Russia’s Black Sea Fleet

The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. I’ve written about the fleet in the past, but it may be worthwhile to provide an update, especially as there have been a couple of surveys of the fleet published in recent days in the Russian press and blogosphere.

The fleet currently consists of 40 combat ships, 28 of which are on active duty while the others are undergoing repair or modernization. The average age of these ships is 25, though the largest and most capable ships that are based in Sevastopol are also the oldest. (The average age of Sevastopol-based ships is 32.5) The flagship is the Slava-class cruiser Moskva. Large combat ships also include the Kara-class cruiser Kerch, the Kashin-class destroyer Smetlivyi, and two Krivak class frigates (Pytlivyi and Ladnyi). The Ladnyi is current being overhauled and is scheduled to return to active duty in August. A second Kara-class cruiser, the Ochakov, was decommissioned several years ago and has now been scuttled so as to block the exist of several Ukrainian Navy ships from Lake Donuzlav. These ships comprise the 11th brigade of ASW ships. The 197th brigade of amphibious ships includes six active ships: three Alligator class (Saratov, Orsk, Nikolai Filchenkov) and four Ropucha class (Novocherkassk, Azov, and Yamal), as well as one inactive Ropucha class ship, the Tsesar Kunikov. Together, these two brigades comprise the 30th division of surface ships. Smaller combat ships based in Sevastopol include three Grisha-class corvettes (Suzdalets, Aleksandrovsk, and Muromets) in the 400th ASW ship squadron, four mine warfare ships in the 418th minesweeper squadron, and 4-5 missile boats in the 295th missile boat squadron. There is also the Alrosa Kilo-class submarine. The newest of any of these ships were commissioned in 1990.

Ships based in Novorossiisk include three Grisha-class corvettes (Kasimov, Eisk, Povorino), two Nanuchka-class missile ships (Mirazh and Shtil), five active and two inactive mine warfare ships, and two hoverborne guided missile corvettes (Bora and Sivuch). These ships are generally newer than the Sevastopol-based ships, with an average age of 22.8. There are also several quite new patrol boats based in Novorossiisk.

Over the next few years, the BSF is expected to receive six new Admiral Grigorovich class frigates over the next three years. These are similar to the Talwar class frigates that Russia exported to India a few years ago. It is also expected to receive up to six new improved Kilo class diesel submarines in the same time period.

Finally, it may be worth briefly pointing out the Black Sea Fleet’s land and air forces, which include the 11th coastal missile artillery brigade armed with Bastion anti-ship missile systems. These are normally located in Anapa (2 on the map), though there have been some reports that they have been relocated to the Crimea in recent days. The 1096th anti-aircraft missile regiment is located in Sevastopol (5 on the map). Naval infantry forces include the 810th naval infantry brigade based in Sevastopol (3 on the map) and the 382nd independent naval infantry battalion based in Temriuk (4 on the map). The 431st naval reconnaissance post is located in Tuapse, near the border with Abkhazia (6 on the map). Naval aviation forces include facilities at Kacha (7 on the map) and Gvardeiskoe (8 on the map), both Crimea. The former houses (approximately) 20 Ka-27 and Mi-14 helicopters and 10 Mi-8 helicopters, as well as 10 Antonov transport planes of various types and 4 Be-12 amphibious planes. The latter houses 22 Su-24M attack aircraft.

Update: Thanks to Constantin Bogdanov, who highlighted some changes that I (and the authors of the surveys) missed: “The 1096th anti-aircraft missile regiment was disbanded in 2011; now there are two anti aircraft battalions (зенитно-ракетных дивизионов) combined with 810th brigade. Also, all Mi-14 are scrapped between 1995-2005.”

The role of the Black Sea Fleet in Russian naval strategy

The Russian military analyst Prokhor Tebin has put together a very useful article explaining Crimea’s military significance for Russia. He highlights the Black Sea’s economic significance for Russia: Russia’s Black Sea commercial ports carry 30 percent of its total maritime exports. The Black Sea also provides the closest access for Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, which is important for both economic and geopolitical reasons. Tebin points out that the Black Sea Fleet is needed to ensure that access, as well as to deal with potential  instability in the Caucasus.  It will also serve as a logistics hub for the Mediterranean task force that the Russian navy has decided to form, though ships for the task force will come from other fleets as well. He ranks the fleet third in importance for the Russian Navy, behind the Northern and Pacific Fleets, but ahead of the Baltic Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla.

