Category Archives: Naval Modernization

For Nakhimov’s Price

Admiral Nakhimov? (photo: Topwar.ru)

Admiral Nakhimov? (photo: Topwar.ru)

The photo above appears to be Kirov-class CGN Admiral Nakhimov (ex-Kalinin) having its superstructure dismantled at Sevmash.  Topwar.ru didn’t indicate how it came by the picture.

Blogger Aleksandr Shishkin recently offered his rationale (and that of other navy advocates) for repairing and modernizing Admiral Nakhimov.

As a shipbuilder, Shishkin says the “enemies of these monster-ships” think that the extraordinary expenditures required to renovate Nakhimov could be redirected to better use for the Russian military.  But he contends that Russia’s nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers have a disproportionate military-political effect when compared to other ways of spending this part of the MOD budget.

First, he makes a military firepower argument.

He argues that Nakhimov provides more “bang for the ruble” measured against new surface combatant construction.  He offers as an example the proyekt 20380 Steregushchiy-class corvettes of which five, with a total of 100 missiles, can be bought for Nakhimov’s price.  Two and one-half proyekt 22350 Gorshkov-class frigates can be bought for Nakhimov’s price.  Three Gorshkovs have 144 missiles. Or, for the cost of Nakhimov, one future proyekt 23560 (Lider) destroyer with approximately 136 launchers could be bought.

Shishkin projects 304 missiles on the renovated  Nakhimov — 224 SAMs and 80 cruise missiles.

That is, according to him, “twice-three times the quantity of similar and more powerful weaponry for the same money plus the possibility of using [the ship] anywhere in the world.”

Second, Shishkin argues for Nakhimov’s political effect.  Its return will keep Russia in a “firm second place” in the world navy “table of ranks” which carries a psychological impact “no one should underrate.”  Showing the flag promotes Russia as an alternative to the U.S. as the world’s lone superpower, according to him.

Nakhimov or no Nakhimov, many would argue China is the world’s second-ranked navy.

Third, the blogger maintains that reconstructing Nakhimov raises Russia’s “sense of self-worth” by showing that it can build [or rebuild] really large ships, not just patrol boats.

Fourth, he asserts that Nakhimov will be ready (2018-2019) earlier than new corvettes, frigates, and destroyers that won’t be delivered until the early 2020s.

Fifth, Shishkin says Sevmash’s work on a “first-rank” nuclear-powered ship like Nakhimov will prepare it to build aircraft carriers or to compete with Northern Wharf for destroyer contracts.

Shishkin notes that the renovation of Nakhimov costs 50 billion rubles ($1 billion), or 30 billion ($600 million) for the ship and 20 billion ($400 million) for new armaments and systems.  If this is the case, that makes Steregushchiys about $200 million, Gorshkovs about $400 million, and Liders about $1 billion per unit.

So none of this comes cheaply.

It’d be interesting to read an argument for Admiral Nakhimov addressing how the ship will figure in future Russian fleet operations and larger military strategy. How will it operate in defense of Moscow’s naval strategic nuclear forces, or in more likely contingencies short of this?

Admiral Lazarev (photo: Topwar.ru)

Admiral Lazarev (photo: Topwar.ru)

Admiral Ushakov and Admiral Lazarev remain in reserve in different states of decay and are very unlikely candidates for modernization.  Petr Velikiy will, at some future point, probably undergo the work currently being done to Nakhimov.

Tighter in the Hall

Sevmash (photo: www.sevmash.ru)

Sevmash (photo: http://www.sevmash.ru)

It’s tighter in Sevmash’s construction hall, but there’s still plenty of space.

Russian submarine producer Sevmash released the following noteworthy statement on 28 March:

Uniting forces for nuclear-powered submarine construction

For the realization of the state arms program and effective construction of modern nuclear submarines, buildingway-delivery production is being organized at Sevmash.

The Testing and Order Delivery Directorate (UISZ) is joining Sevmash’s two largest buildingway departments — 50 and 55.  The new structure is needed to increase the tempo of modern nuclear submarines construction (recently a significant number of submarines was laid down), guarantee evenness in labor force distribution, and promote the transfer of production experience.  Recall that the buildingway of department 50 was occupied with civilian production in the 1990s:  specifically, it built the unique ice-resistant maritime platform ‘Prirazlomaya.’  Last year the department came back to its core business:  modern nuclear-powered submarines were laid down here.  As the chief of buildingway-delivery production Sergey Novoselov announced, a management system for the new large-scale sub-unit is currently being formed in accordance with the general director’s order.

