Moscow Defense Brief

Current Issue

#6 (68), 2018


SEARCH : Search

Armed Forces

The Russian Navy’s ‘New Look’ Reform in 2009-2011

Dmitriy Boltenkov

In 2008, when the Russian political leadership realized the need for radical transformations in the armed forces, the Russian Navy was essentially a much smaller version of its Soviet predecessor.

The reform of the Navy pursued the following objectives:

  • Reduce the number and size of the central military command bodies

  • Bring all the remaining Navy units to their full numerical strength

  • Redeploy some of the units in accordance with new military threats

  • Spin off and outsource non-military operations

  • Improve combat training

  • Reform and optimize the support and logistics system, and

  • Bring in new ships, and rearm naval aviation and coastal units.

The authors of the reform wanted to achieve a situation whereby the Navy units could focus on combat training, with all the support and logistics operations outsourced to civilian contractors.

The reform of the Navy began well after the roll-out of similar transformations in the Army and in the Air Force. The first stage of that reform began in 2009 and left the core naval units to which the actual ships and submarines are assigned largely unaffected. It was completed by December 1, 2011, when the MoD launched the second stage, with serious transformations in the pipeline for the fighting core of the Navy.

First stage of the Navy reform in 2009-2011

New military districts

One traditional weakness of the Soviet armed forces was the lack of coordination and cohesion between the separate armed services. During conflicts each of these services would often end up fighting its own war. The Five Day War with Georgia in 2008 demonstrated the same weakness of the Russian armed forces. The Russian government responded by introducing an American-style system in which all the forces fighting in the same strategic theater take their orders from a single HQ. Four new strategic operational commands (designated as “Military Districts” to honor a long-standing tradition) were set up in 2010: the Western, Southern, Central and Eastern. The Baltic and Northern fleets of the Russian Navy are now subordinated to the Western MD, the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla are part of the Southern MD, and the Pacific Fleet takes its orders from the Eastern MD. Each Military District HQ now has a Navy department. Navy Admiral K. Sidenko has been appointed Commander of the Eastern MD.

The commanders of the separate armed services have retained a very limited remit, which includes building up the fighting ability of the armed service in question, training command staff and overseeing combat training. The commander of the Russian Air Force seems to have already found his own niche in the new command and control system of the Russian armed forces; the same cannot be said about the commander of the Navy, at least for the moment.

The strategic nuclear submarines on combat patrol still take their orders directly from the General Staff, just as they did prior to the launch of the reform.

In addition to subordinating the Russian naval forces to the new Military Districts, the reform has also resulted in a substantial restructuring and cuts in the central MoD departments, including the department in charge of the Navy.

Naval combat units

The structure of the Russian Navy’s ship and submarine units remained largely unaffected during the first stage of the reform. The only notable change was the decision to disband several units which had outlived their usefulness, such as the divisions to which the Navy had previously assigned decommissioned nuclear submarines.

There were also some optimizations in the command structure. The Northern Fleet’s 11th and 12th submarine squadrons were merged to become the Submarine Command. The HQ of the 18th Submarine Division was disbanded following the decommissioning of Project 941 (Typhoon class) SSBNs in 2010.

Finally, the status of the commanders of flotillas and naval bases was substantially reduced. Previously they held the rank of Vice Admiral; this has now been reduced to Captain 1st Rank.

Naval aviation

In 2009-2010 the Russian Navy’s air regiments and air squadrons were merged into airbases, mirroring recent changes in the Russian Air Force. The new airbases subsumed flight units stationed at one or several of the nearby airfields, as well as the attendant communications, radar and maintenance units. Thirteen such airbases were set up. The MoD has also created a new naval aviation training center in Yeysk, a port on the Sea of Azov, to replace the disbanded training center in Ostrov, near Pskov. There are plans to build a carrier deck simulator in Yeysk to train naval aviation pilots.

In 2010 the MoD brought into effect further air base optimizations. As part of the Baltic Fleet it set up the 7054th Air Base, which subsumed 12 individual units, including all the fighters, bombers, transports and carrier-based helicopters. Then in the summer of 2011 all the Tu-22M3 long-range bombers which served with the Naval Aviation were transferred to the Russian Air Force’s Long Range Aviation. The Baltic Fleet’s fighters and strikers were assigned to the Air Force’s 7000th Air Base in Voronezh. The Navy’s fighters stationed in the Kamchatka were assigned to the Air Force’s air base in Khurbin, to become a separate air group. Despite the reassignments, most of these aircraft units remained stationed at their old airfields. The only aircraft which are still assigned to Naval Aviation are the Su-24 strikers stationed in the Crimea; this has to do with the terms of the lease agreement with Ukraine for the Black Sea Fleet’s base on the peninsula. The Northern Fleet’s 279th Independent Naval Fighter Air Regiment (Su-33) has not been affected by the reform, either. By late 2011 some of the newly-created naval airbases were merged. The Baltic Fleet, the Northern Fleet and the Black Sea fleet now have only one airbase apiece (the 7054th, 7050th and 7057th, respectively). The Pacific Fleet has two, the 7060th and the 7062nd.

