Russia Announces a Naval Buildup in the Pacific
Image Credit: Colby Drake, U.S. Navy

Russia Announces a Naval Buildup in the Pacific

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Russia will begin a naval buildup in the Pacific Ocean next year, a top military official said on Thursday.

In an interview on Russia TV, Rear Admiral Sergei Avakyants, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, said that his fleet would begin receiving new warships next year for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Rather large-scale deliveries of new equipment, new warships to the Pacific Fleet will start in 2014,” Ria Novosti quoted him as saying.

According to the article, Rear Admiral Avakyants said the Pacific Fleet would be receiving at least one of the first two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships (helicopter carriers) that France is currently building for the Russian Navy.

In 2011, Russia and France signed a US$1.52 billion agreement for four of the Mistral-class vessels, with the first two to be built in France and the other two in Russia. At the time, it was Russia’s largest arms purchase since the Soviet Union era, and caused significant alarm among NATO nations. Moscow sought to ease these concerns by promising that some of them would be deployed in the Pacific.

According to Reuters, the Mistral-class ships can carry up to 16 helicopters as well as deliver troops, tanks and armored vehicles onto shore. Real Admiral Avakyants did not specify when the Mistral-class vessels would be arriving.

He did however say that “several” Project 20380 Steregushchy-class corvettes were being built for his fleet, with deliveries expected to begin as early as next year. Steregushchy-class corvettes are large multirole vessels that will replace the Grisha Class corvettes. With a length of 105 meters, width of 13 m, draft of 3.7 m, and full displacement load of 2,200 tons, they are classified as frigates by NATO.

According to Naval-Technology, the “Steregushchy Class can be deployed in coastal patrol, escort and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. The vessels can engage surface ships, submarines, aircraft and shore-based targets,” potentially giving them a complementary role with the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships.

The Commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet also said that one of the first Borey-class ballistic missile submarines would be given the fleet after they are first commissioned at the end of this year. The Borey-class is Russia’s fourth-generation nuclear-powered missile submarine and the first submarine to be built since the Soviet era. Russia intends to eventually build eight of them to serve as the core of its sea-based strategic deterrent, replace the aging Typhoon and Delta-III and Delta-IV class submarines.

Russian media outlets have reported that the Borey-class sub is 170 m long, with a hull diameter of 13 m, a depth of 450 m and a submerged speed of 29 knots. Its crew consists of 107 sailors, including 55 officers, and it will carry 16 of Russia’s new Bulava ballistic missiles, which are capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Many of the upcoming deliveries had previously been discussed or hinted at by Russian officials, although typically at different times rather than presented as a package.

Real Admiral Avakyants announcement came near the end of Russia’s massive snap military drill in the Far East of the country. Without prior notice President Vladimir Putin announced the exercise to his military commanders on July 12, the third such surprise drill he has ordered this year. The exercise reportedly included “160,000 servicemen, 1,000 tanks, 130 planes and 70 ships,” making it one of the largest ones Russia has held since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As The Diplomat noted last week, the drill was almost certainly meant as a signal to Russia’s neighbors to the east, primarily China and Japan. Indeed, a couple of Russia’s Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers flew over the Sea of Japan as part of the drill for over seven hours, prompting Japan to scramble jets to intercept them as they approached Japan's Hokkaido Island in the north. Separately, a reconnaissance plane flew over the Kuril Islands that Russia administers but Japan also claims.

In early July, before last week’s snap drill, Russia and China held their largest ever naval drill, the Joint Sea/Naval Interaction 2013. As The Diplomat reported at the time, citing China’s Defense Ministry, the PLA sent “four destroyers, two missile frigates and a support ship” to that exercise.

According to the Ria Novosti article cited above, Russia’s Pacific Naval Fleet currently consists of “the Varyag missile cruiser, four Udaloy-class destroyers, a Sovremenny-class destroyer and dozens of submarines,” five of which are Delta-III ballistic missile submarines.

Previously Russia had been redeploying vessels from its Pacific Naval Fleet to the Mediterranean Sea as part of a new, permanent task force it established in response to the situation in Syria, where Moscow maintains a small naval base.

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