As I mentioned in my previous post, Putin’s administration is busy readying the Northern Sea Route for increased maritime traffic. In order to maintain control over the shipping lane, Russia will need a first-class navy and naval bases. Plans are underway to equip the navy with eight new nuclear submarines by 2020. Last month, at a ceremony to begin construction on a new fourth-generation Borei class submarine, Putin spoke about the modernization and expansion of the navy. Reuters quoted him as saying, “Obviously, the navy is an instrument to protect national economic interests, including in such regions as Arctic where some of the world’s richest biological resources [and] mineral resources are concentrated.”
This year alone, the navy will receive 10-12 new ships. Thanks to Project 955 (Northwind) it will receive two Borei class submarines this year, the Yury Dolgoruky and the Aleksandr Nevsky. These new Borei class submarines are meant to replace Russia’s aging fleet of nuclear submarines. In the wake of the fire on-board the Yekaterinburg submarine last year, Russia is also badly in need of new vessels. RIA Novosti reports that with the disaster, Russia lost “16% of its submarine-based nuclear warheads.” However, the navy is still more capable in Arctic waters than American forces, which do not have a single heavy-duty icebreaker ready to deploy.
Construction on the two new submarines at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk has been completed, and the two nuclear submarines are currently undergoing sea trials off the northern shores of Russia. Deputy Minister Aleksandr Sukhurov stated to RIA Novosti, “I can say without doubt: the first two vessels, as part of Northwind, will first be based in the Northern Fleet and then, when the infrastructure is ready, transferred to the Pacific Fleet,” which is based in Vladivostok. The Borei class submarines are strategic, and the Yury Dolgoruky can reportedly carry up to 16 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile silos. RIA Novosti has a good infographic of Bulava missile launches here.
By 2020, the Russian Navy is slated to receive 20 ships. After 2020, Russia may begin to build new aircraft carriers, which Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov has said will be “one step ahead.” Currently, the only aircraft carrier in Russia’s fleet is the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is part of the Northern Fleet, based in Severomorsk, Murmansk, above the Arctic Circle. Admiral Kuznetsov was launched in 1985 and will be refitted by the end of this year. Tentative plans include replacing the current steam-powered propulsion unit with a gas turbine or nuclear propulsion unit. The carrier’s hangar space will also be expanded to allow for more fixed-wing aircraft to be kept onboard.
Russia is investing heavily in its navy, much like Canada with its National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. Submarines are an important way for countries to stealthily enforce their sovereignty, or even to simply make a statement. In 2005, an American submarine reportedly sailed through the waters of the Northwest Passage, which the U.S. claims as an international strait but Canada calls its own. Professor Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia stated, “Any unauthorized passage could have a serious effect on our claim.” With greater technology and more submarines to act as deterrents against unauthorized foreign transit within the Northern Sea Route, Russia will be able to more powerfully exert its sovereignty over a route posed to be an important corridor for the transit of raw materials, particularly from Siberia.