Coastal defense and marines

As part of the reform of coastal defense forces and the marines, all the skeleton-strength units have been disbanded. The Baltic Fleet’s coastal defense force in Kaliningrad now consists of a motor rifle brigade, a motor rifle regiment, an artillery brigade and a missile brigade. All marine units are now manned to their full war-time strength; several have been redeployed. The 61st Marine Brigade on the Kola Peninsula and the 3rd Marine Brigade on the Kamchatka have been reduced in size to regiments. In the Crimea the 810th Marine Regiment has become the 810th Marine Brigade. In Vladivostok the 55th Marine Division has been restructured to become the 155th Marine Brigade, although its actual manpower and strength have gone up. The Caspian Flotilla’s 77th Marine Brigade has been disbanded; there are now only two marine battalions left, one in Astrakhan, the other in Dagestan. The marine battalions themselves have become smaller; each now consists of only three companies instead of four. All marine units have also lost their tanks.

Coastal defense missile and artillery units have undergone only minor cuts; they now consist of two brigades, two regiments and an independent division. Their old missile batteries are being replaced with the new Bastion and Bal systems.

Combat support units

All combat support units are now manned to their full strength; several have been merged, and several reduced in size. Radio-electronic warfare regiments have become radio-electronic warfare centers. The Navy’s technical bases have been merged or subordinated to larger units. For example, all seven of the Northern Fleet’s technical bases on the Kola Peninsula have become branches of the 571st base in Severomorsk.


The logistics services have undergone the most radical reforms of all the other Navy components.

Back in 2007 the Russian Navy’s ship repair plants became joint-stock companies; some of them are now part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK).

Many of the support and utility assets formerly owned and maintained by the separate Navy fleets or directly by the MoD have been transferred to the Oboronservis state-owned defense holding company. These include housing and utilities; central heating and power plants; communications, missile and artillery repair plants; hardware depots; civilian engineering operations and trading organizations. As a result the Navy is no longer responsible for any non-military services or utilities in military compounds; all of them have been subcontracted to commercial companies such as Slavyanka, Repair and Operations Directorate, and Power Grid.

The logistics services which took their orders directly from the Navy Command have also been reformed. A case in point is the arsenals and arms depots which were previously subordinated to the Main Navy Command’s missile-artillery directorate or mines and torpedoes directorate. These arsenals and depots were complex operations which stored, distributed, repaired and disposed of weapons and ammunition. Weapons and ammunition storage has now become the remit of the newly created technical weapons bases. All the other services have been subcontracted to commercial companies which have taken over many of the assets of the former arsenals and arms depots, and which have now become part of Oboronservis.

In late 2010 the Navy’s logistics service was merged with the weapons and rear operations service to become a single logistics and rear operations service. The size of the new service was substantially reduced, and many of the servicemen became civilian contractors.

In 2010-2011 the former auxiliary and rescue ship brigades and divisions were downsized into smaller squadrons; their servicemen have also become civilian contractors.

The catering, fuel supply, and clothing and equipment services which used to be part of the Navy’s separate fleets or central logistics services have been merged into versatile supply bases manned entirely by civilians.

The Navy’s various medical services have been merged under large military hospitals. For example, the Pacific Fleet’s 1477th Military Clinical Hospital now controls all of the fleet’s medical facilities, including four medical branches, one big clinical center and two smaller hospitals.

Many of the non-military functions previously performed by servicemen have been outsourced. In 2012 all catering, laundry and bathing operations will be subcontracted to commercial companies. Maintenance of the Navy’s cars, trucks and armor has been outsourced to Oboronservis.

Combat training

The Russian Navy’s training programs have been ramped up very substantially in recent years compared to the situation in the 1990s and early 2000s. Ships are spending a lot more time in the sea; the number of naval exercises has gone up, and naval aviation pilots are clocking in more flight hours. The Northern Fleet’s ships spent a total of 800 days in the sea in 2011; the figure for the Baltic Fleet is 300 days. The Black Sea Fleet performed 30 separate combat missions that same year. Helicopter pilots of the Baltic Fleet clocked in an average of 60 hours flight time. In the marines the situation with combat training also showed a substantial improvement.

There have been several joint exercises involving several types of armed services. The 7th Airborne Assault Division, which is stationed in Novorossiysk, regularly takes part in joint exercises with the Black Sea Fleet to practice amphibious landing operations. The same is true of the Army’s 200th Motor Rifle Division stationed on the Kola Peninsula.

The Navy was actively involved in large combined exercises of the Russian armed forces, including the West-2009, East-2010, Center-2011, East-2011, and others. The Russian Navy has also stepped up its participation in various international exercises.

