Strategic Naval Forces. Problems and Prospects

Moscow VOORUZHENIYE, POLITIKA, KONVERSIYA No 2 (13), 1996 pp 38-40
by A.M. Ovcharenko

Aleksey Mikhaylovich Ovcharenko completed studies in the Navigation Department of the Pacific Higher Naval Institute imeni S.O. Makarov, and served on guided missile submarines of the Pacific and Northern Fleets. After graduating from the Naval Academy imeni N.G. Kuznetsov, he served in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Defense. Since 1988 Rear Admiral A.M. Ovcharenko has been deputy head of the Operations Directorate of the Russian Navy Main Staff.

The history of Russia provides a great many examples testifying to the significance of the role played by the Navy in the protection of Russia's national interests, the defense of the country, Russia's establishment as a great power, and the consolidation of the country's military and economic might and international prestige. The need to have a powerful navy has always been a priority concept in Russian state policy. It is access to the vast maritime expanse that secured for the Russian state rapid growth of its economy, science, and culture, and the status of a great world power.

The presence of Russia's Navy is an objective and historically confirmed necessity, one of the absolute conditions for its security, protection of its national interests, and its economic and cultural development. As far as the purely military-strategic aspect of securing our national interests is concerned, we must note that all the nuclear powers (the United States, Great Britain, France, China) have devoted the most serious attention to the development of their strategic naval nuclear forces. With the introduction in 1997 of the latest--the 18th--guided missile submarine of the Ohio variety, the American Navy will have a powerful and effective nuclear submarine system whose delivery vehicles will carry about 50 percent of the strategic warheads possessed by the United States. Today the strategic nuclear potential of Great Britain is concentrated exclusively in missile-carrying submarines.

France brought new missile-carrying submarines into the combat inventory of its navy with the introduction of submarines of the Triumphant variety, each with 16 M-45 missiles. By the year 2000 it is planned to have a grouping of naval strategic nuclear forces consisting of five-six such submarines. The question of complete elimination of ICBM's and strategic bombers is being resolved. China has undertaken active efforts to establish its own naval strategic nuclear forces. The Chinese naval inventory already contains a first nuclear submarine with ballistic missiles and 12 launchers. Several others are being built.

Thus, a trend can be seen in the development of the strategic nuclear forces of the world's leading countries-- a shifting of the main portion of national strategic nuclear potential from the land to under water. This is an entirely logical and objective process. Here is why: First of all, naval strategic nuclear forces constitute a strategic means of deterring all types of aggression and ensure the maintenance of strategic stability. Whereas intercontinental ballistic missiles, especially those with multiple warheads, constantly "provoke" the supreme military-political leadership to make a decision on the launch of these missiles during the earliest possible stage of an armed conflict (the "use or lose" dilemma), a country's possession of naval strategic nuclear forces provides an opportunity instead to refrain from making a hurried decision on their use, i.e., the time political figures are afforded to make a proper assessment of the situation is extended, thereby significantly diminishing the risk of nuclear conflict.

Secondly, we must consider the high degree of survivability of naval strategic nuclear forces. Possible regions of combat patrolling for the missile-carrying submarines encompass tens of millions of square kilometers which have not yet been restricted by any treaties. Just one or two hours following the submersion of a submarine, the area of its potential location can encompass thousands of square kilometers. The use of physical-geographical conditions of the world ocean and the combat capabilities of the Northern and Pacific Fleets ensures the survival of at least 90 percent of the missile-carrying submarines over the course of a lengthy period of nonnuclear war.

Thirdly, even emergency situations involving strategic missile-carrying submarines and the employment of nuclear weapons against them by the enemy have no practical negative consequences whatsoever for the territory or population of a country. This is related to their basing mode--the fact that they are not based in densely populated regions in the country's center like intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM's), but rather in outlying areas of the world ocean.

