Hellducks Over Delhi; The Case for Indian Acquisition of Su-34 Strike Fighters as Part of its Air Force Expansion Program
South Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
22 July 2018
The Indian Air Force today fields one of the largest air superiority fleets in the world, with close to 300 Su-30MKI advanced heavy fighters having been acquired from Russia giving it a distinct edge over neighbouring Pakistan’s unspecialised single engine light fighters and parity with China’s J-11B - the mainstay of the People’s Liberation Army’s own air fleet. With India spending vast sums on defence as the world’s largest arms importer, the country has sought to expand its Air Force to field 42 squadrons of combat aircraft by the year 2027 - a significant increase in a relatively short period from just 33 squadrons currently deployed which include a number of ageing Cold War era designs. Considering that a number of older fighters are set to be replaced in the near future, this will mean an increase of more than nine squadrons in a very short period - which taking into account the stalling in the indigenous HAL Tejas single engine light fighter program will likely make this goal unobtainable.
While India’s air superiority capabilities are formidable, its fleet of specialised air to ground combat platforms leaves much to be desired in its capabilities. India fields approximately 95 British made Jaguar attack jets, a design dating back 45 years which poses little threat considering the sophistication of the air defence systems of the country’s potential adversaries, and more advanced but somewhat cumbersome MiG-27 third generation swept wing strike fighters of which just twelve are though to be active. The Indian Air Force has as a result considered acquiring modern strike platforms as part of its expansion program. One leading candidate has been the Russian Su-34 ‘Hellduck’ strike fighter, the most modern platform of its kind which entered service in 2014 and is based on the same highly capable Su-27 Flanker airframe as the Su-30 fighters which comprise the Indian air superiority fleet.
The distinct similarities between the Su-34 and the Su-30 make servicing the new strike fighters far easier and cheaper than indicting an entirely new fighter jet, while the Hellduck is considerably more cost effective than comparable alternative platforms developed by rival manufacturers. The French Dassault Rafale, a multirole fighter far lighter than the Su-34 and renowned for its strike capabilities, costs several times as much as the Su-34 to procure yet is inferior in the vast majority of its capabilities including payload, air to air engagement range (under 50km vs 130km), operational altitude and range, which has made India’s procurement of the European fighter a matter of much controversy given its phenomenal cost and lack of compatibility with existing Indian systems.
The Su-34 comes at a comparable price to the Su-30, and is capable of deploying some of Russia’s latest air to ground, anti radiation and anti ship munitions - as well as cutting edge standoff missiles for long range strikes. The Hellduck’s advanced standoff systems can be key to launching a successful first strike to eliminate enemy air defences and key strategic targets such as airfields and command centres - a central part of India’s own strategy for the initial stages of a war with Pakistan. The Russian strike fighters can deploy three cruise missile types, with the Kh-65Se and Kh-SD capable of striking targets at up to 600km away, well out of range of any air defence platform currently in service including China’s S-400, making them ideal for the early stages of a campaign when enemy surface to air missile networks remain at full strength. The heavy losses incurred by Russian aircraft to Georgian air defences in the first days of their brief war in 2008 is thought to have had a strong influence on the Russian Air Force’s emphasis on standoff capabilities and their importance for crippling an enemy’s war fighting capabilities in a conflict’s early stages. For shorter range engagements the Hellduck can also deploy the Kh-38, a weapon developed for Russia’s next generation aircraft, which retains a 300km strike range, self guidance for fire and forget capabilities, and the ability to deploy cluster munitions, fragmentation warheads or armour piercing warheads depending on the nature of the target. For anti ship operations, the Hellduck can also make use of a number of other platforms with standoff capabilities including the Mach 3 Kh-41, the Mach 3.5 sea skimming Kh-31A and the 300km range Kh-35U and P-800.
