Navy officials have announced plans for two new submarines, part of an ongoing plan for the modernization of Russia’s armed forces.
The first submarine has been described as a “carrier killer,” while the second is designed to defend ballistic submarines from attack, according to the Moscow Times. Significant resources are being spent on a military modernization program, which President Vladimir Putin claims could see $400 billion spent by 2020.
Heavy investment in armed forces under Putin
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s armed forces suffered a sharp decline due to economic and leadership problems. Vladimir Putin has overseen a period of heavy investment in the military, and the submarines are part of a wider effort.
Soviet-era submarines were replaced by 4th-generation models in 2013. The Borei carries intercontinental ballistic missiles, while the Yasen is designed as an attack boat. Both models are far more advanced than their predecessors.
The head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, Anatoly Shlemov, stated that the 5th-generation submarines will be similar to existing models, but carry different weapons.
One new model will “protect the groups of ballistic missile submarines and do battle with enemy submarines,” he said. The other “will carry cruise missiles for defeating coastal and surface targets. One variant will be a carrier killer,” Shlemov continued.
Delivery of new submarines not a certainty given past record
Although Russia regularly announces fantastical new weapons systems to a great deal of fanfare, it is less consistent when it comes to delivery. Hardware often arrives later than originally planned, or not at all.
Even if the submarines are never produced, the plans provide a window into Russia’s military strategy. One aim is to ensure the protection of ballistic submarines which are based primarily in the Pacific and around the northwest coast of the country, while another is to reduce U.S. confidence in using its carrier battle groups.
By building submarines designed to sink aircraft carriers, Russia threatens the U.S.’s most powerful force-projection weapon. It appears that by pursuing such a strategy, Russia may have taken some cues from China.
Russia informed by Chinese strategy?
Beijing is pursuing a strategy of area denial in the South China Sea, where it sees U.S. aircraft carriers as a constant threat to its attempts to control the region. China’s armed forces are primarily designed for short-range operations, and are not currently adapted for force-projection far away from the Chinese coastline.
That may soon change, with China announcing plans to develop its aircraft capabilities. Russia on the other hand, does not appear to have any such plans.
Western observers have been skeptical as to how Russia plans to pay for the ambitious military modernization program given the effects of lower world oil prices and economic sanctions. However foreign investment continues to flood into Russia, and the country is not as isolated as the U.S. may have hoped in the international arena.
Putin hosted two days of summits in the city of Ufa this week, attended by members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS grouping. The expansion of the SCO to include India and Pakistan provides evidence that Russia’s international influence may be growing instead of being reduced.
If Russia can continue to leverage its membership of the two groupings, Putin’s desire for a multi-polar world free from the overbearing influence of the U.S. may become a reality.