Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Shipbuilding constraints drive downsized but potent Russian Navy

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Russia Resurgent Topic Week

By Dmitry Gorenburg

Official announcements related to naval shipbuilding give the appearance of a Russian Navy that is undergoing a rapid revival. However, the reality is that many projects have faced lengthy delays and cost overruns. As a result, some of the most prominent naval procurement projects have been scaled back, while others have been postponed for years at a time. The delays and cost overruns are the result of a long-term decline in naval research and development, an inability to modernize the shipbuilding industry made worse by Western sanctions, and pre-existing budgetary constraints that have been exacerbated in recent years by Russia’s economic downturn. However, the Russian Navy has developed a strategy that compensates for these gaps by utilizing its strength in submarines and cruise missile technology to fulfill key maritime missions such as homeland defense and power projection in the face of a failure to build an adequate number of large combat ships.

An obsolete industry

Russia’s current shipbuilding industry was primarily formed in the 1960s and 1970s, and its ship design capabilities have changed little since the early 1980s. As a result, Russian naval R&D has fallen several decades behind both Western and Asian capabilities in this sphere. Most Russian ship designs are less energy-efficient and more difficult to operate and maintain than comparable Western designs. Because of the lack of investment in modern technology, Russian design bureaus have been unable to transition to three-dimensional digital design, a process that was largely completed in Western shipbuilding in the 1990s. Lack of investment has also delayed the transition to assembly of hulls from large sections, a process that took place in the early 2000s in other countries’ shipyards.

Russian leaders recognized these problems in the late 2000s and sought to absorb Western knowledge through joint projects in both military and civilian shipbuilding. However, the freezing of military cooperation with NATO states in 2014 as a result of the Ukraine crisis has largely foreclosed the possibility of catching up by borrowing Western know-how. Russian naval R&D is therefore likely to remain significantly behind when compared to the Western state of the art.

Although it has improved somewhat in recent years, Russia’s shipbuilding industry is considered to be particularly outdated and poorly structured when compared to other sectors of Russian defense industry. United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) is the least effective of all state corporations in Russia’s defense industry as a result of its excessive size, bloated management structures, and misguided efforts to combine military and civilian shipbuilding under a single corporate roof. Unlike the majority of shipyards in other countries, Russian shipyards function not just as assembly sites for ships but also manufacture many components and even machine tools used in shipbuilding. This makes the industry less efficient than its foreign counterparts. According to reports by Russian government officials in 2013, more than 70 percent of equipment at Russian shipyards was outdated and in need of replacement. Aged equipment has resulted in delays and cost overruns in the construction of naval ships designed along modern lines.

The impact of sanctions

Russian shipbuilding has suffered more than other defense industry sectors from the introduction of Western sanctions. The German company MTU has stopped supplying diesel engines for Project 20385 corvettes, leading the Russian Navy to delay production of the several ships model and revert to the older Project 20380 version, which uses less reliable domestically produced engines.

Ukraine has stopped supplying gas turbines for Russian ships, leading to significant delays in the production of Admiral Gorshkov and Admiral Grigorovich class frigates. According to the head of USC, efforts to substitute domestic gas turbines are currently under way, with a domestically produced sample turbine expected to be ready for testing no earlier than 2017. As a result of this shift to domestic production, only two Admiral Gorshkov and three Admiral Grigorovich class frigates will be commissioned before 2020. Other ships in both classes will be delayed by a minimum of three years.

Western sanctions have also resulted in major problems with the production of ship components, including electronics, sensors, pumps, and electric motors. Russian manufactured components are particularly lacking in the areas of navigation and communication equipment. Most of these components are not produced domestically in Russia, and the industry has long been dependent on imports from Europe for high quality components. Efforts to start domestic production are underway, but prices for domestic variants are relatively high while quality is relatively low. This situation has caused tension between USC and the Russian Navy. One option that is being actively considered is shifting to imports from China for some components.

Financial constraints

The State Armament Program (SAP) for 2011-2020 assigned five trillion rubles, a quarter of the total program expenditure, to military shipbuilding. This amount was almost double the amount allocated to the ground forces and airborne forces combined. At the same time, it has been shown that this level of expenditure was beyond the means of the Russian government even prior to the budget crisis that began in 2014. While the percentage of Russian GDP devoted to military spending increased from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 3.4 percent in 2014, that level of spending was still sustainable for the Russian economy. However, SAP-2020 was backloaded, so that 70 percent of the expenditures were scheduled for the second half of the ten-year program. In the context of slowing economic growth even prior to the crisis that began in 2014, fulfilling these plans would have required Russian military spending to increase to levels of eight percent of GDP under the most realistic economic growth scenario, something that the economy could not support.

