Difficult Course to a Grand Fleet

Konstantin Bogdanov sees reason for pessimism when looking at the course ahead for rebuilding Russia’s fleet.  Writing in Friday’s Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, he says, despite an intention to spend 4.7 trillion rubles of the ten-year GPV on the Navy, there are technical challenges, clearly impractical schemes, and failures in what he calls the “organization-financial plan” ahead. 

Bogdanov provides us a handy review of the state of Russian shipbuilding.

He points first to OSK’s insistence on seeing new aircraft carriers (with nuclear-powered destroyers in their battle groups) on the Russian Navy’s horizon.  But Defense Minister Serdyukov has only a cold rebuff for the idea.  Early R&D into what a new carrier might look like is as far as he’s being willing to go.  It was made pretty clear that a carrier isn’t part of this GPV.

Bogdanov says OSK may be looking for work for the New-Admiralty Wharves it sees on Kotlin Island in the future.  The 30- to 60-billion-ruble shipyard could be ready in 2016.  An aircraft carrier project would help launch this idea.

Then Bogdanov turns to the Navy’s more immediate needs — frigates and corvettes.  

Proyekt 22350 frigates are needed by tens, if not 30, or even 40, of them.  But Northern Wharf is having trouble building them.  Lead unit Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov was five years in construction, and its underway testing isn’t complete.  Fleet Admiral Kasatonov was laid down just about two years ago.  Its SAM system, Poliment-Redut with 9M96 missiles isn’t ready, and will have to be fitted right to finished frigates.  But Bogdanov sees the frigates’ VLS — the Multipurpose Ship Fire System (UKSK or УКСК) as a positive step.  It could fire antiship, antisubmarine, land-attack cruise missiles, torpedoes, and possibly SAMs.

When proyekt 22350 didn’t come along quickly, Bogdanov says, the Navy went for its own proyekt 11356M frigates like those being built for India.  But, he notes, Baltic Shipbuilding Plant “Yantar” in Kaliningrad isn’t having an easy time constructing them for its Indian and Russian customers.  There are delays in the Indian units, but Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen have been laid down for Russia, and Admiral Makarov should join them soon.  The contract for a second batch of three was just signed.  They’re supposed to be “localized,” but may actually be more like the Indian versions.  They’re slightly cheaper than the proyekt 22350 at 10 billion vs. 16 billion rubles per ship.

Northern Wharf has the order for nine proyekt 20380 Steregushchiy-class corvettes (with the proyekt 22350 frigates this comes to more than 220 billion rubles).  Soobrazitelnyy (proyekt 20381) began sea trials this year, Boykiy was launched, Stoykiy is under construction, and Provornyy (proyekt 20385) was laid down.  Sovershennyy (proyekt 20380) remains under construction at Komsomolsk-na-Amure.  Bogdanov says the proyekt 20385 ships will have an eight-cell UKSK.

Bogdanov notes, however, that Northern Wharf’s production won’t be steady until its ownership issue is finally resolved.  If OSK takes over, this could have a good or bad effect on fulfilling defense orders, but the current financial questions around Northern Wharf are even worse.

Turning to submarines, Bogdanov believes the situation is more transparent, but there are still questions.

The SSBN picture is pretty clear.  Proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBNs finally have a missile that looks like it works.  Yuriy Dolgorukiy has fired it, and Aleksandr Nevskiy might this year.  Vladimir Monomakh is under construction, and they’re preparing production materials for Saint Nikolay.

The problem, he notes, is units 1 and 2 used sections and components of proyekt 971 and 949A submarines never built.  Units 3 and 4 will be built from scratch, and it’s too early to say how this will be reflected in their cost.  Bogdanov concludes another battle over inflated prices awaits, and there is, of course, still no 2011 contract with Sevmash.

It’s less clear with the multipurpose proyekt 885, Yasen-class, of which the Navy wants ten by 2020.  But these boats have been the focus of the Defense Ministry’s familiar complaint about unjustified price increases.  Unit 1 Severodvinsk was built from materials and resources on hand, and its rising price was frozen at 47 billion rubles in 2005.  The Defense Ministry says Sevmash wants 112 billion for unit 2 Kazan

Bogdanov thinks it’s hard to tell who’s justified here.  There is structural industrial inflation, and a higher costs could be the result of the frozen handover price on Severodvinsk.

Bogdanov mentions the thought given to cheaper attack boats like the Victor III or Akula, or proyekt 957 Kedr which never left the design phase.  The Yasen is intended to replace Soviet-era SSNs and SSGNs, but Bogdanov thinks it’s too complex and expensive to be built in the numbers Russia may need.  Twenty years ago the Russian Navy was planning for not less than 30 [sized of course against the U.S. fleet], and currently it has not more than 30 SSNs and SSGNs, and this is considered insufficient. 

Despite the uncertainty above, Bogdanov says one still hears talk about the need to develop a fifth generation submarine, but it’s unknown if there will be any development work on one.
 
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One response to “Difficult Course to a Grand Fleet

  1. 1. Well, it looks like Russian leadership lacks geopolitical thinking. Russia cannot become a global power without a strong navy. History suggests that having a powerful naval force is necessary for being a superpower.
    2. Before discussing money and expenditures, one must have a geopolitical goals, including a specific defense strategy. The basis of such strategy is that the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea are in Russian sphere of influence. It requires that Russia consider (whether expressly or impliedly) that (a) Baltic states, (b) Turkey are its enemies. No such statements are made. Russia’s conduct doesn’t support such goals.
    3. Today is the opportune time for Russia to act in the South, because the Black Sea is much warmer than the Baltic Sea. It must dismember Turkey, which is having serious problems: (a) tensions with Greece, (b) direct naval confrontation with Cyprus, (c) a major change in Israel-Turkish relationship from allies to adversaries and shortly enemies, (d) Armenia – Russia’s ally, which has historical claims against Turkey, including the genocide of Armenians in 1915, (g) powerful Kurdish awakening with autonomy or outright independence. Unless Russia takes concrete, measurable steps it will be a regional power.
    4. Begin undermining the Baltic states by placing pro-Russian governments or dismembering them. Estonia and Latvia should be on the list.
    5. Even though Putin purportedly admires Peter the Great, he thinks like a pathetic little bureaucrat.

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