While a considerable number of India’s Su-30MKI fighters have been modified for a strike role when equipped with Brahmos cruise missiles, the airframes are not specialised for the role as the Su-34 is as conversion of air superiority platforms for strike duties places a greater burden on the remaining Su-30 fighters to retain air superiority. The Brahmos, a Mach 3 cruise missile developed jointly by Russia and India, is one of the most capable missiles of its kind in the world. The missile nevertheless lacks the capabilities of more specialised munitions deployed by the Su-34 such as the stealthy Kh-38, and the Hellduck is itself better suited to a strike role than a modified Su-30. By acquiring the Su-34, possibly several squadrons worth, India will be investing in a cost effective means to seriously enhance its strike capabilities both quantitatively and qualitatively and to reduce pressure on the Su-30 fleet from conversion to operate Brahmos cruise missiles. With a sizeable fleet of Su-34 fighters, India could well field one of the world’s leading strike fleets which will effectively complement the already formidable capabilities of its air superiority fleet. In light of the rapidly advancing air defence networks fielded by neighbouring Pakistan and China, the strike platforms will be key to launching a lethal opening salvo in the event of war which will have the potential to cripple enemy airbases and air defence networks and allow India’s Su-30 platforms to go on to claim air superiority. With India increasingly under pressure from the Western Bloc to limit acquisitions of Russian weapons systems - whether Delhi will approve such purchases even if they should be requested by the Air Force remains in question.
Generational Shift; Why America's F-35 Could be Considered a Sixth Generation Fighter in Future
North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
22 July 2018
Fighter jets have for decades been classified by generation, currently from the first generation which began in the late 1940s to fifth generation which saw its first aircraft inducted into service in 2005, with each generation corresponding with certain technologies used by the airplane. Each consecutive generation has fielded cutting edge systems designed to give parties an edge in combat over their predecessors, and with the jet age dominated by superpower confrontation between the Untied States and the Soviet Union the two were always at the cutting edge of combat aircraft technology. While jets of the first generation most prolifically went head to head over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War, the second and third generations would come to be synonymous primarily with the Vietnam War and the Arab-Israeli wars. The fourth generation, first entering service in 1974 with the U.S. Navy’s commissioning of the F-14 Tomcat, saw extensive service in all Western military interventions since and remains the mainstay of the aerial warfare capabilities of all modern aerial powers today. The fifth generation, which came into service with the U.S. F-22 Raptor and introduced advanced stealth technologies, has since become the latest level of accomplishment of military aviation - with China, a new but fast progressing player in the arms race, and Russia, inducting their own fifth generation fighters in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
While each fighter is assigned a generation, the inter generational boundaries have often been somewhat flexible - which has meant that a number of fighter designs once sufficiently upgraded can effectively jump a generation, sometimes two, as new technologies are integrated onto older airframe designs to vastly enhance their performance. A key example of this is the U.S. F-5 Freedom Fighter, a second generation fighter which entered service in 1962 and was widely exported to American allies at the time of the Vietnam War. The aircraft’s low maintenance and operational costs, its flexibility and its reliability led it to become a highly prized asset - one which would be extensively modernised with third generation technologies to enter service as the F-5E Tiger II in 1972. The aircraft incorporated new and more powerful twin General Electric J85-GE-21B turbojet engines, a higher fuel capacity, longer range, greater wing area, improved better turn rate, new air to air munitions and an Emerson Electric AN/APQ-159 radar and the option for aerial refuelling. This made the F-5E one of the most capable third generation jets in service, considerably more capable than most third generation jets of a similar weight. Seeing more potential in the highly versatile F-5 airframe, the fighter would later see further modernisations which would lead to its emergence as a fourth generation jet. While the U.S. Navy based the F-18A fourth generation fighter heavily on the F-5, and did not develop the Tiger II further for export due to the emergence of an effective replacement, Iran, Thailand, Switzerland, Singapore and Taiwan would all extensively modernise their F-5E jets. These jets would by the 21st century come to surpass the capabilities of the early F-18A and F-16A fourth generation light fighters, incorporating cutting edge avionics, beyond visual range mutinous such as the AIM-120, and radar systems. Indeed, the Swiss Air Force has expressed a preference for its modernised F-5 jets over the F-16C due to the former’s lower maintenance needs and their highly similar combat capabilities. The F-5 in this way can, with the integration of new technologies over five decades, be said to have jumped not one but two generations in its capabilities and its sophistication. Other fighters such as the Chinese J-7 have also been known to jump two generations, with the J-7G today serving as a highly capable fourth generation light platform similar to the F-5.