The economic crisis may result in further cuts to naval procurement. According to Russian analysts, fulfilling all currently announced naval procurement plans would require the amount of spending on military shipbuilding to increase to 6-7 trillion rubles for the next SAP. Initially, the military requested a total of 56 trillion rubles for new procurement for 2015-2025, though recognition of limits on the government’s financial resources resulted in cuts and a final request of 30 trillion rubles. Some reports suggested that even further cuts might be made, with the total program being potentially limited to only 14-15 trillion rubles. Furthermore, Russian media indicated that as a result of the unfavorable budget situation the next program may be postponed altogether.

The Russian Navy in a constrained resource environment

These financial constraints will result in Russia not being able to fulfill its goal of recapitalizing its navy with a new generation of large combat ships. Russia is unlikely to complete any new destroyers in the next ten years and will be able to complete only a small number of new frigates. At the same time, its legacy Soviet-era large combat ships will become less reliable as they age. The extent to which the Russian Navy can successfully modernize these ships will determine its ability to continue out-of-area deployments in numbers and frequency comparable to present-day rates – i.e. task groups of 2-5 ships – until the next generation of destroyers is ready in the late 2020s. If modernization programs are fulfilled only partially or not at all, by 2025 the Russian Navy will have few if any large combat ships capable of deploying regularly outside their bases’ immediate vicinity.

The Russian Navy will seek to ameliorate these limitations by focusing on developing its already formidable cruise missile strike capability. Post-Soviet innovations in precision-guided munitions, specifically tactical missile systems, are at the heart of Russia’s naval modernization. Moscow regards these systems – universal VLS armed with the latest anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles – as potent force multipliers capable of offsetting Russian shortfalls in both the numbers and quality of ships in its fleets.

Their advent has allowed the Russian Navy to create true multi-mission platforms, capable of providing combat-credible force across several warfare areas. This innovation will allow Russia to substitute its diminishing number of large combatants with smaller ships that have limited suitability for expeditionary, blue water operations, but can nonetheless support defense and deterrence goals from seas adjacent to Russia’s littoral spaces. This focus will be combined with limited power projection based primarily on submarine that will be armed with similar cruise missiles.

Together, the combination of 30-40 small combat ships (frigates and corvettes) and 15-20 nuclear and diesel powered submarines – all armed with cruise missiles – will allow the Russian Navy to maintain its ability to protect its coastline and to threaten neighboring states. While it will not be able to project power globally, Russia’s naval capabilities will be sufficient to achieve its main maritime goals.

Dmitry Gorenburg is a senior research scientist in the Strategic Studies division of CNA, a not-for-profit research and analysis organization, where he has worked since 2000. He holds a Ph.D in political science from Harvard University and a B.A. in international relations from Princeton University. He blogs on issues related to the Russian military at

The Development of Russian Naval Capabilities after the Cold War

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Russia Resurgent Topic Week

By Patrick Truffer

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a weakening of the former Soviet Armed Forces. It was not until after the turn of the millennium that Russia directed its efforts towards qualitative rearmament and simultaneously shifted its focus to strategic systems with the associated lowering of the threshold regarding the use of nuclear weapons.[i] This new focus concentrated on land and air forces, and was necessarily not applied in full to the Russian Federation Navy (RFN), even if an article by Ben Hernandez warned that the RFN would be similarly developed.[ii] This essay poses questions based on these findings: to what extent have the capabilities of the RFN changed since the end of the Cold War? Can a trend towards a weakening of conventional and a strengthening of the strategic components be identified?

When the Russian armed forces were officially established on 7 May 1992, the RFN was in quantitative terms a navy of rank II (see “Notes: Classification of the capabilities of marine power” further below). The economic problems of Russia, which lasted until the early years of the 21st century, resulted in the maintenance and modernization of the ex-Soviet military systems playing only a subordinate role. Financial spending for the Red Army had previously accounted for at least 15% of GDP, but between 1992 and 1997 expenditure fell to no more than 5%, despite the 50% drop in GDP during the same period. Spending was further reduced to 2.9% in 1998 during the Ruble crisis, increasing only from 1999. The financial resources available to the Russian armed forces until 1999 barely sufficed for operating costs. Important new acquisitions were not possible, as can be seen in the development of the armed forces during the consolidation period which lasted until after 1999, when out-dated, surplus Soviet systems were scrapped.[iii] The consolidation phase was particularly punishing for the RFN which lost four of its original five aircraft carriers within the four year period – only the conventionally powered Admiral Kuznetsov is still operational today.[iv] By the turn of the millennium, the strategic and tactical submarines, minelayers and minesweepers as well as amphibious capabilities had been drastically reduced in number.[v] In addition, Russia withdrew from almost all its foreign bases – Tartus in Syria remained as the last Russian naval base outside of Russian territory.[vi]

