Moscow has floated a new military program for the 2018–2027 period. Among the five Russian naval formations, the Black Sea fleet has undergone the most remarkable changes since 2010.
Despite the sanctions, economic difficulties and the collapse of oil revenues, the Russian Navy has demonstrated that it can contribute to Russia’s international posture, as demonstrated during the Moscow’s Syrian campaign.
The five Russian naval formations include namely the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific fleets as well the Caspian flotilla.
Although modest by their number and their tonnage, its units are involved in operations in the Black Sea basin, the Mediterranean, and more sporadically, beyond the Suez Canal and the Gibraltar Straits, in the “World Ocean.
While the Black Sea Fleet is inexorably transitioning to a green-water force, it features a growing ability to carry out cruise-missile strikes way beyond Russia’s immediate neighborhood.
From the six initially planned Project 11356M frigates (Admiral Grigorovicth type), only three have been commissioned, whereas the three others have been left without their Ukrainian made turbines.
The Project 21631 small missiles ships and the Project 21980 anti-saboteur boats received until 2014 their German-made engines, manufactured by MTU. Russian VPK have had to turn to China after the Ukrainian crisis to find a replacement solution after Germany ceased its cooperation with Russia.
Three of Project 21631 ships have been assigned to the Caspian flotilla, which is regrouped together with the Black Sea Fleet in the Southern Military District. The two other missiles ships have been transferred to the Baltic Fleet.
Russia’s objectives to enhance its submarine capabilities in the Black Sea have been met successfully; the six planned Project 0636.3 conventional submarines have all been inducted in the fleet.
They carry Kalibr cruise missiles, and together with the new Project 11356M frigates and Project 21631 small missiles ships, they have carried out cruise missiles strikes in Syria from the Eastern Mediterranean.
Dispatched in the Levant and in the Black Sea basin, these platforms can hit targets in most of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
Meanwhile, the Black Sea Fleet’s only high sea vessel, the Soviet-era missiles cruiser Moskva (Project 1164), should undergo a reparation and deep-modernization cycle in the near future, possibly at Sevastopol shipyard.
From Moscow’s view, the two main maritime threats identified in the Black Sea basin are emanating from NATO navies activity, on the one hand, and Ukraine, on the other hand.
The Black Sea/Sea of Azov is the only naval theatre where Russia faces an openly hostile neighbor, with which it is in a quasi-open war.
Therefore, the small missile ships Russia has decided to build are primarily intended to handle this perceived threat, especially in the Sea of Azov where their light tonnage and their speed are designed to counter any sabotage-type operation.
Moscow is especially concerned that the Kerch Bridge, which is being built across the Kerch Strait between mainland Russia and Crimea, could be the target of saboteurs or of provocative actions.
Several Russian lines of defense are therefore taking shapes in the Black Sea basin. The first one would cross the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea maritime space between Crimea and Ukraine. The second line of defense spans across the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and is designed to face NATO.
Russia claims a naval supremacy in the Black Sea basin and seeks to be able to lock the area through various asymmetric capacities designed at deterring NATO navies. The aforementioned platform, Admiral Grigorovitch frigates, Kilo-class subs and the missile ships of Project 21631 are assigned to fulfill this mission.
Both lines of defense could also be complimented with platforms dispatched on Russian rivers (Volga or Don) and in the Caspian Sea.
The third line of defense is in the Eastern Mediterranean, where a Russian naval task force has been permanently cruising since the beginning of the 2010s. The Black Sea fleet provides the bulk of the units that are assigned to the East Mediterranean on a rotational basis.
Since its military intervention in Syria, Russia has secured naval and air assets on Syrian shores. Having dispatched anti-air complexes (S-300 and S-400) and anti-ships capabilities (Bastion battery), its task force can sail in a relatively safe environment.
At the core of the three-layered multidirectional defense line lies the Kalibr cruise missile, which allows Russia to exert a conventional deterrence. Due to the difficulty in fielding new frigates and heavy corvettes, Moscow has embarked on a construction program of light tonnage vessels which are nevertheless heavily armed.
Living on the edge of catastrophe. In the Black Sea, Russia will aim to retain a comparative advantage against potentially hostile navies by accounting for the terms of the Montreux Convention, fortifying Crimea and building its fleet around Kalibr.
The National Interest / Russia Insider 2018.