Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Coming Russian Naval Modernization

Vladimir Isachenkov of the Associated Press is reporting tonight from Russia on the introduction of the Yury Dolgoruky, the first of the Borei class ballistic missile submarines that features 16 of the troubled Bulava submarine launched ballistic missiles. In his report he notes the second Borei class submarine is undergoing sea trials while the third and fourth of the class are under construction.

The modernization of Russia's ballistic missile submarine force and the introduction of the first of this new ballistic missile submarine is obviously not a trivial event, but there is nothing about this modernization of an existing historical capability that impacts strategic balance, so it isn't exactly a big deal either.

What I thought was the big deal today were the comments delivered by President Vladimir Putin during a conference call with the crew while celebrating this milestone. I actually had to spend time searching through the original Russian reports to verify what is reported here by the AP is legit.

President Vladimir Putin congratulated the Yuri Dolgoruky’s crew during a conference call Thursday, hailing the ship as a “powerful weapon that will guarantee our security.”

“Submarines of that class will become an important element of sea-based strategic forces, a guarantor of global balance and security of Russia and its allies,” Putin said.

Commissioning of the new submarines is part of an ambitious arms modernization program that envisages spending more than 20 trillion rubles ($657 billion) on new weapons through 2020.

Putin said Thursday that 4 trillion rubles ($132 billion) of that money will be spent on commissioning the new submarines and other navy ships. “Modernization of the navy is one of the most important priorities in our work to strengthen the armed forces,” he said.

Putin said the navy will commission the total of eight Borei-class ICBM nuclear submarines and eight nuclear submarines of a different Yasen class intended to hunt for enemy ships.
This is the latest affirmation and yet another specifically detailed budget point related to the frequently promised and yet to be delivered Russian Navy buildup expected to take place this decade. Think about the math of this.

If we count fiscal years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 we can take those eight years and divide them by $132 billion US.

That means Russia will supposedly spend $16.5 billion US on shipbuilding for the rest of the decade through 2020. They plan on building lots of smaller warships, submarines, and all types of auxiliary vessels - and sometimes they suggest they will build capital ships, but I'll believe that when I see it.
But the key point is that Russia continues to publicly state they will spend $16.5 billion US annual average through 2020 for naval shipbuilding. According to Eric Labs at CBO, the US Navy plans to spend an average of $11.8 billion on naval shipbuilding from 2013-2017 and an average of $18.5 billion on naval shipbuilding from 2018-2022, resulting in a 10 year average for naval shipbuilding of $16.8 billion from 2013-2022.

While I don't have the specific numbers that Eric Labs does, by my estimates it looks to me like that if Russia really is spending $16.5 billion US from 2013-2020 on shipbuilding, they will spend more money on average through 2020 on naval shipbuilding this decade than the US Navy will.

I note this is a Russian naval modernization, not a buildup, as the new ships will be replacing the current fleet of old warships that are presently in very poor condition, and many of which are barely functional relics from the cold war. With that said, this looks to me to be very similar to the rapid modernization China's Navy underwent from 2003 to 2010, a modernization that allowed China to replace many of their old vessels with new warships fielding modern technology. Worth noting, China's shipbuilding sector is much more efficient than Russia's shipbuilding sector is, so it may not be until 2025 before Russia finishes building the ships they claim they will fund through 2020.

The 21st century is being called the maritime century by several people, not because of what the US Navy is doing, but because of what the rest of the world is doing with their naval power.

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