Tag Archives: Russian Navy

The Russian Navy: A Historic Transformation

By David Roush

Russian cover
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In a continuing series, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) released an analysis of the status and changes of an adversarial navy. They have released reports on Iran, two on China, and now Russia. As is typical with ONI, the analysis is thorough, thought provoking, and well researched, not to mention that the graphics are well made. The authors took their tried and true approach to these analyses, examining three pillars of effective military analysis: strategy, leadership, and platforms/personnel.  In general, it is best to think of the Russian Navy as four distinct fleets (Pacific, Baltic, Northern, and Black Sea) along with the Caspian Flotilla. Each must be capable of operating independently of the others.

The introduction is a history of the Russian Navy from Peter the Great to the present day. The authors spend a good deal of time on the shift from a coastal littoral force during the Second World War, Great Patriotic War to the Russians, and a global blue-water force during the Cold War with the United States and the West. Of particular import is the effect that the Soviet Navy years has had on the current Russian Navy.

Strategically, the Soviet Navy was concerned with protecting the motherland from Western incursion. A two prong approach was conceived to accomplish this task utilizing the the principle of layered defense and nuclear deterrence. Layered defense was designed to decrease the likelihood of a Western strike, according to the report, the defense perimeter was set at 1000 kilometers or Tomahawk cruise missile range. Pages four and five have a graphic that emphasizes the areas of concern to the Russians to this day. The Russians achieved nuclear deterrence by putting their nuclear missiles out to sea on ballistic missile submarines of the NOVEMBER, DELTA, and TYPHOON class vessels.

1000 nm rings, perceived TLAM threat to Russian homeland.
1000 nm rings, perceived TLAM threat to Russian homeland. (Office of Naval Intelligence)
FireShot Capture 91 - - https___fas.org_nuke_guide_russia_historic.pdf
1000 nm rings, perceived TLAM threat to Russian homeland (Pacific). (Office of Naval Intelligence)

The second section deals with the leadership of the current Russian Navy. Their analysis examines the current organizational structure from the Admiralty in St. Petersburg, all the way down to the command of a single ship in the Caspian Sea. Particular attention is paid to the career of the current Navy Commander-In-Chief, Admiral Viktor Chirkov. The authors examined the career path for officers in the Russian Navy. It is interesting to note that the majority of the formative years in an officer’s career can be spent in the same fleet, if not the same ship, including schooling in an academy nearest to their home.

Sections three and four examine platforms and personnel. In the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, almost two-thirds of the Soviet fleet was written off, according to the report. As such, the navy shrunk significantly. What is in place now are legacy platforms from the end of the USSR buttressed by a gradual acquisition of modern platforms. The nucleus of the Russian Navy remains the submarine. Core to that is the new DOLGORUKIY-class SSBN, supplanting the older TYPHOONS and DELTAS, with eight units planned by 2020.

A Borei-class Russian submarine like the Alexander Nevsky (pictured) will be used to fire a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile in an upcoming test. (Mil.ru/Wikimedia Commons)
Borei-class ballistic missile submarine.  (Mil.ru/Wikimedia Commons)

Surface combatants are also being upgraded, moving from single mission platforms to multi-mission ones. The report indicates that Russia will have a problem acquiring German-made diesel engines for the new platforms due to the invasion of Crimea. This report also presents a thorough overview of maritime aircraft and munitions both in active service and in development. The Russian Navy is shifting to a service based around quality platforms rather than quantity. This logically means as with most modern militaries the number of platforms will shrink as more capable platforms are brought online. Regarding personnel, the entire Russian military is moving from a conscript-based force to an all-volunteer force.

The report concludes with an overview that sees Russia moving to a modern naval force, albeit slowly. ONI predicts that the Russian Navy will have trouble recapitalizing their fleet due to problems with funding, acquisition of needed materials and parts, and new personnel training regimens. “Barring unexpected changes in the global political and economic environment, the Navy’s missions are expected to remain the same: to deter potential adversaries with strategic sea-based nuclear forces, to defend the nation and its interests using the Navy’s general purpose forces, and to use the Navy as an ‘instrument of state’ to support Russia’s diplomatic efforts, initiatives, and national interests.”

