“It is uneasy to perform defence-related tasks, but Russia manages it”
Talk with a veteran on Navy Day
“Russia doesn’t compete with American costs on defence but it is able to maintain military parity in key defence spheres within its modest budget,” thinks Leonid Yudnikov, captain 3rd rank who served in the Pacific Fleet, who is now writer, artist and one of the directors of Vologda Navy Assembly public organisation. On Russian Navy Day, he told Realnoe Vremya how the problem of lack of surface navy ships is solved in Russia, how many aircraft carriers our country needs and if it is falling behind China in the military.
“The problem of surface ships is solved by accelerated construction of small missile ships”
Mr Yudnikov, aren’t you, a fellow countryman of Admiral Nikolay Kuznetsov, concerned that the Russian fleet has just one aircraft carrier today (Admiral Kuznetsov, by the way) and it is in repair now, frigates are built slowly, cruisers? Or are your colleagues and people who are linked with the same shipbuilding?
Of course, the problems the fleet has raise veterans’ concern. But the Russian fleet performs the tasks it has quite adequately — at the moment Russia has a long-term shipbuilding programme, and it is implemented in general. And the problem of surface ships is solved by accelerated construction of small missile ships, the ships that successfully hit terrorists in Syria with the help of cruise missiles.
Why did small ships turn out less important for the fleet than frigates? Is the slow construction of frigates the problem?
A modern-day missile, which is, first of all, cruise missiles like Calibre, have become compact, while the range of these missiles is very long, up to 2-2,500 kilometres. And they are convenient to be placed on small military ships because these ships have good navigability. They can be located in both territorial waters and small water bodies with conditions for their maintenance.
Which of our territorial fleets requires augmenting capacities?
First of all, the Pacific Fleet is reinforced now. There is an uneasy geopolitical situation there, this is why the Pacific Fleet expands to the world ocean, particularly the Indian Ocean. Today’s reality requires replenishing precisely this fleet with frigates and small ships.
A modern-day missile, which is, first of all, cruise missiles like Calibre, have become compact, while the range of these missiles has very long, up to 2-2,500 kilometres. And they are convenient to be placed on small military ships because these ships have good navigability. They can be located in both territorial waters and small water bodies
China and the USA build ships faster, right?
Russia’s economic possibilities are smaller than that of the Soviet Union, but our fleet is anyway built. But it seems to me that the state is now paying special attention to, first of all, the construction of the latest nuclear submarines like Borey that are really able to provide the country’s safety. The issue of shipbuilding are solved but slowly, and the military fleet parade, which we will see on 27 July in Petersburg (Editor’s Note: the talk had been earlier), will show that Russia has both the latest ships and an excellently trained staff.
Can one conclude about the fleet’s technical state according to the parade?
A parade isn’t a show-off, it is really an indicator of military preparation, power and technical equipment of the fleet. Our partners and opponents can easily make sure that Russia has a powerful fleet, which can protect the country.
“Rogue thugs could have created even a nuclear weapon with someone’s assistance”
You are talking about opponents, but Russia doesn’t have opponents in the military anyway. Your colleagues more often talk about “challenges”. What challenges does the military fleet have now?
Yes, there are challenges, and Russia, in my opinion, is doing its best to prevent these challenges. At the moment it is happening in Syria where these rogue thugs could have created even a nuclear weapon in their caves with someone’s assistance. Now terrorists in Syria have limited opportunities, and mainly thanks to the fleet. The Syrian territory isn’t far from Russia, just 800 kilometres, and the events have just recently been quite threatening for our country. Moreover, Russian citizens almost replenished the number of terrorists in Syria. Now, these terrorists are determinately moving to Afghanistan, and it is also a challenge.
What other challenges do you see besides international terrorism? NATO? Or is it a kind of propagandist rhetoric?
I wouldn’t say that NATO is just peace doves. NATO forces are already located on the perimeter of Russian borders and soon will be in Ukraine, too where the travel time for military missiles hitting important Russian targets, particularly in Moscow, will reduce to 3-5 minutes. Still, it is a threat. Look, the USSR once disbanded Warsaw Pact troops — the organisation that was created as a counterbalance to NATO. But NATO, even without the counterbalance, maintains its military structure, strengthens and develops it. Aren’t constant entries of American military ships to the Black Sea a threat? What about constant violations of our air space in the Baltic Sea?
A parade isn’t a show-off, it is really an indicator of military preparation, power and technical equipment of the fleet. Our partners and opponents can easily make sure that Russia has a powerful fleet, which can protect the country
“Losharik nuclear submarine was a tragic coincidence”
Is it true that submarines are the strongest component of the Russian Navy?
