(Based on a report in Moscow Defense Brief. For a discussion of submarines and surface combat ships, see part 1)
The Russian Navy is getting a number of new support ships in the near future. These include three Project 23120 9000 ton ocean-going logistics ships, the first of which was laid down at Severnaya Verf in November 2012. The ships are similar to civilian offshore hydrocarbon exploration ships and are to be delivered at a rate of one a year in 2014-16. The navy is also expecting to receive six Project 20180 support and weapons transport ships. Two of the ships are currently under construction, with delivery expected in 2014 and 2016. The ships, being built at the Zvezdochka shipyard, are modified versions of the Zvezdochka salvage tug commissioned in 2010. The Igor Belousov (project 21300S) large submarine rescue ship, which was laid down in December 2005 in response to the Kursk disaster, was finally launched in October 2012 after a long delay caused by the failure of a Russian design bureau to provide a deepwater diving complex for the ship. In the end, the navy has settled on a British design that is being built in Russia. The ship is due to be commissioned in 2014, with another three ships of this type likely to be ordered in the near future. In addition, the navy has ordered a large number of harbor support ships and tugboats, with around 80 expected to enter service by 2016.
Russian shipyards continue to have a thriving export business. The biggest customers in 2012 were India, Vietnam and Algeria. Vietnam has ordered six Improved Kilo class (project 06361) submarines from the Admiralty Shipyards. The first two submarines of this order were launched in 2012, while subs three and four were laid down last year. The first sub is expected to be delivered this year. The Vietnamese navy took delivery of two Svetlyak class (project 10412) patrol boats in October 2012. It also ordered two modified Gepard class (project 11661E) frigates, to be delivered in 2016 and 2017. These are in addition to two similar frigates delivered in 2011. Both ships are to be built in Zelenodolsk. Vietnam is also building, under license, a series of ten Tarantul V class (project 12418) corvettes, with the first two ships expected to be commissioned this year.
Contracts with the Algerian navy are for modernization of existing ships, rather than the construction of new ones. These include the mid-life overhaul of a Kilo class (project 877EKM) submarine at the Admiralty Shipyards, which was completed in July 2012, and the ongoing modernization of a Koni class (project 1159TM) frigate and Nanuchka II class (project 1234EM) corvette at Severnaya Verf. Further surface ship modernization orders are expected once the current pair are finished.
India remains the most important foreign military customer for Russian shipyards. In 2012, the Indian navy inducted the INS Chakra, an improved Akula class nuclear-powered attack submarine that was leased to India for a ten-year period. There is some speculation that a second submarine of the same type may be leased to India in the future. Yantar shipyard completed a second series of Talwar class (project 11356) frigates for the the Indian navy, with two ships delivered in 2012 and a third in June 2013. Negotiations are currently under way for another set of three frigates to be built. In January 2013, the Zvezdochka shipyard completed the mid-life overhaul of a Kilo class (project 877EKM) submarine for the Indian navy. This was the fifth Indian diesel submarine to be modernized at this plant. Finally, the long-term effort to modernize the former Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier for the Indian navy, which was due to be handed over in 2012, hit another snag because of problems with the main power plant, causing at least a one year delay in the project.
Based on Boltenkov’s summary and my own past research, it seems to me that the Russian shipbuilding industry has improved in recent years but remains in relatively poor shape overall. Yantar Shipyard in particular has been reported to be in fairly poor shape due to a lack of investment. On the other hand, the Severnaya Verf, Sevmash, and Zvezdochka shipyards are in relatively good condition. Russian shipyards are good at building ships that they have been building for some time, such as the Talwar (modified Krivak) class frigates and improved Kilo class submarines. The implementation of new designs, on the other hand, has led to numerous problems and delays regardless of the type of ship and the shipyard building it. The construction of Admiral Gorshkov class frigates, Lada class submarines, and Admiral Gren amphibious ships have all been affected by construction delays and other problems. Construction of nuclear-powered submarines is proceeding, but at a much slower pace than hoped for by the Ministry of Defense. Frequent changes in requirements have resulted in a number of ship classes that have been cancelled after only one or two ships, which will have a negative impact on maintenance. Finally, the goal of renewing the Russian navy’s fleet of larger surface combat ships still seems a long way off, with a design for a new class of destroyers still several years away from completion.
With the exception of Amur Shipyard (where things are dire indeed due to exodus of qualified personnel over the years) the issues at the other places you mention are not entirely shipyards’ fault.
Vice-Admiral Gren at Yantar is late due to extremely low level of financing from the government. The shipyard would only work on the ship when the funding comes, but stop when it stops.
Lada class submarine and Admiral Gorshkov class frigate have an issue to components (and hence subcontractors), not the shipyard itself. I think most people misunderstand the fact that the shipyard only makes the hull and integrates the components. If subcontractors are unable to produce quality components on time, this is not the shipyards’ fault. Funding for Lada has actually completely stopped for a while because the government was reevaluating the design.
Shipyards cannot build ships that they are not getting paid for, it’s as simple as that. And the issue isn’t even that the government is poor, it’s a mix of indecisiveness, poor programme management on the design side and varying priorities for the government funding. But blaming it all on shipyards seems a fallacy. Like I said, the only problematic ones are Amur and Baltic, which have a shortage of personnel due to attrition of orders in the 90’s (and the shift of all nuclear shipbuilding to Sevmash).
I didn’t mean to give the impression that this was all the shipyards’ fault. The issues you point out regarding irregular financing, design changes, and problems with components are all absolutely on target and very much a part of the cause for delays. My understanding is that supply chain breakdowns in the 1990s have led some shipyards to start making more of their own components. And in the end, both the shipyards and the vast majority of the major components manufacturers are part of United Shipbuilding Corporation, so it’s not clear to what extent we should be separating problems at shipyards from problems elsewhere in the supply chain.
There appears to be a big problem with new designs as well. Reevaluation of the Lada class of submarines is the result of problems with the St. Petersburg’s propulsion systems. It seems that this is now considered a failed class. Same with the Admiral Gren. Instead of the originally planned five ships, only the one is going to be built. USC executives have also been complaining about frequent changes in Admiral Gorshkov designs and specifications slowing construction. And it’s perhaps indicative of the issues with procurement planning that all reports indicate that the MOD has still not decided on whether the new destroyer design, scheduled to be completed in 2015, will be based on nuclear or gas turbine propulsion.
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