Category Archives: Naval Modernization

Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part II)

Some comments on Klimov’s VPK article . . . .

In his short opinion piece, Klimov doesn’t systematically address the cost-benefit of Russia’s nuclear-powered submarine forces. But he has an opinion: their price outweighs their usefulness.

He’s not happy with what little he’s seen from the Borey and Bulava programs, but he seems to favor keeping a naval component in Russia’s strategic nuclear triad.

He’s not persuaded when it comes to SSNs.

Klimov states flatly that Moscow’s effort to modernize its third-generation attack boats has failed and it has turned instead to project 885/885M. But these fourth-generation subs are too expensive and too few in number. Producing them as an effective means of non-nuclear deterrence, Klimov writes, is beyond Russia’s economic capabilities.

While the 885/885M design might approach U.S. levels of stealthiness, they aren’t rolling out of Sevmash like sausages. Not even commissioned, Kazan will make two. Yes, two.

The U.S. Navy has had three Seawolf-class SSNs since 2005. It has 16 Virginia-class subs in service. Another is ready for commissioning. Nine, yes, nine are under construction. Ten Block V boats could be built in the 2020s. And the U.S. Navy also maintains a capable force of more than 30 Los Angeles-class boats. It has to. It confronts larger, more complex strategic challenges than its Russian counterpart.

From outside, we can only guess whether USN airborne ASW is as successful as Klimov claims. One would expect the FSB to inquire about his sources for this part of his story. Mind you, he was talking about P-3 Orion surveillance, not more modern and capable P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

That older combat systems have been used on the 885/885M, as he asserts, seems likely from past Soviet/Russian evolutionary practice.

Klimov’s recommendations, however, are more difficult to swallow. Redistributing resources from SSNs, which are becoming dolgostroi, to ground forces, surface ships, and naval aviation would be strange.

Spending less on subs in favor of the army could be a legitimate decision for Moscow to make, especially because the navy made out so well in GPV 2011-2020. But it also sounds like something green-uniformed guys in the General Staff might propose. It makes one wonder whether Klimov’s article was commissioned (by someone wearing green).

Proposing that money saved go to surface ships and aviation is puzzling. Sending more rubles down the surface ship “rabbit hole” is unlikely to produce better results. The Russian Navy has always been a submarine navy, and probably always will be (if it gets new submarines). Submarines suit Russia’s strategic situation and requirement to defend against seaborne threats to its continental theaters.

Klimov makes the valid point that Russia will need new weapons and systems for a true fifth-generation submarine. To put older ones into a new hull is to “lay down a growing lag” in the fleet, as he says.

But, from Moscow’s perspective, curtailing sub production risks falling out of the business altogether. Its industrial base for submarines isn’t doing well enough to take time off.

But Klimov’s article is Russian military journalism rarely seen over the past five years or so. He has dared draw conclusions (e.g. the failure of efforts to modernize aging third-generation boats) we haven’t heard from others.

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Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part I)

Kazan in the launching dock in 2017

Kazan in the launching dock in 2017

What follows is a translation of Maksim Klimov’s October 22 article in VPK. He writes frequently on naval issues.

“What Do You Ask of an ‘Ash’: Nuclear Submarines Keep the Fleet on Starvation Rations”

“On 25 September the lead nuclear-powered submarine of project 885M ‘Kazan’ went to sea for factory underway trials. This event didn’t go unnoticed in foreign media or ours. Taking into account the fact that the lion’s share of resources allocated to the Navy go to the nuclear submarine fleet, there’s sense in sorting out the real effectiveness of the expenditures.”

“The ‘Borey’ —  ‘Bulava’ program is the megaproject of recent history. A lot of copy about its utility has been ripped up. According to the facts we have, six years after completing state testing of the lead boat and three years after transferring the first series vessel to the Pacific Fleet not a single firing of a ‘Bulava’ SLBM from the Pacific Ocean from ‘Aleksandr Nevskiy’ or ‘Vladimir Monomakh’ has taken place. According to media information, the lead SSBN ‘Yuriy Dolgorukiy’ doesn’t carry a combat load and, evidently, is being used as a floating stand for developing and tweaking ‘Bulava’.”

“Deterrence Deterred”

“We have to bow here to TsKB ‘Rubin’ General Director Sergey Kovalev for preserving the SSBN grouping of projects 667BDRM and BDR, which are today actually carrying out strategic nuclear deterrence missions.”

“In the current state of affairs questions arise as to the utility for Russia of having a naval component of SYaS [trans. Strategic Nuclear Forces]. The problem is all means of the ‘triad’ have their shortcomings and virtues, and the reliability of deterrence is guaranteed by covering the minuses of one with the pluses of the others. In the scope of all deterrence systems it’s sufficient for us to have just one, guaranteed untrackable SSBN. But this, undoubtedly, requires a certain number of them in the fleet’s composition. Because the foundation of strategic deterrence is not range of flight or the quantity of warheads on missiles, but inevitability of a retaliatory strike, the basis of which is the combat stability of naval SYaS.”

“There is an analogous problem with non-nuclear means of deterrence, cruise missiles and their carriers.”

