A total of 15 frigates and conventional submarines will be built for the Russian Black Sea Fleet by 2020, Russian Navy Commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotskiy has said. Speaking to a RIA Novosti correspondent on 23 June, he said the proportion between the frigates and the submarines will be “60 to 40” – i.e. nine frigates and six submarines. He added that the construction of one of each will begin before the end of this year. “The Black Sea Fleet will be renovated using newly built ships rather than transferring old ones from the other fleets,” the Navy commander said.
That statement has officially confirmed the decisions made in the last 18 months by the top Russian civilian and military officials completely to renovate and significantly strengthen the Black Sea Fleet. The ongoing revival of partnership between Russia and Ukraine on military issues following the election of Viktor Yanukovich as the Ukrainian president last spring will greatly facilitate the implementation of that decision.
Plans are afoot to build new ships of several types so as to renovate the core of the fleet by as early as 2015, giving it a much greater fighting ability. The schedule for the construction of these ships is therefore fairly tight. In order to bring forward the delivery dates and cut costs, the Navy will use the existing mass-produced ship designs. It is quite possible that the funding of the program will be augmented by ad hoc financing from the national budget.
In 2010, Admiralty Yards in St Petersburg was in the final stages of negotiations on an MoD contract for three diesel-electric submarines for the Black Sea Fleet. The subs will be built using a modified Project 06363 design. It is based on Project 636, the successor to Project 877 (Kilo class), which was widely used in the Soviet and several foreign navies. The first of these new submarines, the Novorossiysk, was laid down at Admiralty Yards on August 20, 2010.
The decision to use the tried and tested Project 877/636 design is explained by the ongoing delays to the operational launch of the new generation Project 677 (Lada class). The first Project 677 sub, the Sankt Petersburg, was delivered to the Navy for limited operational service only in May 2010 after almost six years of trials. The two other Lada class subs now being built by Admiralty Yards will not be completed before 2015. The Navy therefore rightly decided to fall back on the reliable and relatively cheap Project 877/636 design. The three new subs can be delivered to the Black Sea Fleet by as early as 2013 - 2014. According to the latest statement by Adm. Vysotskiy, the number of the new subs of this class to be built for the Black Sea fleet could be as high as five. The new Project 06363 submarines will be armed with the Kalibr/Club (SS N-27) advanced anti-ship and land-attack missile systems.
Very shortly the Russian Navy is also expected to place an order with a Russian defense contractor for three frigates of the modified Project 11356M design (Talwar class). Project 11356 was specially designed for India. Three of those frigates were built by Baltiyskiy Shipyard in St Petersburg and delivered to the Indian Navy in 2003-2004. Another three (Talwar class Batch 2) are now being built for India at the Yantar shipyard in Kaliningrad using a modified Project 11356M design. India has indicated that it might place an order for three more of those ships, for a total of nine.
Project 11356M frigates have produced quite an impression on foreign and Russian navy specialists. They have been recognized as some of the best designed, technologically advanced and well-balanced ships of their class in the world. No wonder then that the Russian Navy, which had long shown keen interest in those ships, has now decided to have several of them built for the Black Sea Fleet. Taking into account the ships already delivered to India and those now being built for New Delhi, Project 11356M has, to all intents and purposes, entered mass production. That will undoubtedly have a very positive impact on costs and the delivery schedule for the future Russian frigates of this type. The new ships will carry the Onyx (SS-N-26) and Kalibr/Club (SS-N-27) advanced anti-ship missile systems and the Shtil-1 (SAM-17) medium-range SAM systems with a vertical launching system (VLS).
The contract for the modified Project 11356M frigates is expected to be awarded to either the Yantar shipyards in Kaliningrad or the United Industrial Corporation (Severnaya Verf Shipyard and the Baltic Shipyard) in St Petersburg. But as of mid-September 2010 the Navy has not yet invited bids. Part of the reason is that the government is now considering the possibility of the United Industrial Corporation’s shipyards becoming part of the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation. So far, no firm decision has been made as to where exactly the new frigates are to be built. Nevertheless, Adm. Vysotskiy has confirmed the Navy’s determination to make sure that the first Project 11356M frigate is laid down before the year’s end. That means that all three could be commissioned in 2013-2015, becoming the core of the renovated Black Sea Fleet’s surface strength.