Fourth, it takes just a few hours for a nuclear missile-carrying submarine to depart from its base and move to a dive location. After it goes underwater, combat against it acquires a probabilistic nature. According to assessments calculated by the Americans and by Russian Navy specialists, no side is today capable of carrying out the prolonged, continuous tracking of missile-carrying submarines and guaranteeing the preventive destruction of all missile carriers, even through a preemptive strike. Fifth, expenditures allocated to support the combat readiness of naval strategic nuclear forces do not exceed 15 percent of the overall outlays for the entire Navy-- comprising just over one-third the expenditures required to maintain the Strategic Rocket Forces.

Today only powerful strategic forces are capable of guaranteeing peaceful conditions for our country in the near historical perspective. Their main designation--as determined in the principles of Military Doctrine--is to eliminate the danger of nuclear war through the deterrence of any form of aggression against the Russian Federation. Russia's naval strategic nuclear forces constitute a complex naval organism, a unified system, the effective functioning of which is possible only when the entire Navy receives the support required to sustain the proper level of combat readiness.

This system includes strategic missile-carrying submarines, a unified system of command and control, and unified systems of rear services and special logistical support.

Creation of the system of naval strategic nuclear forces in the USSR goes back to the mid-1960's, when we saw the beginning of intensive construction and commissioning in the Navy of a series of 34 missile-carrying submarines of the 667a Design, armed with the D-5 missile system with range of 2,500 kilometers. Over the 25 years that followed, more than 80 missile-carrying submarines were built in the USSR. A reliable system of command and control and a system of operational and material-technical support were established for them. The attention devoted by the highest organs of state government to building the naval strategic nuclear forces can be seen in the fact that up to six missile-carrying submarines were commissioned annually in the USSR Navy in the 1970's.

In the 1970's-1980's, the USSR developed missile systems with intercontinental ranges and included them within its naval strategic nuclear force inventory. This was an outstanding achievement of our design and engineering base. During the same period, third generation missile-carrying submarines of Designs 941 and 667 BDRM (the modernized nuclear submarine) were built and commissioned. As of the moment of signing of the treaty between the USSR and United States on limitations and reductions in strategic offensive arms (START-1, 31 July 1991), naval strategic nuclear forces encompassed 62 missile-carrying submarines, 940 launchers, and 2,804 strategic nuclear warheads. At present, the naval strategic nuclear forces comprise 27 missile-carrying submarines on which about 450 BRPL (submarine ballistic missile) launchers and more than 2,000 warheads are deployed. The main grouping of naval strategic nuclear forces is stationed with the Northern Fleet--17 submarines, while 10 are stationed in the Far East. About 8,000 individuals constitute the total submarine crew composition and personnel staffing in command and control organs of the naval strategic nuclear forces.

Since the signing of the START 1 Treaty, 35 strategic missile-carrying submarines have been withdrawn from the Navy's combat inventory and partially salvaged. Notwithstanding the complexities of maintaining technical readiness of ships and the problems involved in the provision of material and special support, a large portion of the strategic missile-carrying submarines within our naval strategic nuclear forces remain at constant readiness--a certain number of them are always on combat patrol at sea, and the remainder maintain alert status in their bases, ready to carry out combat missions. This provides Russia a guarantee from chance occurrences in the military-strategic environment. In the event naval strategic nuclear forces are brought in advance to a state of total combat readiness, missile launch can be effected just a few minutes after receipt of the appropriate order.

During the period 1993-1995, the Russian Navy (including naval strategic nuclear forces) participated on several occasions in operational readiness measures, including measures under the leadership and with the participation of the Russian Federation president, Russian Federation Defense Ministry, and the chief of the General Staff. A high level of combat readiness on the part of missile submariners, outstanding professionalism, and high state of training were demonstrated by the crews commanded by Captain 1st Rank S.N. Gudkov, Captain 1st Rank V.V. Afonin, and Captain 1st Rank V.V. Bautin.

In 1994-1995, we continued to successfully assimilate new tactical procedures for ship employment and the use of ship-based weapons and technical systems. Successful cruises to the North Pole were accomplished by groups of missile-carrying submarines. The Design 941 missile-carrying submarine under command of Captain 1st Rank A.S. Bogachev successfully launched a missile from the North Pole region, and the crew under the command of Captain 1st Rank V.N. Bazhenov successfully conducted the Russo-German scientific experiment "TKM-Volna" (thermo-convection module).

