Soviet Sea Power

Hervé Coutau-Bégarie 

 

Chapter II - General Military Missions

 

In 1961, the decision as to the forward deployment was intended primarily for the strategic ASW effort. The military missions of the Soviet fleet became diversified with the passage of time. Today the fleet has an impressive po­tential even though it is not without weaknesses, which renders it capable of accomplishing defensive and offensive missions, involving both the interdiction of free use of the sea by the adversary and an effort to achieve control of the sea for itself.

The Soviet navy has thus acquired the theoretical capability of accomplishing varied tasks. Does it have the intention to do so? We go back to the endless discussion between Michael Mac Gwire, who stresses the strategic ASW struggle and minimizes the other missions, and Robert Weinland and James Mac Connell who visualize a navy with several dimensions. As we said, neither an ex­amina­tion of the features of the ships, nor a study of the doctrines enable us to draw any final conclusions and nothing can be predicted as to the changes which war would introduce into plans drafted in peacetime. Under these con­di­tions, one cannot overlook any assumption: We must not stop with the most probable missions but we must also visualize those that are less probable so as to be aware of the multifaceted nature of the threat which Soviet maritime power poses for the Western countries.

 

The Soviet Navy’s Potential

The effort undertaken 20 years ago led to the con­struction of a very numerous fleet but the fluctuating logic of its development gives it a heterogeneous character and it still suffers from numerous weak points, having to do both with equipment and with crews as well as logistics.

 

The Units of the Navy

 

Submarines

Since the beginning of this century, the submarine has been the preferred weapon of Russia at sea even though it did not always use it successfully. At the end of 1981, the Soviet fleet had 288 attack submarines – plus about 115 overage units in reserve – of which 101 are nu­clear‑powered [1]. In contrast to the Americans, the Soviets did not discard the conventional sub­marine, which is less expensive than the nuclear attack submarines, easier to maintain, very sufficient against merchant shipping, and more suitable for operating in shallow waters.

Next we can say that 203 submarines are armed with torpedoes, 55 are nuclear and as we have seen are primarily assigned to hunting missile‑launching sub­ma­rines; but they are also tracking the nuclear attack subma­rines and could be used against surface vessels. The diesel submarines are old for the most part: The survivors of the Zulu class with a long action radius of 25 000 nm, Whisky and Romeo with a medium action radius of 13 000 nm, and Quebec with a short action radius of 7 000 nm are only used for crew training or utility missions such as radar pickets, target units; four Bravo submarines which are more recent and which are also used as target units at the rate of one per fleet; three Golf II, disarmed as strategic mis­sile‑launching submarines, were converted into command submarines. Their precise number is difficult to deter­mine because disarmament and assignment to reserve status followed each other rapidly. According to Les flottes de combat 1982, the following are still in service: Four Bravo, four Quebec, 61 Whisky, 1C Romeo, 11 Zulu IV. The Mili­tary Balance 1982‑1983 only mentions four Bravo, 50 Whisky, 10 Romeo, and 10 Zulu IV; this would suggest that the others have already been taken out of the inventory. Their retirement should be completed within a few years. The 60 Foxtrot submarines, which were very successful in their time, but which today are outt4oded, will follow them. For the moment, they are still used for operational pur­poses, especially in the Mediterranean. They could in par­ticular serve for mooring mines. The only modern series represented by the 15 Tango could, in addition to their tor­pedoes, get the ASk SSN15 and SSN16. The prototype of a new class, Kilo, came out in 1980; its features and destina­tion are not yet known. The current rate of construction of Tango submarines – one or two per year – is entirely insuf­ficient to ensure the replacement of the conventional tor­pedo‑firing submarine fleet which by the end of the decade will experience a dramatic decline.

Furthermore, 67 submarines are equipped with anti­surface missiles. The two Whisky Long‑Bin and the 16 Juliet, with diesel power, are armed with four outmoded SSN3 missiles; their guidance can be jammed by ECM; they are vulnerable to AA defenses because of their high‑altitude and slow flight and they can be launched only from the sur­face. They are about at the end of the road and should soon be scratched. The same is true of the 24 Echo II with nu­clear power, which carry eight SSN3 nuclear missiles. Five Echo II were re‑equipped with eight SSN12, much more highly perfected than the SSN3 (faster flight, lower flight path, hardened guidance against jamming) but likewise to be launched only from the surface, which limits their effec­tiveness con­siderably. On the other hand, the [illegible] 9 remaining nuclear attack submarines are armed with anti-surface missiles that can be launched submerged, against which there is hardly any way to stop them [sic]. The 12 Charlie I and the six Charlie II each carry eight SSN7 with a range of 25 nm and a conventional payload. The Papa, an experimental submarine that was not reproduced, carries ten of them. The Soviets have already developed a second generation with the SSN19, an improvement of the SSN12, which can be launched submerged with a payload that can be conventional or nuclear. Its maximum range is 300 nm; it is guided by a radar image given at the start by an air­craft or a satellite and it does not need any mid‑course guidance because of its very great speed; 24 SSN19 are car­ried by the new Oscar, the world’s biggest nuclear attack submarine with its 18 000 t on the surface and which has a titanium hull similar to that of the Alfa. Others are still under con­struction. The SSN19 could also be installed on the Yankee submarines that were converted into nuclear attack submarines; but their refitting seems to be running into difficulties; none of them has as yet joined the fleet. Morskoi Sbornik recently reported about a grandiose pro­ject involving a submarine with a displacement of 23 000 t and sailing at 65 kn. It is to be assumed that this kind of speed would be possible in water but it will certainly not be attained any time soon.

This impressive total of 250 submarines should not create any illusions. With the exception of 16 of them (the 15 Tango and the Kilo), all of the conventional submarines are old and for the most part even over‑age. As for the nu­clear attack submarines, Jean Labayle‑Couhat noted that “if we exclude the oldest Echo II and the very unsuccessful November submarines, which moreover are being progres­sively retired from service, we find that the Soviet navy only has about 80 modern nuclear attack submarines, in other words, hardly more than the U.S. Navy”  [2]. The priority given to strategic submarines, to the detriment of attack submarines, during the decade of the 1970’s, is responsible for this non renewal, which can compensate for the accel­eration in keel‑laying only after the strategic missile ceiling established by the SALT agreements has been attained. The result is a force, which, in 1987, will have 135 nuclear attack submarines and 95 conventional submarines; this figure should go down further and should level off by the middle of the 1990’s at about 100 nuclear attack subma­rines and 75 conventional submarines [3].

But what it will have lost in terms of numbers will be compensated for by gains in terms of quality. The sub­marine force will be younger, more homogeneous and will have a higher performance: “After a period of frequently awkward copying of western techniques, the Soviet navy and engineers are now displaying original thinking and a dy­namism aimed primarily at speed, submersion, and resis­tance” [4]. The Alfa series represents a major technological break­through, in spite of its persistent defects in terms of silence and electronic equipment. The Soviets also gained a tremendous advantage in the area of tactical anti surface missiles which can be launched submerged: They already have the second generation of such missiles, whereas the U.S. Navy is just completing the development of the sub‑Harpoon. The Soviet submarines thus have growing effectiveness and constitute the most redoubtable threat to the Western navies.

 

Surface Vessels

“Although they have yielded the leading role to the submarines and to naval aviation, surface vessels continue to remain an essential component of the navy”  [5]. During the decade of the 1970’s they underwent a profound renewal, which affected all categories.

 

Aircraft Carriers

The appearance of aircraft carriers [6] was the big event of the decade, abundantly commented upon even out­side naval circles. Until then, their absence prevented the Soviet fleet from attaining an equal footing with the Ameri­can navy. Robert Herrick described this as follows in 1968: “Even if the Soviet navy is second in tonnage after the U.S. Navy, its complete lack of an attack carrier force constitutes a fundamental qualitative difference” [7]. The two helicop­ter‑carrier cruisers, the Moskva and the Leningrad, com­missioned in 1967 and 1968, did not change this state of affairs inspired by the French helicopter‑carrier cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, they only carry 16 ASW helicopters and thus cannot give the fleet air cover. Until the end of the 1960’s, official doctrine continued to assert that air­craft carriers had become too vulnerable and that they could be used only against weak countries without any means of response. But, from that time on, divergent opinions appeared and Admiral Gorshkov, rejecting earlier analyses on the inevi­table decline of the aircraft carrier, wound up supporting it. The result of the new doctrine was the appearance of the 40 000 t aircraft carriers of the Kuril class; with the com­missioning of the Kiev in 1976, the Minsk in 1978, the Kharkov in 1982, and pending the commissioning of the Novorossisk, which should join the fleet around 1984, the USSR took a decisive step in the process of accruing flat‑tops.

Of course, they have as much of the cruiser as the aircraft carrier in them, with all of their forward section occupied by a formidable ASW and anti-surface missile ar­ray which gives them unparalleled fire power. Devoid of catapults and arresting gear, they can accommodate only VTOL aircraft and helicopters, with a total of about 30 air­craft. The helicopters are the [ASW Hornone; illegible in Photostat], the rather unsuccessful Forger aircraft (which exist in two versions: attack and reconnaissance). Their initial designation, big ASW cruisers, probably chosen to get around the Montreux Convention which bars aircraft carri­ers from going through the Turkish straits, expresses a spe­cific reality: These vessels are not comparable to the attack carriers of the U.S. Navy.

But that should not cause us to consider them only extrapolations of the Moskva. As noted by Jean La­bayle‑Couhat, “the Kiev units are multipurpose vessels whose missions appear to be as follows in order of impor­tance: Commanding a naval‑air force, ASW action, anti sur­face action, zone air de­fense, overseas intervention” [8]. But to do that, they must fall back as much on their very powerful armament as on their shipboard aviation. They supply the fleets to which they are assigned (Northern fleet for the Kiev, Pacific fleet for the Minsk; Kharkov will probably re­main in the Mediterranean) only with symbolic air cover with no effectiveness whatsoever against the air­craft of the U.S. Navy. And so far their operations have been very re­stricted because of numerous childhood diseases, which will be corrected on the Kharkov and the Novorossisk, judging by the delay in the completion of these two vessels. Their assignment to two theaters of operation not having any re­pair basins capable of receiving them has raised a mainte­nance problem, which was solved by purchasing two float­ing docks of 80 000 t. The first one, built in Japan, has been in place at Vladivostok since October 1978 but the Swedish dock, intended for Murmansk ran aground a few miles from the Pechenga base in November 1979. It was refloated by a Dutch firm but its commissioning was delayed by several months, thus forcing the Kiev to sail back to the Black Sea in January 1980 for careening at the Sebastopol arsenal.

In spite of their defects, the Kiev vessels – in addi­tion to their somewhat limited military value – also have a symbolic meaning: The Kiev got unusual publicity and its departure even wound up on the front cover of Morskoi Sbornik. It was the first vessel to be officially designated by its name. We can say without exaggeration that it relieved the Soviet navy of its inferiority complex with respect to the U.S. Navy and its aircraft carriers. In 1981, the Kiev vessels were rechristened aircraft‑carrying vessels, a change in name which hinted at and announced new developments leading to real flat‑tops; an aircraft carrier of 50 000 ‑ 60 000 t is under construction [9] and so undoubtedly is a second one. They will probably not join the fleet before the end of the decade. We still do not know anything about their specific features but it is believed that they will carry about 50 SU17 Fitter or SU24 Fencer bombers and Mig‑27 fighters modified for short takeoff (and no longer vertical takeoff, as in the case of the Forger aircraft) which will also be placed on the Kharkov and the Novorossisk. Catapulting tests have already been made. In any case, they will be far from being able to compete with their American rivals. But they will represent new progress by the Soviets in a sector of naval shipbuilding, which it was believed was beyond their competence just a few years ago.

 

Cruisers

The cruiser fleet comprises 38 units, 27 of which are equipped with missiles. It is very heterogeneous; there are outmoded vessels along with very modern ships.

The oldest date back to the decade of the 1950’s; they are the 12 survivors of the Sverdlov class, built after the war; nine still have their three triple turrets with 152mm guns and one of them was equipped with AA missiles. In the Western navies, such veterans would have been dis­armed long ago. But that is not the case in the USSR. One can find many reasons for this exten­sion; they are used for crew training, thus avoiding the need for having to assign the more recent units for this mission; they can support land opera­tions with their artillery; their impressive ap­pearance makes them particularly suitable for protocol vis­its to the Third world; even though they are completely outmoded, their simple presence is a factor which the ad­versary must take into account. But the main explanation is that the Soviets, accustomed to the big battalions, on the one hand, and dire shortage, on the other hand, are not re­tiring any weapon system, regardless of what it might be, until it is really on its last legs: Two other Sverdlov units were recently converted into command ships.

The decade of the 1960’s brought the introduction of two classes of anti­surface missile‑launching cruisers: The four Kynda units carry two SSN3 missiles which today are outdated and which have a range of 30 nm. The weakness of their AA armament makes them totally incapable of sur­viving in a hostile environment. The four Kresta I are better protected, with more AA armament. Their SSN3 missiles could reach a range of 170 nm with the help of the use of a shipboard helicopter, the Hormone B, which can handle target designation but which at the beginning of the 1970’s was replaced by a Hormone A ASW helicopter.

The decade of the 1970’s as a matter of fact was marked by the primacy of ASW defense. It was believed above all that the main armament of the new cruiser classes, which appeared in 1970‑1973 was an anti-surface missile of a new type, the SSN10. Around 1976, it was re­alized that this system as a matter of fact had primarily an ASW mission and so it was renamed the SSN14. It also has a certain anti-surface capability. The 10 Kresta II differ from the Kresta I only by virtue of this main armament. The seven Kara units, which are syntheses of the Kresta II and the Krivak destroyers, are bigger (10 000 t, fully loaded, instead of 7 600); they are very well armed and pre­sent very good nautical qualities and impressed Western observers greatly.

The decade of the 1980’s has brought a return to the priority anti-surface capability. The Kirov was commis­sioned in 1981; it is a mastodon of almost 25 000 t with nu­clear propulsion. It is armed with 20 surface‑to‑surface SSN19 missiles with a range of 300 nm (target designation can be provided by a Hormone B helicopter or a satellite), as well as Hormone A helicopters and SUWN1 and SSN14 ASW missiles, 12 new vertical‑launch SAN6 AA missiles, which can hit a target 40 nm away at a speed of Mach 6. Its radar and sonar equipment is very voluminous. It thus has a formidable offensive capacity, which turns it into a re­doubtable raider, suitable for operating in remote oceans, in conjunction with one or more Oscar submarines; but it also could be the command ship of a group and provide defense for an aircraft carrier. A second Kirov was launched in 1981; it is expected to go on active duty in 1984; it is distin­guished by a new AA system using a high‑energy laser or perhaps even a particle beam. The prototype of a new series of 12 000 t cruisers, the Krasina, intended to replace the Kara, joined the fleet in 1982 (the Krasina was earlier des­ignated by the symbol Black Com I: Black Sea Combatant; ships built in the Baltic are called Bal Com: Baltic Combat­ant, before their commissioning; the Kirov was Bal Com I). Three others are being completed. They have the armament of the Kara, reinforced by anti surface SSN19 missiles. The series could consist of eight units [10], while the Kirov series would consist of four.

