David Axe — The Daily Beast Dec 28, 2015
For the first time in 24 years, the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch has published an unclassified report warning against a rapidly rearming and increasingly aggressive Russian fleet.
And while the report—which the Navy intends for public consumption—has been years in the making, recent events have underscored just how serious its findings are. It’s becoming clearer by the day that, with the strong backing of President Vladimir Putin, the Russian navy is making a serious effort to challenge the world’s preeminent maritime power—the United States.
Poring over the raw data, Federoff got busy counting the Russian fleet’s new ships, subs, and planes, assessing its new weaponry and gauging the quality of its sailors and officers, and its standing within the wider Russian military and political systems. He confirmed a naval force on the rebound.
“Since 2000, as Russia’s governmental order and economy have stabilized, there has been a focused and funded effort to revitalize the Russian military—including the navy,” Fedoroff wrote. “Suspended construction programs are now moving toward completion and new construction programs are beginning to provide the navy with 21st-century submarine and surface platforms.”
From an early 2000s nadir when just a handful of vessels were seaworthy and capable of combat, today the Russian fleet boasts 186 war-ready subs and surface ships operating in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans plus the Black Sea, the Baltic, the Caspian, the Mediterranean, and even the Arctic, according to Fedoroff’s report.
This makes the Russian navy the world’s third-biggest maritime force after No. 1 America—with more than 280 modern warships plus more than 100 support vessels—and second-place China.
And in certain key aspects the Russia fleet has recently, and to the rest of the world’s great surprise, caught up to the Americans. In October, Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired new Kalibr cruise missiles thousands of miles to hit rebel targets in Syria. And in December a Russian submarine repeated the feat, firing Kalibrs into Syria from the Mediterranean.
Before the twin missile launches, only the United States had demonstrated the modern ability to launch long-distance cruise-missile strikes from ships and subs, against ground targets. Sea-launched cruise missiles are a key weapon system for any country hoping to stage precise military interventions while also avoiding serious risk to its own forces.