Tag Archives: Corvettes

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.”

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Difficult Course to a Grand Fleet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popovkin Details the GPV

Yesterday First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin gave RIA Novosti more details on Russia’s procurement plans under the State Program of Armaments (GPV), 2011-2020.  He said 78-80 percent of the 19-trillion-ruble Armed Forces portion of the GPV will go to procurement.   

Popovkin said Russia plans to develop a new liquid-fueled heavy ICBM to carry up to ten warheads, and having a service life of up to 35 years.  Former RVSN Commander General-Lieutenant Andrey Shvaychenko talked about a new liquid heavy as far back as late 2009, and the issue’s been debated in the Russian military press since. 

Popovkin said the Defense Ministry plans to accept the Bulava SLBM and the first two Borey-class SSBNs this year.  There will be 4-5 Bulava launches this year.  Recall to date only 7 of 14 Bulava tests have been successful.  Addressing the missile’s past failures, Popovkin said there were many deviations from the design documentation during production.  He also said Russia plans to build eight SSBNs to carry Bulava by 2020.  He was unclear if this includes the first two Borey-class boats.

Popovkin said work on a new strategic bomber is ongoing, and he claimed a technical design will be complete in 2015.  He said this work isn’t being rushed.

Popovkin told RIA Novosti  the Air Forces will receive more than 600 new aircraft and 1,000 new helicopters by 2020.  In 2011, Su-27SM, Su-30M2, Su-35S, Yak-130, and Su-34 aircraft are to be procured.  More than 100 helicopters, including Mi-26 transports and Mi-28N and Ka-52 combat helicopters will be acquired this year, according to Popovkin. 

Popovkin said a contract for the first ten experimental PAK FA (T-50) aircraft will be signed in 2013, with serial production of 60 aircraft beginning in 2016.

The GPV includes the purchase of ten S-500 air defense systems.  Popovkin said this system will begin testing in 2015, initially with missiles from the S-400.  Fifty-six S-400 units will also be purchased by 2020.  This sounds like seven 8-launcher battalions.   

Popovkin said the GPV will buy 100 ships – including 20 submarines, 35 corvettes, and 15 frigates – for the Navy.  He didn’t specify types for the other 30 ships, and it’s unclear if new SSBNs are included in these numbers.  Popovkin reconfirmed Russia’s plan to buy two and build two Mistral amphibious ships.  Recall also the Black Sea Fleet alone is supposed to get 18 new ships including proyekt 636 diesel-electric submarines, proyekt 11356 and 22350 frigates, and proyekt 11711 LSTs.

Popovkin also mentioned plans to buy a limited number of French FELIN soldier systems, with the intent of Russia producing its own version by 2020.  He looks for it to equal the advertised capabilities of U.S. and German equivalents.