Index

Typhoon in a Teacup:
Undervaluing Naval Strategic Forces Poses Threat of Russia Losing Most Important Priorities, and Not Only Military Ones

Moscow ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 19 May 95 First Edition pp 1-2
by Sergey Ptichkin

In the United States, the strategic submarine fleet is an object of national pride. Across the ocean, they believe it to be the basis of effective deterrence of any potential threat to the United States.

In our country, opinions on this score are not so unanimous. Indeed, a number of experts claim that in present-day conditions the state cannot afford to maintain the naval strategic nuclear forces, and that moreover our boats are no match for the American ones, so that it makes sense to hold back some of the financing of the submarine fleet and redistribute the budget in favor of more effective ground-based missiles.

So what is the truth of it, do we need a strategic submarine fleet, and what do we stand to lose if we give it up for reasons of economy? First, let us hear the opinion of Candidate of Military Sciences Vladimir Vasilenko, an expert on the nuclear triad:

[Vasilenko begins; end of Vasilenko remarks is not indicated in text] The negative attitude toward the naval strategic forces is understandable. In the United States the creation of the missile- carrying submarine fleet was always accompanied by a vigorous publicity campaign, and public opinion was molded in such a way that everything relating to nuclear strategic missile-carrying submarines was expressed in superlatives: the best, the most powerful, the most undetectable. In our country for many years the nuclear fleet was shrouded in almost impenetrable secrecy, while with the arrival of the "age of glasnost" it became fashionable to dwell on only the most shocking situations. And so our submarine fleet was saddled with a bad reputation.

Yet it is the naval component of the nuclear triad that is capable of ensuring Russia's real strategic defense. The existence of the strategic submarine fleet gives us the possibility, in the event of the implementation of START II, to retain MIRVed ICBM's capable of overcoming any ABM defense, including the well-known SDI.

The most important properties of the naval strategic nuclear forces include high mobility -- our nuclear submarines are capable of changing their location by 350-500 miles in 24 hours (700-900 km), and their missile weaponry is in a constant state of combat readiness. The time from receiving a signal to launching a missile is a matter of a few minutes.

The undetectability of Russian strategic submarines is fairly high, and claims that they are constantly in the sights of other people's antisubmarine defense forces are totally unfounded. The water environment, especially in the Arctic zone, is not like a transparent aquarium where you can see every little fish. The accumulated experience indicates that it is not always possible to detect nuclear submarines even if they are in close proximity to ships.

Some experts claim that the United States has created a global system of oversight of the submarine situation throughout the world. However, in practice this only provides a degree of monitoring of regions directly adjacent to the territory of the United States, Western Europe, and the British Isles. Full target location of an identified target, which could prove to be a decoy, requires the use of considerable air and naval forces and great financial outlay. Moreover, modern strategic missile-carrying submarines do not necessarily have to get close to anyone's shores -- they are capable of striking from practically anywhere in the world's oceans, that is, outside the zone of rigorous antisubmarine monitoring. Nor should we forget another important characteristic, namely the capacity for retargeting in a very short space of time. Today, the flight plans of all strategic missiles are annulled, they have no specific targets. But naval strategic missiles, unlike ground-based ones, can be targeted in one to two minutes according to any new program. This makes it possible to respond flexibly to a change in the world situation, to change combat operation plans in a limited time, and to respond to any aggressive challenge at a moment's notice.

Naval strategic nuclear forces do not constitute a threat to Russia's own territory, since their activity mainly takes place outside the country and the adversary cannot plan a preemptive nuclear strike against our territory. As far as we know, no program for full-scale antisubmarine warfare envisages nuclear missile strikes against any facilities located inside Russia's territory.

Seamen today are not infrequently accused of being unwilling to take account of the country's grave economic situation and ruining the state's defense budget with their projects. Let us examine, if only approximately, the naval component's economic priorities.

The naval strategic nuclear forces are the smallest in terms of the numbers of personnel servicing them -- one person for each average warhead. The cost of delivery of one warhead to the target is one-third lower for sea-launched than for ground-based missiles. Moreover, it so happened historically that the production capacities for ground-based missiles were scattered around the entire territory of the USSR, so that today many of the enterprises are abroad. But the production base for the naval strategic nuclear forces are virtually all (some 95 percent) on the territory of the Russian Federation. So if the naval strategic nuclear forces are assessed as a package from the economic viewpoint, they could prove the most advantageous. The military scientist's arguments look quite well founded. So why enter into polemics, one may ask? But the paradox is that these polemics are being conducted only in the pages of the press, while in the highest state offices there are, it appears, no doubts as to the importance of naval strategic forces, and in treaties -- including START I and START II -- the navy retains its priority position. Everything is as it should be, and yet it is not! Our country is living through surprising times....

Having reaffirmed the priority development of the naval component through the year 2005, the state...stopped financing the naval strategic nuclear forces. In papers sealed with the state seal, we are in favor of developing the submarine strategic fleet, but in practice....

You can understand the Defense Ministry -- the budget is not made of elastic, it will not stretch to everything. So is there a way out of the impasse? In our view, it makes sense to conduct a radical review of the actual procedure for financing naval strategic forces. The financial burden of maintaining the country's submarine fleet must be lifted from the Defense Ministry and entered in the nationwide budget as a separate, protected item.

Let me try to explain why. Everyone apparently agrees in the view that mankind's immediate future will involve water, the oceans. And the prosperity of the whole of world civilization and of each country individually will depend to a great extent on how intelligent and technically prepared mankind is in its approach to the oceans.

The industrial exploitation of littoral maritime shelves, which is being embarked on worldwide today -- in our country too, under the well-known projects of the "Gazprom" Russian Joint-Stock Company -- is inconceivable without the development of the submarine fleet. As of today we have unique achievements in submarine building, and these are associated specifically with defense potential. The dynamic development of the submarine fleet is therefore of fundamental significance not so much for maintaining the strategic military equilibrium as for maintaining and developing dual-purpose technology. If we lose it we will also lose the opportunity to exploit our own incalculable natural wealth.

If we begin minimal but constant financing of just one naval component today, we will in the near future recover all our outlay by being able to prepare for the large-scale exploitation of the shelf. And the "Rubin" Central Design Bureau, that unique science and production center for submarine building, should be engaged not in designing high-speed trains, but in what fate itself has decreed for it -- submarine building in the interests of the Russian state.

But if money is not found for the needs of the nuclear fleet, then the world's best missile-carriers, the "Typhoon" system, will stand forever at their northern wharves in small bays like teacups, transmuted from terrible "sea dragons" into defenseless "sea cows" accessible to every "poacher." It will not even be necessary to sink them -- they will sink to the bottom of their own accord when their useful life is over. And even without any world war, we will find ourselves facing the threat of apocalypse....


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