Russia's nuclear submarine fleet is fading
away. The navy budget, despite recent increases, is not large enough to build new ships to replace
the current Cold War era fleet that is falling apart. This is not much noticed.
The rapid decline of Russia's nuclear submarine fleet got some attention only
because Russia needed international help to safely decommission over a hundred
obsolete or worn out nuclear subs. This effort has been going on for over eight
But there hasn't been enough money
available to build replacements. Currently, Russia only has 14 SSBN (nuclear
ballistic missile sub) boats in service, and not all of them have a full load
of missiles. Some lack full crews, or have key systems in need of repair.
Russia has only 14 modern Akula SSNs (nuclear attack subs) in service. These
began building in the late 1980s and are roughly comparable to the American Los
Angeles class. All of the earlier Russian SSNs are trash, and most have been
decommissioned. There are also eight SSGN (nuclear subs carrying cruise
missiles) and 20 diesel electric boats. There is a new class of SSGNs under
construction, but progress, and promised funding increases, have been slow.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1991,
most of the ship building money has gone into new nuclear subs. Six Akulas have
been completed in that time, but the first of a new generation of SSBNs, the
Borei class was delayed by technical problems, a new ballistic missile that
wouldn't work, and lack of money. The first Borei class boat, after many
delays, is finally ready for service, and ended up costing over two billion
The Russian admirals made their big
mistake in the early 1990s, when the dismantling of the Soviet Union left the
second largest fleet in the world with only a fraction of its Cold War budget.
Rather than immediately retire ninety percent of those ships, Russia tried to
keep many of them operational. This consumed most of the navy budget, and didn't
work. There were too many ships, not enough sailors and not enough money for
maintenance or training at sea. The mighty Soviet fleet is mostly scrap now, or
rusting hulks tied up at crumbling, out-of-the way naval bases.
While Western nuclear subs can last for
about thirty years, Russian models rarely get past twenty. That means two new
SSN or SSGN has to be put into service each year to maintain a force of forty
boats. Unless the sub construction budget get billions more dollars a year,
that is not going to happen. Right now, the priority is on producing a new
class of SSBNs (11 more Boreis) are planned or under construction. These are
critical, because they carry SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles) that
provide a critical (they are much harder to destroy in a first strike than land
based missiles) portion of the nuclear deterrent. The rest of the Russian armed forces, like
most of the navy, is in sad shape, and unable to resist a major invasion. Only
the ICBMs and SLBMs guarantee the safety of the state. So the way things are
going now, in a decade or two, Russia will end up with a force consisting of a
dozen SSNs and a dozen SSBNs.