Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 52

The tardy launch last week of the Admiral Chabanenko, the Northern Fleet’s newest warship, is symptomatic of the serious problems facing the Russian Navy (Russian agencies, March 10). Touted as a ship of the 21st century, the Chabanenko is in reality a modification of a twenty-year-old design. It has, furthermore, been languishing alongside the pier since its 1994 launch in the Baltic Sea.

Powered by gas turbines, the 9,000-ton ship is modeled on the Udaloy-class of large antisubmarine destroyers which entered service in the Soviet Navy in 1981. Compared with the Udaloy-class vessels, the Chabanenko has a much more potent antiship capability–built around the Moskit (SS-N-22) antiship missile as well as other improved antiaircraft and antimissile defenses. It was to have been the first of a series of Udaloy-II (Project 1155.1) destroyers; the second vessel of the class, however, was scrapped before it was completed; work was never begun on the proposed third.

The Navy had to delay fitting out the Chabanenko for as many years as it did because the few funds available were funneled off to completing the more prestigious nuclear-powered battle cruiser Peter the Great. Now the Chabanenko has joined the Peter the Great in the Northern Fleet, where their mission is to protect the fleet’s strategic submarines in what navy chief Admiral Viktor Kravchenko has called “the northern strategic bastion” (Russian media, December 13, 1998). With no other major surface combatants in the production pipeline, and the fleet’s older vessels in various states of disrepair, these two ships will have to carry most of the load for the Russian navy themselves.

The Navy certainly has fewer strategic forces to protect. While the Northern Fleet once boasted thirty-seven strategic ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), that number has been reduced by more than half. In its annual survey of Russian strategic nuclear forces, the arms-control journal “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” (March/April 1999 issue) estimates that fewer than sixteen SSBNs are now operational in that fleet. Three of the fleet’s six Typhoon-class vessels–the largest and newest of the Russian SSBNs–are reported to have been taken out of service due to technical problems and will most probably be scrapped rather than repaired. Work has also been suspended on the first unit of a new class of ballistic missile submarine–meaning that the strategic submarine force will continue to shrink over the next decade.