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.


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 Russian Military under Sergei Shoigu: Will the Reform Continue?

Here is a new policy memo, just published on the PONARS Eurasia website. It can be seen here in pdf format.


In the five years of Anatoly Serdyukov’s tenure as defense minister, the Russian military underwent one of the most significant reforms of any period since the formation of the modern Soviet Army during and immediately after World War II. As part of this reform, the military shed most of its Soviet legacy in areas such as organizational structure and manpower. The transformation, however, alienated the officer corps, with most senior generals agitating for Serdyukov’s dismissal throughout his tenure. Although his eventual removal in November 2012 had more to do with corruption scandals and the interests of senior government figures with defense industry ties, the dismissal led many critics to hope that new Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu would reverse the Serdyukov reform.

In this memo, I briefly examine the achievements of the Serdyukov reform and the challenges he bequeathed to Shoigu, before focusing on the decisions made by Shoigu in the first months of his tenure and their potential impact on the development of the Russian military over the next several years. Continue reading

Impressions from Moscow

At the end of May, I spent a week in Moscow doing some research on various topics. Although it wasn’t the central focus of my interviews, I took the opportunity to discuss the state of the Russian military with several scholars and journalists. What follows is a brief summary of my impressions from these conversations.

Shoigu is not reversing Serdyukov’s reform. With only one exception, all of my interlocutors agreed that Shoigu is maintaining the main thrust of Serdyukov’s reform efforts. He has canceled the decisions that were most upsetting to the senior generals, but kept all the central aspects of the reform. One example: Restoring the Tamanskaia and Kantemirovskaia divisions pleased the traditionalists, but the newly rechristened divisions are unlikely to ever reach actual division staffing levels. Instead, levels are likely to reach 6-7,000 people, higher than the 3,800 assigned to brigades but nowhere near the 13-14,000 personnel assigned to a traditional Russian military division. It’s possible that additional divisions will be introduced, but no more than 1-2 per military district, as there are simply not enough personnel in the military to staff all the brigades, let alone restore the old divisions. Similarly, Shoigu’s decision to wear a military uniform was designed to make the old guard of the military more comfortable, as part of a campaign to repair relations between the country’s civilian leadership and senior generals. He is reported to wear civilian clothing at all times except when he is meeting with the generals. For obvious reasons, Shoigu has been very keen to distance himself from anything related to Serdyukov and the criminal case that was the ostensible reason for Serdyukov’s dismissal. But much of this is at the level of perceptions and symbolism, rather than actual policy change.

In fact, many of Shoigu’s changes have to be described as largely positive for the Russian military. The introduction of sudden alert drills has demonstrated the lack of preparedness in some units, but is likely to lead to an increase in readiness in the long term. Restoring the position of warrant officer (praporshchik or michman) for technical positions is another needed course correction, though most of the staff in question did not actually leave the military when their positions were eliminated, instead continuing to serve as sergeants. Another important change that has largely gone unnoticed by most commentators has to do with promotions within the military. Serdyukov handled all promotions himself, and approvals came quite slowly. This caused resentment among the officer corps. Shoigu has decentralized and accelerated the process.

Clearly, there are many problems with the military. The rearmament plans incorporated in the current State Armament Program are a fiction and have no chance of being implemented at anywhere near the promised levels. Corruption remains endemic, both at the MOD and in defense industry. And perhaps most seriously, the military seems to have no solution for its manpower crisis. Demographic factors have sharply limited the pool of potential conscripts, while the military remains largely unable to make itself attractive enough to recruit a sizable pool of professional contract soldiers.

But these real concerns should not blind us to the progress that has been made under Serdyukov, nor to the possibility of continued progress under Shoigu. It may well happen that the pessimists turn out to be right and that Shoigu ends up dismantling the positive changes made under Serdyukov. But we should remember that everything Serdyukov did in transforming the military was done at Putin’s behest. It’s quite likely that priorities have changed and that shaking up the military has now taken a back seat to ensuring stability in a period where the regime is no longer nearly as popular as it once was. That can quite nicely explain the sacrifice of Serdyukov. But on the same count, the military can be satisfied by the combination of going after Serdyukov and the symbolic acts taken so far. Stability and a docile military does not require the dismantling of the entirety of Serdyukov’s reform, especially since some aspects of it are now firmly entrenched. Their reversal would lead to greater instability within the military than leaving things alone.