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Russian Navy

During the Cold War the Soviet Union embarked on a naval construction program which, at least at its inception, was apparently designed as a defensive force. At the same time, the security and naval policies of the United States and the Soviet Union were totally different. During the Cold War era the Soviet Navy never sought full parity with US naval forces. Although a superpower, the Soviet Union was never a peer competitor of the United States. Rather, it was [in the post-Cold War terminology] a near-peer asymmetric competitor. Rather than seeking to simply replicate the US Navy ship for ship, the Soviet Navy sought to offset perceived American naval capabilities by the development of appropriate response measures. The Soviet navy never embraced the American facination with carrier-based aviation, but fearing American aircraft-carriers it invested considerable resources in anti-shipping cruise missiles launched from submarines, surface ships and shore-based aircraft.

The Russian Navy has historically been a submarine Navy. There was a period in the 1970s and 1980's where Gorshov attempted to build a Blue Water Surface and Naval Air Capability. But it has returned to their roots - with front line nuclear submarines their essential Naval Force.

The primary missions of the naval forces are to provide strategic nuclear deterrence from the nuclear submarine fleet and to defend the sea-lanes approaching the Russian coast. In the post-Cold War era the Russian Navy is no longer interested in limiting American naval power in areas that do not affect Russian interests. The Russian Navy would be hard pressed to challenge Western command of the seas, and with the death of communist ideology and collapse of its overseas influence, there would appear little reason for attempting such a challenge.

The Navy Day holiday on 26 July 1992 was the occasion for most warships of the ex-Soviet Navy to haul down the hammer-and-sickle naval ensign and replace it with the flag of St. Andrews, traditionally flown on Russian warships since 1699. At that time, Admiral Vladimir Chernavin, commander in chief of Russian naval forces, said that the Russian navy would be smaller than the Soviet navy, with old vessels to be retired and manpower reductions totaling 100,000 men to be effected by 1995. Between 1990 and 1995 Naval Forces personnel was cut by 50 percent (fleet aviation personnel by 60 percent).

The year 1996 marked the tercentennial of the Russian Navy. It was celebrated on 28 July 1996 in a show of the main naval parade of the Russian fleet. In addition to Russian ships representing all four fleets and the North-West Border Guard District, vessels from ten foreign states participated in the naval parade. As of 1996 the naval forces included about 200,000 sailors and marines, about 20 percent of whom were conscripts, and 500,000 reserves. There is no tradition of enlisted members staying in the Navy after their initial tour is over. Of the active-duty personnel, about 30,000 were in naval aviation and 24,000 in coastal defense forces.

According to the resolutions of the Security Council meeting of 11 August 2000, the major reform measures of the general purpose forces will be accomplished by 2006. By that time these forces will have over 800,000 servicemen, for a total reduction of 400,000 troops [possibly as soon as 2003]. The navy would be reduced by more than 50,000.

The naval forces include shore-based troops, naval aviation units, four fleets, and one flotilla. The shore-based forces and naval aviation forces are operationally subordinate to the fleets. The Northern Fleet is headquartered at Severomorsk, at the top of the Kola Peninsula near Murmansk, with additional home ports at Kola, Motovskiy, Gremikha, and Ura Guba. The Baltic Fleet is headquartered in Kaliningrad, where it controls naval bases at Kronshtadt and Baltiysk. Headquartered at Sevastopol', the Black Sea Fleet has an additional home port in Odessa. Pacific Fleet headquarters is in Vladivostok, with additional home ports in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Magadan, and Sovetskaya Gavan'. Each of the Fleets is in turn organized into a variety of subsidiary units.

In the mid-1990s, Russia's naval aviation force was almost entirely shore based, after having achieved substantial sea-based strike capability in the Soviet era. In 1996 only the steam-powered aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, assigned to the Northern Fleet, conducted active flight operations at sea. Two new nuclear-powered carriers were scrapped before completion, indicating abandonment of that program, and older aircraft-carrying cruisers were sold to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) for scrap.

Each of Russia's four fleets has a subordinate, land-based naval air force. The Caspian Flotilla has no naval air arm. The naval shore-based troops consist of naval infantry and coastal defense forces. The naval infantry forces include one infantry division subordinate to the Pacific Fleet and four naval infantry brigades--one in the Baltic Fleet, one in the Black Sea Fleet, and two in the Northern Fleet. The coastal defense forces are a combination of infantry regiments, brigades, and divisions with air defense missile regiments. Amphibious landings are a low priority; according to intelligence estimates, only 2,500 marines and 100 tanks could be put ashore by Russia's thirteen amphibious ships.

Like the rest of the Russian armed forces, the Navy is facing severe financial constraints which affect procurement, readiness, manning and morale. To manage the impact of its resource problems, the Russian Navy, in the early 1990’s, made a series of hard choices aimed at preserving its core submarine force capabilities. These included early retirements of older and less capable units, strict controls on operating tempo, and focused maintenance on its best units.

