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.
“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  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  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.”
“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 , 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.”
“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 , 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 , 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  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.”
“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  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  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 , 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  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  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!”
(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.