As Alexandra Jorjevich, Ivan Safronov and Dmitry Kozlov report in their article in Kommersant newspaper, the Russian Ministry of Defense report on the Russian Navy in 2016 drew quite a contradictory picture. The report mentioned multiple geopolitical challenges facing Russia from the sea, yet said that there is no evidence to believe that a full blown military action against Russia from the sea was possible in the near future. The same can be attributed to how the Navy was evaluated — the amount of warships was deemed satisfactory, yet logistics-wise the fleet was found lacking.
According to Kommersant sources close to the Ministry of Defense the report was sent to the Maritime board. After being commented on, the report will be sent further on to President Vladimir Putin.
The military section of the report describes existing foreign policy problems in detail. The main instability factors included piracy, illegal migrations, the rise of international terrorism and the attempts to stifle Russia’s geopolitical influence by the US and its allies.
The threats to the state interest included a “possible military conflict” with NATO countries, a complex situation in the Azov-Black Sea region (a threat to vital assets in Crimea, and illegal presence of ships and aviation of the small and middle powers in the region), Japan’s claims for the Kuril Islands and the power struggle of the Arctic Council countries. Norway was singled out as a separate threat with its plans to unilaterally reevaluate international agreements. The report stresses the fact that Norway aimed to achieve “absolute national jurisdiction over the Svalbard archipelago and its defined water zone of 200 miles.” The report stated that military power now plays a more important role geopolitically, pointing out that Russia increasing its maritime potential to strategically keep possible opponents in check is a way of ensuring international stability.
According to Kommersant sources, the threats were described in the most detail. They included the expansion in the number of the countries with a combat-capable fleet, escalation of armed conflicts in the coastal territories linked to Russia, putting pressure on Russia to weaken its control over the Northeast Passage (NEP), non-nuclear PGMs being deployed near Russia’s water zone, and deployment of naval missile defense systems.
The threats are not going to remain unresponded to, the report states. The technical readiness of the Russian Navy warships is being upheld and new warships are being built. Five warships were employed in the Navy in 2016: two 636.3 submarine units Velikiy Novgorod and Kolpino, two project 11356 frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, project 12700 minesweeping vessel Alexandr Obukhov, and two Raptor high-speed patrol boats. Coastal defense troops were also refit with five mobile coastal defence missile systems being built within a year. More than 20 warships and 50 designated ships are being built. In 2017, 16 more ships and combatant crafts will be employed by the Russian Navy. According to Kommersant, the evaluation of potential capability of the fleet shows a steady incline, and this area in general is referred to as reliable. In 2016 the fleet has accomplished 102 military campaigns, having increased the task efficiency 1.3 times compared to 2015 with a total time at sea coming to 9538 days.
The area of navigational and hydrographic support was reported to be unreliable though. Considering new additions to the fleet, in December 2016 the amount of ships that had been past their term of service came to 87%. The lack of new ships was compensated by modernising the old ones, which helped getting 32% of boats to a serviceable level. Global Information Systems also left something to be desired — they had been reported to be in a critical condition. The report assumes this to be the case due to the lack of new equipment, hence the usage of the outdated technologies way past their due date. The Arctic and the Pacific were considered troublesome, as underwater monitoring was being conducted with Severyanin hydroacoustics system and Anaconda electromagnetic station, which were severely underpowered for the task. Naval borders were also a point of contention: in order to sufficiently patrol the borders 5 to 8 ships with 20 to 25 border patrol boats were required. Also Russia was the only country in the Arctic Council that didn’t have a border icebreaker ship. The icebreakers employed by Russia like the Nadezhny class ones are not supported with ship helicopters and are not capable of carrying enough POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants).
According to Kommersant sources, the slow speed of modernising the fleet raised questions from the establishment, but this matter is not to be solved soon due to the condition of shipbuilding industry. The report mentions that during 2015-2016 time period the number of ships built had been declining. The project 22350 lead ship, the project 11711 lead assault landing ship, and the project 23120 lead ship are all still being built. The amount of contracts also suffered: they’d dropped 19% in a year.
The report concludes that despite increasing threats to Russia’s national security on the sea, a full blown military conflict is unlikely, at least for now.