The potential of the RFN and its suppliers of defence technology deteriorated not only in terms of quantity but also of quality. At present, only about a quarter of the fleet has ocean-going capacity, and the abandonment of armaments projects as well as a shortage of new vessels since the turn of the millennium have reduced the RFN to a navy of rank III.[vii] The RFN is capable, although with considerable effort, of projecting power at a global level. However, a major operation would only be possible within a limited arena and for a limited period.[viii] The problems the RFN has in maintaining its Mediterranean task force, which consist of between 10 and 12 vessels, indicate that a sustained operation would have less success.[ix]

Financial constraints in the defence industry have led to the unravelling of the production chain and to a loss of know-how, complicated by the fact that former Soviet production sites were often located outside of Russia. Russian aircraft carriers, for example, were built in Mykolaiv in Ukraine.[x] Due to these factors and combined with a lack of investment in new industrial capabilities and technologies, Russia must in part rebuild its industrial military technology from the ground up.[xi] The modernisation of the Russian armaments industry made only slow progress till 2010, due for the most part to inefficient and corrupt state-funded structures. In spite of this, three new strategic nuclear-powered submarines of the Borei-class have successfully been put into service since 2008. Together with a further five, they will replace Russia’s remaining strategic Delta- and Typhoon-class submarines by 2020 and compose the future maritime component of the nuclear triad. The strategic submarines serve as a carrier system for up to 16 of the currently not yet fully operational Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).[xii] The Borei-class is in part Soviet technology because the relevant planning phase began during the Cold War.[xiii] After successful implementation, this will reduce the strategic submarine fleet from the Cold War levels of 55 units (covering six classes) and 832 nuclear-capable ICBMs (five types) to 8-10 Borei-class submarines with altogether 128-160 nuclear-capable ICBMs of a single type armed with one nuclear warhead each. The strategic maritime component of Russia will thereby be quantitatively modest compared to that of the USA which, from 2018 and taking into account the New START agreement, will have 12 Ohio-class submarines, each with 20 Trident D-5 ICBMs, each of which theoretically capable of carrying up to 14 nuclear warheads.[xiv] Regarding the quantity of the carrier systems, Russia is still superior to those of the UK (four Vanguard-class submarines, each with 16 Trident D-5 ICBMs, capable of carrying three nuclear warheads each) and France (four Le Triomphant-class submarines, each with 16 ICBMs equipped with six nuclear warheads per missile).[xv] Despite significant quantitative disarmament, which in turn has reduced pressure on the military budget, Russia has been able to ensure the capabilities of the maritime component of its nuclear triad.

Military Statistics – Russian Armed Forces – Nov 2015 

Optimistic estimates of the development periods for new, possibly nuclear-powered aircraft carriers arrive at 15-20 years.[xvi] This is the most fundamental of several preconditions required for a return to the rank of a Major Global Force Projection navy (if only “partial”). In addition, every deployed aircraft carrier requires further vessels. When the Admiral Kuznetsov passed through the English Channel in January 2014, the Russian carrier battle group consisted of a further five cruisers, destroyers and frigates as escort vessels.[xvii] Thus to an aircraft carrier, enough suitable escorts and the necessary logistics required for sustained operations must be available for deployment. The Russian shipbuilding industry currently seems almost incapable of successfully implementing this mammoth project within the prescribed time, because the problems, massive cost overruns and time delays in the conversion commissioned by the Indian Navy of the Kiev-class aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov into the INS Vikramaditya generate little confidence in the capabilities of Russian shipyards.[xviii]

Despite these changes required, the conventional sector appears to have made progress. For example, modernisation work began in 2007 on the Oscar-class submarines (each with 24 P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missiles) which are still in operation and for the most part date back to the 1980s. In addition, at the end of 2013 a new tactical, nuclear-powered Yasen-class submarine entered service.[xix] However, this was not a new development; as with the Borei-class, the planning phase dates back to the Soviet era. Construction was delayed by years, partly due to financial restrictions and partly due to the priority given to the Borei-class. Four more Yasen-class submarines are to follow in the medium- to long-term. With Russias diesel-electric powered attack submarines, the Kilo-class fleet has been partly modernised and increased to 20 units. The first submarine in the subsequent Lada-class, whose drive system possibly will be air-independent and significantly quieter, has been operational since 2010 and two more are to follow by 2020.[xx] Two heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser (Kirov-class) from the Soviet era are also being modernised.[xxi] There seems otherwise to be no new development in the field of cruisers. The outlook is more positive with frigates: The multi-role Admiral Gorshkov-class (1 being tested, 3 under construction and a total of 5-6 operational by 2020) and the guided-missile Admiral Grigorovich-class (5 in construction, 6 planned) are new Russian developments.[xxii] The Buyan-class (5 operational, 1 undergoing testing, 5 in construction and 1 planned) and the Steregushchy-class corvette[xxiii] (4 operational, 4 under construction and 18 planned by 2020) are also new Russian developments. Both corvette classes are primarily for the protection of coastal waters and, in the case of the Steregushchy-class with its operational flexibility, the 200-mile economic zone. Two of the successor model, Project 22160, which will have a greater level of self-sufficiency[xxiv], are already in production.[xxv]

