Category Archives: Naval Modernization

Improved Kilo for Northern Fleet?

This week featured the normal ramp-up for Submariner’s Day (March 19).

According to Interfaks-AVN, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev stated on March 16 that the Northern Fleet will receive a new project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine in 2021. The Improved Kilos are Kalibr LACM (SS-N-30A) shooters that Admiralty Wharves have busily built for the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets since the early 2010s.

Admiralty is currently at work on units 3-6 for the Pacific Fleet. A unit beyond number six has been postulated for the Baltic Fleet. But if Moiseyev’s Northern Fleet is to get an Improved Kilo in 2021, it’ll have to be one forecast for the Pacific (probably Magadan). Moiseyev said his fleet is preparing a crew for the boat this year.

Not as much a news story, Moiseyev said (again per Interfaks-AVN) that Northern Fleet submarines are widening their training and patrol areas.

In his briefing dedicated to the impending holiday, the Northern Fleet’s commander said:

It’s become normal practice for us when we have more than a dozen submarines of various classes at sea working on different tasks.

Visiting our garrisons you can’t but notice that many piers are empty. This says yet again that submarine crews are occupied with carrying out missions — they are improving their at-sea training, fulfilling combat training tasks, carrying out combat duty or combat patrol. 

Recently the Northern Fleet has significantly broadened the regions in which we are occupied with planned combat training.

Moiseyev reminded his audience that, in 2019, Delta IV-class Tula and Borey-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy fired SLBMs and crews of Delta IV-class Karelia and Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk “confirmed their readiness to operate as designated . . . .”

Vice-Admiral Moiseyev reported reconstruction of piers and shore facilities at Gadzhiyevo (SSBNs and SSNs) is complete and similar work is focused on Zaozersk (Severodvinsk and SSGNs).

Worth stating the obvious. Empty piers could also mean that sub numbers are low or some subs are under repair.

More on the Damage Estimate

Additional thoughts regarding the damage to Admiral Kuznetsov . . . .

The gulf between OSK chief Rakhmanov’s 300 million rubles and 95 billion rubles from Kommersant’s Northern Fleet staff officer source is as wide as it gets. How do we parse what we’ve heard? Whom do we believe?

Admiral Kuznetsov on fire

Interesting that Rakhmanov had something of an estimate, but, at the same time, said, “We simply weren’t allowed on-board for a long time.” He also rejected the possibility of critical damage right after the fire. Can he really know the extent of damage if experts haven’t been on-board?

The same may go for Kommersant’s source. Have he and other naval officers been on-board? Maybe 95 billion was misheard? Doesn’t seem likely though in the case of a quality paper like Kommersant.

We’re in a “he said, she said.”

So let’s try to understand 300 million and 95 billion rubles.

  • A TASS feature in July indicated that a Krylov center design for a 44,000-ton catamaran-hull carrier, the design alone, would cost 3-4 billion rubles.
  • In December, an OPK source told RIAN development and construction of an unspecified new carrier would likely cost Moscow 300-400 billion rubles ($4.7-6.3 billion).
  • Even the “medium repair and limited modernization” of Admiral Kuznetsov, as envisaged in 2018, is likely to cost at least 55 billion rubles ($860 million), per Bmpd.
  • To get your bearings, first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) cost $12.8 billion to build with $4.7 billion in R&D costs.

Bottom line: we have to wait and see how much this fire costs the Russian Navy, if we ever find out. We have to watch for Russia’s financial calculus vis-à-vis continuing the repair and modernization of Kuznetsov. But here’s a guess. The fire damage from December 12 will be closer to Kommersant’s number than Rakhmanov’s.

Kuznetsov Damage Estimate

We’re still waiting to learn (and may never know) how much the December 12 fire aboard the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov will cost the Russian Navy.

According to Interfaks, OSK chief Aleksey Rakhmanov said the bill will exceed 300 million rubles ($4.7 million).

