Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sheesh, Put Your Shirt Back On, Vladimir

Putin celebrated the start of the construction of the 4th Borei class ballistic missile nuclear submarine:

"We believe that our country should maintain its status of one of the leading naval powers," Putin told a meeting of naval commanders and government officials at the sprawling Sevmash shipbuilding yard in northern Russia.

Russia surely needs the Borei subs to maintain their deteriorating sea leg of their nuclear deterrent. Without nukes, Russia can't defend their land borders. And without nuclear subs, their land-based nuclear forces are tempting targets for a disarming nuclear strike. Not that I think we have any interest in that. But for theory. And in case China gets ambitious in their nuclear arsenal.

But the idea that Russia needs the status as a leading naval power is ludicrous. Russia went broke trying to be a leading land and naval power when it was the Soviet Union. Then, the USSR needed a powerful blue water navy to cut off NATO from North America.

What's the reason now? Other than the geopolitical equivalent of a shiny red sports car?

Face it, Russia needs land and air power, first. Being a leading naval power implies to me a global reach with significant assets. Russia can't afford to be a leading naval power.

At sea, Russia without pretensions of global status based on Cold War nostalgia has limited navy needs.

One, they absolutely need enough ballistic missile submarines to keep a potent second-strike arsenal at sea.

Two, they need enough attack submarines and short range surface warships to maintain defended bastions in the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk.

Three, they need small warships for coastal defense and operations in the small Baltic, Caspian, and Black Seas.

Four, if they are ambitious, they need amphibious warfare assets to project power against Japan, in the Black Sea, and in the Baltic Sea.

Five, if they feel really ambitious, they could organize several small squadrons centered around a larger capital ship to make propaganda visits abroad to show the flag and to provide a limited capability to use naval power for small contingencies such as citizen rescue and humanitarian reasons. But the amphibs the Russians are getting from France could satisfy that need--with escorts and logistics vessels--in a pinch.

But spend the money to be a "leading naval power?" What's the point?