The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, as well as the economic stagnation that followed, led to a severe downsizing for the Navy. Naval construction ground to a halt, and the fleet fell into disrepair and obsolescence.466 Under Vladimir Putin, however, the Russian military’s capabilities have undergone significant improvement, and the Navy is no exception.
The Russian Navy has approximately 130,000 personnel.467 The combined major forces of the current Russian Navy number about one-sixth to one-quarter of what was the Soviet Navy in its heyday. That legacy force today has an average age exceeding 20-25 years. With the economic stabilization of the Russian Federation in the early 2000s, the past 10 years have seen a steady increase in the maintenance, training, and deployment activity of the Navy and, more importantly, the activation of a broad submarine and ship construction program to recapitalize the fleet. The Navy’s missions remain focused on strategic deterrence and homeland defense. Periodic distant deployments support the Russian Federation’s global foreign policy interests.
The Navy operates nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which are an essential arm of Russia’s nuclear triad and capable of delivering nuclear warheads from thousands of kilometers away. This strategic capability puts the Russian Navy in the top tier of foreign navies.468
Russian Navy Organization
The headquarters of the Russian Navy is located in St. Petersburg. The Russian Federation Navy consists of four fleets (Baltic, Black Sea, Northern, and Pacific) and a flotilla in the Caspian Sea. The fleets receive administrative orders and guidance from the Navy Staff in St. Petersburg, whereas operational orders are issued from the various Joint Strategic Commands (OSKs).469 Each fleet and the Caspian Flotilla is operationally subordinate to one of these OSKs.
The Northern Fleet is Russia’s most capable naval force. Based in Severomorsk, located in the Kola Gulf (the only ice-free direct access to the North Atlantic), its seven operational ballistic missile submarines provide the bulk of the firepower for the Navy’s arm of the strategic nuclear triad.470 Russia’s only operational aircraft carrier is also based in the Northern Fleet, along with the Navy’s only nuclear-powered heavy cruiser.471 Surface combatants and submarines deploy worldwide from the Kola Gulf, playing an active role in the ongoing Syria crisis, conducting counter-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, along with power projection in the North Atlantic and Caribbean. The Northern Fleet’s two primary missions are to provide strategic deterrence with its ballistic missile submarines and to defend the maritime approaches to northwest Russia.472
The Pacific Fleet lags behind the Northern Fleet in terms of maintenance and overall capability; however, it is still able to conduct strategic nuclear strikes against the U.S. mainland, and its surface units are active from the Pacific region to the Horn of Africa.473 The Pacific Fleet has its headquarters in Vladivostok, but its forces are split between two main locations with the majority of surface ships and diesel powered submarines in the Vladivostok region and the nuclear powered submarines, including the SSBNs, located in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.474,475 The workhorses of the PACFLT are four UDALOY-class destroyers, which are regularly deployed throughout the region.476
Black Sea Fleet
The Black Sea Fleet for years has been a fleet in decline, forced to operate with a handful of Soviet-era vessels. Beginning in 2014 after the occupation of Crimea, new units began to enter the order of battle including modern coastal missiles and naval infantry.477 Then in 2015, new submarines and surface combatants began to arrive to bolster the fleet. Now armed with the KALIBR missile system, the Black Sea Fleet is a significant force in the region and over the next few years could have as many as six new attack submarines and six new surface ships, which can not only exert control on the Black Sea, but can operate in the Mediterranean to counter NATO forces and support operations in Syria.478
The majority of Baltic Fleet vessels are located at Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad Oblast with a handful further north near St. Petersburg.479 Headquartered at Kaliningrad, the fleet’s mission focuses on specifically ensuring sea-lines of communication and trade are open between Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, and in countering NATO forces in the region.480,481 The Baltic Fleet has also been a key player in support of Russian interests in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and Horn of Africa.482 With the arrival of two KALIBR-equipped vessels in 2016, the Baltic fleet presents a significant long-range precision conventional and theater nuclear strike threat to Western Europe.
Caspian Sea Flotilla
The Caspian Sea Flotilla is the dom inant naval force on the Caspian Sea and was the first Russian surface force operationally equipped with the KALIBR missile system. Russia’s naval superiority ensures Moscow has leverage in regional economic disputes. The KALIBR land attack cruise missile gives Moscow a precision strike weapon that can range targets in Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe, as evidenced by strikes into Syria in October 2015.483 Most of the flotilla’s combat power (all of the KALIBR shooters) are based at Makhachkala, possibly to be closer to regional threats and also to avoid having to navigate the Volga River Delta to reach the sea, as is the case with ships based at Astrakhan.484 485
Naval aviation assets are spread through four fleet air forces, each with composite regiments under their command. The main missions of naval aviation are to track and destroy enemy submarines and warships and also help achieve air superiority where the fleet is operating.486 Most naval aviation aircraft are land-based; the only aircraft carrier, ADMIRAL KUZNETSOV, can accommodate 22 strike aircraft and 17 attack helicopters.487
Russia’s sea-based strategic deterrent is deployed in the Northern and Pacific Fleets. There are six DELTA IV SSBNs, one DOLGORUKIY SSBN, and one remaining TYPHOON SSBN used as a test platform in the north. Three DELTA III and two DOLGORUKIY SSBNs are in the Pacific. All sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried by these submarines—SS-N-18 (DELTA III), SS-N-23 (DELTA IV), and SS-N-32 (DOLGORUKIY)—can reach U.S. targets from their home-base piers and, if required, could be launched with the submarines on the surface.