The composition of the fleet is currently inadequate for its missions. It has only a few old Soviet-era ships: one missile cruiser, three frigates, seven large amphibious ships, and one diesel submarine. It has not received any new combat ships since 1990, while almost all of its existing ships will need to be decommissioned fairly soon. Tebin compares the strength of the BSF to the Turkish navy, which includes 16 frigates, 8 corvettes, and 14 diesel submarines, with more ships on the way. To change the situation, Russia is currently building six new Talwar-class frigates and six improved Kilo class diesel submarines for the BSF. The fleet may also get some small missile ships and gunboats, as well as new minesweepers. Tebin considers this an absolute minimum for the BSF and argues that it will still not be enough to fulfill all of the fleet’s missions or to restore the balance of power in the Black Sea. He also calls for the development of additional shore-based infrastructure, especially in Novorossiisk. However, the latter port is inferior in location and climate conditions to Sevastopol, being subject to the extremely strong wind known as Bora. This relatively unpredictable wind, with speeds registered at over 200km/hour, has in the past damaged ships at pier. The location of Novorossiisk is also far less central than Sevastopol and the harbor is inferior. For these reasons, Tebin argues that Novorossiisk can only serve a complementary role for the Black Sea Fleet, while Sevastopol must remain its main base for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Tebin also provides a very nice map of Russian military facilities in Crimea, which I reproduce below.

The legend reads as follows:

The 1997 agreement permits a maximum of 25,000 personnel, including no more than 1,987 naval infantry and naval aviation personnel. 14,000 are actually deployed.

1) Sevastopol: main Black Sea Fleet forces, up to 30 ships; 810 naval infantry brigade; 17th arms storage facility, Khersones and Yuzhnyi airfields

2) Kacha airfield: Be-12 and An-26 aircraft, Ka-27 and Mi-8 helicopters

3) Gvardeiskoe airfield: 20 Su-24 bombers

4) Feodosiia: 31st naval armaments testing center

5) Cape Opuk: naval firing range

6) Otradnoe: 219th radio-electronic warfare regiment

7) Yalta: 830th communications post

8) Priberezhnoe: 1001st high-frequency communications post

 

Summary of Russian navy ship construction

Ilya Kramnik has put together a handy set of summary tables of Russian naval surface ship construction, including contracts signed. The Russian original is here, for those interested.

Total for the Russian Navy as of 17.11.2013: 41 contracted combat ships, incl. 2 universal amphibious assault ships, 2 large amphibious assault ships, 14 frigates, 15 corvettes, 8 small missile boats. Of these, 24 ships are under construction, incl. 2 universal amphibious assault ships, 2 large amphibious assault ships, 9 frigates, 5 corvettes, 6 small missile boats. Six of these ships have been launched, incl. 1 universal amphibious assault ship, 1 large amphibious assault ship, 1 frigate,  1 corvette, and 2 small missile boats.

Universal Amphibious Ships

Project # BPC-160 (Mistral)

Name Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning Notes
Vladivostok STX Europe,  Saint-Nazare; Baltiiskii Zavod, St. Petersburg 01.02.2012 15.10.2013 Spring 2014 (planned) Nov 2014 (planned) Planned for Pacific Fleet. Crew being formed.
Sevastopol STX Europe,  Saint-Nazare; Baltiiskii Zavod, St. Petersburg 18.06.2013 Oct 2014 (planned) 2015 (planned) 2015 (planned) Planned for Pacific Fleet

Total: 2 contracted, 2 under construction, incl. 1 launched

Large Amphibious ships

Project # 11711 (Ivan Gren)

Name Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning Notes
Ivan Gren Yantar, Kaliningrad 23.12.2004 18.05.2012 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned)
Yantar, Kaliningrad Keel laid, construction frozen. Continuation of the series is uncertain.

