One could make a study of nothing but forecasts about the Russian Navy’s future. They vary pretty widely. But Trud’s military correspondent, Mikhail Lukanin, published an interesting and realistic one on 24 November.
Lukanin claims the details of future Navy procurement plans have been revealed to Trud. This assumes the Navy (or someone) actually knows what they are at this point . . . a debatable proposition. At any rate, what he presents sounds pretty reasonable and achievable, whether or not it has any official sanction.
Lukanin breaks the news that the largest part of Russia’s military expenditures and arms procurement over the next 10 years will be for the Navy. He cites Ruslan Pukhov:
“Of the 19 trillion rubles allocated in the budget for the purchase of new armaments until 2020, the fleet’s share comes to 5 trillion, that is significantly more than any other service of the Armed Forces.”
If this turns out to be true, it is a significant amount, 500 billion rubles (more than $16 billion) per annum over the coming decade, if the Defense Ministry gets its promised amount, and the Navy gets its. Lukanin says the Navy, which got only four new ships in the last 20 years, will be the military’s priority for the very first time. He says, according to ‘plans,’ the Navy will receive 36 submarines and 40 surface combatants.
Lukanin explains all this with a quote from former First Deputy CINC of the Navy, Fleet Admiral Ivan Kapitanets:
“Sharply reinforced attention to the fleet is explained by the fact that Russia’s military-political leadership, judging by everything, has come to the conclusion that the state’s naval power is more important than ground forces.”
He points to the rapid U.S. defeat of a strong Yugoslav Army in 1999 using only air power, much of which was carrier-launched.
But Lukanin also cites Anatoliy Tsyganok, who believes a continental power like Russia can never undervalue its land troops.
With all this said, Lukanin addresses what will come out of Russia’s new ‘naval concept’ in which the U.S. is no longer the enemy, and ships aren’t built for a single purpose like killing carriers. He lists:
- 8 SSBNs.
- 22 SSNs and diesel-electric submarines (yes, this would be 30, not 36, as it said at the top, and at least two of the SSBNs are complete, well almost).
- 12 frigates like the new Admiral Gorshkov frigate (proyekt 22350).
- 20 Steregushchiy corvettes (proyekt 20380).
- 10 amphibious landing ships, 4 Mistral type ships and 6 Ivan Gren-class LSTs (proyekt 11711).
Citing unnamed ‘analysts,’ Lukanin posits four missions that would be fulfilled exclusively by Russia’s naval forces:
- Securing Russia’s oil and gas resources, facilities, and transport on the world’s oceans.
- Protecting maritime trade links from piracy.
- Providing a naval counterweight to China’s population and military manpower on Russia’s Far East borders. Lukanin’s analysts contend the Chinese Navy is relatively weak, and the “Pacific Fleet even in its current, far from perfect condition is superior to the Chinese in combat potential by several times” (was the same thing said about the Japanese before Tsushima?).
- Showing the flag in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Latin America to interest countries in closer ties and arms contracts with Russia.
Lastly, Lukanin looks at how the importance and roles of Russia’s individual fleets will change. He calls this the turn to the Pacific. He says the Pacific Fleet will get most of the Navy’s large surface ships, and half of its nuclear submarines. It will get the first Mistral, and has the mission of deterring both China and Japan. The Northern Fleet will retain its importance as home to many SSBNs, and because of Russia’s oil and gas claims in the Arctic. But its surface force will decline. The Black Sea Fleet will be a focus of renewal; it is looking at a Mistral, 12 new corvettes, and 6 new submarines. Its focus is Georgia, and South Stream. The Baltic Fleet will be reduced, losing ships to the Black Sea Fleet, though it will get 2-3 new corvettes.
So what it comes down to is, can the Navy get everything Lukanin listed? ‘Back of the envelope’ math says yes. What he listed might cost $30 billion, maybe $40 at the extreme. There is also stuff the Navy’s discussed but he didn’t mention (carriers, refurbishing CGNs, restarting the WIG program, new naval aircraft).
What are the impediments to carrying off such a program? Firstly, actually getting the promised amount of financing. GPVs are easy to launch, but don’t get finished before they’re superceded by another one. In short, over a ten-year period, it’s unlikely the Navy will get the planned amount. Even if it does, how much will the corruption ‘tax’ eat away at the amount? Short answer – a lot.
Beyond financing, there’s another complex issue – can Russia’s naval industry produce this list in the coming decade? How much productive capacity is available, what condition is the infrastructure in? Is there sufficient skilled labor for what shipyards pay and where they’re located? Recent experience says things aren’t good on this score. Some yards are still pretty full with foreign orders, Sevmash seems full with Russian orders, and other yards are in poor shape. In short, it seems it is taking longer than planned to get new ships and submarines in the water.
Perhaps the present author is just not an optimist. Moscow can afford the ‘plan’ Lukanin describes, but actually completing it will be difficult for a lot of reasons.