The decision to use the mass-produced Project 11356 design for the new frigates appears entirely justified. The first two frigates of the new-generation Project 22350 (the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov and the Admiral Flota Kasatonov) are still sitting half-finished in the dry docks of the SevernayaVerf Shipyard. Their completion, testing and commissioning will inevitably take very long, given all the new systems they carry. Project 22350 will not be able to enter mass production until after 2015. Since Adm. Vysotskiy said nine frigates will be built for the Black Sea Fleet by 2020, it is possible that six of them will arrive after 2015 using the Project 22350 design.
Plans have also been confirmed to build five new Project 21631 (Tornado class) guided missile light corvettes for the Black Sea Fleet at the Zelenodolsk Shipyard on the Volga. The design is based on Project 21630 (Buyan class) Astrakhan small gunboat built for the Caspian Flotilla. The 900-tonne Project 21631 light corvette will carry the A-190 100mm artillery system and the Kalibr/Club advanced anti-ship missile system. It will be equipped with a vertical launch system (8 launchers). The first ship of this class, the Grad Sviyazhsk, was laid down at the Zelenodolsk Shipyard on August 27, 2010, with the likely completion date in 2012.
There have also been reports that five Project 21820 (Dugon class) fast-speed air cavity landing craft could be built for the Black Sea Fleet at the Volga Shipyard in Nizhniy Novgorod.
Finally, two Project 11540 frigates of the Baltic Fleet, the Neustrashimyy and the Yaroslav Mudryy, are expected to be transferred to the Black Sea Fleet some time in 2011. The Yaroslav Mudryy was completed and delivered to the Russian Navy only last year.
There are also plans to augment the Black Sea coastal defenses, following the show of strength by US Navy warships in the area in August 2008. The Black Sea Fleet has recently gained the newly formed 11th Independent Coastal Missile-Artillery Brigade, stationed along the Russian coast of the Black Sea. To equip this brigade, the MoD placed an urgent order with NPO Machine-Building for a battalion (three batteries on four mobile launcher vehicles) of the latest K300P Bastion-P (SSC-5) mobile coastal defense missile systems armed with the Yakhont (Onyx export version, SS-N-26) advanced supersonic anti-ship missiles. The first two Bastion-P batteries were delivered to the 11th Brigade in late 2009 – early 2010. The third is to follow in 2011. The brigade is also armed with the Rubezh (SSC-3) and Bal (SSC-6) mobile coastal defense missile systems, as well as the 130 mm Bereg coastal defense self-propelled guns.
It is therefore safe to say that with sufficient funding to pull off all these plans, the fighting ability of the Russian Black Sea Fleet will be growing in leaps and bounds over the next five years.
The decision comes not a day too soon. The fleet is now essentially a small and rather quaint collection of sundry old ships, many of which belong in a museum. It has only one sub that can still put up a fight, the diesel-electric Alrosa of Project 877V (Kilo class). The repairs of the fleet’s only other submarine, an obsolete Project 641B (Tango class), have been abandoned. Of the surface ships, only the Project 1164 Moskva guided missile cruiser and two Project 1239 (Sivuch Class) fast-speed cushion guided missiles corvettes can be moderately useful in battle. All the other ships of the fleet are little more than floating junk, including the old Project 1134B (Kara class) Kertch large anti-submarine ship, three old frigates, a few guided missile and ASW corvettes, missile boats, minesweepers, and seven large tank landing ships. All of them are old and obsolete, or will be within a decade. Until recently, the additions of new ships to the fleet were very few and far between, due to Russia’s financial difficulties and Ukraine’s obstructionism. In the past decade, there was only one new ocean minesweeper and a few boats.
Meanwhile, the continuing strategic importance to Russia of its Baltic and Black Sea fleets has been amply demonstrated by the August 2008 campaign against Georgia, when US Navy warships showed up (if for no other reason than to give Tbilisi moral support). The likelihood of the Black Sea Fleet – and, to a lesser degree, the Baltic Fleet – being put to real combat uses in the coming years seems much higher than for the ocean-going Northern and Pacific Fleets. It therefore comes as no surprise that huge resources are now being diverted to build new ships for the Black Sea Fleet and boost its fighting ability. The western theater still remains the priority for the Russian armed forces; hence the continuing importance of the two western seas, the Black Sea and the Baltic. It is there that Russia should restore its naval strength as a matter of priority before bulking up the two ocean-going fleets.