Naval Force / Morskoyo Flota
During the Cold War the Soviet Union embarked on a naval construction program which, at least at its inception, was apparently designed as a defensive force. At the same time, the security and naval policies of the United States and the Soviet Union were totally different. During the Cold War era the Soviet Navy never sought full parity with US naval forces. Although a superpower, the Soviet Union was never a peer competitor of the United States. To the contrary, it was [in the post-Cold War terminology] a near-peer asymmetric competitor.
Rather than seeking to simply replicate the US Navy ship for ship, the Soviet Navy sought to offset perceived American naval capabilities by the development of appropriate response measures. The Soviet navy never embraced the American facination with carrier-based aviation, but fearing American aircraft-carriers it invested considerable resources in anti-shipping cruise missiles launched from submarines, surface ships and shore-based aircraft.
Before 1962 the Soviet Naval Forces were primarily a coastal defense force. The Cuban missile crisis and United States quarantine of Cuba in 1962, however, made the importance of oceangoing naval forces clear to the Soviet Union. In 1989 the Soviet Naval Forces had nearly 500,000 servicemen organized into five combat arms and gave the Soviet Union a capability of projecting power beyond Europe and Asia.
Between 1962 and the early 1970s, the Soviet Union's World War II-era Naval Forces became a modern guided missile cruiser and destroyer force. In addition, in the late 1970s the Soviet Union launched its first nuclear-powered Kirov-class battle cruiser, its third class of guided missile cruisers, and two new classes of guided missile destroyers. These surface forces have had the peacetime task of supporting Soviet allies in the Third World through port visits and arms shipments as well as visibly asserting Soviet power and interests on the high seas. In wartime, they would conduct both antiship and antisubmarine operations.
A variety of auxiliary ships supported the Naval Forces and the armed forces in general. In 1989 the Soviet Union operated sixty-three intelligence-gathering vessels, manned by naval reservists and equipped with surface-to-air missiles. It also had the world's largest fleet of oceanographic survey and marine research vessels. Over 500 ships gathered and processed data on the world's oceans that would be crucial to the Soviet Union in wartime. In 1989 eleven specially equipped vessels, including the new Marshal Nedelin-class, monitored and tracked Soviet and foreign space launches. Yet Western experts have noted that the Soviet Naval Forces still lacked enough specialized underway replenishment vessels to provide adequate logistical support to naval combatants at sea.
Beginning in the 1970s, the Soviet Naval Forces attempted their overcome its major weakness--fleet air defense beyond the range of land-based aircraft--by deploying four Kiev-class aircraft carriers. These carriers each had a squadron of Yak-38 fighters. In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was also constructing and fitting out its first two Tbilisi-class carriers. Western observers expected that a variant of the new Su-27 or MiG-29 fighter would become the main Soviet carrier-based aircraft. Soviet carriers also operated Ka-25 and Ka-27 naval helicopters for ASW reconnaissance, targeting, and search-and-rescue missions.
Protecting the coasts of the Soviet union from attack or invasion from the sea has remained one of the most inportant missions of the Naval Forces. To defend an extensive coastline along three oceans and two inland seas, the Soviet Union has deployed a sizeable and diverse force. Defensing naval bases from attack has been the primary focus of the Coastal Defense Forces. In 1989 the Coastal Rocket and Artillery Troops, consisting of a single division, operasted coastal artillery and naval surface-to- surface missile launches along the approaches to naval bases. A large number of surface combatants, including light frigates, missile attack boats, submarine chasers, guided missile combatants, amphibious craft, and patrol boats of many types, also participated in coastal defense.
The command organization of the four fleets was similar to that of the military districts. The fleet commander had a deputy for each of the combat arms of the Naval Forces, and he supervised the naval bases and ports in the fleet's area. Each fleet had a Naval Aviation air army, a naval Spetsnaz brigade, and several battalions of the Coastal Rocket and Artillery Troops. The fleets reported to the Main Staff of the Naval Forces; in wartime, they would come under the operational control of the Supreme High Command and the General Staff. Although the Naval Forces operated numerous flotillas on inland seas and large lakes, only the Caspian Flotilla was operational in 1989.
The Northern Fleet, based at Murmansk-Severomorsk, was the most important Soviet fleet, having a force of over 170 submarines in 1989. The Pacific Fleet, based at Vladivostok, had the best amphibious and power projection capabilities of the Naval Forces. In 1989 it had the only Naval Infantry division, two aircraft carriers, and 120 submarines. In wartime the Northern and Pacific fleets would become components of oceanic theaters of military operations (teatry voennykh deistvii--TVDs). The Baltic and Black Sea fleets, as well as the Caspian Flotilla, would become maritime components of continental TVDs in wartime.
Since the mid-1960s, the Naval Forces were increasingly been deployed abroad. In 1964 the Mediterranean squadron became the first permanently forward-deployed Soviet naval force. Since its inception, it has usually had thirty-five to forty-five ships. In 1968 the Soviet Union established an Indian Ocean squadron of fifteen to twenty-five ships. Access to ports and airfields in Vietnam, Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), and Seychelles in the 1980s has enabled the Soviet Naval Forces to repair their ships, fly ocean reconnaissance flights, and maintain these forward deployments. In 1989 Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam had the largest concentration of Soviet vessels outside the countries of the Warsaw Pact.
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