Total: 2 contracted, 2 under construction, incl. 1 launched

Frigates

Project # 22350 (Admiral Gorshkov)

Name Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning Notes
Admiral Gorshkov Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 01.02.2006 29.10.2010 Spring 2014 (planned) Fall 2014 (planned) Commissioning delayed Commissioning delayed because AU A-192 artillery unit is not ready.  Planned for Northern Fleet.
Admiral Kasatonov Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 26.11.2009 Spring 2014 (planned) Spring 2015 (planned) 2015 (planned) Planned for Northern Fleet
Admiral Golovko Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 01.02.2012 2014 (planned) 2015 (planned) 2016 (planned) Planned for Northern Fleet
Admiral Isakov Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 14.11.2013 2015 (planned) 2016 (planned) 2016 (planned) Planned for Northern Fleet
Admiral Yumashev Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg Spring 2014 (planned) 2016 (planned) 2017 (planned) 2017 (planned) Keel being laid
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2014 (planned) 2017 (planned) Keel being laid
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2015 (planned) 2018 (planned) Contract signed
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2015 (planned) 2018 (planned) Contract signed

Project 11356 (Admiral Grigorovich)

Name

Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning

Notes

Admiral Grigorovich Yantar, Kaliningrad 18.12.2010 Fall 2013 (planned) Spring 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) Planned for Black Sea Fleet
Admiral Essen Yantar, Kaliningrad 08.07.2011 Spring 2014 (planned) Summer 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) Planned for Black Sea Fleet
Admiral Makarov Yantar, Kaliningrad 29.02.2012 Winter 2015 (planned) Spring 2015 (planned) 2015 (planned) Planned for Black Sea Fleet
Admiral Butakov Yantar, Kaliningrad 12.07.2013 2015 (planned) 2015 (planned) 2016 (planned)
Admiral Istomin Yantar, Kaliningrad 15.11.2013 2015 (planned) 2016 (planned) 2016 (planned)
Admiral Kornilov Yantar, Kaliningrad Winter 2014 (planned) 2016 (planned) Keel being laid

Total: 14 contracted, 9 under construction, incl. 1 launched

 

Corvettes

Project 20380 (Steregushchii)

Name

Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning

Notes

Sovershennyi Amur Shipyard, Komsomolsk-na-Amure 30.06.2006 Fall 2013 (planned) Spring 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) Construction delayed due to shipyard’s poor financial situation.

Planned for Pacific Fleet

Stoikii Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 10.11.2006 30.05.2012 Spring 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) Construction delayed due to problems with artillery unit AU A-190. Planned for Baltic Fleet.
Gromkii Amur Shipyard, Komsomolsk-na-Amure 20.04.2012 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) 2015 (planned) Planned for Pacific Fleet
Rezvyi Amur Shipyard, Komsomolsk-na-Amure 2014 (planned) 2017 (planned) Contract signed

Planned for Pacific Fleet

Strogii (likely) Amur Shipyard, Komsomolsk-na-Amure 2014 (planned) 2017 (planned) Contract signed, Planned for Pacific Fleet

Project 20385 (Gremiashchii)

Name

Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning

Notes

Gremiashchii Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 01.02.2012 2015 (planned) 2015 (planned) 2016 (planned)
Provornyi Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 25.07.2013 2016 (planned) 2016 (planned) 2016 (planned)
Sposobnyi (likely) Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2013 (planned) 2016 (planned) 2017 (planned) Keel being laid
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2014 (planned) 2017 (planned) Keel being laid
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2014 (planned) 2017 (planned) Keel being laid
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2018 (planned) Contract signed
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2018 (planned) Contract signed
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2018 (planned) Contract signed
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2019 (planned) Contract signed
Severnaia Verf, St. Petersburg 2019 (planned) Contract signed
Total: 15 contracted, 5 under construction, incl. 1 launched. In 2008-2013 the navy received three project 20380 corvettes. The number of contracted corvettes may be reduced in favor of a new littoral combat ship-style corvette.