“Taking into account the failure of modernization of third-generation boats a bet has been placed on the grouping of new project 885(M) nuclear subs. It would seem logical since the missile salvo of project 885 exceeds the American ‘Virginias’ and even the Western media is crying about a ‘new Russian threat’. The problem is only that there aren’t enough missiles on project 885 boats for effective deterrence, and the carrier itself is too expensive and low-volume. If we call a spade a spade, creating an effective system of non-nuclear deterrence on the basis of project 885M nuclear subs is far beyond the bounds of the state’s economic capabilities. Moreover, we still have to go to the volley point. This is precisely where the main problems begin.”

“Won’t Hold Up in Battle”

“Traditionally they say quietness is the main quality of a submarine. What does this actually mean? The foreign comparative graphic [trans. link added] of the reduction of noise in USSR (RF) and U.S. submarines is well-known. Comparing this graphic with data on the noise of subs of the first-fourth generations it’s obvious that the given levels for our fourth-generation lag U.S. Navy multipurpose nuclear submarines by not less than 10 decibels.”

“Project 885 ‘Yasen’ is the only modern multipurpose submarine which retains the propeller screw, all remaining ones have gone to water pumpjets. The reason is requirements for significant increases in low-noise speed, up to 20 knots. But as research shows, at the same noise level, the speed of ‘Severodvinsk’ and ‘Kazan’ is, obviously, much lower than that of the American ‘Virginia’ and ‘Seawolf’ [trans. SSN-774 and SSN-21 classes respectively]. And this is an extremely serious tactical flaw, the consequences of which are not fully understood by us.”

“Meanwhile now our ‘partners’ [trans. the U.S.] are developing new ways of detecting submarines. Submarine officers in Severomorsk laid down the flight track of an American ‘Orion’ reconnaissance aircraft on a map of the disposition of our nuclear submarines in the course of exercises. And all ten turning points of its route precisely followed the disposition of our submarines. In fact it didn’t even search, but went to the exact point. The ‘Orion’ went precisely to our nuclear submarine without any tacking, dropped a buoy and went to the next one.”

“The scope of threats from enemy aircraft aren’t recognized by us because domestic anti-submarine aviation is catastrophically behind the foreign level. The concept of even the newest Russian airborne search-targeting systems are from the 1970s. ‘Novella’ (‘Leninets’), as was officially announced, guarantees ‘an increase in the effectiveness of the Il-38 by four times.’ The problem is the Il-38’s capability against low-noise submarines was close to zero.”

“Evading Testing”

“Even in 2010 Rear-Admiral Anatoliy Lutskiy  wrote that it was proposed to equip ‘Yasen’ and ‘Borey’ submarines with torpedo defense systems which had technical tasks for development put together back in the 1980s. Moreover, the results of research into the effectiveness of these means against modern torpedoes attest to the entirely low probability that an evading submarine could escape destruction.”

“Since then two generations of torpedo weapons have been replaced, and there’s obviously no need to talk today about the possibility of effectively employing drifting systems of the ‘Vist’ type or the extremely expensive ‘Udar’ for anti-torpedo defense. The situation has only one solution — conducting objective testing together with new torpedo types. However, the consequences for the pair of them are obviously devastating, so simply no one will allow the testing.”

“What Is To Be Done”

“We aren’t simply investing huge amounts of money in combat systems of dubious effectiveness, but also tearing them away from education, science, and rearmament of the ground forces where there is still a difficult situation with combat equipment. In the Navy betting on submarines keeps surface ship construction on a starvation diet. It has led to the stagnation of naval aviation.”

“During development of proposals for ‘Basic Directions for Development of VVST [trans. Armaments, Military and Special Equipment] to 2030’ the author raised the question of conducting proactive R&D into weapons and countermeasures for fifth-generation submarines. This is acutely important since there are a number of fundamental points regarding the appearance of a weapon which directly influence the construction of submarines. To do it ‘the old way’ is to lay down a growing lag in our submarine fleet.”

“To resolve the critical problems of the Navy’s submarine forces it’s essential firstly to conduct special testing and research exercises. Until they are completed the construction of nuclear-powered subs could be significantly reduced for the redistribution of limited financial resources to higher priority and more critical directions of defense organizational development — surface ships and aviation.”

There’s a lot to think about here. Watch for Part II.

Admiral Nakhimov Slipping

Capture

Admiral Nakhimov at Sevmash

It’s been so widely reported it doesn’t bear much. But the sinking of SRZ-82’s PD-50 at Roslyakovo when Admiral Kuznetsov floated out seems incredible. Though it’s entirely believable given the problems afflicting Russia’s naval shipbuilding sector. In fact, it’s emblematic.

PD-50 in better days

PD-50 in better days

This has to be the “final straw” sending OSK chief Rakhmanov into retirement. Not that a new boss will be sufficient to turn this situation around.

But on to Admiral Nakhimov . . . the slipping has begun.

The TASS story from August 22 was effectively ignored in English media. That day the news agency reported the Russian Navy will not receive its renovated CGN Admiral Nakhimov until 2022.

