Russia Needs a Strong Navy

By Rear Admiral Valery Aleksin, Russian Navy

Because financial resources are scarce, we must set our priorities carefully. We must determine what military, economic, and political dangers exist, and then establish the character of these dangers. Next, we need to determine the role and significance of the Navy in protecting and promoting the long-term state and national interests of Russia and the role of navies in modern war.

Military, Economic, and Political Dangers

After World War II, the system of international relations was based on the geopolitical and ideological contradictions of the two main centers of power—the United States and the U.S.S.R. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s wrecked this bipolar organization and the dynamic force balance that had provided strategic stability during the 40-year Cold War. Before the leading world powers there arose the task of forming a new model of world organization, and a new system of geopolitical, geostrategic, and geoeconomic balance.

The political and military leadership of the United States initially tried to construct a new unipolar world order, but in the intervening five years, a competing multipolar model based on the principles of international law and consideration of all states' interests has emerged. But it is too early to tell which model will predominate.

In the mid-1990s, the main centers of world production were the United States (about 25%), Japan (16%), China (8%), and Germany (6%). This, in conjunction with the trend toward interstate economic blocs, has led to a tripolar structure where the United States, Germany, and Japan dominate. No longer a superpower because of our continuing crisis, Russia lags these main power centers on a number of key parameters. Our world share is about 2% of production, 2.5% of population, 4% of military expenses, and 6% of the armed forces. The causes of this crisis are economic and political, not military.

The global changes that have occurred in the post-confrontation era effectively have eliminated the threat of thermonuclear conflict, but they have not diminished other dangers to the world at large. Ethnic, religious, economic, territorial, and other nongovernmental controversies will be the most probable crises calling for military involvement. Most of these conflicts are situated on Russian borders, or on the borders of Russia's old allies and partners.

The new political thinking pursued by our leadership for the past ten years did not produce the expected stability in the international situation. On the contrary, the situation has become more complicated and acute. Unilateral self-dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization did not lead to the self-dissolution of NATO. Indeed, NATO is expanding eastward to the borders of Russia. This significantly changes the balance of power in Europe and threatens the isolation of Russia.

In the East, China and the countries of Southeast Asia are beginning large-scale rearmament, and 20 to 25 countries reportedly are pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. The struggle for economic and political influence around the world to gain possession of raw material resources is growing sharper. All of this leads us to the conclusion that the transition to the 21st century will not be quiet and unclouded.

In the short term, the main threat for Russia lies in boundary and local conflicts, such as Chechnya and Tajikistan. In the mid term, however, the threat could grow, especially in the south and east. A weak Russia will tempt the growing powers. In addition, transforming NATO into the dominant military-political power in Europe could lead to a new confrontation between Russia and the West.

The long-term outlook is more uncertain. We cannot exclude the possibility of attempts to establish regional supremacy, nor the appearance of a new pretender to the role of superpower in regions that are important to Russia. Also possible are the appearance of threats to our territorial integrity and the attempted use of force to prevent reintegration of post-Soviet countries. If Russia continues to be weak in economic, political, and military respects, powerful neighbors and their allies will be able to realize any of their pretensions to Russia.

The Role and Significance of the Navy

The waters of 12 seas—through which we have passage to all oceans—wash Russia's coast. Seventy percent of our state boundary lies in sea waters. Our coasts are twice the length of those of the United States.

Only two Russian leaders are called the Great—Peter the First and Catherine the Second. Only after Peter created a Navy as a new, important factor of military and state power and defeated Russia's strategic enemies—Turkey in the Sea of Azov and Sweden in the Baltic Sea—did Europe recognize Russia as a great power. Catherine's military and naval commanders defeated Turkey on the land and on the Black Sea, thereby giving Russia unimpeded passage to Europe. During their reigns, Russia's naval power flourished, and the world recognized our achievements in policy, science, and culture.

During the next 200 years, periodic underestimation and misunderstanding of the role and significance of the Navy by the nation's highest political and military leaders had pernicious effects on the building, structure, and standing of the Navy and on Russia's world status. But after World War II, Russia again used its powerful military-economic potential and its most talented people to rebuild our fleet. The nuclear-missile ocean fleet that emerged ensured parity with the United States and NATO and formed the basis for international stability. Clearly, Russia has been a great sea power for 300 years.

The economy of Russia traditionally has had a significant naval component. Much of Russia's wealth is derived from the near seas and seaborne commerce. Continuing development of our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf holds long-term promise. As the Arctic and Asia Pacific regions develop, Russia must participate as an equal in international markets with the United States, China, Japan, and other countries of the Pacific Rim.

Weak countries receive little consideration in making world policy. Turkey confirmed this in 1994, when it tried to close the Black Sea Straits to Russia, violating the stable regime established by the 1936 Montreux Convention. If Russia has no naval power capable of deterring the desires and limiting the appetites of its neighbors, we will lose our positions in the Baltic and Black Seas. This would encourage similar losses in the Far East, and could end up setting us back 200-300 years in geostrategic position. Thus, we must conclude that the Navy remains one of the most effective instruments of state policy aimed at ensuring and protecting the long-term economic, foreign, and military-strategic interests of Russia.