Outstanding results were achieved by the crew under command of Captain 1st Rank S.A. Smirnov in the missile firing they conducted 22 March 1996. Submariners Rear Admiral A.A. Berzin and Captain 1st Rank Yu.M. Yurchenko were awarded the title "Hero of Russia" for their outstanding execution of combat training missions and the courage and heroism they displayed during their conduct. The officers of fleet headquarters departments headed by Captains 1st Rank V.P. Makarov and N.P. Sakharov have been fulfilling missions assigned by the Naval Command with a deep sense of responsibility for the state of readiness of groupings of missile-carrying submarines of the Northern and Pacific Fleets.

We may state with complete certainty that the system of naval strategic nuclear forces, created by the heroic labor of the people, remains capable to this day of ensuring quite effectively the successful accomplishment of tasks related to Russia's national security in our rapidly changing world.

What will Russia's naval strategic nuclear forces look like in the near and long term?

First of all, we will continue to maintain the combat readiness of groupings of third-generation strategic missile-carrying submarines by ensuring the accomplishment of major repairs in timely fashion and effecting high- quality improvements in their missile systems.

Secondly, we will develop the design and construction of fourth-generation strategic missile-carrying submarines to replace second-and third-generation submarines as their term of service ends.

Thirdly, we will develop and improve our systems of command and control, rear services, and special logistical support.

Only if we maintain the combat readiness of Design 941 strategic missile-carrying submarines of the Typhoon system will we be able to preserve the system of naval strategic nuclear forces overall and ensure fulfillment of the international obligations undertaken by Russia. By the year 2003, only those missile-carrying submarines that were built in the 1980's will be able to be retained within the combat inventory of naval strategic nuclear forces, taking into account the 25-year term of service for strategic missile- carrying submarines and plans to reduce strategic offensive arms in accordance with our international obligations.

At the same time, in view of the significant reduction in financing for the Russian Navy, only about a third of the required funding has been allocated for repair and overhaul of missile-carrying submarines over the past five years. In view of this, the average time between repairs for these submarines increased by a factor of 2-2.5 over the norm. If the level of financing seen over the period 1990- 1995 continues, the Typhoon system may cease to exist by the year 2003. This in turn will lead to a significant deterioration in Russia's naval strategic nuclear forces.

The situation we have seen take shape in the social sphere holds serious consequences for the combat readiness of naval strategic nuclear forces. The falling prestige of military service, low wages for the extremely difficult labor of submariners--added to the fact that they are not paid in timely fashion, uncertainties in the service, lack of social protection, and the absence of confidence in tomorrow have all contributed to the loss of highly qualified personnel in our submarine force.

Then too, we must not lose sight of such a critical issue as the state of the system of command and control and that of the system of material-technical support for the Navy. Under today's conditions, when only half the financial assets required to meet the Navy's needs are in fact allocated, virtually every project to develop these systems has been curtailed and the existing systems have completed 60-80 percent of their operating life.

The same kind of grave situation may well befall the Navy's general-purpose forces which fulfill the mission of supporting the combat reliability of our naval strategic nuclear forces. If financing for the Navy remains at the 1994-1995 level, clearly it will not have sufficient combat-ready forces by the year 2000 to accomplish its assigned missions.

It would seem that Russia's supreme leadership must now take a precise stand in questions related to the shape and structure of the Navy. Even if we only have, let us say, five missile-carrying submarines, all questions regarding their support and the maintenance of their combat and technical readiness, all issues involved in their financing, bringing them up to full strength, and providing them logistical support must be decided in a timely and all-encompassing manner.

As we resolve the problematic issues mentioned above over the near time frame, and most importantly--as we secure the necessary guaranteed financing, Russia's grouping of naval strategic nuclear forces will reliably ensure that the tasks of nuclear deterrence are carried out under any possible set of circumstances.