Category Archives: Naval Modernization

OSK Cries Poor on Knyaz Oleg

A Borey-class SSBN (photo Sevmash Press-Service)

A Borey-class SSBN (photo: Sevmash Press-Service)

Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC or OSK) is reportedly experiencing a shortage of funding for Borey-class SSBN Knyaz Oleg. OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov told RIA Novosti on November 16, “Everything depends on issues of the shortage of financing which has somehow formed for us. We hope that [the launch of Knyaz Oleg] will be on schedule.”

Rakhmanov reportedly told the official news agency that the schedule for launching Knyaz Oleg has been pushed back several times.

Knyaz Oleg is the fifth Borey SSBN overall, and the second Borey-A boat. Like the first three Borey ballistic missile submarines, the Borey-A is expected to carry 16 Bulava SLBMs.

First-of-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy is assigned to the Northern Fleet. Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh are part of the Pacific Fleet.

Like Knyaz Oleg, unit four — Knyaz Vladimir — the first Borey-A is also destined to reinforce the Russian Pacific Fleet’s strategic nuclear force.

Rakhmanov’s public cry for more money is somewhat unusual and harks back to 2011 when OSK railed at the MOD for adequate financing to produce modern nuclear submarines.

Russia planned to have eight Borey boats in its order-of-battle by 2020. But with Sevmash taking six, seven, or eight years to lay down, launch, and commission them, Knyaz Oleg might be the last to reach the navy this decade. And Rakhmanov pretty clearly linked money to sticking to his SSBN production schedule.

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Russia Reinforcing Mediterranean Formation

The Russian Navy is beefing up its Mediterranean presence. Recently, it announced its intent to increase the contingent from 10 to 15 ships.  This greater Med activity is both cause and effect of the navy’s effort to revivify its Black Sea Fleet (BSF), virtually moribund just a few years ago.

On June 1, TASS reported the current Russian naval force in the Med includes Proyekt 11356 frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, Kashin-class destroyer Smetlivyy, tank landing ships Tsezar KunikovNikolay Filchenkov, and Azov, Proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar, unspecified minesweepers, “anti-sabotage” boats, a tanker, and other support vessels.  So it’s unclear just how many Russian ships are in the Med right now.

Ancient Smetlivyy returned to Sevastopol on June 3.  The venerable ship has served in the BSF since 1969.

Essen fires Kalibr LACM

Admiral Essen fires Kalibr on May 31

Admiral Essen and Krasnodar each fired two Kalibr (SS-N-30) land-attack cruise missiles at Islamic State positions near Palmyra on May 31.

Other BSF units — Admiral Grigorovich, Proyekt 21631 Buyan-class missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov, and submarine Rostov-na-Donu — fired Kalibr missiles at targets in Syria from the eastern Med in 2015 and 2016.  Prior to this, the Russian Navy lacked a land-attack capability in the Med, and used surface combatants from its Caspian Flotilla to launch Kalibr missiles.  However, those weapons had to overfly Iranian and Iraqi territory to reach Syria.

On June 6, Interfaks-AVN reported that the Russian Navy will not cut the cruise missile strike capabilities of its “permanent operational formation” in the Mediterranean, according to a source “familiar with the situation.”  So there is apparently no plan for Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen, or Krasnodar to return to Sevastopol soon.  They joined the Russian Med formation in early and late April and mid-May respectively.

Not a Large Formation

Russia’s current Mediterranean force is mistakenly called a squadron (эскадра) like its Soviet-era 5th Eskadra predecessor.  However, the Russian Navy says its Med presence is a formation (соединение), not a large formation (объединение).  A formation is typically naval ship division (дивизия) of 5-10 major and minor combatants with an O-6 in command.

A large formation, by contrast, is a major fleet component — a flotilla or eskadra, and it is commanded by an O-7.  Such a command typically is a stepping stone to fleet commander.

In contrast to today’s formation, the 5th Eskadra normally had 40-50 ships in the Med every day at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s.  That’s probably more than the entire BSF today.

