The Kremlin’s new state armament plan, which will run from 2018-2027, is shifting its focus away from the Russian Navy.
Compared to other branches of the Russian military, the navy will sink to last place in securing a piece of the defense budget. Instead of dreams of building massive 14,000-ton Leader-class nuclear-powered destroyers or 100,000-ton aircraft carriers, the Russian Navy will continue to focus on its potent submarine fleet and smaller surface combatants—and equipping those vessels with Kalibr long-range cruise missiles.
“SAP-2027 will undoubtedly include financing for the completion of six Yasen-M nuclear attack submarines and possibly for a seventh, as well as for the modernization of four to six each of the Soviet-era Oscar- and Akula-class nuclear attack submarines,” Center for Naval Analyses senior research scientist Dmitry Gorenburg wrote in a new PONARS Policy Memo .
“Construction of fifth-generation nuclear attack submarines (tentatively named the Husky-class) will begin in the mid-2020s. In diesel submarines, the focus will be on developing air independent propulsion systems for the forthcoming Kalina-class, while Lada- and improved Kilo-class boats are built in the meantime.”
Meanwhile, the Russians have discarded outlandish and impractical concepts such as the massive Leader-class nuclear-powered destroyer. Instead, Russia will focus on smaller but still formidable ships such as the Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate. Indeed, for the immediate future, it will continue building the less capable Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates until technical problems with the Gorshkov-class are resolved.
As Michael Kofman—another research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses— predicted , the Russians are likely to build an enlarged derivative of the Gorshkov as an alternative to the expensive and impractical Leader-class.
“The only new class of surface ships expected to be built in the next eight years are the so-called Super Gorshkov -class, an 8,000-ton frigate that is increasingly seen as a cheaper and more practical alternative to the 14,000-ton Lider-class destroyers,” Gorenburg wrote. “The key takeaway is that the Russian Navy is looking to increase the size of its smaller ships in order to increase their armament and endurance, while reducing costs by indefinitely postponing the procurement of larger ships such as destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and aircraft carriers.”
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While new ships and submarines are a part of the new state armament plan, the most important item part of the Russian Navy modernization program is the addition of the Kalibr missile to additional platforms. The stealthy cruise missiles are a key component of Russia’s efforts to reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons and focus instead on long-range precision strike capability.
“The introduction of Kalibr missiles has provided the Russian Navy with a standoff anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile capability that can be used to make even small ships that have to stay near home ports a potential threat to adversaries, included NATO member states,” Gorenburg wrote.
“The Russian military recognizes the advantages that these missiles provide and has put them on a wide range of ship and submarine classes. Over the next eight years, Russia will continue to deploy these missiles on most new surface ships and submarines, retrofit some existing vessels to carry the missiles, and work to improve the accuracy and reliability of the missiles themselves.”
And as Russian chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov said recently in a speech, the Russians are hoping to develop hypersonic weapons to further reduce their dependence on nuclear forces.
“It is also working to develop a new hypersonic missile that could pose an even greater threat to Russia’s adversaries in the medium to long term,” Gorenburg wrote.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.