Russia-India arms deal

Russia and India signed a major arms deal on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa this past weekend. The deal included four major components.

First, India becomes the second country after China to receive S-400 long-range air defense missiles. The agreement is for Russia to provide either 4 or 5 S-400 battalions to India. (Russian sources report the lower number, while Indian sources went with the higher one.) While a contract has not yet been signed, Russia signed a contract with China in 2014 to export four battalions for approximately $2 billion. The first systems are expected to be delivered in 2020.

Second, the two sides signed an agreement for India to purchase four Project 11356 (Admiral Grigorovich class) frigates. This agreement resolves the saga of the Project 11356 frigates that were originally ordered for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet but could not be completed after Ukraine refused to provide turbines for the ships in the aftermath of the 2014 conflict in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. An agreement has been reached for Ukraine to provide the turbines for the ships as long as they are exported to India. According to Alexey Nikolsky of Vedomosti, one of the three ships will be completed at Yantar, while the hulls of the other two will be transferred to India and completed there. In addition, a fourth ship will be built entirely in India. The BMPD blog states that two ships will be completed in Russia and two built in India. It should be noted that India already operates six frigates of this type, which it calls the Talwar class. The total value of this agreement may be around $3 billion, which may include Russian assistance in the modernization of the HSL shipyard in India.

Third, the two sides signed an agreement for India to lease an inactive Akula-class multi-purpose nuclear submarine. India is already leasing a submarine of this class from Russia, the INS Chakra (formerly known as the Nerpa), which has been in the Indian Navy since 2012. Although the specific submarine to be leased was not mentioned, Russian contacts report that it is likely to be one of the Northern Fleet submarines currently being overhauled at Zvezdochka (Samara or Bratsk), rather than the hull that has been sitting incomplete at the Amur shipyard since the mid-1990s and has in the past been mentioned as a possible candidate for leasing to India. The agreement noted that the submarine is expected to be refurbished and modernized prior to transfer. Given the Indian Navy’s experience with the modernization of the INS Vikramaditya, I wonder what provisions about delays and cost overruns the Indian side will include in the contract.

This agreement signals that India has given up on leasing or buying a Yasen-class submarine. As I have indicated previously, Russia was most likely unwilling to provide its most advanced submarine to India, either because of its capabilities or because constraints on the number of Yasen-class submarines that can be built in Russia would mean that providing such a submarine to India would result in delays in the procurement of Yasen submarines for the Russian Navy.

Finally, Rosoboronexport, Russian Helicopters, and the Indian company HAL have agreed to create a joint venture for the production of Ka-226T helicopters. According to the BMPD blog, the venture will buy 60 helicopters from Russian Helicopters and then assemble an additional 140 in Bangalore under license.

According to Konstantin Makienko of CAST, the total value of these four agreements is likely to substantially exceed $6 billion. The agreements show that although India has sought to diversify its suppliers for military equipment, it will continue to have a strong relationship with Russia in this field, particularly when it comes to hardware that it cannot receive from other suppliers (such as nuclear submarines and long-range air defense missiles).



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.


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.


  • 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.


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.


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.


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.


A New Push for Nuclear Submarine Development

The following is an Oxford Analytica brief from early December 2011. Some of the material has been overtaken by events, but I decided it was still worth posting. One of these days, I will write up an update on naval procurement plans, but it will take some time, so this will have to do in the interim.


Russia’s fleet of nuclear submarines may be about to get an overhaul. Until recently, the State Armaments Programme’s plan for eight new Borey-class and six Yasen-class submarines by 2020 looked highly dubious. However, the Defence Ministry last month signed a series of contracts with design bureaus – in the presence of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and with full media coverage – suggesting that submarine modernization will proceed as quickly as possible.

What next

The conclusion of these contracts by no means guarantees that the plans will be fulfilled in the next eight years. While serial production is always faster than the building of the first ship in a class, given the state of Russian shipyards, it will probably still take a minimum of two to three years to construct each vessel. The makeover of Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet is a strategic priority – but it may take significantly longer than a decade to realize.