Admiral Gorhskov Frigate. (Wikimedia Commons)
Admiral Gorhskov class frigate. (Wikimedia Commons)

This report, as with the majority of ONI products, is a well-researched and worthwhile read for anyone interested in the current status of the Russian Federation Navy. If there was one aspect lacking, it would be an absence of legacy platform analysis as was done with the emerging platforms. Read the full report here.

David Roush received his Master’s degree in National Security Affairs emphasizing naval affairs from the Institute of World Politics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in Political Science. David currently serves as CIMSEC’s Director of Content Management.

Featured Image: Russian Federation Navy Kirov-class battlecruiser Peter the Great (Grigoriy Sisoev/RIA Novosti)

Russia Resurgent Week: The Conclusion

By Matt McLaughlin

The Russia Resurgent Topic Week took a big-picture viewpoint of Russia and its strategic choices – and that was perhaps a fortunate approach. With ongoing developments every day with Russian activities in Syria, anything more time-sensitive would have been quickly rendered moot by events.

These events are instructive, though, in the sense that shootdowns and other Russia-NATO incidents are far from unprecedented – it is not difficult to argue that the East-West relationship is simply returning to form. That said, 2015 is not 1985, and the Russian military, in particular its navy, will take a very different form than in the last period of such tense relations. Michael Kofman addresses this, recognizing that although Peter the Great would recognize the Russian strategic imperatives at work, the fleet itself will be oriented toward the green water more than the blue. Small ships with powerful missiles can exert substantial coercive force within their home region, while a small number of legacy platforms like Kirov-class battlecruisers can continue to project power and prestige.

Of course, Russia itself has more grandiose plans, as described by Sean MacCormac in a re-posted article from September about Russia’s new maritime doctrine. Notable strategic priorities are control of the Arctic, presence in the Mediterranean, and cooperation with India and China as means of protecting Russian interests. A great global force is envisioned to provide the operational means to achieve these objectives, though the realities of shipbuilding may intrude.

Patrick Truffer examines the future of Russia’s fleet in great detail, looking at the current structure and capacity for new construction. He assesses the Russian Navy as capable of projecting power globally, but only in a single operation on a limited time horizon. Ongoing activities in Syria are readily displaying limits on Russian logistics and its virtually non-existent amphibious lift capability. But don’t forget a Russian submarine force that remains potent at the strategic level.

Dmitry Gorenburg makes similar points about shipbuilding capacity, while adding more description of operational doctrine and a force structure to implement it. Universal vertical launch tubes filled with precision-strike anti-ship and land-attack missiles can be fitted onto many varieties of small combatants, as well as submarines. These form “the heart of Russia’s naval modernization” and provide the multi-role ships necessary for a credible regional threat.

Shifting gears, Vidya Sagar Reddy finds signs of Sun Tzu’s influence in Russian strategy. By behaving aggressively in widely-dispersed theaters such as the Pacific Ocean and Black Sea, Russia is putting its principle competitor – the U.S. Navy – off balance. This gives Russia the initiative and ability to strike when and where its enemy is weakest.

Robert C. Rasmussen introduces readers to one of the tools Russia has been using to unbalance its foes – Reflexive Control Theory. If applied doctrinally to strategic communication, Reflexive Control Theory helps Russia keep outside powers uncertain as to real Russian intentions and operations. The end result is to induce foreign powers to make decisions favorable to Russian interests. This obfuscation has contributed, most notably, to keeping foreign powers from intervening in Ukraine, and (to use the most recent news) is probably at work in Russian accounts of its Syrian air strikes.

