Winning: Russia Looks On In Envy And Fear

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October 18, 2021: China is doing mid-life refurbishment and upgrades on two of the four Sovremenny destroyers it purchased from Russia between 1999 and 2006. All four were purchased with some Chinese modifications, and in the mid-life refurbs China has turned these Russian destroyers into something more comparable with the American Burkes and the dozens of similar destroyers of Chinese design that have been built or on order. This was something of an embarrassment for Russia and surprising to the Americans. In effect, China did what Russia always tried, and failed to do; build destroyers comparable to the latest American designs.

At the end of the Cold War Russia built its last two classes of large destroyer; the 7,800-ton Sovremenny (“modern”) class and the 7,600-ton Udaloy (“Bold”) class. Russia originally planned to build 25 Sovremennys but only completed 21 between 1980 and 2006. The last four were sold to China. Only four Russian Sovremennys are still active and all four needed a mid-life refurb to get that far. Two have undergone that refurb and the other two about to. All four Chinese Sovremennys are still in service and China is having no problems with doing refurbs and upgrades.

Russia planned to build 14 Udaloys but was only able to complete and put into service 13, with the last one entering service in 1999. Russia had fewer problems carrying out mid-life refurbs on the Udaloys but even so only seven Udaloys are still in service.

In the last decade Russia has discovered that it can no longer build large destroyers similar to the American Burkes. That led to cancelling plans to build more large surface warships and recognizing that Russia was having difficulty doing periodic refurbishment and upgrades for any of the larger (destroyers and up) ships it was able to build before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the Cold War officially ended. Russia found that its shipyards could still build smaller warships (corvettes and frigates) competently, though it had problems with the larger frigates, like the 4,000-ton Gorshkovs. The cause was not just a shrinking naval budget but the many problems encountered with the design of the Gorshkovs and the ability of post-1991 shipyards to do their work effectively. Numerous delays getting the first Gorshkov into service played a large role calls for these ships to be cancelled

The navy originally wanted twenty Gorshkovs to replace the Cold War era Sovremennys and 3,500-ton Burevestnik/Krivak class frigates. Even Krivak replacements were too ambitious given the shrinking shipbuilding budget. Until 2019 the government only promised money for 12-15 Gorshkovs. These building plans were contingent on these new ships proving their worth. That apparently did happen, at least as far as the second Gorshkov was concerned and only six are to be built with three in service and three still under construction. If the builder and the navy ship construction management officers can keep quality up and everything on schedule, there may end up being fifteen of these frigates. The first Gorshkov finally passed sea trials a year after it “entered service” in 2018. One of the delays involved the failure of the anti-aircraft missile system to function properly. There were also problems with the engines. The builder kept insisting it would be ready soon, but “soon” kept getting extended. In part these engine problems were a side-effect of the 2014 Ukraine invasion. That quickly led to Ukraine refusing to supply any more naval turbines. The navy had a Russian firm building these but that is often behind schedule as well and ships like the Gorshkovs had to use turbines.

The original Gorshkovs are armed with a 130mm gun, two Kashtan autocannon systems for missile defense and 8 Yakhont 3M55 or PJ-10 BrahMos anti-ship missiles. Both are three-ton supersonic missiles, with the BrahMos being an advanced version of Yakhont developed in cooperation with India. There was also a launcher for 24 Uragan 1 (SA-N-12) anti-aircraft missiles (30 kilometers range, 70 kg/154 pound warhead), four 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes, four RPK-9 (SS-N-29) anti-submarine rockets and a helicopter. Gorshkovs require a crew of 210 sailors and will have the latest electronics the Russians have available for anti-air and anti-submarine work. These ships cost about $400 million each and were capable of doing most of what the older, larger 7,900-ton Sovremenny class destroyers did. Meanwhile China is tuning out superior replacements for the Sovremennys and Krivaks and doing in record time. The Chinese crews are better trained and spend far more time at sea than their Russian counterparts. Russia looks on in envy, and fear that those ships could one day be used to regain the Chinese territories taken by the Russians in the late 1800s. China and Russia went to war over this once before, in 1969. China backed down but never forgot, or withdrew those claims.

 


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