While the narrow definition adopted for fifth generation fighters requiring purpose built stealth airframes has restricted advanced combat aircraft which lack such capabilities to be termed ‘4+’ or ‘4++’, the Russian MiG-35 and Chinese J-11D being key examples, not only is there considerable mobility between the second, third and fourth generations, but mobility between the fifth and sixth generations may well also be possible. While the precise definition of a sixth generation fighter has yet to be made, it is likely not to restrict the shape of a fighter’s airframe but rather to require a number of advanced next generation technologies to be integrated, including energy weapons, hypersonic missiles and superior electronic warfare and radar evading capabilities among others. The Russian Su-57 for its part had been designed from the outset with the intention of developing a sixth generation fighter, with early production variants of the aircraft set to be inducted in limited numbers by the Russian Air Force as fifth generation fighters while the design will only enter full production when sixth generation technologies can be integrated. While the U.S. F-22 is restricted in its potential for modernisation, and efforts put into modernising the fighter have been highly limited in their success, the U.S. F-35 fifth generation light fighter and the Chinese J-20 and J-31 fifth generation fighters could all potentially see service as vastly upgraded sixth generation jets in years to come. With China already heavily invested in researching cutting edge new technologies, from laser weapons to stealth systems and increasingly fast and far reaching ramjet power missiles for its existing fighters, modernisation of fifth generation designs to the sixth generation platform remains a possibility.
The F-35 for its part, with the program set to cost over $1.6 trillion and hundreds of billions already sunk into research and development, may well also follow the example of its predecessor the F-5, with late production variants gaining sixth generation capabilities - possibly under the designation F-35E. Such fighters would be key to supporting the heavier air superiority fighters, purposely designed with sixth generation capabilities to replace the F-22 Raptor under the F-X Air Dominance Initiative, with heavily upgraded F-35 jets serving as a lighter, less costly and more numerous complementary platform. Considering the immense projected cost of developing and fielding sixth generation fighters, there is a considerable chance that the mainstay of major powers’ sixth generation fighter fleets in the early years of the new generation will be comprised of heavily upgraded airframes which date back to the fifth generation - much as the airframes of fourth generation F-5s date back to the second. This does not necessarily mean that these fighters will be less capable than purpose build sixth generation jets, with the F-5E Tiger II’s superiority over several third generation designs strongly indicating otherwise, but rather serves as a more cost effective means for major powers to begin to build up sixth generation air fleets as new technologies are developed.
Russia’s Su-57 May First Enter Mass Production as a Carrier Based Fighter; Why the Navy’s Need for the New Fighter Surpasses that of the Air Force
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval
21 July 2018
With the Russian Air Force having expressed considerable confidence in the ability of its advanced fourth generation fighter and interceptor fleets and multi layered air defence network, making use of platform dubbed ‘4+ generation’ such as the MiG-35, Su-30 and Su-35 air superiority fighters, to retain parity with and protect it interests against the Western Bloc, the military has decided to delay the entry of the Su-57 next generation air superiority fighter into mass production. While Russia as of yet has little need for a fifth generation air superiority fighter, development is continuing apace to develop the Su-57 into a sixth generation air superiority fighter in little over a decade to contend with upcoming U.S. platforms currently being developed under the F-X Air Dominance Program - against which exiting Russian assets would be insufficient to retain parity. As a result, the Su-57 will enter service only in very limited numbers as a fifth generation fighter until the late 2020s or early 2030s - and mass production will begin only when the airframe achieves sixth generation capabilities which are considered sufficiently superior to those of exiting ‘4++ generation’ fighters.
