Russia to build 6 new aircraft carriers

Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral KuznetsovThe Russian Navy has announced ambitious plans to turn its navy once again into a force to be reckoned with. Key to Russia’s naval ambitions is the construction of 6 aircraft carrier battle groups, and major upgrades to its fleet of nuclear submarines.

Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky outlined the scale of the ambitious plan, telling reporters assembled in Moscow that:

“Everything should be included in the system, including aircraft carriers.”

According to the Moscow Times, he told reporters that the planned systems would be split between the Russian Navy’s Northern and Pacific Fleets (presumably 3 carrier groups per fleet), and would “operate in close interaction” with Russia’s military-satellite system as well as Air Force and air-defense assets.

Construction of the new Russian aircraft carriers is to begin in 2012, which would see the first carriers coming into operation somewhere around 2020.

If they can actually bring this project to fruition (which, admittedly, is probably a very big if – just four years ago, Russia was planning to move to a smaller, defensively-oriented navy), this would give Russia a navy which would be able to project power on a global scale and, while it would not give it enough firepower to match US fleets, it would probably ensure that Russia keeps slightly ahead of rising naval powers like China and India.

Russia currently only has one aircraft carrier – the Nikolai Kuznetsov. Although, actually, to call it an aircraft carrier is probably somewhat charitable. In reality, it is classified as an “air capable cruiser” and, being diesel powered, is easily outmatched by its nuclear powered rivals.

Rather embarrasingly for the Russian Navy, the Kuznetsov’s seaworthyness is also rather suspect. While on an exercise earlier this year, the Kuznetsov was permanently accompanied by two tugboats, in case it broke down.

Submarine plans

Borei submarinePerhaps it’s just as well, then, that Russia is also introducing a new generation of nuclear submarines to patrol the world’s oceans.

The first Borei submarine was launched in February 2008 and is undoubtedly a class above Russia’s other, Soviet designed, submarines (although still not a match for US submarines). It is the first Russian nuclear sub to incorporate a pump jet propulsion system, and has a much quieter hull design.

Despite a few lingering concerns about the Borei submarines’ Baluva missile system, the Russian Navy is keen to build on this success (and to forget the Kursk disaster), so will complement plans for an aircraft carrier group with further modernisation of the Borei class.

Admiral Vysotsky confirmed that:

“Starting with the fourth submarine, we will begin modernizing this class. The modernized Borei submarines will be the core of Russian naval nuclear forces until 2040.”

“We are aspiring not only to introduce new technologies, not only to compete with the West, but to take completely new steps which would allow us to look at submarine technologies of the middle of the 21st century.”

Interesting times, indeed, for the Russian Navy. The question now is will the Russian economy remain strong enough over the next few decades to pay for all this? And, if they can, will this increase pressure on other second tier navies with ambitions to project power across the oceans, such as China, India, and the EU, to respond in kind?

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10 Responses

  1. Tim Newman says:

    The question now is will the Russian economy remain strong enough over the next few decades to pay for all this?

    I think the key question is who is going to be building these. I’m not sure what happened to the naval yards after the collapse of the USSR, and whether they are still operating under the military or under some branch of government. But given they have not been exactly busy in the last 17 years, they are going to struggle like hell to find the skilled personnel required to build these ships. The commercial shipyard in Nakhodka does okay churning out fishing and cargo boats, and I’m sure there are a few decent small yards scattered about, but I linked to a story in June about a Gazprom topside refurbishment job coming off the rails due to a lack of skilled workers at the shipyard. I think this is going to be by far and away the biggest obstacle to getting these 6 carriers in the water, unless they bring in the foreigners, which I can’t see them doing.

    My prediction? 10 years late, budget tripled, number of ships reduced to 2, do not meet specification in many areas.

  2. Irishman says:

    ”Russia’s other, Soviet designed, submarines (although still not a match for US submarines).”

    Is this true? I dont know, about SSBNs, which the Borei is, but surely the Russians would not deliberately design and build a submarine that was considerably inferiour to the American’s Seawolf class. It doesnt make sense. And Russia’s attack subs have always been the equal of if not superiour to those of the Yanks -the Kursk and Oryol being a case in point, and the recent Gepard. Maybe Aleks will come on and give us the low down.

    ”I think the key question is who is going to be building these. ”

    The Russians have been churning out Kilo class subs for years now and flogging them to the likes of Algeria, though even these simple diesel subs have had big QC issues. One does wonder can the Russians build beasts like the Borei on time. Certainly if the Kilos are anything to go by they wont be able to do it.
    Plans of mice and men….