 

Destroyers

There are 101 destroyers. They reveal the same het­erogeneity as the cruisers. Survivors of the decade of 1950, without missiles, the 12 Skory are in reserve, except for a few that are used for crew training and the 15 Kotlin will soon join them; one Kildin, armed with SSNl missiles, is used as target; three Kildin were rearmed with SSN2 C anti surface missiles; eight Kotlin Sam and eight Kanin, armed with SANl missiles, have a mostly AA defense mis­sion. In spite of their modernization, they are likewise be­ginning to get old. The 20 Kashin destroyers, dating back to the 1960’s, have a twin AA and ASW mission; six of them, modified between 1973 and 1975, furthermore received the SSN2 C anti-surface missiles and another one was assigned to air traffic control.

The only really modern ones are the 20 Krivak I and the 12 Krivak II (which differ by virtue of the 100 mm AA mounts on the II in place of the 76.2 mm mounts of the I), built during the 1970’s. In spite of their modest tonnage (3 600 t, fully loaded), these multipurpose vessels, with their ASW and anti­ surface SSN14 missiles, have a consid­erable fire power which, once again, greatly impressed Western observers. Jean Labayle‑Couhat however esti­mates that “their AV armament is very insufficient (four SSN14 missiles, two rocket launchers, and no helicopter) and certainly does not make them real ASW vessels” [11]. On the other hand, their AA armament (SAN4 missiles and 76.2­ mm or 100 mm cannon) provides only for zone defense. One thus could not without exaggeration liken them to cruisers, as certain hasty commentators have done. They are nevertheless very redoubtable units, equipped with much more perfected electronic equipment than that of their predecessors and having a towed sonar.

The year 1981 brought the appearance of two new and much heavier classes (7 500 – 8 500 t, fully loaded) and equipped with helicopters. The Sovremenny is mostly an AA ship; it has no towed sonar, which is indispensable for an action, and its main armament is a new anti surface missile with sea‑skimming trajectory, the SSNX22. The Udaloy has a primary ASW mission with its eight SSN14 missiles and its two new Helix ASW helicopters. It also seems to have a good AA capability with the new SAN8 missiles, the verti­cal‑launch version of the SAN4. (The Americans and Sovi­ets are working hard on vertical missile launch. More diffi­cult than conventional launch, this system offers numerous advantages: No dead angle, smaller size, and faster re­loading.) Their almost simultaneous appearance seems to express the universal trend of what we can observe in the West where the emphasis is on multipurpose vessels pri­marily for budget reasons. Jean Labayle‑Couhat empha­sizes that “the Udaloy ­Sovremennyi pair constitutes a very redoubtable combat group”  [12]. The prototypes are now in service and at least three copies of each of those two classes are being completed and others are on the slips. Several years ago, such vessels would have been considered as cruisers and they were initially listed as such. Their reclas­sification expresses the desire of the Soviet fleet to get more and more powerful vessels, suitable for operating on the high seas.

 

Coastal Vessels

The Soviets have a large number of coastal units which are particularly suit­able for ASW and AA defense of merchant shipping and short‑range support of ground op­erations in the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Pacific (Sea of Okhotsk and Sea of Japan). But they also venture out into the Mediterranean and all the way into the Indian Ocean, although such long cruises are very bothersome, both for the crews and the equipment of these vessels, which were certainly not designed for ocean‑going operations.

There are about a hundred frigates, of about 1 000 t, including the Petya, Mirka, and Riga classes, equipped with ASW rocket launchers and AA artillery. Two new Koni are much bigger (2 000 t, fully loaded) and they carry SAN4 AA missiles. By virtue of their tonnage (1 000 t, fully loaded), the 44 Grisha corvettes resemble the frigates and have a primary ASW mission. The smaller 62 Poti are beginning to get old and the 22 Nanuskha, armed with recent SSN9 [il­legible] anti-surface missiles, seem to be rather difficult to handle at sea. Two new classes, the Tarantul and the Pauk, have just come out. The Tarantul II carries the new SSNX22 anti-surface missile.

We must also add a rather impressive force of patrol craft and missile boats of 50‑200 t, numbering more than [illegible in Photostat] units. In spite of their very small tonnage, they should not be overlooked, especially since they have missiles, such as the famous Komar and Osa missile boats.

The Soviets are also expressing continued interest in hydrofoil vessels. The 330 t Sarancha, with its 45 kn, is the heaviest armed hydrofoil vessel in the world with four anti surface SSN9 and two AA SAN4. It was not reproduced. With an even bigger displacement, the 440 t Babochka has an ASW mission and also remained in the prototype stage. The two standard series are the 36 Turya, built in 1972‑1979, desplacing 220 t and making 42 kn with four torpedo‑launch tubes and the 14 Matka (production is con­tinuing) with an equivalent displacement, carrying two SSN2 C and one SAN7. A much bigger model, of at least 1 000 t, is reported to be under development.

 

Mine Warfare Vessels

The Soviets have always excelled in mine warfare. This is the only field in which they obtained significant re­sults during the war against Japan (1904­-1905) and World war II. They are also devoting special attention to this. Practically all submarines, surface vessels, and even bomb­ers of the naval air arm are equipped to plant mines; the Whisky submarines carry 20 or 24 mines; the Yankee sub­marines and the Delta submarines carry 36; the Foxtrot and Golf submarines carry 44; and the November and Victor submarines carry 64.

But there are naturally very many minesweepers, in other words, more than 300, total, and they are divided half into ocean‑going minesweepers and coastal minesweepers. Many are old but, during the 1970’s, several classes came out with wooden, plastic, and glass fiber hulls. The Soviet navy furthermore is practically the only navy to build mine‑laying vessels specifically designed for this task, with the three Alyosha, which carry 400 mines, each.

The Soviets have a very large stockpile; estimates vary between 300 000 and 600 000 mines. Most of them are old but there are also highly perfected recent models, espe­cially the very deep mines called Cluster Bay and Cluster Gulf by NATO; they are apparently intended for use against nuclear submarines. It is believed that the Soviets also have automatically triggered torpedo launch contain­ers, similar to the American Captor.

The threat is very serious; even the oldest mines are still effective, as proved by the war between India and Pakistan in 1971 (the Soviet mines laid by the Indians caused the loss of 24 Pakistani vessels totaling 100 000 t). It is all the more serious since the anti‑mine resources of the easterners are very weak, especially those of the U.S. Navy which has completely neglected this sector for a score of years and which would have tremendous trouble in cop­ing with a blockade using mines. The Soviet Union here has a weapon system, which is little talked about because it is not spectacular but its effectiveness is nevertheless re­doubtable.

 

Amphibious Vessels

The Soviet fleet’s amphibious resources remain ex­tremely feeble. The main landing vessels during the 1960’s were the Polnotsny barges with less than 1 000 t, incapable of carrying men and equipment over a long distance. The appearance of the Alligator lighters, with 4 500 t, repre­sented a big step forward. During the 1970’s, they were fol­lowed by the Ropucha, of equivalent tonnage, end in 1978, came the first really ocean‑going vessel, the Ivan Rogov, with 13 000 t; it features a very complex design and carries one battalion which it can put ashore by means of conven­tional barges, by heli­copters, or by hydrofoil vessels. But their number is very insufficient. Right now there are 55 Polnotsny, 14 Alligator, 11 Ropucha, and a single Ivan Rogov. A second Ivan Rogov is under construction. To this we can add the ships of the merchant navy among which three types are particularly useful for amphibious opera­tions: 12 recent passenger vessels of 16 500‑20 000 t, from the Byelorussia and Ivan Franko [illegible] classes, which would make excellent troop transports; two barge carriers of 38 000 t, of the Yulus Eushik class, each carrying 26 barges of 1 300 t; and a score of vessels, including four Magnitogorsk of 22 500 t, which proved their effectiveness during the Ethiopian affair. In 1979, a hospital ship, the first of its kind, was commissioned; it is the Ob, built in Poland. This kind of vessel is justi­fied only with a view to remote operations. In 1981, the Yenissey, an identical ves­sel, joined it.

But, for the time being, this amphibious potential does not give the Soviet Union any real overseas interven­tion capacity: “Soviet air transport amounts to only half of what the American aircraft can carry in terms of millions of tons per mile and per day (their aircraft have a shorter ac­tion radius than those of their American equivalents and they cannot be refueled in flight); the Soviet amphibious fleet can carry only 1/3 of the American capacity. The Soviet Ma­rines (although they number 12 000 men, they are twice as strong as 10 years ago) do not amount to 1/15 of the size of the U.S. Marine Corps; it remains an assault force, which has to be resupplied after a week, whereas the Marines can remain in action for a month without outside resupply. Even with the entry into service of the STOL aircraft of the Kiev vessels, Soviet ship­board aviation cannot rival the American shipboard aircraft in terms of action radius, endurance, and firepower. The USSR cannot attain the sophistication and effectiveness of the American resupply operations when the forces are under way; in the absence of sufficient shipboard aviation, Soviet resupply in a combat environment would be totally unfeasible” [13].

Nevertheless, the progress made during the 1970’s must not be underestimated: Although the Ropucha and Alligator vessels do not have an ocean‑going capa­bility, they would nevertheless be quite sufficient for operations in close‑in areas, such as the Baltic or Turkish straits, or Manchuria.

 

Intelligence Vessels

There are more than 200 intelligence vessels. This is a very large number but we must keep in mind the almost complete absence of ground stations, in con­trast to the United States, whose setup rests essentially on a network of ground bases. Most often these are only fishing vessels of about 500 t, simple information collectors. But there are also six Primorye of 4 500 t and one Balsam of 5 400 t, which are real floating laboratories, capable of processing the information gathered and conducting electronic war­fare. The navy furthermore has about 60 oceanographic and hydrographic vessels, which are exploring the ocean bottom not only for the needs of science or fishing but also in order better to determine the patrol areas for submarines. The naval air arm also contributes; it covers the maneuvers of Western navies and the tests of new vessels; on 27 January 1982, two Tupolev 95 based in Cuba were intercepted in the air space of the United States as they tried to approach the new aircraft carrier Vinson.

Information collection is not confined to military vessels only. The fishing fleet and the merchant navy are also involved. To give the reader an idea of the importance, which the navy assigns to intelligence that can be procured for it by "civilian" vessels, it suffices to say that the Soviet fishing fleet represents 40% of the world tonnage whereas it only comes up with 13% of the catch (9 million t out of a little more than 70 million) and the rather mediocre yield of the Soviet units is not sufficient to explain this superabun­dance; during the establishment of a Community fishing zone, the Soviets had to allow a drastic limitation of their catch in European waters; but they demanded and partially got a number of fishing vessels in an area much bigger than the one demanded by the allocated quotas. It is not difficult to guess why, especially when one runs into these fishing vessels in narrows or off Western submarine bases. Ever since the start of the 1960’s, permanent patrols by spy‑fishing‑vessels were thus established in all strategic places. Sea tests are constantly being followed and this has caused many incidents; the French nuclear missile subma­rine l’Indomptable had to interrupt a test cruise in 1976 because a fishing vessel, the Zond, was following it a little bit too closely; the first firing of the Trident missile was delayed for the same reason.

Every day, more than 150 Soviet merchant vessels put into Western ports. We are not astonished by their preference for military ports; until a ministerial decision barred their access in 1981, Soviet passenger vessels cruis­ing in the Mediterranean would each time stop at Toulon, a military port, rather than at Marseille, a civilian port. Col­liers, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar used the Spanish port of Ceuta in Morocco. Although it is quite suffi­cient for this type of shipping, it is not good enough for the Soviet government which demanded that Spain in 1978 grant facilities for its merchant vessels at Algesiras, a port which offers the tremendous advantage of permitting tighter surveillance of the naval base at Rota. Unfortu­nately for the Soviets, the Spanish government refused. To their intelligence‑gathering missions, these merchant ves­sels could possibly add sabotage or obstruction assignments since many ports could be blocked temporarily by one or two vessels sunk in the access channels. We must finally report the activity of scientific vessels chartered by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR: The Yuriy Gagarin and the Vladimir Komarov, the two biggest space observation vessels in the world, spend at least as much time tracking satellites and missile tests as studying the layers of the atmosphere.

It must be noted that this constant tie‑in between ci­vilian and military activities, so characteristic of the Soviet navy, is not a one way street: The fleet general staff on sev­eral occasions made vessels available to the Ministry of Fishing; two Whisky submarines were even refitted to search for fish. Several others participated in oceanographic programs organized by the Academy of Sciences. But the exact opposite of course is naturally true most often.

 

Naval Aviation

The naval air arm is essentially based ashore. The several tens of Hormone ASW helicopters on the Moskva and the Kiev vessels represent only a very modest potential; the Forger aircraft are incapable of measuring themselves against the fighter planes of the U.S. Navy. The 1 400 air­craft are broken down into two major categories: The ASMW aircraft and the bombers.



The ASW fight is handled by helicopters – about 300 – in coastal waters and, beyond that, by hydroplanes and patrol craft – about 150 – which remain within the limits of the close‑in approach zone.

The 750 bombers are charged with attacking enemy vessels as well as electronic warfare and reconnaissance. The [illegible number in Photostat] Badger and Blinder aircraft have a medium action radius (less than 5 000 km with in flight refueling); this seriously restricts their effec­tiveness; but the 250 Badger C and G already represent a terrible threat to fleets operating in European and Japa­nese waters with their AS5 and AS6 missiles that have a range of 100 nm. The Backfire B constitutes a similar threat with its AS4 that have a range of [illegible number in Photostat] nm, but this time on a worldwide scale. (The Backfire A is a strategic bomber. There was much talk about them during the final phase of SALT II.) Its action radius enables it to operate over all oceans, except the South Atlantic.

The South Atlantic can be covered from the Cuban and Angolan bases. Even if the Badger aircraft were to be retired faster than the Backfire aircraft are commissioned, at a ratio of 2:1, the Soviet naval air potential was danger­ously increased and the United States Defense Department report for FY 1981 is quite concerned about that: “The threat from the Backfire is becoming more dangerous than the threat from the Soviet attack submarines” [14]. The some­thing like 80 aircraft in service – the rate at which Backfire aircraft intended for the naval air arm are being built is about 15 per year – terribly complicate the defense of the Western squadrons and the danger may become even more acute with the appearance of a new bomber, the Blackjack, which is bigger than the B‑1 about which we still know very little; but it is expected to be commissioned by the begin­ning of the 1990’s and perhaps even at the end of this dec­ade. It is in effect probable that a naval version of this air­craft will be produced.

The navy finally has about 125 transport aircraft, which proved their effective­ness during the airlifts to An­gola and Ethiopia. These two demonstrations, as well as the recent boost in its potential following the introduction of the Backfire and shipboard aircraft, gave naval aviation a net prestige gain; its commander was made marshal and the writings of Admiral Gorshkov frequently underscore its importance.