Naval forces can be used effectively in peace and war, in all spheres—at sea, under water, in air, and on land—in any region of the world. They share similar armaments with the other services, but are the only ones capable of fighting enemies at sea, and against submarines in particular. They are mobile, operate in all weather, and are able to move rapidly to any part of the world's oceans to conduct sea, land, and air operations through the depth of the enemy's positions.

NATO plans for the next 25-30 years include continuing improvements of its military-naval components. Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Italy, and Japan are building modern warships and submarines. The United States, Great Britain, and China are building multipurpose nuclear submarines, including ballistic-missile submarines with firing ranges of 8,500 to 11,000 kilometers. France is building nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. By the beginning of the 21st century, these developments will have strengthened the combat potential of these navies considerably.

The naval share of combat power in NATO countries will double by the beginning of the 21st century. In future wars, for the first time in history, we can expect naval forces to conduct strategic missions on continental, ocean, and sea theaters of operations.

State of the Russian Navy

During the past six years, our Navy has been reduced by half. It remains tasked with defensive operations. Near-sea ships and combat boats comprise 57% of the fleet; oceangoing ships 18.7%. Our shipbuilding capacity also has decreased. Each year up to 1990, we launched five to six nuclear submarines and up to five major surface combatants. Since 1990, we have not launched an SSBN. Since 1991, we have laid the keel for only one SSN, the Severodvinsk and one SSBN, the Yuri Dolgoruki .

If we cannot restore finances, material resources, fuel, and shipyards, in the early 21st century we will have no more than 6-8 ready SSBNs. This represents only 25-30% of the 1,750 naval nuclear warhead limit established under the START II treaty, and 3-4 times fewer warheads than carried by the U.S. Navy. Nuclear parity will be broken. We also will be reduced to 20-25 relatively modern multipurpose SSNs and about 10 conventional SSs. For ready surface ships, we will have no more than 1 aircraft carrier, 2-3 guided-missile cruisers, 7-10 guided-missile destroyers, 10-12 guided-missile frigates, and 30 mine sweepers and 30-40 guided-missile boats. These ships will be spread over five isolated sea and ocean theaters, with no possibility for maneuvering between these theaters.

In 2000, our sea power in the Baltic will be one-half that of Sweden and one-third to one-fourth that of Germany. In the Black Sea, our sea power will be one-half that of Turkey, and one-fourth to one-fifth if we lose Sevastopol as the main Black Sea Fleet base. Our total Navy combat potential will equal that of Great Britain or France. Given that our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf are 15-20 times as large as theirs, we will have proportionately less capability to defend our boundaries and protect our interests at sea.

The Solution

We can avoid such unfavorable developments. First, our leaders must understand the increasing role of the Navy in safeguarding Russian national security. In addition, they need to specify the Navy's tasks in protecting our long-term national interests and then fix these provisions in a special naval section of a new Russian military doctrine. Adoption of this doctrine is a pressing condition for successful military reform.

They should elaborate a state program for the Navy's revival and a two-stage shipbuilding program (for 10-15 years and 20-25 years) and adopt it as a Law of the Russian Federation. The programs should include:

  • What to retain during the next five years as the main body of the future Navy and how to do it.
  • Building new ships to accomplish the Navy's tasks during the next 10-15 years.
  • Building new ships to modernize the force to protect Russian vital interests at sea and to participate in U.N. peacekeeping forces during the next 20-25 years.

Military-technical cooperation between Russia and foreign countries in developing naval equipment and armament could play a large role in this program. It will require attention from the president, State Duma, and Federation Council and government and public support. The first step is for the president to take charge of the Navy and issue a government decree about financing the Navy as a separate line item in the federal budget.

Future Naval Doctrine and Force Composition

According to military doctrine, the Navy is to protect sovereignty, territorial integrity, and other vital interests of the Russian Federation. The top priority is the prevention of wars and military conflicts. Other tasks include repulsing aggressors, protecting the country and its forces from attacks from the sea, defeating enemies, creating conditions for the halt of hostilities on terms corresponding to Russia's interests, and conducting peacekeeping operations according to U.N. Security Council decisions or the international agreements of the Russian Federation.

Retaining nuclear deterrent forces is key. Operational and combat support of SSBNs at sea and in port, particularly antisubmarine warfare and air defense, ensure a high level of fighting capacity. Naval analysts estimate that 20 SSBNs in the North and Pacific Fleets (one-third of the 1990 force) will be sufficient, if 12-15 are ready for action and have secure combat support and control.

To this end, we need an agreement between Russia and the United States on prevention of "dangerous military activity" that establishes security and confidence zones near each nation's coasts. The other party's submarines would operate there only with permission. Including this point as a condition of START II is advisable.

Another powerful and peaceful method of influence is showing the Russian flag in key regions. In 1863, for example, Admirals S. Lesovski and A. Popov commanded two squadrons of the Russian Fleet on cruises to New York and San Francisco, during the U.S. Civil War. Without firing a shot, they strengthened the position of the North and limited England's ability to support the South.

