Russian History


Naval Forces

The naval forces include about 200,000 sailors and marines, about 20 percent of whom are conscripts, and 500,000 reserves. Of the active-duty personnel, about 30,000 are in naval aviation and 24,000 in coastal defense forces. The primary missions of the naval forces are to provide strategic nuclear deterrence from the nuclear submarine fleet and to defend the sea-lanes approaching the Russian coast. The naval forces include shore-based troops, naval aviation units, four fleets, and one flotilla (see fig. 16). The shore-based forces and naval aviation forces are operationally subordinate to the fleets. The strategic naval forces, comprising forty-five nuclear submarines and 13,000 personnel, are operationally subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and logistically supported by the fleets in whose ports they are based. Some 138 other submarines are in service, although in the mid-1990s a major reduction of the nonstrategic submarine force was in progress (see table 29, Appendix).

In the mid-1990s, Russia's naval aviation force was almost entirely shore based, after having achieved substantial sea-based strike capability in the Soviet era. In 1996 only the steam-powered aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov , assigned to the Northern Fleet, conducted active flight operations at sea. Two new nuclear-powered carriers were scrapped before completion, indicating abandonment of that program, and older aircraft-carrying cruisers were sold to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) for scrap. However, in 1996 the nuclear-powered cruiser Petr Velikiy (Peter the Great) was scheduled for launching at St. Petersburg after eight years under construction; assigned to the Pacific Fleet, the 28,000-ton vessel is armed with guided missiles believed to be designed to destroy enemy aircraft carriers. Experts rated the Petr Velikiy the most powerful cruiser in the world.

Each of Russia's four fleets has a subordinate, land-based naval air force. The Caspian Flotilla has no naval air arm. The naval shore-based troops consist of naval infantry and coastal defense forces. The naval infantry forces include one infantry division subordinate to the Pacific Fleet and four naval infantry brigades--one in the Baltic Fleet, one in the Black Sea Fleet, and two in the Northern Fleet. The coastal defense forces are a combination of infantry regiments, brigades, and divisions with air defense missile regiments. Amphibious landings are a low priority; according to intelligence estimates, only 2,500 marines and 100 tanks could be put ashore by Russia's thirteen amphibious ships. According to a Russian source, in 1996 most ships were at a relatively low readiness level, with most units remaining close to home port.

The Northern Fleet is headquartered at Severomorsk, at the top of the Kola Peninsula near Murmansk, with additional home ports at Kola, Motovskiy, Gremikha, and Ura Guba. The mission of the Northern Fleet is to defend Russia's far northwestern Arctic region surrounding the Kola Peninsula. The fleet provides home ports for thirty-seven nuclear submarines, twenty-two other submarines, forty-seven principal surface combatants, and ten coastal and smaller ships. The naval aviation contingent includes a complement of twenty Su-39 fixed-wing aircraft and ten antisubmarine warfare helicopters on board the Admiral Kuznetsov , which heads the air defense of the Barents Sea. Shore-based naval aviation includes 200 combat aircraft and sixty-four helicopters. The Northern Fleet has two naval infantry brigades, one coastal defense regiment, and an air defense missile regiment.

The Baltic Fleet is headquartered in Kaliningrad, where it is defended by a naval infantry brigade. From this rather exposed location, the fleet controls naval bases at Kronshtadt and Baltiysk. Operational forces include nine submarines, twenty-three principal surface combatants, and approximately sixty-five smaller vessels. The air arm of the Baltic Fleet includes five regiments of combat aircraft and a number of other fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

Headquartered at Sevastopol', with an additional home port in Odessa, the Black Sea Fleet became an object of contention between Russia and Ukraine when the latter republic achieved independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Although Ukraine has no use for a blue-water navy and cannot afford to maintain one, it has been reluctant to surrender its share of the fleet, both of whose home ports are in Ukraine, to a larger neighbor with a tradition of domination. A long international squabble ended temporarily when a June 1995 summit meeting arrived at a formula for disposition of the Black Sea Fleet's assets: the ships of the fleet were to be divided equally between the two nations, but Russia eventually would buy back approximately 60 percent of Ukraine's share. The Russian portion of the Black Sea Fleet continued to be based in Sevastopol', with separate Russian and Ukrainian ports designated on the coast. All ships were to be under dual command until the agreement took effect in 1998. However, substantial nationalist opinion on the Russian side opposed this solution.

The Black Sea Fleet comprises fourteen submarines, thirty-one capital ships of the line, and forty-one coastal ships. The Moskva , Russia's first seagoing aircraft cruiser, is assigned to the Black Sea Fleet. It is an antisubmarine warfare helicopter carrier with a complement of eighteen KA-25 helicopters. The land component of the Black Sea Fleet comprises one naval infantry brigade, a coastal defense division, and a surface-to-air missile (SAM) regiment. It is not known how these assets will be distributed between Russia and Ukraine. The naval aviation component of the fleet includes an inventory of nearly 8,000 aircraft of all types. Its strike power is concentrated in a bomber regiment and a mixed fighter and ground-attack regiment.

The Caspian Flotilla is a small force for coastal defense and waterways patrol consisting of two frigates, twelve patrol boats, and about fifty other small craft based in Astrakhan'. Command and equipment are shared with Azerbaijan and Kazakstan, other former Soviet republics on the Caspian littoral.

The Pacific Fleet and the Northern Fleet are rated as the two most powerful Russian naval forces. Pacific Fleet headquarters is in Vladivostok, with additional home ports in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Magadan, and Sovetskaya Gavan'. The Pacific Fleet includes eighteen nuclear submarines that are operationally subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and based at Pavlovsk and Rybachiy. The blue-water striking power of the Pacific Fleet lies in thirty-four nonnuclear submarines and forty-nine principal surface combatants.

The air power of the Pacific Fleet consists of the 250 combat aircraft and helicopters of the Pacific Fleet Air Force, all of which are land-based. Its most powerful strike force is two bomber regiments stationed at Alekseyevka. Each regiment consists of thirty supersonic Tu-26 Backfire aircraft. The land power of the Pacific Fleet consists of one naval infantry division and a coastal defense division. The naval infantry division includes more than half of the total manpower in the Russian naval infantry. Following the pattern established elsewhere in the naval infantry, in the mid-1990s the Pacific Fleet infantry is expected to be reorganized into brigades in the near future.