After the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Syria’s Shayrat air base on April 7, Vladimir Pavlov wrote disparagingly of Russia’s declining capabilities in the Med.  Pavlov concluded that the brief and ill-fated deployment of Admiral Kuznetsov to the eastern Med this winter left those waters empty for the U.S. (as if the Russian carrier would have prevented American action).

Pavlov noted that the navy had to rely on “1st and 2nd rank” ships from other fleets, the Baltic in particular, to maintain its Med formation.

Things look a bit better now with two Proyekt 11356 frigates in the BSF.  The third, Admiral Makarov, is now supposed to join the fleet before the end of this year.  The fleet has its full complement of six new Proyekt 636.3 submarines.  Missile corvettes Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov entered the order-of-battle in late 2015.  More of them might follow.

The second Proyekt 18280 Yuriy Ivanov-class intelligence ship Ivan Khurs will reportedly go to replace Liman, which sank near Istanbul after colliding with a Turkish freighter on April 27.

The rest of the BSF surface fleet, however, is old.  Flagship Proyekt 1164 Slava-class CG Moskva will be due soon for overhaul and modernization.  Its other combatants, small missile ships, and amphibs are largely from the 1970s and 1980s.  These older ships patrol the Med, but to return to port for maintenance often after brief sorties.

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

Russian BDK-151 Azov in the Straits

The Russians originally formulated plans to renew a continuous naval presence in the Mediterranean during 2011-2012, primarily out of their concern with the Syrian civil war and thinking that they might intervene eventually.

The Russian Med patrols began in early 2013, and all four fleets provided ships under the Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone (Оперативное командование в дальней морской зоне or ОК ДМЗ).

At the time, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu acknowledged that overdue repairs and slow ship construction were hindering the navy and the new naval presence in the Med.  But five years hence, these problems have been overcome to a large extent.

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

Yasnitskiy on the wing bridge

TASS reported that Captain First Rank Pavel Yasnitskiy commands the Russian Mediterranean formation.

He is a 47-year-old third generation officer born in Severomorsk — the Northern Fleet headquarters, according to Ruinformer.com.  After commissioning, he served on a Black Sea Fleet destroyer before becoming executive officer, then commander of Baltic Fleet frigate Neustrashimyy.  He was to command the first Improved Sovremennyy-class destroyer Vnushitelnyy, but it was never finished. Instead, he served as chief of staff for a ship brigade.

Yasnitskiy then returned to the BSF as chief of staff for a formation.  He served as deputy chief of staff, chief of staff, and commander of Operational Command of the Distant Ocean Zone.

Is Such a Ship Needed?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has concluded another week of meetings with military leaders and defense industry officials.  Some significant statements appeared in the media, but none more interesting than those from Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin.  He, of course, oversees the defense industries, and serves as Putin’s deputy on the government’s Military-Industrial Commission (VPK).

Rogozin contends the new state armaments program (GPV) will include innovative weapons systems rather than modernization of existing platforms.  He buries Navy hopes for a modern aircraft carrier, and — worse for the Navy — he’s down on big ships that make great targets.  And he expounds at length on transport aircraft programs (which his son Aleksey now directs as vice-president of OAK).

Dmitriy Rogozin

Dmitriy Rogozin

Vesti asked Rogozin what will or won’t be in the next GPV.  He answered:

“We are gradually moving away from the modernization of old types of armaments, although, we must say, modernization is just as normal as the development of new types.  But there can’t be an endless amount of modernization.  Let’s say, three-four times, not more.  Otherwise this stops the development of new weapons systems. Therefore the new program of armaments is, in essence, an innovation program which includes completely new approaches. Above all, it is the development of smart weapons, and automated command, control, communications, and reconnaissance systems. We’ll have modern troop communications, which has always been a weak point.  We’ll have robotic systems, we have almost completed development of new unmanned vehicles, both ground and air.  And, of course, a strong renewal of our satellite network is in progress.  High-quality navigation, reconnaissance, and many other things.”

