Russia to Cut Naval Investments 2018-2025

Following an intense 8-year period of modernization and recapitalization, the Russian government appears to be satisfied that it can reduce its volume naval investments for its next phase of armament planning.

The previous State Armament Program (2010-2017) saw Russia’s navy rearmament investments amount to 4.7 trillion rubles (CA$97.6 Billion). That record figure, which surpassed all other sectors of Russia’s Armed Forces, will now drop to 2,6 trillion (CA$54 Billion) for the 2018-2025 timeframe, according to recent statements by Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Defence Minister.

Part of these funds will be invested in a new naval doctrine which has been recently approved by President Putin.

New Naval Doctrine
The main goal of the new doctrine is to creating conditions for success in “opposing the attempts of a number of states, and in particular the U.S. and its allies, to dominate in the World Ocean”.

The doctrine lists some of the threats that may pose a danger to the Russian maritime security in future years, which include: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the claims of some foreign states on the control over the Northern Sea Route (a strategically important transport sea artery to the Pacific Ocean, along the Arctic Ocean coasts of Norway and Russia); poaching; and terrorism.

Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu 

The list also includes the deployment of non-nuclear precision weapons and missile defense systems in close proximity to Russian borders, and the potential use of military force at sea in violation of UN standards by some foreign states.

It states the Russian Naval Forces will continue to be the world’s second largest power in terms of combat capabilities, and intends to hold this position beyond 2020. As part of these plans, Russia will prevent attempts by China to unseat it, which is considered a real threat, particularly as China has been conducting a large-scale program of naval construction since 2010.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, response to growing concern of Chinese domination will mainly be in the form of construction of new warships.

Experts within the Russian Ministry of Defence say the country also plans to reduce the gap between itself and the U.S. – the current leader of naval power. This is expected to be achieved through improving the ability of Russia’s domestic Navy to defeat ground targets with both conventional and nuclear weapons. Particular attention will also focus on nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence.

Among the major motivations for continued development of the Russian navy is the ever-tightening fight for hydrocarbons in the Arctic, the Caspian Sea, and Persian Gulf regions; the complex military situation in the Middle East region (particularly in Syria); as well as the still-existing problem of piracy.

The achievement of these goals, according to state plans will involve new builds plus modernization of existing multi-purpose nuclear and non-nuclear submarines, as well as multipurpose ships and ground vehicles of various purposes. Starting in 2025, a particular emphasis will be on a more active introduction and use of robotic systems in the Russian Navy.

Defence analysts believe the new doctrine has many similarities with those of pre-Cold War USSR. They also suggest that, for the first time in the last 20 to 25 years, development of Russia’s navy has received a higher priority than that of its aviation and land forces. Critics predict this may have a negative effect on the general combat capability of the Russian army.

Mikhail Barabanov, an expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Tech­nologies, one of Russia’s leading defence analysis agencies, says “The new document is permeated with nostalgia for naval construction of the late Soviet times, and in this sense is largely unreal. All the historical experience of Russia says the provision of excessive priority for the development of the domestic fleet led to catastrophic defeats of Russia in military conflicts (such as Crimean and Russian-Japanese war). In general, the Russian Navy played a very insignificant role in both World Wars.”

Barabanov also notes that in the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet ocean fleet required huge funds for its development, yet had little effect on its foreign policy during that time. He also believes the collapse of the fleet during the 1990s was faster than all other types of Soviet armed forces. He says the recently announced spending cuts will create serious problems for the Defence Ministry as it attempts to implement aggressive new goals of maintaining its status as the second sea power.

Future flagship destroyer of the 23560 Leader project. Construction is expected to start this year.

The planned cut in navy investment has been criticized by other leading military analysts who say the current participation of Russia in the Syrian campaign requires a strong presence in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean regions.

Much of Russia’s existing naval fleets were built during Soviet times and, according to Vladimir Stepanichev (a retired colonel of the Russian army), are in acute need of complete renewal. In the post-Soviet era, the Russian navy fleet had expanded by only 50 new ships, however the situation has changed in recent years.

According to open sources, the Russian Navy is currently comprised of more than 30 large surface combat ships, 120 small ships, 60 minesweepers, and 21 landing ships. These figures are expected to significantly increase in the coming years.

State plans also include the renewal of Russia’s auxiliary military fleet. The Navy will receive 61 new support vessels by 2020. This will expand its support fleet to 600 units and start active modernization, taking into account that the majority of them were built during the Soviet times and are technically outdated.

International Presence
Recent statements by Defence Minister Shoigu confirm a need to ensure Russia’s permanent presence in the World’s Oceans over the next several years.

As part of these plans, up to 100 of Russia’s naval ships will be deployed to different parts of the world. This will be part of the recently approved Russian Naval Doctrine, which is designed until 2035, with a goal of increasing the Russian naval presence in the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

According to an official spokesman of the Russian Defence Ministry, as part of the planned renewal of the domestic navy fleet, particular attention will be paid to replacing the current actively-used cruisers with larger and more powerful destroyers. Priority will be given to destroyers of the 23560 “Leader” project so that construction can begin within a few years. The new destroyers will be 200 metres long and will be armed with Caliber and Onyx launchers, as well as with the S-500 Prometey and Polymet-Redut anti-aircraft missile systems. They will be equipped with two CM-588 torpedo tubes and a landing area with a hangar for two Ka-27 or Ka-32 helicopters. It is assumed that the new destroyers will become a universal combat platform that will combine the functions of the anti-submarine ships and the cruiser. According to Shoigu, at the initial stage the Russian Navy will receive eight destroyers, and they will be a significant improvement on the modernized Soviet cruisers, in both technical capability and combat power.

Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov undergoing sea trials for the Russian Navy.

The development of naval aviation has not been overlooked. As part of the 2018-2025 State Armament Program, up to Su-30SM aircraft, 10 combat helicopters, and two Il-38 aircraft will be supplied for the aviation needs of the Russian navy by the end of 2018.

Minister Shoigu says there is also a need for a serious renewal of amphibious ships, especially taking into account the ongoing participation of Russia in the Syrian conflict.

The Russian navy received 40 new military ships last year, including: 12 warships, 8 warfare craft, and 23 auxiliary vessels. Of these, 10 ships were built at the enterprises of United Shipbuilding Corpor­ation, Russia’s shipbuilding monopoly.

After a few delays, the lead ship of the “Admiral Gorshkov” Project is due to be commissioned in August 2018. According to Vladimir Tryapichnikov, head of the shipbuilding department of the Russian Navy, a requirement for 20-30 such ships has been set. The plan is to fully replace the older Project 956 Sovremenny-Class destroyers and Burevestnik-Class frigates in four Russian fleets.

The adoption of a new naval doctrine means Russia plans to pay more attention for the development of its Navy in years to come. This is especially important for the country, taking into account a recent strengthening of a navy potential of its major geopolitical rivals and the persisting threat of a conflict in the Middle East.

Eugene Gerden is a FrontLine correspondent who specializes in military and defence topics.