How Russia Is Modernizing Its Naval Aviation FleetPiotr Butowski
In the first days of November, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a series of meetings at his residence in Sochi with the leadership of the armed forces and industry. “Considering the buildup of foreign navies,” as he put it, the Russian president called for an acceleration in the development of the country’s naval aviation “by supplying the navy with advanced aircraft and air weapons and conducting a large-scale modernization of existing systems.”
The official information ended here without information about aircraft type, number or date. With that in mind, it is worth looking at what the Russian Navy has at the moment and what new types of equipment it may receive.
The Russian Navy consists of four fleets. The Northern Fleet, headquartered in Severomorsk, is the most capable. It operates in the Atlantic Ocean and all northern seas, including the Arctic Ocean. The big force is the Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok. Two smaller fleets, in the Baltic and Black seas, plus a flotilla in the Caspian Sea operate in their respective regions. Each has its own air contingent, although only the two largest fleets have Tupolev Tu-142 and Ilyushin Il-38 long-range aircraft.
Russian naval aviation was subject to serious degradation in the post-Soviet era. The navy lost its Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire missile carriers, which were tasked with combating U.S. aircraft carriers. The aircraft fleet was thinned, and in 2011 the remaining aircraft were transferred to the Russian Air Force. After the withdrawal of the Tu-22M Backfire, the only shore-based strike aircraft in naval aviation are the Sukhoi Su-24M Fencer-D tactical aircraft, which are gradually being replaced with Su-30SM multirole fighters.
The Il-38 and Tu-142 anti-submarine-warfare (ASW) aircraft are modernized in limited number and scope, and a new aircraft in this class will not be available for the foreseeable future. The navy has discussed a maritime patrol and ASW aircraft based on the Tu-214 airliner; however, it cannot move forward because the platform lacks modern electronics. The situation is slightly better with ASW helicopters: Many Kamov Ka-27s have been modernized, and the development of the new-generation Minoga helicopter is underway.
The Mikoyan MiG-29K and Sukhoi Su-33 shipborne fighters are operating only from shore due to the prolonged repair of Russia’s only aircraft carrier.
The navy is gradually retiring its Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft and replacing them with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), beginning with 18-kg (40-lb.) Orlan-10s and 450-kg Forposts. The first Forpost UAS were sent to the navy’s Northern Fleet in 2013 and to the Pacific Fleet and Baltic Fleet air bases. The UAS are used for surveillance as well as for target indication for ship- and shore-launched missiles.
The Russian Navy’s use of UAS is expected to grow rapidly. The 216th Independent UAV Regiment at Severomorsk is receiving the first Inokhodets medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS. In the not-so-distant future, the larger Inokhodets-RU and Altius UAVs should be available, too.