Category Archives: Naval Modernization

Ambitious Sub Building Plans

This news is dated, but wasn’t picked up widely (if at all).

Sevmash is a Busy Place, Likely to Get Busier

Sevmash is a Busy Place, Likely to Get Busier

Russia will start construction on eight nuclear-powered submarines in 2014-2015, according to the chief of Sevmash.

In 2015, Russia will lay the first sections of two Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and three Yasen-class attack submarines (SSNs), Sevmash General Director Mikhail Budnichenko told ITAR-TASS on 7 February.

Speaking at Defexpo 2014 in New Delhi, Budnichenko indicated that Sevmash will begin construction on two Borey SSBNs and one Yasen SSN in 2014.

The Borey SSBNs will be modernized Proyekt 955A submarines, reportedly stealthier than the first three Proyekt 955 boats. The Yasen SSNs will be improved Proyekt 885M submarines.

If Russia keeps to the schedule outlined by the Sevmash chief, it will put all remaining units of eight planned Borey SSBNs as well as seven Yasen SSNs into build.

The total number of Yasen-class submarines has been reported at six or seven at various times. They would include Severodvinsk (Proyekt 885) and either five or six Proyekt 885M boats.

Second Tier Pacific Power?

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Militaryparitet.com wrote recently about Jane’s Defence Weekly’s report on the possible start of construction of an indigenous Chinese aircraft carrier on Changxing, near Shanghai.  A new one, not an old one bought abroad and refurbished.

It may, or may not, be a carrier in the end.

Nevertheless, Militaryparitet quoted a 23 [sic] December Russia Today story about the Chinese carrier program:

“China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier will be a larger version of Liaoning.  The design is reportedly based on drafts of a Soviet-era, nuclear-powered, 80,000 ton vessel capable of carrying 60 aircraft.”

In other words, a later-day Ulyanovsk.

Militaryparitet also cites Voice of Russia.  It quoted Pavel Kamennov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the Far East, who claimed China will build two conventionally-powered carriers by 2015 [sic?] before constructing a nuclear one by 2020.

The government broadcaster tends to see a threat from China.  Its report came against the backdrop of Liaoning’s first deployment.

Then VoR turned to nationalist military commentator, retired naval officer Konstantin Sivkov to describe how the “geopolitical situation” will change when Chinese carrier groups take to sea in the future:

“. . . somewhere across 10 years China could put naval power comparable to the Americans on the Pacific Ocean.  This will signify that Russia has moved to the second tier on the Pacific Ocean, and the main players will be the USA and China.”

Now it seems likely China will soon surpass Russia as a carrier power.  Though one notes Moscow, even with a less than robust program, still has years of experience operating Kuznetsov that constitute a final remaining advantage over Beijing.

China catching the U.S. Navy is altogether different.

To its credit, Militaryparitet wrote that acquiring carriers is complex and expensive.  They take years to build, and many more to master their tactical and strategic operation.  There’s no substitute for experience in controlling carriers and battle groups under real-world conditions.  And the U.S. Navy has launched aircraft into combat from flattops for decades.

Those aren’t the only hurdles.

As the Russians learned, and the Chinese are learning, perhaps the most difficult step is fielding a high performance, carrier-capable fighter that can deliver a large combat load.  As RIA Novosti’s military commentator wrote in 2008:

“. . . to turn an ordinary fighter into a deck-based one through a small modernization is not possible.  The aircraft has to be designed from scratch, because the airframe of a deck-based aircraft experiences stress 2-3 times greater on landing than its ‘land-based brethren.’”

Not to mention the stress when the cat hurls it skyward.

So where does this leave us?

It’s no surprise Russian military observers and nationalist-minded elements lament the rise of China’s naval power and its fast-developing and emblematic carrier program.

But were it not for politeness, they could be reminded that China quite some time ago supplanted Russia as a “first tier” power in the Pacific in many ways.  Demographically, economically, diplomatically, and perhaps even militarily.

Other China-watchers (including many Russian ones) have a more benign, less zero-sum view.  They see Beijing as simply preparing to represent and defend its interests, which may or may not conflict with Moscow’s (or Washington’s for that matter).