Small Missile Boats

(often considered corvettes by Western analysts)

Project 21631 (Buyan)

Name

Shipyard Laid down Launched Sea trials Commissioning

Notes

Grad Sviazhsk Zelenodolsk shipyard 27.08.2010 09.03.2013 08.2013 2013 (planned) Planned for Caspian Flotilla
Uglich Zelenodolsk shipyard 22.07.2011 10.04.2013 08.2013 2013 (planned) Planned for Caspian Flotilla
Velikii Ustiug Zelenodolsk shipyard 27.08.2011 2013 (planned) 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) Planned for Caspian Flotilla
Zelenyi Dol Zelenodolsk shipyard 29.08.2012 2014 (planned) 2014 (planned) Planned for Caspian Flotilla
Serpukhov Zelenodolsk shipyard 25.01.2013 2014 (planned) 2015 (planned) Likely for Black Sea Fleet
Vyshnii Volochek Zelenodolsk shipyard 25.08.2013 2015 (planned) 2015 (planned) Likely for Black Sea Fleet
Orekhovo-Zuyevo Zelenodolsk shipyard 2014 (planned) 2016 (planned) Contract signed. Likely for Black Sea Fleet
Zelenodolsk shipyard 2014 (planned) 2016 (planned) Contract signed. Likely for Black Sea Fleet
Total: 8 contracted, 6 under construction, incl. 2 launched.

MVMS-2013 naval salon prompts more reflections on the future of the Russian navy

There have been a number of interesting articles written on the future of the Russian Navy in conjunction with the naval salon in St. Petersburg earlier this month. I’ll try to summarize the interesting points without repeating material found in my earlier articles on this topic.

The most recent bit of news is that the Russian navy is planning to order an additional three Talwar class (project 11356) frigates, on top of the six already in the works. The idea is that these are relatively capable ships that can be built and outfitted very quickly (at a rate of one per year for the construction). Three are currently under construction and according to the most recent reports, two more are to be laid down this year. These are well armed ships, comparable to the Sovremennyi class destroyers in armament, though more versatile. Whereas the original plan had been to deploy all six to the Black Sea Fleet, the current plan is to station the first three there while the next three would go to the Baltic Fleet. As Prokhor Tebin points out, this makes absolutely no sense. The Baltic Fleet should be the Russian Navy’s lowest priority, focused primarily on testing new ships and training. Both the BSF and the Pacific Fleet are in much greater need of new ships of this type. But that sort of thing can be changed once the ships are actually ready for commissioning. The truly significant news is that three more such ships will be built in the near future and, unlike the more complicated Admiral Gorshkov class frigates, are likely to be put to use quite quickly.

Ilya Kramnik had an interesting summary of plans for the future that adds some information and analysis to what I’ve already discussed.  He mentions plans for a new attack submarine that is expected to become the mainstay of the fleet for the next several decades. This will be a smaller and cheaper submarine than the Yasen class. It will combine the usual missions of protecting Russian and tracking foreign SSBNs. In other words, if we thinking of the Yasen as the Russian Seawolf, then this new class will be the Virginia. Plans call for 20 such submarines to be built by the end of the 2020s, with construction of the first sub to start in the next 5-7 years.

So if all the submarine plans are carried out, by 2030 the Russian Navy will get a total of 35-36 new nuclear submarines, including 8 Boreis, 7-8 Yasens, and up to 20 of the new class. The total cost would be 1.5 trillion rubles at current prices, not including expenses for modernizing existing submarines. Personally, I think this is overly ambitious. Even if we assume that the design process will proceed without delays and construction and construction does start in 2018 or thereabouts, I highly doubt that the Russian shipbuilding industry is capable of building 20 new submarines in 10-12 years. I realize that the submarine-building sector is the healthiest part of the industry, but there is just no record even in the industry’s Soviet history of building two nuclear submarines of the same type per year. Even one would be ambitious, given recent history.  I suppose it would be possible if the Amur shipyard was pressed into service, though my understanding is that it is not building submarines any more. Even if it were, it would take a lot to get that shipyard up to speed.

In addition to the new destroyer that we discussed last week, new plans for surface ships include a littoral combat ship. The design of the LCS has not been finalized and fairly non-traditional options such as a catamaran or trimaran are supposedly on the table.  Industry representatives want to build 1-2 ships of the two best designs to test their capabilities and then select one for serial production. 35-40 such ships could be built for all four fleets, at a total cost of 250-280 billion rubles. Such pace of construction would be made possible by using multiple shipyards, including those in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Zelenodolsk and possible Krasnoe Sormovo.

