By Jonathan Davis
Without a doubt, today’s Russian navy is a shell of what Moscow put to sea during the days of the Soviet Union and the Cold War — but it’s better than what it was throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s.
That said, despite improvements in some capabilities, mostly undersea, the Russian fleet continues to have its operational problems.
According to a regional outlet (Maritime Bullitin), the “Russian Navy Landing ship ORSK, Project 1171 (Tapir), commissioned 1968, displacement 4650, capacity up to 1500 tons of cargo and vehicles, crew 55, Black Sea Russian Navy Fleet,” suffered an engine failure during a routine cruise in the Mediterranean and had to be towed back to Sevastopol.
The ship was enroute from Sevastopol to Syria, where Russia has a major port on the Black Sea.
This breakdown follows a fire aboard Russia’s sole remaining aircraft carrier, as The Associated Press (and others) reported last month:
Russia’s only aircraft carrier suffered a massive fire Thursday that killed one crew member, injured another 11 people and significantly damaged the ill-fated ship that has been haunted by incidents throughout its service.
The fire on the Admiral Kuznetsov broke out during welding work at a shipyard in the Arctic port of Murmansk and spread quickly through the carrier’s internal compartments. The ship’s crew and emergency teams spent the day battling the blaze. …
The Admiral Kuznetsov has been plagued by breakdowns and setbacks since its launch in 1985. The massive blaze follows a 70-ton crane crashing onto the Admiral Kuznetsov’s deck in October 2018 when a mammoth floating dock holding the ship sank.
The crane left a hole of 20 square meters (215 square feet), and the loss of the dock significantly slowed down repairs on the carrier since the navy lacked another of comparable size.
Thursday’s fire will further push back the work to fit the ship with modern control systems and new weapons.
The carrier was deployed to waters off Syria in 2016 to support Russian military operations there, but while on station lost two carrier-borne fighters.
The ship essentially limped back to port in Russia.
It’s unclear what use Moscow will have for the carrier once it is fully operational again — if it becomes fully operational again — considering it is so badly outmatched by anything the U.S. puts to sea and, really, the newer Chinese carriers.
But the loss of the Admiral Kuznetsov, the loss of an engine aboard the Landing ship ORSK, and other problems make it fairly obvious that Moscow’s naval capabilities are dwindling.
That said, The National Interest reported early last month that some new vessels and gear are on the way, not that it will matter much:
The Russia fleet in 2019 will take delivery of 23 new surface vessels, two new submarines and three new aircraft, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced.
The numbers on their face are impressive. But in fact, most of the surface ships are small warships and support vessels. As such, 2019 continues the Russian fleet’s long-term trend toward fewer and smaller ships.
With the Russian economy stuck in a moribund state, substantial investments in new naval hardware and vessels isn’t in Moscow’s future.
One bright spot: Russian submarines are still very capable and very much a threat.