Meanwhile, Western Russia-watchers tend a little cottage industry of trying to divine how Moscow really feels about China.  And the wisest ones probably say there’s more than one correct answer to this question.

Submarine Update

С новым годом ! !  Happy New Year ! !

To finish 2013, here’s some submarine news for anyone who might be a bit behind.

Oscar II SSGN Smolensk (K-410)

Oscar II SSGN Smolensk (K-410)

Yesterday Mil.ru and Interfaks reported Oscar II-class SSGN Smolensk has returned to Zaozersk, its Northern Fleet base, following two years of overhaul and modernization at Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk.

Its commander said the 24-year-old submarine successfully completed “tasks of the first phase of factory underway trials” as well as the transfer back to home base.

He said, in 2014, Smolensk will operate in “distant ocean areas” and surface at the North Pole to plant a Russian national flag and Navy ensign.

During the overhaul, the “technical readiness” of all systems, including hull and power plant, was reestablished.  Radioelectronic and navigation systems were modernized, according to Mil.ru.

An overhaul of Voronezh was completed in 2011, and Orel just arrived for refit.

The Oscar II overhauls indicate Russia is investing to keep its third generation nuclear sub numbers up, as Dmitriy Rogozin said it would in early 2012.

Shifting gears to proyekt 885 SSN Severodvinsk, RIA Novosti reported an industry source claimed this first unit of new attack submarines would be accepted at Sevmash on 30 December.

Didn’t happen.  But could soon.

Unit two, proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy, however, officially joined the fleet on 23 December, according to RIA Novosti.

Aleksandr Nevskiy (photo: Sevmash)

Aleksandr Nevskiy (photo: Sevmash)

Mil.ru covered the acceptance ceremony.  Navy CINC Admiral Viktor Chirkov reconfirmed that Nevskiy will eventually report to the Pacific Fleet’s 25th DiPL at Vilyuchinsk.

But Russianforces.org yesterday covered the arrival of Nevskiy and unit one Yuriy Dolgorukiy at the Northern Fleet’s Gadzhiyevo base.  There, of course, they await the resolution of issues with their primary armament, the Bulava SLBM.

Nevskiy will test fire a Bulava again in 2014.

Unit three, Vladimir Monomakh, is supposed to enter the force in 2014.

Apparently, there was something to the General Staff source who told RIA Novosti that Nevskiy (and Monomakh) would be accepted without their complement of Bulava missiles.

New SSBNs Won’t Serve as Multipurpose Submarines

Failed Bulava Launch on 6 September (photo: Northern Fleet Press Service)

Failed Bulava Launch on 6 September (photo: Northern Fleet Press Service)

The Russian Navy doesn’t intend to use its two newest Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) without their Bulava missiles in a multipurpose role.  Not even temporarily.  At least according to one source.

On 1 November, a Navy Main Staff source told ITAR-TASS that operating the new SSBNs without 16 Bulava (SS-NX-30) submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be analogous to employing Tu-160 strategic bombers like fighter aircraft.

Earlier, however, RIA Novosti reported the Navy might accept the two Borey SSBNs for “experimental” use without Bulava missiles, citing a highly-placed General Staff source.

A submarine in such a status would not technically be in the order-of-battle.  Russia’s first Lada-class (proyekt 677) diesel submarine Sankt-Peterburg currently operates “experimentally” in the Northern Fleet.

The General Staff source said, without their primary armament, Borey hull 2 Aleksandr Nevskiy and hull 3 Vladimir Monomakh could serve temporarily as multipurpose submarines. Their crews could fulfill non-strategic combat training missions until problems with Bulava are resolved.

Both new SSBNs were ready for fleet acceptance before the end of 2013.  Vladimir Monomakh just completed sea trials in early October.

On 6 September, Defense Minister Shoygu stopped the acceptance process for both submarines after an unsuccessful Bulava test launch from Aleksandr Nevskiy. Before that failure, the missile had five consecutive successful launches in 2010-2011.

The Navy accepted the first Borey-class submarine, Yuriy Dolgorukiy, in early 2013.

Ulyanovsk Redux

Artist’s Rendering of Ulyanovsk Under Construction (photo: Soviet Military Power, 1984)

A Glavkomat source has told Izvestiya the Navy plans to send a draft plan for a  60,000-ton displacement nuclear-powered aircraft carrier back to the designers for revision.