Despite superficial success – they’re operating in the Med, right? – Ben Hernandez asks if Russian maritime strategy is in fact adrift. This essay, re-posted from August, notes the extreme mismatch between rhetoric about the future and capability to build it. This has been described in other posts this week, but Ben adds that Russia could easily “paint itself into a corner” if it continues down this road. With nuclear weapons as the most cost-effective means of destruction, their employment in a fit of bellicosity grows more likely when Russian conventional capabilities cannot deliver the desired effects.

Finally, our gaze shifts to the Arctic, which appears in Russian strategic planning and is the subject of two posts. Laguerre Corentin makes the case that, in contrast with the bellicose rhetoric described in prior articles, Russia is positioned to pursue its objectives through application of international law and custom. It has had success with this approach since Czarist days, and is likely to continue to do so as long as its interests align with such methods.

Providing further analysis of Russia’s role in the Arctic, we reprise Sally DeBoer’s contribution from August about rival nations’ claims to Arctic territory. She examines Russian claims of the North Pole and other parts of the “donut hole” of high seas at the top of the world, as well as competing claims.

And closing out the week is a graphic depiction of the Soviet fleet of 1990 compared with the Russian fleet of 2015, researched and designed by Louis Martin-Vezian. The scale of the work ahead if Russia intends to reach the maritime heights of 25 years ago becomes clear.

Some have said over the years that post-Soviet Russia was only relevant on account of its nuclear arsenal. This was merely an excuse to ignore it in favor of other things as we met the supposed End of History. The fact is, Russia is, well, Russia – and as long as people call that territory home, those people will have certain interests that are not going away. Read a map; read a book; read the news. This week’s discussions have certainly not provided all the answers on Russian resurgence, though we hope to have offered a meaningful contribution; but to ignore the discussion and downplay Russia as a relic of the Cold War is folly. Russia is right where we left it, and will continue to make its impact felt.

Matt McLaughlin is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. His opinions do not represent the Department of the Navy.

Russian & Soviet Fleets, 25 Years Apart

Russia Resurgent Topic Week

By Louis Martin-Vézian

In 2 parts:


PART 2Soviet and Russian Navy blk(2)

Louis Martin-Vézian is the co-president of the French chapter at CIMSEC.org, and the founder of CIGeography, where he post his maps and infographics on various security and defense topics. He is currently studying Geography and Political Science in Lyon, France.

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Russian Navy Reads the Art of War

Russia Resurgent Topic Week

By Vidya Sagar Reddy

The Russian Federation intends to restore prestige and territory lost with the fall of Soviet Union. The key military objectives associated with this geopolitical thrust are confronting the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) over the European continent and denying the United States free access and power projection in the global commons, specifically in the maritime domain. Vladimir Putin personally announced a new Russian maritime doctrine reflecting these objectives. In this process, the Russian Navy is showcasing characteristics reminiscent of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

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Referring to Sun Tzu is not a new phenomenon for traditionally Western navies. Germany’s emperor Wilhelm II wished he could have read Sun Tzu before World War I and General Douglas MacArthur was known to have referred to his teachings. An analysis of Russia’s way of warfighting in Ukraine, especially across Crimea, revealed the application of Gerasimov Doctrine that advocated targeting an adversary’s weaknesses while avoiding direct confrontations. This is one of the significant principles of asymmetric warfare preached by Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu’s famous dictum is that all warfare is based on deception. He counselled that one should appear weak when strong and strong when weak. He advised showing presence at places where not expected by the adversary and striking at weak points. Denial and deception were the key tactics employed by Russia when annexing Crimea and gaining the warm water port of Sevastopol permanently. The Russian Navy played phantom games within the territorial waters of Baltic countries and buzzed US warships in the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

By showcasing presence and performing unsafe activities in the maritime zones flanking its territory and other areas of interest, the Russian Navy intends to deter its adversaries from concentrating their resources on its current maritime zones of interest – Europe and the Middle East. For Putin, Ukraine and Syria are the proving grounds for Russia’s re-emergence in the international order. It is imperative to deny other navies from gaining an upper hand in these zones either for military strikes or for reinforcing diplomatic manoeuvring.

