Friday, 6 March 2015

A new destroyer for Russia

Russia keeps modernising its naval forces in order to create a blue water navy that is capable of challenging the US Navy on the high seas. In an earlier report we mentioned the bad state of the Russian surface fleet. Most of its surface combatants that form its blue water navy are very old and will probably retire within a decade. Frantic efforts to modernise old Kirov battlecruisers can be seen as a last effort to preserve Russia’s influence on the world’s oceans.

Over the past two decades Russia has been working to preserve her naval strength and several new warships have joined the Russian navy. Most of these surface warships however were all corvettes and frigates more aimed to protect Russia’s coastline and to form a green water navy capable of operating around 200 nautical miles out of the shoreline. Indeed, what Russia has been missing over the past years were large surface warships that can form a blue water navy. Central in a blue water navy are destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.
Model of the presumed Leader-class destroyers
The construction of new destroyers has been debated many times in the Russian media. There are many dates and programs being put forward over Russia’s new destroyers just as it is the case with the Russian plans for building a new aircraft carrier. Things are however moving as Russian leaders become aware that a new class of ocean going destroyers is needed in order to project power around the world. A new destroyers class, called the Leader-class, is currently being developed.

Details about the construction of the Leader-class are vague and sometimes confusion but here is what we already know about this class. First it should be noted that the Leader-class destroyers are still in development. During 2015 the final design of the new destroyer should be finalized by the Northern Design Bureau, the creator of practically all of the major surface warships in the Russian fleet.

Construction of the new destroyer itself is not planned until 2020 at the earliest. Funding of the new Leader-class destroyer will probably arrive after 2020 and will be linked on a bigger shipbuilding program aimed to rebuild a massive Russian Navy by 2050.
The construction of the first vessels should happen in the 2023-2025 timeframe. As such these new destroyers will serve as an intermediate model to bridge the next 25 years until the new Russian blue water is finally ready.

The Leader-class will replace the old Project 956 Sovremennyy-class destroyers as well as the Project 1155 Udaloy-class anti-submarine destroyers. So far only twelve destroyers are reported to be build. Six will be commissioned in the Northern Fleet, with the other six commissioned in the Pacific Fleet. In earlier reports the Russian Navy did spoke however of 14 to 16 destroyers to be build.
Computer representation of the Leader-class
The Leader-class will also be a multi-purpose destroyer. The main weapons on board of these destroyers will be Caliber integrated missile system which is exported under the name “Klub” and includes 3M-14 anti-ship and cruise missiles. These missiles are designed for the destruction of targets at great distances.
It is also possible that the destroyer will also carry the P-800 Onyx anti-ship supersonic cruise missiles. Also probably a main weapon system on board the Leader-class will be the S-500 anti-aircraft system, specially redesigned to be used on board of warships.
Alternate design of the Leader-class that is believed to be
the nuclear powered variant
The most interesting fact to follow up will be the propulsion system on board of these destroyers. Two designs are being developed, one with a normal gas turbine and one with a nuclear power plant used for propulsion. Of all the Russian surface warships, only the Russian cruisers of the Kirov class are using a nuclear power plant. A nuclear power plant will give these destroyers an endless reach, only curbed by the endurance of the crew. One can question however how wise it is to place a nuclear power plant on board of a surface warship who in the event of a conflict will be in the forefront of the fight.

The Russian Navy is in need of a modernisation but how and when has always been a subject to much speculation, even within the Russian Navy itself.
Nevertheless is Russia eager to build a navy capable of operating on the world oceans and for that it needs destroyers. During 2015 the design of the new Leader-class destroyers will be finished and construction of these new destroyers will begin after 2020. Only twelve ships are currently reported to be constructed but it is possible that this number will go up to possibly 16.

Details remain vague for weapon systems and propulsion to be installed. We can however say to a fair degree that these ships will be better armed and more reliably powered than their predecessors of the Sovremennyy and Udaloy classes.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The young school maritime concept

Jeune ├ęcole or young school was a 19th century strategic maritime concept that originated in France. The basic theory behind this new maritime concept was the use of small but powerful naval units to fight off larger warships. At the same time the concept advocates an attack against enemy merchant shipping to break its economic power.

Although the 19th century is far behind us, the ideas of the young school are still very useful and the concept still is implied by various smaller navies that seek to deter larger navies.

During the 1920s and 1930s it was the newly founded Soviet Union that revived and modernised the concept of young school. At the time the Soviet Navy lacked large surface ships and a renewed young school doctrine would call for the use in torpedo boats, destroyers, submarines, coastal defence and light cruisers whom were to raid the enemy’s sea lanes of communication.
All these naval units had a few things in common against the main naval warships of the surrounding countries. They were small, easy to construct and cheap compared to the heavy cruisers, battlecruisers and battleships of those days.

Fast Attack Craft form an integral part of the young school concept

At the same time the Soviet Navy described a set of rules for when a country should use this new young school doctrine:

1.       A New regime is under military and political attack and faced with unsuppressed domestic fighting. An army first policy is undertaken.
2.       The regime expects to be besieged and attacked (by amphibious forces).
3.       The countries navy is in disarray.
4.       The navy faces severe budgetary shortages (and can’t afford to build expensive warships).
5.       The country lacks the industry to produce modern naval armaments.
6.       The maritime frontier is hemmed in by adversarial fleets and bases.

Young school in a modern world
Knowing what young school is, what naval units it requires and under what circumstances a country decides to employ it we can see that the young school is still being used by several countries. Each one of them can easily be categorised under one or several points of the above list.

Most notably would be Iran who uses its fleet of fast attack craft to counter the bigger US Navy warships. Iran is strategically confronted with Points 2, 4, 5 and 6. Located at the Persian Gulf the country is hemmed in by US Navy forces with several US bases inside and outside the Persian Gulf. Economic sanctions on Iran prevent the country on making technologic advancements or building large warships.

China has until two decades ago also employed the young school concept by giving priority to its army to secure the communist revolution. It also lacked a large navy as well as the industry of building one. At the same time it feared the US 7th Fleet  operating freely in front of the Chinese coast.

Likewise is the case of North Korea that employs midget submarines for coastal defense as well as offense as demonstrated by the sinking of the South Korean frigate ROKS Cheonan on 26 March 2010.

So even though the young school concept is old, it is still alive and well in the modern day and proving that it is an effective strategic maritime concept.