In April 2010, a RIA Novosti’s “Russia’s Black Sea Fleet may lose all warships by 2015” suggested that the fleet might be unfit for missions at sea by that date, as age takes its toll on existing ships. One solution would be to build new Project 20380 Steregushchy Class corvettes, but Russian shipyards wouldn’t be able to deliver them in time. It was a vivid and consequential demonstration of the near to mid-term issues and trends profiled in “Russia’s Military Spending Jumping – But Can Its Industry?”
The first-of-class Steregushchy was put into service with Russia’s Baltic Fleet in October 2008. It was followed by the Soobrazitelny, which was floated out on March 31/10; the Boyky and the Stoyky, are under construction. A Gazeta article quoted a Russian Navy source, who said that:
“All shipbuilding yards are swamped with foreign orders years ahead, and it is difficult to raise the production capacity even with sufficient financing because they do not have enough skilled workers.”
In response, Russia is reportedly considering outsourcing some shipbuilding work to firms in the Ukraine. Russian shipyards have received their share of unfavorable publicity over the last several years, owing to failures in executing commercial and military contracts. The conversion of Russia’s Gorshkov into India’s Vikramaditya aircraft carrier is the highest-profile failure, but not the only one.
Rather than create a crash program to ramp up production capacity for its existing corvettes, however, Russia appears to be taking another tack. In late August 2010, RIA Novosti quoted a Kommersant report that Russia’s Defense Ministry would hold a September 2010 competition to select a new corvette design for the Russian Navy.
The 2,000t Steregushchy Class is respectable by most standards, with its combination of radar-reduction profile, a combination of SS-N-25/ Kh-35 subsonic anti-ship missiles and SS-N-27 Klub-N 91RE2 anti-submarine missiles, a Kashtan 30mm gun/ SA-N-11 VSHORAD missile combination, torpedoes, a 100mm gun, and one Ka-27 family helicopter. Instead, however, the Russian Navy reportedly wants a newer design for a mobile, fast-moving ship, with more of a modular layout for weapons.
That choice would certainly move Russia toward the forefront of naval design concepts, and help to rebuild Russian design experience. Five design centers are expected to be involved in the competition: United Shipbuilding Corporation’s Zelenodolsk, Severnaya Verf and Almaz; a 4th Russian design center, and an unnamed foreign shipyard. The naval source who talked to Kommersant ma be correct when he says that the project could “determine the shape of surface shipbuilding [in Russia] for the next 15 years.”
It’s a difficult choice. If Russian shipbuilding can’t catch up anyway, due to both existing demand and the likely strains created by projects like the proposed amphibious assault ship buy, it may not matter so much if Russian starts a design project now. On the other hand, a project like this does risk siphoning limited management, budget, oversight, and engineering resources, If it does, it could hinder Russia’s ability to plug the oncoming holes that are quickly appearing in its naval force structure.
December 30/15: Russia’s state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) believes it will commence manufacturing aircraft carriers from 2019, according to the company’s president, Alexey Rakmanov. USC is currently undergoing modernization works of their technological capabilities, and if completed on time, will be able to commence building the vessels required to transport and launch helicopters and aircraft. The only Russian aircraft carrier in service is the Soviet era Admiral Kuznetsov and is expected to be in service until 2030 after mid life refits over the last few years. The announcement comes alongside projected 2015 income for the company at between $4.48-4.5 billion, and as much as $212.34 million in net profits. In 2014, the US Department of Treasury added USC to the Financial Sanctions List as a result of Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.