Russia's Navy gets ambitious

MOSCOW. (Nikita Petrov for RIA Novosti) - The Russian Navy will become the world's second largest in 20 years' time, said its commander-in-chief, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, speaking ahead of Navy Day.

He said the navy's core would consist of the newest strategic nuclear-powered submarines and six squadrons of aircraft carriers.

For Russia's navy, this will be its third modernization program, said the admiral. The previous two, although giving it a boost, were never completed. Now, said the admiral, there is such a chance.

Recently approved, a rearmament program until 2015 for the first time in Soviet and Russian history puts the development of the navy on an equal footing with strategic nuclear forces. Out of 4.9 trillion rubles ($192.16 billion) allocated for military rearmament, 25% will go into building new ships.

"We are already building practically as many ships as we did in Soviet times," First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said during a visit to Severodvinsk. "The problem now is not lack of money, but how to optimize production so that the navy can get new ships three, not five, years after laying them down."

Ivanov said Russia has a strategy for shipbuilding until 2030 under which warship production is to increase by 50%. For the first time in 15 years, a series of 40 frigates has been laid down, with no less than ten each for the Northern and Baltic fleets. In February 2006, after a 16-year break, the frigate Admiral Sergei Gorshkov had its keel laid down, a surface ship intended for long-range operations in distant seas. The navy has plans for about 20 such ships.

Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, a former commander of the navy, outlined their concept and the strategy for naval development they are to fit into: "We should abandon the existing multitude of ship and aircraft classes. Compact-sized fighting blocks going to make up ships should increase their fire power and reduce research and development costs."

The idea is to drop the use of specialized ships capable of fighting only submarines or aircraft carriers and to go over to multi-purpose fighting units meant to carry out a wide range of missions away from home. Such ships will be assembled from modular units, and their weapons and equipment will be unified for all types of combat craft. In the future, this will not only facilitate the provision of spare parts and ammunition, but also simplify maintenance, repairs and modernization.

Of special note are plans to build six aircraft carriers, which would make the Russian Navy the world second in terms of combat capability. The government program, however, does not provide for their construction before 2015. Nor is there mention of them in plans for the period until 2030. But during his recent trip to Severodvinsk, Ivanov was shown plans for a new $500 million dock designed to build large-tonnage ships at the Zvyozdochka ship repair yard. Earlier such large ships could only be built in Nikolayev, Ukraine. The dock, the Russian shipbuilding agency said, is needed to build gas carriers - ships to transport Russian liquefied natural gas to Western partners.

The same dock could also build aircraft carriers. At any rate, the project is already on the drawing board. Masorin said the craft would be a nuclear-powered ship not less than 100 meters long and would carry an air wing of 30 combat fighter jets and helicopters. But this is not going to be soon.

The outlook is best for submarines. Recently two Project 667BDRM boats have been modernized, and two more submarines are being repaired and upgraded at Severodvinsk. A new sonar system is being installed to enable them to "see" and "hear" better. Other equipment includes new fire fighting systems, nuclear reactor protection devices, and the RSM-54 Sineva strategic missile system. Unlike its predecessor, the Skif, the Sineva carries 10 independently targetable re-entry vehicles instead of four. The new missile has a longer range and a modern control system.

It was a Sineva intercontinental ballistic missile that was fired in the summer of 2006 from the North Pole by the submarine Yekaterinburg commanded by Captain Sergei Rachuk. An underwater launch, especially from under the ice, is a challenging task. The jumbled magnetic fields render ship and missile navigation instruments inoperable, and the crew needs special training for working under ice. But there are also advantages - under a thick icecap the submarine remains invisible to hostile observation satellites till the last moment. As a result, a retaliatory nuclear strike would be sudden and unavoidable. Many submarine commanders who managed to do this were later made Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia. Sergei Rachuk, too, received the Gold Star of the Hero from President Vladimir Putin.

But modernization of existing vessels is only part of the rebuilding program. The Sevmash engineering plant at Severodvinsk is currently building a series of new fourth-generation submarines. These are Project 955 Borei boats. It is for them that the new Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile is being developed.

"Three nuclear submarines of the fourth generation are currently under construction," Masorin said. "They are the Yury Dolgoruky, Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh. In comparison with previous boats, they will have much better armaments and equipment."

A Project 885 Yasen-class multi-purpose attack nuclear-powered submarine is preparing to hit the water at Severodvinsk. It is another new fourth-generation submarine able to replace several classes of submarines used in the Russian Navy. Professionals say this ship will cause a revolution in submarine building. Russia's third-generation Project 971 Akula submarines are already undetectable in ocean depths. The Yasen will outperform even the latest American Sea Wolf in the underwater noise level. In addition, it will be a multi-purpose boat. Thanks to its armaments (several types of cruise missiles and torpedoes), it will be able to carry out diverse missions. It will be able with equal ease to chase enemy aircraft carriers and deliver massive missile strikes on coastal targets.

Experts believe the new nuclear submarines and "floating airfields" will mean a quantum leap for the Russian Navy and its combat capabilities.

Nikita Petrov is a military commentator.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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