The Soviet naval force as a whole is really impres­sive. With its submarines, its surface vessels, and its bomb­ers, it has a many-sided potential and is constantly being modernized; in 1970, only a quarter of the ships was equipped with missiles; today, more than half of the ships are equipped with missiles. But the armament is rather motley; for example, eight classes of cruisers and as many classes of destroyers are in service. As noted by George Connell: “This dispersion of effort is something very odd which one does not find in the West and it arouses specula­tions when it comes to understanding the rea­sons for that” [15].

 

Logic Behind Navy’s Development

Several factors may explain this diversity of units in the Soviet navy. The first one is technical: In contrast to the Americans, the Soviets rarely launch new‑design series. Most often, the new series are only extrapolations of earlier ones; for example, the Tango submarines are an improve­ment of the Foxtrot submarines which themselves are de­rived from the Zulu; the Kara cruisers are the synthesis of the Kresta cruisers which themselves sprang from the Kynda class; and the Krivak destroyers are extrapolations of the Kashin class. We thus have a continuous process of improvements expressed by the rapid succession of classes consisting of small numbers of ships; this reveals a lack of innovation capacity at the Soviet shipyards. This rule of course is not absolute; in 1962, the Kashin destroyers were the first warships to be powered exclusively by gas turbines (the Americans did not get to that point until 15 years later, with the Spruance class) and today the titanium subma­rines constitute a major technological breakthrough. But it is just the same surprising to find, to give just a single ex­ample, that we had to wait until 1980 to see the appearance of nuclear power in a surface combat vessel, although it could have been adopted without any major problems 20 years earlier (the atomic icebreaker Lenin dates back to 1957).

One might cite the Soviet system’s red tape [16], with du­plication of programs and efforts found not only in the navy; we can see this very clearly, for example, in the si­multaneous development of the SS16, 17, and 19, replacing the SS11. These factors undoubtedly played a role although a rather minor one. They do not enable us to understand fully the logic behind the fleet’s development. Michael Mac Gwire and, along with him, many other authors, especially Admiral Eberle [17] cast light on a very much more decisive factor: The diversity of vessels reflects the diversity of mis­sions assigned to the fleet, one after the other. It is this the­sis, which we must start with because it is the best‑known and it is therefore our guide here.

During the middle of the 1950’s, when Admiral Gorshkov replaced Admiral Kuznetsov at the head of the navy, the main naval threat against the Soviet Union was made up of the American aircraft carriers, which had nu­clear bombs on board. Gorshkov therefore undertook the construction of vessels equipped with ant surface missiles. This resulted in the Kynda cruisers, the Krupny destroyers, and the Long Bin submarines – the remodeled Whisky – as well as the Juliet and Echo I submarines, all of which carry SSN3. But, by the time they became operational at the be­ginning of the 1960’s, the threat had changed. After that it came from the Polaris submarines and the accent was now placed on ASW and the establishment of a force of similar missile‑firing submarines. The result, this time was the almost simultaneous appearance in 1967 of the strategic Yankee submarines, the submarine‑hunting Victor nuclear attack submarines, and the Moskva AS helicopter carriers. With the increase in the range of missiles, that forced the Soviet vessels to venture further, there was a need for a strong AA defense; certain destroyers of the Kotlin class were converted into AA ships and the Kresta and Kara cruisers received powerful AA armament. But with the commissioning of the Trident submarines, the Soviet ves­sels could no longer keep up with the American nuclear missile submarines in their coastal waters; regardless of their armament, they could not survive there. Admiral Gorshkov then turned to powerful surface combat vessels capable of going into action in remote areas, leading to the con­struction of the Kiev, the Kirov, and the Ivan Rogov. Having already been wrong twice, he has every chance – according to Admiral Eberle – to be wrong again this time [18].

The image we thus get is that “of Soviet efforts de­signed to develop a response to the West’s maritime capac­ity – continually countered by technological advances which made program after program obsolescent even before the units had been commissioned for active service. At the end of the 1950’x, all programs had been modified radically. The decisions made in 1954 and 1957‑1958 did not meet with any better fate and we have a picture of continuous cancel­lations, adaptations, and expedients” [19]. If we rea­lize that more than 75% of the ocean‑going fleet and more than 60% of the submarines came out during that period of fluctua­tions, we can easily under­stand that the Soviet fleet is not very homogeneous.

Before discussing the rationale behind the thesis presented by Michael Mac Gwire, we must state some res­ervations on the extension which Admiral Eberle provided for it: It is too early to say that the return to big surface vessels constitutes another mistake. The Kiev is a hybrid vessel and its VTOL aircraft have not yet been perfected; this much is certain; but the Soviets were not in a position, all at once, to build heavy aircraft carriers similar to those of the U.S. Navy. The Kirov, which, in the eyes of Western strategists, seems to revive the outmoded concept of the battle cruiser, is justified when one stops judging it in the light of Western criteria in order instead to try to consider it from the Soviet viewpoint; it is then explained very easily by the concern for giving it a strong survival capacity in a hostile environment which the Soviets are encountering on all oceans. Far from being absurd, it expresses the Soviet fleet’s determination to be able to operate in force far from its bases. On the other hand, one might recall that the U.S. Navy in the 1970’s submitted a similar project involving a 20 000 t strike cruiser which in the end was not built be­cause of opposition in Congress.

The objections to the scheme presented by Michael Mac Gwire are of two kinds. The first one consists in in­verting the hierarchy of factors: Contrary to current opin­ion, which maintains that Soviet naval programs are de­rived from a strategy that is determined a priori, “the Soviet government seems to have built the ships which it was tech­nically capable of building and it then came out in favor of the naval strategy suited for the ships which it had built” [20]. The second one denies the existence of a vast design aimed against the nuclear ballistic submarines. Far from mutually excluding each other, these two proposals complete each other [illegible word in Photostat]… the most consistent opponents of Michael Mac Gwire, Kenneth R. Mac Gruther and John E. Moore.

The former proposes an original interpretation for the development of the Soviet navy, which he himself de­scribes with modest terminology as “revolu­tionary in many ways” [21]. He starts with the ides that the navy managed to acquire its autonomy within the Soviet defense system and that its evolu­tion was guided only by the image which it had created of itself: Desiring to become a blue‑water fleet like the U.S. Navy, it used the anti‑nuclear-submarine ar­gument only to justify its constant demands for money and it christened its units starting in the 1960’s as antisubma­rine vessels only to deceive the political establishment which had assigned priority to its strategic functions. In reality, the hiatus “between the anti-surface 1950’s and the ASW 1960’s” does not exist; the Kresta II, the Kara, and the Krivak vessels are not new systems intended to cope with a new threat but the extension of the units of the 1950’s; in spite of their official ASW desti­nation, they are in fact mul­tipurpose vessels. There is thus a continuity in this evolu­tion which is explained both by the continued existence of the self‑image of the navy and the weight of the economic and technological demands. This strategy on the part of the navy wound up being supported by the political establish­ment in 1964‑1966 and continued during detente, with the appearance of the Kiev class once and for all documenting the blue­ water fleet status of the Soviet navy [22].

Less ambitious but also more skillful, John E. Moore proposes a simpler image. He, too, believes in the existence of a technological determinism, which he believes to be documented by “the basically parallel development lines of the U.S. Navy and the Soviet fleet” [23]. But he does introduce a nuance here and accepts a certain degree of voluntary action on the part of those involved: The hiatus of the 1960’s does exist but it is not explained by an anti‑nuclear‑submarine design whose existence is “in no way proven”; it is instead the result of a defensive concern; during the 1960’s, surface vessels were given the priority mission of guaranteeing – in case of tension or war – the access of the Yankee missile submarines and the attack submarines to the open oceans through the rather tight chokepoints which they must necessarily pass. In the 1970’s, there was added to this the need for protecting the Delta against the incursions of American submarines into Soviet waters [24].

Moore as a matter of fact differs from Mac Gwire on only one point: He assigns to the ASW reorientation of the 1960’s a defensive purpose (pro­tection of the Yankee and Delta and the attack submarines), whereas Mac Gwire explains this in terms of an offensive design (attack of the American nuclear ballistic submarines). They thus come up with the same criticism. Their explanations are monistic; they retain only one of the terms of the offensive / defensive alternative whereas, in fact, far from arguing with each other, they supplement each other perfectly: The obsession for protecting their sub­marines cannot be denied and did not prevent the Soviets from thinking in terms of hunting the Western nuclear ballistic submarines, an idea which we find everywhere in their writings and which is thus not a myth, even if its degree of practical implementation re­mains difficult to figure out

The challenge from Mac Gruther is more radical. But it is more ingenious than really convincing. First of all, because his foundations do not hold water. Let us skip over the fact that he is a little more contradictory in asserting simultaneously the navy’s autonomy and the weight of the economic requirements in its development. But this asser­tion as to the navy’s autonomy must be demonstrated. With good reason, Mac Gruther does not even try to do that: The indications running in the opposite direction are as a matter of fact numerous [25] and he himself gives an example of them in connection with the attack on the lines of com­munication [26]. Likewise, he does not tell us on what he bases his arguments in defining the Soviet fleet’s self‑image: That fleet gives the false impression of being only the transposi­tion of the image which the U.S. Navy (to which Mac Grutngher belongs) has made of it. Finally, he goes too far in denying the hiatus of the 1960’s: That the Kara, Kresta I, and Krivak vessels are not exclusively ASW we will gladly grant him; this reaction against the dominant monism rep­resented by Mac Gwire or Moore is a healthy thing. But that the main armament of these vessels should be the ASW SSN14 and not the surface‑to ­surface SSN16, as was believed initially, does have its consequences. These ex­treme statements furthermore are all the more regrettable as they are use­less since, in his conclusion, he presents a more classical table of the logic of the Soviet navy’s devel­opment: Initially, its priority mission was embarked on the way to becoming an ocean‑going and multipurpose blue‑water fleet [27]. Because he avoids the surrounding mo­nism, it is in the end he who presents the most likely image without having to resort to any false postulates. This is an image, which everybody can accept since Mac Gwire him­self, in spite of his anti‑SSBN obsession, underscores the turning point [28] represented by the 23rd Congress of the CFSU, in 1966, where it was decided to use the fleet for political purposes [29].

This brings us to the significant question of the role played by Admiral Gorshkov. There are two opposing im­ages here. The most widespread one makes him the main architect of Soviet naval expansion. Admiral Zumwalt sees in him “the most effective commander of contemporary na­vies” and hails his “strategic genius” [30]. The dust jacket on the English­ language translation of his book: The Maritime Power of the State, describes him as “the creator of the mo­dem Soviet navy, the most brilliant Russian naval strategist of all times”. But Michael Mac Gwire opposes this stereo­typed image with the image of a navy boss incapable of im­posing his views upon the political establishment which in reality only decided to re­orient Soviet naval policy, with Gorshkov only following with some delay; in short, “he is certainly no Jackie Fischer [31]. Admiral Eberle grants that he played a bigger role in the development of the fleet but he does so only in order to note that he was always wrong. He furthermore credits him with mistakes in the tactical employment of ships: The failure to assign the Kara vessels to protect the Kiev ships or the Berezina supply ships in support of the major units and he concludes: “I am forced to conclude that Gorshkov’s skill did not reside in the estab­lishment of a master plan for Soviet naval development but in the procurement of sufficient resources to enable him to satisfy all the inevitable internal pressure groups that exist in as large an organization as the Soviet navy. Gorshkov was able to satisfy all but he did so at a very high price and sometimes to the detriment of the other services. This is the mark of an easy political opportunism” [32].

The two images are irreconcilable. Let us leave aside the problem of his strategic writings, noting just the same that the attention that has been devoted to them is to a good extent due to the fact that their author happens to be the commander‑in‑chief of the Soviet fleet. If there is one book that must remain in the history of naval strategy, that would most certainly be Reflections on Tactics by Admiral Makarov – which his adversary, Admiral Togo, had translated into Japanese – rather than “The Maritime Power of the State”. The real problem is the problem of the part Gorshkov played in the fleet’s growth. The position of Admiral Zumwalt – which may surprise us at first sight – as a matter of fact is perfectly logical: At the risk of credit­ing this magnificent success – and let us not forget that Zumwalt is a maximalist – to the Soviet system, which a good American could not really do, we must credit it to an exceptional man and naturally a sailor rather than to the political establishment in order to persuade the American politicians, by force of example, not to stick their noses into the navy’s business. Unfortunately, his thesis ran into a big obstacle: Gorshkov is not behind the establishment of an ocean‑going fleet. John Moore remarked that all programs which would give the Soviet navy a new face had already been launched when Gorshkov took over:

a)        A family of antisurface weapons (SSN1, 2, and 3) was practically ready or commissioning;

b)        New propulsion methods (nuclear and gas turbine) were being developed (the first nuclear submarine of the No­vember class was to be launched in 1958);

c)        The first submarine equipped with ballistic missiles was launched in September 1955;

d)        The long‑range Bear bomber, the Bison, and the Badger appeared during the 2 years before he took over;

e)        The hydrofoil Madge was seen for the first time in 1954;

f)         The Hen helicopter was developed in 1955‑1956 [33].

It is therefore difficult to claim that the initiative for change over the past 25 years came from Admiral Gorshkov who in fact only continued a road opened under his predecessor Kuznetsov. Nor could one without hesita­tion credit him with a first‑ranking role in moving beyond the traditional coastal strategy. It was as a matter of fact not until 1963, in other words, 7 years after he became commander‑in‑chief and 2 years after the decision as to the forward deployment, that the first article, signed by him, came out in favor of such a reorientation [34]. The initiative seems to have come from the political establishment. Mac Gwire’s thesis is thus correct but, once again, only for the 1960’s. After that it becomes more doubtful. There is no consensus in favor of the fleet within Soviet leading circles and Gorshkov had to go out in support of the principle of a balanced fleet, as witnessed by his articles that were pub­lished in Morskoi Sbornik in 1972; the anomalies of their publica­tion, as revealed by Robert Weinland [35], point up the resistance encountered within the military establishment by these pleas in favor of a navy that would pursue its own strategy beyond the traditional limits of the Soviet conti­nental bloc. Michael Mac Gwire himself furthermore noted that these anomalies ended at the moment a series of arti­cles on the defense of socialism, published by the armed forces daily, was abruptly cancelled; those articles con­tained indirect criticisms of the articles written by Gorshkov [36]. The last book by him ­The Maritime Power of the State – has the same nature of a plea and seeks to dem­onstrate that “all big contemporary powers are maritime states” [37] and discretely to correct history in order to bring out a participation in the “great fatherland war”, a constant reference used by Soviet military personnel, which was supposedly much more glorious than it had been in reality. Even if there were to be any doubt as to his initial attitude, it is certain that Admiral Gorshkov thereafter powerfully contributed to the continuation of the effort undertaken in his capacity as fleet commander, of course, but also as a propagandist of maritime power in dealing with the politi­cal establishment; he thus indeed comes out looking like the chief architect of Soviet naval expansion.