Discussions are still under way about the design of a potential new aircraft carrier.  Photos of a model that represents current thinking show a classical design, equipped with a ski jump and a catapult, and with an estimated length of 320 meters and 80,000 tons displacement. While discussions continue, the Admiral Kuznetsov will remain in service. Its modernization, originally scheduled to begin in 2012 will be postponed until the second half of this decade.

The main problem with all these plans is the continued weakness of the shipbuilding sector. In a separate article, Kramnik mentions the complexity of new equipment, including radars, control systems, hydroacoustics, and weapons.  He notes that this has led to delays in construction of the Admiral Gorshkov class frigates and the Yasen class submarines, among others. (I would also add the Lada class diesel submarines to this list.) There are also complications resulting from the merger of many disparate plants, in varying condition and with different ways of doing business, into the United Shipbuilding Corporation. This has resulted in various problems with finances and personnel that presently can only be resolved through “manual control.”

Igor Zakharov, the vice president of United Shipbuilding Corporation, argues that the way to solve the sector’s problems is to give the chief designer of any major shipbuilding project both personal responsibility before the client and the right to ensure that sub-contractors fulfill their obligations on time. He doesn’t spell out what mechanisms would be used to ensure the latter, but he does call for the introduction of arbitration mechanisms to resolve conflicts between industry and the MOD over issues such as pricing.

He also notes that Russian shipbuilding needs to adapt to the modern world, where hulls can last 50 years or more while electronics and armaments become outdated much more quickly. This requires ships to be built in a way that allows for easy modernization and replacement of weapons and equipment. Soviet ships, by contrast, did not consider the possibility of such updates, making their modernization in the new environment very costly and time consuming. New capital ships will be built in small series. Furthermore, rapid advances in electronics will require that even these series be divided into sub-series that will maintain unity of ship design while updating electronics and weaponry. Some systems and weapons can be used across ship classes. We are already seeing elements of these ideas in systems such as the multipurpose shipboard firing system (УКСК) and in the modular construction of the latest classes of Russian corvettes and frigates.

These are good ideas. The problem is the extent to which they are stymied by the conglomerate nature of United Shipbuilding and by the difficulty its personnel and business structures face in adapting to the new way of doing business. Over time, I imagine the shipbuilding industry will improve. But time is needed, while the navy is providing the industry with somewhat unrealistic timetables for the construction of new ships. The result will be more delays, though probably not as bad as in the recent past.

Alternative designs for the new Russian destroyer

Just a quick note today. My friend and colleague Ilya Kramnik plots out four alternative designs for the new Russian destroyer currently in the works.

1) 7500-9000 tons, ~160 meters long, gas turbine CODAG propulsion, top speed of >30 knots

Equipped with 1x1x130mm gun, 2 CIWS complexes, 32 universal shipboard firing complexes (Kalibr/Oniks) and 64 Redut shipboard missiles, 2 Paket-NK anti-submarine torpedo systems, 2 helicopters

2) 9500-11500 tons, ~190 meters long, gas turbine CODAG propulsion, top speed of approximately 30 knots

Equipped with 1x2x130mm guns, 4 CIWS complexes, 48 universal shipboard firing complexes (Kalibr/Oniks) and 80 Redut shipboard missiles, 2 Paket-NK anti-submarine torpedo systems, 2 helicopters

3) 12,500-14,700 tons, ~200 meters long, either gas turbine CODAG or nuclear propulsion, top speed of approximately 30 knots

Equipped with 2x2x152mm guns, 4 CIWS complexes, 64 universal shipboard firing complexes (Kalibr/Oniks) and 80 Redut shipboard missiles, 2 Paket-NK anti-submarine torpedo systems, 2 helicopters

4) 13,000-15,200 tons, ~210 meters long, either gas turbine CODAG or nuclear propulsion, top speed of approximately 30 knots

Equipped with 1x2x152mm guns, 4 CIWS complexes, 16 universal shipboard firing complexes (Kalibr/Oniks) and 48 Redut shipboard missiles, 2 Paket-NK anti-submarine torpedo systems, 5 helicopters

All four versions would have the Sigma-E combat management system and Poliment active phased array radar. The largest of these options is pretty close to a cruiser, I suppose.

