The Influence of Seapower... on Putin
By Robert Bateman
In my inaugural posting for the Intel Dump, I thought it wise to introduce myself. My name is Bob Bateman. I am a professional Army Infantry Officer and a historian. I also write a lot. This is, I suppose, is how I landed here in the Dump. What I am most definitively not is a Public Affairs Officer. So what you read under my byline is my opinion, ruminations, and analysis. It is not the product of a vetted Information Operations process deep within the bowels of the Pentagon, nor is it an attempt to get out the "Army Message" (whatever that may be). These things are outside both my purview and experience. If you dislike what I write, blame me. Not the Army. Not the Department of Defense. Not the office in which I now work. Just me. (And believe me, if my own writing history is any indication, I will piss off at least some significant percentage of those who read my words. So it is only fair that I take any such blame on my own shoulders.)
There. I think that should satisfy the requirements of both full disclosure and attribution. Now on to the news.
This morning I could not help but pick up on a small tidbit which notes that the
Soviet Russian Navy is going to be visiting sunnier climes than is their usual wont. Specifically, the Russian Ministry of Offense Defense just announced that four Russian naval vessels will take part in a Joint training mission with Hugo Chavez's navy this coming November. This comes under the heading of, "Things That Make You Go, Hmmmmm." I mean, does anyone doubt that the recent announcement comes as a sort of tit-for-tat for the USS Mount Whitney's arrival off the coast of the Georgian port of Poti? A port which is entirely in non-disputed Georgian territory? (But also a port which was still attacked and captured by the Russians, and in which the Russians still maintain some small number of forces.)
In some circles this might generate a lot of heat. I would, before that happens, like to shed a little light. Specifically by noting the following profound statement: "So What?"
Seriously. So what?
Folks, the Russian Navy of today is not the Soviet Navy of 20 years ago. In fact, it is an object (or perhaps abject) lesson in what happens when your economy falls apart and you leave your defenses to rot by the pier. True, it was once a powerful force, and feared by NATO. But the salient point is why the Soviet Navy was feared. It was not because it could project power far from Russia's shores. That has never been a capability the Soviet fleet maintained to any serious degree. No, it was feared because it might possibly stop the Americans from coming to the aid of its allies in Europe should a Soviet-led invasion of Western Germany occur.
In naval strategy form should follow function, and in this the Soviets succeeded. Their naval forces were designed primarily as an interdiction force, something which might intercept the huge numbers of ships which the US would have to send had the "balloon gone up" in Western Europe. Accordingly, they had lots of submarines, quite a few anti-submarine ships (to help neutralize the major threat American submarines posed to their own subs), and long-range anti-ship missiles.
What they did not have was the ability to "project" power onto the land in any appreciable way, then or now. Nor did they develop the ability to sustain fleets far from home, as the US Navy has done since 1943. They did not need to, since their combat forces could reach the area in which they needed to fight any hypothetical engagement directly from their home ports.
Today the Russian Navy is a shell of its previous self. Someday that may change, but for now it seems they have only one small aircraft carrier (which would not even have that title in the US Navy, because it is too small), two "Battlecruisers," three Cruisers, 26 Destroyers, and 16 Frigates. It is unknown how many of these can do more than float while securely tied up at a pier. What is more, they lack the resources and experience to maintain a combat force far from home for more than a very short while. In other words, it's all flash here and no bang.
Of their once-vaunted (and frankly, feared) undersea capability there is also little left but a skeleton. At the end of the Cold War the Soviet Union could field some 170 submarines, many, if not most of them, nuclear powered. Today there are but fifty still in the inventory, and of that only 26 were operational as of 2006
All in all, I would not sweat this one. Your mileage may vary, but for my part I hope nobody gets all jazzed about this. To do so would be to reap rhetorical benefit from something which is, well, pretty much just rhetoric itself.
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