Reform of the Russian Navy in 2008-2011
Moscow Defense Brief 2/2011
The Russian Army and Air Force underwent a radical reform in 2008-2011, with sweeping changes in the structure of their units, a revamped command and control system and a new support and logistics setup. By contrast, the reform of the Russian Navy has proceeded at a much more deliberate pace.
The reshaping of the Navy into the New Look model has followed what has now become a traditional path. The MoD has aimed to bolster the Navy’s fighting ability by bringing its various units to 100 per cent of their full wartime strength in terms of manpower; entering into service new ships and submarines; offloading non-military assets, such as housing, to municipal authorities; outsourcing some jobs to civilian contractors, reducing the numbers of non-combat officers, and merging the existing units to save costs.
Navy command structure
The status of the Navy’s Commander and Main Staff remains uncertain since it is still unclear which of their current functions they will retain. It is very likely that the MoD will follow the model already used for the Army and the Air Force, i.e. limit the Navy Commander’s remit to strategic planning and development, monitoring of the shipbuilding programs, cooperation with research institutions, etc. It is not clear though who will command the Navy groups in the oceans, especially if said groups are put together from ships belonging to more than one Navy Fleet. In Soviet times such groups were commanded directly by the Main Navy Command. But that is probably the only argument in favor of leaving the command and control remit with the Main Navy Command. One proposal is to set up a separate Command for overseas operations.1 Be that as it may, the Navy’s main operational command body, the Central Navy Command Post, has already become part of the General Staff’s united Central Command Post, along with the central command posts of all the other armed services.2
At this stage the structural reform of the Navy has consisted of subordinating the Navy Fleets to the newly created Operational Strategic Commands (i.e. the new Military Districts). The Northern and Baltic Fleets are now part of the Western Military District, the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla are part of the Southern Military District, and the Eastern Military District has taken over the Pacific Fleet. The HQs of these districts now have Navy departments, which provide coordination between the fleets and the other forces commanded by the respective districts. As a result, there is now closer horizontal cohesion between the Army and Navy forces. But very little has changed for the structures subordinated to the fleet commands3; they still take their orders from the commanders of the fleets.
Reform of the Navy fleet formations
When the reform began, the size of the Russian Navy’s command bodies was not proportionate to the number of ships and submarines in service. The support and logistics services were also bloated.
The ongoing restructuring has aimed to reduce the headcount at the HQs (in the Northern Fleet, 15 per cent of officers and 17 per cent of civilian personnel have been made redundant4). The service in charge of upholding morale (the former political propaganda bodies inherited from Soviet times) also saw very serious cuts. The axe has fallen on the departments that do not directly contribute to the Navy’s fighting ability.5 Many non-combat servicemen have become civilian contractors. In the support and logistics services, many officers who have reached retirement age have been let go.
Overall, the ongoing reform of the Russian Navy has spared the ships and the frontline services (there is simply no room for cuts there), but slashed the oversized command structures and rear services.
Nevertheless, there has been some optimization of the Navy’s frontline units.
The 11th and 12th Submarine Squadrons of the Northern Fleet have become the new Submarine Command6.
The former detachments (Russian ‘divisions’, not ‘diviziya’) that hosted decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines awaiting their turn at the scrapyard (the 366th in Sovetskaya Gavan, the 304th in Vilyuchinsk and the 346th in Vidyaevo) have been disbanded because almost all those submarines have already been scrapped.
Following the bankruptcy of the Avangard Shipyard in Petrozavodsk, which used to build and repair minesweepers, the 94th ‘Division’ that hosted ships awaiting repairs at the plant has been disbanded.7
The Vydyaevo base area has been downsized to become a coastal base of the 7th Submarine Division.
In late 2010 Aurora cruiser, which became a floating museum in St Petersburg in the early 20th century for its prominent role in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, was formally decommissioned from the Russian Navy. All its crew, apart from the captain, are now civilians.
The 74th Submarine Division, which was made of boats awaiting repairs at the Nerpa Shipyard, has been disbanded.8 There have been cuts in the Navy engineering units.
The 269th Naval Aviation Communications Station has been reformatted to become part of the 301st Central Navy Communications Station.9
The HQ of the Leningrad Naval Base was relocated to Kronstadt in November 2008.
There have been a series of big cuts in the naval support and hydrographic fleets. A number of divisions have been downsized to become naval support groups, etc.
