Staunton, December 3 – The Russian defense ministry has told China and the world that it has 100 ships on the world’s blue water oceans (russian.people.com.cn/n3/2016/1201/c31519-9149617.html and gazeta.ru/army/news/9277391.shtml), but military experts say that the actual number now is only about half of that and is too geographically divided to meet its challenges.
Anton Mardasov, a journalist for the Svobodnaya pressa portal, interviewed three Russian defense experts to get their views on the actual numbers of the Russian blue water navy and on whether Russians should be concerned or not about them now and in the future (svpressa.ru/war21/article/161844/).
According to Konstantin Sivkov, a retired Russian navy captain, there are now only about ten Russian surface ships on patrol far from Russia’s shores. “That is the reality,” he says, adding that he “can’t imagine” 100 Russian ships being on patrol far from their bases for any significant period of time.
The Pacific fleet could offer “a maximum of four to six” ships for such a purpose at any one time, Sivkov continues. The Baltic about the same, the Black Sea four or five and the Baltic two or three. In all, “about 30 ships.” If pressed, that figure could rise to 40 but in no way to the 100 Moscow is claiming.
There is a way to get to that statistic, however. If one adds support ships and also those around Kamchatka, then the higher figure may be appropriate, but only for short periods at that. The real number of Russian ships “capable of conducting active military maneuvers unfortunately is small.”
Andrey Frolov, editor of Russia’s “Eksport vooruzhenyy” journal, agrees and adds that “there is a risk that the process [of expanding the fleet about which Moscow has talked so much in recent years] may be slowing down.” Construction of three frigates, for example, has stopped because Moscow can’t get the turbines it needs from Ukraine.
And Aleksandr Kharmchikhin, the deputy director of Moscow’s Institute for Political and Military Analysis, says he will accept the 100 figure only if it includes all support ships, underwater vessels, and others that may at least for short periods be capable of moving into blue water oceans.
But even if one does that, it must be remembered that at any one time, many of these will be undergoing repairs and thus not available for deployment. In the Pacific fleet, for instance, six major surface vessels are now undergoing major overhauls and won’t be ready to return to service for some time.
Because of Russia’s fleet is so subdivided in components distant from one another, it makes no sense to compare its overall numbers with those of other countries, Kharmchikhin says; but that means the problem is even worse: 100 ships is far too small a number but will be hard to change because of high costs and dependence on imports.
Thus, the situation with regard to the Russian fleet is “far worse” than that in other branches of the military, he concludes. Russia’s submarine fleet can compare with that of the US but its surface fleet can’t and won’t be able to for some time.
Comparisons with China are more important because Beijing “can provide a much longer presence [on the blue water oceans] that [Russia] can.” The only thing that may give Moscow some hope is that China has no record of involvement in wars far from its homeland and “the Chinese still haven’t become accustomed to their own strength.”