The deals were reportedly worth more than 280 billion rubles (9.2 billion dollars), including contracts for:

  • design of the modernized Yasen-class submarine by the Malakhit design bureau (13.4 billion rubles);
  • construction of the first modernized Yasen-class submarine, theKazan, by Sevmash (47 billion rubles);
  • construction of four additional Yasen-class submarines by United Shipbuilding Corporation’s (OSK)Severodvinskshipyard (164 billion rubles);
  • design of the modernized Borey-class submarine by the Rubin design bureau (39 billion rubles).

In addition, the Defense Ministry leaked information that a contract to build five more Borey-class submarines will be signed next year at a likely cost of 23 billion rubles per unit.

These deals represent the last unsigned contracts of the 2011 military procurement plan. They were held up for several months because of a row between the federal authorities and the defense industry – primarily OSK – over pricing. The Defence Ministry refused to accept price increases requested by OSK, because the requests did not spell out all aspects of the contract’s cost, as required by new regulations put in place this year. In the end, OSK agreed to lower prices in exchange for the right to choose its own subcontractors; in the past, the choice of subcontractors was dictated by the Defense Ministry.

Russia’s strategic submarines

The maritime ‘leg’ of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad currently consists of a combination of Delta III and Delta IV ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs):

  • Northern Fleet. The Navy operates six Delta IV SSBNs, all based in the Northern Fleet. Four have already been upgraded to carry Sineva missiles. Two others are currently being overhauled, with expected relaunch dates in 2012 and 2013. The expectation is that these subs, built in the late 1980s, will continue to serve into 2020-25.
  • Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Fleet has four active Delta III SSBNs, all built between 1979 and 1982. These subs carry SS-N-18 missiles. They will probably be withdrawn from service as the new Borey-class SSBNs enter the fleet. Original plans called for them to have been withdrawn by 2010, but persistent problems with the Bulava missile have pushed the timetable forward.

Borey class’s troubled history

The Borey class has a long and complicated history. Work on the first sub of this class, the Yuri Dolgoruky, began in 1996. Because of a series of redesigns involving both the submarine and its armament, it was not launched until 2008. Borey-class submarines have a displacement of 24,000 tons, a top speed of 29 knots, and can dive to a depth of 450 meters.

Construction of the second submarine (the Aleksandr Nevsky) began in 2004, and it was finally launched in 2010. The Pacific Fleet expects to deploy both Borey submarines next year, if all goes well in sea trials. A variety of problems with the Aleksandr Nevsky detected during initial testing have reportedly been fixed, though officers report continuing issues with the reliability of digital control systems. The Boreys are the first Russian submarines to be equipped with digital (rather than analog) control systems, and evidently not all the bugs have been worked out.

A third submarine is under construction and may be launched next year. The five vessels expected to be ordered next year will have a modified design that will likely include 20 launch tubes (up from 16). If they are completed on schedule, the Russian navy will have its eight new SSBNs in place well before 2020, allowing for the retirement of the Delta IIIs and most, if not all, of the Delta IVs.

Bulava delays

The main potential roadblock is the checkered history of the Bulava ballistic missile. Three consecutive failed test launches in 2008-09 led to the removal of the director of the missile’s lead design bureau. It appears that the problems were related to quality control in the production cycle, rather than any defects in the missile’s design. Since the production cycle was improved in 2009, the last five tests have been successful, including one that achieved the maximum range of 9,300 kilometers.

A test firing of two missiles simultaneously was planned for November or December, but this has just been postponed to May 2012. While the official reason had to do with poor weather in the Barents Sea, the real cause was probably the desire to avoid any chance of failure so close to the December 4 parliamentary elections. While success cannot be guaranteed, the missile’s recent track record means that commissioning by the end of 2012 is highly likely.

Why Yasen submarines

The Yasen class may be the world’s most sophisticated nuclear submarine, capable of 31 knots, equipped with eight torpedo tubes and able to launch up to 30 cruise missiles simultaneously. The Yasen is a multi-purpose attack submarine originally designed during the Cold War to hunt NATO aircraft carriers, protect strategic submarines, and fire cruise missiles at onshore targets. This class is expected eventually to replace all existing classes of Soviet-era attack submarines (Oscar, Akula, Victor, and Sierra). The Severodvinsk, the first of the Yasen class, could be commissioned this winter.