Asked if the Navy was favored over the Ground Troops in the current arms program, Rogozin responded:

“No, we won’t have some kind of imbalance, that is something favoring the Navy, favoring the Aerospace Forces or favoring new smart systems.  This is the emphasis of the new program of armaments.  The Navy will receive new ships.  Today we are stressing ‘muscular’ ships — frigates, corvettes of near and distant ocean zones, that is what doesn’t provide a great target for the enemy, but nimble, maneuverable, and capable of responding just like a large ship.”

Vesti inquired about delaying investment in new aircraft carriers and strategic bombers.  Rogozin answered:

“If we talk, let’s say, about aircraft carriers, then technologically and technically today Russian defense industry is capable of developing a ship of such displacement.  But it’s a question for the military whether such a ship is needed.  After all, we have to remember that, unlike the United States, we are not a great maritime power, we are a great continental power, and we have several other priorities.  As far as a strategic bomber goes, we have completed unique work at the Kazan Aircraft Plant, reestablished, but on a new technological basis, electron beam welding that is needed to develop the titanium fuselage on which the technology of the Tu-160, our great strategic bomber, was always based.  And we will recreate this aircraft, undoubtedly, on a new technical basis, with new electronics, new weapons, but this doesn’t mean that we have abandoned plans to develop the future aviation system of long-range aviation [PAK DA].  Work on it is beginning, as on the future aviation system of military-transport aviation [PAK VTA], and on a medium military-transport aircraft.  Decisions were made recently in Sochi.  We will produce it, and we’ll have it around 2023-2024.  At the end of this year, we are planning for a small, light transport aircraft to fly.  For our army, which is compact, it’s important to have the possibility of being instantly redeployed to another theater of military operations where some threat is growing. In this way we’ll repulse any aggression by potential enemies not with great numbers, but with the great skill and mobility of our Armed Forces.”

Moscow’s made a start in this direction, but Rogozin might be exaggerating its progress.  More interesting is his intimation that the MOD is making trade-offs in the process of cobbling together GPV 2018-2025.  Are large (and expensive) ships out in favor of neglected military transport aircraft?  Rogozin rails against “endless” modernization but, practically in the same breath, insists the MOD won’t forget about PAK DA as it prepares to produce updated Tu-160 bombers.  Perhaps someone will remind him there are things besides modernization which interfere with the development of new weapons.

Korolev on New Submarines

At today’s launch of Russia’s first proyekt 885M or Yasen-M SSN Kazan, Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev said the third Yasen-M, Krasnoyarsk, will be launched in 2019.  But he didn’t mention the second, Novosibirsk.

According to RIA Novosti, Korolev also indicated that the sixth Yasen-M (seventh Yasen overall) will be laid down this summer, and will be named Ulyanovsk.

Korolev also said the first modernized proyekt 955A or Borey A SSBN Knyaz Vladimir will be launched this summer.  It will be the fourth Borey overall, and will carry the improved Bulava-M SLBM.

At the launch ceremony for Kazan, the Navy CINC reported that:

“Last year we reached the same number of underway days which existed before the post-Soviet period.  That is more than 3,000 days at sea for Russia’s submarine fleet.  It’s a wonderful indicator.”

While launch is a very significant milestone in submarine production, Kazan still faces a lengthy period of pierside fitting out, factory trials, and state testing.

The Anti-Navy Navy

The inauspicious performance of Admiral Kuznetsov begs questions about the prospects for a new Russian carrier.

Belching black smoke, Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov reached the Med and began ops against Syrian targets about a month ago.

admiral-kuznetsov-photo-ria-novosti

Admiral Kuznetsov (photo: RIA Novosti)

But after losing two fighters to arresting gear problems in less than a month, Kuznetsov’s air wing could be ashore at Khmeimim airfield for quite a while.