He thus did play an active role. But is this role posi­tive, as maintained by Zumwalt or negative, as Eberle thinks? The answer obviously depends on our judgment of the Soviet navy’s capacities: Zumwalt overestimates them just as much as Eberle looks upon them with skepticism. But the question is a tough one and, in the final analysis, it is quite secondary: Just as Gorshkov can­not claim credit for the rise in Soviet maritime power all by himself, so could one not completely blame him for the weak points affecting its capability. They come essentialy from struc­tural facts over which even the fleet’s commander has no control.

 

The Navy’s Weak Points

The establishment of a fleet is a difficult and long‑range undertaking. The equipment and manpower problems exist always but they emerge with particular seri­ousness in a navy, which does not have a long experience behind it. More­over, the geopolitical situation of the USSR makes the problem of logistic support and bases particu­larly crucial.

 

Materiel

The first ships built after the war were based on a defective design: The Sverdlov cruisers, for example, were too big for the Baltic and insufficiently equipped for the open ocean. But as the series continued, Soviet naval ship­building improved and the latest models, for example, the Kara or the Krivak or the Charlie and Alfa submarines can rival the best Western products [38]; they are fast, they have endurance, and they are very well armed. But, in the face of their American rivals, they still suffer from serious short­comings.

The first of these have to do with their design. They have the defects de­riving from their qualities: Their fast speed brings about a very high sound level which, first of all, is a very serious handicap for the submarines but which also generally besets the surface vessels. Their impressive armament does give them a fire power very much superior to that of their Western counter­parts but has several bad consequences: The room taken up by all of these weapons is to the detriment of the quarters reserved for the crew – al­though this does not bother the Soviets very much – and this applies above all to the fuel tanks, thus necessitating frequent resupply at sea and at a slow cruising speed of something like 12 kn (and that already was the speed of the Baltic Squadron on the way to Tsushima in 1904) whereas the ships of the US. Navy rare1y sail at less than 15 kn. Here is another consequence which is the most serious and the most immediate one; the presence of all of these weap­ons creates a terrible vulnerability: All it takes is for one missile hit and everything else goes up in flames [39].

It is furthermore not at all certain that this heavy arsenal offers maximum effectiveness. One might instead ask oneself whether the abundance of fire power is not de­signed to make up for its inaccuracy which is due to the deficiencies in the electronic equipment and to the vulner­ability of the missiles that fly high and can be destroyed by AA defenses, as demonstrated by the Yom Kippur War. The diversity of weapon systems – for example, for ASW action, a Krivak carries missiles, torpedoes, and rockets – and the diversity of detection systems – a Krivak has 12 radars, whereas an American Spruance ­class destroyer, although twice as big, has only four – shows that the Soviets are re­luctant to fall back on a single equipment item and that in turn casts doubt on their real degree of reliability: That level should certainly be below their theoretical level. The Achilles heel represented by submarine detection has al­ready been mentioned; although medium‑frequency and low ­frequency sonars have become quite common and although the most recent ships are equipped with towed sonars, their performances continue to be consider­ably inferior to those of Western equipment. It does not seem, for example, that they could detect a periscope or a schnorkel. The vessels so far have not had any tactical data processing system along the lines of the American NTDS or the French Senit – a first generation which should be relatively rudimentary, appeared on the Kiev and the most recent cruisers – and the Soviets did not succeed in combining their weapons into integrated AA, ASW, or anti-surface systems because of their delay in the data processing field, a situation which does not seem to be developing any better in the near fu­ture. Finally, the rather poor employment of shipboard heli­copters and the inadequacy of information furnished by their satellites seriously restrict the long‑range combat ca­pabilities while the absence or weakness of missile ­launch reloading possibilities on most of the units seriously dimin­ishes their operational capacity after the first salvoes.

Another apparently minor deficiency however turns out to be of the utmost importance: Soviet vessels are de­signed for cold seas. The episode of the snowplows that were sent to Guinea is famous now but one forgets too often that dispatching a ship designed for the Arctic to tropical waters creates considerable problems: The crew suffers ter­ribly due to the absence of air conditioning and the equip­ment undergoes very rapid deterioration. These phenomena are made even more preoccupying by the weakness of the network of bases and overseas facilities, which prevents any stopovers and regular careening.

We must finally note that the absence of any spare space makes all moderniza­tion problematical, except for a complete remodeling job, whereas the Americans, from the start of construction on, make allowance for further mod­ernization and provide the necessary room. Soviet vessels are thus built for the short run, in line with the threat and the resources of the moment without excessive attention being paid to their further evolution. This detail, which has been rather unimportant until now, will soon turn out to be of the utmost importance. The stereotyped image of a Soviet navy, which is supposed to be first‑ranking because its ships are so young, as a matter of fact is becoming less and less true: Johan Holst noted starting in 1975 that the av­erage age of the American and Soviet vessels was balanced out for most of the categories [40].

Table IV

 

United States

USSR

Submarines

11 yrs

10 yrs

Major surface vessels

13 yrs

13.5 yrs

Small surface ships

8 yrs

11.5 yrs

Amphibious vessels

8.7 yrs

7.9 yrs

Source: Johan J. Holst, "The navies of superpowers: motives, forces and prospects," in Power at sea II, Super­powers and navies, Adelphi Papers, n° 123.

 

Since then, this tendency has only been confirmed further and it is becoming more accentuated; the Soviets will soon be facing a serious dilemma: They will either see an increase in the number of obsolescent ships or they will have to devote a large portion of the activities at the naval shipyards to their modernization, of course to the detriment of new construction. Jean Labayle‑Couhat remarked that half of the ships of more than 2 000 t – which are the only ones capable of operating on the high seas – are more than 20 years old [41], whereas naval shipbuilding has leveled off at around 300 000 t per year due to the crowding of the ship­yards. But, once again, one must not concentrate on the number of ships; the units that appear currently are more high‑performance than those they replace and we have for some time now been a watching an acceleration in the rate of appearance of new equipment; since 1980, we have thus identified two new anti surface systems (the SSN19 on the Kirov class vessels, the SSN22 on the Sovremenniy and on the Tarantul II), four AA systems (the SAN6 on the Kirov, and the SAN7 on the Sovremenniy, the SAN8 on the Udaloy and a laser weapon on the second Kirov) plus an ASW sys­tem (the SUWN1 on the Kirov). They are also bigger and we will thus simultaneously see – if the current trend contin­ues – a drop in the number of ships and an increase in the total tonnage. The following table is an estimate of the status of the Soviet fleet in 1990 and in 2000 with the growth rate of ship­yard output being 3,4 or 5%.

 

Table V

Around 1990

3%

4%

5%

1979

Combat fleet tonnage (in millions)

3.3

3.5

3.7

[illegible]

Major fighting ships

515

530

550

[illegible]

Around 2000

Combat fleet tonnage (in millions)

4.4

5.1

5.9

[illegible]

Major fighting ships

330

360

400

[illegible]

Sources: James W. Abellera and Rolf Clark, "Forces of habit. Budgeting for tomorrow’s fleets, AEI For­eign Policy and Defense Review, Volume III, No 2‑3, 1981, p. 53.

 

Tactically speaking, the characteristics of Soviet ships strongly suggest an assumption in favor of a preven­tive attack: The armament is particularly suitable for a violent and brief strike, especially on the older classes which do not have modern AA weapons. Johan Holst in­terprets their speed in the same sense since it enables them very quickly to get through their chokepoints and he thinks that this tendency will be accentuated through the intro­duction, on American ships and aircraft, of precision‑guided weapons which constitute a major threat to their adversar­ies [42]. Michael Mac Gwire is against this idea and on the contrary thinks that the new ship classes, as well as the remodeling of the older ones, are in keeping with the con­cern for obtaining maximum pro­tection against sudden at­tack [43]  [illegible]. This is true but the majority of the units is still running along the lines of emphasis on the “battle of the first salvo”, an idea which, for the moment, is also sup­ported by the personnel budget.

 

Personnel

The personnel problems facing the Soviet navy are extremely serious and consti­tute a heavy burden on its op­erational capacity. They involve the crews, primarily, but also the command structure.

The low level of the crews has always been a serious trouble spot in the Russian navy. During the war with Ja­pan, in 1904, the squadron of Admiral Makarov was inca­pable of performing any maneuver that was even slightly complicated. The ups and downs of Soviet naval policy did not help improve this state of affairs, preventing the estab­lishment of a corps of officer ­sailors and professional sailors rich in experience inherited from long practice. The Soviet navy is a draftee navy: 15% of the personnel must be re­placed every 6 months and sailors who re‑enlist at the end of their 3 years of service are very rare. The naval officers account for only 20%, of the personnel force (as against 35%. in the U.S. Navy); this is insufficient even though cer­tain tasks, assigned to line officers in the Western navies, are assigned to specialist officers (in view of the low Soviet skill level, certain categories of technicians are considered engineers in the USSR). This results in a severe shortage of skilled personnel which explains the fact that certain ves­sels, especially coastal vessels, do not have a complete crew and have a very low general activity level; a Soviet ship is at sea only 50‑60 days per year, on the average, only half the time spent at sea by a ship of the U.S. Navy. The prob­lem is encountered even among the submariners who are considered the navy’s elite; the strategic submarines only have one crew (instead of the two crews in the Western na­vies); out of the six Alfa nuclear attack submarines in ser­vice, only two are habitually operating simultaneously due to a lack of a sufficient number of technicians capable of serving on these highly automated units. Moreover, morale is low due to the long duration and monotony of the cruises, the very tough living conditions, and the presence of very many Baltic sailors who hate the Russians and desert at the first opportunity or even mutiny, the most famous ex­ample being that of the Stroroyevoy, a destroyer in the Bal­tic fleet that tried to escape to Sweden in November 1975. We nevertheless do find slow but continuous progress, as witnessed by the increasingly more developed patterns of the exercises. It is probable that, as in the army, there are several categories of ships according to their degree of training, with the major units having the best crews. But even they remain on a rather low level: The Kiev‑class ves­sels, on cruise, engage in operational activities only several hours per day, whereas the American aircraft carriers, when involved in operations, are on permanent alert; re­supply at sea is carried out without any special precautions, in spite of the great vulnerability involved in these opera­tions.

The command structure is not satisfactory either. On the one hand, it is dualist, with the always difficult coexis­tence of a military command chain and a political command chain; Robert Weinland interprets Gorshkov’s insistence on professionalism as an indirect criticism of the entirely too heavy‑handed control exercised by the party [44]. On the other hand, inside the officer corps, there is a rather strong conflict of generations between the veterans of the "Great Fatherland War" and the younger officers who certainly can very soon be given major commands at sea – it is no rarity to see cruiser captains of less than 40 years – but they are then stopped by the lack of movement among the top com­mand. And this is an important problem for the fleet’s fu­ture and transition – when the undivided rule of Admiral Gorshkov comes to an end – will certainly be difficult. Fi­nally the command structure is highly centralized, as we were able to see during the Okean exercises; while contact with Moscow does not seem to create any problems, con­tacts between units at sea appear to be quite reduced. This could result in serious miscalculations if the communication system were to be disturbed. Recent articles in Morskoi Sbornik make us think that greater autonomy has recently been given to the captains of vessels at sea but this trend has not yet been verified.

Once again, these problems strongly suggest the ides of a particular effort for the first‑salvo battle, a mission suitable for rather little skilled crews, whereas survival in a hostile environment requires a high level of technical skill and training to cope with the multiple threats. The same is true of the centralized command which is ideal for launch­ing a simultaneous attack on all oceans but which hardly would help remote operations in time of war.

One last weak point must be added to the two pre­ceding ones: The inadequacy of the network of bases and of the logistic support fleet.

 

Bases and Logistics

In 1979 [illegible], Admiral Sergeyev, the chief of na­val operations, admitted quite frankly that the Soviet fleet’s main problem was the lack of bases. This shortage is mak­ing itself felt all the more since "the logistic support fleet is still very far from being able to meet the needs of the sur­face fleet" [45].

Ever since their navy appeared on the high seas, the Soviets have made a tremendous effort to get allied or friendly countries to grant bases or at least facilities. The results have not come up to their hopes and the Soviet fleet is running into this very severe problem everywhere.

In the North Atlantic, the Soviets have no support base; for a brief moment the “revolution of the red poppies” in Portugal made them hope that Portugal would grant them some facilities but that hope vanished quickly. There is only one country, which gladly accepts Soviet vessels and that is Cuba. The Cienfuegos base offers reliable and dis­crete shelter and the Soviets in 1970 tried to set up a sub­marine base here which would have considerably improved the operational availability of the strategic Yankee subma­rines and the nuclear attack submarines. The violent reac­tion from the United States, charging that such an installa­tion would be contrary to the 1962 accords, forced them to pull back. Cienfuegos is still being frequented by subma­rines, which resupply themselves there from auxiliary ves­sels but this is only a stopover facility, without any possi­bilities for using the place as a real base. Since 1979, how­ever, major improvement activities have been carried out here. This absence of a supply base explains that the level of surface ship presence in the North Atlantic is extremely low.






In the Mediterranean, the Eskadra, according to the March 1968 agreement, had obtained the use of the ports of Alexandria, Sollum, and Port‑Said. This re­sulted in an im­mediate increase in the Soviet presence, which rose from 4 400 days in 1966 with an average force of 12 ships to 11 000 days in 1968 with an average force of 18 units. But in 1972 Sadat reduced these facilities and then he termi­nated them completely in May 1975. These measures had an immediate impact. Of course, between 1972 and 1975, the presence level re­mained practically unchanged (18 000 and 18 600 days); but the drop in activity was notable; the loss of Egyptian air fields put an end to the reconnaissance flights above the Sixth United States Fleet and between 1973 and 1975 the number of surface fighting ships going through the Turkish straits dropped by 40% whereas movements of auxiliary ships remained steady. The con­tinuation of the total number of presence days is explained by the increase in the number of submarines coming from the Northern fleet through the Strait of Gibraltar [46]. After 1975, we note a drop in the presence, which leveled off at 16 500 days in 1979. The Soviets tried very hard to come up with alternate solutions. They naturally first of all con­tacted their clients and especially Syria; starting in July [illegible in Photostat], they made more intensive use of the Syrian ports of Latakia and [illegible] in exchange for in­creased military aid. After the visit to Moscow by President Assad in April 1974, their presence was further increased to the point of be­coming permanent but Syria always refused to grant them shore installations, especially air fields. This cooperation stagnated after the Lebanes crisis of 1976 but experienced a new upswing after the 8 October 1980 friend­ship treaty. Libya in 1981 also granted facilities at Tripoli and Tobruk, in return for massive shipments of armaments. On the other band, the Algerians always re­fused access to the magnificent port of Mers‑el‑Kebir, authorizing stop­overs only at Annaba. Other countries granted facilities for economic reasons in order to get foreign exchange and to keep their naval shipyards working. The ships of the Eskadra thus have been frequenting the Yugoslav arsenal at Tivat since December 1974 (especially the submarines), the Tunisian arsenal at Menzel‑Bourguiba, Bizerte, since June 1977 (these facilities were temporarily suspended in 1980 after the Gafsa affair), and the Greek civilian shipyard on the Island of Tyros (only for merchant and auxiliary ves­sels); signed at the end of 1979, the contract was broken the next year under pressure from the United States; the so­cialist administration of Andreas Papandreu restored it. The Soviets have not been able to get into the La Valetta arsenal on Malta since the 1972 accord between Great Brit­ain and Malta allows warships of the Warsaw Pact to stop off only in case of emergency; but an agreement was signed on 26 January 1981, granting fuel resupply facilities to So­viet merchant vessels.