Russian military shipbuilding: an update (part 2)

(Based on a report in Moscow Defense Brief. For a discussion of submarines and surface combat ships, see part 1)

Auxiliary ships

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.

Exports

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.

Analysis

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.

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.

Submarines

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 modernization of Russia’s nuclear submarine forces

Yet another Oxford Analytica brief. This one from January. Planning to resume new posts in June, though there will be a couple more OA briefs posted in May.

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The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Yury Dolgoruky officially became part of the Russian navy on January 10, more than a decade after it was initially contracted. It is the lead vessel of the Borey class, equipped with the new marine-launched ballistic missile system (SLBM) Bulava, which has a maximum range of over 8,000 kilometres. The Yury Dolgoruky was commissioned soon after the launch of SSBN Vladimir Monomakh, the third submarine in the series, in late December. These developments have led to conjectures that Russia may again pose a serious security threat to the United States and its NATO allies.

Impacts

  • Work on the Borey and Bulava projects will help Russia assess quality control issues and improve production in other areas.
  • The Russian defence budget will continue to prioritise nuclear weapons, limiting Moscow’s ability to modernise its conventional military.
  • Moscow’s defence upgrades will not have a major impact on US-Russian relations, which are increasingly focused on other issues.

ANALYSIS: In February 2011, Russia’s former deputy minister of defence announced the launch of the State Armament Programme 2020, stressing that the modernisation of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons would be a top priority.

Motivating factors

Moscow’s decision to focus on nuclear modernisation is motivated by several practical and strategic considerations:

  • Outdated nuclear arsenal: The bulk of the arsenal is approaching the end of its service life.
  • Insufficient conventional forces: Russia’s non-nuclear forces cannot, on their own, deter potential conflicts with major powers.
  • Protection: A solid nuclear arsenal would help protect Russia’s interests, including its economic stakes in the Arctic.
  • ‘Superpower’ status: Nuclear forces are one of Russia’s few remaining claims to a prominent position in the international system.

Critically, modernisation efforts should not be misinterpreted as a serious new threat to NATO.

Strategic naval forces

The Russian navy currently operates a fleet of six Delta IV and three Delta III SSBNs.

Outdated fleet

The older Delta IIIs, based in the Pacific Fleet, are armed with 16 SS-N-18 missiles per boat, carrying three warheads each. These submarines first entered service in the late 1970s and are now approaching the end of their lifespan. The Delta IV SSBNs, which are based in the Northern Fleet, are each armed with 16 SS-N-23 Sineva missiles carrying four warheads per missile. They entered service in the mid-1980s and are gradually being overhauled in order to extend their lifespan by an additional ten years. The oldest submarines will be decommissioned in 2019 and the last of the class is expected to be retired by 2025. Because of the overhaul schedule, in recent years, between six and seven strategic submarines were on active duty at any one time.

Modernisation

The Delta IIIs are slated to be replaced by three Borey-class submarines, which are expected to be commissioned over the next two years. Following the commissioning of Yury Dolgoruky, the first of these SSBNs, earlier this month, the navy will be commissioning the Aleksandr Nevsky later in 2013 and the Vladimir Monomakh in 2014. Each of the nuclear-powered submarines will contain 16 launch tubes for the Bulava missile. Subsequent hulls — known as Project 955A — will be modified to carry 20 Bulava missiles.

According to the State Armament Programme, another five modified Borey submarines will be commissioned by 2020, bringing the total number of next generation SSBNs to eight. Since the six Delta IV submarines are slated to retire between 2019 and 2025, the construction schedule for the new submarines can be extended by up to five years without forcing the Russian military to reduce its current active fleet of eight SSBNs, which it perceives as the necessary minimum for maintaining Russia’s strategic deterrent capability.

Expansion

In the longer term, there is a chance that Russia will increase its SSBN fleet from eight to ten units either through the procurement of two additional modified Borey submarines or the construction of a new class of SSBNs. The ultimate decision to expand will depend on the availability of funding as well as the successful completion of the Bulava missile tests.

Missile problems

The Bulava is the sea-based version of the SS-27 and RS-24 missiles. In contrast to its land-based prototypes, its development ran into serious obstacles during the initial testing phases. In eight of the first twelve flight tests, the Bulava suffered critical failures.