Even without the accidents, this might have been inevitable since its fighters can’t carry much fuel or ordnance and still ski jump off the carrier’s deck.

Nevertheless, on December 1, Military-Industrial Commission member Vladimir Pospelov told Interfaks-AVN that aircraft carriers have a place in future naval development planning:

“In the programs we are formulating for the future, ships of this class are present. The tasks and missions the Russian Navy is performing, I’m sure, in the future will be performed by ships of this class.”

As head of the VPK’s shipbuilding council, Pospelov emphasized that “several variants [of carriers] are always being reviewed.”  He didn’t place special importance on the proyekt 23000 Shtorm model, and he intimated that no decision for nuclear propulsion has been reached.

proyekt-23000-shtorm

Proyekt 23000 Shtorm

More significantly, Pospelov stated that:

“. . . the decisions taken on the final variant will be optimal both in the effectiveness of accomplishing combat missions, and, of course, in the effectiveness and cost of the work.”

“And, of course, the possibilities of the economy are being weighed since naval aircraft-carrying systems are a very expensive pleasure. Particularly accounting for the fact that part of their missions can be resolved by other effective naval means.”

Interfaks-AVN interjected that what Pospelov has in mind are the Russian Navy’s new missile ships.  The news agency likely means small missile ships like Serpukhov and Zelenyy Dol that fired Kalibr cruise missiles at Syrian targets in August.

small-missile-ship-serpukhov

Small Missile Ship Serpukhov

Regarding those “other effective naval means,” Pospelov concluded that:

“A sharp increase in the effectiveness of shipborne systems, the development of radioelectronic weapons, the effectiveness of missile systems, and the reduction of their dimensions is going on.  And in the completion of missions, their effectiveness is always increasing from the point of view of accuracy, range, and targeting.”

Still, in a final nod to carriers, he said:

“It goes without saying that development in the direction of an aircraft carrier is also principally important.  On the whole not just for the Russian Navy, but for our country as a naval power.”

But Interfaks-AVN closed by reminding readers of Deputy Defense Minister Borisov’s statement that a new carrier might be built after 2025.

The Navy can’t be pleased by any of this.  

Not only has Kuznetsov been an embarrassment when it’s supposed to demonstrate Russia’s world-class naval power.  But now Pospelov — an influential bureaucrat — has hinted publicly that Moscow should consider whether investing in its “mosquito fleet” is a better bet than a high-cost, high-risk strategy of designing, developing, and building a new aircraft carrier for the twenty-first century.

A carrier won’t be in the next arms program, but rather, possibly, the one after next. With less defense funding likely in the outyears, delay in an expensive weapons system like this is almost the same thing as death.

The Navy, some in Moscow, and perhaps even President Vladimir Putin himself might really like the idea of building (or rebuilding) a major surface fleet to make Russia’s presence known on the world’s oceans.  But things aren’t going well in Russia’s shipyards.  If the Navy has to wait fifteen or twenty years to replace Kuznetsov, where will it be when that first, and perhaps only, new carrier arrives? Much, much further behind than today in its experience of operating a carrier battle group, let alone several of them.  

In short, the U.S. Navy is unique in the world.  Russia isn’t going to compete with its strengths and will have to think about meeting them asymmetrically.

This is why the idea of building numerous small combatants with lethal missiles to defeat or deny access to hostile forces in the closed seas surrounding the Russian Federation is appealing.  It would allow Moscow to leverage its ground, air, and air defense forces against naval threats in a combined arms approach.  

If China is doing it with its much larger economy, why not Russia?

With a future carrier put off to a distant time, perhaps Moscow has decided de facto for an anti-navy navy.  As stated above, delay is about the same as death.

No Rest for the Weary

Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (TAKR 063) will be more of a fixture in the Mediterranean than anyone outside the Russian MOD and Navy Main Staff supposed.

admiral-kuznetsov-photo-ria-novosti

Admiral Kuznetsov (photo: RIA Novosti)

The ship will not enter Zvezdochka shipyard for a “repair with modernization” until 2018, according to RIA Novosti.  The news agency cited state-owned conglomerate OSK’s vice-president for naval shipbuilding.