The Krylov TsNII and Nevskiy PKB have been on the task for 2 and 1/2 years, and have not received official word back from the Navy, according to the paper.

The source said:

“They essentially proposed the old Soviet ‘Ulyanovsk’ aircraft carrier to us, which wasn’t built due to the USSR’s collapse.  At the end of the 1980s, it was a modern carrier, a worthy answer to the American ‘Nimitz,’ but today it’s literally last century.”

This is the same complaint made by at least some generals and defense officials and commentators – the OPK is proposing (or providing) Soviet- or 1990s-era weapons systems to the military.  By the same token, that may be about all it can do in its current condition.  The Russians don’t seem to have an answer for breaking this vicious circle.

The Russian carrier design is half the size of the future Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), envisions steam rather than electromagnetic catapults, and lacks AWACS aircraft.  But the designers claim the Navy gave them little to go on.

Izvestiya recalled former Navy CINC Vladimir Vysotskiy saying last year he hopes for one carrier strike group each for the Northern and Pacific Fleets by 2027.

Defense News

Some Russian defense news from June 8, 2012 . . .

Kremlin.ru and other sites noted several designers of the prefab or modular Voronezh BMEW radar have received a 2011 State Prize for Science and Technology.  The new system can be deployed 3-4 times faster, costs four times less to operate, and requires six times fewer personnel to service than the previous generation of radars, according to press reports.  TsAMTO carried the story as well as a review of the state of Voronezh deployments.

Izvestiya reported details on a consolidation of Russia’s munitions producers.  It’s been predicted for many months.  The country’s 56 producers will be reorganized into 5 holdings, with Bazalt, Pribor, and Mashinostroitel leading three of them.  A Bazalt rep basically admits the sector’s a mess, and it’ll take several years to organize the industry.

But Bloomberg and other media reported U.S. defense firms are actually looking to Rosoboroneksport for the purchase of munitions from Russian producers.

Topwar.ru carried an Interfaks story saying Delta IV-class SSBN Novomoskovsk is nearing the end of a modernization to extend its service life to 2021.  The sub went to sea for some trials last week.  It is, by the way, the newest of the class.  Zvezdochka is also working on Verkhoturye, and both SSBNs will reportedly return to service by the end of 2012.  See this earlier-posted related item.

RIAN reported an OSK source claims the Navy will buy up to ten support ships per year starting in 2013 to rebuild Russia’s naval auxiliary fleet.

General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov addressed the possibility of Finland joining NATO while in Helsinki.  He said this threatens Russia’s security.  But there were Western news service reports saying he said Finland’s military cooperation with NATO by itself is a threat to Moscow.  Voice of Russia covered the negative reactions of Finnish politicians as well as Russian commentators pointing out that the general’s view on another possible broadening of NATO is understandable.  VPK.name highlighted the story.

NVO interviewed new Ground Troops CINC, General-Colonel Vladimir Chirkin on his plans for army acquisition.  Chirkin said UAVs, reconnaissance systems like Strelets, Rys armored vehicles, S-300V4, Buk-M3, Tor-M2, and Verba SAMs, Iskander-M, Tornado-G (S), Msta-S, and Khrizantema-S missile and artillery systems, comms equipment, T-72B1(2), and BTR-82A will be procured out to 2015.  RIAN carried the abridged version.

Not Enough Resources (Addendum)

Ruslan Pukhov

In Friday’s NVO, CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov expounded on Konstantin Makiyenko’s thoughts about whether Russia’s current military modernization plan is doable.  And he offered ideas on how to make it more doable.

Pukhov points out that, in addition to 19 trillion rubles for military modernization, the Kremlin is footing bills for higher military pay, better living conditions, and housing as well as intensified combat training.  Liberal critics question whether the government can afford a greater defense burden at a time when it also needs to modernize infrastructure, health care, and education.

The planned military expenditures seem, Pukhov continues, balanced and acceptable, following 15 years of army underfinancing.  They shouldn’t threaten the country’s development.

