October 02, 2008

What is the future for Russia's submarine fleet?

18:43 | 01/ 10/ 2008

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Dmitry Medvedev's remarks that Russia is resuming production of nuclear submarines for its Navy have been widely commented on.

The country's submarine fleet is in critical condition and calls for renewal. The president's words raise hopes for an early change.

Submarines play a special role in Russia's Navy. In the late 1950s, following the death of Josef Stalin, the new Soviet leaders opted for a nuclear missile equipped submarine fleet, and now it forms the core of the Navy's might. A drastic cut in the number of warships coupled with the freezing of construction of new units (only ship construction projects already started were completed) has led to a situation where Russia's submarine fleet is now facing the retirement of many vessels due to age. The construction of new submarines, which has resumed in recent years, is, unfortunately, outpaced by the decommission rate of outdated vessels.

Medvedev made special mention of nuclear-powered submarines equipped with cruise missiles plus multi-role submarines. These classes of boats have suffered the heaviest cuts in the previous years, and while Project 955 submarines are now being built for strategic forces, the situation with cruise-missile and multi-role submarines is more disquieting.

Although Project 885 cruise-missile submarines (the first of them was named Severodvinsk) and later between one and three sister ships (according to various sources) began to be built, so far not even the first one has joined the Navy. Many reasons are cited, including one that the design was raw and needed updating when construction began. The fact, however, is that no submarine is yet commissioned, and eight Project 949A submarines, built in the 1980s-1990s, make up the force intended to confront aircraft carriers. These are excellent vessels, loved by their crews and boast high performance characteristics, but they are all slowly aging.

The situation with multi-role submarines is even worse. No new vessels designed to engage hostile submarines, surface ships and to hit shore-based targets with strategic cruise missiles are under construction. At the moment, the Navy has 19 boats of this class, of three projects: 671RTMK (four units), 945(945A) (three units), and 971 (twelve units). Most of these submarines were built in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. They can still be considered modern, but the end of their service life is not far off. Some of the shipbuilding design bureaus are known to be developing new multi-role projects, but specifics about dates and specifications are not reported.

How many cruise-missile and multi-role submarines does the Russian Navy need? Estimates vary, but the figure of 30 to 40 non-strategic submarines is considered optimal. At least 20 non-strategic nuclear submarines need to be constructed to maintain the strength of the submarine branch at the required level, considering that about half of the 27 cruise-missile and multi-role submarines currently in service will retire after reaching the end of their service lives.

In theory, such rates are not too demanding - Russia has several shipyards that can build submarines - Sevmash, Admiralty Wharves, Komsomolsk and even Red Sormovo, which has the necessary experience. The real problems lie elsewhere: in cooperating enterprises and, most important of all, in personnel, whose numbers and training quality have been drastically reduced. It is to be hoped that all these problems will be solved, and soon.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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