Until yesterday, it was widely assumed that Kuznetsov would operate in the Mediterranean until spring 2017 at the latest, then return to Northern Fleet waters to begin a much-needed upkeep and upgrade period.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military have decided instead to have Kuznetsov as part of their Syrian operations for at least one extra year.  The ship will likely return to its homeport at some point in mid-2017 for crew leave, swapping out fighters, and minor repairs.  At least, the Russian Navy hopes only minor repairs will be needed.

Then the cycle will start again…Kuznetsov will deploy to the Med in the fall, and return home in the first half of 2018 when an overhaul might begin.  Once that starts though, the carrier won’t be available for two years minimum, and probably much longer. Hence, the reluctance to begin the process when the MOD wants additional firepower on Syrian targets.

But Russia’s Syrian intervention is really just as much (possibly more) about the opportunity to test its men and weapons in live combat as it is about propping up its friend Assad, fighting “terrorists,” or making itself a Middle East power broker and superpower again. 

Weak Light at the End of the Tunnel

In recognition of Navy Day several weeks back, Mikhail Khodarenok examined the current state of the Russian Navy for Gazeta.ru.

Khodarenok offers a pessimistic assessment of the navy’s shipbuilding program.  He notes there is still significant disagreement over what to build.  The navy, he argues, has also lost some of its bureaucratic heft when it comes to planning for shipbuilding as well as for the operational employment of naval forces. 

Black Sea Fleet Nanuchka III-class PGG Shtil in the Navy Day Parade

Black Sea Fleet Nanuchka III-class PGG Shtil in the Navy Day Parade

Late of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer, Mr. Khodarenok — you’ll recall — is an ex-General Staff officer and serious military journalist.  He shares interesting and credible opinions from several well-placed former naval officers in his article.

According to him, all observers agree that the start of serial construction of ships after more than 20 years is “one of the most important vectors of the fleet’s current development.”  This might seem obvious, but it’s not widely appreciated.

Khodarenok walks quickly through the current construction program:

  • four proyekt 20380 corvettes in the fleet with eight on the buildingways;
  • three proyekt 11356 frigates delivered, others uncertain;
  • proyekt 22350 frigates under construction;
  • six proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarines complete, six more for the Pacific Fleet to be built in 2017-2020;
  • proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN is a success with three delivered;
  • a single proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSN has reached the fleet, others will likely not arrive until after 2020.

One can quibble with his points.  For example, it’s premature to declare Borey a success when its Bulava SLBM still hasn’t been accepted into the navy’s inventory (NVO made this point flatly on 12 August).  Perhaps Borey is a success, but only in comparison to Yasen.

Khodarenok doesn’t dwell on these points, and his general themes are of greater interest.

He quotes former deputy chief of the Navy Main Staff, Vice-Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev:

“Serial production is generally a very big deal.  It has big pluses in the deployment plan, lowering costs of subsequent ships in the series compared with the lead unit, and simplification of training personnel for new ships.”

According to Khodarenok, Pepelyayev feels there is light at the end of the tunnel for the navy, but it’s dim and flickering because navy ship construction “fully reflects the realities and condition of the Russian shipbuilding industry,” and not just shipbuilding.

Pepelyayev continues:

“A ship is a visible and material reflection of practically all the technological capabilities of the state.  In a word, we build that which we can build.”

Khodarenok adds:

“Specialists believe that another fifteen years are still needed to recover after many types of restructuring, the 1990s, and the hiatus in fleet construction at the beginning of the 2000s.”

Turning to the sore point of gas turbine engines, Khodarenok writes that Rybinsk may well be able to make them for the Russian Navy by 2017-2018, but someone still needs to replace the reduction gears also once made for navy ships in Ukraine.  This is a more difficult task.  The Zvezda plant in St. Petersburg has gotten the job.

