Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Naval Source of Russian Weakness

Russia's naval ambitions won't be met and are sucking up resources in a so-far futile effort to build a blue water naval capability:

Russia’s naval construction program continues to suffer from multiple problems, including the shortage or obsolesce of Russian shipbuilding facilities, financial and management problems, as well as technological flaws and lack of access to foreign components—notably Ukrainian-made engines. As a result, a serious gap exists between planned and expected warships. Up to 2020, Russia is likely to operate 5 out of 20 new nuclear submarines, 9 of 20 frigates, 4 of 14 small missile ships, 16–18 out of 41 corvettes and patrol ships, 1 of 6 amphibious ships, 2 minesweepers, and 14 out of 14 fast boats. Such limited numbers of new ocean-going vessels, problems with modernizing older ships (, February 26, 2018), along with reductions to military expenditures (, March 27) may compel Moscow to postpone its blue-water ambitions. Nonetheless, several hundred more long-range cruise and anti-ship missiles deployed to its forthcoming small naval platforms will still likely increase security threats to littoral countries within Russia’s neighborhood.

I believe a blue water navy is beyond what the vast Russia needs to defend their long borders.

Russia needs SSBNs for a survivable nuclear deterrent; coastal vessels and SSNs to secure SSBN bastions in the Sea of Okhosk and the Barents Sea; other coastal vessels to protect their coasts from enemy navies in the Sea of Japan, Barents Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Caspian Sea; perhaps a few larger ships for show-the-flag operations; and a solid determination not to waste resources on more than that which are more needed for air and ground power to defend their long border.

It isn't just that Russia won't meet their goals for ships and subs, but that Russia is wasting money on trying to achieve those goals at the expense of real defense objectives.

Remember, Russia's three sources of weakness are the fleet, Poland, and the Caucasus.

Russia lost all three sources of weakness when the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet despite the defense problem Russia now faces in defending its long border that so far can only be achieved by threatening early use of nuclear weapons, Russia has not exploited the relief of losing the Soviet fleet, losing Poland, and losing most of the Caucasus (having fought brutal wars to retain Chechnya).

No, Russia keeps pressure on Georgia (and Russia formalized control of small portions of Georgia in the brief 2008 war) and keeps troops in Armenia, no doubt to keep a foothold in case Russia can reclaim the region; Russia focuses on the non-threat of NATO where Poland is the NATO main line of resistance in the east (thus sparking NATO rearmament), and has grabbed territory in Ukraine in 2014, where Russia still wages war; and Russia tries to build a blue water fleet when none is needed--failing even as the Russians keep pumping scarce resources into that vanity project.

How many resources would Russia have to defend their vulnerable but valuable Far East from Chinese claims if Russia didn't waste money on a blue water fleet; didn't alienate NATO by effectively trying to build forces capable of driving toward Poland to link up with Kaliningrad; and didn't care if it loses control of the Caucasus which doesn't want to be ruled by Moscow and which separates Russia from Turkey?

If it makes the Russians feel better, they can pretend they need to build up their army and air power in the Far East to protect the region from American and Japanese plots, eh?

It really amazes me that Russia tries to build a blue water fleet. Even in the context of just being jerks in regard to NATO, a coastal fleet focused on the Barents Sea, Baltic, and Black Seas would make more sense than trying to build a blue water fleet. Does Russia really believe that they could revive a fleet capable of interfering with North Atlantic convoys coming from North America to reinforce NATO in Europe?

But no, trying to build a blue water fleet, trying to build an army/air force capable of taking Poland, and aspiring to return to the Caucasus where Russia would just find themselves reminding Turkey of the long history of Russian-Turkish warfare all serve to weaken Russia in carrying out their basic defense requirements.

They're their own worst enemy.

UPDATE: The Russians will update their carrier Kuznetsov a bit.

It needs it. The mission to Syria was an embarrassing display of the ship's problems.

Given that the ship floats and so the money to build it is already spent, updating it to get some more life out of it seems reasonable for show-the-flag missions.

Replacing it when the ship is finally retired makes no sense, however.