TASS quoted Sevmash General Director Mikhail Budnichenko:

“According to the contract with OSK, the heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Admiral Nakhimov must be delivered to the fleet in 2022, but there are some questions with financing. I hope, and am even sure, that they will be resolved soon.”

He is more sanguine than most perhaps.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In 1988, Admiral Nakhimov was commissioned into the Soviet Navy — the third of four Kirov-class nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers. The Russian Navy sent it to the Sevmash dock for repairs in 1999 where it languished for 14 years.

Finally, in mid-2013, the MOD gave Sevmash a contract for Nakhimov’s repair and modernization. It was supposed to return to the fleet in 2018. But work on the ship didn’t commence until October 2014. About this time it was expected to rejoin the navy by 2020.

Last year, Sevmash was saying not later than 2021. Early this year, it said 2021-2022.

In August, OSK chief Rakhmanov said customer changes to the plan for Nakhimov’s modernization will take longer to complete.

Now at fully four years into its reconstruction, Admiral Nakhimov has a ways to go. In 2017, spaces were cleared for new missile (Kalibr, Tsirkon) and air defense (Poliment-Redut) systems. But no installation work had begun. Integrating these weapons into new C2 systems won’t be easy although Nakhimov may benefit some from the sore experience of outfitting proyekt 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov.

The repair and modernization of Petr Velikiy will obviously be put off until Nakhimov is done. Interestingly, Sevmash’s Budnichenko said the former will be renovated either at Sevmash-affiliate Zvezdochka or Baltic Shipyard, but not Sevmash itself.

All the foregoing is mainly about keeping stock. The return of Nakhimov in 2018 has now become 2022. We’ll see how it actually ends up.

Will Rosneft Boost Russian Naval Construction?

Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft is turning Shipbuilding Complex (SSK) Zvezda into the country’s first large tonnage shipyard. TASS recently published a backgrounder that detailed what’s been happening there.

Located in Bolshoy Kamen near Vladivostok, SSK Zvezda is supposed to produce the ships and equipment Rosneft needs to explore and exploit offshore oil and gas. However, it also has potential to boost Russia’s naval ship and submarine construction and repair in the Far East.

Rosneft took over Zvezda in late 2015 in consortium with government holding company Rosneftegaz and Gazprombank. The effort to expand its civilian shipbuilding capacity began in 2009 as a partnership between state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) and South Korea’s Daewoo. The latter quit the project in 2012.

Having displaced OSK, Rosneft became principal holder of Far East Plant (DVZ) Zvezda and some small affiliated shipyards. DVZ Zvezda is the only Russian shipyard in the Far East capable of repairing and modernizing nuclear-powered submarines and ships up to 13,500 tons displacement. It began modernizing two project 949A Oscar II-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarines in 2013.

Zvezda complex in Bolshoy Kamen

Zvezda complex in Bolshoy Kamen

This image shows the naval shipyard at top with its grayish roof, launch basin in front, and a submarine in drydock alongside if you look carefully. The SSK Zvezda facility is pretty much everything else — the reddish roof of the monstrous production building and the whitish buildingway with its yellow cranes visible.

SSK Zvezda will produce a range of medium and large tonnage vessels, up to 350,000-tons displacement, and other sea-going equipment to support offshore hydrocarbon development in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. It includes LNG carriers, tankers, drilling platforms, and transport, supply, and seismic survey ships.

The shipyard currently has one 1,200-ton gantry crane made in China, two 320-ton gantry cranes, and four 100-ton tower cranes on its open buildingway. In July, the shipyard took delivery of a 40,000-ton transport-transfer dock built by the Qingdao Beihai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company. Rosneft expects SSK Zvezda’s development to cost $2.4 billion.

Capture

It reportedly will begin construction of medium-sized ships in 2019 with a workforce of 1,500 employees. By 2024, it expects to have a large-ship drydock and full-cycle fabrication facilities in operation with 7,500 workers. The shipyard’s order book already includes ten 80,000- to 120,000-ton tankers, ten shuttle tankers, and supply vessels. Leveraging DVZ Zvezda’s nuclear expertise, SSK Zvezda will also build three Lider-class nuclear-powered icebreakers, according to a September 14 announcement by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.

President Vladimir Putin visited the shipyard on September 10 to lay the keel of a tanker. In 2017, he inaugurated the buildingway and transfer dock for medium-sized ships and participated in the keel-laying for four multipurpose ice-class supply ships. The Russian president personally commissioned a module production building in 2016.

The development of SSK Zvezda may increase Russia’s capabilities for naval ship and submarine construction and repair in the Far East. DVZ Zvezda has struggled for years without modernization funding. However, it may be able to leverage the flow of Rosneft investment and Chinese shipbuilding technology, equipment, and experience into SSK Zvezda to improve its own production capabilities. A steady stream of large civilian projects next door may increase of quantity and quality of personnel available to DVZ Zvezda, and moderate the boom or bust cycle of shipbuilding that makes it difficult for Russian workers to stay in the Far East.

Bulava Salvo Firing

Today Russian Northern Fleet Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy (K-535) salvo-fired four Bulava (RSM-56 / SS-N-32) SLBMs while submerged in the White Sea.

