Tracking Black Sea Security Issues

Russia’s Plans for Crimea: the Black Sea Fleet

July 23, 2014
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Part Two:

What are the consequences for the buildup of the Black Sea Fleet?

 

Having examined the plans for the economic development of Crimea and the construction of infrastructures in the peninsula in our previous paper, we now raise issues related to the impact of Russia’s seizure of Crimea for the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet. The buildup of the Black Sea Fleet ‘1.0’ was initiated years before Russia’s takeover of Crimea which has recast Moscow’s paradigm in the whole Black Sea region. Due to the full sovereignty gained over the peninsula after March 18, Russia has now a full scope of unimpeded possibilities to beef up its southern fleet. However, not only plans for the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet ‘2.0’ will require redirecting part of investments from mainland Russia to Crimea, but it will also call for further investments in order to develop Crimean shipyards.

 

The Modernization of the Black Sea Fleet ‘1.0’

 

The Black Sea Fleet remains today mainly a “green water fleet” with limited high seas capabilities. It operates 1 guided missile cruiser, the Moskva (Project 1164), which is also the flagship of the fleet, 1 classic submarine, the B-871 Alrosa (Project 877V), 3 frigates (Projects 61M, 1135 and 1135M), 7 amphibious ships (Projects 775 and 1171), and several small units (antisubmarine warfare boats, small missile or artillery boats). Nearly 90% of the tonnage of the fleet is based in Crimea, mainly in Sevastopol (80%), and in Feodossia (9%)[1]. In 2014, the overall average age of the around 40 combat units is 36 years. The Black Sea Fleet is served by 12 000 to 16 000 service men dispatched primarily in Crimea, but in other naval and air assets such as Temryuk (Russia’s only naval asset in the Sea of Azov), Utash, Novorossiysk, and Otchamchira and Gudauta in Abkhazia. The fleet nevertheless suffers from a lack of air-defense and air strike capabilities, and therefore relies on land-based assets to compensate this gap[2]. Today, the Black Sea Fleet’s mission is to protect Russia’s southern maritime flank, and the fleet has been assigned the following tasks:

 

• Protecting Russian Economic Exclusive Zone,

• Guarantying navigation and sea lines of communication in the Black Sea,

• Exercising military and political control over the Caucasus and taking part in potential local conflicts (August 2008 type conflicts),

• Exerting military dominance in the Black Sea with a view to maintain absolute control over Black Sea communications and countering the presence of naval groups of non-Black Sea states, primarily NATO forces, in the Black Sea,

• Supporting units coming from other Russian fleets which operate in the Mediterranean,

• Promoting and protecting Russian economic and security interests in the Mediterranean,

 

Yet, the Black Sea Fleet remains today one Russia’s most obsolete fleets, and urgently requires to be modernized. This fact has been acknowledged by the Kremlin which triggered an ambitious plan of military modernization at the end of the 2000s.

The Russian State Armament Program (SAP) 2011-2020 provides a general framework for the modernization of Russia’s military, including the Black Sea Fleet. Moscow plans to spend US $674 billion for the modernization of its armed forces and the Navy is slated to benefit from US $151 billion by 2020. The buildup of the Black Sea Fleet is one of Moscow’s highest priorities: up to 18 new units are expected to be commissioned by 2020 according to the modernization plan ‘1.0’[3].  Russia also plans to heighten its military presence in the Black Sea region in setting up new military assets in Abkhazia and South-Ossetia, in deploying additional mobile missile coastal forces, and in actively upgrading its naval base in Novorossiysk.

