All posts by David Roush

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. ( Commons)
Borei-class ballistic missile submarine.  ( 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)

Book Review: American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory

The United States is over-invested in large-scale capital ships that are a liability in this new age of irregular warfare. That is the premise behind the upcoming book, American Sea Power and the 51e6FYBh-oL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory by R.B. Watts. Watts, a retired Captain in the United States Coast Guard, says that this text is a culmination of 30 years of research and observation. He does not rule out the possibility of conventional war between states; instead, he emphasizes the greater likelihood of irregular conflict and the Navy’s need to prepare for these types of conflicts. The book itself separates into three distinct sections: a historical analysis of predominant theories and their alternatives; an examination of the evolution since the Cold War; and an assessment of the new requirements of irregular warfare.

Watts does an admirable job of covering the historical basis for his theory. He begins with a detailed explanation of A.T. Mahan and his prevailing theory on the importance of the large scale capital ship fleet. He next explores the ascendancy, use, and effectiveness of the capital ship. From the dreadnought, to the battleship, to the fleet Alfred-Thayer-Mahancarrier, all the way to the nuclear super carrier, he examines the use and effectiveness of each in their prevailing conflict. During the Cold War, the Western policy of containment was a boon for navalists wedded to Mahanian theory. Containment implies encirclement and encirclement of the Soviet Union by sea was a major part of the NATO response. The capital ship theory though did not fit into the new paradigm. Vietnam and the Reagan reforms of the 1980’s were a strategic negative and positive for the Navy respectively.

Where he truly does excel is looking at the modern naval implications after 9/11. During the Global War on Terror naval air power was used to great effect in the beginning of ENDURING FREEDOM. It was used so successfully that the pilots soon ran out of targets. New developments have come to bear in the last decade. The Littoral Combat Ship, a small “streetfighter” designed to operate in the littorals and close to shore, has now been re-purposed to fight with the blue-water fleet. This led to massive cost overruns and concerns over survivability. China has risen to fill the gap left by the Soviet Union in capital ship theory.  Coming from the GWOT and the threat of China, was the concept of “jointness”. The idea is that by working together and collaborating, the force can be more efficient and relevant to irregular and regular missions. “Air-Sea Battle” announced in 2011 codified “jointness”, bringing with it capital ship theory at the forefront. He concludes that the United States must change its objectives to meet the new challenges of irregular war. As long as the United States remains a superpower, it should expect to be challenged using irregular methods.

American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory is a noteworthy entry into an area that is rarely explored, the risk of over-reliance on capital ships in the United States Navy. The experience of the author and his meticulous research truly shows through the pages. His exploration of the Cyclone-class patrol craft, US Navy presence in the Persian Gulfthe LCS, and the need for a small surface combatant designed for operations in the littoral is quite compelling. The Navy is sorely missing a patrol craft that can operate on presence missions in the South China Sea, Persian Gulf, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. One area that is missing is the lack of the contributions of PT boats in the Second World War. Captain Watts’ book is a worthwhile read for anyone in the sea service and those interested in alternatives to current trends within the US Navy.

American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory will be released on 15 November 2015.

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.

July Member Round-Up

Welcome to the July 2015 Member Round-Up. Our members have had a very productive month discussing three major security topics; the rise of China, the Iranian Nuclear Deal, and the fight against ISIS. A few of the articles are shared here for some light reading over your Labor Day Weekend. If you are a CIMSEC Member and want your own maritime security-related work included in this or upcoming round-ups be sure to contact our Director of Member Publicity at

Henry Holst begins our round up discussing the PLA/N’s options for submarine activity in the Taiwan Strait. His article in USNI News states that the Taiwan situation remains the driving force behind the Chinese military buildup. Holst goes into depth discussing the capabilities of the Yuan Type-39A class SSK in a standoff between China and Taiwan/US forces. This article is a must read for all who are interested in the recent developments of the Chinese submarine service.

CIMSEC’s founder, Scott Cheney-Peters, meanwhile discussed the nuances of potential joint aerial patrols in the South China Sea with CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and joined fellow CIMSECian Ankit Panda from The Diplomat for a podcast discussion of India’s evolving approach to maritime security in East Asia.   Also at AMTI, Ben Purser co-authored a piece on China’s airfield construction of Fiery Cross Reef. AMTI’s director, Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper joined others testifying before a Congressional committee on America’s security role in the South China Sea.

Zachary Keck, of The National Interest, provides the next piece. July was an especially intense month for Mr. Keck, as he wrote 25 articles in July alone. Staying in East and Southeast Asia, Mr. Keck writes that just as China has done in the South China Sea, the PRC could build artificial islands nearer to India as well. His concern is due to a constitutional amendment in Maldives that was passed in late July. This amendment allows for foreign ownership of Maldives territory.  China has rebuffed these concerns and says that they are committed to supporting “the Maldives’ efforts to maintain its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.” This piece will be of interest for those that are keeping tabs on Chinese expansionist tendencies.

Moving on from the Chinese situation and the South China Sea, Shawn VanDiver takes us to the Iranian Plateau and the Persian Gulf to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal now before Congress. He penned two articles last month describing the advantages of the deal. His first article, in Task & Purpose, describes his support for the P5+1 Talks With Iran in Geneva, Switzerlanddeal as a 12 year veteran of the United States Navy. He describes his apprehension and the sense of foreboding transiting the Strait of Hormuz at the sights of a .50 caliber machine gun. The next day his second article on the Iran deal came out in the Huffington Post. This article was slightly different as he focuses more on the stated positions of the then current crop of GOP presidential contenders and Senators. He states that the deal is a new beginning. Well worth the read if you are at all hesitating on the importance of this crucial deal.

For the last mention in our member round up, Admiral James Stavridis spent time last month discussing the role of Turkey in the current fight against ISIS. As former Supreme Commander of NATO forces, Admiral Stavridis is uniquely qualified to render judgement on the role of a critical NATO member in the region, the only one directly affected by ISIS fighters. He was interviewed on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.  In the same vein, he penned an article in Foreign Policy discussing the importance of NATO use of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast.  This base is seen as critical to the effort against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

CIMSECians were busy elsewhere too:

That is all for July. Stay tuned to CIMSEC for all your maritime security needs.

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”

President Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1902

The views expressed above are those of the author’s.