Still, he says, skeptics have a point.  Vladimir Putin’s plan presupposes a decade of growth in the economy, perhaps not dynamic, but growth.  However, it’s also highly possible we’ll see stagnation or even recession in an economy which, with oil prices over $100, shows meager (for a developing market) growth of four percent.

Then Pukhov really gets to it.

With the slightest decline in hydrocarbon prices, “Putin’s preelection promises, including also in the military sphere, will become unfulfillable.”  And the Finance Ministry is developing plans to trim defense spending by 0.5 percent of GDP.

Pukhov asserts the Defense Ministry can continue transforming the armed forces if it sacrifices quantity for quality and foregoes more “metal” for human capital investments.

First, he says abandon the official but never explained million-man army manning level in favor of 700,000 or 600,000 personnel.

Second, the state should meet all its social obligations to servicemen and continue training by skipping some procurement.  The only “holy cow” would be strategic nuclear deterrence forces.

Third, Pukhov suggests sacrificing some planned naval development.  He offers that, as the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy, Russia simply can’t afford to recreate a global navy.  First on the chopping block, Mistral and renovated Kirov-class CGNs.

But Pukhov doesn’t sound fully convinced himself.  Some points not made need to be noted.

Pukhov should know Moscow has already gone well below one million men, if only semi-officially.  There isn’t much savings in reduced conscript numbers.  Pukhov doesn’t mention the huge “human capital” expense of trying (once again) to recruit professional contract soldiers.  The word corruption — the proverbial elephant in this room — isn’t uttered either.  The state already accepts 20, perhaps 40, percent less military than it pays for.  That’s where real savings are.  Foregoing some “metal” is a good idea, but Pukhov has scarcely begun to sort out what Russia’s acquisition priorities should be.

Mr. Pukhov should be commended for addressing this topic, but his critique is pretty mild.  He may still be attacked for it by some.  A much more radical restructuring of Russia’s military development program than Pukhov’s may eventually be needed to save it.

Sub Numbers

Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy

Let’s look a bit closer at what’s been said recently about future Russian submarine production.

On February 2, at the Navy development session in Severodvinsk, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin got the media worked up when he talked [or was, he claims, misquoted] about producing an aircraft carrier and six submarines every year. 

The Rogozin flap had scarcely settled when Kommersant wrote that its Defense Ministry source indicated the Navy now plans to procure ten Borey-class SSBNs, ten Yasen-class SSNs, and some non-nuclear submarines including six Proyekt 636 or Kilo-class diesel-electric boats. 

The paper referenced former First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin’s rather non-specific early 2011 comment about acquiring 20 submarines (apparently separate and apart from SSBNs) under GPV 2011-2020.

Unfortunately, Kommersant’s failure to clarify this prompted others (e.g. Lenta) to conclude the Navy will get 10 SSBNs, 10 SSNs, and 20 other submarines.

Nevertheless, most observers focused on a still robust number like 30 new submarines in the GPV (e.g. Novyye izvestiya).  Eight or ten Borey units, and the rest Yasen or diesels.  As long ago as late 2010, Trud’s Lukanin wrote about 8 Borey and 22 other subs (though he also mentioned a total of 36 new subs).

Now we’re fortunate that Krasnaya zvezda provided a summary of Navy CINC, Admiral Vysotskiy’s remarks in Pushkin.  He flatly said the Navy plans on obtaining ten new diesel-electric submarines by 2020.  And, in early January, Mil.ru ran a press-release saying 8-10 diesel subs are coming.  According to Vysotskiy and Rear-Admiral Aleksandr Fedotenkov, six will be Proyekt 636 boats for the BSF.

But, interestingly enough, in his recent interview, Vysotskiy wasn’t asked and didn’t talk about sub numbers.

It’s also interesting Yasen and SSNs aren’t the focus of more discussion and speculation given Rogozin’s announcement at Severodvinsk that Moscow would put resources into extra overhauls for third generation nuclear submarines (Akula-, Victor III-, and Oscar II-classes).  This could ease the pressure for new SSNs.

Still, the task set for the Russian Navy and submarine builders will be extremely daunting.  They’re looking at reviving their force by launching between 20 and 30 new boats in much less than a decade.