By the early 1990s the Russian Navy appeared unable to deploy more than a few ships. According to a Russian source, in 1996 most ships were at a relatively low readiness level, with most units remaining close to home port. The Russian submarine force has been investing in its tactical and operational development by conducting demanding anti-SSBN and anti-Surface deployments near the US and allied nations. According to one intelligence estimate, more than half of the 1996 fleet was capable of moving undetected into Western sea-lanes. By the late 1990s, however, the annual "West" excercise series involved up to 50,000 troops from five military districts and three naval fleets. The West'99 exercise conducted in June 1999 involved more than 30 ships, four submarines, and the nuclear-powered Kirov, as well as Russian air force and navy aircraft capable of launching air-to-air and air-to-ground cruise missiles. A similar array of forces was deployed for the West'00 excercise conducted in August 2000 [during which the submarine Kursk was lost].

During the period between 1990 and 1995 the number of ships declined by 50 percent, and fleet aircraft by 66 percent. As of December 1998 the Russian Navy had taken 170 nuclear-powered submarines out of operation, but 130 had not been dismantled and between 110 and 115 still have operating nuclear reactors on board. As of 1997 it was estimated that the Navy was losing thirteen to fifteen ships each month.

The Russian Navy continues modest investments in new construction, though some pessimists have speculated that by 2000 the reduction in Russia's shipbuilding capacity could become irreversible. In 1996 the nuclear-powered cruiser Petr Velikiy (Peter the Great) was launched at St. Petersburg after eight years under construction; assigned to the Pacific Fleet, the 28,000-ton vessel is armed with guided missiles believed to be designed to destroy enemy aircraft carriers. Experts rated the Petr Velikiy the most powerful cruiser in the world. In recent years the Russian Navy has also completed several new submarines of the third generation OSCAR SSGN and AKULA SSN classes.

In mid-1996 the Navy scheduled four submarines for production, including one upgraded addition to its existing fleet of Akula-class vessels and three of the new Severodvinsk class, which were expected to go into service in 2000. The Severodvinsk is a state-of-the art submarine that allegedly is so quiet that it eliminates the United States technical lead in this area, and it is armed with the new 650mm Shkval rocket that travels at 200 knots underwater. In recent years, it has also begun construction of its fourth generation LADA SS and BOREY SSBN class submarines.

The Soviet Navy lost at least five submarines during the Cold War, with another being scuttled at sea following a reactor accident. Since the end of the Cold War, the Russian Navy has lost one submarine.

In 1997 Rear Admiral Valery Aleksin of the Russian Navy suggested that Russia needed a Navy of 300-320 modern combat ships, about one-third the size of the Navy in 1990. He suggested that this should consist of 20 SSBNs in the North and Pacific Fleets (one-third of the 1990 force), of which 12-15 should be ready for action. He also called for a force of at least 70 SSNs and up to 40 modern conventionally powered submarines. An unspecified number of large aircraft carriers [though more than one] would each carry some 50 air-defense fighters and 10 antisubmarine aircraft. The surface force would consist of 10-12 guided-missile cruisers, 35-40 guided-missile destroyers, and 40-50 guided-missile frigates. To these forces he would add s 30-40 amphibious ships, at least 60 ready missile boats and 70 mine sweepers. [Russia Needs a Strong Navy]

However, Rear Admiral Aleksin observed that
"If we cannot restore finances, material resources, fuel, and shipyards, in the early 21st century we will have no more than 6-8 ready SSBNs.... We also will be reduced to 20-25 relatively modern multipurpose SSNs and about 10 conventional SSs. For ready surface ships, we will have no more than 1 aircraft carrier, 2-3 guided-missile cruisers, 7-10 guided-missile destroyers, 10-12 guided-missile frigates, and 30 mine sweepers and 30-40 guided-missile boats." [Russia Needs a Strong Navy]

In 1998, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov outlined Russia's force level goals as follows:
"To balance out the development of all arms of service, the minimum strength of the Navy will include 14 or 15 strategic missile submarines, 50 to 55 multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines, 40 diesel submarines, 40 to 45 ocean zone surface warships, 130 to 140 surface warships of other classes, up to 60 minesweepers, 600 warplanes, and 300 combat helicopters of various purposes." [RUSSIA'S NAVAL STRATEGY]

Russia’s continuing investment in its submarine force, even in this period of great austerity, is not particularly surprising. Much of Russia’s international status springs from the viability of its remaining strategic nuclear weapons. Under START II, if implemented , more than half of Russia’s strategic weapons may reside aboard SSBNs. Thus, by their inherent strategic value, the SSBNs, and their supporting general purpose forces (SSs, SSNs and SSGNs), remain at the vital center of Russian defense planning and national security.


In July 1999 the chief of the Main Navy headquarters, Admiral Victor Kravchenko, commented on the future of the fleet. Evaluating prospects for the Russian Navy development over the coming decade, he noted that the government of Russian Federation had established the federal purpose-oriented program "World Ocean". The program provides for the vigorous activity of Russia in the world ocean, which in combination with stable economic development of the country will allow to increase "political stability and defensive capability of Russia at sea and ocean directions". Fulfillment of the goals of this program will permit, even under conditions of limited financing, definition in the period till 2002 of priorities for development of the Navy for next 5-10 years. The second stage - from 2003 to 2007 - will focus on the stabilization of the Navy's ability to protect interests and safety of Russia in the adjoining areas of the world ocean. And at the third stage - after 2007 - will focus on a mass re-equipment and the creation of a "basically new" fleet.

Sources and Resources

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