The Realities of Russian Military Shipbuilding (Part Two)

(Source: The Maritime Executive)

* To read Part 1, please click here.

A constant drumbeat of Russian propaganda and sensationalist international reporting has created the impression that Russian naval forces are far more formidable than they actually have been. This convinced some Western policymakers that any policy aimed at putting pressure on Moscow could lead to a dangerous or uncontrollable escalation, over which the West would have little or no influence. But in reality, the Russian military-maritime fleet (Voyenno-Morskoy flow—VMF) suffers from persistent problems replacing its aging fleet of surface ships and submarines due to systemic issues plaguing the domestic shipbuilding industry. Old technologies, worn out shipyards, lack of skilled personnel, limited resources, corruption and most importantly, Western sanctions limiting Russia’s ability to access necessary components like gas turbine engines, have all hampered Russian ambitions to build a world-class navy (see part one in EDM, October 5). As such, the current state of the recovery of the Russian shipbuilding industry and, therefore, the capabilities of the VMF diverge sharply from Moscow’s plans.

The results of the implementation of the “Russian State Shipbuilding Program until 2020”, for example, come close to achieving the ambitions set out in this planning document, which was the first of its kind approved by the Kremlin in the post-Soviet period. At the end of 2020, the VMF received four strategic missile submarines (50 percent of what was part of the plan), two nuclear-powered submarines (25 percent), eight conventional submarines (100 percent). cent), five frigates (33 per cent) and seven corvettes (20 per cent) (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, August 7, 2020).

A particularly troubling situation for the Russian Navy is its lack of large ocean-going warships, considered the essential platforms needed to project naval power: namely, missile cruisers and aircraft carriers. Plans to build a new Russian aircraft carrier remain totally unclear, hampered by the technological complexity and considerable cost of such a project (see EDM, June 18, 2019 and March 11, 2021). An estimated price for an aircraft carrier is 600 billion rubles ($ 8.5 billion) plus about 100 billion rubles ($ 1.4 billion) to fund the wing. Together, this figure equates to two current annual VMF budgets for the purchase of weapons. Russian experts estimate that the country needs three aircraft carriers for its operations at sea. And some have predicted that the first of these warships could be built in 2033; but it’s still unclear where such a massive ship could be built. All Soviet aircraft carriers were built in Mykolaiv, Ukraine (Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier, June 14, 2021).

The cases of modernization and repair of the nuclear-powered heavy cruiser are particularly informative about the general situation of the Russian shipbuilding industry. Admiral Nakhimov and aircraft carriers Admiral Kuznetsov.

Kirov-class heavy nuclear cruiser (Project 1144) Admiral Nakhimov, commissioned in 1988, in total served the VMF of the Russian Federation for less than ten years. It was withdrawn from operations in 1997 and scheduled for modernization, a process that has already taken nearly 25 years. The decision on the final design of the modernization was not finalized until 2013. The actual work started in 2016 and is still ongoing. The planned completion date has been repeatedly delayed; currently, the warship will supposedly be ready to join the Russian Navy in 2024-2025. The total cost of this modernization is estimated at over 100 billion rubles ($ 1.4 billion), which is equivalent to the cost of building three or four new frigates (TASS, April 26, 2021).

Russia’s only remaining aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov (Project 11435; technically classified as “heavy aircraft cruiser”), commissioned in 1990, was to be repaired and modernized in early 2017. However, on October 30, 2018, during ongoing repairs to the aging ship, the gigantic 330 meters The PD-50 floating dock collapsed with the Kuznetsov inside. The wharf crane fell and damaged the ship’s deck and seriously injured or killed several workers. The PD-50 sank shortly after, while the Kuznetsov had to be moved to another shipyard to continue its overhaul. A year later, on December 12, 2019, a large fire broke out aboard the aircraft carrier, killing two and injuring a dozen, seven of whom had to be hospitalized. A damage assessment took several months, extending planned repairs by at least a year. Finally, the VMF Northern Fleet headquarters estimated the cost of the damage caused by the fire to the Kuznetsov to 95 billion rubles ($ 1.5 billion), practically equal to the present value of the aircraft carrier itself – 110 billion rubles ($ 1.8 billion) (Vzglyad, December 18, 2019).

The by Kouznetsov The difficulties are not only structural. In March 2021, the general manager of the tenth Murmansk shipyard was arrested on suspicion of embezzling around 45 million rubles ($ 0.6 million) allocated for the repair of the Russian aircraft carrier.. Then, on July 2, 2021, the director of 35e The Murmansk shipyard, currently carrying out repairs on the ship, was also arrested. He was accused of stealing state property entrusted to him with the use of his official function (Morskie Vesti RossiiJuly 2, 2021). It is already evident that the launch of the Kuznetsov shipyard for sea trials will be further delayed, at least until 2023 and most likely beyond that date.

The realities of Russian shipbuilding are far from cloudless and still littered with unresolved challenges and the legacy of the Soviet era. Home technologies lag behind their Western counterparts in many ways; while the budget is heavily dependent on uninterrupted state revenues from the sale of oil and natural gas. Therefore, Western allies are well positioned to influence and control Russia’s growing appetite for domination at sea.

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