Category Archives: Naval Modernization

Still Waiting for Subs

Budnichenko and Krivoruchko at Sevmash

Krivoruchko and Budnichenko at Sevmash

The press-conference photo shows Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar Aleksey Krivoruchko with Sevmash general director Mikhail Budnichenko. Heavily scaffolded CGN Admiral Nakhimov provides the backdrop. The Sevmash boss looks like he needs some antacids.

Krivoruchko told the assembled Russian media:

“The quantity of nuclear submarines being transferred to the fleet will be increased, the decision on this has been made. We expect to receive 10 nuclear submarines of projects 955A and 885M by 2024.”

If we’re generous, we could say the Russian Navy got (or will get) five new SSBNs and two new SSNs — a grand total of seven — in the first two decades of the 21st century.

Now Krivoruchko says Sevmash will finish and deliver ten in the next five years.

Let’s look closer.

The initial 955A — Knyaz Vladimir — is in trials and could be accepted in December 2019.

Krivoruchko also told the media Knyaz Oleg, Yasen-M SSNs Kazan and Novosibirsk, and former project 949A Oscar II SSGN Belgorod — now project 09852 and reported Poseydon “doomsday torpedo” carrier — will be received in 2020.

He also noted that contracts for two more Borey-A (making ten Borey boats overall including seven Borey-A units) and two more Yasen-M (nine Yasen overall including eight Yasen-M) have been signed.

If Kazan arrives in 2020, Novosibirsk seems more likely in 2021. Knyaz Oleg might reach the fleet in 2021.

Krasnoyarsk possibly in 2022, and Arkhangelsk in 2023. Generalissimus Suvorov could be delivered in 2023 or 2024. Perm perhaps in 2024.

The first of the last two Borey-A SSBNs currently on the books — Imperator Aleksandr III — might make the 2024 deadline. But almost certainly not the other — Knyaz Pozharskiy.

So ten new nuclear submarines in Russia’s order-of-battle by the end of 2024 is certainly conceivable, but is it likely? Here are some difficulties:

  • Russia is still taking an inordinate amount of time to build boats. Nine, ten, even 11 years. It hasn’t delivered a new nuclear submarine in five years. Saying it can cut the time to seven or eight years could be specious.
  • 2020 is the big year. If Russian builders don’t deliver the five submarines Krivoruchko promised in 2020, his plan for 2024 becomes impossible. All other boats will be pushed back accordingly.
  • The backlog in the hall at Sevmash will be hard to unwind. Instead of cutting to 7-8 years, build time could stay at 9-10-11 years.
  • Five years is a long time. Political, economic, technological, and military changes could impact Krivoruchko’s schedule decisively.

Perhaps Krivoruchko’s message is just the MOD’s latest effort to hurry Sevmash along.

The extra two 955A SSBNs Krivoruchko mentioned, if built, would give Moscow a force of ten modern boats to split evenly between its Northern and Pacific Fleets.

Submarine Class Delivery Laydown to Delivery (Years)
Yuriy Dolgorukiy Borey 2013 16
Aleksandr Nevskiy Borey 2013 10
Vladimir Monomakh Borey 2014 9
Severodvinsk Yasen 2014 20
Knyaz Vladimir Borey-A 2019-2020 (?) 7-8 (?)
Kazan Yasen-M 2020 (?) 11 (?)
Belgorod ex-Oscar II 2020 (?) 28 (?)
Novosibirsk Yasen-M 2021 (?) 8 (?)
Knyaz Oleg Borey-A 2021 (?) 7 (?)
Krasnoyarsk Yasen-M 2022 (?) 8 (?)
Arkhangelsk Yasen-M 2023 (?) 8 (?)
Generalissimus Suvorov Borey-A 2023-2024 (?) 8-9 (?)
Perm Yasen-M 2024 (?) 8 (?)
Imperator Aleksandr III Borey-A 2024-2025 (?) 8-9 (?)
Knyaz Pozharskiy Borey-A 2025-2026 (?) 8-9 (?)
??? Yasen-M
??? Yasen-M
??? Borey-A
??? Borey-A

Return of Neustrashimyy

Russian press reported recently that project 11540 frigate Neustrashimyy (SKR 712) will  rejoin the Baltic Fleet before the end of 2019.

The 26-year-old ship’s extended capital repairs began when it arrived at Yantar in Kaliningrad in early 2014.

Neustrashimyy looking worse for wear some years ago

Neustrashimyy looking worse for wear some years ago

Neustrashimyy is supposed to begin moored trials in May, underway tests in August, and return to service in November.

Delivery of the refurbished ship has been postponed for various reasons, including difficulties in repairing its Ukrainian gas turbine engines after Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.

That problem has been surmounted reportedly, and Yantar will receive the renovated engines from a Russian manufacturer (probably NPO Saturn) by spring. We’ll see.

The ship suffered a minor fire due to careless welding almost exactly one year ago. That also likely contributed to the delay.

Under a “medium repair” scheduled for completion by December 2016, Yantar is repairing Neustrashimyy’s hull, screws, and shafts. The ship’s water pumps, firefighting, fuel, electrical, and control systems are also being updated. The yard is reassembling equipment and preparing to relaunch the ship at present.

According to Flotprom.ru, the original deadline was pushed to November 2017, and then to November 2019.

Neustrashimyy in drydock

Neustrashimyy in drydock

The 3,800-ton frigate was laid down in 1987 and commissioned in 1993. It has participated in exercises with NATO countries and anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, operated in Russia’s Mediterranean ship group, and conducted many foreign port visits.

Project 11540 stopped at unit 2 Yaroslav Mudryy, which is also part of the Baltic Fleet. Instead of project 11540, the Russian Navy opted to build project 11356 Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates.

Moskva Decision

Undated photo of Moskva in drydock

Undated photo of Moskva in drydock

An Interfaks-AVN source has told the news agency the fate of Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva is undecided. For now, the cruiser remains at Sevastopol’s 13th Ship Repair Plant (13 SRZ) with a caretaker crew. And the Navy Main Command faces a complex choice.

Option 1 is a “deep modernization” costing perhaps 40-50 billion rubles the navy lacks. It would be “deeper” than Marshal Ustinov’s (which was really a protracted overhaul). The Northern Fleet’s Ustinov was laid up at Zvezdochka from 2011 until late 2016. But with Moskva, the superstructure would reportedly be modified to accommodate a VLS for the Kalibr-NK to replace the ship’s aged SS-N-12 / Sandbox ASCMs. But Moskva itself is already 35 years old.

Option 2 is scrapping Moskva. AVN’s source says this would be a blow to Russian and navy prestige, but he claims two new Gorshkov-class frigates (project 22350) could be built with funds not spent on Moskva.

In 2018, Moskva was expected to begin a three-year repair at Sevastopol’s Sevmorzavod — a Zvezdochka affiliate.

That three-year repair is actually Option 3, a middle point between “deep modernization” and scrapping. And it’s usually the choice settled upon.

Not mentioned by AVN is the 40-50 billion rubles for “deep modernization” is just a little less than what the navy planned to spend to return its Kuznetsov carrier to service (before PD-50 sank damaging the flight deck in the process).

Moskva was active in the Med supporting Russian operations in Syria from 2014 through early 2016, but has been virtually inactive since.

At some point, the navy will also have to decide what to do about the third and final Slava-class CG, the Pacific Fleet’s Varyag. It has 28 years of service and many miles under its keel.

Meanwhile, we wait for word on Moskva.

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.

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.