The 20 obsolete landing craft which still exist on paper mean that the amphibious capabilities of the RFN are virtually non-existent. In the long term, Russia is planning to bridge this gap with the Ivan Gren-class, but although begun in 2004, the project is not yet fully functional. It was announced in July 2015 that only two of the six ships planned would be completed. In addition, the purchase of two French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships was cancelled by France because of tensions resulting from the annexation of the Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine. Russia is now planning to create a modern replacement with a project of its own (Avalanche), but as with all major maritime projects in Russia, doubts about its successful implementation pervade.[xxvi]


After the Cold War, the quantitative and qualitative potential of the RFN declined considerably. It is presently in the same league as the UK and the France Navy and could at the most carry out one major operation for a closely defined period in a specific location. This capability gap in global power projection will continue to exist in the long-term. In addition, the amphibious capabilities of the RFN are virtually non-existent, and here no long-term closing of the gap can be detected. The RFN is currently capable of policing the 200-mile economic zone and the coastal waters of the Russian regional space. At the strategic level, maritime component of the Russian nuclear triad with its Burei-class submarines and the Bulava ICBMs is capable of ensuring a presence, even after 2020. The number of simultaneously usable nuclear warheads, low in comparison to that of the USA, UK and France, is not the most significant factor. Despite the existing capability gaps and the efforts to continue to maintain the nuclear triad, the present analysis of the RFN capabilities does not reveal the kind of unilateral shift in focus towards the strategic component which can be detected in Russia’s land and air forces.

Patrick Truffer publishes the Swiss security policy blog He graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and is completing a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freien Universität Berlin.

[i]               Patrick Truffer, “Strategic rearmament of the Russian armed forces after end of the Cold War”,, February 01, 2015, part 1:, part 2:

[ii]              Ben Hernandez, “Is Russia’s Maritime Strategy Adrift?”, Medium, August 14, 2015,

[iii]             Mike Bowker and Cameron Ross, Russia After the Cold War, 1st edition (New York: Routledge, 2000), 230ff; Patrick Truffer, “Statistics – Russian Armed Forces”, November 2015,

[iv]             This craft class is not defined in Russia as a full-fledged aircraft carrier, but as a heavy-aircraft carrying cruiser. “New Russian ‘Storm’ Supercarrier Design Wows Chinese Media”, Sputnik, July, 11, 2015,

[v]              Truffer, “Statistics – Russian Armed Forces”.

[vi]             Felix F. Seidler, Maritime Herausforderungen der NATO, Analysen zur Sicherheitspolitik, Bd. 8 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2015), 62.

[vii]            Sean MacCormac, “The New Russian Naval Doctrine”, CIMSEC, September 3, 2015,

[viii]           Seidler, Maritime Herausforderungen der NATO, 61.

[ix]             Paul Pryce, “Russia’s Rusting Task Force”, CIMSEC, September 16, 2013,

[x]              Peter Dunai and Guy Anderson, “Russia commits to building Black Sea naval shipyards”, Jane’s Navy International 118:2 (March 2013): 49.

[xi]             Seidler, Maritime Herausforderungen der NATO, 63.

[xii]            “Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia”, The Military Balance 113 (2013): 204.

[xiii]           Construction began in 1996. The test phase planned for 2002 and the planned completion in 2006 were delayed by several years. “Russia”, The Military Balance 108 (2008): 223, “Russia”, The Military Balance 106 (2006): 164.

[xiv]           Under the New START, the number of nuclear warheads for all delivery systems altogether is restricted to 1,550. U.S. Departement of Defense, “Fact Sheet on US Nuclear Force Structure under the New START Treaty”, April 08, 2014.

[xv]            UK Government, “Fact Sheet 10: Trident Value for Money Review”, October 19, 2010; “Chapter Four: Europe”, The Military Balance 115, (2015): 91.

[xvi]           “New Russian ‘Storm’ Supercarrier Design Wows Chinese Media”.

[xvii]          “Russian Carrier Battle Group on its Way to the Mediterranean”, RIA Novosti, January 10, 2014,

[xviii]         “INS Vikramaditya: Indias New Carrier”, Defense Industry Daily, July 16, 2015,; Dmitry Gorenburg, “Russian naval capabilities and procurement plans”, Russian Military Reform, January 14, 2015,

[xix]           “Russia Commissions New Attack Submarine”, Sputnik, Dezember 13, 2013,

[xx]            “Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia”, The Military Balance 115 (2015): 187, 205.