According to RIA Novosti, the fleet press-service said the “established missions were completely fulfilled.” The press-service continued saying, the “tactical-technical characteristics and reliability [of the submarine and missiles] were confirmed.” It added this was the first time a Borey-class SSBN salvo-fired so many SLBMs.

The launches come at the end of the video (5:37). The first looks normal. The second, however, not so much. The missile looks a bit like it’s going to heel over before the engine kicks on. Perhaps that’s normal. But what appear to be the third and fourth launches look to the naked eye like a replay of the first and second.

Were there four missiles fired by Yuriy Dolgorukiy, or two? No surprise but the video isn’t convincing. Presumably DEFSMAC, DOD, and the U.S. Navy know for sure. Maybe they’ll inform John Q. Public.

Recall Bulava had its share of developmental troubles. Dolgorukiy salvo-fired two SLBMs in late September 2016; one launch was successful but the other missile self-destructed.

The salvo-firing has been a program milestone since 2011.

This all remains a far cry from operation “Hippopotаmus-2” when Delta IV-class SSBN Novomoskovsk (K-407) fired all 16 Shtil (RSM-54 / SS-N-23) SLBMs in a single salvo on August 6, 1991. But the circumstances were somewhat different. Both the boat and the missiles were very well tested by then.

Engine Trouble

The Russian media report more trouble for project 11711 LST Ivan Gren (BDK 135). During state trials, the new tank landing ship has been unable to run astern (reverse engines and go backwards). [Did Yantar shipyard really not discover this issue during its factory underway testing?] This comes atop Gren’s earlier degaussing problem which kept the Russian Navy from accepting the ship before the end of 2017.

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Yantar announced on February 20 that it might launch unit two, Petr Morgunov, in the second half of May. It’s also sticking to its promise, however unlikely, to deliver the completed LST to the Russian Navy before the end of 2018.

Yantar indicated the second unit’s port and starboard 16ChN26/26 (aka 10D49) diesel engines will be swapped to see if this remedies the astern running problems Gren experienced. But the work on Morgunov has to be done by late April to keep to its launch schedule.

If the swap works, the same [actually, perhaps even more] difficult process will be performed on Gren. But it will apparently be accepted into the fleet in May before its engine trouble is fixed.

Flotprom.ru reports the engine swap will alter the turning of ship’s propellers and eliminate the astern running problem. Any naval engineers out there are invited to explain how this could work to the rest of us! The shipbuilding industry site indicates trading engine places is complex and can consume several months.

The media also report that Gren now lacks good seakeeping qualities due to the many design changes made during its protracted construction. They even claim that the Russian Navy will forego further ships in this class, basically a modification of the Soviet-era project 1171 Alligator-class LST. How Moscow would fill the gaps in its small and rapidly aging landing ship force is anyone’s guess. 

Gren and Morgunov are 5,000 tons displacement and 120 meters long, and can cruise at 18 knots. They have a 100-man crew, and can carry 13 tanks or 36 armored vehicles and 300 troops. They are outfitted with AK-630 30-mm gun systems and a landing deck for a Ka-27 or Ka-29 helo.

The Next Tsushima

Independent analysis of the Russian military has practically vanished under the weight of official reports on the ever-growing might of the Kremlin’s armed forces.

Almost. But not quite. Not entirely.

Critical exposés on the Russian Navy still appear because it’s had less conspicuous success in modernization than the other armed services. This despite the relative largesse the navy received from GPV 2011-2020.

Aleksandr Mozgovoy not long ago tackled the issue of exactly what Russian shipbuilding has or hasn’t accomplished over the past five years.

He correlates recent MOD “tallying” with Defense Minister Shoygu’s tenure. However, it seems more likely the military’s accounting is timed to demonstrate what RF President Vladimir Putin delivered during this term as he ramps up for the next one.

But, as Mozgovoy argues in the translation below, none of this is very impressive when it comes to the Russian Navy.

Putin flanked by Defense Minister Shoygu and Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

Putin flanked by Defense Minister Shoygu and Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

“Does a New Tsushima Await Us?”

“The Russian naval shipbuilding program is dead in the water, but expensive naval shows are being arranged”

“Every December the results of the year are tallied. Even the Ministry of Defense can’t ignore the custom. However, this time the military department began to sum up the results on November 7. It could appear that the opening meeting of the RF MOD Collegium, which evaluated the results of the 2012-2017 five-year plan, was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. But this impression is mistaken. In fact, there was another reason. Five years ago — on November 6, 2012 — Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu took over as head of the country’s defense department.”

“Since Sergey Shoygu somehow found it uncomfortable to talk about the achievements of the ministry himself, the Chief of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces — First Deputy Minister of Defense of the RF, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov stepped into the role of main spokesman. He drew an impressive picture of the changes that have taken place in the country’s armed forces during the five-year plan. However, even a casual observer could appreciate the sharp increase in the combat readiness of the troops and the fleet, and notice their outfitting with new models of weapons and military equipment.”

