Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Russian Pacific Fleet Submarine Force: It Could Be Worse

Oscar II submarine "Omsk" returns to Rybachiy Submarine Base
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)

The Western Military District issued a gushing press release today in which it reported that the Russian Navy Northern Fleet (no longer part of the Western Military District as of December 1, 2014) had won 13 of the 24 Russian Navy CINC trophies awarded this year. Singled out in the press release were three submarine commanding officers: Captain 1st Rank Dmitriy Ivanov (Sierra II-class nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine "Nizhniy Novgorod"), Captain 2nd Rank Denis Semyanskikh (Delta IV-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Yekaterinburg" - his crew was on "Tula" for the May 2014 launch of a single SS-N-23/Skiff ballistic missile), and Captain 2nd Rank Sergey Pirozhenko (Kilo-class diesel submarine "Kaluga").

One might think that the Pacific Fleet, which hosted this year's operational-strategic exercise VOSTOK, would have surpassed all other fleets or at least tied for first place. When your fleet's in poor shape, however, it's hard to win many.

Looking at just the Pacific Fleet's operational nuclear submarine force, there are only two Delta III-class ballistic missile submarines and two Oscar II-class cruise missile submarines capable of performing their wartime missions. The fleet has no operational Akula I-class fast-attack submarines. So, where are the rest?

  • Delta III: Both "Podolsk" and "Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets" turned 35 years old this year. These two have served well past their design service lives because Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines "Aleksandr Nevskiy" and "Vladimir Monomakh" failed to transfer - in 2014, 2013, 2012, etc. - to the Pacific Fleet despite the many proclamations by defense minister Sergey Shoygu, his predecessor, and all of their subordinates. Will Delta III "Ryazan" ever return from long-term maintenance? After transferring from the Northern Fleet to the Pacific Fleet in 2008, "Ryazan" only served three years before heading to Zvezda Far East Shipyard (Bolshoy Kamen) in 2011 for repairs. The submarine has been there so long the MOD had to sign a second contract in 2013 to cover the repairs that should have been completed under the first contract.

  • Oscar II: "Omsk" and "Tver" are the fleet's only two operational General Purpose Force nuclear-powered submarines, and both of them won trophies this year. "Omsk" just returned from somewhere in the past few days as suggested by a MOD tweet today. "Krasnoyarsk" is being scrapped. "Irkutsk" is at Zvezda Far East Shipyard undergoing upgrades to carry the Kalibr-family of missiles. It won't return to service until at least December 2017. "Chelyabinsk" was just delivered to Zvezda Far East Shipyard this year, and no major components have been ordered for its Kalibr upgrade. Finally, "Tomsk" transferred to Zvezda Far East Shipyard in 2008 for a simple service life extension repair period, but it has yet to return to operational service.

  • Akula I: "Akula" and "Barnaul" have been scrapped. "Kashalot" has been stuck at Amur Shipyard since 2003; its fate is unknown. "Bratsk" and "Samara" were ferried on board the Dutch-flagged heavy-lift ship "Transshelf" this summer from Rybachiy to Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center (Severodvinsk) for Kalibr upgrades. "Kuzbass" and "Magadan" have been at Zvezda Far East Shipyard since at least 2009 and 2012, respectively; their fates also remain unclear.
In other words, of the 13 nuclear-powered submarines still on the Pacific Fleet's books, only ~31% are operational.

You can't win a soccer match if you don't have enough players on the field.