While Russia’s Air Force has little need for a fifth generation fighter at present, the country’s naval aviation is in a far poorer state and has considerably greater need for a new aircraft. The Russian Navy is currently planning to induct four new amphibious assault ships, two of which are set to displace approximately 40,000 tons fully loaded, and these new warships are likely to deploy specialised combat aircraft with short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) or vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities. Variants of the Yak-141, a highly sophisticated Soviet VTOL fighter which reached a late prototype stage at the time of the Soviet Union's dissolution, modernised with next generation technologies, remain a likely option. With Russia currently planning to induct large carrier warships, possibly supercarriers based on the SHTORM concept, the country’s navy could have much need for conventional fixed wing fighters in the near future. Unlike the Air Force the Russian Navy’s prime air superiority fighter, the Su-33, has seen relatively little modernisation since its entry into service in the 1990s and lacks the capabilities to contend with leading rival platforms such as the Chinese J-15 or U.S. F-18E Block 3. With the Su-33 poorly suited to deploying from the country’s sole serving carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov, a role for which the heavy fighter was never intended, and with the jets set to be retired in the near future, Russia’s ability to contest air superiority at sea against near peer adversaries using carrier based fighters will be further undermined.
While a future Russian supercarrier may deploy enhanced Flanker jets based on the Su-33 design, but integrating advanced technologies since developed for the Su-35 and MiG-35 and making use of the warship’s electromagnetic propulsion system to function more effectively, the country’s defence planners appear to be inclined towards a fifth generation air superiority fighter. Indeed, considering that a carrier based Su-57 will remain viable for longer than a Flanker variant and has more room to incorporate future upgrades, this could well be a more cost effective investment rather than acquiring enhanced Su-33 jets and replacing them a few years later. Fielding considerably superior combat capabilities, inducting the Su-57 could allow the Russian Navy to commission a smaller contingent of the fighters should it choose the Su-57 - and this could in turn facilitate a lighter but more efficient carrier. Russia may move to induct a new carrier in the 2020s which, considering the testing currently being carried out for new systems such as electromagnetic catapults and the country’s renewed military focus on the strategically critical Pacific theatre, where carriers are a particularly prized asset, remains a considerable possibility. With plans for a new carrier in mind, United Aircraft Corporation chief designer Sergey Korotkov noted that the defence aerospace manufacturer was ready to begin development of a carrier variant of the Su-57 - emphasising the importance both of an electromagnetic launch system and of tailoring the fighter to operate effectively making full use of such systems. Use of such a catapult system combined with the fighter’s long range, cutting edge next generation avionics, air superiority airframe and advanced standoff capabilities - from the K-77 and R-37M air to air missiles to the Kh-38M and Kh-36 air to ground missiles - makes for a combination which will surpass all carrier based competitors by a significant margin.
Ultimately Russia’s Navy may have urgent need for a new carrier based air superiority fighter should it induct a new full sized warship - whereas the Russian Air Force will likely not need the Su-57 in significantly numbers for well over a decade to come. The result is that, should the carrier program go ahead, a carrier based variant of the Su-57, likely named Su-57K, Su-63, or some similar derivative mark, could well enter mass production well before the conventional ground based variant does. While the Su-35, and other advanced Flanker variants, are set to remain the mainstay of the Russian Air Force’s fighter fleet for some year to come, the Navy could see a fifth generation Su-57 enter service as its prime fighter at a much earlier date.
Japanese Black Widow; Could a Revived F-23 Program Soon Provide the East Asian State with the World’s Most Capable Fighter Jet?
Asia-Pacific , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
21 July 2018
The rapid rise of China's People's Liberation Army in the 21st century has represented perhaps the most considerable shift in the balance of military power globally since the Second World War, and resulted in a swift and unexpected return to great power competition for the U.S. led Western Bloc. This has had profound impacts in all areas of the U.S. military's defence planning and those of many of its allies - including military aviation. Indeed, the rapid modernisation of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force, today fielding the world's largest air superiority fleet and as of 2017 having indicted its first fifth generation fighter, has led to the possibility of a revival of what many analysts have considered the world's most capable fighter program in U.S. history - the F-23 Black Widow. The Western Bloc's primary defence partner in the Asia Pacific, Japan, has sought a cutting edge fighter with a role similar to that the F-23 was designed to fulfil. With Japan's air force poorly equipped to retain even basic parity with that of China, and its ruling party increasingly pushing for remiltiarisation and a greater role in U.S. led regional initiatives regarding China and North Korea, American defence manufacturer Northrop Grumman has proposed developing a fifth generation air superiority fighter for the country's Air Force. This fighter will supposedly be capable of contending with China's J-20 and upcoming fifth generation designs such as the J-31 - which will be heavily based on the YF-23 Black Widow design made for the U.S. Air Force almost 30 years prior.