The new platforms will strongly enhance Moscow’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities in the Black Sea, and contribute to secure Russia’s southern flank. They consist in 6 multipurpose frigates from Project 11356M, currently under construction at Yantar Shipyard (Kaliningrad). The lead ship unit, the Admiral Grigorovicth, was floated out in mid-March 2014, and should be inducted in late 2014, early 2015. Derived from the Soviet Krivak type frigates, the new Project 11356M frigates will features anti-ship (P-800 Onyx missile), anti-surface (cruise missile Klub) and anti-air capabilities (Shtil SAM missile system). Six new classic submarines from Kilo class (Project 0636.3), built at the Admiralty shipyard (Saint Petersburg), should also be commissioned. The first unit, the B-261 Novorossiysk, was launched in November 2013 and is expected to be inducted by the end of 2014. As for the amphibious capabilities, in spite of critics from Russian Navy officials, 1 or 2 large landing ships from Ivan Gren class (Project 11711) are slated to be inducted in the Black Sea Fleet. Moreover, the Black Sea Fleet should be strengthened by 1 or 2 high sea multipurpose frigates from Admiral Gorshkov class (Project 22350). The lead ship, the Admiral Gorshkov, launched in October 2010, is still under completion at the Northern Shipyard (Saint Petersburg). The Black Sea Fleet should finally be reinforced with up to 4 near-shore units like missile corvettes from the Project 21631, and with 1 or 2 frigates from the Project 11540 Yastreb, currently deployed in the Baltic Fleet. Concerning land-based capabilities, Russia plans to dispatch Su-24M and Su-30SM for air strike capacities and Il-38N for patrolling and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

Until March 18, 2014, the implementation of the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet had been fundamentally constrained by restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian government under the 1997 and 2010 bilateral agreements on the use of military assets leased by Russia in the Crimean peninsula. Last April 2, Vladimir Putin terminated a serial of Russian-Ukrainian treaties on the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The Russian-Ukrainian agreement on parameters of division of the Black Sea Fleet signed on May 28, 1997, the treaty on status and terms of deployment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine (May 28, 1997), the treaty on mutual settlements related with division and stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine (May 28, 1997) and the Kharkov agreement on stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on the territory of Ukraine signed on April 21, 2010 have been unilaterally cancelled by the Russian side[4]. As a result, the annexation of Crimea has widened Russia’s possibilities to enhance the Black Sea Fleet and to increase its military and strategic footprint in the region.

 

After March 18: the Modernization of the Black Sea Fleet ‘2.0’

 

Russia is likely to reconsider plans formerly outlined to beef up its Black Sea Fleet in light of the annexation of the peninsula. While the number of new sea platforms could evolve to protect the Crimean shores, new land-based units and missiles systems should be deployed to protect the south-western regions of the Russian Federation as well as Russian military assets.

From a historical perspective, until 1991, Crimea had served as an outpost for extending Russian and Soviet power projection towards the greater Black Sea and Mediterranean regions. Now that Russian military presence is no longer constrained by legal treaties with Kiev, Moscow can fully use the geostrategic potential of the peninsula by dispatching a broad spectrum of mutually reinforcing systems. Crimea furthermore offers Moscow a strong forward defense point, particularly against potential air and sea incursions in its southern flank.

The modernization and the development of Russia’s military assets in the Black Sea has been framed since 2008 by a strategic document named “Creating a system of bases for the Black Sea Fleet on the territory of the Russian Federation by 2020” commissioned by the Kremlin to the Minister of Defense in August 2004[5]. Moscow intends to spend up to 86,7 billion rubles (US $2,5 billion) to expand Black Sea Fleet’s bases and support points (including the Tarsus support point in Syria). Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu stated in May 2014 that 48 military assets had already been built on Russia’s Caucasian shores according to this program before adding that due to the integration of Crimea to the Russian Federation, the funds should be reallocated to Sevastopol[6]. However, the construction of the brand new naval base in Novorossiysk, initially slated to potentially replace Sevastopol, will be completed. Besides, the reparation and the modernization of Crimean military infrastructures (naval bases, coastal artillery, and airfields) has been assessed at no less than 10 billion rubles (US $285 million)[7].

Concerning the number of new sea platforms set to be inducted by 2020 in the Black Sea Fleet, Moscow is likely to stick to its initial plans with regards to the main combat units (5 to 6 frigates from Project 11356M, 6 Kilo type classic submarines). On the other hand, the number of small combat units, including missile corvettes (Project 21631) could be increased in order to cover the Crimean coasts. Russia has already planned to induct a further 6 patrol boats from Project 22160 by 2020, and the overall number of new combat and support units set to be commissioned in the Black Sea Fleet by 2020 could be brought at 30[8]. While the annexation of Crimea has provided Russia with longer shores to protect in the Black Sea, it is unlikely to result in turning the Black Sea Fleet from a “green water navy” into a “blue water navy”. It is nevertheless highly probable that the number of second and third rank sea platforms will be increased in the framework of the SAP 2011-2020 or, more probably, commissioned in the SAP 2016-2025.

