Tag Archives: Bulava

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.”


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.


Russian military television, TV Zvezda, not long ago ran a 35-minute show on the construction and acceptance of Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh in Severodvinsk.  Pretty interesting footage showing test launches of Bulava SLBMs and engineers checking design specs on reams of paper documents.  Props to someone for putting the video on YouTube.

The program follows MOD military representatives, civilians, and crew through the final process of delivering and accepting the new submarine into service.  It also has footage from Votkinsk showing the manufacture of Bulavas for the Borey-class.

Big Stories of 2014

Just before Christmas, RIA Novosti took a cut at identifying the big military stories of 2014.

A daunting, but intriguing task.  Here’s what it came up with:

  1. Acceptance of proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh.  That’s unit three.  RIAN also puts five pending Bulava SLBM launches, including from Monomakh, on its list.
  2. Acceptance of the lead unit of proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk.
  3. Construction of a new National Command and Control Center for State Defense.
  4. Acceptance of the Ratnik future soldier system.
  5. One-Time Monetary Payments (or YeDV) for servicemen owed permanent apartments.  It’s supposed to end the housing line forever.
  6. Flexible pricing in the State Defense Order.  Starting in 2014, some contracts may be for a fixed price while others will be figured on what was actually spent to produce end items.
  7. Formation of an aerobatic flying group with new Yak-130 trainers.
  8. State acceptance testing for the T-50 / PAK FA.
  9. Continued, gradual rearmament to the level of 30 percent modern weapons and equipment in all forces.
  10. Formation of 16 new medical companies (to expand to 50 over the next 18 months).  A special mobile medical (medevac) brigade will be formed in each military district.
  11. Conscripts from reestablished sports companies slated to compete in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

By way of context, here’s what RIAN predicted for the big stories of 2013:  end of explosive destruction of old munitions, Bulava / Borey / Yasen, Vikramaditya [ex-Gorshkov] handover, Putin’s promise to end the military’s housing problem, Shoygu’s pledge to turn MOD property matters over to Rosimushchestvo, Armata tank and related platforms, T-50 / PAK FA testing, creation of Concern “Kalashnikov” and the new AK-12, the Russian DARPA — Fund for Future Research, Oboronservis criminal cases in court, and Zapad-2013.

Interesting to consider how much (or how little) movement occurred on these issues last year.

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.

Putin Stresses Strategic Systems

Originally intended for another purpose, so it’s a tad dated.  Perhaps still useful to some . . .

Putin Talks Air Forces

Putin Talks Air Forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted six meetings on key arms programs from 27-29 November in Sochi.  He focused on strategic systems in his public remarks before the sessions.

Looking first at the RVSN, Putin called development of the “main component of the strategic nuclear forces” a priority.  He said two RVSN regiments received new mobile missile systems – 18 RS-24 Yars (SS-29) ICBMs — this year.  Putin added that the RVSN will field 22 new ICBMs – likely also RS-24 — in 2014.

Putin said the RVSN need to overcome “any missile defense system.”  Makeyev State Missile Center general designer Vladimir Degtyar responded by describing development of a missile with “increased throw weight” and better survivability, presumably a new liquid-fueled heavy missile.

The Russian president said it is “not necessary to say much about how important the naval part of the triad of strategic nuclear deterrence is for us.”  New Borey-class SSBNs Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh need to enter service next year as part of a contingent of eight new SSBNs by 2020, he said.  Not mentioning the failed launch of a Bulava SLBM in September, Putin tersely commented, “The armament [Bulava] should arrive in step with its launchers, these submarines.”

Putin called for “active” work on the new PAK DA strategic bomber, and modernization of existing Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers.  OAK chairman Mikhail Pogosyan replied that the Defense Ministry has given the corporation the technical task for PAK DA, and the company is preparing for R&D starting next year.  He said OAK is almost ready to submit modernized Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers for state testing.

Turning to aerospace defense, Putin said two ‘regimental sets’ of S-400 SAMs were fielded this year, and three should reach the forces in 2014.  Almaz-Antey general designer Pavel Sozinov told the Russian president that the S-500 SAM system is approaching the “finish line” with testing planned in 2014-15, and the new medium-range S-350E Vityaz should reach units in 2015-16.  The first production lines in new Almaz-Antey plants in Nizhny Novgorod and Kirov will begin operating in 2015, according to Sozinov.

Putin addressed well-known problems in Russia’s space sector, noting that failures have brought significant material losses.  Some military space projects are drifting despite stable financing, he added.  He noted that five military satellites have been placed in orbit, and five more will be in 2013.  Six satellites will be orbited next year, Putin said.

Concluding the meetings, Putin reminded assembled military and defense industry leaders that Russia’s defense budget has increased four-fold over ten years.  He said this money was allocated to guarantee the country’s defense capability for the long-term future, and established tasks must be completed on schedule.  He plans to hold another rearmament review in six months.

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.