“Yet in Valeriy Gerasimov’s report there was one topic that could not but cause doubts. We are talking about naval construction. For some reason the Defense Ministry traditionally exaggerates here. ‘Over the period, the situation with equipping the navy with modern armaments has stabilized,’ the chief of the General Staff noted. ‘More than 150 ships and vessels, including more than 60 warships, among them 15 which carry precision ‘Kalibr’ missiles, entered its inventory.'”

“Yes, the firing of this missile system against terrorists in Syria was not only highly effective, but also had great resonance in the world. But the results of naval shipbuilding as a whole don’t impress.”

“In Russia, to put it mildly, there are not very many combatants in the navy’s order-of-battle. Therefore, it doesn’t present any great difficulty to track this process. Since 2012, three project 955 ‘Borey’ nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), one project 885 ‘Yasen’ nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), six project 06363 ‘Paltus’ diesel-electric submarines, two project 11356 frigates, four project 20380 corvettes, one project 11661K ‘Dagestan’ missile ship, five project 21631 ‘Buyan-M’ small missile ships (MRK), one project 21630 ‘Makhachkala’ small artillery ship and project 12700 ‘Aleksandrit’ base minesweeper ‘Alexander Obukhov’ have joined the fleet. So we have 24 combatants. Even if 14 project 21980 ‘Grachonok’ anti-sabotage boats, two similarly designated project 12159A ‘Mangust’ boats and 11 project 03160 ‘Raptor’ patrol boats, whose full displacement is 23 tons, and 8 project 21820 ‘Dyugon,’ 11770 ‘Serna’ and 02510 ‘BK-16’ assault boats are added, you still in no way get ‘over 60.'”

“It’s impossible to understand why such distortions are necessary.”

“Concerning the general picture, for the past 10 years, in the period from 2007 to 2017 the overwhelming majority of units delivered to the fleet are base afloat assets: small raiding and diving boats, floating cranes and floating targets. According to accepted international classification, they are not even referred to as auxiliaries, but as service craft. Of course, the fleet can’t get along without them, but they don’t bear any relation to combatants.”

“THE HOLE OF A DONUT”

“Compensating for the deficit in real combatants, the fleet’s addicted to various types of shows which call for it to demonstrate its growing might. Often such measures are conducted in the presence of Supreme Commander-in-Chief President Vladimir Putin.”

“So, on September 6 of this year [2017] the head of state visited the newest project 20380 corvette ‘Sovershennyy,’ anchored in Ayaks Bay on Russkiy Island where at the time the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was being held with the participation of the heads of a number of states and governments, and also representatives of big business in the Asian region. It’s hard to say why it was necessary to arrange a review of the ship during the EEF. But this event got wide coverage in the media.”

“The official parade boat ‘Uragan’ brashly came alongside ‘Sovershennyy,’ which entered the Pacific Fleet’s inventory on July 20 of this year [2017] and became the first reasonably large surface ship to populate this large formation over the entire post-Soviet era. At the brow, the head of state was met by the ship’s commander Captain 3rd Rank [LCDR or O-4] Blinov and the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s 36th Surface Ship Division, based at Fokino near Vladivostok, Captain 1st Rank Kovalev [CAPT or O-6]. ‘Sovershennyy’ is temporarily assigned to the 36th Division, but is designated for service as part of the Kamchatka Flotilla.”(1)

“The division headed by Kovalev consists of the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser ‘Admiral Lazarev’ (former ‘Frunze’) which awaits scrapping, Guards missile cruiser ‘Varyag’ and two project 956 destroyers, one of which — ‘Burnyy’ — has been under repair at ‘Dalzavod’ since 2005, and the second — ‘Bystryy’ — seldom goes to sea because they are simply afraid to send it out. So, in essence, the division only has one real ship — cruiser ‘Varyag,’ which entered the order-of-battle 28 years ago.”

“Division commander Kovalev rather than ship commander Blinov took the head of state to familiarize him with ‘Sovershennyy’ apparently because of his seniority in rank. He began the tour by acquainting his high-ranking guest with the anti-submarine/anti-torpedo system [Paket-NK], reinforcing his report with a demonstration of the system on a poster. Listening to the explanations, the president nodded approvingly. Paradoxically, they didn’t show the Supreme Commander-in-Chief the system, but literally the hole of a donut because the launcher for the system is missing on ‘Sovershennyy’ for some reason. There was only a framework for it. Where did it go? Didn’t they manage to produce it over those 11 years while they built the ship? Or did they simply not install it? Perhaps someone stole it and sold it for scrap? Answers to these questions weren’t given. In fact, they weren’t even asked.”

“Kovalev conducted the president and his retinue into the bow of the ship where he indicated with a pointer the place where the missiles of the latest surface-to-air (SAM) system [Redut] should be located. It was obvious that they weren’t there since this system still hasn’t gone through state testing. Since 2011, project 20380 corvettes have plied the seas and oceans without anti-aircraft missiles, that is they are actually unarmed against air strikes. When the 36th Division commander talked about the combat potential of the SAM system, the president also nodded but without enthusiasm somehow. He was certainly aware of the problem, which undoubtedly was discussed more than once at conferences conducted yearly in Sochi with high command personnel of the RF Armed Forces and directors of defense industries.”