The annexation of Crimea has on the other hand opened the path for Moscow to deploy a wide scope of land-based systems and units in order to create a strong line of defense ahead of Russia’s mainland. Pending the probable deployment of the S-400 SAM system, new missiles systems have already been dispatched, such as the Bastion-P anti-ship coastal battery and S-300 PMU anti-aircraft missiles, based near Sevastopol since late March 2014[9]. The Iskander surface-to-surface missiles, with a 400-kilometer operational range, could be deployed in response to NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense program currently under completion in Romania. It could cover a wide part of southern Ukraine, of Moldova, and a significant part of Romanian coastline, including Constanta. Together with long-range, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, it can provide a large spectrum of capability to strike ground targets, interdict maritime traffic and impose a no-fly zone. Having gained access to ex-Ukrainian air bases and military facilities (193 assets, including naval bases, storages, airfields etc.) in Crimea, Russia’s air force now has significantly enhanced its presence covering almost the entire Black Sea coastline, Transnistria and southern Ukraine within its operational range[10]. In that regard, it has been reported that Russia plans to dispatch 20 Su-27 fighters at Belbek airbase near Sevastopol, as well as Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bombers by 2016[11]. These nuclear-capable bombers will be based at Gvardeyskoye airbase along with Tupolev Tu-142, and modernized Ilyushin Il-38N (anti-submarine warfare aircrafts), as well as ship borne Kamov Ka-27 and Ka-29 helicopters, suggesting that Gvardeyskoye could become a major maritime aviation hub in the greater Black Sea and Mediterranean region[12]. Besides, a new cruise-missile brigade is slated to be dispatched in Crimea and Russia plans to increase the number of navy infantry brigades in the peninsula[13]. The costal artillery has already been strengthened with a new regiment featuring 60 artillery units including Msta self-propelled howitzer (152 mm), Khrizantema supersonic anti-tank missiles and Tornado-G multiple rocket launcher systems[14]. Finally, since late June 2014, a new CBRN defense (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) autonomous regiment has been created and dispatched in Crimea. This new unit belongs to the Black Sea Fleet, and operates modernized RKhM-4-01 reconnaissance chemical vehicles, TMS-65 decontamination vehicles and TDA-2K smoke-screen vehicles[15].

However, the reinforcement of the Black Sea Fleet and the induction of new sea platforms will call for the development and the modernization of Crimean shipyards to support Russia’s increasing naval activity in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

 

Toward the Revival of Crimean Shipyards?

 

From a historical perspective, the most important Russian and Soviet Black Sea shipyards were located in Ukraine. While Nikolayev and Kherson laid down among the biggest surface vessels for the Imperial and Soviet navy, Sevmorzavod (Sevastopol) performed the maintenance of more than 80% of the tonnage of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet during the Cold War[16]. Yet, after the collapse of the USSR, most of the units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet were sent to Russia’s Baltic shipyards (Yantar in Kaliningrad; Saint Petersburg) for their maintenance. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been critically lacking local maintenance capacities since 1991, and this gap has been one of the issues jeopardizing the development of Moscow’s maritime and naval power in the Black Sea. The annexation of Crimea has therefore paved the way for Moscow to overhaul Crimean civil and military shipbuilding industry.

