Category Archives: Naval Modernization

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.”

Thinking Twice

Is the Russian MOD having second thoughts about modernizing Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy?  Or its sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov?  What about Kirov-class CGN Admiral Nakhimov already in the modernization process at Sevmash?

Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy

Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov himself raised the issue in a recent interview, according to a recap by Militaryparitet.com.

Militaryparitet cites Vpk-news.ru (currently launching a Trojan called Web Attack: Venom Activity 3 blocked by Norton thankfully).

Vpk-news referred to TASS, which itself indicated Rakhmanov’s statements came on Ekho Moskvy.  In any event, the original transcript of his remarks has eluded your author.

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov

OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov

As Militaryparitet puts it, the efficacy of repairing old, large surface ships like Petr Velikiy and Kuznetsov isn’t obvious.

The web resource quotes Rakhmanov:

“For us the existing approach toward the repair of large-tonnage ships — Admiral Kuznetsov, Petr Velikiy — isn’t quite straightforward and optimal for one simple reason — the scale of expenditures for the repair of ships which are already 30-35 years old approaches the cost of building a new ship, and their service lives are much shorter than that of a newly constructed ship.”

And, according to Rakhmanov, this is “being openly discussed with the MOD.”

He continues:

“And is it necessary to do this, and if it is, then under what conditions?  It’s a question of the general life cycle concept — if a ship’s service life is 30 years, then is it necessary to extend its life?  For us the question of repairing particularly large, technically complex ships isn’t obvious.  Therefore, before talking about where to do this, we need to ask why we are doing it.”

“There are exceptions, but even one-of-a-kind ships, for example, Kuznetsov, have limits to their lives.  There is metal and equipment fatigue.”

According to Vpk-news.ru, Rakhmanov feels contemporary approaches toward shipbuilding should take into account “economically justifiable” repairs and use of each ship and vessel.

Of course, OSK and its enterprises make money off repairs, modernization, and construction, but the conglomerate makes more off — and is therefore more interested in — building new ships.  For its part, MOD wonders if it can fund expensive construction projects, and whether OSK and Russia’s shipbuilding industry can actually deliver the new ships.

It’s interesting that there isn’t the same level of angst when it comes to modernizing older nuclear-powered submarines and not as much — although clearly a certain amount — in the case of building new ones. The real worry sets in when major surface forces are considered.

But it all comes down to this:  building and maintaining a navy is an expensive proposition.

Aleksandr Nevskiy Arrives

Families Welcome Nevskiy Home for First Time (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Families Welcome Nevskiy Home for First Time (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Following a roughly 40-day inter-fleet transfer, proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy arrived at Rybachiy at approximately 1700 hours local on September 30.  Families waiting for the submarine held a sign reading “Welcome to Your Native Shores!”

The Pacific Fleet’s website provided lots of good photos of the occasion.

Nevskiy at New Pier (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Nevskiy at New Pier (photo: Ministry of Defense)

NG published this MOD photo of Aleksandr Nevskiy at its new pier.

The MOD press release for Nevskiy’s arrival focused on the reconstruction of the Pacific Fleet’s SSBN base.  It noted that the new base “should systematically underpin the service cycle, base training, technical servicing of submarines, and life cycle support and have essential social infrastructure to allow crewmen to fulfill their duties fully with great efficiency.”

Down the Gangplank (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Down the Gangplank (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Navy CINC Salutes Nevskiy's Commander (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Navy CINC Salutes Nevskiy’s Commander (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Behind Navy CINC Admiral Viktor Chirkov, Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Sergey Avakyants also salutes.

In remarks to assembled officials, Navy personnel, and families published on Mil.ru, Chirkov said the Pacific Fleet’s submarine force is in a “renewal phase.” Demands on the training of submariners are greater now that 4th generation boats are entering the fleet.

Admiral Chirkov added that the design of 5th generation submarines has begun within the framework of the 2050 Shipbuilding Program.  These future boats will be stealthy, and have improved C3, automated reconnaissance and “collision avoidance” systems, and better weapons, according to him.

In the Interfaks-AVN recap, Admiral Chirkov also referred to the “deep modernization” of existing 3rd generation nuclear subs saying that, “These boats have great modernization potential allowing them to be made practically new and return to the Navy’s order-of-battle as effective and powerful units.”

“The intensity of combat service of [Russian] strategic and multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines on the world’s oceans will be maintained at a level that guarantees our country’s security,” according to the Navy CINC.

Of course, Chirkov didn’t note that — with Russia’s array of land-based ICBMs and position in Eurasia’s heartland — that intensity, that level of submarine operations may not need to be too great.

Nevskiy Captain Vasiliy Tankovid Addresses His Crew (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Nevskiy Captain Vasiliy Tankovid Addresses His Crew (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Family Reunion on the Pier (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Family Reunion on the Pier (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

A happy scene familiar to every sailor.

Inter-Fleet

Vladimir Monomakh and Yuriy Dolgorukiy in Gadzhiyevo

Vladimir Monomakh and Yuriy Dolgorukiy in Gadzhiyevo

Interfaks-AVN reports Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy (K-550) will soon embark on an inter-fleet transfer from the Northern Fleet submarine base at Gadzhiyevo to Vilyuchinsk in the Pacific Fleet.

Nevskiy may not spend another winter in Gadzhiyevo like Monomakh and Dolgorukiy above.  Not too many months ago, it was thought Monomakh would also reach the Pacific Fleet this year.  That boat apparently needs a second successful Bulava SLBM firing before it can depart the northern waters where it was built.

The Russian Navy conducted a major training assembly on under-ice operations for nuclear submarine crews last February.

An article in Krasnaya zvezda reported that this training was aimed squarely at SSBN and Borey crews particularly.  Retired Vice-Admiral Anatoliy Shevchenko, Russia’s most accomplished under-ice submariner, was the featured speaker.

Nevskiy’s inter-fleet along Russia’s Northern Sea Route (Северный морской путь) could begin this month or next.

Soviet submarines built in Severodvinsk used to inter-fleet to bolster the Pacific order-of-battle.  The first were November-class SSN K-115 and Hotel II-class SSBN K-178 in September 1963.

But inter-fleet transfers beсame rare in the Russian era.  Four Oscar II-class SSGNs traversed the Sevmorput in the 1990s.  The last inter-fleet was Delta III-class SSBN Ryazan, which came in 2008 to keep the Pacific Fleet from losing its strategic nuclear strike capability.

According to a Navy Main Staff source, Nevskiy will conduct its third Bulava launch after its arrival in the Pacific Fleet.  The second hull of the Borey-class, Nevskiy was officially commissioned in December 2013.

Nevskiy is part of the 25th Submarine Division (25-я Дивизия подводных лодок or 25-я ДиПЛ).  Nevskiy (and Monomakh) were long ago inscribed on its roll.  But only three aged Delta III-class SSBNs (including Ryazan) are physically present in the Pacific.

We should recall (yet again) that, although President Vladimir Putin intervened personally to save the Pacific Fleet’s SSBN force in 2002, his men still can’t quite finish new basing facilities required for Borey-class boats.  Watch for more details on this, possibly tomorrow.

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.