Russia Is Building 'Aircraft Carrier Killer' Nuclear Submarines

The Buzz

Russia is designing “carrier killer” nuclear submarines, local media is reporting.

According to reports in The Moscow Times and Pravada, among others, Anatoly Shlemov, the head of the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation's state defense order department, recently said that Russia will build two-classes of fifth-generation submarines as part of Vladimir Putin’s military modernization plan.

The first of these submarines will be designed to intercept strategic submarines whereas the other class will be built to target large surface vessels, principally aircraft carriers. “Though the designs have not yet been named, one will be classified as an ‘underwater interceptor’ and the other an ‘aircraft carrier killer,’” The Moscow Times paraphrased Shlemov as saying.

Shlemov elaborated in the report: “The main purpose of the [underwater interceptor] is to protect groups of [ballistic] missile carrying submarines, and to battle with enemy submarines…. The second ship will be a cruise missile carrier [used] for defeating coastal and surface targets.” With regards to the second class of ships, the report noted that Shlemov specifically stated one variant with be a “carrier killer.”

The two new classes of submarines will have the same design, with the principal difference between them being their armaments and purposes. According to The Moscow Times report, the two new submarines will be used to replace the Soviet-era Oscar II-, Sierra-, and Victor-class multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines.

As The National Interest reported last month, work on the fifth-generation submarines is already underway. Vladimir Dorofeyev, CEO of Russia’s Malakhit Marine Engineering Design Bureau, told TASS in June that "the work on the fifth generation of submarines is already underway. The project will be implemented after the Yasen nuclear submarine construction project is completed.”

Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, subsequently confirmed this, telling a conference: “In order to avoid pauses and standstill, we have started design work on developing submarines of the next, i.e. fifth generation.”

The fifth-generation submarines are part of a revival of Russia’s submarine building industry. After laying dormant for much of the post-Cold War era, Moscow recently unveiled two new classes of fourth-generation submarines.

The Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which first entered into service in 2013, will serve as the undersea leg of Russia’s strategic deterrent.

The first Yasen-class nuclear attack submarine was also commissioned in 2013, and has impressed many U.S. naval officers. Much like the carrier killer variant of Russia’s forthcoming fifth-generation submarine, the Yasen-class is designed to engage surface vessels. Dave Majumdar has reported that the Yasen-class sub is equipped with:

24 missile tubes which can carry the supersonic NPO Mashinostroyeniya P-800 Oniks anti-ship missile which can hit targets roughly 200 nautical miles away. Severodvinsk can also carry Novator RK-55 Granat nuclear-capable 1,600 nautical mile-range subsonic land attack cruise missiles. Additionally, the Yasen-class boats can also launch the 3M14 Kalibr and 3M54 Biryuza land attack and anti-ship missiles, which have a roughly 300-mile range, though its torpedo tubes.

Some have doubted the potency of Russia’s budding undersea fleet. For instance, Norman Friedman, a longtime naval analyst, told Defense News that he is “skeptical” of Russia’s planned submarine boom. “There's a history in that country of laying down things that don't get finished for a long time. No question they'll lay down the subs, but actually building them after that is a more interesting question."

Other analysts disagree, however, Bryan Clark, a former U.S. submariner who is now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told the same publication: “The Russians have put their money where their mouth is with regard to submarine construction and development. They see that as a way to generate an asymmetric advantage over U.S. forces. If they can develop a really high-end submarine force like they did in the Cold War, it would create a problem for U.S. naval planners and strategists thinking through how to deal with a potential Russian threat—one that could emerge without a lot of warning."

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Admiralty Shipyards

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

OXI: The Greek Debt Disaster Unfolds

The Buzz

The Greek people have delivered a resounding ‘no’ in the referendum, but the tragedy is still unfolding. It will take some time for the implications to evolve, but it’s hard to see how the vote helps achieve a resolution. The Greek people want to stay in the euro but don’t want austerity. The European negotiators and the IMF have neither the inclination nor the wiggle-room to agree. With the Greek banks closed, time is pressing. Leaving the euro would be hugely disruptive. Staying in the euro means a continuation of the failed policy of austerity. Thus Greece is in for a hard time. But how important is this for the rest of us?

Disruption in Greece doesn't help Europe's lackluster recovery, but it's not big enough to do substantial harm—Greece is less than 2% of Europe's GDP. Moreover, most of the damage has already been done, notably in 2010 when the unfolding Greek crisis diverted budget policies in the advanced economies from expansion to austerity, thus derailing the post-2008 recovery.

