August 2008). Another missed opportunity to have a naval base in Batumi.

      • I agree with David on a few points, but also fundamentally disagree on a few of his comments too.

        The free use (access) of space assets will be crucial globally in peace time as it will during periods of war.

        No one has an equivalent space launch capability to the Russians right now and they are expanding that with a new Space Port right now… if you want to dominate space then you need a healthy space launch capacity… and they have that and will likely continue to do so.

        A global military fleet is good for ensuring your interests but you need a healthy commercial fleet to exploit the access this military fleet provides.
        Equally we have seen in recent months that being able to send a few carrier groups to sit off a coast for a few months can be used to support foreign civil wars, or potentially to “nip them in the bud”.

        How would the conflict in Kosovo have played differently if Russia had had a full carrier group in the Med at the time? …even without actually using it, it would certainly have tempered NATO actions, and in terms of intel… would they still have sent B-2s?

        My main disagreements are with your suggestions of future relations with neighbours David.
        Russia is not a bastion of Communism any more. Its goals are not to spread the word and free the workers from slavery to the rich and powerful. Russia in the future can follow Russias own interests with no Warsaw Pact to subsidise and no Soviet Union states to drag into the 21st C with it.

        Russia doesn’t need to destroy Turkey, or the Baltic States, or NATO, or the US. Friendly mutually beneficial relations will be more constructive and lead to growth and a safer, more stable future.

        This is not a militaristic build up to invade the world and impose democracy on everyone, this is, for the want of a better phrase a reset to take Naval and Army and Air Force forces and get rid of old obsolete worn out equipment, and upgrade the stuff worth keeping and replacing with brand new stuff everything else so the much smaller newer forces will be much more potent.

        Using standard machinery and propulsion, sensors and electronics, and unified weapon systems they should be able to achieve what the Soviet Navy couldn’t, which is a fleet that has simplified logistics and training, with fully multirole vessels with electronics and sensors and weapons unified across all platforms that allow much better performance from much smaller groups of vessels with the benefits of increased production runs for parts, simplified logistics and crew training, and improved performance.

        You don’t carry a big stick so you can hit everyone you see, you carry a big stick so you never have to use it.

        The conflict in Georgia was about protecting the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian aggression. It had nothing to do with gaining control of more land or expansion.

        Currently the Russian Navy is not in great shape, but money is being spent to fill gaps and enhance capabilities, as well as improve infrastructure. Right now they don’t need foreign ports, they need improved and upgraded Russian ports and lots of smaller boats and support vessels, as well as a significant number of destroyer and frigate sized vessels. After they have sorted out these issues then foreign ports in Syria and Vietnam and Cuba and Venezuela etc etc will start to be useful and will get funding to upgrade to allow the fleet to expand on a more regular basis into international waters.

  2. The electronics will have to be modernized in any case, and it was previous Russian practice to standardize missile systems and fire control directors – nearly everything that floated in the Soviet fleet had the SA-N-4, for example, and the SA-N-1 was widely fitted in cruiser/destroyer sized combatants as well. If Russia plans to build more large ships, the electronics would probably be common.

    Another platform that will likely require escort will be the Mistrals – they would be able to carry a fairly good offensive punch in troops, vehicles and helicopters, but are themselves lightly armed.

    Besides that, large navies that are subdivided into squadrons or fleets need flagships. They are largely symbolic and significant wasters of manpower, but if you want Command to go to sea with a staff capacity, the flagship or a carrier is the only way to go – destroyers can’t sacrifice weapon or magazine space for staff quarters and an expanded comm fit. The flagship is a symbol of national power and sea control, and if Mr. Putin is serious about a Eurasian Union and the idea wins more than polite interest, the size of the fleet may once again start growing.

    Even the worst-looking of these units is not in terribly bad shape; much of the deterioration appears superficial, and I’ve seen much worse-looking ships on active service. A lot of it is just rust and clutter. A good deal of thought goes into hull stability in the design phase, and much of the current electronics fit is heavier and bulkier than modern gear, adding significant topweight. Once removed and replaced with lighter modern electronics, the ships would be able to carry significantly heavier weapon loads if they could find the space.

    As long as navies are fighting navies, the philosophy of sea combat has changed less than you might think. Although increased emphasis has been placed on the littoral and on asymmetric warfare, these are essentially landbased threats against which the navy has a role. They are not serious threats beyond the littoral.

  3. @Dmitry
    They will install the Sigma electronic command system fitted to all new Russian vessels from corvette up to aircraft carrier.
    Sigma combines the sensor information from all sensors on all platforms and combines in into a battle management system similar to AEGIS.
    The reality is that large vessels allow more capability to be packed into fewer vessels.

    A powerful navy gives Russia a global reach that a 3 million strong Army or Air Force would not give her.

    @marknesop
    They did standardise some things like CIWS and short range SAMs but there was little real consistency in main armament as each ship was generally custom designed for a role.
    For instance the Sovs and the Udaloys have different basic roles and different armaments… one anti AEGIS in the form of Sunburns, and the other anti sub in the form of the Silex missiles.
    They also had different propulsion systems to match the different roles.
    Their new vessels will be fully standardised… the main armament on all vessels will be the UKSK launcher that currently is able to carry anti ship, anti sub, and land attack weapons… they can be mission specific equipped during the loading process. If the mission is anti ship then Oniks and supersonic Klub plus perhaps subsonic Klub to be fired first to arrive just after the supersonic weapons hit as the enemy naval force might fixate on the supersonic inbound threats.

    The Mistrals will likely be fitted with S-400 Redut/Poliment with about 120 x 120km and 40km range SAMs plus likely 2-4 naval Pantsir, but even this level of protection will not be enough and they will certainly operate with a heavy escort… Kirovs and Slavas will be ideal for that role.

    The sheer size of the Kirovs, plus the fact that many of the new weapon systems actually take up less space than the older systems will result in much better armed and equipped vessels.
    The Russian version of Oniks for instance is believed to weigh about 4 tons compared with the 7 ton Granit they replace.
    The Redut vertical launch system uses space far more efficiently than the old rotary RIF-M system which allowed below deck access to the missiles for maintainence.

  4. Zvezdochka is not nuclear-rated?

    This is an amazing comment, considering that Zvezdochka spent the last decade refitting 6 Project 667BDRM (Delta IV) SSBNs and will continue to work on nuclear-powered submarines for years to come.

    Otherwise I am in general agreement as to Orlans/Kirovs. I will not believe a single word of these promises until I see an official decision from a source like Serdyukov or Putin (even the Navy CnC doesn’t qualify, IMHO, as he is known as a serial bullshitter/wishful thinker).

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