After a series of sensational dismissals of senior officers in the Navy and Northern Fleet commands President Vladimir Putin visited Severomorsk and took part in official commissioning of the new nuclear cruiser submarine Gepard (project 971A).
In NATO countries submarines of this class are called Shark, and in Russia they are called Bars. The submarine has displacement of about 13,000 tons and can dive almost to 1 kilometer and develop a speed of up to 70 kilometers an hour. In addition to torpedoes the Gepard is armed with 24 cruise missiles capable of killing ground targets at a distance of 3,000 kilometers, construction of the submarine was begun back in 1991. Its construction was drawn out for ten years due to underfinancing of the defense order. State authorities already wanted to scrap it, but when Putin was the Prime Minister he decided to finish construction of the submarine. Putin evidently understands importance of the Navy for the country very well. The National Maritime Doctrine and the “Basics of Russia’s naval policy for the period until 2010” were adopted during his presidency.
This is not a secret that Commander of the Navy Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov is the main author of the Maritime Doctrine. Hence he comments on the document most of all. In 2000, Kuroedov was actively working on preparation of fundamental documents outlining the national maritime strategy. On July 25, 2000, Kuroedov defended a thesis dedicated to this topic. President Putin himself was present during this ceremony.
Before the tragedy of the nuclear submarine Kursk, mass media frequently named Kuroedov as the main candidate for the post of Defense Minister. First of all, he is relatively young (on September 5, 2001, he marked his 57th birthday). Second, according to some experts, the nuclear submarine fleet will play the main role in the system of nuclear deterrence after ratification of the START-2 treaty. This fleet will include fourth-generation missile-carrying submarines of the Yury Dolgoruky type and a new strategic missile system with a compact ballistic missile. Meanwhile, a series of recent dismissals of generals and officers of the Navy showed that the President disliked the condition of the Navy and evidently changed his attitude to Kuroedov. Some observers predict a quick dismissal of the Navy Commander. However, the personnel purge did not change the approach of President Putin to the role and importance of the national submarine fleet.
Quantity of submarines is one of the few parameters in which Russia is on par with the United States. Russia like the US has up to 70 nuclear submarines. Russian Navy like the American one has up to 50 nuclear missile-carrying submarines. American strategic submarine fleet includes 18 submarines of Ohio type armed with the Trident-1 and Trident-2 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Russia has more missile-carrying submarines. Unlike in the US Navy where aircraft carriers form the main strike force, strike force of the Russian Navy is composed of nuclear submarines.
After ratification of the START-2 treaty they also play the main role in the system of nuclear deterrence. According to Soviet (formerly) and Russian (now) commanders, submarines have a number of advantages in comparison to the waterborne fleet. First, they are hidden from observation. Second, they can approach the territory of a hostile state very closely and deliver a surprise missile blow on its objects. Third, they can act efficiently against the hostile ships. For example, nuclear missile-carrying cruiser submarines similar to the sunken Kursk (project 949A) are considered a “strategic non-nuclear deterrence system” because only they can attack American aircraft carrier groups effectively. This effectiveness is achieved due to the Granit missile system with which the submarines are armed and against which there is no effective defense.
The weapons of nuclear submarines do not represent the main goal. The National Maritime Doctrine adopted in 2001 says that the Navy, its backbone being formed by submarine groups, “is the main component of maritime potential of the Russian Federation, one of the instruments of foreign policy of the state and is intended for protection of interests of the Russian Federation in the World Ocean by military methods.” According to Kuroedov, in practice this provision of the Maritime Doctrine shows that in the process of the upcoming Navy reforming “we experiment and return to the notion of a naval submarine fleet.” He explains, “This means that a separate branch with its own command appears in the Navy.”
Here is what Kuroedov says about the plans of the Navy:
“We understand that in the next five years we will hardly manage to begin serial production, but it is absolutely realistic to begin active construction of lead ships from 2001. Aging of the fleet creates a lot of problems. Almost 60% of our ships have served for more than two-thirds of their service life. We are going to work in 2001 under the sign of reliable restoration of technical readiness of the Navy and increase of professionalism of the personnel. I think that in the new century we will leave the mooring lines finally and will go into ocean. At the beginning of the year we plan a two-month patrolling of Russian ships in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. It is high time to speak about the economic zone of Russia. It is high time to speak about the ocean.”
Thus, Russia is attempting to restore it status of a world maritime power in practice. Preparing concept documents on military maritime policy it is building missile-carrying submarines and is prepared to protect its interests not only in the coastal zone but also in the World Ocean.
In 2000, only 49 nuclear submarines remained in Russian Navy. These are mostly new submarines built after 1980. Ten years ago, Soviet Navy had over 130 nuclear and approximately 200 diesel submarines. Overall, in the 20th century the world built more than 5,000 submarines, including 460 nuclear ones. Germany has the first place according to the number of built submarines. It constructed 1,705 submarines (two-thirds of them between 1939 and 1945). Russia (to be more accurate, the USSR) has the second place. At its shipyards in Leningrad, Gorky, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Severodvinsk and so on it built 1,098 submarines including 248 nuclear ones. The US took the third place with 644 submarines built (including 186 nuclear ones).
By 1996, over 150 nuclear submarines were discarded from the Russian Navy. They are currently standing near the mooring lines of shipyards and naval bases. The number of discarded nuclear submarines standing near the Kola Peninsula alone is bigger than the number of submarines in all American fleets. Active zones of nuclear reactors were unloaded only from one-third of discarded submarines. Some submarines have been waiting for unloading for 12-15 years. However, many submarines are not so old. Tens of nuclear submarines were discarded ahead of schedule because the country had no money for their repair and maintenance.
After 1945, 40 submarines sank in peacetime, including seven nuclear ones. Soviet/Russian navy lost five nuclear and seven diesel submarines. The US Navy lost four submarines, including the nuclear submarines Thrasher and Scorpio lost back in the 1960s. For over 30 years American Navy has been operating submarines without catastrophes.