The Soviet squadron thus does not have any base but only insufficient facili­ties. It also developed the practice of anchoring at the limit of the territorial waters. It has such anchoring facilities just about everywhere, in carefully chosen spots; it has one of them at Cape Andreas, east of Cyprus, near the battlefields of the Near East; it has three in the Aegean Sea, at Kithira and on the Island of Asti­palaia, to watch the units of the Sixth Fleet arriving in the port of Piraeus, as well as on the Island of Lemnos at the entrance to the Dardanelles; two around Crete, from which it can range all over the Eastern Mediterranean; two near the Suez Canal, in the Gulf of Sollum and at Ras‑al‑Kanais; one at Manfredonia, at the entrance to the Adriatic; one in the Gulf of Sirte at Bunba; six at the junction between the Western and the Eastern Mediterranean, off Sicily. on Ter­rible bank and at Cape Passero; near Malta, on Hurd Bank and on the islands of Lampedus; in the Gulf of Hammamet; off Bizerte, at the Island of Galite [illegible]; in addition to the latter, in the Western Mediterranean, there are anchor­age places at Alboran, on the coast of Morocco, and the Chella bank along the coast of Spain, near the Strait of Gi­braltar and north of the Balearic islands to watch the Tou­lon squadron. Not all of them are occupied permanently – the more frequent ones are those of Sollum and Hammamet – but the units of the Soviet squadron spend most of their time there [47]; that certainly does not help improve the level of crew training and morale which is already far from what it should be; when these ships, which are not air condi­tioned, are anchored there, the effect must indeed be very painful.

In the Indian Ocean, Soviet naval activities are con­centrated essentially in the northeastern quarter. Starting in 1972, they got the Somali port of Berbera which in a few years became the biggest Soviet base outside national terri­tory, with a communications center, fuel and missile stor­age facilities, and a floating dock capable of accommodating vessels of less than 10 000 t and a 4,5 km runway. Other facilities were available at Mogadishu and Chisimayo. This complex, which permitted a considerable rise in naval pres­ence, increasing from 3 804 days in 1971 to 8 800 days the next year and 10 500 days in 1974 [48], was lost during the Somali‑Soviet break in November 1977; this was a very serious blow even though the impact was some­what re­duced by the use of replacement bases.

Today, the Soviets are falling back on their two most reliable allies, Ethiopia and South Yemen. The former made the Eritrean port of Massawa available to them; but it is not as good as Berbera (the installations are insufficient and it is always threatened by the Eritrean guerrillas) and the Dalhak islands, off Massawa, where the floating dock, previously installed at Berbera, has been towed; these are now the places where the units of the Indian Ocean de­tachment put into port most frequently. But the Ethiopian installations are in the Red Sea and access to the Indian Ocean necessarily goes through the Strait of Bab‑el‑Mandeb, thus creating extreme vulnerability. In South Yemen they use the ports of Aden – which has an air base and a pier for submarines and which serves as head­quarters for the Indian Ocean detach­ment – and the port of A [illegible] Mukalla, as well as the Island of Socotra, at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, where a base is under con­struction. On the other hand, Iraq terminated the facilities granted at Umm Kasr starting in 1972; this loss is not seri­ous because this port is very badly located, at the very end of the Persian Gulf, accessible only through a narrow chan­nel. The Soviets had asked the government of the Maldive Islands for a lease on the naval‑air base at Gan which the British had abandoned; but the government re­fused and turned the place into a tourist center.

Outside the northwest quarter, the Soviets also ob­stinately pursued the quest for facilities. Between 1971 and 1976, their effort was concentrated primarily on India; fol­lowing the war between India and Pakistan, Indira Gandhi granted them access to the port of Vishkapatnam where Soviet naval engineers are working at the arsenal. Okha on the Sea of Oman and Port Blair (in the Andaman Islands) opposite the Strait of Malacca were also frequented. But in December 1976, Admiral Gorshkov, visiting India, was unable to get an extension of these facilities and the use of an air base. Several months later, the Desai Administration put an end to this cooperation, which never regained its original impetus after Indira Gandhi returned to power. The other countries on the Gulf of Bengal have turned out to be hardly cooperative and the detachment assigned to watch the Malay Straits must often be content with an­chorages situated off the Andaman or Nicobar islands, and further to the west, off the Chagos islands (to watch Diego Garcia).

The Soviets assign great importance to the Mozam­bique Channel, which they have undertaken to lock up as effectively as the Strait of Bab‑el‑Mandeb. Mozambique has proved to be rather receptive; Soviet vessels can stop off at Beira, Nagala [illegible], and especially Maputo, where they have a floating dock which was officially sold to Mozam­bique but which they can use 40% of the time (a clause that was expressly stipulated in the October 1981 delivery agreement). A submarine base was recently identified in the vicinity of Maputo. The Backfire bombers and the transport aircraft use the air base at Maputo. Madagascar has made the airports of Ivato and Agivonimamo [illegible] available for Soviet aircraft but always refused access to the magnificent roads of Diego‑Suarez. Soviet vessels must therefore be satisfied with un­protected anchorages south­west of Madagascar and in the channel; auxiliary vessels are received in the civilian ports of Madagascar, on Mauri­tius, and in the Seychelles. To take care of communications and relay, Moscow "offered" Madagascar three radars cov­ering the entire southwestern part of the Indian Ocean and installed a medium‑wave relay station at Imerintsiatosika (where a NASA relay station used to be located). One can easily guess that such facilities are not intended to meet the needs of the Malagasy navy.

The penetration into the South Atlantic was based first of all on Conakry but Guinean President Sekou Toure put an end to that in 1980. Angola took up the slack and furnished air and naval facilities at Luanda, Lobito, and Mocamedes, which are frequented by surface vessels and by the Bear and Backfire bombers. But the Soviets seem to find these bases insufficient and are making a great effort to get Congo to let them use the Bay of Pointe­ Noire. Until now they do not seem to have been able to get any satisfac­tion, except for specific individual operations (especially during the Angolan war).

Guinea‑Bissau, likewise in 1981, rejected the in­stallation of a naval base in the Geba River estuary. The government of the Cape Verde Islands did not prove to be any more favorably inclined; it signed an agreement with the Soviets for the expansion of the port of Saint‑Vincent but did not grant any special facilities. Around Cape Horn, the Soviet fleet does not have any support base. Several years ago, it tried to obtain the right of port entry for its fishing boats in the Falkland Islands but the British gov­ernment refused. The network of Soviet bases in the South Atlantic thus remains very insufficient but it is enough to guarantee a presence of as much as 5 000 days per year.

In the Pacific, the Soviets have no base, nor have they had any special facili­ties until recent years. The coup d’Etat of General Suharto in 1965 put an end to their at­tempt to establish themselves in Indonesia. Between 1968 and 1980, Singapore granted facilities to auxiliary vessels. They can put into the port of Najim, in North Korea. But, after 1979, the USSR established itself in Vietnam; the Cam‑Ranh base has become a very important base with a communications center, a floating dock, storage installa­tions, shelters for submarines, with the entire setup being defended by coastal and AA batteries. Naval and air facili­ties also exist at Da‑Nang. The Thai intelligence ser­vices recently announced that the Soviets were restoring the Cambodian base at Ream which was destroyed at the end of the war. Pending its reopening, they are using the port of Kompong‑Son. An important anchorage has existed for sev­eral years in the Pagan Islands (Philippines) on the Japa­nese petroleum sea lane. But, further to the east, there is nothing, with the exception of some intermittent anchor­ages; those most frequently used are off Guam and near the American test range at Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands. The USSR is trying to get facilities in the area, as wit­nessed by the visits to the Fiji Islands and Samoa. We must also report a visit to Ecuador in 1980, which came at the same time as a big sale of military equipment on very ad­vantageous terms, which would lead us to assume that the Soviets were hoping to get something back in terms of logis­tics.

The network of bases thus on the whole is very insuf­ficient and in many ways is weaker than at the beginning of the 1970’s due to the loss of the Egyptian and Somali bases which could not be compensated for, especially in the Medi­terranean, where the Soviet presence declined after 1975. On the other hand, a major point was marked in the Pacific with the acquisition of the bases in Vietnam. The Strategic Survey estimates nevertheless that this weakness does not bother the Soviets too much: “The Soviet navy does not need a large support network on the coast to maintain its presence in advanced positions. This need was reduced to a maxi­mum by logistic support, which it gets, through conscien­tious maintenance of equipment, and also through the very great slowness with which their forces operate. Proof of this was given in 1977 during the war in Ogaden. The Soviet fleet in the Indian Ocean was increased 50% and operated intensively for 6 months after Somalia had denied it the use of its Berbera base and probably before it was able to use the base at Aden” [49]. On the other hand however Jean La­bayle‑Couhat recently noted that “it is difficult for it to maintain a long‑lasting effort in a region very far from its normal action areas. If the crisis drags on, the absence of bases, or even simple supply points, the insufficiency of the mobile logistic train would force the Soviets to reduce their efforts after a major initial effort. We have a recent example of that in the Indian Ocean. During the events in Iran and Afghanistan, the USSR deployed a naval force in that thea­ter which comprised two or three missile cruisers, about half a dozen destroyers, and as many submarines, including nu­clear attack submarines, with a small logistic support force. After several weeks of presence, this force was reduced whereas the American navy maintained its presence. Main­taining a force of this size so long how­ever shows the real progress made in recent times” [50].

Which of these two opposing theses should we pick? The first one presupposes a large and modern logistic fleet, capable of making the squadron in the Mediterranean or the detachment in the Indian Ocean independent of bases, such as are (to a certain degree) the United States Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and the Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific. Now, the Soviet logistic fleet is far from being capable of being compared to its rival. Until the end of the 1960’s, it was made up of about a score of submarine tenders and several fleet tankers. Most of the resources came from civilian tankers chartered by the navy and they generally have a rather small tonnage (56 000 t). The rudi­mentary ship‑to‑ship resupply techniques, with both ships stopped or one behind the other were the only ones used. Much progress had been made during the decade of the 1970’s with the appearance of seven multi­purpose resupply vessels of the Dubna and Kazbek classes, six 22 000 t fleet tankers of the Boris Shilikin, and above all one Berezina of 36 000 t; three others are under construction. The tech­niques have been improved, with re­supply connected and under way, sometimes two or three units simultaneously, becoming more and more common. But this is not enough to guarantee the re­supply of a large force over a long period of time. The effort made during crises thus can come only at the expense of other sectors – the high presence level in the Indian Ocean after the coup in Kabul was counterbalanced by a very noticeable weakening in the Mediterranean and the southern Pacific – and for a limited time. Routine ac­tivities are heavily reduced; in normal times, forward de­ployment involves only about 100 vessels, on the average, with only half of the combat vessels being distributed in an almost equal number among submarines (including strate­gic submarines on station) and surface units. They are scat­tered over all of the oceans of the world but a major perma­nent presence can be found only in two theaters: The Medi­terranean where the Eskadra has 40‑50 vessels, including about half a score of surface fighting ships, with reinforce­ments being capable of being brought in very rapidly from the Black Sea in case of a crisis (as demonstrated quite ef­fectively during the Yom Kippur War), and about half a score of submarines that came from the Arctic through the Strait of Gibraltar; the Indian Ocean where about half a score of fighting ships are stationed (with as many logistic vessels) coming from the Pacific fleet, while the Black Sea fleet sometimes sends reinforcements in case of crisis.

The detachment is usually concentrated in the northwestern quarter of the Indian Ocean. The Caribbean, the South Atlantic, and the Sea of Japan are the object of long‑lasting patrols each year, while the Soviet presence in the South China Sea has tended to become permanent fol­lowing installation in Vietnam. There are usually no sur­face vessels in the North Atlantic, except for the Sea of Norway where annual exercises are held, and the eastern Pacific, except for transfers between fleets; but the subma­rines are very active in the Atlantic. Naturally, this distri­bution varies in considerable proportions according to the needs of the moment. To this we must add the patrols by spy ships at strategic points, which usually come to about a hundred vessels.

Does this minimum deployment confirm the idea of a preventive tactical strike? Apparently yes: On the high seas, the USSR is risking only a small number of ships that would have to try to make the worst possible trouble for the western units and that would then be more or less left to their fate, without any great hope of being able to get home. Inferior in number and isolated, most often technically out­classed, their only chance of accomplishing their mission is to be successful with their first salvo.

But, at the same time, the weakness of this deploy­ment clearly shows that the preventive tactical strike is not the only mission of the Soviet fleet. To be sure, the argu­ments of Johan Holst are valid and they are boosted by the personnel training level, by the geographic constraints, and by the frequent assertions by Soviet strategists for whom “a violent blow struck just once must be considered as the fun­damental form‑of action” [51]. But that is not the only conceiv­able form. With the improvement in the level of crew training and the introduction of new classes benefitting from increased defensive capacity, the Soviet navy will be able to take up increasingly diversified missions.

 

Soviet Navy’s Missions

The old distinction between the close‑in zone and the high seas is still the basis of Soviet doctrine. But the order of priorities has been turned around: The coastal zone has yielded to the open ocean as the main theater of operations and the nature of the missions in both areas has been changed profoundly.

Close‑in Zone

The Soviet navy’s basic mission until the end of the 1950’s was the defense of the Soviet fatherland against any amphibious attack – the Soviets well remembered the gi­gantic landing operations conducted by the Americans in the Pacific and in Europe. With the passage of time, this eventuality became less and less likely; the immense American invasion fleets disappeared and no theater of op­erations was suitable for that: Neither the Arctic, an inhos­pitable ocean, far from the vital regions of the USSR, nor the Baltic which became a Soviet sea after its transforma­tion into the approaches to eastern Europe, nor the Black Sea where the Turkish fleet is too weak to think of anything but defending its own coastline, nor the Pacific where the Sea of Okhotsk was locked by the occupation of the Kuriles and where Japan and China are unable to mount any am­phibious operations against Sakhalin or the maritime province. There is really no real threat of invasion any­where. The decision as to the forward deployment is a re­sult of this awareness. But the Soviets nevertheless keep considerable coastal forces assigned to widely different mis­sions: Protection of coastal shipping, minesweeping, protec­tion of strategic submarines (which was mentioned in the study of the strategic nuclear mission) and above all sup­port for land operations.

In the western theaters of operations, the Northern fleet would have to worry about a landing in northern Nor­way; in this operation it would have to commit most of its amphibious and surface units while the naval air arm and the sub­marines would have the mission of neutralizing the American bases on Iceland and block the movement of rein­forcements from the United States or Great Britain, both through direct attacks and by laying down mine barriers.