Other peacetime missions of the Navy include ensuring the combat efficiency of the North and Pacific Fleets' SSBNs; protecting economic activity at sea, particularly fishing, oil, and gas extraction; preserving the underwater environment within the 200-mile economic zone; fighting terrorism, piracy, and the drug Mafia; protecting communications by sea; and providing for safe navigation.

In war, the Navy is to ensure the combat efficiency of the SSBNs; participate in nuclear deterrent force operations aimed at annihilation of economic, administrative, and military objects on the enemy's territory; defeat enemy naval forces; assist troops operating near the shore; attain and preserve near-sea supremacy; maintain a favorable operational regime on the near seas; impede enemy shipping; and defend sea communications, harbors, and naval bases.

Analysis of the world's largest fleets—including the Soviet Navy—in crises ranging from World War II to local conflicts shows that the most capable forces are surveillance, missile-carrying, and antisubmarine aviation, nuclear-powered submarines, and aircraft carriers, the Russian Navy needs general-purpose forces—to ensure the viability of our naval nuclear deterrent; repel enemy attacks from the sea; defeat enemy strike groups; impede the enemy's ability to conduct operations at sea; and cooperate with other services to support defensive operations in the continental theater. Submarine forces are the basis for general-purpose forces. As the most universal, mobile, and powerful platform for fighting an enemy at sea, they constitute the main strike potential of the Navy.

Combat experience in the Persian Gulf demonstrated the capability of a navy to mass fires to defeat ground objects in the enemy's territory. Sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) fired from submarines, surface ships, and carrier strike aviation attacked from distances up to 2,500 kilometers. Modern precision weapons such as the Tomahawk are equal to a tactical nuclear weapon in their combat effectiveness. When new SLCMs become available in the leading foreign navies, they will be able to strike from distances of 4,500 kilometers.

Russia does not plan to wage war against the United States—indeed, it is possible that in the future we will have common enemies. But cutting-edge military technology is spreading. Today, for example, British nuclear submarines are armed with U.S. Tomahawks, and diesel submarines of the Turkish Navy carry Harpoon antiship missiles. Within 15-20 years, the navies of dozens of countries—including those of developing nations—will have such weapons. We must be ready to repel a naval attack by any enemy having these capabilities.

To ensure the combat efficiency of our naval nuclear deterrent and to mass fires to defeat SLCM platforms, our Navy needs at least 70 SSNs to have 50 ready on enemy missile-launching lines. Today, only half our SSNs meet modern requirements. To preserve this most important part of our Navy, we need to begin building 30-40 submarines of a new class. At the same time, we must make our ships and submarines as quiet as the U.S. Navy's and increase their combat efficiency using modern theory, technology, construction techniques, and information support.

Given the geostrategic position of Russia and the geographical features of the nearest sea theaters of operation, our general-purpose forces also should include up to 40 modern conventionally powered submarines. This would provide 30 less expensive submarines ready to perform similar missions in the near seas—for example, the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Sea of Japan. We cannot execute our strategic and operational concepts for conducting modern war at sea with fewer than 110 submarines.

We also need to pay special attention to aircraft carriers. Russian carriers have different missions from their U.S. counterparts. The attack carriers of the U.S. Navy are designed to conduct offensive operations and serve as a reserve for the strategic nuclear forces of the United States. The main mission of Russian aircraft carriers is to ensure the combat efficiency of air defense and antisubmarine task forces in the North and Pacific Fleets.

Antisubmarine forces--including nuclear submarines and carrier- and land-based aviation--can inflict considerable damage on our SSNs. To protect our submarines and escort ships, each of our carriers must carry 50 air-defense fighters, 10 antisubmarine aircraft, and other aircraft to conduct radar early warning, electronic countermeasures, surveillance, target designation, rescue, and other missions. Without this protection, our submarines will suffer unwarranted losses and will not be able to accomplish their missions.

To escort these heterogeneous strike forces, we need 10-12 guided-missile cruisers, 35-40 guided-missile destroyers, and 40-50 guided-missile frigates, with 65-70% being ready for action. Our SSNs and guided-missile cruisers and destroyers must be equipped with 2,000-2,500 kilometer SLCMs comparable to the Tomahawk. The aim is to eliminate the lag between the Russian Navy and the U.S. and NATO navies in this area of naval armament.

The Navy also needs 30-40 amphibious ships to protect islands and remote territories in the Arctic and the Far East. Part of this force of destroyers, frigates, and amphibious ships also could participate in peacekeeping operations as a component of U.N. forces.

Finally, to protect Russian interests in the near seas, we need at least 60 ready missile boats and 70 ready mine sweepers.

Thus, based on the principles of sufficient defense, the economic abilities of Russia, and future developments in the geopolitical world situation, by 2010-2015, we must have 300-320 modern combat ships ready for action. This is one-third the size of the Navy in 1990, but it would have significantly more total firepower for conducting defensive operations at sea. This would allow our Navy, in coordination with other component services, to deter and prevent aggression by any possible naval enemy in our major operational zones, to prevent armed conflicts from the sea, and to maintain peace and stability on the seas.

Admiral Aleksin, a submariner, is Head Navigator of the Russian Navy.



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