[xxi]           “Russian Shipyard Sevmash Ordered New Equipment for Overhaul of Kirov Class Cruiser Nakhimov”, Navy Recognition,  January 06, 2015,

[xxii]          Gorenburg, “Russian naval capabilities and procurement plans”; “Baltic Shipyard Starts Work on New Fregatten for Russian Navy”, Sputnik, November 15, 2013,

[xxiii]         The Corvette appears in the “Military Balance” statistics only from 2009, and from 2011 it is classed among the frigates
(accordingly considered in Truffer, “Statistics – Russian Armed Forces”).

[xxiv]         An operational range of 6,000 miles and a continuous operating time of 60 days instead of 3,500 miles and 15 days for the Steregushchy class. John Pike, “Project 22160 Vasily Bykov Patrol Ship”,, May 02, 2014,

[xxv]          Gorenburg, “Russian naval capabilities and procurement plans”.

[xxvi]         “Russia Reduces Procurement of Ivan Gren Class Landing Ship to Focus on Mistral Analog Lavina”, Navy Recognition, July 10, 2015,

Notes: Classification of the capabilities of marine power[i]


Rank Designation Description These include:
I Major Global Force Projection Navy – Complete Can carry out all naval tasks globally, implementing several operations at the same time and establishing military supremacy worldwide. Includes aircraft carrier battle groups, nuclear-powered attack and strategic missile submarines, amphibious assault ships and a corresponding three-digit number of surface warships. USA
II Major Global Force Projection Navy – Partial Can participate globally in several locations simultaneously with sea denial forces of oceanic range, but only with limitations when it comes to creating military superiority distant from the national territory and for an extended period of time. Has limited access to aircraft carriers and/or amphibious assault ships, but remains dependent on on-shore bases for air support. Includes nuclear-powered attack and strategic missile submarines. The main burden is carried by a significant number of surface warships, in three-digit or high double-digit numbers. Currently no State
III Medium Global Force Projection Navy Can project power globally in multiple simultaneous operations, but can only successfully implement one major operation in one location at any specific time. Has few/individual aircraft carriers and/or amphibious assault vessels, nuclear-powered attack and strategic missile submarines and a two-digit number of surface warships capable of geographically limited naval patrols. Russia



Great Britain (almost)



IV Medium Regional Force Projection Navy Can project power on its own shores, but without being able to establish military superiority on a large scale. Compared to Ranks I to III has a smaller number of surface warships, and may have individual small aircraft carriers or amphibious assault vessels; rarely nuclear, usually conventionally powered attack submarines and land-based aircraft to support operations at sea. Germany








V Adjunct Force Projection Navies Can exert military power along their own coastline with surface vessels and possibly conventionally powered submarines. Sweden


VI Offshore Territorial Defence Navies With surface vessels and possibly conventionally powered submarines they have a credible capability to defend their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Chile
VII Inshore Territorial Defence Navies Can defend their coasts with surface vessels. Tunisia


VIII Constabulary Navies Can patrol their coastal waters with weakly armed surface vessels. Bangladesh
IX Token Navies These are navies operated by small states with minimal operational capacity, for example in the form of small patrol boats. Pacific island states

[i]               Classification according to Eric Grove, The Future of Sea Power (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press US, 1990), 236-240. From: Seidler, Maritime Herausforderungen der NATO, 49f, 349-355. I also wish to thank Felix for his additional explanations, suggestions and tips as well as for country examples.


“Baltic Shipyard Starts Work on New Frigate for Russian Navy”. Sputnik, November 15, 2013,

Bowker, Mike, und Cameron Ross. Russia After the Cold War. 1st edition. New York: Routledge, 2000.

“Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia”. The Military Balance 113, (2013): 199–244.

“Chapter Five: Russia and Eurasia”. The Military Balance 115, (2015): 159–206.

“Chapter Four: Europe”. The Military Balance 115, (2015): 57–158.

Dunai, Peter, and Guy Anderson. “Russia commits to building Black Sea naval shipyards”. Jane’s Navy International 118:2 (March 2013): 49.

Gorenburg, Dmitry. “Russian naval capabilities and procurement plans”. Russian Military Reform, January 14, 2015,

Grove, Eric. The Future of Sea Power. Annapolis, Md: US Naval Institute Press, 1990.

Hernandez, Ben. “Is Russia’s Maritime Strategy Adrift?” Medium, August 14, 2015,

“INS Vikramaditya: Indias New Carrier”. Defense Industry Daily, July 16, 2015,

MacCormac, Sean. “The New Russian Naval Doctrine”. CIMSEC, September 03, 2015,

“New Russian ‘Storm’ Supercarrier Design Wows Chinese Media”. Sputnik, July 11, 2015,

Pike, John. “Project 22160 Vasily Bykov Patrol Ship”., May 02, 2014,

Pryce, Paul. “Russia’s Rusting Task Force”. CIMSEC, September 16, 2013,

“Russia”. The Military Balance 106, (2006): 147–64.

“Russia”. The Military Balance 108, (2008): 205–24.

