Russian naval air defense in trouble

There have long been reports that the ongoing delays with the commissioning of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate have to do with defects in its air defense systems. These were thought to be primarily related to problems with integration of the Poliment Redut air defense missile system. The Poliment system was designed to be Russia’s answer to AEGIS, with four phased array antennas that are able to track 16 targets at the same time. The Redut system consists of four or eight vertical launch systems that launch three types of missiles. The 9M100 is the short-range missile, with a range of up to 15km. The 9M96M is the medium-range missile, with a range of 40-50km. Finally, the 9M96 long-range missile is supposed to have a range of up to 150km.

It now appears that the Redut’s problems are much more serious than just integration. A recent report notes that the Ministry of Defense has stopped trials of the system because of continuing problems with the 9M96 long-range missile. Specifically, the missiles appear to fail after three seconds of flight. Some reports indicate that the Redut system works well hitting targets up to 40km away, but fails in the long range. The implication is that the short and medium range missiles work well, but the long range missile does not. Nevertheless, this may be an improvement over previous results, as trials of the Redut system on the Steregushchiy class corvettes in 2014 showed that they were only able to hit targets at distances of up to 15km because the medium-range Furke-2 radar system was not functioning properly.

Instead of further trials, the problems will now be sorted out by an inter-agency commission, a sure sign that the problems are serious and are not expected to be fixed any time soon. The problems stem from issues at the design bureau, which is reportedly not up to the task of designing a missile with the requirements provided by the Defense Ministry. The Fakel machine design bureau, which is developing the missiles is supposedly in relatively poor condition, using technologies and equipment left over from the Soviet period.

Redut systems are supposed to be installed on both the Admiral Gorshkov frigates and the Steregushchiy class corvettes. The corvettes that have been commissioned so far with partial Redut systems that are not able to strike long-distance targets. It looks like the Russian military is now facing a choice regarding how long it is willing to wait to commission the already long-delayed first ship of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate class. So far, the Defense Ministry has not been willing to commission the frigate without a fully functional air defense system, though this may change as the delays grow longer.


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.


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.

The Russian Navy’s shipbuilding constraints

Last week, the press in the U.S. briefly got excited about the Russian state armaments program. Fred Weir’s article in particular talked about the bear sharpening its claws, etc. There was no mention of the failure of all previous such programs, and no discussion of the overall likelihood that the program would actually be carried out in its entirety. I have for awhile been arguing that there’s no way that these grand pronouncements can be met given the current capacities of Russia’s defense industry. I’m currently in the middle of putting together a fairly lengthy analysis of the Russian air force’s acquisitions in light of these limitations, which will hopefully see the light of day within the next week or so.

While that’s in progress, I thought I’d share a note that I received recently from Dave Baker regarding the extent to which Russia’s shipbuilding industry is likely to meet its GPV targets, written in response to an AP article about Russia’s plans to acquire 600 planes and 100 ships in the next 10 years.

Despite this being an official announcement, I’d not put too much credence into it, and I seriously doubt that the stated goals can be met or even distantly approached. Within the last couple of weeks there was another official statement that, instead of five Graney-class SSNs being completed by 2015, there will now be only one more past the prototype laid down 15 years ago. Another Russian yard official stated that no work would be begun on the pair of Mistrals to be built in Russian until 2020 (when the new yard at Kotlin Island would be completed; prior announcements, not that long ago, have said the yard would be finished in 2017).

At the same time, the new corvette program has already been cancelled after only two launchings, due to stability and weapons system integration problems. Just read that the new submarine rescue ship laid down in 2007 at Admiralty has had very little done on it since due to funding shortages, and, of course, the Lada program seems very likely to have been halted at the one in the water, since by switching to building Kilos for domestic use at Admiralty, there’s no longer any yard space to build Ladas (not sure what’s happening to units two and three, which are on order — unit two may be the one laid down as an export demonstrator back in 1996, but the fourth was never ordered).

Etc., etc.   On the other hand, there’s a yard near St. Petersburg cranking out a slew of new yard tugs to replace the ancient and decrepit fleet now in use. Perhaps the 100 ships will mostly be yardcraft. Oh, and Putin is getting a very large and expensive yacht out of the Russian Navy budget.

I am very much in agreement with this line of thinking. While my understanding is that at least two more of the new corvettes will be completed (and possibly as many as four for a total of six altogether), it is clear that the project has been declared a failure and will eventually be replaced by a new corvette design that is light (1500 tons or less), inexpensive, and can accommodate a wide range of armaments — including missiles that can hit both land and sea targets (perhaps the Klub?), anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defenses, and mine-laying capabilities. However, the timeline on this project is quite long, as design has only just begun.

Similarly, the Lada submarines are a failure because of largely unsolved propulsion problems. A return to the Kilo, at least for the near to medium term, seems to be the only solution. I’m also not at all surprised that there will only be one more Graney (aka Severodvinsk)-class attack submarine. Back in September, I noted that plans for building one of these a year starting in 2011 were completely unrealistic and that the submarine type in and of itself was too expensive and unnecessary given the cancellation of the similar Sea Wolf program by the United States after only three subs.

In other words, don’t expect 100 new Russian navy ships by 2020. Unless you count the yard tugs…

UPDATE: In fairness, I should note that Fred Weir’s article does talk about problems related to the armaments program, particularly about whether the weapons being procured will be useful for Russia’s defensive needs, the lack of fresh designs, and the deteriorating capabilities of the military industrial complex. As I note in the comments below, it’s more the headline that’s the problem, rather than the piece itself.

The Future of the Russian Navy Part 2: Smaller Surface Ships

Continuing today with Part 2…


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.


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.