Fire on Admiral Kuznetsov

Rakhmanov told Russian journalists:

. . . there’s no final figure. The commission continues to work. Given that the work of firefighters and law enforcement organs has been gathered up, I think we still require some time to reconcile it. We simply weren’t allowed on-board for a long time.

. . . I don’t want to scare or delight anyone, but there’s definitely no 90 billion [$1.4 billion] there. But I think we won’t get away for 300 million.

Recall the fire took a day to extinguish and two Russian naval personnel — an enlisted contractee and an officer — died, and 14 others were injured.

In the immediate aftermath, Rakhmanov claimed Kuznetsov didn’t sustain critical damage. He rejected a December 19 Kommersant story indicating that the bill for fire repairs could reach 95 billion rubles. The business daily said the estimate came from a Northern Fleet staff officer.

The OSK chief said equipment in the engine room where the blaze occurred was already dismantled. Welding sparks started the fire and it apparently spread to electrical cables.

Completed in the early 1990s, the ill-fated sole Russian carrier is being renovated under an April 2018 contract. The ship was damaged in late October 2018 while floating out of the PD-50 dry dock at Roslyakovo. Kuznetsov was initially set to be finished in 2021, but the date has slipped to 2022.

The carrier reportedly will receive a navalized version of the Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) gun-missile air defense system, new boilers, pumps, flight control and communications systems, as well as repairs to its turbines.

Still Waiting for Subs

Budnichenko and Krivoruchko at Sevmash

Krivoruchko and Budnichenko at Sevmash

The press-conference photo shows Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar Aleksey Krivoruchko with Sevmash general director Mikhail Budnichenko. Heavily scaffolded CGN Admiral Nakhimov provides the backdrop. The Sevmash boss looks like he needs some antacids.

Krivoruchko told the assembled Russian media:

“The quantity of nuclear submarines being transferred to the fleet will be increased, the decision on this has been made. We expect to receive 10 nuclear submarines of projects 955A and 885M by 2024.”

If we’re generous, we could say the Russian Navy got (or will get) five new SSBNs and two new SSNs — a grand total of seven — in the first two decades of the 21st century.

Now Krivoruchko says Sevmash will finish and deliver ten in the next five years.

Let’s look closer.

The initial 955A — Knyaz Vladimir — is in trials and could be accepted in December 2019.

Krivoruchko also told the media Knyaz Oleg, Yasen-M SSNs Kazan and Novosibirsk, and former project 949A Oscar II SSGN Belgorod — now project 09852 and reported Poseydon “doomsday torpedo” carrier — will be received in 2020.

He also noted that contracts for two more Borey-A (making ten Borey boats overall including seven Borey-A units) and two more Yasen-M (nine Yasen overall including eight Yasen-M) have been signed.

If Kazan arrives in 2020, Novosibirsk seems more likely in 2021. Knyaz Oleg might reach the fleet in 2021.

Krasnoyarsk possibly in 2022, and Arkhangelsk in 2023. Generalissimus Suvorov could be delivered in 2023 or 2024. Perm perhaps in 2024.

The first of the last two Borey-A SSBNs currently on the books — Imperator Aleksandr III — might make the 2024 deadline. But almost certainly not the other — Knyaz Pozharskiy.

So ten new nuclear submarines in Russia’s order-of-battle by the end of 2024 is certainly conceivable, but is it likely? Here are some difficulties:

  • Russia is still taking an inordinate amount of time to build boats. Nine, ten, even 11 years. It hasn’t delivered a new nuclear submarine in five years. Saying it can cut the time to seven or eight years could be specious.
  • 2020 is the big year. If Russian builders don’t deliver the five submarines Krivoruchko promised in 2020, his plan for 2024 becomes impossible. All other boats will be pushed back accordingly.
  • The backlog in the hall at Sevmash will be hard to unwind. Instead of cutting to 7-8 years, build time could stay at 9-10-11 years.
  • Five years is a long time. Political, economic, technological, and military changes could impact Krivoruchko’s schedule decisively.