“Russia Commissions New Attack Submarine”. Sputnik, Dezember 30, 2013,

“Russia Reduces Procurement of Ivan Gren Class Landing Ship to Focus on Mistral Analog Lavina”. Navy Recognition, July 10, 2015.

“Russian Carrier Battle Group on its Way to the Mediterranean”. RIA Novosti, January 10, 2014,

“Russian Shipyard Sevmash Ordered New Equipment for Overhaul of Kirov Class Cruiser Nakhimov”. Navy Recognition, January 06, 2015,

Seidler, Felix F.. Maritime Herausforderungen der NATO. Analysen zur Sicherheitspolitik. Bd. 8. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2015.

Truffer, Patrick. “Statistics – Russian Armed Forces”, November 2015,

Truffer, Patrick. “Strategic rearmament of the Russian armed forces after end of the Cold War”, February 01, 2015, part 1:, part 2:

UK Government. “Fact Sheet 10: Trident Value for Money Review”, October 19, 2010.

U.S. Department of Defense. “Fact Sheet on US Nuclear Force Structure under the New START Treaty”, April 08, 2014.

The Russian Navy: Strategies and Missions of a Force in Transition

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Russia Resurgent Topic Week

By Michael Kofman

On October 7th, Russia’s Caspian Flotilla launched land attack cruise missiles into Syria, bringing into relief the steady modernization of the Russian Navy (RFN), and its recently added strike capabilities. Dominating the Caspian is not a difficult challenge for the Russian flotilla of Gepard-class frigates and Buyan-M corvettes, but the ability to launch cruise missiles at targets in Europe or the Middle East potentially over two thousand kilometers away is emblematic of the future Russian Navy. Together with the Northern, Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea Fleets, the RFN is a force in transition. Russia’s surface and submarine force today is quantitatively a fraction of the size of its Soviet ancestor, but it is undergoing revival, investment, and reconfiguration to become a qualitatively different force. Today’s Russian Navy is intended to pursue both traditional missions such as strategic deterrence and status projection, along with sea denial, sea control, and coastal defense.

Russia’s latest maritime doctrine, released in July, is an incredibly ambitious document with visions of carriers, multirole landing ships, new destroyers, and a host of platforms indicating parity with the U.S. and power projection across blue waters in the maritime domain. However, these dreams, reaching out into 2050, are unlikely to be realized for a slew of reasons, including budget constraints, defense industry capacity, inefficiencies, and technological shortcomings. Russia’s defense budget this year, at 3.3 trillion roubles or 4.2% of GDP, is the largest it has ever been since the Soviet Union, but given prevailing economic conditions, it is unlikely to be seen at these levels for years to come. Financial constraints aside, Russia also lacks a vision for the missions these carriers or amphibious ships would perform. They are political aspirations on paper at best, while much of the actual maritime strategy and thinking on the future of Russian naval power is unlikely to reside in this document.

Instead of unattainable, and unrealistic, dreams of power projection with a large blue water navy, the RFN seems set to become primarily a green water force. Increasingly based around smaller and more advanced ship classes, with capable long range anti-ship and land attack missiles, this fleet will be designed to project conventional deterrence. In practice, Moscow is investing in the achievable, while paying lip service to the unnecessary. Hence, in the coming years, Russia will remain primarily a regional naval power. One area where the maritime doctrine rings true is the concentration of effort and assets facing NATO forces in Europe and along the Arctic, best embodied in modernization of the Northern and Black Sea Fleets.

The desire to establish “non-nuclear deterrence,” voiced in the Military Doctrine released in December 2014, is a more important driver behind Russian thinking. This strategy is based around long range precision weapons, multiple vectors of attack, and the ability to inflict high costs to NATO in select regions such as the Baltic, Black, and Barents Seas. In this respect, Russia’s naval developments should be viewed in conjunction with spending on additional maritime aviation and coastal defenses, such as the Su-30SM and the Bastion-P. However, Russia’s maritime aviation is a small force and organizationally in the hands of its air force. The more important trend in the Russian navy is that a small missile boat, or a frigate, armed with the new line of Kalibr missiles (SS-N-27A and SS-N-30A), can pose a similar threat to a Tu-22M3 bomber at a better stand-off range and have excellent land attack options.

In the Russian submarine force, strategic deterrence remains the paramount mission, particularly with the new Borey-class of SSBNs steadily replacing older Delta IVs and IIIs. Power projection seems mostly a mission for the submarine force, especially given the troubled shipbuilding program. In the coming years, older Soviet platforms will be steadily phased out. However, with delays in production of new multi-role ships, the Russian navy looks increasingly better underwater. The best example is a new squadron of six improved-Kilo diesel submarines being added to the Black Sea Fleet, armed with the same family of land attack and anti-ship missiles. The new Yasen-class multirole submarine, along with modernization projects for older SSNs and SSGNs, will restore some of the Russia’s sea power in the underwater domain.There is a marked increase in Russian submarine activity and patrols, up by fifty percent according to Russian Navy chief Admiral Viktor Chirkov, along with a newfound interest in underwater cable and oceanographic mapping.