Reform of the support and logistics system
The support and logistics units of the individual Fleets and the units taking orders directly from the Navy Command have also undergone substantial reforms. The primary objective was to rid the Navy of responsibilities that should by rights lie elsewhere, so that the central command could devote all its energies to bolstering the Navy’s fighting ability.
Each naval Fleet now has supply and logistics bases (SLBs) which provide the Russian Navy units with fuel, food, various equipment and hardware, and other supplies. These bases have subsumed all the former supply and logistics units of the Navy. There are now five SLBs: in St Petersburg, Astrakhan, Krymsk, Murmansk and Vladivostok.
Several arms and munitions bases have been merged.
As part of the effort to rid the MoD of non-military assets, the government has set up the JSC Oboronservis holding company, which has taken over the housing and utility assets and the heating and power plants which used to be on the Russian Navy’s balance books. Oboronservis has also assumed ownership of the naval communications equipment repair plants, munitions warehouses, and rocket and artillery equipment repair plants.
In late 2009 the 6th Arsenal of the Northern Fleet in Burmakovo was restructured and split into two parts: the No 81269 military unit and the JSC Repairs Center company. The military unit was left in charge of munitions, and the company took over maintenance, repairs and disposal of decommissioned weapons. The Northern Arsenal unit of the MoD (the former 2708th Torpedo Weapons and Ammunition Base) was restructured in March 2010 to become JSC Severnyy Arsenal company, and then incorporated into JSC Oboronservis. Several construction units have been taken over by JSC Oboronstroy; the farms that previously belonged to the Navy by JSC Agroprom; the local electricity grids by Oboronenergo; the wholesale and retail trade departments of the fleets by Voentorg; the aircraft repair plants by JSC Aviaremont; and the car and truck repair plants by Spetsremont.
All these measures are expected to improve the Navy’s fighting ability and enable its combat units to focus on training. Nevertheless, such large-scale reorganizations always result in some early problems.
The reform has also affected the medical provision system. For example, the Baltic Fleet’s hospitals in Kaliningrad Region have been reorganized into a single medical center, the 1409th Navy Clinical Hospital. It includes the Main Hospital of the Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad and its branches in Baltiysk and Chernyakhovsk.10
Another typical example is the former 412th Plant of the White Sea Naval Base, which was used for refueling nuclear propulsion reactors. The plant was disbanded on December 1, 2009; its nuclear activities have been taken over by the civilian Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center.11
The Navy’s training and education system has also undergone a radical reorganization. Its research institutes and schools have been merged into a territorially distributed Naval Academy Research and Training Center, which includes the Naval Academy itself, the Higher Special Officer Courses, five naval research institutes, three MoD research institutes (the 1st, the 24th and the 40th), the Nakhimov Naval School and the Kronstadt Naval Cadet Corps. The new center is now subordinated to the education and training department of the MoD rather than the Navy Command.12 The plan is to relocate the center’s HQ to Kronstadt at some point in the future.13
Plans for the naval Fleets
Prospects for further reform of the Russian Navy can be illustrated by the Black Sea and Pacific fleets.
In 2008 Russia adopted a special program to prioritize the development of the Black Sea Fleet. The decision was made in view of the general military-political situation in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, tense relations with Georgia, the need to provide security during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi,14 the ongoing operation against piracy in the Indian Ocean, and other foreign policy considerations.
