The Russian Navy's 5 Most Deadly Weapons of War

Moscow's marauders on the high seas. 

The Russian Navy has a lot of catching up to do. After decades of being chronically underfunded, Russia’s defense budget has finally grown to the point where the country is building new naval vessels. Russia’s defense budget, which was at $68.9 billion in 2013, will hit $81 billion this year.

Much of that will go to the Russian Navy. Russia is beginning to rebuild her fleet, with an emphasis on submarines and the country’s sea-based nuclear deterrent. A new surface fleet centered around a new aircraft carrier is planned, possibly including multiple aircraft carriers. An effort to deploy a new amphibious force has stalled with the cancellation of a sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers.

The stakes are high. The Russian Navy is old and decrepit, and without it Russia will be unable to project power and influence beyond Eurasia. North and South America, most of the Pacific Ocean, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and much of the Middle East would be out of reach of Russian conventional forces

With that in mind, here’s five of Russia’s most lethal weapons of war.

New Aircraft Carrier

In March, Russian Navy commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov announced that a new Russian aircraft carrier was under development. The carrier, which will not be operational sooner than 2030, will represent a leap in Russian expeditionary capability.

The new carrier is to weigh 100,000 tons — as much as a modern U.S. supercarrier — and carry up to 100 aircraft. A mockup made by the Krylov State Research Center features an angled flight deck, three aircraft elevators, a split, two structure bridge and ski jumps to assist takeoffs.

The air wing for the carrier appears to consist of a navalized version of the new PAK-FA 5th generation stealth fighter with folding wings, MiG-35 multi-role naval fighters, Kamov helicopters and an airborne early warning aircraft similar to the E-2D Hawkeye. Given advances in unmanned aerial vehicles, it seems likely UAVs will form part of any future Russian air wing.

Russia faces a number of challenges in building a new aircraft carrier. Russia’s shipbuilding industry is a shadow of what it was during the Cold War. It’s worth keeping in mind that when Russia wanted large amphibious assault ships, it had to purchase them from France.

Carriers are also expensive: USS Gerald R. Ford, for example, will cost $12.8 billion. It will also need aircraft, submarines, cruisers, destroyers, and replenishment ships to arm, protect, and support it. Then there are operating costs for a carrier battle group, which can exceed $1 billion for a six-month cruise.

Finally, if Russia were to go the super carrier route, it can’t build just one. The rule of thumb is that in order to have one carrier available at all times, a navy should have at least three. To keep one available in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Russia would need six.

Improved Kilo Submarine Type 636.3 (“Varshavyanka”)

Russia’s post-Cold War submarine program has seen turbulent times. Despite being a conservative design, Russia’s newest diesel-electric submarine class, Lada, was hung up for the better part of a decade with technical difficulties. The first Lada was commissioned in 2010 only to fail sea trials.

Until the kinks were ironed out, the decision was made to continue producing an updated version of the older Kilo-class. The result is the Type 636.3, also known as Varshavyanka. Russia is building six Type 636.3 submarines for the Black Sea Fleet, which protects the country’s interests in the Mediterranean and beyond.

The Kilo-class has primarily been an anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare submarine; with the addition of the land-attack version of the Klub missile it can now strike targets on the ground. Other upgrades include improvements in hull shaping, quietness, and range. According to the Russian press, the Type 636.3 class can achieve speeds of up to 20 knots underwater, and depths of 300 meters.

The Type 636.3 class has six torpedo tubes and carries 18 torpedoes and six missiles. The Russian Navy’s UGST heavyweight wake-homing torpedo is capable of delivering a 200 kilogram warhead to ranges of up to 40 kilometers at a speed of 50 knots and a depth of 500 meters. The Type 636.3 class also carries six Klub anti-ship or land attack missiles.

Four of the six submarines, Novorossiysk, Rostov-on-Don, Stary Oskol  and Krasnodar have been already been launched. Russia’s extensive experience with the Kilo-class design has led to some rapid shipbuilding schedules: Krasnodar was begun in February 2014 and launched just fourteen months later, in April 2015.

The last two submarines, Veliky Novgorod and Kolpino are to join the fleet by 2016.

Type 677 Lada Submarine

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