The YF-23 was designed by Northrop Grumman in the waning years of the Cold War, and had a longer range and considerably superior stealth capabilities that the F-22 and a roughly analogous weapons load. The F-22 was more survivable in visual range engagements - but the key factors which led to its selection were its potential to serve as a carrier based fighter with a few simple conversions as well as its far lower unitary cost. With the Cold War over, the U.S. Air Force’s budget was increasingly strained and the USSR’s successor states appeared unable to contend with the latest American jet - so building the cheaper though slightly less capable jet and sparing the Navy the costs of inducting an entirely separate carrier based platform was prioritised over the higher end YF-23. Today however, with not only Russia’s reemergence as a near peer military aviational power but also China’s emergence as a leading developer of fifth and now sixth generation technologies - the need for the most capable fighter possible appears great indeed.
With the F-35A single engine light fighters sold to Japan extremely poorly suited to an air superiority role, with capabilities far inferior to the F-22 and in many respects even the F-15, the Japanese Air Force has struggled to retain even a basic qualitative parity with China - where quantitive parity remains near impossible. The United States’ refusal to supply Tokyo with the F-22 Raptor, which was expected to by flying in the Japanese Air Force by 2010, did much to undermine the country’s ability to contend air superiority. Today however the U.S. is more than ever heavily reliant on Japanese assistance to retain a favourable balance in the Pacific. With the United States focused on developing a sixth generation ‘air dominance fighter’ for its own defence needs - which could well relax its export controls on high end fifth generation technologies - sales to close partners of high end air superiority technologies found on the F-22, and possibly more capable ones developed since the Raptor’s induction, remain a considerable possibility. This would closely reflect the relaxation on export restrictions on the fourth generation F-15 following the fifth generation F-22's induction in 2005 - providing allies with technologies a generation behind those at the forefront of the U.S. Air Force itself.
While likely to cost well over $200 million per jet to acquire, depending on the size of the order, the Black Widow derivatives will be very likely be more capable than the F-22 - with its long range and superior stealth making them ideal for combat in the Pacific theatre. Such fighters may also be marketed to other U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel - both operators of the aging F-15 which, facing the possibility of Iran acquiring advanced Russian air superiority fighters in the near future, may well seek fifth generation technologies to retain their advantage in the air. For Japan developing a fully indigenous fifth generation air superiority fighter could take up to a decade of research and development - likely by further investing in the Mitsubishi Shinshin X2 jet. The Lockheed Martin F-22, Northrop Grumman F-23, or a derivative of either, provides an easier and faster means of acquiring a new heavy fighter. An F-23 derivative, though it would likely cost considerably more to develop than a fighter based on the F-22, would provide the Japanese Air Force with a superior fighter - one which would be a close contender for the world's most capable fighter jet. Whether these fighters will be able to contend with the fast modernising Chinese fleet, with new technologies rapidly being applied to the J-20 and the possibility of a new sixth generation fighter seeing its first flight in the near future - remains to be seen.
America’s Lethal New Air Superiority Fighters; F-15 Derivative Will Boast World's Largest Missile Payload and Fifth Generation Technologies
North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
20 July 2018
In an effort to keep the F-15 Eagle elite fighter program alive after over 40 years of service in the U.S. military, the Boeing company has proposed a new and more capable variant of the aircraft intended to ensure American air superiority for decades to come. Following on from the proposed F-15 2040C, a platform set to deploy 16 AIM-120 air to air missiles - a 100% increase from the eight missiles carried by the original Eagle - the new variant, dubbed F-15X, is set to deploy 24 air to air missiles. The fighter is to deploy the latest variant of the AIM-120, the 180km range AIM-120D, alongside new avionics systems which will allow it to remain viable for years to come. With a number of key figures in the U.S. military leadership warning that the F-15 threatens to become obsolete as an air superiority fighter in the near future, and the Air Force reportedly considering retiring existing F-15C fighters from service due to their considerable operational cost and inability to contend with rival Russian and Chinese platforms such as the Su-35 and J-11B, this comes as a much needed enhancement which could well save the Eagle.