Press-service OAO “PO ‘Sevmash.'”

For curiosity’s sake, here’s Bellona.org’s take on the ‘Prirazlomaya’ drilling platform.  Not flattering.

What is this buildingway-delivery production?  It sounds like Sevmash knows once it launches some submarines now under construction, it’ll face a fitting-out bottleneck . . . perhaps some pre-delivery work will now occur on the ways prior to launch.

Various media outlets recently noted Russia’s increased submarine production and declared that it is building four nuclear-powered boats (two SSBNs and two SSNs) for the first time in post-Soviet history.  Examples can be found here and here.

But a bit of research, e.g. here, here, here, and here, would have shown that three SSBNs and four SSNs — seven unfinished boats — are now in the hall at Sevmash.  Six laid down since 2012.  They are, of course, proyekt 955A Borey-class SSBNs and proyekt 885M Yasen-class SSNs.

Official reports from Sevmash early last year indicated that the builder plans to lay down two more Boreys and two more Yasens in 2015.  That would make a rather whopping 11 submarines under construction.

The numbers seven and 11 hark back to the halcyon days of Soviet production:  to the 1980s when Sevmash built Typhoon-, Delta IV-, Oscar-, and Akula-class submarines.  Early in that long ago decade, Moscow built four boats at a time, toward mid-decade — six or seven, by the time Gorbachev came to power — eight, before 1990 as many as 10 simultaneously.  Then production dropped to virtually zero in the mid-1990s.

We should remember, however, that Russia’s submarines under construction could turn out to be proverbial “birds in a bush.”  The navy much prefers to have completed boats in hand.

So what stands in the way of completing them?  A number of things potentially. Skilled labor, materials, and component shortages, finding domestic substitutes for sanctioned foreign inputs, and high interest rates and high inflation complicate the already pricey business of building new submarines.

Sorry, Not a Victor

Sorry, Not a Victor (photo: Reuters / Yuriy Maltsev)

Sorry, Not a Victor (photo: Reuters / Yuriy Maltsev)

What great fun when the general press covers Russian military issues!  Business Insider ran this pictorial presuming to show an outdated Victor-class SSN headed for scrap.

In fact, it’s two not-quite-so-old Pacific Fleet Akula submarines headed for overhaul.

But what great pictures!  

One supposes this is how the hull looks when it hasn’t seen a drydock in many years.

Russified Dokdo

It is, by no means, clear that the first Russian Mistral won’t be delivered when it’s due at the end of October 2014.  Maybe it will be just quiet enough on the eastern front of Ukraine for Paris to fulfill its contract with Moscow.

But CAST’s Andrey Frolov suggests in a recent VPK article that, if the first Mistral isn’t delivered, Russia could team with South Korea to build its own LHD at Zvezda shipyard in Komsomolsk.

South Korea's Dokdo

South Korea’s Dokdo

Frolov says:

“If we leave parenthetical the question about the need to have a UDK [multipurpose assault ship] in our Navy and accept as an axiom that our fleet needs them, next the question arises about the possibilities of Russian defense industry for import substitution for such a class of ships.”

Then he turns to what it would take and the rather large obstacles Moscow faces:

“Obviously neither Russian nor Soviet shipbuilders had experience in similar construction, especially on such a technological level.  Those large assault ships [BDK], which entered the USSR Navy and were inherited by the contemporary fleet, represent a completely different direction conceptually and technologically.  Taking into account the fact that, according to well-known data, in the post-Soviet period the design of an UDK has not been ordered from a Russian KB [design bureau], it is possible to suppose:  in the best case, only draft drawings, done on initiative, exist.  That is, in the event of a possible order from the Defense Ministry, several years would be needed just to prepare a design.  The experience of developers of designs like aircraft carriers by OAO Nevskoye PKB as well as a ship of less displacement in the destroyer class (the design has been in the works for several years already) speaks eloquently about the possible difficulties on this path.”

