Why the Russian Navy Is a More Capable Adversary Than It Appears

August 22, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Europe Tags: Russian NavyMoscowPutinRussiaKremlinSubmarine

Why the Russian Navy Is a More Capable Adversary Than It Appears

The oft-unacknowledged truth is that the Russian Navy is a lot more operational now than it has been in many years.

In the interim the Russian Navy will remain a mess, but one that is slowly being cleaned up. The “kalibrzation” of the Russian Navy will continue, more Kalibr missile shooters, larger magazines and higher missile counts in storage. Russia will continue pumping out diesel and nuclear-powered submarines and refitting some of the existing Soviet platforms with current generation offensive systems as a cost-saving measure.

While the coming years will be spent on system integration and working out the problems in shipbuilding, new generation weapon systems—like hypersonic missiles—are already in development. For all its woes, the Russian Navy is actually in better shape than it ever has been in the post–Cold War period. Today ships and submarines are staffed entirely by contract servicemen, with conscripts used for shore duties. On the whole this is a service trying to recover from some of the worst decades in its history, but the Russian admiralty has room for cautious optimism.

There are still plenty of deficits to point to, but the Russian Navy isn’t going anywhere; when you look at the trend lines over the near to midterm, they are actually positive. Russia is building a navy that makes sense for its strategy. It is transitioning to a green-water force by design, while retaining and investing in capabilities that will allow it to deter or threaten stronger maritime powers for decades to come. So the next time you hear that the Russian Navy is disappearing, Russia is running out of people, out of money, or out of business, and want to test this theory, just remember to pack a life raft.

Michael Kofman is a senior research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. In addition to his work at the center, he is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Kennan Institute, and a nonresident fellow at the Modern War Institute, West Point. Kofman runs a blog on issues related to the Russian military.

Jeffrey Edmonds is a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. Edmonds served for three years as director for Russia on the National Security Council and was the acting senior director for Russia during the presidential transition.

Image: Reuters