In 2017, we were in an open-air event in the Kola Flotilla — of course, there is no nuclear submarine there but there are quite normal diesel submarines. We accommodated on the riverbank and lived together with submarine crews in their barracks. And I saw the submariners gather to urgently perform military tasks on mock alert, the ship cleared the pier literally within minutes and performed all the tasks it was given in the sea. I can say that the military training, special knowledge of our submariners increase year after year. Moreover, now submarine crews don’t have conscript sailors, even in diesel submarines. All militaries and specialists on these submarines are conscript soldiers, who are educated and with excellent military training.
How will you comment on the opinion that American aviation can now detect our submarines without great effort?
It isn’t true regarding diesel submarines. They are called “black hole”, and not we but Americans gave this name to the ships. Varshavyanka submarine is really a “black hole”, it is almost impossible to detect it. You know, there are different classes of submarines, they can be compared in noise and so on, and big attention is now paid to all these issues in navy.
What does the recent tragedy on Losharik nuclear submarine where 14 officers died mean? It is said the Russian accumulator that was put instead of Ukrainian within import substitution was the reason.
It is a big tragedy for both navy and Russia, but I wouldn’t say that some important Ukrainian detail was needed first of all. Of course, as an allied republic, Ukraine gave the Soviet Union a lot, especially in the construction of missile engines, supplies of components for submarines and so on. But all these problems were solved in our country a long time ago, Russia manufactures such batteries itself.
It seems Losharik was a tragic coincidence — the fire broke out unexpectedly, and all the dead were in one part, as they had performed a task and were on their way back to the base. Nobody expected this could happen. And we don’t know who in the team didn’t die.
Service on a submarine is always risky, with great danger, but people serve and learn from tragic mistakes, which were made in a specific case.
How do you assess the state of marine aviation of Russia?
I’ve recently had a chance to contemplate our marine aviation not far from Sevastopol, I’ve seen flying ships, marine helicopters, planes. By the way, fighter aviation performed great. I can say confidently that marine aviation forces can perform military tasks. Of course, they have problems, too. Some planes will expire, but the modernisation of planes in the army is doing fine.
Service on submarine is always risky, with great danger, but people serve and learn from tragic mistakes, which were made in a specific case
“Foreigners were invited in the USSR to build military machinery too”
Back to ships. It is probably not normal anyway that Russia has just one aircraft carrier. How many ships of this type does the country need?
As many as the Soviet Union had — five cruisers. I think that a shipbuilding programme on aircraft carriers and large ships will be implemented.
But specialists in shipbuilding are also giving a wake-up call — there are theft, incompetence, old equipment in government procurement in the Military and Defence Complex, while a lack of staff makes one enterprise invite a hundred Norwegians to build a ship.
The same Germans were invited in the USSR to build military machinery, especially in aviation. It is a normal approach. As for corruption and bribery, this is true, of course, and a solution is that this problem will be solved every day. We see officials of the country making effective measures to slap on the hands of those to take money from the public treasury but I would like this all to be done faster and more effectively.
Once our country wanted to buy Mistral-like helicopter carriers. But it didn’t work out. How important is this type of ships for our navy?
It isn’t a problem, our shipbuilding programme includes the construction of such ships as Mistral. Of course, many think that it is easy to destroy such a big surface facility with the latest armament, but specialists in such ships look at this problem differently and see that Mistral ships anyway play their role in modern wars. I think something normal will be born in the conflict of opposites.
“From a military perspective, Russia is stronger than China. And it is undeniable”
Ex-Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy (now Vice-President of the United Shipbuilding Corporation JSC) Vladimir Korolyov talked about such achievements of our navy as a fight against piracy, exploration of the Arctic and even said that the navy helped to make several geographical discoveries in the Antarctic. It goes without saying that he named the Syrian campaign, too. What key achievements of the fleet do you see at this moment?
I think one thing wasn’t named: thanks to the modern nuclear submarine fleet, Russia maintains military parity in the world. This task is performed very well. Russia’s nuclear fleet is one of the important components of missile and nuclear triad of the country and its defence.
Russia’s nuclear fleet is one of the important components of missile and nuclear triad of the country and its defence
As for other achievements, I will agree with them. The Northern Sea Route is an important and debatable thing in the world in scientific and military terms, and Russia does its best to protect and support this world artery. As for Antarctica, here, everything is simple: our fleet has always supported our scientists there.
But is the fleet of our country is estranging from China and the USA further and further from a technological perspective anyway?
We don’t have visible estrangement from China. From a military perspective, Russia is stronger, and it is undeniable. Of course, Russia isn’t competing with the US budget, but within its modest budget it can support military parity in key military activity. It is uneasy to perform defence-related tasks, but Russia manages it.
How does the fleet manage to perform these tasks?
It’s an uneasy question, but I will reply the following way: the fleet is the only type of armed forces to have other types of armed forces in its composition — nuclear missiles, swimming tanks, planes. This is why it can perform defence-related tasks of Russia.