  3. sanjayk says:

    I read an article that answered Tim Newman’s question. The answer is maybe.
    The government is banking on stable commodity prices to drive their revenues if the bubble bursts then they will have a financial crisis. Here is the link to the article http://stockparadise.blogspot.com/2008/07/to-russia-with-love.html

  4. Aleks says:

    What a waste of money, the carriers that is. The US uses its carriers to ‘project power’ but the main role for its continued existence is keeping the sea lanes open for shipping and energy. Russia has energy, lots and lots of it. Russia is a huge country that is not geographically isolated from the others (its potential to shift shipping from Asia to railroad via South Korea to North Korea and then across Russia to Europe could be monumental, lowering the cost of consumer goods and so increasing European dependence on Russia), so short of using the carriers to go and bomb unruly tribes somewhere on the other side of the planet, WTF is the point?

    The Balkans, Iraq and The ‘Stan etc. have show that you can have all the fancy gadgets you want, but if you cannot put troops on the ground an ‘enforce’ you policy, then it is little more than punishment expedition that rarely has significant military effect. Sure, lob a few cruise missiles at a somali pharmaceutical factory, bomb tora bora, it looks really, really good on tv, but has a very limited strategic impact.

    I just don’t get the russians on this. Chechnya was only pacified with a massive ground assault (roasted and salty) and relied on local favorites to maintain the peace.

    Carriers are big fat turkeys ready for any half decent submarines. Add to that western navies more or less stopped practising anti-submarine warfare for most of the 1990s and are now playing catch up.

    Irishman, I’m certainly no pro on things that go bang, but from what I’ve read historically soviet subs have been a lot noisier that NATO ones and had less sophisticated electronics, though through some very decent espionage (whilst the USA was throwing billions and billions at satellites, the SU and Russia maintained humans as its primary source of intelligence) and just some commercial activities (i.e. buying a sophisticated 6-axis tooling machine from Toshiba(?) in the 80s that could make highly efficient and quiet scimitar style props).

    Russki floaters and sinkers:
    http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/row/rus/index.html

    Experts seem to agree that Russia has significantly closed these gaps (such as the Akula II ‘Belgograd (ex-Gepard)), but the starvation of funds and lack of personnel have been harder to overcome though it is happening, particularly having the money to buy some seriously modern tooling. Until their own tool companies come up to scratch, they’ll have to rely on the Germans and Japanese and probably use commercial processors until they get their own chip fabs online – Russia was reported to have bought a chip fab last year (South Korea or Taiwan would be my bet) for several billion dollars. This means that they will have total autonomy from foreign supplies of all sorts of chippery, another choke point being closed off.

    There was some news a year or so ago that one of the St. Petersberg ship yards was buying out its rivals to make a super shipbuilding company (I wonder if it is run by one of Putin’s buddies?). We know that ????? ?????? has been a maintenance nightmare and that both the Chinese and Indians have complained about russian workmanship (not just subs either).

    The Oscar II nuclear ballistic (SSBN) class Kursk (the equivalent of a nuclear armed whale) certainly had no equal, but there are only a dozen or so left and I think will be phased out or replaced. The new generation Yuri Dolgoruki SSBN put to sea this february. There certainly are plenty of russian brains still around and with the better funding, I only see things improving for the industry.

    As for the Sea Wolfs, they’re even too expensive for the US to build in any decent numbers, hence the concentration on the shiny new Virgina class nuclear attack subs (SSN) which will be bought in decent numbers. The US navy is going to seriously shrink and many of their new toys such as the DDG-1000 next generation stealth ships may never make it into serial production. The US may have a much, much larger defense budget, but it is spending a lot of it on far too exotic systems that take a long time to be developed (and hence expensive), that don’t work very well and won’t necessarily be able to be transported to where they are needed (i.e. the crusader artillery system). Even the winner-takes-it-all F22 is so far capped at 183(?) airframes.

