Russia Has a Deadly Plan to Defend the Black Sea
As the State Armament Program (SAP) 2011–2020 is coming to an end, Moscow has floated a new military program for the 2018–2027 period. Despite the sanctions, economic difficulties and the collapse of oil revenues, the Russian Navy has demonstrated that it can contribute to Russia’s international posture, as demonstrated during the Moscow’s Syrian campaign. Among the five Russian naval formations—namely the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific fleets as well the Caspian flotilla—the Black Sea fleet has undergone the most remarkable changes since 2010. Although modest by their number and their tonnage, its units are involved in operations in the Black Sea basin, the Mediterranean, and more sporadically, beyond the Suez Canal and the Gibraltar Straits, in the “World Ocean.” New platforms inducted in the course of the 2011–2020 SAP have provided the Black Sea fleet with enhanced multirole capabilities, in spite of difficulties experienced by the VPK—the Russian military-industrial complex—to meet the objectives outlined in the armament program. While the Black Sea Fleet is inexorably transitioning to a green-water force, it features a growing ability to carry out cruise-missile strikes way beyond Russia’s immediate neighborhood. Furthermore, it retains the ability to operate in remote maritime areas, such as the Levant.
Revamping the Black Sea Fleet: Half a Success
The modernization plan of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet outlined in the 2011–2020 SAP has not been fulfilled as originally thought. However, it has already produced tangible results, the first of which being the end of the continuing attrition of the operational capacities that affected the Russian navy during the 1990s and most of the 2000s. However, the Euro-Atlantic sanctions, on the one hand, and the rupture of the cooperation between the Russian VPK and Western and Ukrainian defense industries, on the other hand, have jeopardized the construction of some platforms, while delaying the completion of other new units. From the six initially planned Project 11356M frigates (Admiral Grigorovicth type), only three have been commissioned, whereas the three others have been left without their Ukrainian made turbines. Russia is waiting for Saturn—a Russian company based in Rybinsk—to come up with a national replacement solution, something that could be done in 2018. The Project 21631 small missiles ships and the Project 21980 anti-saboteur boats received until 2014 their German made engines, manufactured by MTU. Russian VPK have had to turn to China after the Ukrainian crisis to find a replacement solution after Germany ceased its cooperation with Russia. Chinese turbines are problematic, since the they do not seem powerful enough. Only the five first units of the Project 21631 have received their German turbines. Three of them have been assigned to the Caspian flotilla, which is regrouped together with the Black Sea Fleet in the Southern Military District. The two other missiles ships have been transferred to the Baltic Fleet. Russia’s objectives to enhance its submarine capabilities in the Black Sea have been met successfully; the six planned Project 0636.3 conventional submarines have all been inducted in the fleet. They carry Kalibr cruise missiles, and together with the new Project 11356M frigates and Project 21631 small missiles ships, they have carried out cruise missiles strikes in Syria from the Eastern Mediterranean. Dispatched in the Levant and in the Black Sea basin, these platforms can hit targets in most of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
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Acknowledging the technical and financial difficulties raised by the sanctions and the cessation of industrial cooperation with foreign actors, Russia decided in 2014–2015 to launch two new construction programs for the Black Sea Fleet: small missiles ships of the Project 22800 and small patrol boats of the Project 22160. The Project 22800 features Kalibr cruise missiles while being a very light surface platform at only 800 tons. Seven units have already been laid down, all slated for the Black Sea Fleet, with the lead ship scheduled to be commissioned in 2018. Meanwhile, the Black Sea Fleet’s only high sea vessel, the Soviet-era missiles cruiser Moskva (Project 1164), should undergo a reparation and deep-modernization cycle in the near future, possibly at Sevastopol shipyard. The SAP 2011–2020 does not include any refreshment, let alone expansion, of the blue water capacities of the Russian navy at all.
Singularity of the Black Sea Naval Theater: Russia's Need for a Multidirectional Defense