Status projection via naval power remains an important national priority, as it arguably has been since the time of Peter the Great. While differences abound in Russian defense circles over the amount of spending on the navy, given the country is primarily a land power, Moscow remains committed to the notion that it cannot be considered a great power without visible hallmarks of naval power. Hence Russia is investing in the modernization and refit of the Kirov-class battlecruisers, at great expense to other priorities, with perhaps 1.7 billion roubles for Admiral Nakhimov and over 2 billion roubles for Peter the Great. The goal is to maintain a unique set of capital ships to conduct flag waving, strategic messaging, and a host of other status projection missions. While the Kirovs may be anachronistic, status projection is held at an even higher premium today because it is tied to the public perception of Vladimir Putin’s personal brand of leadership, which in Moscow is as important as the objective results of foreign policy.

The most prominent mission for the Russian Navy today is supporting the military intervention in Syria, including provision of air defense using the Slava-class missile cruiser Moskva and sustaining the force via sea lines of communication from the Black Sea, dubbed the “Syrian Express.” The Black Sea Fleet (BSF) is in charge of this operation in the Eastern Mediterranean, managing a rotating squadron of roughly ten ships, largely composed of Soviet era landing ships and the BSF anti-submarine warfare group. Originally stood up to support the Syrian regime in 2013, the Mediterranean squadron will become a more permanent fixture according to official statements, independent of the conflict’s trajectory.

The intervention in Syria is a useful study on the state of Russian sea lift and capacity for expeditionary warfare. Russia compensated for the lack of available sea lift, an expensive asset to have lying about for a country that has not done expeditionary warfare since the Afghanistan War, by simply re-designating commercial carriers (ironically purchased from Turkey). The RFN trains provision of mobility and sea lift for ground forces during annual strategic exercises, but even for a relatively close operation such as Syria, clearly lacks the requisite assets.  With limited platforms available for expeditionary warfare, the RFN is focused instead on being able to move forces around the country’s vast regions. This is an especially challenging mission in the Arctic and Pacific, largely uninhabited expanses of terrain where exerting sea control is taxing. Traditional expeditionary warfare is not something the Russian navy is geared for, plans for, or expects to be doing much of in the future.

The RFN will remain strongest facing NATO in the European theater, effecting sea denial and conventional deterrence, with smaller and more modern platforms. While Russian ships may venture out into the North Atlantic, most such forays will be limited to strategic communication, training, or flag waving missions. The submarine force will form an important element in a strategy of nuclear and conventional deterrence, maintaining the ability to strike the U.S. homeland. Around Russia’s periphery, a host of sea patrol ships and cutters for the FSB border guard will work to improve sea control along the coastline. The Arctic is an area of particular anxiety for Moscow, despite little traffic through the Northern Sea Route. Russian leaders envision long term economic competition over Arctic resources. They are seeking to invest in military and rescue infrastructure today in order to establish firm control over access to the region in the future. When it comes to sea control and sea lift the Russian strategy is mindful of cost constraints and structured around surging capacity when needed.

As envisioned today, the Russian Navy is not likely to become a global peer competitor to the U.S. but represent a more potent regional challenge, particularly to NATO allies. NATO will have to deal with a resurgent Russian presence in the Mediterranean and the ability of Russian ships to conduct long range strikes from within the comfort of established A2/AD zones close to their bases of operation. While the net sum of Russia’s naval strategy could be characterized as regional and largely defensive in nature, the practical results are not simply negative from a security standpoint for NATO, but present new challenges for a stretched U.S. Navy. Russia’s shipbuilding program will proceed fitfully at best, but the changes already in progress within the RFN are yielding results that will require adjustment and adaptation on the part of the U.S. and its allies.

Mr. Michael Kofman is a Research Scientist at CNA Corporation and a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kofman holds a M.A. in International Security from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and a B.A. in Political Science from Northeastern University.

Prospects and Pitfalls for National Defence: Turning the Liberal Party Election Platform into Policy

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The following piece is cross-posted from our partner the CDA Institute as part of an ongoing content-sharing relationship. You can read the article in its original form here

CDA Institute Research Fellow Chuck Davies examines some of the challenges facing the new Canadian Liberal government in turning its election platform on defence into government policy.

The Liberal Party election platform outlines a number of policy intents that will clearly shape the new government’s approach over the coming four years. In the section called “Renewing Canada’s Place in the World and Strengthening our Security,” the Liberal platform contains a mix of defence policy, foreign policy, and, to a lesser degree, national security policy promises. It’s an eclectic offering spanning what are actually three very different policy areas that require different approaches to formulating a way ahead.

