Future Of Russia’s Submarine Fleet
Future of Russia’s Nuclear Submarine Fleet Some of the Russian military’s most ambitious projects, such as the Borei-class nuclear submarine, have begun to take shape.
With the first keel laid down in 1996, four boats have so far completed out of an expected production run of 8. These submarines, built to replace the iconic Typhoon-class (all models scrapped or retired except 1 used for test purposes). And the aging Delta-class submarines, will represent the mainstay of Russia’s nuclear missile submarine force.
Other projects, however, such as the Yasen-class submarine, a modern multi-rolee sub, are still in the early stages of development. Still others, such as the SU-57, Russia’s 5th generation fighter-jet, tasked with providing stealth, precision strike, and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, have fallen well behind schedule.
Unsurprisingly, these projects are not only exorbitantly expensive both to develop and to maintain. But also difficult to assess in terms of true cost—particularly in the current environment. For example, estimates place the cost of the Yasen-class submarine program at around 2 billion dollars per copy (roughly 120 billion rubles). And the Borei-class at approximately 900 million dollars per copy (approximately 54 billion rubles).
While at least half of the Borei-class boats have been commissioned, the Yasen class are much further behind. The Yasen submarine program, at an estimated 6-10 total ships, stands to cost upwards of one trillion rubles—or 5% of the modernization budget through 2027. This does not even factor in the consideration of sustainment and operation. The Borei program could easily consume another 200-500 billion rubles.
By contrast, the new Virginia-class submarine currently on order in the United States, is estimated to cost approximately $18 billion dollars for a 10 ship production run.
While the overall cost of the Virginia program certainly exceeds that of even the Yasen program. Moreover, in the context of the overall US military budget, it constitutes a relatively small percentage of overall acquisition expenditures. In other words, the Yasen submarine program would consume the majority of average annual naval defense spending in Russia. While the Virginia program only consumes a small percentage of the average annual naval spending in the United States.
The deterioration of the military during the post-Soviet decade weighed heavily on the national conscience as once formidable military icons. The Typhoon-class nuclear submarines, which sit idle, slowly rusting away before ultimately meeting an ignominious end in the scrap yard.
Moreover, the decline in military hardware and capability contributed to a general aura of vulnerability. And frustration that may have reached a climax with the loss of Kursk but was certainly not confined to that specific instance.
In a rare display of openness, then defense minister Sergei Ivanov, reflecting on the loss of Kursk, remarked: “here again this Russian habit of relying on mere chance and hoping that everything will work just this time showed itself.”
What is more, that reliance on luck continued as a mainstay of Russian military strategy through at least the early 2000s. Perhaps most notably when, during another naval exercise.
Putin himself witnessed the failed launch of two submarine-launched ICBMs. With a third exploding shortly after launch.
The implications of an ICBM exploding within the confines of the launch submarine are awful for the Russian image and mentality.
Then one has to consider the potential local contamination due to the nuclear warhead. Russia has made at least some progress in resurrecting its strategic submarine capabilities. This capability is something that has been seriously lacking since the end of the Cold War.
The Borei-class submarines represent a substantial return to Soviet-era seaborne nuclear capabilities.
Furthermore, Russia’s strategic submarine fleets not only constitute a major component of Russia’s strategic nuclear capability. But are also a considerable source of national pride.
These machines represent a priority military objective not only to fill gaps in Russia’s strategic nuclear capabilities. But also to fill gaps in Russia’s national identity. What is more, President Putin—fully aware of the strategic military importance of the submarines. Undoubtedly views the project from at least a slightly personal perspective. As the Kursk disaster which welcomed him to his new office. Proved to be a challenging and formative experience for him both personally and professionally.
Speaking on modernization progress at the end of 2016. President Putin noted that the Borei-class submarines “will be an important component of the Russian strategic forces. In addition will guarantee global power balance and the security of Russia and its allies.”What is more, the Borei project, with four operational boats and the remaining four at various stages of construction. Is nearly within reach for the Russian Navy.
Russian sources estimate that the entire production run of eight boats should be operational by 2020.
Although the feasibility of this goal remains to be seen. Completing all 8 boats by 2020 might be a stretch. But completing all 8 boats by the end of this next decade of modernization is not just a possibility. Moreover, almost a certainty.