As the Arctic melts and tensions rise with NATO, the Russian navy is changing doctrine and expanding its reach globally.
The Russian navy is pivoting towards the Atlantic and the Arctic in order to take advantage of melting ice and blunt what Russia considers to be NATO expansionism toward Russian borders. The change in Russia’s naval doctrine (.pdf) was announced by President Putin in a 2015 announcement from Russia’s strategic port at Kaliningrad, in Eastern Europe. The new strategy encompasses:
- Bulking up the Black Sea fleet based in Crimea and the Baltic fleet in Kaliningrad
- Building new airfields and radar bases along an extended arc along Russia’s Arctic region
- Creating protected sea lane routes for a commercial shipping lane- a northern passage – from Europe to Asia
- Russian naval presence on a “permanent basis” in the Mediterranean
Corvette Cruise Missiles
During the Syrian war, Russia surprised military experts by launching 1000-mile cruise missile strikes against Syrian targets from Corvette ships located in the Caspian Sea. The ships, loaded with Kalibr cruise missiles, are small (Russia corvettes can be under 1000 tons) and enable Russia to project force far inland- a task that has become the pinnacle of naval ambitions for navies across the world.
Kalibr cruise missiles can be loaded with nuclear munitions or conventional explosives.
Russia has about 45 attack submarines designed to hunt and destroy enemy ships. According to a top US Navy commander, in 2015 Russian submarine patrols increased 50%, with many new patrols in the Atlantic.
The increase in Atlantic patrols comes at a time when Russian naval efforts are also also expanding to Arctic areas where ice is melting and new claims to natural resources are being made. Russia is also investing in new icebreakers, though not part of their navy.
Like their Corvettes in the Caspian, Russian subs can launch the Kalibr land-attack cruise missile, as Russia successfully demonstrated off the coast of Syria in 2015. Overall, Russian subs today are:
- better armed
- better trained crews
Russia’s sub activities are part of a larger global trend that is seeing many countries compete to build more and better subs. New ways to hunt subs down, including autonomous AI technology, are also being tested.
Russian Navy And The Mediterranean
When it annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia regained a historic port to boost it’s access to warm water via the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Crimea had been Russian until 1954, when it was given to the Ukraine SovietRepublic as a gift. The Sevastopol naval port in Crimea is the center of activities to counter NATO ambitions in the Black Sea.
There also the Russian-leased port in Tartus, Syria, which is being upgraded to house additional Russian ships, subs and Russia’s aircraft carrier.
The Russian navy can also sail out of a leased port in Cypress, Greece.