“It is possible to trace the pitfalls in the construction of our own forces in the history of the modernization of CVHG project 11434 Admiral Gorshkov for India, in the serial frigates of project 22350, and also in the lead unit of large assault ship project 11711 Ivan Gren, which we note, is much simpler to build than Mistral.”

Russia’s shipyards are so busy with naval and civilian orders that laying down even two LHDs seems improbable, according to Frolov.

Nor, with sanctions in place, does Frolov think it’s realistic to believe that Russia can obtain all the dual-use technology it needs for such ships.  It’s also doubtful it can develop its own.  And the cost of these ships is a large issue.

But, says Frolov, the possibility of foreign cooperation remains.  European partners are already irrelevant because of sanctions.  Daewoo Marine Shipbuilding and Engineering (DSME), however, already partnered with Zvezda in an effort to land the contract Mistral won.

Frolov believes Russia and South Korea have similar views for an LHD:  a ship for littoral operations close to home rather than for transoceanic expeditionary warfare.

Russia would have to develop some equipment, components, and systems for a Russified Dokdo to replace U.S. ones that Washington would certainly not permit the South Koreans to provide to Moscow.

Frolov reminds that Russia already has a record of weapons development cooperation with Seoul.  For example, the Russian radar developed for the ROK’s KM-SAM will be used on Russia’s new Vityaz SAM.

He concludes that a Russian-Korean LHD could become “a more threatening player on the world arms market” and fill Zvezda’s construction program.

Where’s My Sub Base

Not His Happy Face (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneyev)

Not His Happy Face (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneyev)

Now they’ve done it.

They’ve failed to finish new facilities for Borey-class SSBNs on Kamchatka expeditiously, and they’ve forced Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to demand “strict control” over their work.

But who “they” are isn’t exactly clear.

According to Mil.ru and RIA Novosti, the annoyed Shoygu said:

“These things are too serious to joke about the time period for their construction.  The joking is over.”

As regards the current plan to base Borey units 2 and 3 at Rybachiy (presumably in 2015):

“At that time everything must be ready.”

Mil.ru reported that the Defense Minister was also dissatisfied with the quality of the construction he observed.

Shoygu laid responsibility on General Staff Chief, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov and Eastern MD Commander, General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin, ordering them to take the work at Rybachiy under “strict control” and to give him a weekly progress report.

Shoygu should have turned to his old friend and subordinate from MChS days, Aleksandr Volosov, who directs the Federal Agency for Special Construction (Spetsstroy).  Spetsstroy is building the new pier zone at Rybachiy.  It used to be known as the Main Directorate for Special Construction (GUSS) in the old days when it fell squarely under the MOD.

Rybachiy and Environs

Rybachiy and Environs

The current Defense Minister’s not the first to ask when his sub base will be ready.

In 2012, President Vladimir Putin revealed that he arranged significant financial assistance from two Russian oil companies to keep the Pacific Fleet strategic sub base open in 2002.

He visited periodically to check progress in modernizing its naval and social facilities.  He was usually unhappy with what he found.

Speaking from Vilyuchinsk in 2004, Putin said:

“They told me here in the past two years an improvement [in military living conditions] was being felt, but I didn’t see this.  The material base of public facilities here is in a pathetic state.  This situation is absolutely intolerable.”

By 2007, according to Izvestiya, he saw some improvement, but still said officials were “just picking their noses” instead of getting Gazprom to gasify Kamchatka.  Army General Anatoliy Grebenyuk, chief of the MOD’s billeting and construction service, and the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate were unceremoniously retired for failing to finish their respective work on the remote peninsula.

Gazprom reports that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy was gasified in 2010, but it’s unknown if local gas lines have, as yet, reached the sub base.

As it has long planned, Moscow intends to homeport four Borey-class SSBNs on Kamchatka, starting with Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh.  But first it wants a fully functioning system in place to support their operations.

In March, a Navy Main Staff source told ITAR-TASS that the complete system for basing the new submarines – piers, utilities, logistical support, weapons storage facilities, and other infrastructure – still needs to be finished. Consequently, neither SSBN will arrive in the Pacific Fleet earlier than the fall of 2015.

Pacific Fleet Akulas Bound for Severodvinsk

Akulas Loaded on Transshelf (photo: www.dockwise.com)

Akulas Loaded on Transshelf (photo: http://www.dockwise.com)

On 9 September, ITAR-TASS reported two Pacific Fleet Akula-class submarines had begun a three-week Northern Sea Route (NSR) transit to Severodvinsk for a “deep modernization” at Zvezdochka.  They will reach the shipyard during the last ten days of the month, according to the Defense Ministry press-service.