Perhaps Krivoruchko’s message is just the MOD’s latest effort to hurry Sevmash along.

The extra two 955A SSBNs Krivoruchko mentioned, if built, would give Moscow a force of ten modern boats to split evenly between its Northern and Pacific Fleets.

Submarine Class Delivery Laydown to Delivery (Years)
Yuriy Dolgorukiy Borey 2013 16
Aleksandr Nevskiy Borey 2013 10
Vladimir Monomakh Borey 2014 9
Severodvinsk Yasen 2014 20
Knyaz Vladimir Borey-A 2019-2020 (?) 7-8 (?)
Kazan Yasen-M 2020 (?) 11 (?)
Belgorod ex-Oscar II 2020 (?) 28 (?)
Novosibirsk Yasen-M 2021 (?) 8 (?)
Knyaz Oleg Borey-A 2021 (?) 7 (?)
Krasnoyarsk Yasen-M 2022 (?) 8 (?)
Arkhangelsk Yasen-M 2023 (?) 8 (?)
Generalissimus Suvorov Borey-A 2023-2024 (?) 8-9 (?)
Perm Yasen-M 2024 (?) 8 (?)
Imperator Aleksandr III Borey-A 2024-2025 (?) 8-9 (?)
Knyaz Pozharskiy Borey-A 2025-2026 (?) 8-9 (?)
??? Yasen-M
??? Yasen-M
??? Borey-A
??? Borey-A

Return of Neustrashimyy

Russian press reported recently that project 11540 frigate Neustrashimyy (SKR 712) will  rejoin the Baltic Fleet before the end of 2019.

The 26-year-old ship’s extended capital repairs began when it arrived at Yantar in Kaliningrad in early 2014.

Neustrashimyy looking worse for wear some years ago

Neustrashimyy looking worse for wear some years ago

Neustrashimyy is supposed to begin moored trials in May, underway tests in August, and return to service in November.

Delivery of the refurbished ship has been postponed for various reasons, including difficulties in repairing its Ukrainian gas turbine engines after Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.

That problem has been surmounted reportedly, and Yantar will receive the renovated engines from a Russian manufacturer (probably NPO Saturn) by spring. We’ll see.

The ship suffered a minor fire due to careless welding almost exactly one year ago. That also likely contributed to the delay.

Under a “medium repair” scheduled for completion by December 2016, Yantar is repairing Neustrashimyy’s hull, screws, and shafts. The ship’s water pumps, firefighting, fuel, electrical, and control systems are also being updated. The yard is reassembling equipment and preparing to relaunch the ship at present.

According to Flotprom.ru, the original deadline was pushed to November 2017, and then to November 2019.

Neustrashimyy in drydock

Neustrashimyy in drydock

The 3,800-ton frigate was laid down in 1987 and commissioned in 1993. It has participated in exercises with NATO countries and anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, operated in Russia’s Mediterranean ship group, and conducted many foreign port visits.

Project 11540 stopped at unit 2 Yaroslav Mudryy, which is also part of the Baltic Fleet. Instead of project 11540, the Russian Navy opted to build project 11356 Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates.

Moskva Decision

Undated photo of Moskva in drydock

Undated photo of Moskva in drydock

An Interfaks-AVN source has told the news agency the fate of Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva is undecided. For now, the cruiser remains at Sevastopol’s 13th Ship Repair Plant (13 SRZ) with a caretaker crew. And the Navy Main Command faces a complex choice.

Option 1 is a “deep modernization” costing perhaps 40-50 billion rubles the navy lacks. It would be “deeper” than Marshal Ustinov’s (which was really a protracted overhaul). The Northern Fleet’s Ustinov was laid up at Zvezdochka from 2011 until late 2016. But with Moskva, the superstructure would reportedly be modified to accommodate a VLS for the Kalibr-NK to replace the ship’s aged SS-N-12 / Sandbox ASCMs. But Moskva itself is already 35 years old.