Bulava problems rectified?

According to the weapon’s lead designer, the problems were due to lack of necessary equipment and insufficient oversight. Moreover, the Russian industry was unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with the necessary components in a timely manner. The production team has recently increased control over the production process, which appears to have paid off: since October 2010, there have been seven consecutive launches of the Bulava, all of them successful.

Further production issues

In July 2011, the Ministry of Defence announced its plans for the serial production of the Bulava. The next launch was expected to take place in October 2012. However, it was postponed until July 2013 because of unresolved problems with automated control systems for the launch mechanism. As a result, the Yury Dolgoruky submarine was commissioned with 16 empty missile containers. Without the missiles, the submarine has little practical value, which places a great deal of pressure on the defence industry to solve the outstanding problems as quickly as possible.

Implications

Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear arms have become largely peripheral to US-Russian relations. Instead, issues such as energy security, international terrorism and the future of newly independent states on Russia’s periphery have taken centre stage. The ongoing dispute with NATO concerning plans to erect a missile defence shield over the alliance’s territory appears to be primarily due to Russia’s perception of having been excluded from the European security infrastructure, rather than to fears of a nuclear attack by the United States or its allies.

CONCLUSION: The defence industry will endeavour to resolve the remaining technical problems with the Bulava, indispensable to the new generation of strategic submarines, which were designed simultaneously with the missile system. The missile will likely be fully operational by the end of 2013. Given that the new submarines are primarily intended to replace existing SSBNs that are nearing the end of their lifespan and that the role of nuclear arms has become less prominent in the US-Russian security relationship over the past decades, SSBN modernisation should not be misinterpreted as a new threat to NATO.

 

Defending the Mistral

Today, I want to highlight a new Russian-language resource for analysts of the Russian military. The Waran Project bills itself as an informational and analytical resource put together by independent (though anonymous) Russian specialists. It publishes both original articles about the Russian military and translations of Western articles about developments in the West that might be interesting to a Russian audience. It’s only been active since the beginning of March, so there isn’t a lot of material on the site yet, but what there is is of rather high quality.

The most recent article is a very cogent defense of the utility of the Mistral project for the Russian navy. Long time readers may remember that the Mistral was a frequent topic for me in the early days of the blog, so it seems worth returning to the topic. Especially since the Mistral again seems to  be under attack in Russia from opponents of imports of military technology. The Waran project article goes through the reasons why it makes sense for Russia to not only buy the two ships already under construction in France but to go ahead with plans to build two more ships at Russian shipyards.

The indirect benefits of the ships for Russian defense industry include the acquisition of the L-Cat landing catamaran, at least two of which will be on board each Mistral. These vessels do not have any Russian equivalents and would stimulate the development of a new naval infantry fighting vehicle. The Mistral project will also promote the construction of  80-100 new helicopters, since each Mistral will have 16 helicopters on board and some spares would have to be procured. There will also be direct benefits, of course. Not only will the project help to modernize ship design and construction, but it will also provide guidance on how to modernize project control and business processes, interactions with suppliers and subcontractors, and various logistics issues, all of which are weakly developed in Russian shipbuilding.

In terms of how the ships could be used, the author argues that the helicopter-carrying capacity of the Mistral will enable each ship to form the nucleus of an ASW task force. The Mistral would be very useful in local conflicts and low intensity warfare, as was shown by the French experience in Libya in 2011, where it served well as both a command ship and as a base for helicopter attack operations. Obviously, it would also be effective in amphibious warfare operations. It would also be useful in humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations, which is a gap for the Russian navy. It can also engage in show the flag and naval diplomacy operations, becoming a more effective soft power instrument for Russian foreign policy than nuclear submarines or missile cruisers — which are much more threatening to potential target nations.