However, the negligence on the part of Russian administration towards the navy weakened its strength and technological sophistication to directly confront the navies of the US and NATO. This makes it imperative for the Russian Navy to adopt the asymmetric means of warfighting. Therefore, the Russian Navy is enumerating the art of sea denial by constructing an ‘arc of steel’ between the Arctic and the Mediterranean via the Baltic and Black Seas. This resembles, at least in conceptual terms, China’s Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) strategy in the Western Pacific, which is itself influenced by Sun Tzu’s teachings.

The students of Mahan know that the raison d’être of a navy is to keep open the sea lines of communication and protect the trade passing through them. A strong navy is especially critical for the US, concerned as it is with its relative decline in the global order after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and concentrating on economic rebuilding. By operationalizing a local but strong sea denial construct, the Russian Navy is setting a limit on its competitors’ power projection capabilities.

Lacking unimpeded access to the maritime domain also curtails free movement of trade and affects the economy of the US as well as of its allies and partners in Europe. This is what primarily concerned the US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, as he spoke about the adverse impact of Russian maritime activity on the trade transiting the Mediterranean. In essence, the Russian Navy is practicing a prominent dictum of Sun Tzu – winning without fighting.

Apart from securing trade, the US Navy also performs global power projection for deterring and defeating aggression against American interests. Such a task involves providing sufficient numbers of warships fitted with advanced sensors and weapons. The political administration directs these assets to be deployed in certain areas of responsibility, protecting interests and responding to threats. The Obama administration ordered deployment of sixty percent of US naval assets to the Asia-Pacific for maintaining peace and stability in this region, upon which the US economic build-up is dependent.

A significant portion of these assets are appropriated as a response to China’s naval build-up and its assertive maritime activities. The US Navy is expected to handle any military aggression in this region without serious operational concerns arising in other areas of responsibility. However, it would be hard-pressed to contain the rise of a serious threat in another region with the backdrop of the US’ declining capability to fight and win two major regional contingencies simultaneously.

To relieve this situation, the US Navy and its patrons in the US Congress have vehemently opposed imposition of “sequestration” on the force’s budget, but constraints remain. A fierce battle erupted in Congress regarding funds for new ballistic-missile submarines (the Ohio Replacement Program). The construction of Ford-class carriers and Littoral Combat Ships is advancing but with criticism and budget shortfalls.

On the operational front, the US Marines are contemplating plans to hitchhike on private vessels to reach forward positions. And the US Navy is now operating in the Middle East without a carrier for the first time in recent years while the region is experiencing renewed conflicts. These issues point to the fact that the US Navy is indeed overstretched and short-funded.

This is the weak point Sun Tzu would strike at. Thus the Russian Navy has opened another contested maritime zone. To confront destabilizing Russian naval activity, the chief of the US Sixth Fleet is pressing for deployment of additional warships in his area of responsibility while Admiral Richardson contemplates enhanced presence in Europe.

If carried out, it might require transferring a few platforms intended for the Asia-Pacific before the US shipbuilding activity reaches a level to satisfy the emerging requirements. Attempting to convince the present White House administration of such a transfer would be in vain. Therefore the dilemma persists within the US Navy and the White House which maritime zone should be accorded primary focus.

By aggressively parading the navy and establishing its sea denial construct, Russia is aiming to incapacitate the navies of the US and NATO from performing their fundamental roles of protecting trade, safeguarding global commons and power projection. The Russian naval threat has driven the logic of numbers and maritime strategy of the US Navy to ground, forcing an overhaul. Without the American naval support, the NATO forces would also experience serious constraints. Thus the navy is emerging the spearhead of Russia’s re-emergence and offence against its adversaries by simply referring to Sun Tzu.

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a Research Assistant at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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