The scenario of the East-2011 exercise, in which the Pacific Fleet took part, included many interesting elements; some of them were unique even by the Soviet Navy’s standards. One of those elements was the formation of a joint naval assault and amphibious landing force, which sailed to Kamchatka, landed a force at the local firing ranges and launched missiles against numerous targets. The Varyag missile cruiser then sailed from Kamchatka to the Mariana Islands, where it took part in the Pacific Eagle 2011 joint exercise with the U.S. Navy, and after that visited the Canadian port of Vancouver. Several Russian ships have been involved in the anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden.

Recruitment and training

The Russian naval training establishments have also undergone a radical reform. Several of the Navy’s research institutes and training centers have been merged under the Naval Academy — Military Training and Research Center (VUNTs MVF VMA). It includes the Naval Academy, the Higher Specialized Officer Courses, five naval research institutes, three MoD research institutes (the 1st, the 24th and the 40th), the Nakhimov Naval School and the Kronstadt Naval Cadet School. The center used to take its orders directly from the Russian Navy, but in February 2011 it was subordinated to the MoD’s Education Department. In December 2011 the submarine training centers in Obninsk and SosnovyyBor also became part of the Naval Academy — Military Training and Research Center. There are plans to relocate the whole center to Kronstadt in 2015-2017, which will then become Russia’s equivalent of Annapolis.

Several other MoD centers also train officers for the Russian Navy.

In recent years there has been no recruitment of cadets to naval schools owing to the glut of fresh lieutenants trained in the previous years. Many of these lieutenants even have to spend their first years in the Navy serving in positions normally filled by warrant officers and able seamen. To illustrate, some 377 lieutenants entered service with the Northern Fleet in 2011, even though only 130 lieutenant-level positions were available.

There has also been a sharp fall in the number of people who leave the Navy immediately upon finishing their naval training. The reasons for that include much better pay and a notable improvement in naval officers’ living conditions in recent years. The standards of combat training have also improved substantially. Average pay in the Russian armed forces has been rising steadily since the launch of the reform. On January 1, 2012 the basic salary paid to some categories of servicemen doubled or even tripled.

A shortage of conscripts is one of the problems the Navy has in common with the other armed services (and not only in Russia). The Navy Command is therefore trying to encourage current and former conscripts to stay on as professional servicemen by offering them housing and relatively high salaries. The MoD has announced plans to increase the proportion of professional sailors serving under contract to 100 per cent for submarines and to 70 per cent for surface ships.

Second stage of reform from 2011

The second stage of the reform of the Russian Navy was launched on December 1, 2011; its focus is to reorganize the core units to which the actual ships and submarines are assigned.

One explanation is in order before we proceed. In the Soviet Navy, the 1st and 2nd rank ship divisions usually consisted of up to 20 ships in two or three brigades; each brigade included up to ten 1st or 2nd rank ships. The 3rd rank divisions (minesweepers, small missile and anti-submarine ships) consisted of 8-10 ships in two or three tactical groups.

As a result of post-Soviet cuts, by 2011 each 1st or 2nd rank ship division included no more than five ships. An average 3rd rank division has 3-5 ships, so it is capable of fielding only one tactical group. The upshot is that while the number of ships in service has fallen, the size of the command structures has remained the same.

The main objective of the second stage of the reform is therefore to optimize the structure of the ship units by reducing the rank of some of these units and completely disbanding others. It is important to note that the cuts will not affect the actual number of ships in service; the axe will fall only on the bloated command structures and HQs.

The following changes have been put into effect as of December 2011:

  • The MoD has disbanded the HQs of the Baltic Fleet’s 12th Surface Ships Division and of the Black Sea Fleet’s 30th Surface Ships Division. The 128th Surface Ships Brigade and the 71st Assault Landing Ships Brigade, which used to be part of the 12th Division, have become independent. The same applies to the 11th Surface Ships Brigade and the 197th Assault Landing Ships Brigade, which were part of the disbanded 30th Division.

  • The Pacific Fleet’s 44th Anti-Submarine Ships Brigade has been disbanded. Its ships have been assigned to the 36th Surface Ships Division. The 182nd Submarine Brigade, stationed in the Kamchatka, has also been disbanded. Its submarines have been assigned to the 19th Submarine Brigade in Vladivostok.

  • The Northern Fleet’s 2nd Anti-Submarine Ships Division has been downsized to become the 14th Brigade. The 5th Minesweepers Brigade has been disbanded, and its ships assigned to the 7th Brigade.

  • The small anti-submarine ship and minesweeper divisions of all the fleets of the Russian Navy are being downsized to tactical groups.

  • The HQs of the White Sea naval base and of the Sovetskaya Gavan naval base area have been downsized to the level of base station commands.

  • More optimizations are expected in the Navy in the coming months.

    Print version


    © Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, 2019