    Bang-for-buck is much more important, though russian labor costs are reported to have risen significantly in the last few years. It seems fairly universal that militaries and military complexes are having a much harder time recruiting bright sparks who go instead for much better pay and conditions in the computer and commercial industries…

    The Russians have also not lost their expertise in diesel-electric (SSK) submarines (more recently the feared Kilo (sold to China and India) , Lada/Amur(export) series that are much quieter than nuke subs, especially in the very challenging shallow (brown) water operations , unlike the US and the UK. The UK had some very nice upholder class SSK (‘HMS Unseen’ by Patrick Robinson is a good yarn) which they decided they didn’t need and sold to the Canadians and may well have sold the plans and technology to the US (which hasn’t produced a SSK for decades) though there is very little information about this available. Lots of other state have very good SSKs such as the Australian ‘Collins’ class that was reportedly to have ‘sunk’ US nuke submarines repeatedly in exercises, the Swedes ‘Gottland(?)’ class, the German ‘dolphin’ class (4 given to Israel and most probably modified to fire sub-launched nuclear tipped cruise missiles), France’s ‘Scorpene’ etc. etc.

    Not only are they quieter, they are much cheaper and easy to build in decent numbers than nuclear subs. AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) based on the sterling engine significantly improves the endurance and underwater performance as well as being incorporated and retrofitable for not a lot of cash added to the fact that strategic choke points such as the Malacca straights (where apparently the majority of tanker traffic transits) are ideal for SSKs and not very good for nuclear subs nor carriers.
    Now that’s really value for money.

    So far under Putin hundreds of military companies have been unified in to big holdings making it much easier to manage the money efficiently and eliminate duplication by different factories. Serious money is going into global marketing – I note that the usually terrible advertorials by Russian defense companies (and others) are much better now that they can afford to pay copy-writers to do the job rather than a secretary called IO??? with high school english did it.

  5. Tim Newman says:

    This article is interesting, and highlights the lack of skilled workers.

    (via Robert Amsterdam)

  6. Aleks says:

    The Baltimore Sun article is no doubt true to some degree, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from doomsayers such as Golts (and Felgenhauer). It of course does not tell the full story, for example, yet the Mig-29s were returned from Algeria but they were upgraded second hand models, not new ones – Algeria swapped the Mig-29s for an add-on order for Sukhois. Mig is cash poor, Sukhoi is cash rich which is why the now unified aviation industry put in to place by Putin, Sukhoi is in charge. These unified industries also forces a streamlining of the industry, remove duplication etc, all things that make rooting out corruption and lowering cost much easier to carry out. In a more transparent structure, it will be easier to get government funding and offer the kinds of salaries that will be attractive to potential employees. It is only the beginning though and as mentioned in the article, the ability to ramp up production whilst keeping quality standards up and actually delivering is the challenge. The Russians are eminently capable of doing so, though may well screw up, but so did Boeing with its 787, Airbus with the A350 and A380. I’ve also noted from a number of sources that there is still considerable input and advice from western sources on management etc. Boeing was paid to provide consultancy on the new Sukhoi ‘Super Jet’ and employes over 450 russian engineers in Russia (Airbus too).

    Under Putin, phase I was to bring Russia back under control of the pols. Phase II under Medvyedev is to root out corruption. Stage III, I predict, will be re-democratization and ceding more power to the regions and more autonomy for institutions that actually function as they should. It is unlikely to happen for a decade or so.

  7. Aleks says:

    A nugget of gold (via Wired ‘Danger Room’ very good everything to do with death and below blog):

    Israel Freezes Out Georgia on Arms:
    http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/08/israel-freezes.html

    Of course, I would take with a pinch of salt the simplistic analysis in the blog, but the possibilities therein are quite interesting and varied if one goes below the surface
    ****

    On the previous stuff, does anyone actually think that Russia cannot get its house in order? Yes, Russia still faces monumental challenges, but they have suffered far worse (~27m odd casualties during WWII). 10-15 (or less) years to see a clear trend, but why is there still so much doubt???

  8. Tim Newman says:

    Yes, Russia still faces monumental challenges, but they have suffered far worse (~27m odd casualties during WWII). 10-15 (or less) years to see a clear trend, but why is there still so much doubt???

    Speaking for myself, I doubt Russia’s ability to realise its enormous potential because the Russians do not seem willing or able to shed the very elements of its Soviet past which has held it back for decades: crippling bureacracy, corruption, and pathetically weak state institutions.

  9. cuellar says:

    i thank the Russian’s for saveing are ass if,in the hight price gas war they kick the gueen ass out just in time befor bush came cring like a baby !

    if you must no the name of the game, is get all you can out of gas before elec. car take over !

    china can make it the usa wll buy it ,

    china mart !! haaa

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