Saturday, March 7, 2015

'The Diplomat' Assessment of Russia's Pacific Fleet Needs Re-Work

Franz-Stefan Gady's article on the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet would have been forgettable were it not for the fact that RIA Novosti picked it up three days later. So, let's review Gady's statements:

"In the last two years, Russia’s second-biggest fleet, the Pacific Fleet, has been receiving new ships for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2013 the fleet obtained a new Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), and is expecting five more over the next decade. The fleet has furthermore received one Dyugon-class landing craft in 2014."

-- Between December 25, 1991 (which many consider to be the end of the Soviet Union), and now, at least 16 new-construction submarines, surface combatants, and landing craft joined the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet.

  • Dolgorukiy nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (x2)
  • Grachonok landing craft (x3)
  • Grisha V light frigate (x1)
  • Nanuchka III patrol combatant (x1)
  • Ondatra landing craft (x1)
  • Serna landing craft (x1)
  • Tarantul III patrol combatant (x6)
  • Udaloy I destroyer (x1)

"Another Borei-class SSBN, the Vladimir Monomakh, is expected to enter the service of the Pacific Fleet this year. Its sister ship, the Borei-class SSBN Alexander Nevsky, recently conducted a successful single test-launch of the Bulava inter-continental ballistic missile in the Kamchatka Peninsula."

-- Using Gady's argument that "Aleksandr Nevskiy" is already part of the Pacific Fleet, "Vladimir Monomakh" has been part of the Pacific Fleet since it was commissioned on December 19, 2014.

-- SLBMs are not launched "in the Kamchatka Peninsula." They are launched from a body of water towards an impact range. In this case, the Bulava was launched in Sep 2014 from a submerged location in the White Sea towards the Kura Range on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

"The Pacific Fleet is also expecting two Steregushchy-class corvettes, multipurpose ships for littoral zone operations, in 2015."

-- Wrong. Based on published contract information, only one Steregushchiy frigate ("Sovershennyy") is currently scheduled to be transferred in fall 2015 from Amur Shipyard to the Vladivostok area for outfitting. While factory sea trials and state testing are scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year, there is no guarantee the frigate will join the Pacific Fleet by the end of 2015.

"The first of six Yasen-class multi-purpose attack nuclear submarines (SSGN) projected to enter service in the Far East over the next ten years will join the Pacific Fleet in 2017 at the earliest."

-- Not likely. The first Severodvinsk unit will stay in the Northern Fleet for the foreseeable future. Hull sections for the second unit ("Kazan") will be mated sometime this year, with a launch possible in 2016 and delivery possible in 2017. Given that it is the first modernized Severodvinsk, it, too, probably will stay in the Northern Fleet for some time. Although no one has specified which Severodvinsk submarines will join the Pacific Fleet, the first unit that likely will join that fleet is "Novosibirsk", which was laid down in July 2013. But unless the shipyard's construction pace picks up, that unit probably will not launch earlier than 2017 and will not be delivered earlier than 2018.

"The surface fleet includes one heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser...three guided missile destroyers..."

-- Kirov-class nuclear powered cruiser "Admiral Lazarev" has been in mothball status for at least 15 years. Despite having undergone minor dock work last year - limited to repainting the hull and verifying the ship could remain afloat for a few more years before being scrapped, the 30-year-old cruiser is not likely to undergo an overhaul or upgrade. Also, it's unclear which Sovremennyy destroyers Gady includes in his calculations.

"The only SSBN operational is the new Borei-class Alexander Nevsky."

-- Yes, if you don't count the two operational Delta III SSBNs "Podolsk" (which launched an SS-N-18 SLBM in May 2014) and "Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets" (which returned from a patrol in December 2014), and, of course, a second Dolgorukiy (“Vladimir Monomakh"). If you apply Gady's logic that "Admiral Lazarev" should be included as part of the Pacific Fleet order-of-battle, then we should add Delta III ("Ryazan"), which is undergoing long-term repairs at Zvezda Far East Shipyard and could return to service in 2016, thus making it closer to operational status that "Admiral Lazarev".

"...the main task for the Pacific Fleet in 2015 will be to maintain complete control of the Northern Sea Route..."

-- The Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command, established on December 1, 2014, has this mission, not the Pacific Fleet, which would only support the Northern Fleet as required. Besides, with the limited numbers of operational combatants, the ability of the Russian Pacific Fleet "to maintain complete control of the Northern Sea Route" is, likewise, limited.

"However, in 2015 we will see very little change in Russia’s maritime posture in the region."

-- Concur.