In order to support the defense industry in the peninsula, 23 Crimean companies will be contracted by Russia’s Minister of Defense for the implementation of the SAP. Some contracts already inked by the Russian MoD with Russian shipyards should be redirected to Crimea: for instance, the Zelenodolsky shipyard (Zelenodolsk, Tatarstan) is said to be ready to transfer part of its orders to a Crimean plant[17]. The plant has been ordered a batch of 8 missiles corvettes from Project 21631 by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Besides, Russia’s Ministry for Commerce and Industry has outlined a plan to support and modernize 3 major Crimean shipyards: Zaliv (Kerch), More (Feodossia) and Sevmorzavod (Sevastopol)[18]. While Zaliv builds mainly gas tanker ships, More has specialized in building small and medium amphibious vessels. The modernization of Sevmorzavod will be furthermore important since Russia intends to transfer the bulk of modern ships and support vessels from Novorossiysk to Sevastopol. The money has already started to flow into Crimea: the Russian Minister of Defense placed a 5 billion rubles (US $143 million) order at a Crimean shipyard last April[19].

 

 

The annexation of Crimea has given a major impetus to Russia’s plans for the development and the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet. It has provided Moscow with a critical geostrategic asset in the greater Black Sea region and it will contribute to enhance Russia’s maritime and naval power not only in the Black Sea, but in the Mediterranean region as well. Moscow is likely to take into consideration the need for new units for its southern fleet in the framework of the 2016-2025 SAP. The development of Crimean shipbuilding capacities remains an urgent need considering the scheduled induction of new sea platforms in the near future. Beyond, the attempt by Moscow to revive Crimean industry appears as another driver to develop Crimea’s economy. However, the challenge will be tough to meet: Crimean shipyards have been economically surviving since 1991 with very few orders. Yet, Russia’s military is likely to remain directly or indirectly once again the first employer of the peninsula.

 


[1] Igor Delanoë, La flotte de la mer Noire, de Catherine II à Vladimir Poutine : un outil de puissance au service des ambitions méditerranéennes de la Russie (1783-2012) (The Russian Black Sea Fleet from Catherine II to Vladimir Putin: a tool to serve the Russian ambitions in the Mediterranean (1783-2012)), PhD diss., University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, 2012, p. 762.

[2] Deborah Sanders, ‘Between Rhetoric and Reality: the decline of Russian Maritime Power in the Black Sea’, Mediterranean Quarterly, 23:9, 2012, p. 50.

[3] D. Boltenkov (Ed.), Russia’s New Army, Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Moscow, 2011, p. 82.

[4] “Russia terminates Black Sea Fleet agreements with Ukraine”, Itar-Tass, April 2, 2014.

[5] «Создание системы базирования Черноморского флота на территории Российской Федерации до 2020 года». For the financing plan, see: http://fcp.economy.gov.ru/cgi-bin/cis/fcp.cgi/Fcp/ViewFcp/View/2006/179/

[6] «Минобороны пересматривает программу базирования Черноморского флота», Vedomosti, May 7, 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[8] «На Черноморском флоте увеличится количество кораблей», Itar-Tass, June 27, 2014.

[9] “Russia moves heavy armour into Crimea”, IHS Jane’s 360, April 1, 2014.

[10] Adam Klus, “The New Strategic Reality in the Black Sea”, New Eastern Europe, April 22, 2014.

[11] « La Russie déploiera 20 chasseurs Su-27 en Crimée » (« Russia to Deploy 20 Su-27 Fighters in Crimea »), Ria Novosti, June 10, 2014.

[12] “Russia to Deploy Tu-22M3 'Backfire' Bombers to Crimea”, IHS Jane’s 360, March 27, 2014.

[13] «Минобороны пересматривает программу базирования Черноморского флота», art. cit.

[14] «В Крыму сформирован артиллерийский полк для прикрытия береговой линии», Itar-tass, July 2, 2014.

[15] «В Севастополе создан полк радиационной и биологической защиты Черноморского флота», Itar-tass, June 30, 2014.

[16] Igor Delanoë, La flotte de la mer Noire, de Catherine II à Vladimir Poutine : un outil de puissance au service des ambitions méditerranéennes de la Russie (1783-2012), op. cit., p. 532.

[17] «Оборонные предприятия Крыма привлекут к обновлению ЧФ, заявил Рогозин», Ria Novosti, April 29, 2014.

[18] «Минпромторг РФ считает перспективным развитие трех верфей Крыма», Flotprom, May 20, 2014.

[19] “Russian Defense Ministry Placed $140 Million Order at Crimean Shipyard”, Ria Novosti, April 17, 2014.

 

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