Regular exercises were held on this topic. NATO reacted vigorously because it can concentrate large resources in that region. The outcome of this battle in the Sea of Norway would be of the utmost importance because it would to a great extent determine the outcome of the battle of the At­lantic: If the Westerners retain control of the gateway of the Atlantic and if they were to establish a barrier against So­viet submarines, they have a good chance of retaining con­trol over their lines of communication between the United States and Europe; in the opposite case, those lines of com­munication would risk being cut.

The effort will thus be made both in the Baltic and the Black Sea with a view to getting through the Danish and Turkish locks, as witnessed by the large volume of am­phibious equipment assigned to these two theaters of opera­tion. Their mission would be to support land forces charged with reaching the straits and they could count on the sup­port of the navies of the satellite countries which are by no means negligible in the Baltic (the Polish and East German navies have about a hundred frigates and mine sweepers that are well suited for this closed sea but they hate each other and their coordina­tion would be difficult) although they are of lesser importance in the Black Sea (the Roma­nian and Bulgarian navies, which do not like each other much either, only have light ships). During the Okean 75 maneuvers, the Baltic fleet simulated a landing in Schleswig‑Holstein. If such an under­taking were to succeed, the very considerable anti‑mine units of both fleets would be able to restore passage, something which would not fail to upset the entire strategic pattern. But this could happen only in case of a decline in the situation of the Westerners, to such a point that the war in Europe would be lost.

The role of these fleets goes beyond their immediate theaters of operation. In 1976, half a dozen Golf missile submarines were assigned to the Baltic Fleet; with their SSN5, they can participate in a nuclear tactical strike against the northern part of West Germany, the eastern part of Great Britain, and the northeastern part of France. Their field of action could also in­clude the vital targets rep­resented by the oil rigs in the North Sea but their impreci­sion makes them rather unsuitable for this kind of very selective attack which would rather be assigned to bombers or to units operating in the North Sea, that is, nuclear at­tack submarines or surface vessels carrying out a surprise attack. The close‑in zone of the Northern Fleet has been extended all the way to the Sea of Norway but the latter already belongs to the high seas from a geographic view­point.

In the Pacific, coastal operations would be of the ut­most importance because of the proximity of China and Ja­pan. It is thus not astonishing that the Pacific Fleet is get­ting the lions share of the coastal forces [52]. They would have a double role: First of all, getting access to the open sea. The outcome of this fight would to a great extent be deter­mined by the re­sult of the drives against the American rein­forcements. If the potential of the Seventh Fleet were to be seriously reduced, the Japanese maritime self-defense forces and the South Korean Navy would not be able to deny the Soviet fleet access to the open sea through the Strait of Tartaria and the Kuriles or, in the worst‑case as­sumption, directly through one of the Japanese straits. Then, in case of a war with China, they could support an offensive against Manchuria. If passage through the Strait of Tsushima seems to be assured, the Chinese fleet – with its light and outmoded ships [53] – certainly would not be able to handle a massive sortie of the Pacific Fleet, especially since the attack can come from both sides, following the establishment of bases in Vietnam. On the other hand, “op­erations against Japan or the Aleutians appear to be be­yond their capacity for the foreseeable future” [54]; the amphibi­ous equipment of the Soviets does not permit them to face the Japanese army on its soil.

The operations of the Soviet fleet in the close‑in zone thus are by no means secondary. Rather unspectacular in peacetime, their contribution could prove to be decisive in wartime. But they are eclipsed by what happens on the high seas.

 

On the High Seas

American analysts, following the thinking of Mahan, are generally distinguishing command of the sea or sea con­trol from sea denial [55]. The former is the goal which a real maritime power depending on its maritime communication lines must attain; the latter is the objective of an autarchic country with respect to the sea which is satisfied with pre­venting the other countries from freely using the sea. In the eyes of American strategists, the Soviet navy is characteris­tic of sea denial whereas the American fleet is the perfect example of sea control [56].

This distinction, as recalled by Michael Mac Gwire [57], is far from having an absolute value: A certain number of situations spring from both one and the other. Nevertheless, it is useful because it does bring out the dif­ference of missions of both navies. One may say that the essence of the missions of the Soviet fleet is interdiction of the seas. But it seems possible to detect the forerunners of an evolution toward command of the sea.

 

Denying the Sea to the Adversary

The Soviet fleet must prevent the Western countries from freely using the sea in order to conduct attacks against the territory or the naval forces of the Soviets or to move goods and men necessary for the battlefield armies or the operation of the economies. The objective thus is a double one: On the one hand, warships, with a view to disarming the Westerners on the sea; on the other hand, merchant shipping, in order to cut their maritime connections.

The analysis cannot exclude one of these missions and select only the other. In terms of capabilities, the es­sential feature of warships is their flexibility, we said, and Soviet vessels can switch from one task to the other without any big problems. In terms of intentions, it is probable, as the U.S. Navy thinks, that “the Soviet navy has not yet de­cided what its main role would be. It was only in recent years that they considerably improved their sense of maneu­ver and to stop continually copying the NATO exercise. Now they are developing their own tactics and operational proce­dures” [58]. These suggest that they are simultaneously explor­ing both possibilities but with unequal intensity.

 

Attack on Western Squadrons

Attacking Western warships was the first high‑seas mission assigned to the Soviet navy. Then forward deploy­ment began, the main target was the American task forces with their aircraft carriers that had nuclear bombs on board: "After 1961, the anti‑aircraft carrier strike activities generally represented an essential part and until about 1971 the main part of the big exercises on the high seas"; the latter were placed beyond the line from which the ship­board aircraft could hit Soviet territory, that is to say, in the Greenland passage, Iceland, the United Kingdom and, in the Mediterranean, toward the Strait of Sicily [59]. But, starting in the middle of the 1960’s, strategic defense was concentrated essentially on submarines and the estimation of the place of aircraft carriers in a strategic strike against the USJR underwent a rapid decline as traced by James Mac Connell  [60]. Aircraft carriers never­theless did remain a major concern but for tactical reasons: “The core of the Soviet fleet’s permanent forward deployment is the anti‑aircraft carrier force. This contingent has been in­creased during crises; however, the Soviet concern is cer­tainly more local than strategic. In a general war, the air­craft carrier is considered as an immediate threat to the fleet rather than to Soviet territory” [61]. Eliminating or at least reducing the naval potential of the United States and its allies would enable the Soviet units to reach the open ocean in order to conduct a campaign against the strategic sub­marines or the enemy communication lines. Here we also have the concern for supporting land operations: Along the flanks of Europe, it is necessary, absolutely to prevent American carrier aviation from helping the isolated mem­bers of NATO, that is, Norway and Turkey, who without this support would be in a difficult situation. Likewise, in the Pacific, preventing the Seventh Fleet from helping Ja­pan or South Korea would be a major objective.

Admiral Bagley underscored the disproportion be­tween attack and defense: For each American aircraft car­rier, there are five Soviet nuclear attack submarines, three tactical missile launch submarines and two torpedo‑firing submarines [62]. This statement must be taken with a grain of salt because the torpedo‑armed nuclear attack submarines are on a priority basis assigned to hunting sub­marines but one can only agree with Admiral Bagley when he says “the Soviet navy has several tactical alternatives for a simple or combined attack against the U.S. Navy” [63]. The main instru­ment would be the tactical missile‑firing submarines, the Juliet, Echo, and Charlie submarines – and soon the re­doubtable Oscar with their very long‑range SSN19 – that would operate together in order, with their missiles that have different ranges and flight profiles, to present a many-sided threat. Ships armed with surface‑to‑surface missile, in permanent contact with the adversary, would have the mission of sacrificing themselves by inflicting maximum losses on aircraft carriers before being destroyed since the insufficiency of their armament, especially AA weapons, would not enable them to hope that they could survive in the face of the American attack aircraft and escort cruisers. The long‑range aircraft based in Russia would also go into action, as would the ICBM or IRBM land missiles. This lat­ter eventuality, revealed by Marshal Grechko in 1972 [64], creates enormous technical difficulties but cannot be en­tirely ruled out.

Do the American task forces have any chance of sur­vival in the face of this broad range of threats? At first sight, the answer would seem to be zero. In contrast to the Westerners, the Soviets do not consider nuclear weapons as a weapon of last resort and they developed, on the tactical level, complementarity between nuclear missiles and con­ventional missiles [65]. Now, the presence of nuclear charges radically changes the nature of the threat: An aircraft car­rier designed to resist conventional bombs without major damage would be put out of action by a direct nuclear hit or even by an explosion nearby. Under these conditions, a de­fense capable of inter­cepting 907 of the enemy missiles is ineffective: If a single missile hits its target, the show is over. We thus understand the alarm prevailing in American naval circles. Admiral Zumwalt, CNO of the U.S. Navy during the Yom Kippur War, declared in testifying before the Senate that a confrontation between the Sixth Fleet and the Eskadra would have turned out to the advantage of the latter. One might however cite several arguments against him.

First of all, the defenses of the task forces are formi­dable and the attackers would have much more trouble in making contact with them. The submarines, tracked by ASW helicopters, by very silent nuclear attach submarines and by a very sophisticated detection system, could ap­proach their target to less than 30 nm only at the price of terrible risks. The aircraft would also have much trouble in getting through the screen of F 14 interceptors (whose Phoenix missiles can simultaneously attack several targets at more than 100 km). The surface vessels and the attack submarines in contact do not have this problem but they in return expose themselves to almost immediate destruction and it would therefore take several of them to have a rea­sonable chance of obtaining a result. Some of them would be destroyed even before they were able to launch their mis­siles and we must not forget that the American ships are not totally powerless in the face of missiles; they can resort to ECM or they can try to destroy them with ul­tra‑rapid‑firing cannons. In 1973, the Eskadra was able to target three groups of aircraft carriers in the Mediterra­nean at a tremendous effort. It is not certain that the Soviet fleet could handle ten or twelve aircraft carriers in the course of operations on all oceans of the world in a general war.

Of course, in theory it does have many ships to ac­complish such an operation. But the attack scenario once again runs into a geographic handicap: The habitual for­ward deployment is insufficient, even for the first‑salvo bat­tle. But the dispatch of reinforcements, in addition to the time intervals it necessitates (while the Mediterranean is close to the bases in the Black Sea, the situation is entirely different in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean), would wreck any surprise effect, which is an essential ele­ment in success. Here we have a contradiction, which is difficult to resolve even in terms of aircraft that would have to make long and dangerous flights above hostile countries (NATO members in Europe and Japan in the Pacific).

It would thus be at least unwise to believe that the attacking Soviets would necessarily win – except due to the inaccuracy of certain technical data (effectiveness of Soviet missiles and Western defenses). Scenarios worked out by the United States tend to give the advantage to the U.S. Navy in case of a general war [66]. But these are only assump­tions. The American battle corps would be diminished but a portion of it would remain in action just the same. As for the size of this remaining portion, that is the vital question, which it has not been possible to answer. The great increase in aircraft  (Backfire) and increasingly powerful vessels (Kirov, Krasina) have increased the Soviet capacity within considerable proportions. But that presupposes that the Soviet leaders are ready to risk their nicest units in an op­eration, which will not come off without severe losses. The episode of the Kara seeking refuge in the Black Sea at the start of the Yom Kippur War suggests a negative answer but could it not be that this was only a signal to the effect that the crisis was not very serious, as Norman Friedman thinks [67]? And nobody knows what the circumstances would really be. The analysis therefore cannot with certainty nor even in fact with a reasonable degree of proba­bility deter­mine the outcome of a confrontation. It can only make us aware of the redoubtable character of the threat, which could become mortal at the end of the decade if Soviet pro­gress continues at the same rate.

 

Attack on western Communication Lines

Although this might appear to be somewhat strange to the uninitiated, the threat posed by the Soviet fleet against western communication lines appears to be secon­dary in the opinion of many analysts who are concentrating only on hunting strategic submarines or on attacks on air­craft carriers. This judgment is essentially based on the minor place reserved for it in Soviet strategic writings, es­pecially those of Admiral Gorshkov [68] and on the fact that this mission is reserved for conventional submarines, which obviously are less dangerous than the nuclear attack sub­marines. But this means forgetting that “the Soviet navy has a strong tradition of long‑range interdiction”, as re­called by Michael Mac Gwire [69] and one must realize that the Soviets are perfectly aware of the vulnerability deriving from the very heavy dependence of the Western countries on raw materials and especially on oil; analyses of the kind mentioned by Mickey Edwards [70] however leave no doubt on this sub­ject. Exercise Okean 75 furthermore revealed an obvious interest in a campaign of interdiction aimed at the maritime communication lines with maneuvers involving protection of and attack against convoys [71]. This mission however does not have the same importance as the cam­paign against aircraft carriers, for several reasons.

There may first of all be a psychological motive here. Kenneth n. Mac Gruther underscores the fact that at­tacking merchant vessels is not as glorious a task as combat with enemy squadrons and that sailors therefore are not inclined to assign as much importance to that in their stra­tegic writings [72]. This argument is not without value but one cannot assign too much importance to it because, contrary to what Mac Gruther says, the navy does not have total autonomy and it must take into account the preference of the army which assigns great importance to interrupting the flow of American reinforcements to Europe or the United States and thus assigns priority to attacking west­ern communication lines. Mac Gruther furthermore notes that “the most recent addition of the Soviet Military Ency­clopedia from now on puts the mission against maritime communication lines ahead of operations against aircraft carriers” [73].

More seriously, a campaign against enemy commu­nication lines makes sense only in case of a long war. The rupture of links between the United States and Europe alone is of vital interest as of the very first days of the war in order to prevent the movement of reinforcements. The interruption of oil and raw material supplies would make its effects felt only after a certain interval of time due to the existence of strategic stockpiles. This interval would un­doubtedly be very short but enough to permit the comple­tion of a quick war in Europe which the Soviets conceive as the decisive form of action. In such a plan, a campaign against communication lines could only have a minor place because, regardless of the outcome, the initial shock can lead only to the stoppage of hostilities or, on the contrary, to escalation to a higher level. Despite the theories on deter­rence during the war (intra‑war deterrence), it seems somewhat unrealistic to imagine that a general war could go on without rising to extremes.

Finally, assuming such a campaign was to take place, it would not require as voluminous resources as the attack on American aircraft carriers. Western shipping as a matter of fact is highly vulnerable and can be attacked anywhere. Admiral La Roque in 1978 was astonished by the presence of Soviet submarines in the Indian Ocean astride the oil supply lime, while the same result could have been attained with less than half the means near the ports of Great Britain, West Germany, or Japan [74]. The explana­tion however is simple; in doing this, the Soviets avoided concentrating all their means on the most heavily watched areas, the North Atlantic and the Sea of Japan, and they thus compel the Western forces to spread out thin. We thus find them in all theaters of operation, with variable re­sources, but facing very unequal defenses.