Option 2 is scrapping Moskva. AVN’s source says this would be a blow to Russian and navy prestige, but he claims two new Gorshkov-class frigates (project 22350) could be built with funds not spent on Moskva.

In 2018, Moskva was expected to begin a three-year repair at Sevastopol’s Sevmorzavod — a Zvezdochka affiliate.

That three-year repair is actually Option 3, a middle point between “deep modernization” and scrapping. And it’s usually the choice settled upon.

Not mentioned by AVN is the 40-50 billion rubles for “deep modernization” is just a little less than what the navy planned to spend to return its Kuznetsov carrier to service (before PD-50 sank damaging the flight deck in the process).

Moskva was active in the Med supporting Russian operations in Syria from 2014 through early 2016, but has been virtually inactive since.

At some point, the navy will also have to decide what to do about the third and final Slava-class CG, the Pacific Fleet’s Varyag. It has 28 years of service and many miles under its keel.

Meanwhile, we wait for word on Moskva.

Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part II)

Some comments on Klimov’s VPK article . . . .

In his short opinion piece, Klimov doesn’t systematically address the cost-benefit of Russia’s nuclear-powered submarine forces. But he has an opinion: their price outweighs their usefulness.

He’s not happy with what little he’s seen from the Borey and Bulava programs, but he seems to favor keeping a naval component in Russia’s strategic nuclear triad.

He’s not persuaded when it comes to SSNs.

Klimov states flatly that Moscow’s effort to modernize its third-generation attack boats has failed and it has turned instead to project 885/885M. But these fourth-generation subs are too expensive and too few in number. Producing them as an effective means of non-nuclear deterrence, Klimov writes, is beyond Russia’s economic capabilities.

While the 885/885M design might approach U.S. levels of stealthiness, they aren’t rolling out of Sevmash like sausages. Not even commissioned, Kazan will make two. Yes, two.

The U.S. Navy has had three Seawolf-class SSNs since 2005. It has 16 Virginia-class subs in service. Another is ready for commissioning. Nine, yes, nine are under construction. Ten Block V boats could be built in the 2020s. And the U.S. Navy also maintains a capable force of more than 30 Los Angeles-class boats. It has to. It confronts larger, more complex strategic challenges than its Russian counterpart.

From outside, we can only guess whether USN airborne ASW is as successful as Klimov claims. One would expect the FSB to inquire about his sources for this part of his story. Mind you, he was talking about P-3 Orion surveillance, not more modern and capable P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

That older combat systems have been used on the 885/885M, as he asserts, seems likely from past Soviet/Russian evolutionary practice.

Klimov’s recommendations, however, are more difficult to swallow. Redistributing resources from SSNs, which are becoming dolgostroi, to ground forces, surface ships, and naval aviation would be strange.

Spending less on subs in favor of the army could be a legitimate decision for Moscow to make, especially because the navy made out so well in GPV 2011-2020. But it also sounds like something green-uniformed guys in the General Staff might propose. It makes one wonder whether Klimov’s article was commissioned (by someone wearing green).

Proposing that money saved go to surface ships and aviation is puzzling. Sending more rubles down the surface ship “rabbit hole” is unlikely to produce better results. The Russian Navy has always been a submarine navy, and probably always will be (if it gets new submarines). Submarines suit Russia’s strategic situation and requirement to defend against seaborne threats to its continental theaters.

Klimov makes the valid point that Russia will need new weapons and systems for a true fifth-generation submarine. To put older ones into a new hull is to “lay down a growing lag” in the fleet, as he says.

But, from Moscow’s perspective, curtailing sub production risks falling out of the business altogether. Its industrial base for submarines isn’t doing well enough to take time off.

But Klimov’s article is Russian military journalism rarely seen over the past five years or so. He has dared draw conclusions (e.g. the failure of efforts to modernize aging third-generation boats) we haven’t heard from others.