SSBN Patrols

A Delta IV SSBN (photo: ITAR-TASS)

Not all interesting commentary on the Navy’s future came from Deputy Prime Minister and OPK steward Dmitriy Rogozin last week.  

Media outlets quoted Rogozin saying Russia would soon be able to build an aircraft carrier and six submarines a year.  Subsequently, he claimed he was misquoted, and actually said Russia would be finishing renovations on the Admiral Gorshkov for India and building/repairing six submarines this year.

Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy also had curious comments of his own.

According to ITAR-TASS, on Friday, Admiral Vysotskiy told an audience that, by June or a little later, Russia will resume continuous SSBN combat patrols.  Then he added, “We’ve waited 26 years for this event.”

That would be, or will be, quite a news story.  To see where the Russians have been on SSBN patrols, consult Hans Kristensen.  He reported Russia conducted ten SSBN patrols in 2008, and might have reached, or be headed back toward, a continuous SSBN combat patrol posture.  But there is, apparently, no patrol data for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

A continuous SSBN patrol would be in line with more strategic bomber patrols and mobile ICBM deployments.  It would make sense for a Kremlin worried about U.S. insistence on fielding missile defenses.

But the difficulty comes with doing it.  Russian SSBNs are down to ten aging boats — six Delta IVs (possibly only three active due to overhauls and repairs) and four Delta IIIs.  The newest Delta IV is 22 years old, and the newest Delta III is 30.  Constant patrols could stress this force to the limit. 

Pinning a return to constant SSBN patrols to the year 1986 [26 years ago] is interesting too.  Did General Secretary Gorbachev order the Navy to reduce patrols?  Did the Yankee I SSBN (K-219) sinking near Bermuda have anything to do with it?

Vysotskiy said there’s noticeable momentum in the fleet, and the state’s leadership sees its development as a priority comparable to VKO.  He continued:

“Yesterday I together with directors of ministries and departments ranking as ministries and deputy ministers conducted a very serious event in Severodvinsk where the shipbuilding program to 2035 was roughly reviewed.  Our Duma, Federation Council have long awaited it, in order to review it.  Proposals were prepared, I won’t say what kind, in my view faithful to taking fleet construction to the state level, lifting it somewhat from a ministerial ‘slot.’”

Vysotskiy sees putting the Navy’s development before the national leadership as a panacea for its ills.  He’s probably long felt the Navy doesn’t get a fair shake from the Defense Ministry.  But it’s likely even Putin 2.0 won’t be able to give the Navy the kind of attention and resources its CINC wants.

Special Steel

Yasen Rollout in June 2010

On Thursday, Argumenty nedeli published a short article citing a source claiming Russia’s specialty steel makers aren’t very interested in supplying metal for new submarines planned for the Navy.

Argumenty’s record is interesting.  Sometimes they go out on a limb and don’t quite get a story right; other times they nail it or catch the gist of what seems to be happening.  Can’t say which it is this time.  But the paper has a tradition of looking closely at different parts of defense industry.

The story maintains Sevmash is trying to scrape together the specialty steel needed for new boats, and is short of what it needs for Borey- and Yasen-class hulls.  The paper’s OPK source notes, of course, that those boats already launched were assembled from existing sections of older submarine classes.

The source concludes rather direly:

“If the issue of steel isn’t resolved, then you have to forget about further production of our missile-carrying submarines.”

He continues:

“. . . it’s unprofitable for suppliers to produce.  Their own cost is high, but the Defense Ministry is buying a miserly quantity and trying to drive down the price on the finished item and, accordingly, on the components.”

Argumenty ends its short piece by reminding readers about the conflict between the Defense Ministry and United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) on the one hand and Sevmash on the other over pricing and contracts which lasted most of 2011.

That year-long battle ended in mid-November when Prime Minister Putin supervised the signing of seven submarine contracts worth more than 280 billion rubles in Severodvinsk.  There aren’t precise details on what the deal covered except nuclear-powered submarines — the modernized proyekt 955 Borey and proyekt 885 Yasen (or 955A and Yasen-M).

If Argumenty’s story is accurate, it suggests future disputes over submarine production and profit margins for Sevmash’s sub-contractors and suppliers.  Perhaps Putin’s deal was only a temporary end to the government-industry conflict.