The article also addresses potential alternatives to the Mistral. First, it makes clear that domestic alternatives are not a viable solution. The Ivan Gren amphibious ship has been under construction at Yantar for almost a decade because of inadequate financing and constant design modifications. Any domestic project would likely be little more than a modified version of the so-called Ivan Tarawa design of the 1980s and would take eight years at the very least, whereas the Mistrals are being built in three. When compared to other foreign options, the Juan Carlos is more or less comparable, while the Italian Cavour is much more expensive and the South Korean Dokdo is smaller and has faced design problems. Furthermore, the Dokdo depends on American LCAC landing craft, which would be unlikely to be a feasible acquisition for the Russian military. As it is, the Mistral allows for the further development of relations with French defense industry, which has become one of the leading foreign suppliers to the Russian military.

In conclusion, the author finds that while it makes sense to delay the decision to acquire the two additional ships until after the Russian navy has had some experience working with the first two ships, there is no reason to cancel the purchase. Since I’ve long believed that imports are necessary for both the successful rearmament of the Russian military and for the modernization of Russian defense industry, I am very much in agreement with this conclusion.

I’ll be curious to see what the future holds for the Waran project. Its initial analytical products are very good and there’s certainly a need for more unbiased and well-informed coverage of the Russian military, so I have high hopes for the future.

 

The Russian Navy’s role in the Mediterranean

The Russian Navy has just concluded its largest exercise in the Mediterranean in many years. The ships involved represented all three of Russia’s European fleets and included the missile cruiser Moskva, the  Udaloy-class destroyers Marshal Shaposhnikov and Severomorsk, the Yaroslav Mudriy and Smetliviy frigates, six large landing craft (the Kaliningrad, Novocherkassk, Alexandr Shabalin, Saratov, Nikolai Filchenkov, Azov), two submarines (one nuclear and one diesel-powered) and various support vessels. The total number of ships involved was over 20. In addition to the ships, the exercise included at least 20 aircraft. The exercise is being overseen by two senior MOD officials, deputy chief of the General Staff Aleksandr Postnikov and deputy Chief of the Navy Staff Leonid Sukhanov.

The timing and location of the exercise, as well as the heavy representation of amphibious ships, have raised questions about the Russian Navy’s goals in the Mediterranean. To my mind, this is another case of the Russian military trying to kill many birds with one stone. During the second half of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy had a virtually constant presence in the Mediterranean. Its squadron had a number of simultaneous tasks — ensuring the security of critical sea lanes to the Black Sea, deterring the United States Navy, ensuring continued access to the Suez canal for Soviet shipping, and engaging existing and potential allies in North Africa and the Middle East were probably the most significant of these.  The Russian military has long sought to restore its presence in the region and has in the last 5-6 years taken numerous opportunities to send ships to the region to engage in exercises and conduct port visits. This exercise, first and foremost, is simply an expansion of this effort.

Second, the exercise is designed to prepare the navy for possible future operations in Syria. Discussions about the possibility of the Russian fleet seeking to have a deterrent effect on potential US or NATO intervention efforts in the Syrian civil war seem to me rather misguided. The assembled Russian forces are no match for the NATO forces that would be assembled in the region in the event of an intervention. The Soviet navy was always exceedingly cautious to only get involved in conflicts (even just with show of force operations) only in circumstances where the balance of forces was favorable. While those days were a long time ago, the current leaders of the navy were trained in that tradition and are unlikely to get involved in adventures of this type. Furthermore, the composition of the task force indicates that the navy wants to be prepared for a potential evacuation scenario. Such an evacuation may be focused on Russian citizens living in Syria, or (less likely) it may be part of a bid to rescue defeated Alawite leaders from their coastal stronghold down the road. The presence of a large number of surface combatants may be an indication that the navy wants to be prepared to undertake such an evacuation even in circumstances where its ships may come under fire from hostile forces (presumably the victorious Syrian rebels).

The final goal, for the navy, is just to increase preparedness. The Northern Fleet likes to send its ships to exercise in the Med during the winter months. The weather is nicer, allowing for more complicated maneuvers. Official reports indicate that the exercise covers a wide range of naval operations, including counter-piracy and convoy operations, ship defense from small boat attacks, coordination with both naval and long-range aviation, ASW, opposed amphibious landing, and search and rescue. The navy has conducted exercises in the Med pretty much annually since 2008. The fact that this is the largest is in part a reaction to the geopolitical circumstances in the region and in part an indication that the Russian navy is gradually gaining confidence and increasing its capabilities.