The Indian Ocean might be a priority target here. Almost all of the oil imported by Western Europe and Japan is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz and must then go through the Strait of Bab‑el‑Mandeb if the ships go through the Suez Canal, the Mozambique Canal if they go around the Cape, or the Mala, and Indonesian straits if they go to Japan. The situation is thus favorable to the attacker but within certain limits: Contrary to what people often believe, the Strait of Hormuz is very wide – 35 km – and deep, with the bottoms being between 40 and 80 m, and it is thus im­possible to block passage permanently, unless a minefield is placed there which the adversary cannot clear. (Contrary to what Sheikh Yamani proclaimed in a sensational state­ment, which naturally was given wide publicity.) Besides, it is always possible to go around Australia or Madagascar, in the first case; this makes the trip 2 weeks longer; but in the second case, the loss of time does pot amount to more than a day. Ever since the events of 1979 – the hostage crisis and the car between Iran and Iraq – the Americans have been concentrating very large forces in the northwest quadrant of the Indian Ocean, supported by their Western allies, es­pecially France which deployed a very helpful minesweeper flotilla. The Soviet detachment, on the other hand, consists of only six to ten fighting vessels, plus several submarines. Even if it does receive re­inforcements, it is too weak to hope to paralyze tanker traffic. But it is pot certain that this situation could go on forever. The western deployment was put in place only at the cost of weakening other sectors, especially the Mediterranean, and sooner or later, it will be thinned out.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s instability, with the unrestrainable liberation drive of the Baluchis, constitutes cause for fear that it might fall apart; this would allow the Soviet Union to realize the old Russian dream of gaining access to warm oceans; an independent Baluchistan would inevitably be tempted to appeal to the Soviets to guarantee its survival in the face of Pakistan supported by the United States. The occupation of Afghanistan constitutes an impor­tant step in that direction by putting the Soviets into direct contact with this sensitive area. Independently of this long‑term prospect, which would radically upset the balance of naval forces in the Indian Ocean, the acquisition of air bases at Shinhand, Herat, and Farah, which are in the process of modernization and expansion, lends a new di­mension to the air threat; from these bases and from the Maputo base in Mozambique, naval air arm bombers cap cover practically the entire Indian Ocean. But the most di­rect and the most obvious threat remains the threat over the oilfields of the Gulf; a bombing raid on the oil wells would be a very simple and effective way to interrupt the oil supply of the western countries – much simpler than a deli­cate campaign against ships that are always mobile.

In the Pacific, the weakness of Soviet forces, which would have to face the American, Japanese, and Chinese navies, persuaded American analysts to visualize the situa­tion with relative optimism until recent years. In 1978, the Atlantic Council estimated that Soviet submarines could, by means of a sudden attack, cut enemy traffic, especially in Japanese and Korean waters, but only for a short time, be­fore the intervention of Japanese and American ASW forces [75]. But, since that date, the establishment of bases in Vietnam (the naval base at Cam‑Ranh, as well as the air base at Da‑Nang) considerably increased the capacities of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, which was furthermore boosted substantially. Special attention was devoted to the Indone­sian straits, which the Soviets want to block. Submarines were frequently reported there and in 1982 Indonesia and Malaysia had to expel several Soviet diplomats who had begun to install a traffic surveillance network. The Ameri­can defenses must thus face an increased threat and the strategy, calling for the transfer into the Atlantic of a por­tion of the elements of the Third Fleet as of the start of hos­tilities, no longer seems possible without threatening the security of the communication lines between Japan and the United States.

The situation is even more critical in the south At­lantic, which had been some­what neglected until the Falk­land war. The Westerners for a long time counted on the South African navy to protect the route around the Cape but the latter decided to forgo any presence on the high seas; its frigates will not be replaced and in a few years it will only have light vessels. The idea of a South Atlantic Organization, revived by the Reagan administration, failed after the Falkland affair. There is a defense vacuum here which can be filled neither by the navies of the African countries that are favorable to the West, whose potential is practically null, nor by Brazil and Argentina both of which are of course important but which are nevertheless insuffi­cient to protect the sea lanes and whose participation is far from sure. The Soviet submarines and aircraft based in An­gola would have a white field of maneuver. The United States would obviously send ships but they would have to be with­drawn from the North Atlantic forces at a moment where the situation will be critical.

The North Atlantic will in effect be the main theater of operations: The out­come of a war in Europe would de­pend largely on maritime links because, in spite of the start of an airlift, 95% of the American reinforcements would have to be shipped by sea. The Soviets know that and this is where they have con­centrated the bulk of their forces: Half of their submarines are assigned to the Northern Fleet, along with about 100 bombers. In 1976, there was a general review in the form of maneuvers employing about 100 sub­marines. But the North Atlantic is the only place where Western ASW defenses have very considerable resources. In the face of this very dense network, the Soviet submarines would be very vulnerable; almost all of them are identified and are being tracked and a good number would be de­stroyed quickly; according to a study by the U.S. Navy, the proportion would be something like 70‑90%. losses [76].

This raises a double question: What proportion of their submarines will the Soviets commit in the campaign against Western communication lines? The estimates vary greatly. The Atlantic Council report mentions a spread of 30‑60 available units but admits that this number could go up to 100 if the Soviets were to decide to assign less means to the conquest of Europe’s flanks [77]. With 30 submarines and a loss rate varying between 70% and 90%, the Soviets have little chance of cutting the Western communication lines. On the other hand, with 100 submarines, the problem looks different; before being sunk, what kind of damage could these submarines cause and would those that survive the response from NATO be able to keep interrupting traffic or could NATO defenses gain the upper hand and prevent new submarines from getting into the Atlantic? It is diffi­cult to risk a prediction on the outcome of this fight. But there are two factors that play a determining role. First of all, the duration of the war in Europe; if it is short, the problem will hardly come up; but if the Soviet lightning attack fails, the battle of the Atlantic will be decisive be­cause the equipment and supply stockpiles stored in Europe will not enable the NATO armies to hold out for more than 6‑8 weeks, at best. The decisive factor will then be whether or not the Soviets resort to tactical nuclear strikes against the installations of the allied command of the Atlantic – air and naval bases, detection stations – in order to destroy or at least reduce NATO’s ASW potential.

The Mediterranean will also be the object of a bitter fight. The reopening of the Suez Canal in 1975 and its sub­sequent widening made it even more important and this will be further increased around 1985 by the completion of the oil pipeline linking the Saudi oilfields to the port of Yambu on the Red Sea. One must not however exaggerate its place within Western communication lines; raw materi­als and oil are more readily shipped around the Cape than through Suez. In 1978, 850 million t of oil were thus shipped around the Cape, as against 35 million only through the canal, in other words, only 1/25 [78]. In case of a war, the Suez route would certainly be closed quickly. The Mediterranean however would remain a very important theater of operations for the Soviets, the target being the supply shipments intended for the Mediterranean members of NATO: “If a conflict were to break out between the Atlan­tic Alliance and the Warsaw Pact, it would be necessary to ship 225 000 t of dry goods and 1 000 000 t [illegible] of pe­troleum into the Mediterranean every day. This would rep­resent a daily traffic volume of 50 ships in the Strait of Gi­braltar, in other words, one ship every 30 minutes” [79]. This would be a nice target for Soviet submarines but the geog­raphy is unfavorable to them; the very clear waters of the Mediterranean make them very easy to spot and if the Turkish lock is not forced, the only point of entry would be the Strait of Gibraltar which is firmly held by the adversary – and NATO defenses are very strong, with the Sixth Fleet and the allied navies, supported by bases in Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. It is probable that, after the initial clash, they would regain the upper hand. The main threat would be from the air, with long‑range bombers from the bases at Nikolayev, Oktabryskoye, Gvardeyskoye, and Lake Donuslav, around the Black Sea, unless the conquest of the Turkish straits permits the Black Sea fleet to penetrate into the Mediterranean, supported by its aviation, which could take over Turkish bases. Under this assumption, NATO would lose control of the eastern Mediterranean and would have tremendous difficulties in main­taining its lines of communication in the western Mediterranean. But this scenario would apply only in case of a long war in Europe, which, as we said, is far from evident.

The scenarios are so different that nobody could say what exactly will happen. The main role will be assigned to the submarines and the bombers but it may be that the So­viets also send out their surface ships, after the preventive strike, if Western capacity is seriously diminished. They can also resort to nuclear strikes against ports, since the SS20 missiles are ideal for this purpose. Far from consid­ering this eventuality as a last resort, they have always visualized it as one way among many others to con­duct the campaign designed to cut the lines of communication [80]; but it does entail a very great risk of leading to extremes. While the Atlantic in the past was a link between America and Europe, the fact that the Soviet navy would burst into it has turned it into an obstacle of which one does not know whether it can be overcome. This uncertainty is not limited to the North Atlantic; it extends to all oceans. This kind of conclusion is obviously disappointing at the end of the analysis but, not knowing the exact performances of the existing weapon systems, it appears difficult to propose any other: That the SOSUS would spot 70 or 90% of the Soviet sub­marines at sea is only a technical detail which however does determine the outcome of the fighting. Western de­fenses are not lacking in aces but the Soviet reinforcement effort is constant and could soon lead to the more ambitious objective of seeking control of the sea.

 

Toward Control of the Seas

Control of the high seas makes it possible to keep the sea-lanes open, to come to the aid of client states and to conduct amphibious operations far away. The USSR is tra­ditionally said not to have any need for controlling the sea – it hardly depends on it for maritime shipping and its allies form a periphery which is accessible by land – and above all it is said not to have the means to do so because of its geo­graphic location which leaves its high seas fleet isolated, without air cover.

This image tends to become partly incorrect; in addi­tion to the fishing fleet, the USSR has the world’s sixth‑ranking merchant fleet with 2 000 ships and almost 23 500 000 t, 2/3 of which are at least 10 years old. With the help of its rates, which are about 10% lower than Western carrier rates and due to a daring dumping system – rates are collected upon departure, up to 2/3 of their usual level,




until Soviet vessels attain a portion considered sufficient on a particular line – it was able within a few years to gain worthwhile posi­tions on the main lines, which does not fail to alarm the Western shipping company operators [81]. Al­though it is still almost autarchic, the USSR now has im­portant interests on the oceans and it is naturally thinking of pro­tecting them.

(It nevertheless does import a certain number of raw mate­rials, which it could not do without over a long period of time, such as rubber (imported primarily from Malaysia), tin (from Bolivia), phosphates (from Morocco), bauxite (from Guinea and from Guyana), of course not forgetting its enormous imports of farm products. There has been much talk about the ineffectiveness of the American embargo on wheat. But it was ineffective because the USSR found other suppliers. But it could not stand up against a real block­ade.)

But there is yet another even more powerful motive in favor of the search for control of the sea: The rivalry with China since its only link with the Far East is maritime, through the Indian Ocean. The northern route is available only several months a year and even that creates great dif­ficulties. On land, the Trans‑Siberian railroad can handle only a limited traffic volume and is very vulnerable to Chi­nese air attack. The opening of the BAM (Baikal‑­Amur Trunk Line) in the middle of the 1980’s will bring a note­worthy improve­ment, both in terms of security and in terms of transportation capacity but this will not radically change the situation; the USSR thus has a vital interest in main­taining its lines of communication with its theater of opera­tions in the Far East, not only to resupply and reinforce its own armies but also to support its Vietnamese ally.

Of course, the geographic obstacle will exist always. The Soviet Union could never try to achieve control of the seas on a worldwide scale. In case of a general war, its mer­chant vessels on the high seas would practically have no chance of reaching their homeports across the North Atlan­tic or the Malay or Indonesian straits. On the other hand, it cannot be prevented from trying to retain control of the ad­jacent seas after the initial battle. This would primarily concern the Sea of Norway and the eastern Mediterranean to support operations along the flanks of Europe. In case of a favorable out­come of the war in Europe, this control could be extended to the North Sea, the eastern Atlantic, and the western Mediterranean; the three fleets (Northern, Baltic, and Black Sea) could be concentrated to face the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic – in the rather unlikely case there is no fur­ther rise to extremes. In the Far East, the goal would be control of the Sea of China to encircle China, to support Vietnam, and possibly to isolate Japan. On the other hand, the restoration of the Indian Ocean Route, in a general war context, looks rather unrealistic.

Now, recent developments in naval shipbuilding suggest a good number of indica­tions in favor of this thesis: The commissioning of the Boris Shilikin vessels and the Berezina expresses a determination to boost logistics re­sources; by the same token, the commissioning of the Ivan Rogov shows the concern for developing a real amphibious capacity. There also seems to be a very definite desire to have vessels capable of outclassing their American rivals and operating in a hostile development; already noticeable in the Kara and Krivak vessels, with their heavy AA ar­mament and their ASW missiles having a certain anti-sur­face capacity, it is now found rather strikingly in the new Krasina and Kirov vessels; the latter above all goes far be­yond the needs of a fleet that is only aimed at sea denial. The introduction of the Kiev vessels has the same meaning and this is true soon of their successors that bill at last supply the Soviet navy with the air cover it had been lack­ing. Michael Mac Gwire described this as follows: “The Soviet Union is now in the process of building a new kind of navy” [82], as witnessed by the reclassification of recent units, with cruisers now constituting heavy vessels of more than 10 000 t, while old cruisers are becoming destroyers, de­stroyers are turned into frigates, and frigates become es­corts. At the end of the century, “around 1995, figuring on a lifetime of 25 years and using the new classifi­cation, we can expect more than 15 ships of cruiser size, 65 of destroyer size (including the Kara and Kresta II vessels), and 55 of frigate size (the Krivak ships and their successors). There could also be five battle‑cruisers and command cruisers and perhaps seven or eight aircraft carriers, that is to say, the two Moskva, the four Kiev, and one or two new types of big air­craft carriers. To look at another picture, the Soviet navy will every three years acquire a new powerful combat group made up of one heavily armed cruiser, three cruisers, and more than ten big‑ destroyers. The three or four first of these groups will have one Kiev to provide then with an embryo of a ship­board air cover; but then we can expect to see an air‑superiority aircraft carrier for two groups” [83]. This kind of potential enables us to visualize the achievement of control of the seas well beyond coastal waters.

But the problem does not involve only materiel. It includes an important psychological dimension. The devel­opment toward the search for control of the sea will be long because it presupposes a complete reversal of habits which will not fail to cause stiff resistance. In the navy itself, first of all: While it seems to have been won over to the idea of an expansion of its activity area, in wartime, much remains yet to be done to get it to adopt the western idea of conquest of control of the seas. John Hibbits notes that, in the writ­ings of Admiral Gorshkov, the latter is not con­sidered as an end in itself but only as a condition necessary for the accomplishment of certain specific missions [84]. The naval debate in the USSR does not boil down to a confrontation between the supporters of the old and the new school; it is much more complex and has to do with the ultimate pur­pose of sea power. Right now, it is not possible to conclude as to a development along the lines of Western concepts and this situation will go so long as Soviet dependence on the sea has not become as critical as that of the West; there is little chance of this happening in the near future. It must also expect the opposition of the other services which neces­sarily think in terms of continental strategy limited to the approaches and which do not have a global vision. Now, we must not forget that the navy holds a subordinate place in the Soviet military power structure; it comes last in the hierarchy of services, after the strategic missile forces, the ground forces, the air defense forces, and the air force; and its share of the defense budget is only 18% (including the strategic ocean force). As Michael Mac Gwire noted, the ground forces continue to rule the roost and the navy is most frequently perceived as an “expensive necessity” [85]. This persistence of the continental mentality in high command circles can only limit the possibilities of using the navy by reducing it to its traditional missions of supporting land operations, with offshore operations being con­fined to raids, without any attempt to secure control of the high seas.

