An update on naval construction, part 2: medium combat ships

In this installment, I promised an update on frigates and corvettes, and I will get to that in the second half of the article. But first, Ilya Kramnik has recently published an article that provides some additional information on plans for a new destroyer, which I described briefly in the previous post.

More on the new destroyer

The information that he provides is basically in line with what I wrote before, but fills in some details. Specifically, the navy plans to build a ship that would fulfill the missions previously carried out by both the Udaloy and Sovremennyi class ships, and potentially those of the Slava-class guided missile cruiser as well. These would be large ships, with a displacement of anywhere from 9,000 to 14,000 tons. (The upper end of that range seems a bit much, as it would then be substantially bigger than a Slava-class cruiser.)

They would be equipped with universal ship-based firing systems that could be armed with various types of missiles or missile-torpedoes, depending on the specific mission of the ship. They would also be armed with a new generation air defense system and will carry a couple of helicopters. The ships could thus be used for both ASUW and AAW missions. If they are armed with cruise missiles, they could also have a land attack mission. They will also have the latest in combat systems whose capabilities the author compares to NATO’s AEGIS system.

Kramnik’s sources indicate that as many as 14-16 ships could be built over a 15-20 year period (previous articles indicated a total of 8-10 ships). They could be the lead ships in strike groups that would include 3-4 frigates or other lesser ships or could be used to support nuclear missile cruisers, aircraft carriers, or submarines. The head of the navy has indicated that construction could start as soon as 2012, though given that such major design decisions as the type of propulsion system to be used have not yet been made, I think I’ll stick with my previous estimate of 2016.

Frigates old and new

The Admiral Gorshkov class frigates (project 22350) were the first attempt by the Russian navy to build a ship using a modular design. When construction started in 2006, these ships were declared to be the future workhorses of the Russian fleet, eventually slated to replace the Udaloy destroyers. The design seems to be exactly what the navy needs to carry out its main missions for the short to medium term (i.e. coastal protection, counter-piracy). This was the first ship type to be equipped with the universal ship-based firing systems I described above. The only problem, really, is that the ship has taken much longer than expected to build. Initial plans called for the first ship to be launched in 2008. It was launched in 2010 and is currently nearing completion undergoing sea trials. It is expected to be commissioned next year, though additional delays would not surprise me. The second ship is now under construction and four more were recently ordered. Current plans call for 20 to be built eventually, though I would guess that will take 15-20 years unless construction really speeds up or is expanded to a second shipyard. I would guess that no more than 6 of these ships will be completed by 2020.

Because the navy desperately needs new mid-size ships, particularly in order to modernize the Black Sea Fleet, it has ordered six improved Krivak-class frigates (project 11356M). These will be identical to the Talwar-class frigates produced for the Indian Navy in recent years. Since these ships are based on an existing design, construction is expected to proceed relatively quickly. The first two ships have already been laid down and are expected to be commissioned in 2013. They will also be much cheaper, with an estimated per ship cost of 10 billion rubles, versus at least 16 billion rubles for the project 22350 ships.

Standardized corvettes

The Russian navy is rapidly modernizing its fleet of both large and small corvettes. The Steregushchii class corvettes (project 20380) are very large (around 2000 tons displacement) multipurpose ships designed to replace the Grisha class. The first ship of this class has been serving in the Baltic Fleet since 2007. The second, Soobrazitelnyi, was just commissioned in mid-October and is also assigned to the Baltic Fleet. Two more are expected to be completed in the next few months and one is theoretically under construction at the Amur shipyard in the Far East, though all indications are that there has been virtually no progress made on that ship because the shipyard is in very bad shape.
According to official sources, the project 20380 corvette is quite versatile and can be deployed to destroy enemy surface ships, submarines and aircraft, as well as to provide artillery support for beach landings. It uses stealth technology to reduce the ship’s secondary radar field, as well as its acoustic, infrared, magnetic and visual signatures.  At the same time, the first ship was criticized for relatively weak AAW capabilities, a short range (4000 nm), and an unreliable propulsion system. As a result of the critique, on all subsequent ships the Kashtan CIWS system was replaced with 12 Redut anti-aircraft systems mounted on the bow and the its Uran anti-ship missile system was upgraded to the Uran-U variant that doubled the weapon’s range added.
Future ships will be built using a modified design (project 20385)  that incorporates the universal ship-based firing systems used on the Admiral Gorshkov frigates, and will be armed with Oniks or Kalibr (Klub) cruise missiles in place of the Uran anti-ship missiles. Nine of these ships have been ordered, with the first already laid down in May 2011. At least the first two of this improved version will go to the Black Sea Fleet.
Finally, the navy has ordered two versions of the Buyan small corvette. The first (project 21630) is a 500 ton shallow water artillery ship designated for the Caspian Fleet. It’s armed with the naval version of the Grad multiple rocket system, as well as several guns. The first ship, the Astrakhan, has been in service since 2006 and two more are expected to be commissioned in the next few months.
The larger modernized version of this ship, designated Buyan-M or project 21631, has a displacement of 949 tons and incorporates the universal ship-based firing systems that will be armed with Oniks or Kalibr cruise missiles. The ships will also be armed with Igla SAMs mounted on a Gibka launch system. However, they use the same propulsion and control systems as the older Buyans. Three of these ships are currently under construction in Zelenodolsk for the Caspian Flotilla, with anticipated entry into the fleet in 2012-13. The cost of each ship is somewhere between 400 million and one billion rubles. According to Ilya Kramnik, the navy hopes to order as many as 30 of these ships over the next 10 years, though that seems like more than the Caspian Flotilla and the Black Sea Fleet will need. Perhaps they will go to the Baltic Fleet and maybe even the Pacific and Northern Fleets as well.