The Yasens are highly capable but also extremely expensive, with a unit cost of over 40 billion rubles. With the end of the Cold War, their purpose is unclear – especially given the extremely low likelihood that Russia could commission enough to threaten the US Navy. At the same time, the submarine is more powerful than needed to fight against any other potential adversary, including China. The Pentagon canceled the comparable Sea Wolf because of similar cost-benefit calculations, replacing it with the much cheaper Virginia class.


  • Fear of a missile-test-launch failure so close to the elections will delay the Borey-class’s deployment until mid-2012.
  • Russia appears committed to developing the new Yasen-class despite dubious cost-benefit calculations.
  • Fiscal strains – notable, a sharp and sustained fall in oil prices – would cast doubt on the entire naval procurement plan.



Rogozin takes on Navy shipbuilding (and gives us all a good chuckle)

Dmitry Rogozin, the newly minted Deputy Prime Minister in charge of military procurement, has made a statement on naval shipbuilding, in the context of the current discussion of a 30 year naval vessel development program. According to Rogozin, by 2013 Russian shipyards will be able to build 6 submarines and an aircraft carrier per year. Given that Russian shipyards currently have no docks large enough to build a carrier, there is zero chance that they could start construction of a carrier by 2013 even if the Navy had a design ready, which they don’t. If they started building a dock now, I imagine construction on the first carrier could start by 2020. Furthermore, the United States, the country with the most experience in building aircraft carriers, has never built one in less than 2.5 years. Three to four years from keel-laying to launch has been the norm for most of the Nimitz-class carriers.  So if Russia wanted to build one every year, they would have to build 3-4 docks. All very unrealistic, to be sure.

Rogozin appears to have realized that he made a fool of himself, so he subsequently walked back his statement on aircraft carriers, indicating that he was just talking about the refurbishment of the Vikramaditya. But he stuck to his guns on the submarines. And this claim makes equally little sense. According to Ilya Kramnik, at best Russia will be able to commission 2 new submarines (one diesel and one Borei class SSBN) and refurbish one Delta IV in 2013. He believes that the level of six submarines a year will be reached no earlier than 2018.

Furthermore, Rogozin’s talk about restoring the Typhoons is likely to remain just talk. There’s no reason to spend the money on modernizing these submarines (including refurbishing 2 of the 3 to launch Bulava missiles) when the Borei subs are better and more likely to provide value for the money in terms of longevity.

So we can put this latest statement by Rogozin down as yet another effort at attention-seeking. While Russian ship-building is undoubtedly experiencing a revival of sorts, there’s no point in exaggerating their capabilities. That will only lead to subsequent articles decrying the failure of “officially announced” plans.


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.

The Future of the Russian Navy Part 3: Submarines

Strategic Submarines

The future of Russia’s sea-based strategic deterrent force revolves around the Borei-class submarines, eight of which are planned to be built by 2017. The first was completed in 2008 and is currently undergoing sea trials. Another three are already under construction. While the submarines themselves seem to be in good shape, the project is currently mired in uncertainty because of continuing failures in testing of the Bulava SLBM with which they are to be equipped. The Bulava is the first solid-fuel SLBM to be used in Russian/Soviet submarines. The Bulava is the first SLBM used in Russian/Soviet submarines that was designed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), rather than the Makeyev Design Bureau.

The Bulava test missiles are being launched from the Dmitry Donskoy, the last of the Typhoon SSBNs, built in the late 1970s and modified a few years ago to launch the Bulava. Two other Typhoons are currently listed as inactive and may be modified in the future to carry conventional cruise missiles instead of SLBMs.

The Russian Navy currently operates six Delta IV SSBNs, all based in the Northern Fleet. Four of the subs have already been upgraded to carry Sineva SLBMs. Two others are currently being overhauled, with expected relaunch dates in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The expectation is that these subs, which were all built in the late 1980s, will continue to serve through 2020-25.