These SSBNs are protected by nuclear-powered cruise missile and torpedo attack submarines, which also engage enemy surface and submarine forces and pose a land attack cruise missile threat against an enemy homeland. In the Northern Fleet, these attack submarines include three OSCAR II and one SEVERODVINSK SSGNs and three VICTOR III, six AKULA VII, and four SIERRA SSNs. The SEVERODVINSK class is new, extremely quiet and is armed with a wide range of advanced cruise missiles to destroy enemy ships and targets ashore. The Pacific Fleet has five OSCAR II SSGNs and four AKULA I SSNs. It will eventually receive SEVERODVINSK SSGNs. A new fifth-generation general purpose nuclear-powered submarine is under development.
Non-nuclear diesel-electric submarines round out the Russian submarine forces. These units are assigned to all fleets for close-in area defense missions in adjacent seas. Older and newer versions of the KILO class comprise most of this force: six in the Northern Fleet, two in the Baltic, three new KALIBR-equipped units in the Black Sea, and eight older KILO class in the Pacific. The newest KILO version continues in construction with three more units destined for the Black Sea Fleet and eventually another six for the Pacific Fleet. A single PETERSBURG-class improved design experimental unit is in the Northern Fleet with two additional units to be completed A future non-nuclear, KALINA design, likely having an air independent propulsion plant, is in development with construction projected after 2020.
The Russian Navy’s major combatant surface ships, frigates and larger, comprise some 32 units assigned across all 4 fleets.
• The Northern Fleet has Russia’s only aircraft carrier (KUZNETSOV), one nuclear-powered KIROV-class cruiser, one conventionally powered SLAVA-class cruiser, and four UDALOY-class destroyers. The first new GORSHKOV-class (KALIBR) guided missile frigate was recently commissioned with more expected. This fleet also has 12 minor anti-ship and anti-submarine combatant ships, as well as 4 ROPUCHA-class amphibious assault ships.
• The Baltic Fleet has nine major ships—two older SOVREMENNYY-class destroyers and seven frigates: one KRIVAK-class, two NEUSTRASHIMYY-class, and four new STEREGUSHCHIY-class units. It recently received two SVIYAZHSK-class (KALIBR) guided missile patrol ships. These are supplemented by 18 minor combatants and 4 amphibious assault ships.
• The Black Sea Fleet has one SLAVA-class cruiser, one 47-year-old KASHIN-class destroyer, two older KRIVAK-class frigates, and the first of a planned six new GRIGOROVICH-class (KALIBR) frigates. More new construction units are expected for the Black Sea Fleet. The fleet is supplemented by 15 minor combatants and 7 amphibious assault ships.
• The Caspian Flotilla has two GEPARD-class frigates (one with KALIBR) and recently received two new ASTRAKHAN-class patrol ships and three SVIYAZHSK-class (KALIBR-capable) guided missile patrol ships
• Finally, the Pacific Fleet has seven major ships: one SLAVA-class cruiser, four UDALOY-class and two SOVREMENNYY-class destroyers. These are supplemented by 24 minor anti-ship and anti-submarine combatants and 4 amphibious assault ships.
The Russian Navy has several weapons upgrade programs in progress. The new SS-N-32 BULAVA submarine launched ballistic missile is being produced for the DOLGORUKIY-class SSBNs. The most consequential development is that Russia plans to deploy KALIBR capability on all new design construction nuclear and non-nuclear submarines, corvettes, frigates, and larger surface ships. KALIBR provides even modest platforms, such as corvettes, with significant offensive capability and, with the use of land attack missiles, all platforms have a significant ability to hold distant fixed ground targets at risk using conventional warheads. The proliferation of this capability within the new Russian Navy is profoundly changing its ability to deter, threaten, or destroy adversary targets.
Although the Navy is mainly made up of Soviet-era surface ships and submarines, an extensive modernization program is underway, focusing first on the submarine force.488,489,490 Progress in submarine modernization is underway; however, the majority of the naval inventory still consists of aging units from the 1980s and 1990s. While more new classes of ships are planned, the Navy will have to maintain its older fleet for several years until these new vessels come online. Despite this, Russia is still capable of deploying its assets worldwide, best evidenced by continuous support to Russian operations in Syria since 2012 and recurring counter-piracy deployments to the Gulf of Aden since 2008.491,492