Alongside new missiles, which more than double the Eagle’s engagement range relative to the 75km range AIM-120B, the new F-15 is also set to be equipped with an Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system - an asset long deployed by Russian fourth generation fighters which would allow the Eagles to better engage enemy stealth aircraft such as the Chinese J-20. An Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) is also set to be deployed alongside an updated active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar - reducing the fighter’s radar signature and thus improving its survivability at range. Conformal fuel tanks are also set to be added to enhance the fighter’s range, while modernizations to the jet’s electronic warfare (EW) systems are also expected. AESA radar and EW systems are likely to be derived from those currently used by the F-35 and F-22 fifth generation fighters. The enhanced fighters will be available both off the production line and as upgrades for existing F-15C fighters and are likely to be offered to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Japan - the only countries permitted to purchase air superiority variants of the F-15.
The F-15X’s advanced next generation technologies and massive missile payload, by far the largest of any fighter in the world, would make it one of the most formidable air superiority fighters in service - and belatedly provide the U.S. and its allies with an answer to the Russian Su-35 ‘4++ generation’ fighter. Much as the Su-35 was a considerable upgrade of the Su-27 airframe - fielded until Russia could begin to induct a next generation replacement - so too is the F-15X set to strengthen I.S. air superiority capabilities alongside the relatively small F-22 Raptor fleet until a next generation platform can be developed under the F-X Air Dominance Fighter Program to replace them. The induction of the F-15X may well spur Russia to induct a further upgraded variant of the Su-27 into service, possibly designated Su-40 and incorporating further next generation technologies recently developed for the Su-57.
Much like the F-15 2040C, the F-15X is likely to have been designed specifically to operate alongside and support F-22 Raptors in battle as a less costly but better armed complementary fighter. While the F-22 has had significant problems communicating with other fighters in the U.S. fleet, including the F-35, Boeing has indicated that it will position the new F-15 as the perfect platform to accompany the F-22 and has developed a new EMD pod known as Talon HATE to facilitate easy data transfers between the Raptor and Eagle - based on the Boeing "Phantom Fusion" computer system. With light multirole fighters such as the F-16 and F-35, which make up the vast majority of the Air Force’s combat fleet, hopelessly inadequate in an air superiority role, the F-15X has considerable potential to be a highly successful and popular design for the U.S. and its allies - one which could keep Boeing’s Eagle production lines open for many years to come.
Less Destroyers, More Submarines; How Limitations in Russian Shipbuilding Capabilities Are Reflected in the Changing Composition of its Navy
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval
20 July 2018
Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the area of the Russian armed forces which have seen perhaps the most profound decline has been the country’s surface navy. Under the USSR the bulk of the Soviet Navy's large surface warships were built in Ukraine - including the country’s destroyers and aircraft carriers. The first Soviet supercarriers, the Ulyanovsk Class, were also under construction at the famous Black Sea Shipyard in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv at the time of the USSR’s fall. Russia as a Soviet successor state lacked and until today has failed to develop a surface shipbuilding industry to provide its navy with heavy modern surface ships, and while Russia is planning to induct new aircraft carriers for its fleet a hidden addition cost to such a program will be developing the capacity to produce destroyers needed to escort such warships.
All destroyers in the Russian Navy today, as well as its sole carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, were all inherited from the Soviet Union and laid down outside Russia itself. While the Navy has since significantly upgraded the capabilities of its surface warships, equipping them with state of the air weapons systems such as navalised S-300F air defence systems and lethal new Kalibr cruise missiles, Russia still remains in a highly unusual position for a major world naval power. Although the Russian Navy today fields the world’s fourth largest destroyer fleet, behind only the United States, China and Japan, it cannot replenish losses to this fleet or induct new destroyer to enlarge it. The question remains as to what will become of this fleet when it retires in the coming decades. Refurbishments, life extension programs and weapons upgrades can only take Soviet era battleships so far.
