Tag Archives: Russian Navy

A New Gap in the High North and Forward Defense Against Russian Naval Power

By Steve Wills, CNA Analyst

The stand-up of a new NATO Maritime headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the re-establishment of the U.S. Navy’s East Coast-based Second Fleet and the prospect for a new NATO Maritime Strategy this year have again fueled interest in naval warfare in the wider Atlantic Ocean. One of the most commonly mentioned landmarks in this emerging environment is the iconic Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom (GIUK) gap. The scene of the German battleship Bismarck’s passage to the Atlantic and the transit highway of early Russian ballistic missile submarines to their patrol stations near the United States and Europe, the GIUK Gap is synonymous with naval warfare in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, current references to the GIUK gap harken back to a different time and strategic situation that is markedly different from the situation today.

Despite early assessments that the Soviet Union was going to target the sea lines of communication (SLOC) crossing the Atlantic, the Soviets never intended to make interdiction of Atlantic convoys a priority mission. Defense of their ballistic missile submarines, countering Allied aircraft carrier battle groups, and littoral defense and support to the Soviet Army were always their main priorities. Today’s much smaller Russian Navy has similar missions and strategic geography, but now boasts long range cruise missile armament.

The NATO Alliance must return to a deterrent posture similar to that of the Cold War in order to prevent potential Russian aggression, but the locus of action is much further north than Iceland. The real “Gap” where NATO must focus its deterrent action is the Greenland, Svalbard, North Cape line at the northern limit of the Norwegian and Greenland Seas. It is again time to consider deterrent action and potential naval warfare in the “High North.”

Never the GIUK Gap Anyway

While important in the Second World War and perhaps the early and middle Cold War, the GIUK Gap did not have the same geographic significance in the late 1970s and 1980s. While earlier Russian ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) had to first sail close to the U.S. coast and then to the middle Atlantic in order to launch their weapons, the advent of the Delta and Typhoon classes with improved sub-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) allowed Soviet missile boats to launch their weapons from the safety of Soviet littoral waters. Intelligence gathered by U.S. and Allied sources in the late 1970s suggested that rather than conduct a rerun of the failed German U-boat campaigns of the World Wars, Soviet submarines were to be deployed in a largely defensive posture close to the Soviet homeland. Earlier work by the Center for Naval Analyses had suggested that Soviet attack subs would be prepared to defend their own SSBNs, attack U.S. Navy carrier battle groups, and perhaps venture forth to attack U.S. SSBNs. But attacking logistics and commerce on the Atlantic SLOCs was a fourth-priority mission at best.

The High North region.

By the 1980s, the U.S. Navy was planning, in the event of a failure of deterrence, to take the war to the Soviet littoral waters and homeland. This was a global effort that included U.S. and Allied action against the Soviets in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans, and the Mediterranean, Baltic, and Black Seas. U.S. submarines would stalk and sink their Soviet counterparts and SSBNs while U.S. carrier battle groups would attack Soviet bases on the Kola Peninsula (as well as other locations around the periphery of the Soviet state) to prevent a correlation of forces that allowed for a successful Soviet land attack in Central Germany.

A series of exercises begun in the early 1950s at the dawn of NATO’s existence had exercised both naval attacks on the Soviet homeland and the defense of Atlantic SLOCs, but the exercise effort moved into high gear in the 1980s. The advent of the aggressive Maritime Strategy meant the Navy would no longer focus on just the defense of SLOCs as it had been told during the Carter administration. Encouraged by Reagan administration Navy Secretary John Lehman and led by experienced flag officers such as Admirals “Ace” Lyons, and “Hammerin Hank” Mustin, a string of aggressive naval exercises in both the Atlantic and “high north” practiced to defend Norway, drive the Soviets back to their home waters, and attack their bases on the Kola peninsula. Instrumented by the SOSUS system and patrolled by aircraft based in Iceland, the GIUK Gap was a strong symbolic barrier, but it was at best the southern signpost of a war to be fought much further to the north. The late Cold War focus on the maritime high north put Norway on both Brussels’s and Washington’s military strategic maps in an unprecedented way.”

The Reality of New Great Power Competition in the High North

The return of a revanchist Russia to the business of great power competition after a quarter century of decline has brought back Norway and its adjacent seas into U.S. and NATO strategic focus. The Russian Navy submarine force is less than a fifth of the size of its Soviet forebear. Many of these units will soon be ready for retirement, and are spread over four fleets. Despite those handicaps, Russian units are now equipped with the 3M-54 (Kaliber) cruise missile, which significantly extends Russian combat capability. This is also why the Russian Navy’s mission set now includes an emphasis on non-nuclear deterrence.

Soviet forces operating within their “bastion” defenses in the Barents Sea during the Cold War had to come south in order to engage NATO maritime forces and lacked a land attack cruise missile capability. Today’s Russian Navy can remain within its Barents bastion and still launch accurate attacks against ships in the Norwegian Sea and NATO land targets without leaving these protected waters. If the Russians do leave their bastions it would most likely be on raiding missions enabled by land attack cruise missiles. Russia has a long tradition of raiding for short-term tactical and longer-term strategic gain, and such operations could manifest themselves in the maritime environment.

