In a bid to further shore up their naval fleet and magnify their military might, the Russians are in the process of modernizing and repairing around 12 nuclear powered submarines.
Moscow is confident that the boats will serve the navy’s needs for the coming 20 years and will ensure that the operations force levels are maintained. Moreover, 885M Yassen-class boats are set to enter the fleets which showcases Russia’s potential as a true naval power.
However, the modernization program will leave the current force a little now on numbers with just nine boats to serve the fleet.
It is quite an ambitious move by the Russians who have to thank their defense minister, Sergei Shoigu to thank for as he is the one who is leading this project in a bid to reinvigorate the country’s shipbuilding and submarine order of battle. The minister recently visited the Zvezda shipyard located at Bolshoy Kamen on Russia’s Pacific coast. According to reports, six nuclear powered submarines are already under repair and modernization at the heavily guarded port. However, the minister was not very much forthcoming about the technicalities.
The naval and shipyard representatives have however, informed that apart from improving the efficiency of these boats, they will also be equipped with the latest missile and weapons system. Moreover, the modernization work will also result in the boats’ lives increase to 20 years.
These six boats include Schuka-B/Project 971 Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and Antyey/Project 949A Oscar II-class guided-missile submarines (SSGNs). All these boats were built during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Specifically, the boats are the Akula SSNs Kuzbass and Magadan , and the Oscar II SSGNs Irkutsk , Chelyabinsk , and Tver . The Kalmar/Project 667BDR Delta III-class SSBN Ryazan had already arrived at Zvezda for repairs in April this year.
When the modernization work is completed, Irkutsk , Chelyabinsk , and Tver will become known as Project 949AM submarines. Apart from new and improved acoustic, electronic navigation and communication systems, these submarines will also receive NPO Mashinostroyeniya 3M55 Oniks (SS-N-26 ‘Strobile’) anti-ship cruise missiles which would be an upgrade to their 3M45 Granit (SS-N-19 ‘Shipwreck’) missiles, a missile technology that is not as effective as the new systems that most submarines use.
In March 2015, Russian Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the country’s commander-in-chief had already announced that the navy will be upgrading 10 multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarines by 2020. The same statements were also made back in April last year.
Why the delay?
Work was expected to start earlier this year but the delay occurred largely due to Russian shipbuilding industry’s general lack of capacity and also the ongoing conflict in Ukraine which especially affected the project since it signaled the end of defense cooperation between the two countries. Back in April, one of the Oscar II0class sub caught fire while undergoing upgrades at the Zvezdochka ship repair center in the Arkhangelsk region in Northern Russia.
Previously known as the Oryal, the boat had been serving in the Northern Fleet for 21 years. However, it was transported to the shipyard for general overhaul which was expected to be completed in 2016. This mishap is yet another example of why the Russian shipbuilding capabilities will not be able to keep up with Vladimir Putin’s aggressive naval procurement program in which he has targeted 2020 as the year by which the country’s navy will be a true force to be reckoned with.
A precursor to fifth generation submarines?
Rublin head, Igor Vilnit has already reported that the Russian Navy is developing fifth generation nuclear-powered and diesel submarines at Rubin’s Central Design Bureau facility. Rubin is one of Russian Navy’s oldest service provider and has designed more than two thirds of the country’s nuclear submarines.
Another design firm, the Malakhit Design Bureau, is also helping Russia in developing fifth generation submarines that will be equipped with stealth technology. The field requires serious and rigorous scientific technical research.
When all the research has been done and a prototype is laid out, it is expected to feature lowered noise, reactor safety, automated control systems and long ranger weapon system. Moreover, when the project is completed, the Russian Navy officials are confident that the submarines would serve the country for around 50 years which will be quite a major step if it happens.
The Russian navy is currently heavily reliant on third and fourth generation submarines of which the third former class needs regular maintenance. Just like the overhaul process, Russia is expected to develop 5th generation submarines that will be armed with ballistic and cruise missiles by 2020.
As part of the 2020 arms procurement program, eight fourth generation submarines that will be equipped with Bulava submarine launched ballistic missiles, will also be constructed.
Of late, it has been said quite a lot in the media that Moscow is having a really hard time doing justice to its naval requirements and that the country’s navy is on the verge of a spectacular collapse due to a clear inability to properly replace big ships that are ageing quickly.
Russia’s naval activity: Not as mighty as it appears to be!
In recent times, ‘NATO waters’ have seen a lot of Russian navy activity and although this has really rattled some cages and ruffled some feathers, in all honesty, at this point in time, the Russian navy, despite its naval might, is not the daunting prospect it has been made out to be.
Safe to say that Russia can be considered a geriatric naval giant that is finding it hard to make a place among much more energetic rivals.
For instance, the aging carrier Kuznetsov, carries around 12 or so Sukhoi fighters. It has an escort of just one single heavily-armed Soviet-vintage nuclear vessel in the shape of Pyotr Velikiy while other five include a small amphibious landing ship, three support tankers and a tugboat. The reason behind having a tugboat whenever the carrier leaves it because on more than one occasion, it breaks down. Though she has fared well, the Kunzetsov’s time is running out which gives a pretty good idea about how far behind the Russian Navy is in terms of maritime supremacy and needs a serious shake up within the hierarchy if it is to maintain its naval presence.
For this reason, the overhauling project of the aforementioned submarines is critical to Moscow’s long-term plans in terms of maintaining hegemony over regions such as the Arctic region for years to come.