October 29, 2010 saw the launch of the Admiral Sergei Gorshkov class frigate, the lead ship of the Navy's Project 22350 class. This is the first large Russian surface warship designed and launched since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia's naval ship-building program is gradually gaining momentum. The keels of numerous warships and submarines have already been laid, and many other ships are in the design phase. Taken together, this gives us a peek into the future of the Russian Navy for the next 10, 15 and even 20 years.
So, what will it look like?
Before I get to specific warships and submarines, I should note the current trend of naval development is completely different than the trend 30-35 years ago.
What we are seeing is maximum standardization in warship and submarine designs. They all begin with a few base platforms, and from there standard equipment is added depending on the function of the warship.
This same goes for the submarine fleet. The pressure hulls of new strategic ballistic-missile submarines and attack submarines are assembled using standardized sections.
The submarines have standard propulsion units, as well as similar sonars and radio-electronic equipment. Essentially, they differ only in terms of their main armament.
Strategic ballistic-missile submarines are equipped with silos which will house RSM-56 SS-NX-32 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), while attack submarines will feature multi-purpose launchers for various types of cruise missiles.
The warships currently being developed also use standardized propulsion units, launchers, radio-electronic equipment, etc.
The Soviet Union had realized the need for standardization by the early 1980s. At the time, its vast navy was a motley assortment of warships and submarines with limited production runs and drastically different armament and equipment.
This made it extremely difficult to service, repair and resupply warships and submarines and to train their crews. Standardized warships, which began to be developed in the 1980s, were expected to help overhaul the navy by the mid 1990s and early 2000s. However, these plans were not realized for obvious reasons.
Russia had inherited a scaled-down version of the Soviet navy, which was hard to service and even harder to adapt to meet new challenges. The government worked to upgrade the navy throughout the 2000s.
The submarine fleet is the backbone of the navy
Analysts and high-ranking Defense Ministry officials believe that the submarine fleet is still the backbone of the Russian Navy, and that it will continue to play this role in the future.
Most important are the strategic nuclear forces accounting for 700-750 out of the 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads, which Russia plans to keep until the late 2010s.
Barring experimental submarines and special-purpose submarines, which are traditionally veiled in secrecy, the Russian Navy will continue to receive two types of nuclear-powered submarines and two types of diesel-electric submarines in the next few years. The latter are more frequently called non-nuclear submarines featuring next-generation propulsion units.
Eight Project 955 Borei class ballistic-missile submarines will form the foundation of the navy's strategic nuclear forces. The first submarine is currently being tested, three more are under construction, and the keels of four other submarines are to be laid in the next five to six years.
The success of this project depends on the prompt completion of Bulava missile tests and the missile's subsequent adoption. This is a priority of the government. Hopefully, the various design problems will be solved soon.
In the next few decades, the navy will operate Project 885 Yasen (Graney class) attack submarines. The lead submarine, the Severodvinsk, was launched in the summer of 2010.
These heavily armed and extremely costly submarines are expected to replace 15 Project 671 Victor class, Project 945 Sierra I class and Project 949-A Oscar II submarines dating back to the Soviet period in the course of the next 15 years.
They are to replace the 12 aging Project 971 Akula class submarines after 2025.
One Project 885 submarine is currently being built. The keels of another six submarines are to be laid in the next six to seven years. In all, 10 to 12 Yasen submarines are to be constructed by 2025.
The expensive Project 885 submarines are frequently derided as a luxury in the media, and Moscow is encouraged to follow the example of the United States.
In effect, Washington has scrapped the ambitious SSN-21 Sea Wolf attack submarine program, designed as a response to the Soviet Akula class submarines, because of its prohibitive costs. Instead, the U.S. Navy has started building the much smaller Virginia class submarines.
Moscow clearly thinks that it would be too risky and expensive to design a new submarine now. Consequently, new Yasen submarines will be built, and operational ones upgraded.
The Russian Navy had problems developing the new Project 677 Lada diesel-electric submarines, whereas Project 877 Paltus (Kilo class) submarines continued to age rapidly. As a result, the Navy had to order upgraded Project 636-M (Kilo class) submarines once again. In August 2010, the keel of a lead Project 636-M submarine was laid for the Black Sea Fleet.
Over the next decade, the Navy will replace obsolete Paltus submarines with improved models, while continuing to upgrade the Lada submarine. The Navy is to operate four to five Ladas, as well as 9-12 upgraded and 5-6 obsolete Paltus submarines.
Renovating the warship fleet
The Russian Navy is in critical condition. Nowhere is this truer than in its warship fleet.
The Russian warship fleet has become obsolete and needs to be completely replaced because it did not receive even the meager replacements and allocations given to the submarine fleet in the past 20 years.
The Defense Ministry has shown a preference for the cautious but probably correct strategy of renovating the warship fleet from the bottom up. This involves the construction of small and relatively cheap warships, which will eventually be followed by larger, more sophisticated and expensive ships.
A Project 20380 Steregushchy class corvette is the first production warship to enter service with an overhauled Navy. The lead ship has already been commissioned. One more has been launched, and three more are under construction.
Moreover, construction has begun on ocean-going warships, namely, Project 22350 Admiral Sergei Gorshkov frigates.
These are the first post-Soviet capital warships. Once this ship-building program got underway, it became obvious that these sophisticated and expensive ships would delay the fleet's renovation.
Consequently, it was decided to expedite the process and to begin construction on the Project 11356 Talwar class frigates, which are on a par with the new warships. Russia has already built several such ships for the Indian Navy.
These frigates should have the same interchangeable components - including equipment and main weapons systems - as next-generation warships. Eight next-generation frigates, as well as the same number of Project 11356 warships, are to be commissioned in the next ten years.
The Russian Navy is to receive 30 frigates and 30 corvettes in the next 20 years.
Frigates will be followed by even larger warships. It is no secret that Russia has almost finished designing a next-generation destroyer, with a displacement of 10,000 metric tons. The new warship is to be equipped with standard launchers, a standard information-and-control system and other interchangeable equipment.
Corvettes, frigates and next-generation destroyers will form the backbone of the Navy's warship fleet in the next 20-30 years.
Without these new ships, it would be pointless to buy French-made Mistral class amphibious assault ships, to build them in Russia, to overhaul and refit the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and to build other aircraft carriers.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.