The Future of the Russian Navy Part 4: Summary and Conclusions

Over the last few weeks, I’ve reviewed the Russian Navy’s plans for building new ships and submarines over the next decade. Based on these plans, together with an assessment of how realistic they are, we can develop a picture of what the Russian Navy is likely to look like in 2020.

Ten years from now, Russia is likely to have a Navy that is focused primarily on coastal missions, though with some out of area capability and maintaining the submarine component of its strategic deterrent. The core of the surface fleet will consist of frigates and corvettes, including a significant number of new ships of the Admiral Gorshkov, Krivak IV and Steregushchii classes. More distant deployments will be carried out by the aging Udaloy destroyers and a few modernized Kirov and Slava class cruisers, though the Navy will be desperately working to replace these larger ships as they reach the end of their lives. They will be joined by foreign-designed Mistral (or similar) class amphibious assault ships, which will be used as command and control platforms for out of area operations. The navy will also be working on building a new aircraft carrier, but the project is unlikely to be anywhere near completion by 2020. Its existing Admiral Kuznetsov carrier will still be in the fleet, but will be spending more time getting repaired than actually sailing.

The submarine fleet will be centered on the Borei and Delta IV SSBNs, which will retain the fleet’s strategic deterrence mission. This mission will be considered even more critical by the navy’s leadership, as these submarines will be the only ships still controlled directly by Navy HQ, rather than one of the four operational commands. There will also be a renewed fleet of diesel submarines, consisting of a mix of improved Kilos and Ladas. The navy will still face significant problems with its SSN fleet, as the remaining Akulas and Oscars begin to approach retirement age without a sufficient number of Severodvinsk-class submarines built to replace them. A new small and cheap SSN, along the lines of the US Virginia class, will be in production, but not yet in the fleet (at best, one or two might be completed by 2020, but I don’t think it’s very likely given there isn’t even a design in place as of now).

The Northern and Pacific Fleets will continue to be the most important fleets of the navy. They will have the largest ships, including most likely the Mistrals and most of the modernized cruisers. At the same time, the Black Sea Fleet will be in some ways the most important fleet for operations, as it is the closest to the unstable Caucasus region. It will be re-equipped with new frigates and diesel submarines, as well as new amphibious ships (though most likely Ivan Gren class, rather than Mistral). The Caspian Flotilla may become more important over time as well, playing a potentially significant role as a counter to potential Iranian moves to control the southern part of the sea. To this end, it will likely receive at least a couple more corvettes.

Overall, the Russian Navy will be in somewhat better shape ten years from now than it is now. It will have fewer ship types, allowing for easier maintenance, and a number of new ships of classes that are now nearing completion will be in the fleet. At the same time, it will be more focused on coastal defense missions, with a high proportion of smaller ships and submarines not designed for distant cruises. Any potential return of a powerful blue water capability will take an additional 10-20 years to achieve.
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The Future of the Russian Navy Part 2: Smaller Surface Ships

Continuing today with Part 2…

Frigates

In recent years, the Russian navy has had few frigates in service. Most of the Soviet navy’s frigates were decommissioned between 1989 and 1992. What remains are 3 old Krivak I and II ships, built in the late 1970s and almost certain to be decommissioned in the next few years. There are also two Neustrashimyi class frigates, currently in service in the Baltic Fleet. Both are likely to be moved to the Black Sea Fleet sometime in the next year. There has been some talk of completing the third ship of this class, which is currently at 40 percent completion, but no definite moves in this direction have been made. Finally, there is the first ship of the Gepard class, currently serving in the Caspian Flotilla. One more ship of this class is under construction and will likely enter the Caspian Flotilla next year. There are vague plans for further construction of these ships, though priority is being given to the export market.

Several years ago, the Russian navy decided to build a new class of frigates that would be one of the mainstays of the fleet in coming years. The Admiral Gorshkov class (Project 22350) frigates were designed to be truly multifunctional, with a modular construction that would allow them to carry out escort, patrol, anti-piracy and a range of other missions. They are to be armed with anti-ship, ASW, and AAW weapons, as well as a helicopter.

The Navy began construction of the first ships of this class in 2006, with the goal of completing it in 2009 and the procurement of a total of 20 by 2015. Since then, construction of the Gorshkov has bogged down so that the first ship will not be ready until 2011 at the earliest. There is no way the Navy will be able to get more than 3-4 of these ships by its 2015 target date, and that’s only if there is no further slippage in the schedule.