This attitude is not only the result of the usual ri­valry between services. It also springs from the uncertainty as to the real capacities of this brilliant but fragile new in­strument. The lack of naval tradition is a handicap difficult to overcome; risking a fighting formation, which required a tremendous financial and human effort, in a chancy battle is a painful decision for a neophyte. Pearl Harbor was a painful episode for the United States but nobody ever ques­tioned the status of the U.S. Navy. On the other hand, for a sea power without a past, even a minor defeat can have tremendous psychological consequences. Without going back to the battle of La Hougue, whose effects have been distorted by traditional history writing which is challenged today [86] – one might mention the example of the German fleet of 1914: During the first few days of the war, a rather insignificant engage­ment took place off the Island of Hel­goland; it turned out to the advantage of the British. That was enough for William II to restrict the operations of capi­tal ships [87] [illegible]. Today, in case of a new generalized con­flict, if the first battle ends with results considered dis­appointing by the Soviet high command, the main body of the Soviet fleet has every chance of never venturing beyond the close‑in zone.

The next several years will show whether we are going to witness a major tactical change with much bigger forward deployments, pointing to a desire to attain perma­nent control. For the moment, they remain very limited and make it possible to guarantee only a presence. Of course, during crises, the anti‑aircraft carrier forces will be boosted but not the ASW forces. The latter will not be seen. It is thus clear that Soviet deployments on the high seas are motivated not only by military considerations; they also have political missions.



[1] Figure obtained from Flottes de combat 1982 (Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Editions maritimes et d’outre‑mer, Paris, 1982) with two slight corrections: 53 torpedo‑firing nuclear attack submarines instead of 54 (the difference being derived from the addition of a sixth E‑I by Jean Labayle‑Couhat) and 168 conventional torpedo‑firing submarines instead of 169; there is obviously a misprint or a mistake in calculation in Les flottes de combat because 1 K + 14 T + 60 F + 3 G II mod + 11 Z IV + 10 R + 60 W + 1 W Canvas Bag + 4 G + 4 B = 168, unless the 169th is not the auxiliary submarine Lima whose use is unknown and which has no armament. The Military Balance 1951‑1952 gives a figure of 259; the difference comes from several new constructions and above all a larger figure on ships assigned to reserve status.

[2] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit., p. 659.

[3] According to Michael Mac Gwire, “The rationale for the development of Soviet sea power”, US Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1980, p. 179.

[4] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit., p. 659.

[5] Admiral Gorshkov, quoted by Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1980, p. 567.

[6] Stalin had already envisaged purchasing aircraft carriers but that project could not be carried out. See also Oles Smolansky, "Soviet policy towards aircraft carriers," in Michael MacGwire and John Mac Donnell (eds), Soviet naval influence. Domestic and foreign dimensions, Praeger, New York, 1977, pp. 218‑236.

[7] Robert Herrick, Soviet naval strategy. Fifty years of theory and practice, US Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1968, p. XXXIV.

[8] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1980, op. cit., p. 577.

[9] Cf., Ian S. Breemer, "The new Soviet aircraft carrier", US Naval Institute Proceedings, August 1981, p. 31.

[10] According to Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit. , p. 693.

[11] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit., p. XXII.

[12] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit., p. XXII.

[13] Strategic Survey 1973, p. 12.

[14] Cited by Jean Labayle‑Couhat, "La menace Backfire," Nouvelle revue maritime, April 1980, p. 71.

[15] George M. Connell, "The Soviet navy in theory and practice", Comparative Strategy, 1980, volume II, n 2, p. 139.

[16] Most recently, Arthur J. Alexander, "Decision making in Soviet weapons procurement," Adelphi Papers, No 147‑148, winter 1978‑1979.

[17] Michael Mac Gwire, “The rationale for the development of Soviet sea power,” article cited. Admiral Sir James Eberle, “Soviet maritime power 75 years after Trushima”, RUSI Journal, December 1980, pp. 6‑14. 

[18] Admiral Eberle, “Soviet maritime power 75 years after Tsushima”, article cited, pp. 7‑8.

[19] Michael Mac Gwire, “The rationale for the development of Soviet sea power”, article cited, p. 158.

[20] Peter Vigor, “Soviet understanding of command of the sea”, Michael Mac Gwire, Ken Booth and John Mac Donnell (eds), Soviet naval policy. Objectives and constraints, Praegcr, New York, 1975, p. 607.

[21] Kenneth R. Mac Gruther, The evolving Soviet navy, Naval War College Press, Newport, Rhode Island, 1978, p. 6.

[22] Kenneth R. Mac Gruther, The evolving Soviet navy, op. cit., pp. 27‑31.

[23] John E. Moore, Warships of the Soviet navy, Arms and Armour Press, London, 1981, p. 10.

[24] John E. Moore, Warships of the Soviet navy, op. cit., p. 12.

[25] See below, p. 123.

[26] See below, p. 111.

[27] Kenneth R. Mac Gruther, The evolving Soviet navy, op. cit., p 45‑46. This presentation is also given by George Hudson, “Soviet naval doctrine and Soviet politics 1953‑1975”, World Politics, 1976, n° 1.

[28] This turning point can be blamed mostly on the Cuban missile crisis. We are not saying, as did Harlan Ullman, to ridicule the entire assumption, that, if there had been no such missile crisis, the Soviet fleet would never have appeared on the high seas. See also “The Caban missile crisis and Soviet naval developments. Myths and realities”, Naval War College Review, winter 1976. The crisis simply served to speed up a process which certainly would have been longer without it.

[29] See below, p. 131.

[30] Elmo Zumwalt, "Gorshkov’s navy," Orbis, Autumn 1980, p. 509.

[31] Michael Mac Gwire, “Maritime strategy and the superpowers”, “Power at sea. II. Superpowers and navies”, Adelphi Papers, n° 123, p. 20.

[32] James Eberle, “Soviet maritime power 75 years after Tsushima”, op. cit., p. 9.

[33] John E. Moore, Warships oj the Soviet navy, op. cit., p. 10.

[34] Michael Mac Gwire, “Maritime strategy and the superpowers” , article p. 20

[35] Robert G. Weinland, "Analysis of Admiral Gorshkov’s Navies in war and peace" , dans Michael Mac Gwire, Ken Booth and John Mac Donnell, Soviet naval Policy. Objectives and constraintt, Prseger, New York, 1975, p. 558.

[36] Michael Mac Gwire, “The overseas rok of a Soviet military presence”, Michael Mac Gwire et John Mac Donald (eds), Soviet naval influence. Domestic and foreign dimensions, op. cit., p. 53.

[37] Quoted by Paul Nitze and Leonard Sullivan, op. cit., p 73. On sea power and the state, cf. Bruce W. Watson, “Comments on Gorshkov’s Sea power of the state”, US Naval Institute Proceedings, April 1977, p 42.

[38] But the design of American and Soviet ships is radically different. See for example the comparison between a Krivak and an American escort vessel of the Knox class in Norman Friedman, “US and Soviet in fleet design”, in Paul J. Murphy (ed), Naval power in Soviet policy, US Government Printing Office, Washington, 1978, pp 163‑164, and the studies by James W. Kehoe, especially: James W. Kehoe, Kenneth S. Brower and Herbert A. Meie , “US and Soviet ship design practices 1950‑1980”, US Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1982.

[39] The Falkland war abruptly challenged the currently accepted idea according to which western ships, due to their lesser armament, are supposed to be less vulnerable. The problem has to do above all with the light weight of the structures and the absence of armor. “In the final analysis, the survival chances of vessels of the same size, attacked with weapons of similar effectiveness, should be pretty close in both fields”. See also J.W. Kehoe and K.S. Brower, “Principles of Armament Design in the United States and the USSR”, Revue internationale de défense (International Defense Revue, 1982, p. 708.

[40] Johan J. Holst, "The navies of superpowers: motives, forces and aspects", "Power at sea. II. Superpowers and navies", op. cit, p. 10.

[41]  Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit., p. XXII.

[42] Johan J. Holst, "The navies of superpowers: motives, forces and aspects" , article cité, p. 11. 

[43] Michael Mac Gwire, "Maritime strategy and the superpowers", art. cité.

[44] Robert Weinland, “Analysis of Admiral Gorshkov’s Navies in war and peace”, article p. 562.

[45] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1982, op. cit., p. XVII.

[46] Robert C. Weinland, “Egypt a seaport for the Soviet Mediterranean squadron 1967‑1976” , Paul J. Murphy (ed. ), Naval power in Soviet policy, op. cit., pp. 259‑273.

[47] Charles C. Petersen, “Trends in Soviet naval operations”, :Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell (eds), Soviet naval diplomacy, Perganon, New York, 1979, p. 47.

[48] Albert E. Graham, “Soviet strategy policy in the Indian Ocean”. Paul J. Murphy (ed), Naval power in Soviet policy, op. cit., p. 278.

[49] Situation stratégique mondiale 1979, Berger‑Levrault, Paris, 1980, p. 5.

[50] Jean Labayle‑Couhat, "Forces et faiblesses de la narine soviétique" , Défense nationale, novembre 1981, pp. 94‑95.

[51] In 1972, Admiral Gorshkov, quoted by Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1978; p. XIX. See also Norman Polmar, Soviet naval power: challenge for the seventies, Crane Russak, New York, 1974, p. 102.

[52] Charles C. Petersen, “Trends in Soviet naval operations”, op. cit., p. 38.

[53] On the Chinese navy, see Herve Coutau‑Begarie, La montée des puissances maritimes indo‑pacifiques [The Rise of Indian‑Ocean‑Pacific‑Ocean Seapowers], to be published.

[54] Paul H. Nitre. Leonard Sullivan Jr and the Atlantic Council Working Group, Securing the seas. The Soviet naval challenge and Western Alliance options, Westview ; Press, Boulder. Colorado, 1979, p. 208.

[55] Cf. Eric Morris, The Soviet navy : myth and reality, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1977, p. 66.

[56] See above, p 30.

[57] Michael Mac Gwire, “Maritime strategy and the superpowers”, article cited, p 16. See also J.S. Breemer, “Rethinking the Soviet navy”, Naval War College Review, January‑February 1981, p. 8.

[58] Antony Watts, "US‑Soviet naval policy", Navy international, December 1981, p. 726.

[59] Donald C. Daniel. “Trends and pattern: in major Soviet naval exercises”, Paul J. Murphy (ed), Naval power in Soviet policy, op. cit, p. 225.

[60] James M. Mac Connell, dans James L. George (ed), Problems of sea power as we approach the 21st century, American Enterprise Institute for Policy Research, New York, 1978, p. 48

[61] James M. Mac Connell, dans James L. George (ed), Problems of sea power as we approach the 21st century, op. cit., p. 53.

[62] Worth H. Bagley, “Sea power and Western security : the next decade”, Adelphi Papers, n° 139, p. 14.

[63] Worth H. Bagley, “Sea power and Western security : the next decade”, article.

[64] Cf. Michael Mac Gwire, “Soviet naval doctrine”, Center for Foreign Policy Studies Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1978, unpublished, p. 7.

[65] Gordon H. Mac Cormick and Mark E. Miller, “American sea power at nuclear weapons in Soviet naval planning”, Orbis, Summer 1961, p. 361.

[66] James L. George (ed), Problem of sea power as we approach the 21st cenyury, op. cit., p. 85.

[67] Norman Friedman, “US versus Soviet style in fleet design”, James L. George (ed), Problems of sea power as we approach the 21st century, op. cit, p. 209.

[68] Cf. for example John G. Hibbits, “Admiral Gorshkov’s writings: twenty years of naval thought” – Paul J. Murphy (ed), Naval power in Soviet policy, op. cit . p. 8.

[69] Michael Mac Gwire, "Soviet naval doctrine". article ; p. 42.

[70] Cf. Mickcy Edwards, "Soviet expansion and control of the sea lanes”, US Nat . Institut Proceedings, septembre 1980, pp. 48‑49.

[71] Donald C. Daniels, “Trends and patterns in major Soviet naval exercises”, article. p. 227.

[72] Kenneth R. Mac Gruther, The evolving Soviet navy, op. cit., p. 61.

[73] Kenneth R. Mac Gruther, The evolving Soviet navy, op. cit., p. 61.

[74] General La Roque, "Commentary", ‑ in James L. George (ed), Problems of sea power as we approach the 21st century, op. cit., p. 199.

[75] Paul H. Nitze, Leonard Sullivan Jr and the Atlantic Council Working Group Securing the seas. The Soviet naval challenge and Western Alliance options. op. cit. p. 211.

[76] Cited by Janet Finkelstein, “Toward a New NATO Doctrine in the United States”, Cahiers de la Fondation pour les etudes de defense nationale / Note­books of the Foundation for National Defense Studies, Paris, 1976, p. 14.

[77] Paul H. Nitze, Leonard Sullivan Jr and the Atlantic Council Working Group, Securing the seas. The Soviet naval challenge and Western Alliance options, op. cit., p. 111.

[78] Henri Labrousse, “Petroleum and Tensions Around the Gulf”, Défense nationale, August‑September 1979, pp. 59‑60.

[79] Henri Labrousse, “Security in the Mediterranean”, Défense nationale, June 1981, p. 66.

[80] Cf. John G. Hibbits. “Admiral Gorshkov’s writings: twenty years of naval thought”, Paul J. Murphy (ed), Naval power in Soviet policy, op. cit., p. 8.

[81] Cf. James Ellis, “The Development of the Soviet Merchant Navy‑­Implications for the West”, Revue de l’OTAN / NATO Review, June 1979, n° 3, pp. 21‑24. To get aid from their governments, ship operators sometimes have a tendency to dramatize the situation. They attacked Moscow’s plan which consists in cornering the world goods transportation market in order to have the Western countries at its mercy. This design however is way beyond Soviet capacities.

[82] Michael Mac Gwire, “A new trend in Soviet naval development”, Naval War College Review, July‑August 1980, p. 8.

[83] Michael Mac Gwire, “A new trend in Soviet naval development”, article cited, pp. 8‑9.

[84] John G. Hibbits, “Admiral Gorshkov’s writings: twenty years of naval thought”, article cited, p. 12.

[85] Michael Mac Gwire, “Soviet naval doctrine”, article cited, p 4 and 8.

[86] Present‑day historians emphasize that the naval armament effort con­tinued until 1705‑1710, which constitute a real turning‑ point. Cf. Jean Meyer, “Louis XIV and the Seapowers”, XVIIème siecle / Seventeenth Century, n° 123.

[87] Cf. Paul Chack and Jean‑Jacques Antier, Histoire maritime de la Premiere Guerre mondiale / Maritime History of World War I, France‑Empire, Paris, 1969, p. 119.

 

 

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