“The aircraft carriers would not harm us, but I believe that this is not a priority task for Russia. The carrier strike force includes the aircraft carrier itself, the carrier ship of the nuclear weapons, about 12 ships of close escort of an aircraft carrier, ships of an anti-missile barrier, two or three submarines and an anti-submarine Aviation... That is, we are talking not only about the billions spent on the ship itself, but also about the billions spent on providing it. "
- V.P. Valuev, former commander of the Baltic fleet RF.
Perhaps it would be quite reasonable to begin this article with the words of a Russian naval commander, who once again confirms the long-known truth: the fleet is expensive.
The carrier fleet is very expensive.
Of course, there are alternative points of view that offer "aircraft carriers for the poor": the construction of springboard aircraft carriers of small displacement, the use of obviously outdated aircraft in the form of the MiG-29K, the formation of strike groups around multipurpose frigates, etc.
The main thesis of these ideas is built, however, around a completely different idea - the postulate that the fleet is supposedly the solution to most of the problems of Russian foreign policy.
In this article, I propose to try to understand how correct and fair this point of view is.
Fleet and politics. Politics and navy
Of course, we will have to start by saying that such an overarching topic is not well suited to a conversation within the framework of a single article. We will try to consider the problematics of the issue as briefly and succinctly as possible, but, alas, this will have to be done without the desired details.
Extremely often we come across statements on the pages of the Military Review, which say that the fleet is an independent, almost supranational unit, capable of influencing the general welfare of the state. Strike groups of warships are called the conductor of state interests, thereby heating up the delusions of gullible readers, already suffering from a poor understanding of the realities of modern interstate confrontations.
The arguments are so simple and clear - give the country ships, and the ships will give it power ...
Simple. Understandable. Are wrong.
Unfortunately, international politics has long ceased to be a place for the application of simple and understandable solutions. For example, if for Peter the Great the military fleet, as a factor, in itself was a huge strategic advantage, then in our time, to achieve his goals, Peter Alekseevich would have to use such a huge arsenal of diplomatic, political, economic and cultural means of influence that the strike groups of ships against their background, they would be practically lost, becoming almost insignificant.
The reality around us is such that the very concept "war" practically died as an independent factor in international politics. Trends are changing rapidly. And to argue that increasing military power is tantamount to achieving a strategic advantage is a dangerous delusion.
The reliance on historical precedents - we live in an unprecedented era military-civil mergerwhich has nothing to do even with the Cold War. In such conditions, references to past experience can become a factor of strategic lag, and then defeat.
Let's say we have an example of the People's Republic of China. It, in turn, has a very impressive modern navy, surpassing the size and power of that of another Chinese republic, better known to us as Taiwan.
If we take the situation out of context, considering it exclusively from the point of view of naval confrontation (this is the technique, unfortunately, used by the authors of the Military Review, who are actively lobbying the interests of the Navy), then it becomes obvious: a strong PRC can crush rebellious Taiwan in an instant.
In the end, what prevents a country that has the second navy in the world and an impressive nuclear arsenal against a state that is inferior to it in absolutely everything from the implementation of such a scenario?
Fortunately for Taiwan (and unfortunately for shipbuilding lobbyists), world politics does not work in a vacuum. There are a number of strategic factors that prevent Beijing from realizing a military scenario - accordingly, the fleet and the armed forces as a whole are not independent actors that can pursue state policy.
The situation looks similar for the United States - the world's first naval power, the world's first economy, the owner of one of the largest nuclear arsenals for some reason cannot simply assemble hundreds of its warships and swiftly defeat the PRC. Instead, the United States and its allies are waging hybrid wars with Beijing and its satellites in faraway Africa, Central and Central Asia, and the Middle East.
In battle, time after time, it is not armadas of missile destroyers and mighty aircraft carriers that converge, but hastily trained militants in pickup trucks, special operations forces and inexpensive drones. And the main war is being waged in the offices of analysts, macro-strategists, diplomats, anthropologists, orientalists and economists who are scrupulously working to expand the state's sphere of influence through the use of so-called "smart power." How will the outcome of this confrontation be decided? And will there be, in general, a place for the naval forces in it? These are questions, as it is easy to understand, with an unknown answer.
This is what the "musculature" of Western countries looks like for a showdown on the periphery. Light helicopters, piston planes, small UAVs and military retirees are the key to success and zero losses among their armed forces. Photo source: bykvu.com
Only one thing can be said for sure - the fleet, even in the confrontation between two superpowers dependent on sea communications, occupies, at best, secondary positions.
