A New Russian Frigate at Last


[New photo added per reader's comments and tip. Thanks guys.]

While the U.S. Navy has suffered from warship delays and massive cost overruns, especially with the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the San Antonio (LPD 17) amphibious ships, and the planned Zumwalt (DDG 100) destroyers, the Russian Navy is suffering similar problems. The long-delayed frigate Steregushchiy was placed in commission in late November.

The ship had been laid down six years ago -- in December 2001 -- at the Severnaya shipyard in St. Petersburg. Not only has the ship taken about two years longer to construct than planned, but the cost per unit has more than doubled.

The Steregushchiy was to have been the lead ship of up to 50 of these 2,100-ton warships, intended for coastal patrol, anti-submarine warfare, and escort duties. The original order given to the Severnaya shipyard in 2001 was for ten ships, but that number was almost immediately reduced to four ships. The three additional ships are believed to be on the building ways in St. Petersburg.

Although often touted as having a low-observable or stealth design, in fact the Steregushchiy has a conventional configuration with a 100-mm gun forward, surface-to-air missiles, a close-in gun system, and ASW weapons. The ship can arm and fuel a helicopter on its flight deck, but does not have a helicopter hangar.

Also being constructed by the Russians are the slightly smaller (2,090-ton) frigates of the Tatarstan class. The lead ship was laid down in 1992, but not completed until mid-2002. The second ship of the class, laid down in 1994, is not yet operational. These ships, also intended for coastal patrol and ASW operations, do have a small helicopter hangar.

The delays with these ships is highly significant as Russia is not currently constructing destroyers or cruisers except for one or two of the Neustrashimyy-class ASW destroyers. These destroyers are taking more than a decade to build.

Thus, these frigates are the future of the Russian surface fleet. While President Vladimir Putin continues to tout the growing military capabilities of the Russia, it is clear that for the foreseeable future the Russian Navy will not be part of the new Russian power base.

Indeed, in September 2005, Putin fired Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, who had commanded the Russian Navy since 1997. Kuroedov had complained bitterly about the Navys funding shortfalls, at one point claiming that he was receiving only 12 percent of the funds needed to maintain and modernize the fleet. While he was also blamed for the disastrous Russian Navy response to the sinking of the nuclear-propelled submarine Kursk in 2000, in reality he survived that tragedy and, more likely, was fired because of the poor state of the fleet in general and his constant advocating more emphasis on regaining Russias status as a major naval power.

-- Norman Polmar

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