The peripheral countries (Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal) that seemed so vulnerable to contagion when the crisis began in 2010 may have their financial markets tested, and the drama queens of financial markets will do their best to turn this into another opportunity for profit-making market volatility. But there is not enough substance here to keep such disruption going for long. The European Central Bank has the ability and means to handle any financial fall-out.

Some see this as the beginning of the end for the euro experiment. With Greece staring at departure, will others follow and the euro disintegrate into national currencies? This outcome would be some kind of wish fulfillment for the euro-skeptics who dominate the UK press. But for all its challenges (past and future), the core countries of the euro have built up massive synergies and benefited enormously, both economically and politically. The degree of integration now accomplished will not be abandoned lightly. Greece was always an outlier, a misfit in economic structure and maturity. The parting would be painful, but will not unravel the euro.

Greek public debt is not insubstantial (the part owed to Europeans is conservatively estimated at 3.3% of the Eurosystem's GDP), but almost all is now owed to governments or international agencies, which can wear the losses without dramatic impact on their economies. The IMF has already asserted (rather boldly) that “the IMF's shareholders will not suffer losses.” 

What are the economic lessons? Countries can run budget deficits, overly generous pension schemes, and large external deficits for decades if foreigners provide the funding, but there is no free lunch. Unsustainable policies eventually stop and the longer countries have been off-track, the longer it will take to fix. Living standards can't rise if productivity remains low. Incompetent and sometimes corrupt governance might get by when the economic climate is benign, but can't cope when problems arise.

These are the old lessons. What are the new ones?

There is a melancholy message about the political-economy of decision-making: even when there is a better path for crisis resolution available, politics can sometimes push events down a worse path, which none of the participants wanted. When the current Greek Government was elected early this year, there was an opportunity for a fresh start based on mutually held objectives. There was unanimity among the negotiators that staying in the euro was desirable. There was a common recognition that Greece could not repay its government debt (even after the 2012 restructure), although the creditors were politically constrained from acknowledging this in public. Similarly, there was implicit understanding by all that the austerity package imposed in 2012 needed to be softened.

Skillful negotiators would have found a formula to put the debt to one side, thus opening up the opportunity to shift from the budget austerity required to repay the debt towards a more growth-oriented policy package, emphasizing the medium-term nature of the reforms needed.

This would have created an outcome all parties could accept: the debt would not be written off but would be extended, with modest payments in the near-term. This would not only suit Greece, but would have allowed a continuation of the fiction in the creditors' balance sheets that the debt was worth its face value. Greece would have shifted from an austerity strategy to one that addressed structural problems, but at a pace that allowed growth. Greece's feet needed to be held to the fire, but reform takes time when structural problems are so entrenched.

Alas, the negotiators did not have these skills. Just who let down the side will be hotly debated, but it looks like all parties were to blame, with the possible exception of the European Central Bank.

We will learn more about the mistakes of the European Commission and Greece as each participant attempts to shift the blame over coming months. But one thing is clear already: the International Monetary Fund played its cards badly and has lost both prestige and credibility. The Fund should not have become involved in the first place. This was a matter for the Eurosystem to sort out, just as federated states such as the U.S. or Australia would resolve state debt without calling in the Fund.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Fund Managing Director at the time the crisis began, wanted to restore the waning influence of the Fund and perhaps burnish his own political ambitions in Europe. Instead, the outcome has been to demonstrate the Fund's weaknesses:

-Its Euro-centric governance structure over-rode its own rules and precedents to achieve a support program, which at the time suited Europe.

-It was unable to orchestrate a timely bail-in of excessive private-sector debt in 2010 (thus allowing the private-sector creditors to get off too lightly), or arrange a subsequent realistic restructuring of sovereign debt.

-Its forecast of Greek GDP in the face of budget austerity was, as usual with these support programs, hopelessly optimistic.

-It forgot the lessons of the disastrous Indonesian 1997-98 support program. The Fund's detailed involvement in the politically sensitive Greek pension reform seems to be on a par with its insistence on Indonesian petrol-price increases during the fraught political circumstances of 1998. The prerequisite for competitiveness reforms is reminiscent of the Fund's requirement to dismantle the Indonesian clove monopoly two decades earlier.