The Pacific Fleet currently has four active Delta III SSBNs, all built between 1979 and 1982. These subs carry the SS-N-18 SLBM. They are expected to be withdrawn from service in the near future, as the new Borei-class SSBNs enter the fleet. Original plans called for them to have been withdrawn already by 2010, but problems with the Bulava have so far prevented the Borei submarines from replacing the Delta IIIs.

Assuming that the Bulava’s problems are resolved, 10-15 years from now, we are likely to see Russia maintaining a fleet of 12 SSBNs, most likely including 6-8 Boreis  and 4-6 Delta IVs.

Multi-purpose Nuclear Submarines

The Russian Navy currently operates several kinds of multi-purpose submarines. The largest are the Oscar II class cruise missile submarines, built mostly in the 1980s and armed with P-700 Granit cruise missiles. Eight of these submarines are available to the navy, though at least three are currently in reserve or being repaired. As currently configured, their sole real purpose is to hunt down US carrier groups, though this is made difficult in practice by their large size and noisiness, characteristics that make them relatively easy to spot. In the future, they could be equipped with newer cruise missiles to expand their range of missions. Two more Oscar IIs were never completed but could be finished in the future, though it seems to me that this would not be a wise expenditure of limited procurement resources.

The Akula is the main type of attack submarine currently in the Russian Navy. There are eight in active service, mostly in the Northern Fleet, though several more are being held in reserve. The older boats in this class are likely to be retired over the next decade. In addition, the Navy still operates four Victor III attack submarines and three Sierra I and II attack submarines. All of these are likely to be retired in the near future as well.

The only replacement for these submarines, at the moment, is the Severdvinsk class, a modification of the Akula class that is considered by some experts to be the most sophisticated nuclear submarine in the world, able to travel at 33 knots, armed with 8 torpedo tubes and able to launch up to 24 cruise missiles simultaneously. They are similar in some ways to the American Sea Wolf submarine. At the same time, these submarines are very expensive and some analysts doubt the need for building too many of them given that the Sea Wolf program was canceled after only three were built. For the moment, one submarine of this class has been launched and another is under construction. Navy officials have stated that they hope to start building one of these a year starting in 2011, but this seems highly unlikely given the financial constraints and technological limitations of Russian submarine building.

It seems that this is the most problematic category for the Russian Navy’s submarine fleet. Ten years from now, the navy is likely to have at its disposal around 4 Oscar IIs, 4-5 Akulas, and no more than 3 Severdvinsk submarines. And the remaining Oscars and Akulas will have to be retired by 2025-2030. Given these numbers, what the navy desperately needs is a relatively basic, cheap, and easy to build attack submarine along the lines of the American Virginia class. While there are rumors that various bureaus are working on designs for such a submarine, there has been no official word on this process.

Diesel Submarines

The Russian Navy currently operates 12-15 Kilo class diesel-electric submarines, most of which were built in the 1980s. Several additional submarines are in reserve and a couple are under repair and will likely return to operational status. These are extremely quiet submarines, intended for anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in shallow waters. They are armed with torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles.

The successor to the Kilo is the Lada, the first of which (the St. Petersburg) was launched in 2005 but not commissioned until May 2010. Despite being listed in active service,  the St. Petersburg continues to experience problems with its propulsion systems, which had been the cause of the delays in completing the sub’s sea trials. In the meantime, two other submarines of this class are under construction, though their completion is likely to be delayed until the problems with the St. Petersburg are resolved. The Russian navy hopes to build a total of eight Ladas by 2020, and more thereafter.

Because of the urgent need for new diesel submarines in the Black Sea Fleet and the continuing problems with the Lada, in August 2010 the navy announced that it will build three improved Kilos (of a type previously built only for export) for the Black Sea Fleet. Construction of the first submarine has already begun and all three are expected to be completed by 2014. These are realistic timelines, given the speed with which these submarines have been built for the Chinese and Algerian navies.

Later this week, I’ll have a summary and analysis of what I think the RFN will look like in 10 years based on all the available information.