Given the slow pace of construction of these ships, it has recently been decided that the navy will procure several Krivak IV class frigates. Previously, these ships were built purely for the export market, with six serving or currently being built for the Indian navy. In the short term, the Russian navy will build three of these frigates for the Black Sea Fleet. Subsequently, more may be built depending on how quickly shipbuilders are able to resolve the problems that are causing delays in construction of the Admiral Gorshkov class ships. The goal of having 20-24 new frigates by 2030 is certainly achievable if the navy shows willingness to continue to build Krivak IVs in place of Gorshkovs if the latter continue to have problems.

Corvettes

The Russian navy still has a large number of corvettes built in the Soviet era. These include approximately 20 Grishas, 8 Parchims, 13 or 14 Nanuchkas, and 20-23 Tarantuls still in active service. Most of these ships were built in the late 1980s and should be able to stay in service for another 10-20 years. The Black Sea Fleet also operates two Bora-class hovercraft guided missile corvettes, designed in the late Soviet period to carry out a coastal defense mission but not built until the 1990s. Some sources indicate that more of these ships will be built at some point in the future, though there are no definite plans in this regard for the moment.

In addition to the Soviet-era ships, the Russian navy has started building two new classes of corvettes. The Steregushchii class ships are designed as a replacement for the Grishas. These are fairly straightforward multipurpose coastal patrol vessels with a displacement of 1800 tons. As with the Gorshkov frigates, they are modular in design, which will allow for simpler upgrading with new weapons and equipment in the future. They are armed with Uran anti-ship missiles and Kashtan air defense systems and are capable of carrying a helicopter. All except the first will also be armed with Club-N cruise missiles. The first was commissioned in 2007, and the second was launched in March 2010 and is currently undergoing sea trials. Three more are currently under construction and expected to be commissioned by 2013. In total, 20 are expected to built, with 10 likely to be completed by 2020.

Buyan class corvettes are smaller (500 tons) and designed to function on rivers or in shallow seas. They are primarily intended for the Caspian Flotilla and are armed with Igla surface-to-air missiles. The first ship of this class has been in the navy since 2006; two more are currently under construction, though the completion date is uncertain. According to a very recent article, a slightly larger version of this ship class is to be built for the Black Sea Fleet, with construction of the first of five ships just beginning. These ships will be 1.5 times larger than the Astrakhan and will be armed with cruise missiles.

Littoral Ships

In the late Soviet period, the majority of amphibious warfare ships for the Soviet navy were built in Poland. There are still approximately 16 of these ships in service in the Russian navy, including four Alligator-class (project 1171) ships, built in Kaliningrad in the 1960s and 70s, that can carry 300-400 troops and around 20 tanks each. Given their age, these ships will undoubtedly have to be retired fairly soon. There are also approximately 12 Polish-built Ropucha-class (project 775) LSTs in service, mostly the ones built in the late 1980s. These can carry 200-300 troops and 10-12 tanks each. Since they are somewhat more recent in construction, they can be expected to last awhile longer.

Russia is currently building a replacement littoral warfare ship, called the Ivan Gren, expected to be very similar in size and carrying capacity to the Ropucha, though it is listed as an update of the Alligator-class in terms of project number (1171.1). The first of these ships was laid down in Kaliningrad back in 2004, though construction proceeded very slowly due to lack of financing through 2008. The shipbuilder reports a revitalization of the project in recent years and expects to have the first ship commissioned in 2012. A total of five ships of this class are expected to be built in the coming decade, though progress will depend on continued financing. Most of the ships are likely to go to the Black Sea Fleet, which has the strongest need for an amphibious assault capacity, though some may go to the Pacific.

Over the last year, the Russian government has been negotiating with France over the purchase of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. The hope was to purchase two such ships, with another two to be built in Russia under license. Recently, the MOD announced that it will conduct an open tender for an amphibious assault ship, with participants to include both Russian and foreign shipbuilders. Other than French and Russian companies, likely participants may include Korea, the Netherlands, and Spain, all of whom have ships similar to the Mistral in capabilities available for export. Most analysts believe that the tender is just a sop to one set of Russian shipbuilders who were upset about being excluded from the contract and perhaps also a means of putting pressure on the French to make a more favorable deal. Negotiations are supposedly far enough advanced that the French are not truly worried about losing the contract.

As I have written on other occasions, I believe this ship could be used as a command and control vessel for overseas operations, though the main purpose is likely to be to revitalize domestic shipbuilding capabilities through the introduction of Western technologies and methods for construction of the two ships to be built domestically under license. In any case, the ship (if procured) would be able to carry 450 troops and as many as 40 tanks, as well as being better armed than Russian landing ships. Of course, the actual armament of the Russian version will differ from that placed on the existing French ships.