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How Many Ballistic Missile Submarines Will Russia Build?

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Asia Defense

How Many Ballistic Missile Submarines Will Russia Build?

The head of the Russian Navy is considering increasing the number of SSBNs to be commissioned past 2020.

Russia will continue building Borei-class fourth generation SSBN (Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) submarines past 2020 the Russian Navy’s Commander in Chief, Admiral Viktor Chirkov recently told TASS in an interview.

“Our shipbuilding program is devised in a way that does not envisage a stop to the construction of Borei-class submarines after 2020,” Chirkov said at an international naval show in St. Petersburg last week.

Cherokee’s statement could indicate that Russia’s fleet of Borei-class submarines may increase from the currently planned eight to 12 by the 2020s. However, Chirkov emphasized that this is “depending on the situation and the development of international relations.”

“Given the threats that we are facing today we say that we need eight (submarines), but tomorrow there may emerge other threats and we may need twelve submarines,” he added.

Conversely, the admiral’s remarks could also be interpreted as a vicarious acknowledgement that Russia’s ambitious naval rearmament effort is encountering delays and setbacks including in its SSBN building program.

For example, as I reported last week (see: “Russia’s Deadliest Sub Will Have a New Home by October”), construction of new docking and maintenance facilities  for the new Borei-class vessels at the Rybachiy Nuclear Submarine Base in Russia’s  Far East will in all likelihood only be completed by October 2015 (the original plan called for a December 2014 completion date).

Also, only one Borei-class sub will join Russia’s Pacific Fleet this year, according to Russian naval source quoted by TASS instead of two.

“In August-September this year only one Borei submarine, The Aleksandr Nevsky will make a voyage from the Northern Fleet to Vilyuchinsk. Just recently it joined the permanent combat readiness naval force. The submarine carries 16 inter-continental ballistic missiles Bulava. The original intention was two Borei subs would leave for the Pacific 2015,” the source told TASS.

The other SSBN Vladimir Monomakh will join the Pacific Fleet in 2016 due to the need for additional tests and delays in arming the sub with Bulava missiles.

As I reported before (see: “Putin’s ‘Red October’: Russia’s Deadliest New Submarine”), the Russian Navy is currently operating three Borei-class SSBNs. The first, K-535 Yuriy Dolgorukiy, was commissioned in January 2014 and currently serves in Russia’s Northern Fleet.

The Vladimir Monomakh was commissioned in December 2014, while the Aleksandr Nevsky entered the Russian Navy’s combat force this April. TASS quotes an anonymous source within the Russian Ministry of Defense who confirmed the combat ready status of the Aleksandr Nevsky:

 The submarine has successfully passed all the trials with test firing of all types of weapons. The vessel, armed with 16 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles, has been commissioned with the Navy combat forces.

Delays in Russia’s naval rearmament program were inevitable as one expert on Russian military affairs noted a few weeks back (see: “Is the ‘World’s Deadliest Tank’ Bankrupting Russia?),  since Moscow may want to slow down its weapons procurement process until oil prices have recovered, because, “with cost overruns, the money allocated may not be sufficient to build what they want to build.”

Additionally, he noted that “regarding what it is they want to build, they won’t get as many of them, they may take longer to build, but the programs will keep running as they are now.”