Pacific Fleet proyekt 971 / Shchuka-B SSNs Bratsk and Samara were loaded on Dockwise’s heavy transport Transshelf at Avachinskaya Bay on 23 August.

This is the first time two submarines have been transported together. Nuclear-powered icebreakers will accompany Transshelf along the NSR.  Until now, Pacific Fleet Akulas were repaired at Vilyuchinsk or Bolshoy Kamen in the Far East.

Zvezdochka publicized the boats’ imminent departure back on 20 August. Buried in this item is a reported RF government decision on a shipyard division of labor, under which Zvezdochka will modernize Akulas and Zvezda (Bolshoy Kamen) will work on Oscar II-class SSGNs (proyekt 949A / Antey).

But it looks like Zvezdochka already worked on the Northern Fleet’s Oscar IIs in previous years; Pacific Fleet units remain for Zvezda.

Zvezdochka has a contract for four Akula modernizations.  Two Northern Fleet units — Leopard and Volk — are already there.  According to Flot.com, the 21-year-old Improved Akula Leopard arrived in 2013 and will return to the fleet in 2016.  22-year-old Volk got to Zvezdochka this year.  Both were built by Sevmash in Severodvinsk.

Akula II Bratsk and Samara — 24 and 19 years old respectively — were both built at Komsomolsk in the Far East.

Zvezdochka’s “deep modernization” reportedly includes a recore and replacement of all electronic, control, and weapons systems.

Mistrals Not Needed

It’s possible the endgame for the Russian Mistrals is approaching.

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti  / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

But Moscow’s not sad.  Officials have already said it’s not a tragedy.

Mikhail Nenashev — not an official, but a former Duma member and well-informed commentator — has called into question the need for the Mistrals. He’s a former Captain First Rank who chairs the All-Russian Movement for Support of the Navy.

According to RIA Novosti, he said the Mistrals have no utility but political.  The news agency quotes Nenashev:

“These ships are no kind of necessity for the navy — we don’t intend to land troops in such a way.  As I recall, the French themselves earlier and now are searching for how to deploy these ships — for a decade of fulfilling these missions by the French Navy there were few places where these ‘Mistrals’ were deployed in reality.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  The most cursory look shows that the French contributed the Mistrals to the NATO Response Force, and deployed them during unrest in Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, among other places.

Nenashev and others (including Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov) say Russia can build ships like to the Mistrals since it was already participating in their construction, and providing the internal command and control systems for the ships.  It would take longer (3-4 years) but cost less (€150-200 million vs. €1.2 billion).  The French, he says, can build it in a year because they have a smooth production process for these ships.

The former officer suggested that Sevmash or Baltic shipyard could construct such a ship if desired.  But he fails to note that these builders are already absolutely chockablock with orders today, and every new ship type is taking substantially more than 3-4 years to build.

But Nenashev willingly admits there are “acute questions” about the shipbuilding industry.  Specifically, issues of components, parts, technology, and skilled labor are a “little rough” and require coordination.

It’s exactly what Moscow will miss — a chance to see first-hand how fairly robust and modern French shipbuilders do their work.  No doubt there are things the Russians could have learned and taken home.

For their part, the French carefully note that the delivery of the first Russian Mistral has not legally and finally stopped. But President Hollande signaled Moscow that, if the situation in Ukraine does not improve, he will not approve the ship’s transfer in November.  That final decision will actually come at the end of October.

Improvement in Ukraine is defined by a relatively high bar of an effective ceasefire and agreement on a political resolution of the conflict.

The Elysee is quick to repeat that the Mistral sale remains unaffected by EU sanctions on Russia, and is a decision for Paris to make.  Hollande adopted his current stance in the last couple weeks as unavoidable evidence of direct Russian participation in the fighting (i.e. POWs and KIAs) in eastern Ukraine surfaced.

As of 9 September, RIA Novosti reported that planned at-sea training for the first Russian Mistral and its 400-man crew-in-waiting in Saint-Nazaire was put off for “technical reasons” having nothing to do with the French President’s current stance on the sale (or no sale).