Is Russia Reestablishing her Global Maritime Prowess?

^ Russian Naval Submarine: Capacity & Type Outline(Source:

Rising Siberian Tiger

Strategic Nuclear Deterrence is the key objective of the epic Russian naval upgrades that look as far ahead as 2050. Moscow believes the 28-member NATO alliance encircles it on the Baltic. Global Warming has opened the Northern Sea Route (Arctic channel along north Russia) to commercial shipping. Oil and mineral discoveries in this region further add to its allure.

Russian romance with warm-water ports is an old affair. From Peter (the Great) to Putin, the hunt for all-weather ports has tormented all Russian rulers. Ports are of critical geopolitical and economic importance and a landlocked Russia has always been at a disadvantage.

Northern Russian ports freeze in the long, bitingly cold Arctic winter. Europe separates her from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Baltic was largely under Swedish influence in medieval times. Japan, China, and South Korea restrict her naval clout in the East.

Many believe, the March 2014 Russian intrusion in Ukraine was the latest expression of this age-old desire, an instrument to control the strategic Black Sea port of Sevastopol which hosts the Russian Black Sea Fleet under a lease. This sure looks like the second version of the Crimean War (1853-56).

For nearly two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian Navy was an outdated, non-operational force. Now, things are changing. The Russians have allotted a huge $132billion naval budget for 2013-20. Simultaneously, they are reestablishing their global naval presence, particularly in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

A development of this scale can hardly escape her vary neighbors. Around the Baltic, Sweden has embarked on a $2billion program to acquire submarines and convert vessels. And Poland is purchasing cruise and strike missiles. There starts the arms race!

The Strategic Importance of Maritime Influence

Ever since the Greeks halted the Persian juggernaut of land conquests at the naval triumph at Salamis Bay in 480 B.C., naval power has been the final measure of an empire’s global prowess. Why? Over 70% of our planet is covered with water and only naval superiority enables a power to establish and maintain hegemony.

Naval superiority was the reason why the Romans eventually routed Hannibal. And why the British put down Napoleon’s blitzkrieg. After World War II, air power delivered through aircraft carriers became the chief instrument of the United States’ leadership.

Yassen Class Severodvinsk Nuclear Attack Submarine was launched on July 17, 2015 (Source:

Yassen Class Severodvinsk Nuclear Attack Submarine was launched on July 17, 2015

And yes, ships carry over 90% of the world’s traded cargo making potent navies a necessity for vibrant, diversified economies. This is why the Russian Navy is investing billions in modernization despite the debilitating economic blow given by U.S. and E.U. sanctions.

Naval Upgrades

Submarines had always been the strength the erstwhile Soviet Navy. By 2020, the Russian shipyards of Zvezda and Zvyozdochka will upgrade ten nuclear-powered submarines of the Project 971 SSN Akula Class and Project 949A SSGN Oscar Class subs.

The Black Sea: A Strategic Theater for the Russian Navy (Source:

The Black Sea: A Strategic Theater for the Russian Navy


  • Twelve Borei SSBNs will replace the three Delta IIIs and the six Delta IVs. Borei SSBNs may be the advanced version of current Borei II Six each will be deployed in the Pacific and the Northern Fleet. The Russian Navy has already ordered eight Borei SSBNs. They will order the other four in the 2020s
  • Twelve Yasen SSGNs might take over from Oscar Class SSGNs and a host of smaller, versatile SSNs. Six each will be deployed in the Northern and the Pacific Fleet

Apparently, Yasen SSGNs possess universality i.e. the ability to address every threat that submarines face. This feature is absent on any other submarine in the world

However, the navy has ordered only eight. And may not order the remaining four because it plans to build 16-18 smaller, more aggressive, and more cost-effective alternatives to Yasen SSGNs

If the navy’s plans on upgrading the Oscar SSGNs to extend their service life by 15-20 years succeed, it may not order the remaining four Yasen SSGNs. In fact, one reason for the upgrading of Sierra, Akula, and Oscar Class subs is the delay in Project 885 Yasen Class SSGN program

  • Six Varshavyanka Class Subs by 2016 and 14-18 Diesel-Electric Subs by 2030. Two Varshavyanka subs are already in service. The other 14-18 diesel-electric subs are the updated versions of Lada Class The Navy also has six Kilo Class subs scheduled for delivery for its Black Sea Fleet

A part of Project 636, the Varshavyanka Class diesel-electric subs are known to be the quietest in the world and are made specifically for shallow water combat. The Novorossiysk port in Russia, just opposite the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, will host these subs

Varshavyanka Class subs are nearly impossible to detect acoustically. These can patrol for 45 days with a 400-mile range and can take down underwater, sea, and land targets with torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles

Developments regarding surface ships:

  • Aircraft Carriers: Russia can build a 60,000 to 70,000 ton aircraft carrier within 4-5 years but naval specialists remain divided on the need to do so. Presently, the Russians do not have a yard to build a carrier larger than this capacity
Admiral Kuznetsov: Russian Aircraft Carrier (Source:

Admiral Kuznetsov: Russian Aircraft Carrier (Source:

The expected carrier will most probably succeed the Ulianovsk Class carrier with 60,000 to 80,000 tons deadweight, carry 55-60 T-50 fifth generation aircrafts, and possess ASW and air defense capacities

These days, dominating the skies is very important to dominate conflict situations. However, fighter jets have limited ranges. In the absence of an on-the-way refueling facility, they cannot bomb far flung areas

For all its willingness, Israel could not bomb Iran’s controversial nuclear facilities for this reason. And, the U.S. denied refueling to Israeli jets from its bases in Iraq. Remember, Israel had resolutely bombed Iraq’s Osirak Reactor in 1981 and a similar facility in Syria in 2007, two targets within its range

Aircraft carriers allow a nation to extend its military muscles without having to build and maintain overseas bases. These floating giants do not carry massive guns. Their power is the fighter jets that they carry, support, and project on any theater-of-war with a coastline

  • Frigates: building sixteen Admiral Gorshkov Class Frigates and nine Admiral Grigorovich Class Frigates
The Moskva Missile Cruiser (Source:

The Moskva Missile Cruiser

  • Corvettes: twenty Corvettes of diverse make

These corvettes and frigates will be loaded with Kalibr multi-purpose missiles and Oniks anti-ship missiles. Russia and Ukraine no longer cooperate militarily and this will delay the construction as Ukraine was to supply ship turbines

  • Destroyers: twelve large destroyers of 15,000 tons will be fitted with the S-500 long-range air defense system and Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles. The first ship may be deployed by 2023-25
  • Amphibious Ships: building fresh LPD Class amphibious ship and replacing all existing amphibious ships. These will be deployed in the Northern, Pacific, Black Sea, and Baltic fleets
  • Updating Projects: modernization of Admiral Nakhimov Kirov Class cruiser, 2-3 Slava Class cruisers, Peter the Great cruiser, and 5-7 Udaloy Class destroyers


In recent years, financial, technical, and administrative glitches have delayed even smaller and simpler Russian naval projects. The current economic situation has further exacerbated these challenges.

Barring brief interludes, Russia has been a superpower for over two centuries now. It knows how to play the game. And it certainly cannot tolerate marginalization from the high table of international politics for long.

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