While Russia’s surface shipbuilding capabilities remain poor, the country did inherit facilities and the technologies needed to produce warships which are far more critical to its defence doctrine - ballistic missile and attack submarines. In many was similarly to neighbouring North Korea, which itself relies on submarines far more than surface vessels for its defence, Russia retains advanced submarine building capabilities but is only capable of producing relatively basic light vessels for its surface fleet. Russia has as a result been able to invest heavily in modernising its submarine capabilities, which have advanced significantly since the fall of the USSR. The industry has not only provided well for the needs of Russia’s own navy, but also exported highly advanced diesel attack vessels to allied states. The Kilo Class submarine, dubbed ‘black hole’ in the West for its extreme quietness, serves as a prime example has become one of Russia’s most prolific warship types. The platform was been refined and manufactured as the ‘Advanced Kilo’ variant and sold to China, Iran, Algeria and Vietnam. These states have also been provided with the latest Kalbr cruise missiles to deploy from the warships, giving Russian partners a considerable asset while providing valuable funds for the country’s shipbuilding industries. Production of the Kilo is set to continue - with a number of other states including Indonesia, Venezuela and Egypt having shown interest in the platform.
Other highly ambitious Russian submarine projects include the Yasen Class nuclear attack vessel, a platform developed throughout the 1990s which entered service only in 2013, and the yet more sophisticated Project Husky. The Russian Navy currently deploys just one Yasen class warship, with two more undergoing sea trials and a total of ten planned. Bearing a stark contrast to the country’s surface capabilities, the Russian submarine is perhaps the most advanced vessel of its kind in the world. The massive 140m warships have an unlimited range, and are able to deploy 40 Kalibr and Kh-101 cruise missiles for a strike role alongside torpedoes. They can also carry 32 Oniks ramjet powered anti ship cruise missiles in place of the Kalibr. Despite its size the warships have a crew of just 90, indicating high levels of automation well beyond their American and Chinese counterparts. The Yasen Class has not failed to impress leading officials in the U.S. Navy, who have noted the platform’s development with great apprehension.
With Russia’s new Project Husky attack submarines and its unique nuclear armed unmanned submarines set to enter production in the near future, the country’s submarine shipbuilding capabilities will continue to improve. Whether Russia will reestablish itself as a major producer of large surface warships remains to be seen however, and with these warships increasingly vulnerable to ever advancing anti ship missile technologies and lacking the survivability and and asymmetric capabilities of submarines, Russia may well not deem the billions of dollars needed to revive such shipbuilding a priority or a worthwhile investment in the near future. This is set to continue to shape the composition of the Russian Navy for the coming decades, and while the destroyer fleet and sole carrier will continue to be refurbished and rearmed it is the submarine fleet which is set to see the most investment in expansion and modernisation - both for defence of Russian territorial waters and for power projection. While maintaining at least some surface naval assets remains essential, at the very least as a matter of prestige for Russia as a major military power, the Navy is set to rely more and more heavily on its submarines in future. Considering rapid advances in anti ship weapons technologies in recent years which has brought the continued viability of surface warships to question, this may well be an approach taken by a growing number of naval powers in the coming years.
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- Generational Shift; Why America's F-35 Could be Considered a Sixth Generation Fighter in Future
- Japanese Black Widow; Could a Revived F-23 Program Soon Provide the East Asian State with the World’s Most Capable Fighter Jet?
- Less Destroyers, More Submarines; How Limitations in Russian Shipbuilding Capabilities Are Reflected in the Changing Composition of its Navy
- Troubles Facing the U.S. Military in the Pacific Today and Why the New MQ-25 Carrier Based Tanker Drone Represents an Effective Solution
- China's Deadly Armour; How Capable Are the PLA's Tank Divisions and Why They Matter