Ex-deputy CINC of the Navy for Armaments Vice-Admiral Nikolay Borisov says:

“This is a highly complex task — highly complex and modern equipment, particularly gear cutters, are needed to work with high-alloy steel.  Whether this task will be completed at Zvezda is an open question.  Many specialists doubt the enterprise’s capability to handle the task in the established timeframe.”

Khodarenok turns to the proposed nuclear-powered destroyer Lider (proyekt 23560), concluding there isn’t agreement among specialists whether the fleet even needs this ship.  An unnamed highly-placed source tells him the fleet needs 20 frigates more than 15 frigates and five Lider destroyers.  The source continues:

“Lider will be a ship of the second half of the 21st century.  However, there are no new weapons which correspond to the second half of the 21st century for it.  There’s just no sense in building a hull and power plant.”

Retired Rear-Admiral Yuriy Gorev, who was involved in ship acquisition, tells Khodarenok that the navy should continue building corvettes and frigates while continuing development of Lider.  But the new destroyer shouldn’t be a goal of the fleet’s near-term plans.

Next, the always-pregnant question of aircraft carriers…

An unnamed Navy Main Staff source says:

“Today there are no conditions for the construction of a ship of such a design.  No buildingway, no drydock.  There is simply nowhere to build an aircraft carrier.”

“The construction of such ships should be realized for concrete tasks, but today the Russian Navy simply doesn’t have such missions.”

“And with further development of aviation, aircraft carriers could even die out altogether as a class.”

Recall that MOD armaments tsar Yuriy Borisov said an aircraft carrier contract won’t be signed until late 2025, and there are three existing “not bad” designs for it.

Former chief of the naval “direction” (department, i.e. not a major bureaucratic entity) of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate (GOU), Rear-Admiral Arkadiy Syroyezhko believes there are no insurmountable obstacles to the construction of a nuclear-powered strike carrier in Russia.  He thinks Sevmash could handle the job since it was originally conceived as a yard for major surface combatants and later concentrated on submarines.

But Syroyezhko admits, without preparation to support carriers, Russia could end up with extremely expensive, sporadically constructed carriers.  Today, he concludes, Russia is able to fulfill combat missions typically placed on carriers by other means.

Changing gears, Khodarenok covers the state of play in the Russian Navy’s Main Staff.

According to him, specialists unanimously report that the operational-strategic component has disappeared from the Main Staff’s work.  It no longer plans for the fleet’s employment — for strategic operations in oceanic theaters of military operations.  The naval planning job has gone to Russia’s operational-strategic commands (military districts) and the four geographic fleets (as the operational-strategic large formations of those MDs).  

A Main Staff source tells Khodarenok that the MD commanders have come up with disparate rules for directing the fleets subordinate to them.  The source says the disappearance of a naval component in GOU planning began with the downgrading of the GOU’s naval directorate to a “direction,” and with the concomitant reduction in the quality of its naval staff officers.

Khodarenok writes there is confusion today over what ships to build, how many, what tactical-technical capabilities they should have, and what missions they should perform. The Navy CINC has “no rights” but many demands made of him in this regard.

Russian Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

Russian Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

The Navy CINC’s responsibilities for procurement intersect with those of the MOD’s state defense order (GOZ) support department.  It’s unclear exactly where their respective authorities begin and end.  The Main Staff source says all sorts of nonsense result from the confusion.

Still, the CINC has to answer for almost everything that happens in the fleet, according to Khodarenok.

The Navy Main Command’s (Glavkomat’s) move to St. Petersburg was a big mistake, but a return to Moscow would be equally disruptive.  A Glavkomat source tells Khodarenok, as long as the leadership sends people to Vladivostok or elsewhere twice a week over the littlest issues, it really doesn’t matter where the headquarters is.

Khodarenok sums everything this way:

“In other words, there are more than a few problems in the fleet today.  It undoubtedly won’t do to put their resolution on the back burner.  They won’t disappear somewhere from there.”