So much for the economics. Much less has been said about the strategic politics of what is unfolding. Greece's small size keeps the global economic consequences manageable but the same can't be said within the strategic context, where small problems can have large ramifications: 'For want of a nail, the battle was lost'.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsEurope

A Frightening Thought: Nuclear Weapons are Back (And So Is Deterrence)

The Buzz

With nuclear modernization programs under way across a range of countries, Russia asserting its right to deploy nuclear weapons in the Crimea, NATO reviewing the role of nuclear weapons in the alliance, and a recent report in the U.S. arguing for a more versatile arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, it’s clear the world’s revisiting an old problem: how to build effective nuclear deterrence arrangements.

Since the end of the Cold War, thinking about deterrence issues has been mainly confined to the academic and think-tank world. But policymakers are now having to re-engage with those issues. And the problem has a new twist: we no longer enjoy the luxury of a bipolar world. Indeed, as Therese Delpech observed in her RAND monograph Nuclear deterrence in the 21st century, nowadays “the actors are more diverse, more opaque, and sometimes more reckless.”

Done properly, deterrence is a contest in threats and nerve, or—to use Thomas Schelling’s phraseology—“the manipulation of risk.” (The chapter so titled in Schelling’s Arms and influence is a great starting point for anyone wanting to think through the broader deterrence problem.) That helps explain why some thought the concept ‘ugly’. It’s hard to make a policy threatening massive damage to societies and civilians sound noble and aspirational. Still, the bad news is that the alternatives are worse. And if deterrence is going to remain the dominant approach in nuclear weapon strategy, we need to fit the strategy to the contemporary geopolitical environment.

Historical experience of the deterrence problem is greatest in relation to two competing superpowers, separated by intercontinental distances, endowed with the resources to manage challenges, and both knowing well the costs of major war. We’ve had relatively little experience of nuclear deterrence in contests between giants and midgets (US v North Korea), between established and fast-rising powers (US v China), and amongst players in a multipolar system. Even our understanding of the role nuclear deterrence plays in relations between regional rivals (think South Asia) remains under-developed. It’s entirely possible that the old superpower deterrence model might not fit those new challenges well. Indeed, maybe the old model doesn’t even fit the US–Russian strategic relationship well these days: Russia’s no longer governed by a sclerotic CPSU.

Some years back INSS’ Elaine Bunn (now a senior official in the Obama administration) wrote a paper unpacking the notion of ‘tailored’ deterrence introduced in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. True, deterrence has always been characterized by particular strategic wrinkles, but Bunn’s paper was an attempt to bring those wrinkles to the fore in relation to the possibility of a nuclear-armed North Korea, Iran, or transnational terrorist group. Her exploration of three different forms of tailoring—tailoring to specific actors and specific situations; tailoring capabilities; and tailoring communications—helps to illustrate the growing complexity of the deterrence challenge.

It now seems likely that we’re headed back into a set of complicated deterrence debates. A strategy that might make sense in one strategic setting—for example, a degree of restraint by a giant engaged in a conflict with a midget—might well risk flagging unintended messages in another. In the giant–midget case, almost any crossing of the nuclear threshold by the giant risks imposing a set of desperate choices on the midget’s leadership, and desperate choices tend not to be good ones.

Deterrence in the context of an established power versus a fast-rising power has a different wrinkle. One effect of a deterrence-dominated world is to reward passivity over initiative. As Schelling notes, in the world of the arthritic, passivity tends to be the default choice. But fast-rising powers aren’t arthritic. Turning one aside from a revisionist agenda will probably be more challenging than deterring another established player.

Multipolarity brings its own wrinkles, including a more mixed set of adversarial relationships, asymmetrical contests, inadvertent signalling, and third-party exploitation of bilateral rivalries. Capability issues become more vexed: actors require the capabilities to deter and defend against another, but also the residual capabilities to remain a player in other contests. The pressure must surely be towards larger rather than smaller arsenals. And reputational issues become more dominant: just as Margaret Thatcher fought the Falklands War in part to show the Soviet Union that the West wouldn’t buckle in the face of force, so too players in a multipolar nuclear world will want to show resolve in one contest because of its implications for others.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, deterrence turns upon a credible threat to cross the nuclear threshold if push comes to shove. During the 1960s the U.S. advocated a doctrine of flexible response, arguing for a model of deterrence that would fail in small packets rather than in one catastrophic breakdown. Notwithstanding the giant–midget problem outlined above, there’s usually good sense behind such a doctrine: it makes deterrent threats more credible, avoids global annihilation in any initial crossing of the nuclear threshold, maintains a degree of ‘intra-war deterrence’ from the options still on the table, and optimizes prospects for negotiated war termination. But historically the doctrine invited questions about the relative balance between usability and credibility in US nuclear policy—questions buried rather than resolved by the end of the Cold War.