“Today the Kh-35 ‘Uran’ anti-ship missile system and the 100-mm A-190 standard automatic artillery gun in ‘Sovershennyy’s’ armament allow the corvette to fulfill the functions of a large missile boat and patrol ship, and also to fire on targets ashore. However, the basic missions of a ship of this class, connected with providing anti-air (PVO) and anti-submarine (PLO) defense, are unavailable to it.”

“MYTH CREATION”

“However the most striking naval event of the past year was the Main (that’s how it’s written with capital letters in official documents) Naval Parade in St. Petersburg and Kronshtadt on the occasion of Navy Day observed on 30 July. ‘We decided to revive the Main Naval Parade which will be held in Petersburg,’ Vladimir Putin announced on the eve of the holiday at a joint press-conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. ‘I assure you this isn’t saber rattling, it’s the reestablishment, the rebirth of traditions already more than 100 years old.’ Sergey Shoygu spoke in the same spirit. ‘On this holiday we recreate one of the most important military rituals, which is in itself a source of pride for the country, a striking and unforgettable spectacle,’ he said. By order of the Minister of Defense a medal ‘For Participation in the Main Naval Parade’ was even struck.”

“Everyone more or less familiar with the history of the Russian fleet knows that imperial reviews and naval parades have been conducted since Petrine times. In 1939, Iosif Stalin resurrected this tradition on Navy Day. But no main parades were ever organized — not with capital or lowercase letters. The Main Parade is a modern invention, or more precisely myth.”

“WHAT DID WE SEE IN THE PARADE?”

“We’ll begin with the appearance of the participants. All admirals, generals and senior officers were buttoned up in ridiculous and heavily gold-embroidered uniforms of the late Stalin era. Vladimir Putin and Sergey Shoygu officiated. They went around the formation of ships on the Neva in white-painted Raptor-class boat P-344, not in its patrol but in its VIP variant which is designated for the travels of the chief of the RF defense department. Normally this Russian Navy ‘combatant,’ which belongs to the Baltic Fleet, is tied up at the mooring barge of the Russian Federation National Defense Command and Control Center on the Frunze Embankment of the Moscow River. But for the occasion of the main parade the boat was brought to the northern capital. And, as we’ll become convinced, not just it.”

“After the ship review, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and the head of the military department debarked P-344 on the Admiralty Embankment and climbed the podium set up on Senate Square. Along the stands on the Admiralty Embankment sailors carried the parade’s symbol — the unfurled cloth of the St. George ensign of ship-of-the-line ‘Azov.’ It was first to receive it for heroic actions in the Battle of Navarino on 20 October 1827. However the banner didn’t look old. Who would allow taking a 290-year-old(2) relic from the Naval Museum where it’s kept? This supposition was confirmed when they didn’t have time to get the flag to the Admiralty building but it fluttered happily in the wind over the cupola of its Western Tower. This means there were two copies of the relic at a minimum.”

“Then speeches, greetings, and congratulations suited to the occasion were made. Parade crews on foot proceeded in a solemn march in front of the stands. And then came time for the most spectacular part of the event — the procession of ships on the Neva. It was really magnificent.”

“Roiling the waves, the numerous ‘Grachonok’ type anti-sabotage boats and ‘Raptor’ type patrol boats quickly went first. This ‘crowd’ was managed thanks to the fact that for a month or longer before this these boats went to the northern capital not only from the Baltic, but also from the Black and Caspian Seas, and also from the Northern Fleet. By the by, Il-38N anti-submarine aircraft, which came from the Far East, participated in the aerial part of the Main Parade.”

“Minesweepers, missile and assault boats, small missile and anti-submarine ships — the majority still of Soviet construction — followed the small boats. Frigate ‘Admiral Makarov,’ corvette ‘Stoykiy,’ large assault ship ‘Minsk’ and diesel-electric submarine (DEPL) ‘Dmitrov,’ that is 2nd rank ships, the last two of which are again an inheritance of the Soviet era, and a frigate still not in the navy’s inventory remained at their mooring buoys.”

“Then the not less impressive second Kronshtadt part took place. Logically, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Minister of Defense and those accompanying them should have gotten on helicopters and flown to the island which you could practically reach out and touch. But it went more simply: they lowered a huge screen on which they broadcast from Kronshtadt. They could have done the same thing without leaving Moscow. In fact, until the mid-1950s naval parades took place in the capital. Torpedo boats, large and small sub chasers and even small submarines lined up in the channel along the embankment of the Central Park of Culture and Leisure named for Gorkiy, that is opposite the current National Defense Command and Control Center of the RF. To arrange a boat parade wouldn’t be hard even now. It would be possible to conduct simultaneous broadcasts on a big screen not only from Kronshtadt, but also from Baltiysk, Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, Severomorsk and Astrakhan. And to show the holiday salute and illuminated ships from Vladivostok.”

“But let’s return to the Kronshtadt part of the parade.”