Possible zones of Russian bastion defense. (RUSI)

NATO faces significant challenges in dealing with this renewed Russian threat. The Alliance’s naval forces are significantly smaller than during the Cold War and the United States Navy is less than half the size of its 1980s counterpart. Norwegian naval force structure is shrinking and even with planned qualitative improvements will not alone be sufficient for potential naval combat in the High North. Norway is set to significantly reduce its surface force through a planned decommissioning of its Skjold-class missile corvettes and remaining mine warfare ships in the next several years. The reductions are necessary in order to pay for new German-built submarines, P-8 Maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), and F-35A aircraft. The submarines and MPA purchases are appropriate force structure for potential combat in the Norwegian Sea south of Svalbard and north of Iceland, but reductions will result in a lack of surface patrol units necessary for maintaining sea control.

The F35A can support sea control, but may be occupied elsewhere in defense of Norwegian shore-based infrastructure. For example, the Russian Air Force has launched a number of mock attacks on the Norwegian Joint Command Center at Bodo in recent years and F-35 aircraft may be largely focused on the defense of Norwegian C4I infrastructure. The Norwegian Coast Guard which contributes significantly to patrol efforts in the region has decreased in strength from 31 to 15 units from 1992 to the present. These Coast Guard units are also lightly armed and insufficient for contesting and retaining sea control in the region.

The only significant Norwegian surface force structure in the next decade is likely to be the AEGIS Nansen-class frigates. These ships are capable multipurpose surface combatants, but their small numbers will require a significant commitment of NATO forces to the Norwegian Sea early in a conflict with Russia to ensure that Russian units, especially nuclear attack submarines, do not transit the Norwegian Sea “SLOC” to the North Atlantic. A key element of the Nansen’s antisubmarine capability, the NH90 helicopter, has failed to deliver on its promised number of flight hours. While there may be enough helicopters for the frigates, there are no NH 90 helos with which to equip the Norwegian Coast Guard for its mission of Norwegian and Greenland Sea patrol and surveillance. The Norwegian Joint force is growing in capability, but even with improvements in air and subsurface units it likely cannot prevent passage of Russian Northern Fleet submarines through the Norwegian Sea.

The Royal Norwegian Navy frigate KNM Roald Amundsen (F311) underway in the Atlantic Ocean on 16 February 2018 as part of the U.S. Navy’s Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) while conducting its composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)

Organizing for Maritime War in the High North

Once just the remote operating grounds of Russian ballistic missile subs, the Eastern Barents and Arctic Seas can now serve as bases for cruise missile platforms to threaten NATO units and land-based targets in and facing the Norwegian Sea. The NATO Alliance is moving in the right direction by reinstituting an Atlantic Maritime headquarters but more must be done to prepare for a conflict in the High North.

Increased Alliance submarine operations in the Norwegian, Barents and Arctic Seas serve to operationalize those headquarters changes. The North Atlantic SLOCs are important, but the Russians are not looking at the mid-Atlantic except for perhaps targets of opportunity. Joint and combined Allied activities that make use of the numerous air and port facilities around the Norwegian and Greenland Seas should be the main focus of JFC Norfolk. A NATO Joint Task Force (JTF) element, perhaps forward deployed afloat or ashore, may need to be present in the immediate area to direct operations.

Unmanned systems technology holds the promise of mobile, underwater detection grids that unlike the Cold War SOSUS nets can move themselves to better identify and localize submerged targets. The Norwegian and Greenland Seas are NATO lakes and receding sea ice has made for a wider and more open battlespace that allows for greater use of shore-based facilities in the region over a longer portion of the year. Small surface combatants such as the U.S. FFG(X) and LCS might operate in conjunction with unmanned units and maritime patrol aircraft and submarines to conduct a regional joint and combined antisubmarine warfare campaign.

Conclusion

A revanchist Russia does not directly threaten North Atlantic sea lines of communication, and the place to deter or engage them won’t be the GIUK gap. NATO must prepare to deter and if necessary engage Russian naval forces in the High North long before these units can get into range of resupply ships or NATO nation port facilities on the European mainland. The Alliance has taken positive steps to meet this renewed maritime challenge, but must not be haunted by U-boat and Soviet ghosts from past Atlantic wars. The place to respond to a new Russian naval threat is close to its home base and not astride critical transatlantic communication routes.

Steven Wills is a Research Analyst at CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA, and an expert in U.S. Navy strategy and policy. He is a Ph.D. military historian from Ohio University and a retired surface warfare officer. These views are his own and are presented in a personal capacity.

Featured Image: Norweigan Navy Skjold-class corvette.

The Russian Navy: A Historic Transformation

By David Roush

Russian cover
Click to read.

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 1
Soviet_Navy(1)

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.

Read other contributions to Russia Resurgent Topic Week.

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