Tailoring, messaging, usability, credibility, and thresholds: I suspect policymakers will soon be thinking about all those questions again, across a range of deterrence relationships.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Nurturing Extremism in Gaza

Paul Pillar

The histories of many lands have repeatedly demonstrated two patterns in the relationship of extremism to political and economic conditions. One is that the combination of miserable economic circumstances and a lack of peaceful political channels for pursuing grievances tends to gravitate people toward extremist groups and ideologies. The second is that the resulting extremism is on a sliding scale. What may have been seen at one time as an extreme response to circumstances may, as misery continues and possibly worsens, come to be seen as part of an inadequate status quo and is eclipsed by something even more extreme.

Such a process is taking place today in the Gaza Strip, the open air prison in which 1.8 million people endure what for some time have been genuinely miserable circumstances. Blockade by Israel, aided to varying degrees by Egypt and punctuated by repeated Israeli military assaults, has destroyed much of the Gazan economy and kept residents in squalor. The estimated unemployment rate is around 44 percent, and the Strip is still strewn with rubble from the most recent Israeli assault last year, with lack of materials and other impediments permitting only minimal reconstruction so far.

An unsurprising result is growth in the number and activity of Gaza-based extremists—specifically and most recently ones claiming allegiance to the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. Their numbers have increased, according to an estimate by Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group, from several hundred a few years ago to a few thousand today. They act in opposition not only to Israel but also to Hamas, the group that tries to function as a governing authority in Gaza and is to the extremists a part of a despised status quo. “We will stay like a thorn in the throat of Hamas, and a thorn in the throat of Israel,” says a spokesman for groups that identify with ISIS.

The ill consequences of this rise of extremists in the Gaza Strip go beyond the undesirability of any expansion of the ISIS brand and ISIS influence. The extremists from time to time fire rockets into Israel despite the efforts of Hamas to stop such firings. The rockets endanger innocent citizens of Israel and also, given the Israeli government's pattern of blaming Hamas for anything that goes on in the Strip and striking back with force, carries the risk of precipitating the next Gaza war. The Gaza extremists, especially if they link up in any way with their ideological soulmates in the Sinai, also may stop a modest thawing in relations between Hamas and Egypt, which recently has slightly relaxed closure of its part of Gaza's borders. (Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's Egypt, by the way, is another prime exhibit of how repression and denial of political rights foster the growth of extremism and terrorist violence.)

Israel's suffocating blockade is very hard to explain, much less justify, even if one gets beyond the huge moral issue raised by inflicting such deprivation on 1.8 million people and uses as a frame of reference the narrow objectives of the right-wing Israeli government. The situation does help make possible the propaganda point, often invoked by that government and its supporters as an excuse for continuing to occupy the West Bank, that when Israel “withdrew” from the Gaza Strip the response supposedly was rocket fire and the Palestinians making a hash of things. No mention is made, of course, of how Israel has done everything it can to make the Gaza Strip ungovernable. And by branding Hamas as an irredeemable extremist group, there is a further propaganda point that the Palestinian Authority is getting in bed with “terrorists” any time it tries to achieve reconciliation with Hamas in the interests of Palestinian unity. No mention is made of how Hamas, which won the last free all-Palestinian election, has made it clear that if a Palestinian state is created it is prepared to observe an indefinite long-term cease-fire with Israel.

Destruction of Hamas seems to be a purpose of the blockade and military assaults, with the idea being that if ordinary Gazans suffer enough they will blame Hamas and withdraw support from it. But if that is the purpose, the policy has been a failure. The longer the policy goes on the more it starts to look like the failed half-century effort by the United States to use an embargo of Cuba to try to get rid of the Castro regime—with the difference that Israel has a much greater stranglehold on the Gaza Strip, and the suffering it has exacted on the targeted population has been much more severe.