“Mainly large 1st and 2nd rank ships and submarines took part in it. The line ahead formation stretched for several miles. Missile cruiser ‘Marshal Ustinov,’ which finished a five-year repair in December of last year [2016], large anti-submarine ship ‘Vice-Admiral Kulakov’ and DEPL ‘Vladikavkaz’ represented the Northern Fleet. Large assault ship ‘Aleksandr Shabalin,’ MPKs [small anti-submarine ships] ‘Zelenodolsk’ and ‘Kazanets’ were delegates of the Baltic Fleet. The latest project 06363 DEPLs ‘Velikiy Novgorod’ and ‘Kolpino,’ later glorified for delivering massed precision strikes on terrorist facilities in Syria were then only still being prepared to transfer to the Black Sea.”

“To the south of the naval channel northern sea heavy RPKSN [ballistic missile submarine] ‘Dmitriy Donskoy’ and heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser ‘Petr Velikiy’ stood independently. They didn’t participate in the parade since their size makes this difficult. Of course, it was dumb, as it’s acceptable to say now, to drive these huge ships from the North to the Baltic around Scandinavia. Their cruise brought a reaction from West European countries, but, it seems not the one on which the RF MOD was counting. After all it’s well-known that ‘Dmitriy Donskoy’ — the largest submarine in the world — is not used as a combatant, but only as a test bed with the help of which new types of weapons are tested. Now if it carried two-three hundred cruise missiles as earlier foreseen, then the effect from this ‘cruise,’ undoubtedly would have been completely different. It’s also known that ‘Petr Velikiy’ needs repairs, but, when this time is coming still no one can say. And is it even generally necessary? It’s not NATO combatants but environmental protection ships constantly throwing probes in the water to sample for increased radioactivity that followed these two nuclear monsters in the northern seas and Baltic. But the fears of West European countries turned out to be in vain. Everything went without incidents.”

DOLGOSTROY(3) RECORDHOLDERS

“It’s especially necessary to talk about the project 23500 frigate ‘Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Gorshkov’ and project 11711 large assault ship (BDK) ‘Ivan Gren’ which participated in the main parade of 2017 although they, like ‘Admiral Makarov,’ haven’t entered the navy. Both are referred to as dolgostroy recordholders.”

“‘Ivan Gren’ was laid down on 23 December 2004 — 13 years ago! The project was reworked several times at the customer’s request. When the idea of ‘Mistralizing’ the fleet’s assault force arose, the BDK was generally dismissed. But after Paris turned its back on Moscow, to put it mildly, and tore up the deal for helicopter carriers, they remembered ‘Gren.’ To speed its completion, the project was once more ‘improved,’ that is simplified. In testing last summer [2016], it was explained that the ship’s magnetic field exceeded permissible norms and the BDK could play a role in clearing mine barriers since naval mines with magnetic or combined fuses would inevitably work if ‘Gren’ turned up beside them. At the end of October 2016, the BDK was put in drydock for ‘modification of its degaussing system.’ It involved the replacement of cables, the extension of which required dismantlement of a number of pipes and other equipment. This operation is akin to the replacement of a person’s blood vessels with the temporary relocation of vital organs. Factory underway testing was restarted only in the spring of this year [2017], and on 30 November the BDK started its state testing program.”

“The frigate ‘Gorshkov’ has been under construction for a little less time. On 1 February of next year [2018] it will be 12 years since it was laid down. The ship passed numerous testing phases, but wasn’t accepted by the fleet because its weapons system isn’t working. Deputy RF Minister of Defense Yuriy Borisov announced this again on 29 November. He expressed hope that the missile launches will be completed successfully by the end of December and the frigate will enter the inventory. He was echoed by Deputy CINC of the RF Navy for armaments Vice-Admiral Viktor Bursuk. ‘Now ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ is completing state testing, we are expecting it as well as ‘Ivan Gren’ this year,’ — he told a TASS agency correspondent. — ‘Both ships are now in the final phase of state testing, as is project 11356 frigate ‘Admiral Makarov.’ But this isn’t the first year we’ve heard similar assurances…”

“‘Admiral Makarov’ was ready long ago. Testing of the new version of the surface-to-air missile for the ‘Shtil-1’ SAM, which they say has finally been successfully completed, delayed it for more than a year. Even ‘Ivan Gren’ will probably be ready by the New Year. But with ‘Gorshkov’ everything’s not so simple. The ship has also performed a large part of its state testing program, but problems have arisen again with the newest PVO [air defense] system installed on it. Though the problem isn’t new. The project 12441 frigate ‘Novik,’ laid down back in 1997, that is 20 years ago, was supposed to receive it. But they didn’t build the ship because a number of the weapons systems weren’t ready. Now ‘Novik,’ at first reclassified into a training-experimental ship and renamed ‘Borodino,’ they’ve decided to, as sailors say, ‘turn it into razorblades,’ that is send it for scrap.”

“Our new corvettes have sailed without working SAMs for many years already. But they belong to the ships of the near maritime zone, which in the event of air threats could possibly, at least theoretically, be covered by the aircraft of land-based aviation. The frigate ‘Gorshkov’ has to serve in distant maritime and ocean zones. There you can’t call for an interceptor to repulse an attack by strike aircraft and cruise missiles.”

