In August of 2005 a Russian mini submarine became stranded 600 ft underwater with 7 seven sailors aboard, and Russia was unable to rescue them. Embarrassed, but looking to avoid a repeat of the Kursk incident, Russia asked for international assistance resulting in help in the form of a Royal Navy ROV cutting the fishing nets that had trapped the Priz class mini-sub. The US Navy, for its part, participated in the effort by sending a doctor and 3 navy divers to help.
The fallout of the event in the west was covered by the Western Media as a sign of international cooperation, and praised all involved on successfully working together for achievement. In Russia, the reaction was different. In September, Putin dismissed Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov and replacing him with Admiral Vladimir Masorin. I don't remember paying much attention to the mini-sub accident, except seeing the references to the Kursk incident, and seeing many snipe at the state of Russian submarines, but I do remember distinctly the appointment of Admiral Vladimir Masorin.
His name had recently popped up on my radar in discussion I had with a Greek officer at the time. Our discussion was mostly about his opinion of the state of Russian naval affairs, and in that discussion he mentioned that in his opinion the Black Sea Fleet was nearly void of modern naval power projection capabilities, but was incredibly efficient regardless in his opinion directly due to the leadership of Vladimir Masorin. My Greek friend referred to Masorin as an excellent officer with a natural gift for politics.
I am not surprised to learn that since Admiral Vladimir Masorin's appointment to Commander-In-Chief of the Russian Navy, Russia finally implimented its military budget focus towards the Navy. Kuroyedov had advocated for years that without 25% of the defense budget, the Russian Navy could not support the defense requirements including nuclear deterrent that was demanded. Since Masorin has taken over, 25% of the budget has been dedicated to the Navy, and is now reported in the media as an accepted fact of military reality.
The decline of the Russian Navy is well known. RIA Novosti summarizes:
Over the past fifteen years the Russian fleet, and especially its navy, has suffered considerable losses. Its number of warships, for example, has dropped from 428 to 273, a fall of 37.5%, and that of active vessels at sea from 210 to 28, a drop of 86.7%. Sometimes even that number of ships is not maintained. Naval personnel have been cut by 60%, from 424,000 men to 169,000.
Masorin doesn't have to start from scratch though, and the starting place is well defined by both industry and political realities. Russia has basically used foreign sales of submarines to maintain its submarine industry over the last five years while using what reduced funds it did get to introduce new submarine designs, including SSBNs, to reconstitute its nuclear Naval capabilities. Anyone familiar with Russian infrastructure knows this was the best way to go, because Russia is in no position to begin building new surface ships until it undergoes an industry modernization program for shipbuilding.
It would appear that program is now in full swing. RIA Novosti again:
President Vladimir Putin has signed decrees setting up a United Shipbuilding Corporation (known by its Russian initials, OSK) to consolidate large federal companies engaged in shipbuilding. Within the next few months, three regional subholdings will be formed. One of them - the Western Center - will unite shipbuilding companies in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. The Northern Center will take care of all Severodvinsk plants in the Arkhangelsk Region, and the Far Eastern Center will bring together companies located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Vladivostok and Nakhodka. 100% of shares in the holdings will be federally owned, and by January 1, 2009, they will be contributed to the authorized capital of the OSK, which will be headed by Colonel General Alexander Burutin, a presidential adviser on military industrial affairs.
What will the OSK do? Putin's decree gives the answer: "[It will] develop, design, manufacture, supply, maintain, upgrade, repair and recycle military and civilian shipping and facilities for the development of the continental shelf in the interest of the government and other clients, including foreign ones, and also promote new technologies and developments in shipbuilding."
The latest follow on to all of this maritime reorganization came Monday when Masorin announced the location for the new far east submarine base in Vilyuchinsk in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This follows an earlier announcement that will consolidate far east surface ships to a new base in Avachinskaya bay of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
No plan however is complete without a shipbuilding plan. Modernization alone won't do it, and as the USSR learned (and the US is learning), you can't sustain a shipbuilding industry with military sales alone. The RIA Novoski article goes on to discuss the potential of commercial sales:
But the Russian shipbuilding industry, at least according to the plans announced in circles close to the OSK, is not going to compete with shipbuilding majors; rather, it is seeking a niche where its output will have guaranteed demand. And such a niche exists. These are ice-breakers - including nuclear-powered ones - offshore platforms, special vessels to develop the continental shelf, and other specialized equipment. Russia's ability to get lucrative orders here is clear from one fact: the floating radar that the United States recently moved from Hawaii to the Aleutian Islands, the world's largest and most powerful, is mounted on a platform built by a Russian shipbuilding yard.Indeed.
The market for vessels to transport liquefied natural gas is even more appealing: currently it is the fastest growing and most capital-intensive segment of global shipbuilding. Its most notable feature is that the vessels are intended to cater specifically to the transportation of Russian gas. This is another real chance to pull Russian shipbuilding out of its hole, especially if the holdings being created will cooperate closely with foreign shipbuilding firms and banks long established on this market. In short, the Russian shipbuilding industry has been given a new lease on life. We shall soon see how well it takes advantage of it.
The Russian Navy plan for more ships appears centered around 6 aviation capable ships, 3 of those ships divided into two separate strike groups. The rotation would put one at sea at all times, with one ready to be deployed, and one under maintenance. From what is reported (sorry all links I have seen so far are in Russian), the aviation ships are to be nuclear powered, around 50,000 tons each, and support around 30 planes and helicopters. The key phrase used in the Russian news services is "aviation capable ships" which implies (to me anyway) these ships are most likely not going to be traditional western style aircraft carriers, rather missile carrying carriers like previous Russian carriers.
Until then Russia will operate the Petr Velikiy in the Atlantic and the Admiral Ushakov, which is currently in refit (due for trails in a few months), in the Pacific Fleet starting in 2008 to bridge the gap until the new fleet starts coming online.
It will be interesting to watch the plan unfold. The Russian economy is booming, and economic statistics indicate that despite what is speculated, the booming economy really has nothing to do with either oil or military sales. I think Putin read Niel Boortz's book, because the fair tax represents the largest economic change in the turn of the Russian economy. Combine a growing domestic economy and improving maritime infrastructure with an eventual boom in oil resource income once investment is realized, and the potential of realizing Admiral Vladimir Masorin's vision for the 2020 Russian fleet is more realistic than many skeptics would expect.
UPDATE - Pravda has an article up called "Secrets of the Russian aircraft carriers." Not really sure of the title, nothing in the article is unique and the 'secrets' are reported in other Russian media. It points out the program could start before the planned 2015 time frame, which may be true, but is too unlikely to mention as a real possibility. It also covers the recent announcements about the naval aviator training schoo