Defence Policy

Defence policy has a long-​term horizon and defines what defence capabilities the nation intends to acquire, maintain, or divest, and aligns these ends with the necessary ways and means. Decisions taken by past governments have already largely delimited the military options of the new Liberal government, and its decisions will in turn define the military options available to future governments. Consequently, maintaining reasonable stability in defence policy through successive administrations is very much in the nation’s interest.

How a government uses Canada’s military capabilities is not a question of defence policy but rather foreign or national security policy. It is not evident from the Liberal platform that its framers fully understand the differences between them, given the degree of intermixing of commitments across all three policy areas. This illuminates the new government’s first challenge: avoiding policy incoherence, or even contradiction, that may hinder its ability to act confidently and competently on the international stage, or to establish durable national policy directions.

The most obvious example is the commitment to undertake “an open and transparent review process of existing defence capabilities, with the goal of delivering a more effective, better-​equipped military.” While a very laudable and welcome commitment to strategic defence policy renewal, it is unfortunately undermined by other commitments that effectively set arbitrary boundaries, which could make it much less “open and transparent” and may render it un-​strategic.

A mock up of he Canadian variant of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II.
A mock up of he Canadian variant of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

Issues include a funding envelope that is predetermined (and unchanged from the previous government’s plan) alongside promises of substantive improvements to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). These are to be achieved by freeing up resources through, among other measures, efficiency improvements inside the Department of National Defence and exiting the F-​35 program. However, the chances that adequate financial flexibility can be created in this way are very low. Expectations for substantial savings from an alternative fighter platform are unrealistic, as noted by Richard Shimooka and Jeff Collins – a conclusion supported by Auditor General and Parliamentary Budget Office reviews. It is unfortunate that the Liberal Party did not apply the same costing discipline underpinning these studies when developing its cost-​savings estimate.

Similarly, as I have previously shown, digging measurable savings from the defence budget through internal transformation is a difficult, long-​term, dollar-​by-​dollar process. It won’t generate large sums quickly. Savings can be extracted by the more usual expedient of fiat, but only at the cost of further eroding the ability of National Defence to do its job of generating and sustaining military forces.

A viable answer to the funding-​capability gap does not lie in picking a different fighter aircraft or lopping perceived “tail” off National Defence. It can only be found in a combination of: (a) improving the efficiency with which the government translates “bucks” into “bang” and (b) bringing the government’s appetite for maintaining CAF capabilities into line with the level of stable funding it is prepared to commit.

To the Party’s credit, the Liberal platform does recognize the need to make strategic changes in both areas by committing to a defence policy review and improving defence procurement, but it pins too much hope on quickly finding economies within the existing defence budget to resource new investments. A more realistic approach would involve examining and reforming the Government of Canada’s business model for managing defence capabilities over their full life cycles, including the procurement function,

File Photo Credit: Department of National Defence.

faster” and to have “vigorous Parliamentary oversight” needs a much more concrete action plan if measurable improvements are to be made in defence capability and resource management. Real change will require serious reform of the business fundamentals within the Government of Canada, which can only be done within a sustained, non-​partisan effort by Parliament and, probably, several successive governments.


The Liberal Party platform is, naturally, a political document aimed at marketing the Party to the electorate. It is not a policy document, so it would be unrealistic to expect it to present a clear, well-​defined, strategic framework on these key issues. Nevertheless, it does tell us a lot about how the new government is likely to proceed, and suggests where it may run into some of the same pitfalls its predecessors have encountered.

The platform presumes what are likely unrealistic prospects for quickly finding substantive savings from defence transformation and exiting the F-​35 program. The government will soon run into this reality, and its response promises to reveal a great deal. If it simply extracts savings from other areas of National Defence by fiat, it will be following the traditional practices of most previous governments and Canada’s defence capabilities will continue their steady, slow, largely hidden erosion. If they face the realities and launch a serious defence policy review that results in a more sustainable alignment between defence funding and CAF defence capabilities, they will place the nation on a much improved footing for the future.

A refocus from “hard power” to “soft power” will also need to be carefully watched over time in order to gauge whether it enhances, diminishes, or simply changes Canada’s ability to influence global events. The impact on the CAF will also need to be observed. Mounting and sustaining a larger range of very diverse but smaller non-​combat missions could be either good or bad, or perhaps both or neither, from the point of view of preserving the core capabilities of the nation’s force of last resort.

Finally, the commitment to be better than the Conservatives at managing defence procurement and the wider defence business are unlikely to be realized without a major renewal of key parts of the basic machinery of government. There are no indications that the new Liberal government understands this fact any better than its predecessors. Also, any such renewal is unlikely to be implemented within the mandate of any one government, leaving little incentive to undertake it. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that new government starts to set the conditions for Parliament to finally work on the problem.

Colonel Charles Davies (Ret’d) is a CDA Institute Research Fellow and a former Logistics officer who served for four years as the strategic planning director for the Material Group of the Department of National Defence and three years as the senior director responsible for material acquisition and support policy in the department.