The bulk of the Black Sea Fleet ships are still seaworthy, but most belong in a museum and need to be replaced as a matter of priority. In October 2010 the government announced that the fleet will receive up to 18 new ships and boats by 2020, including nine frigates and six diesel-electric submarines.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Fleet needs to be strengthened because of the growing global importance of the Asia Pacific region, continuing territorial claims against Russia by Japan, and the need to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean. The first in line for a refresh is the strategic component of the Pacific Fleet; several new Project 955 (Yuriy Dolgorukiy class) nuclear-powered missile submarines will enter service. It is also quite likely that the Mistral class amphibious assault ships for which the Russian MoD has placed an order in France will be assigned to the Pacific Fleet. It has been announced that Marshal Ustinov15 and Admiral Nakhimov16 guided missile cruisers, which currently serve with the Northern Fleet, will be transferred to the Pacific Fleet after repairs. As part of the overall effort to strengthen the Russian forces in the Southern Kuril Islands the MoD also plans to deploy a Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missiles battery there.17
Marines and Coastal Troops
The Russian Navy’s Coastal Troops have been reformed and the remaining units brought to their full wartime strength. Several units have changed their status, including the former 61st (Northern Fleet) and 22nd (Kamchatka) Marines Brigades, which have become regiments but retained all of their manpower. The reason for the decision was the state of these units’ barracks and living quarters. At some point in the future the two regiments will become brigades once again.18 Meanwhile, the 810th Marines Regiment of the Black Sea Fleet has been brought up in size to a full brigade, gaining a lot of manpower in the process. Under the terms of the 1997 agreement with Ukraine on the stationing of the Russian armed forces on Ukrainian territory, the strength of the Black Sea Fleet’s marines and naval aviation units is limited to 1,987 people. But according to several recent reports, the number of the Black Sea Fleet’s marines stationed in Sevastopol is as high as 2,473 people.19
The Russian Navy’s only remaining marines division, the 55th, based in Vladivostok, has been formally downsized to become the 155th Marines Brigade – but its manpower has actually gone up.
The 77th Marines Brigade of the Caspian Flotilla has been disbanded (the brigade was created to take part in the counter-terrorism operation in the North Caucasus), but the bulk of it – two marines battalions in Astrakhan and Kaspiysk – have escaped cuts.
The Baltic Fleet’s Coastal Troops and Ground Forces in Kaliningrad Region have also undergone restructuring. All the skeleton-strength formations have been either disbanded or reorganized. The arms depots have ceased to exist; the weaponry they held has been used to equip the remaining units. As part of the program to create larger garrisons by 2012 the 336th Marines Brigade will be relocated to a new base now being built in Baltiysk.20 The numerical strength of the brigade will increase from the current 2,500 servicemen to 4,000 by 2012.21
There have been serious changes in the personnel structure of the Navy’s marine and coastal troops. The units previously manned only by professional soldiers serving under contract now use conscripts as privates; only junior officer and sergeant positions are filled with professional soldiers. A case in point is the assault battalion of the Northern Fleet’s marines, which was manned only by professional soldiers. Now conscripts account for 70 per cent of its manpower.22
Many units have also received some new weapons. Several have taken delivery of new or upgraded BTR-80M and BTR-70M APCs, new trucks, small arms, communication instruments, and 120mm 2S9 Nona-S artillery systems. The MoD has also begun to rearm the Navy’s coastal defense missile and artillery units.23,24
Early on during the reform the naval aviation and support units were reorganized into 13 airbases. Only the 279th Independent Ship-based Fighter Regiment (Su-33 aircraft) has retained its former status. Most of the new airbases were formed through merger within a single chain of command of all the units stationed at the same airfield.
During the second stage of the reform the airbases of each Fleet were merged into territorially integrated structures (“greater” airbases). To illustrate, all the naval aviation units of the Baltic Fleet have been merged into a single airbase with an HQ at the Chkalovskiy airfield.25 The former airbases now have the status of air groups. All the air defense units of the Baltic Fleet have been merged under the 3rd Aerospace Defense Brigade.
The MoD has formed a new naval aviation training center in Yeysk on the Azov Sea. The center has incorporated the former 859th Training Center and the 444th Combat Training Center in Ostrov. There are plans to build in Yeysk a analog of an aircraft carrier deck for naval pilots to practice take-offs and landings; the simulator will be similar to the NITKA training range in the Crimea.26
The initial plan of the reform included the transfer of several naval aviation and air defense units to the Air Force – but so far that has not been implemented. The idea was resurrected in the spring of 2011. It was said that naval missile-carrying long-range aviation units (Tu-22M3 aircraft), as well as naval attack (Su-24) and fighter aviation (Su-27 and MiG-31) units, apart from a single attack aviation unit stationed in the Crimea, will become part of the Air Force by the end of 2011.27 The MoD has even considered the feasibility of transferring the 279th Independent Ship-based Fighter Aviation Regiment to the Russian Air Force.
One of the top priorities for the naval aviation fleet refresh program is the Black Sea Fleet.28 But due to political reasons (i.e. the need to secure Ukraine’s consent) the implementation of these plans is likely to see long delays.