Even if Israel could somehow kill off Hamas with this strategy, the increase of the ISIS-types in Gaza points to the last flaw in the strategy. If Hamas were to go, the replacement probably would be something that everyone ought to consider much worse. It is a further question whether the Israeli government recognizes this, and whether even if it does, it would nevertheless continue its self-destructive policies in its single-minded determination to destroy a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.                


TopicsIsrael Palestinian Territories Terrorism RegionsMiddle East

Sorry, France: Russia to Build Powerful Mistral-Style Assault Ships

The Buzz

Russia will build its own amphibious assault ship in the wake of France refusing to sell Moscow two Mistral-class helicopter carriers.

In 2011, France and Russia signed a $1.5 billion deal for Paris to build two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships for Russia. The ships have already been built and the first one was scheduled to be delivered last November, but France pulled out of the agreement at the last minute over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Ever since Paris began to reconsider the agreement, there have been periodic reports that Russia might build its own helicopter carriers to replace the Mistral vessels.

Indeed, as far back as October 2014, Rear Adm. Victor Bursuk, the deputy Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Navy, declared: “We are not dependent on France in any way, it is just one of the contracts of military-technical cooperation and nothing more. The [Russian] shipbuilding program planned building warships of this class, and it will certainly be implemented.”

(Recommended: The Russian Navy's 5 Most Dangerous Weapons of War)

Discussion of domestically-produced amphibious assault ships has picked up in Russia in recent weeks as France has moved to formally terminate the contract.

For example, back in May, as French representatives were arriving in Russia to discuss the terms of the cancellation, Oleg Bochkaryov, the deputy chairman of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission, told local journalists: “We have these types of ships planned.” Around the same time, there were a number of reports that suggested that Russia had received some of the Mistral-class design blueprints from France, and would possibly produce a replica of the French-built ships. Bochkaryov denied these reports, however, saying the Russian amphibious assault ships “will be built in line with a different class as we have a different ideology of paratroopers landing. There is no set task of copying Mistrals.”

(RecommendedAsia Beware: China Unveils New Island Storming Warships)

Other Russian officials later denied that Moscow had received any of the Mistral technologies from Paris. For example, last month Denis Manturov. Russia’s Industry and Trade Minister, told reporters, “What technology we have received? - none as of today [sic].” He did allow, however, that Russia “already had the hull modular design technology, we just had no orders, and we supplied the stern section and the fore-body."

At an arms show in St. Petersburg this week, Vladimir Pepelyayev, the chief of naval shipbuilding division at the Krylov State Research Center, elaborated on how the Russian vessels would differ from the French ones Moscow had originally intended to purchase. According to Pepelyayev, the Russian design “suits the tactics of using our forces, our mentality and our approaches to amphibious operations." He added: "Mistral and other such foreign ships… are tailored to match the ‘Atlantic mentality’. The task of our ships is to provide assistance to frontline troops in defending our borders, in other words, landing assault groups in the rear of advancing enemy forces. Naturally, they are designed differently.”

Pepelyayev went on to say that his company had passed the design information to the Russian Navy and is currently waiting for its approval. “The concept has been proposed to the Navy for scrutiny. We shall now wait for the Navy to speak its mind.”

He also estimated that the ships would cost 30 billion rubles (roughly $550 million) to build, and possibly less. About 80 percent of this cost would go to weaponry, while the other 20 percent would go towards the hull.

Regarding the timeline for the ship’s construction, Pepelyayev explained: “The conceptual design will take about twelve months to accomplish and the technical project and design documentation, another year or two. Building the ship will require another three years." Other experts have given a similar timeline, saying the ship could be built by 2020.

(Recommended: The Russian Air Force's 5 Most Deadly Weapons of War)

As The National Interest has repeatedly emphasized, Russia is undertaking a massive military modernization program, which it plans to continue despite its mounting economic woes. Like many of the weapon systems being contemplated, its unclear what level of priority the amphibious assault ship will be given, a factor that will be especially crucial if economic factors force Moscow to scale back the modernization effort.

In fact, there is some reason to believe that the amphibious assault will not be a high-level priority. Namely, Russian security officials have said France’s failure to deliver the Mistral-class ships will “definitely not” impact Russia’s national defense, and that the cancellation “cannot be even considered a loss." These comments, however, may have more to do with a long-standing belief in some Russian defense circles that Moscow should have built the ships domestically from day one.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Simon Ghesquiere/Marine Nationale

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia