Surface Forces: Old Warships Never Die, They Just Fade Away

December 4, 2009: The Russian public is becoming aware of the fact that they won't have much of a navy in 5-10 years. The problem is that, in that period, most of the Cold War era warships that now comprise the fleet, will have to be retired. These ships are falling apart, as there was not any money, since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, for repairs and upgrades. The Russian parliament is calling for more money, to build enough surface ships to maintain a respectable fleet. That is proving difficult. Then there's the problem that most of Russians warship building capability has disappeared since 1991. To that end. the government is negotiating with France to buy the right to buy a Mistral amphibious assault ship/helicopter carrier, and the right to built three more in Russian shipyards. During that process, Russian shipbuilders will learn how it's done in the West.

For the last seventeen years, most of the Russian construction effort went into finishing a few subs, and building some surface ships for export. Currently building are three SSBNs (the new Borei class, one of which recently entered service), one new SSN (attack sub, that has been building for 15 years now and was recently finished), and one new Amur conventional sub, with two more building. There is a new class of 4,500 ton frigates (the Gorshkov class), but only one is under construction and won't be finished for another two years. The Gorshkov's have a 130mm gun, plus anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. The navy wants at least a dozen of these 4,500 ton ships, but the money has not been provided yet.

There is one Stereguschyy class corvette in service, with three more building. These are small ships (2,100 tons displacement), costing about $125 million each. These "Project 20380" ships have impressive armament (two 30mm anti-missile cannon, one 100mm cannon, eight anti-ship missiles, six anti-submarine missiles, two eight cell anti-missile missile launchers). There is a helicopter platform, but the ship is not designed to carry one regularly. Crew size, of one hundred officers and sailors, is achieved by a large degree of automation. The ship also carries air search and navigation radars. It can cruise 6,500 kilometers on one load of fuel. Normally, the ship would stay out 7-10 days at a time, unless it received replenishment at sea. Like the American LCS, the Russian ship is meant for coastal operations. The navy wants at least fifty of them. There is also an amphibious ship under construction, and lots of talk about aircraft carriers. But until money is allocated, and construction starts, it's all just talk.

Meanwhile, the fleet is a collection of aging Cold War ships. This includes about a dozen SSBNs, two dozen SSNs (nuclear attack subs) and about fifty diesel-electric boats. There's one aircraft carrier, five cruisers, 17 destroyers, eleven frigates and about fifty corvettes. There are about twenty amphibious ships still in service. All these Cold War era ships suffered from years of neglect during the 1990s, and most are not in the best of shape. In ten years, all of them will be gone. The new fleet, even if construction picks up, will be much smaller. The Russian fleet will go from 170 ships and subs now, to less than a third of that. This is not popular with most Russians, but the money, capability and will is not there to do much more.

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