“As presented to the author, the fleet and Ministry of Defense long ago were ready to give the ‘OK’ to including ‘Gorshkov’ in the navy’s order-of-battle. But, it seems, as in every case recently, the president opposed it. Now facing new elections, even the head of state can waver in order to please the electorate.”

“PARADE FLEET”

“Alas, one has to recognize that combat ships in Russia take a long time to build and are often not high quality. There are often not the necessary engines, some types of weapons and other internal components for them. During the main parade one was left to envy Chinese sailors arriving from half-way around the world at the event transpiring on the banks of the Neva and in the Gulf of Finland in magnificent ships — the type 052D destroyer ‘Hefei’ with its combat command and control system analogous to the American ‘Aegis,’ and type 054A frigate ‘Yuncheng.’ Since 2014, the PLA Navy has received six type 052D destroyers, eight launched and at a minimum one hull still on the buildingways, but since 2008 the Chinese fleet has been populated by 25 type 054A frigates, and three more fitting out.”

“However, in Russia there is a class of afloat asset which populates the fleet with enviable regularity and without special problems. On 10 October of this year [2017] at Kronshtadt the acceptance signing ceremony and raising of the St. Andrew’s flag on the project 21270 ‘Burevestnik’ communications boat ‘Ioann Kronshtadtskiy’ took place. This vessel, or more precisely VIP-class yacht, included in the Baltic Fleet order-of-battle, is intended for service-related travel of high command personnel, and also parade reviews. On 27 January of this year [2017] the Black Sea Fleet was populated by the similarly-typed ‘Sapsan.’ It was a little delayed, since it was supposed to enter the inventory at the end of last year [2016], because of problems with domestic engines installed in place of MTU diesels in the framework of the import substitution program.”

“‘Sapsan’ and ‘Ioann Kronshtadtskiy’ are the fifth and sixth boats of this type. Their main mission is the comfortable and secure delivery of highly-placed officials to the site of naval celebrations. So on 31 July of last year [2016] President Vladimir Putin on Navy Day reviewed a ship formation on the Neva from aboard project 21270 boat ‘Serafim Sarovskiy.'”

“During construction, even these very expensive boats usually don’t experience problems with financing, component supply, etc., with which practically all combatants and auxiliaries struggle in Russian yards. But there aren’t enough ‘Burevestniks.’ In the Pacific Ocean, 10 years ago project 02065 patrol boat T-299 was turned into a VIP vessel receiving the name ‘Uragan.’ It was precisely on it that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief went alongside the corvette ‘Sovershennyy’ in Ayaks Bay.”

“At ‘Sokolskiy Shipyard’ on 27 October of this year [2017] an improved modification of project 1388N3 ‘Baklan’ communications ship was launched. This is the fourth vessel of the family, and two more have been ordered. The ‘Baklans’ are also intended for VIP duty. Compared with the ‘Burevestniks’ they have better seakeeping qualities, 10-day endurance and 1,000 mile range.”

“The Minister of Defense’s P-344 boat is of the same VIP-class. This ‘Raptor’ is not a combatant at all, but also a luxury yacht. Two air-cushion boats of the premium-class ‘Pardus’ type, which also don’t have any kind of military significance, reside at the mooring barge of the RF National Defense Command and Control Center on the Frunze Embankment.”

“The other power departments even have their own parade yachts. For example, the Coast Guard of the FSB Border Service has two of the newest project 21600 ‘Khosta’ special border service (PKASS) boats. Since they’re based at Sochi, it’s not hard to guess what constitutes their ‘special service.’ The majority of ‘sharp’ boats of predominantly foreign construction belong to the Federal Protective Service.”(4)

“Isn’t this a lot of charming yachts for a fleet that’s not very large?”

“In the present circumstances, when the naval shipbuilding plans being realized by the fleet command and shipbuilding enterprises are dead in the water, all these parade boats are something like ball gowns for the naked ship which is today’s Russian Navy.”

“Parade measures require large resources. The fun of the Main Parade in 2017, active training which went on for two months and included the repair of ships and aircraft, but also innumerable crew training events, not to mention the long-range transfer of many participants to the place of action, required not less than a billion rubles, if not more. Fuel expended, parts worn out, crews taken from combat service(5) and combat training. The event could be more modest.”

“In an interview with ‘Krasnaya zvezda’ newspaper published on 1 December, RF Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev announced that from the current month intensive training for the 2018 main naval parade is beginning. The show continues!”

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(1) The Russians are keeping Sovershennyy close to where it was built for the time being. Repairs are more expedient in Vladivostok. But ultimately they want this new unit supporting the Pacific Fleet SSBN force on Kamchatka.

(2) A typo here…it would be only 190 years since 1827, not 290.

(3) Dolgostroy is difficult to render without losing its impact, so it’s used here in the hope it becomes a loanword one day. It’s been translated previously on these pages as “long unfinished work.” It refers to buildings or public works projects but has also been used to describe military programs remaining incomplete after many years of effort. It often implies the cause may be financial difficulties, corruption, or general incompetence.

(4) The FSO is the powerful security agency charged with protecting the RF President and other high-ranking Russian officials.

(5) Ships, submarines, and other units conducting combat patrols and missions.