Surface Forces: A New Generation Of Russian Warships



November 2, 2010: Russia is hard at work building a new class of 4,500 ton frigates (the Gorshkov class or "Project 22350"), but only two are under construction and one was recently launched, but is still only half complete. The navy wants twenty Gorshkovs, but the government has only promised money for twelve. That is a big improvement, because until a few years ago, Russia was facing the loss of nearly all its surface warships.

For over a decade, Russian admirals have been aware of the fact that they won't have much of a navy in a decade or so. The problem is that, in that period, most of the Cold War era warships that now comprise the fleet 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 finally came up with more money, to build enough surface ships to maintain a respectable fleet. But there's a problem. Most of Russia's warship building capability has disappeared since 1991. To that end, the government is negotiating with France to import modern warship building techniques, by purchasing a Mistral amphibious assault ship/helicopter carrier, and the right to build three more in Russian shipyards. During that process, Russian shipbuilders will learn how it's done in the West. For the last two decades, most of the Russian construction effort went into finishing a few subs, and building some surface ships for export.

The Gorshkov's are armed with a 130mm gun, two Kashtan autocannon systems for missile defense, 8 Yakhont 3M55 or PJ-10 BrahMos anti-ship missiles (both are three ton supersonic missiles, with the BrahMos being an advanced version of Yakhont developed in cooperation with India), a launcher for 24 Uragan 1 (SA-N-12) anti-aircraft missiles (30 kilometers range, 70 kg/154 pound warhead), four 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes, four RPK-9 (SS-N-29) anti-submarine rockets and a helicopter. These ships require a crew of 210 sailors and will have the latest electronics the Russians have available for anti-air and anti-submarine work. These ships cost about $400 million each, and will replace larger ships like the 7,900 ton Sovremenny class destroyers. These older, larger, ships, were designed for high seas operations far from Russian shores. The new fleet will be a return to the traditional Russian coastal navy.

There are also  two of the new Stereguschyy class corvettes in service, with four 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.

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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