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Russian Navy - Fleet Modernization 1990s

The collapse of the Soviet Union was the most painful blow to the Navy, as it was the most expensive component in the defense of the country. Funding was at such a low level that there was not enough money even to pay the sailors, not to mention keeping the ships in combat readiness. There was a massive withdrawal of ships, and thus began their sale basically, for a pittance. This was something that could be sold. More than a hundred submarines, most of them with nuclear reactors, were rotting in the sludge.

And most importantly - the Navy lost staffing. The situation was not up to the oceans. The surviving ships were mostly just standing at the dock. That issue was how to maintain the protection of maritime borders, and the border guards "bailed" from virtually all light-duty fleet vehicles that are suitable for their service. In course they went even to fishing trawlers and seiners that were adapted for the border service, equipping them with some weapons. Serving on them was certainly more comfortable, but when they catch violators, their slow speed made apprehension almost impossible.

The fleet was gradually sinking into oblivion. From the old "sweet" life there were a lot of unfinished ships. It was necessary to quickly resolve the issue with them to make at least a shipyard for the construction of much-needed civil ships.

Like the rest of the Russian armed forces, the Navy faced severe financial constraints which affected procurement, readiness, manning and morale. To manage the impact of its resource problems, the Russian Navy, in the early 1990's, made a series of hard choices aimed at preserving its core submarine force capabilities. These included early retirements of older and less capable units, strict controls on operating tempo, and focused maintenance on its best units.

By the early 1990s the Russian Navy appeared unable to deploy more than a few ships. According to a Russian source, in 1996 most ships were at a relatively low readiness level, with most units remaining close to home port. The Russian submarine force has been investing in its tactical and operational development by conducting demanding anti-SSBN and anti-Surface deployments near the US and allied nations. According to one intelligence estimate, more than half of the 1996 fleet was capable of moving undetected into Western sea-lanes.

By the late 1990s, however, the annual "West" excercise series involved up to 50,000 troops from five military districts and three naval fleets. The West'99 exercise conducted in June 1999 involved more than 30 ships, four submarines, and the nuclear-powered Kirov, as well as Russian air force and navy aircraft capable of launching air-to-air and air-to-ground cruise missiles. A similar array of forces was deployed for the West'00 excercise conducted in August 2000 [during which the submarine Kursk was lost].

During the period between 1990 and 1995 the number of ships declined by 50 percent, and fleet aircraft by 66 percent. As of December 1998 the Russian Navy had taken 170 nuclear-powered submarines out of operation, but 130 had not been dismantled and between 110 and 115 still have operating nuclear reactors on board. As of 1997 it was estimated that the Navy was losing thirteen to fifteen ships each month. According to "THE WORLD OCEAN - CONCEPT of the Purpose-Oriented Federal Program" APPROVED by Decree # 11 dated January 11, 1997 of the President of the Russian Federation, the principal task of the first phase, 1997-2002, "is to stop the uncontrolled decline, and stabilize the main parameters characterizing activity of Russia in the World Ocean".

In 1997 Rear Admiral Valery Aleksin of the Russian Navy suggested that Russia needed a Navy of 300-320 modern combat ships, about one-third the size of the Navy in 1990. He suggested that this should consist of 20 SSBNs in the North and Pacific Fleets (one-third of the 1990 force), of which 12-15 should be ready for action. He also called for a force of at least 70 SSNs and up to 40 modern conventionally powered submarines. An unspecified number of large aircraft carriers [though more than one] would each carry some 50 air-defense fighters and 10 antisubmarine aircraft. The surface force would consist of 10-12 guided-missile cruisers, 35-40 guided-missile destroyers, and 40-50 guided-missile frigates. To these forces he would add s 30-40 amphibious ships, at least 60 ready missile boats and 70 mine sweepers. [Russia Needs a Strong Navy]

However, Rear Admiral Aleksin observed that

"If we cannot restore finances, material resources, fuel, and shipyards, in the early 21st century we will have no more than 6-8 ready SSBNs.... We also will be reduced to 20-25 relatively modern multipurpose SSNs and about 10 conventional SSs. For ready surface ships, we will have no more than 1 aircraft carrier, 2-3 guided-missile cruisers, 7-10 guided-missile destroyers, 10-12 guided-missile frigates, and 30 mine sweepers and 30-40 guided-missile boats." [Russia Needs a Strong Navy]

In 1998, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov outlined Russia's force level goals as follows:

"To balance out the development of all arms of service, the minimum strength of the Navy will include 14 or 15 strategic missile submarines, 50 to 55 multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines, 40 diesel submarines, 40 to 45 ocean zone surface warships, 130 to 140 surface warships of other classes, up to 60 minesweepers, 600 warplanes, and 300 combat helicopters of various purposes." [RUSSIA'S NAVAL STRATEGY]

Russia's continuing investment in its submarine force, even in this period of great austerity, was not particularly surprising. Much of Russia's international status springs from the viability of its remaining strategic nuclear weapons. Under START II, if implemented , more than half of Russia's strategic weapons may reside aboard SSBNs. Thus, by their inherent strategic value, the SSBNs, and their supporting general purpose forces (SSs, SSNs and SSGNs), remain at the vital center of Russian defense planning and national security.


In July 1999 the chief of the Main Navy headquarters, Admiral Victor Kravchenko, commented on the future of the fleet. Evaluating prospects for the Russian Navy development over the coming decade, he noted that the government of Russian Federation had established the federal purpose-oriented program "World Ocean". The program provided for the vigorous activity of Russia in the world ocean, which in combination with stable economic development of the country would allow to increase "political stability and defensive capability of Russia at sea and ocean directions". Fulfillment of the goals of this program will permit, even under conditions of limited financing, definition in the period till 2002 of priorities for development of the Navy for next 5-10 years. The second stage - from 2003 to 2007 - would focus on the stabilization of the Navy's ability to protect interests and safety of Russia in the adjoining areas of the world ocean. And at the third stage - after 2007 - would focus on a mass re-equipment and the creation of a "basically new" fleet.

A few key concepts place Russian naval readiness at the end of the 1990s in perspective. On the national level, electoral uncertainties indicated a period of rough sailing ahead. Accelerating inflation and an overall decline of some 40-60% in gross national product had seriously eroded necessities of life. Electric power, fuel, food, clothing, spare parts, etc., were all in short supply. This is particularly acute for the armed services and has produced significant and rapid drawdowns of naval forces, ship scrapping, personnel and manning problems, and repair and maintenance shortfalls. While Russia was attempting to operate a viable navy, the economic and political problems presented serious obstacles to such efforts.

Overall Russian forces at the end of the 1990s stood at approximately 60% of manning levels; sailor acquisition in some Far East units stood at 10% or less; approximately 50% of Pacific Fleet sailors had not completed secondary school and some 20% of them sported previous criminal convictions or had been arrested by the militia; advancement opportunities were essentially closed and advanced training is almost non-existent, especially given the loss of the Baku and Sevastopol naval schools; and electricians, radar operators, and ship physicians are among the scarcest of all specialists.

Most ships were frozen at their docks; Northern Fleet ships and submarines were being removed from service well before their time; ships received less than 22% of necessary repairs; crews are seriously overworked and rarely paid; and most SSBNs are no longer fully operational. It is apparent from these statistics that the Russian navy faced severe constraints and was obviously a much reduced threat. Despite these circumstances, however, they still retain some semblance of an important navy, if only from the historical perspective and perhaps a future potential.

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Page last modified: 30-01-2016 19:11:58 ZULU