The ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian agreement allowing the Black Sea Fleet to remain in Sevastopol until 2042 has again raised the issue of modernizing the fleet, the cost of such an upgrade, and Russia's ability to implement it.
To address these issues, we must first understand why Russia needs the Black Sea Fleet at all. Today, the fleet has two main purposes. The first one is to control the Black Sea basin and ensure the security of Russia's southern borders. Considering the current geopolitical situation and the naval capabilities of the neighboring fleets, this mission could be performed by relatively small groups of light vessels supported by shore-based missile systems and aircraft.
But the problem is entirely different if Sevastopol is viewed as a base for the fleet's deployment in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. In this case, the fleet must have deep-sea-going and ocean-going vessels capable of ensuring a naval presence far from Russian shores.
Russia does not conceal its interest in the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean, and its Black Sea Fleet continues to have ocean-going capabilities.
This was the role of the Black Sea Fleet in Soviet times. In 1991, the Black Sea Fleet employed about 100,000 personnel as well as 60,000 service members and consisted of 835 vessels from practically all existing classes, including 28 submarines, two anti-submarine cruisers, six 1st class missile cruisers and large anti-submarine ships, 20 large, 2nd class anti-submarine ships, 2nd class destroyers and patrol ships, about 40 multipurpose patrol ships, 30 small missile ships and launches, about 70 mine-trawlers, 50 troop-carrying ships and launches, and more than 400 naval aircraft. The fleet had two divisions of ships (anti-submarine and troop-carrying), one submarine division, and two aviation divisions (assault and naval missile-carrying aircraft), one division of costal defense ships and dozens of separate brigades, regiments, battalions, divisions, platoons and batteries.
Up to a hundred warships and support vessels entered the world's oceans through the Black Sea straits every year. The fleet had an extensive network of bases from Ismail to Batumi (Ismail, Odessa, Nikolayev, Ochakov, Kiev, Chernomorskoye, Donuzlav, Sevastopol, Feodosia, Kerch, Novorossiisk, Poti, etc.). Its units were deployed in Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Georgia and the autonomous republics in the North Caucasus. Experts from the International Institute of Strategic Studies estimated that at the beginning of 1992 the value of everything owned by the Black Sea Fleet, including warships, exceeded $80 billion.
Now the Black Sea Fleet has a mere 50 warships and a dozen support vessels. The number of shore-based aircraft and cost guard vessels has also decreased many times over. The Black Sea Fleet previously dominated the Black Sea and competed with NATO allied forces for supremacy in the Mediterranean; now there are fewer vessels in the Black Sea Fleet than in the Turkish Navy. Nevertheless, the Black Sea Fleet is more powerful that the navies of all other Black Sea countries put together, and the fighting power of its main warships would allow it to succeed in a confrontation with a more powerful enemy.
However, the ships of the Black Sea Fleet are rapidly becoming obsolete. During the next 10 to 15 years the overwhelming majority of them will be decommissioned due to physical wear and tear. Major repairs and modernization may extend the service life of some ships, but not of all and not forever. Some ships may be put to more effective use, for instance, the guided missile cruiser Moskva. A number of experts believe that it would be much more appropriate in the Pacific, in the same unit with the similarly equipped Varyag.
Russia must modernize the Black Sea Fleet if it intends to keep it. In the near future the fleet is supposed to receive up to 50 next-generation warships. According to naval commanders, the first warships will appear in the Black Sea as early as 2011 and 2012. Igor Korotchenko, a military expert and a member of the public council at the Defense Ministry, said that altogether the fleet is supposed to receive up to eight Steregushchiy-class corvettes and Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, 10 to 12 Alexandrit-class mine-trawlers, six to eight small Buyan-class artillery ships, 10 to 12 Skorpion-class missile boats and eight to ten small P-750-class submarines.
What is the cost of such modernization? The four Project 20380 corvettes will cost a billion dollars, while four Project 22350 frigates will have a price tag of about two billion dollars (assuming that Russia will buy equal numbers of these ships). The other units - small artillery ships, missile boats, trawlers and submarines will cost another three billion dollars. All in all, re-equipping the Black Sea Fleet will cost about six billion dollars over the next 10 to 12 years. Considering the current conditions and the fleet's real mission, this number is enough for reliable defense of Russia's southern borders and for a guaranteed presence in remote areas under the purview of the Black Sea Fleet.
However, these will not be the only expenses. Considering the need to drastically upgrade the fleet's infrastructure, and replace its landing and auxiliary ships, aircraft and servicing and repair capacities, this figure should be doubled if not tripled. These expenses are as essential as the costs of the new warships.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)