The Russian navy just canceled two major warship programs.
That should come as no surprise. The Kremlin struggled to fund shipbuilding even before the novel-coronavirus pandemic sent oil prices plummeting to zero in late April 2020.
Russia’s defense ministry has suspended the development of the Project 23560 nuclear-powered cruiser and the Project 22350M frigate, Interfax reported.
The two projects represented the navy’s main efforts to modernize its “blue-water” fleet of battlecruisers and destroyers. Suspending the two projects further accelerates the Russian navy’s decades-long evolution into a mostly “green-water” coastal force.
The problem, as always, is money. Russia spends around $70 billion annually on its armed forces, just a tenth what the United States spends on its own military. At that level of spending, Moscow cannot afford to maintain the same blue-water navy that Washington does.
The Project 23560 is a battlecruiser design displacing more than 10,000 tons of water, making it similar in size to the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt- and Ticonderoga-class cruisers as well as the Chinese navy’s Type 055 cruiser.
But where the American and Chinese types feature conventional propulsion, the Project 23560 is nuclear-powered. It’s worth noting that the Russian fleet’s two Cold War-vintage Kirov-class battlecruisers also boast nuclear propulsion.
In Russian service, cruisers function as the flagships of missile-armed surface action groups whose main role is to control huge swathes of ocean in order to protect ballistic-missile submarines and defend against American aircraft carriers.
With the suspension of Project 23560 and time running out for the aging Kirovs, in the near future the Russian fleet either will have to rely on smaller vessels for this role or rewrite its doctrine.
Tragically for the Russian navy, the Kremlin also has suspended development of a large frigate that could have functioned as a replacement for the new cruiser. The Project 22350M frigate design is an evolution of the Project 22350.
The first Project 22350, Admiral Gorshkov, is in service. Several more are undergoing trials. The class in all is supposed to number 15. The frigates each pack as many as 72 missiles in vertical cells, making them roughly half the size as an American Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and only slightly less heavily-armed.
Project 22350 would have scaled up Admiral Gorshkov and added an additional 48 missile cells, potentially allowing the type to match the firepower of a bigger cruiser, albeit without the same endurance or survivability.
With work ending on both the new cruiser and the frigate that could have supplanted it, the Russian navy is left with new programs for corvettes, smaller frigates and submarines. When Cold War vessels such as the sole aircraft carrier finally age out, the Russian navy will be a new kind of fleet.
Its submarines will remain capable of global deployments, but its diminished surface fleet will lack the ability to sail long distances. Instead, it will remain close to home, performing a mostly defensive role while occasionally lobbing cruise missiles at distant targets.