The naval aviation fleet refresh program includes the delivery over the coming decade of the first batch of the MiG 29K carrier-based fighters, as well as the Ka-27M, Ka-29M, Ka-31 and Ka-52 helicopters. The MoD has also launched the development of a new carrier-based helicopter, the Ka-65. But the current status of the programs to develop new patrol and submarine hunter aircraft is unclear. Meanwhile, the MoD has stepped up the Navy aircraft repair programs (for the Su-33, MiG-31 and Su-27 fighters and the Su-24M attack aircraft).
Shipbuilding and ship repairs
The bulk of the Russian Navy fleet is made of old Soviet ships built in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There is only a handful of ships in service that were built after the fall of the former Soviet Union. The Russian Navy has essentially “skipped” a whole generation of warships.
The main problem now is to maintain the existing ships, most of which have already been in service for more than half of their allotted lifespan, until the new generation begins to arrive en masse. With timely upgrades and proper maintenance, the existing Soviet-designed ships still have many years of service left in them.
In late 2010 the government unveiled the new State Armament Program for 2011-2020 (GPV-2020). A very impressive 19 trillion roubles will be spent on buying new weaponry and hardware for the MoD, of which the Navy will account for 4.7 trillion.29 It has been announced that about 100 new warships and submarines of various classes will be built by 2020, including 20 subs, 15 frigates and 35 corvettes.30
Based on media reports, this is what it known about the program:
The core of the strategic naval forces will be made of eight new nuclear-powered missile subs Yuriy Dolgorukiy class (Project 955 and its modifications) armed with the Bulava SLBM.31
Up to 10 Project 855 (Severodvinsk class and modifications) nuclear-powered attack submarines should enter service by 2020.32 They will be the last fourth-generation nuclear-powered submarines to be built for the Russian Navy. The development of the future fifth-generation attack subs has already been announced.33
Six Project 06363 (Novorossiysk class) diesel-electric submarines will be built for the Black Sea Fleet. The last two Project 677 (St. Petersburg class) subs that have already been laid down will be completed. Once that is done, the Russian shipbuilders will launch production of new non-nuclear subs with AIP power plants (based on Project 677).34
Two series of frigates will be built; six Project 22350 ships (Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov class) to be built at the Severnaya Verf shipyards35, and six modified Project 11356 (Admiral Grigorovich class) frigates to be built at the Yantar shipyards. After that the MoD will probably launch an entirely new class of frigates.
Twelve Project 20381 and 20385 (Steregushchiy class) corvettes are to be built at the Severnaya Verf shipyards36 or the Amur Shipyards. The MoD is also expected to launch the development of a new corvette series; up to 22 are to be built by 2020.37 The contract is likely to be awarded to the Zelenodolskiy shipyards (which will also complete the Project 11611K Dagestan corvette now being built).
The MoD is likely to continue building Project 11711 (Admiral Gren class) large tank landing ships. Some kind of decision is also expected on the proposal to build two to four French-designed Mistral class amphibious assault ships; negotiations between Russia and France are still under way.
The repair and upgrade component of the GPV-2020 includes the refurbishment of the existing Project 1144 nuclear-powered guided missile battlecruisers; the Admiral Nakhimov is the first in line for refurbishment.38 The MoD will also upgrade its fleet of third-generation Project 971, 949A and 945 nuclear-powered submarines.
One interesting change is that each Fleet will now be assigned an individual shipyard to be in sole charge of that Fleet’s ship repair program. The ships belonging to the Northern Fleet, the Caspian Flotilla and the Novorossiysk Naval Base will be handled by the Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center company.39 The Baltic Fleet’s ships have been assigned to the Yantar Shipyard.40 In addition, there is now a special department within the central MoD that oversees these contracts, whereas previously that was the remit of the Navy’s technical department.
The reform of the Russian Navy is still a work in progress. It appears that the early reform plans have undergone a substantial transformation, and new changes are sure to be announced. But given the MoD’s gyrations over the transfer of the Navy HQ from Moscow to St Petersburg and the continuing uncertainty over the handover of naval aviation to the Air Force, it is safe to conclude that the government has no clear unanimous vision of the Navy reform. The reason for that is that the government is still trying to decide what kind of Navy Russia actually needs.
5 It must be remembered, however, that efficiency is not everything; there are also long-standing Navy traditions that need to be taken into consideration.
28 Black Sea Fleet to receive 18 new ships // Interfax, October 26, 2010