The Black Sea Fleet’s predicament is hardly a news story. The press in recent months has featured stories claiming that the BSF will receive new ships to replace its aging order-of-battle.
But Gzt.ru maintains the BSF is just about rusted through, and its ships will be unable to go to sea by 2015. A Navy Main Staff source says the average age of BSF ships exceeds 30 years—the practical limit for naval vessels. He claims the fleet’s sailors keep their ships in good condition, but, since metal has its limits, their hulls are reaching a point where “no one will risk going to sea in such ships.”
The source says the oldest BSF ships—whose service lives have expired and don’t warrant further investment—will be written off. They include the Kara-class CG Ochakov (707), Tango-class SS Saint Prince Georgiy (B-380), probably Kara-class CG Kerch (713), and various transport and auxiliary ships. Ochakov is 37 years old, and spent the past 18 years in the repair yard. The disappearance of the Ochakov and Kerch will leave the BSF with only two major surface combatants—Slava-class CG Moskva (121) and Kashin-class DDG Smetlivyy (810). And there is apparently a rumor that the Moskva will remain in the Pacific after participating in Vostok-2010 this summer. The BSF will also be down to a lone submarine, Kilo-class Alrosa (B-871), which reportedly awaits repair after an engineering casualty during a recent training cruise.
The final decision to write off some ships is driven by a 30 percent cut in the fleet’s maintenance budget [recall Defense Minister Serdyukov saying the repair budget has been cut by 28-30 percent, supposedly in favor of new procurement]. Since February, personnel at the 13th and 91st ship repair plants have been reduced by 2 times, according to Newsru.com. And the repair plants have practically no work this year.
So they’re not fixing old ships, but neither are new ones in sight . . . the press noted that the BSF didn’t get new units in the 2000s, will get no new ships this year, and the introduction of new ones isn’t planned.
A BSF staff representative told Gzt.ru that several new corvettes of the Steregushchiy type (proyekt 20380) would restore the BSF’s combat potential. The Steregushchiy is in the Baltic Fleet, and a second unit of the class was just launched on 31 March. This seems too slow to help the BSF, even if any of these ships were destined for Sevastopol.
A source tells Gzt.ru the basic problem is the lack of production capacity:
“All shipbuilding plants are overflowing with foreign orders for several years ahead, and even if there is money it’s very complicated to arrange additional production for the Russian Navy’s needs since there isn’t the right quantity of milling machinists, lathe operators, and welders. There’s great productive potential in Ukraine, and we consider that the warming in Russian-Ukrainian relations could lead to realizing a number of projects on Ukrainian building ways, which never worked for the USSR’s Black Sea Fleet.”
Gazeta.ru provided the opinion of Vladimir Yevseyev, who believes, until the BSF gets a new main base, it won’t get any new ships. He says all the fleet’s problems are connected with its basing. Most Ukrainian politicians oppose extending Russia’s presence in Sevastopol beyond 2017. And Moscow has allocated a billion rubles to build a new base at Novorossiysk, but billions of dollars are required to create modern infrastructure there. Yevseyev doesn’t like Novorossiysk, or Ochamchira:
“But we need to choose, otherwise the fleet could simply be liquidated. Russia is just simply marking time.”
Svpressa.ru seconds this line of thought, concluding that malicious people say the fleet’s fate has been decided, and Russia’s Crimean base is folding up, and, in order to avoid a furor, its order-of-battle will be liquidated by taking units out of service.
It’s odd, the Black Sea fleet is the only fleet with any change of engaging in real action -that they’re seemingly willing to let it go seems to indicate that they don’t relly have a choice -they simply don’t have the capability to maintain it. The basing issue is of course real but it doesn’t fully explain why the Baltic fleet is getting corvettes while the Black sea fleet isn’t. Surely even Novorossiysk should be able to host a few corvettes?
Good point, they’ve actually engaged a hostile force recently . . . you’re right, much as they might want it, they don’t seem capable of organizing to surmount the obstacles to keeping a real naval force there. There’s been something of a tradition of keeping the first unit of a new class close to where it was built (to facilitate repairs), so Steregushchiy staying in Baltic Fleet isn’t too much of a surprise. The BSF needs some of the corvettes, but what happens when they get there and aren’t properly supported and maintained? They get old really fast.