Thus, the very fact that we have extremely powerful armed forces or the fleet in isolation is not a strategic factor that can turn the situation in favor of a stronger side. Just as the presence of muscles and physical fitness does not allow us to solve all everyday issues through the use of physical force or blackmail, so military power on the scale of international politics does not allow us to use it against any rival.
As mentioned above, the concept of "war" itself carries less and less of the old meaning. Frankly speaking, even professionals cannot keep up with the current trends - only in the last decade have at least several terms denoting interstate confrontations changed.
Of the most complete and well-established designations for war in recent years, there is a wonderful term "Systemic competition".
Undoubtedly, you will ask a reasonable question - why has war ceased to be an independent act of state activity, if military operations are taking place everywhere in the world?
Well, let's try to figure it out.
So, the first thing we need to know is that the line between war, politics and economics in the modern world is simply blurred. As a good example, we can take the actions of the Turkish Republic on the territory of Syria (they are most fully reflected in the article "The steel grip of" soft power ": Turkey in Syria").
As we can easily understand, Ankara's stunning success is explained precisely by the understanding of modern realities - for example, the occupied territories of the SAR were quickly incorporated into the economic life of Turkey. The actions of the Turkish military, analysts, economists, businessmen and workers of humanitarian organizations appear before us as a single and monolithic system that was able to curb nearly 5 million refugees, turning them into a source of new resources.
Achievements of the army, administrative apparatus and commercial structures absolutely inseparable - they support and reinforce each other, forming the very systemic competition that forces the adversary to act on the humanitarian, political, economic, and only last but not least on the military fronts of state activity (hostilities constitute a rather small part of the confrontation itself - for example, the same Syria and In Turkey, we can say that the outbreak of clashes lasted only a few weeks, and, for example, humanitarian operations and outreach to the population will last for years: and they will ultimately be the determining factors of achievement).
However, it should be said that in the modern world even such powerful powers as the United States and China are striving to minimize direct military intervention. Most of the "contact battles" are provided by cheap "cannon fodder" in the form of mercenaries, gangs of militants, terrorist organizations, etc.
After the defeat of the United States in the battle of Mogadishu (1993), all countries made the appropriate conclusions: the presence of their own troops must be reduced.
For example, China secures its interests on logistics routes with the help of the Anglo-American PMC Frontier Services Group (FSG). The organization, founded by the infamous Eric Prince, has two bases of operations in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province in China. The main task of PMC FSG is reconnaissance, security and logistics of the Great Silk Road, which also runs through Russia.
Cheap. Profitable. Practical.
Is the fleet a salvation for Russia?
Well, back to our Fatherland.
I propose to consider the situation as objectively as possible. What is the armed forces (which includes the navy)? It is a policy tool. What is politics? This is the quintessence of economics. What is of paramount importance to realizing economic potential?
Logistics. Infrastructure. Transport communications.
Below you can find a very interesting infographic presented by Rosstat.
What do you see? The share of sea freight in our country (this, by the way, includes indicators of import and export) is inferior even to the share of automobiles! If we disregard the pipeline transportation of oil and gas from the statistics, it becomes obvious how important railways are for Russia.
Yes, indeed, friends, land powers do not exist - there are only powers, whose communications are tied to land, not sea routes of communication.
The words about the huge maritime borders of our Motherland sound extremely beautiful, while the only maritime transport artery controlled by Russia and at least some significant maritime transport artery is the Northern Sea Route.
Despite numerous enthusiastic statements, the NSR will never be able to become even a remote alternative to, for example, the Suez Canal. Most of its route runs through uninhabited territories where there are no deep-water ports, but most importantly, container ships with a capacity of more than 4500 TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit is a conventional unit of measurement of the capacity of freight vehicles. It is often used to describe the capacity of container ships and container ships). Based on the volume of a 20-foot (6,1 m) intermodal ISO container), while in the world the most common type of container ships is the so-called "Panamax class" with a capacity of 5000 to 12000 TEU.
Moreover, the temperature regime and harsh conditions of the North do not allow for the transportation of a large range of goods. As part of the current economic activity, the NSR does not require any significant investments and special protection - the country's needs have already been fully satisfied.
At its peak in 2020, transportation on the Transsib increased by 15%. In this regard, the Baikal-Amur Mainline was also actively involved, the construction of the second branch of which is going on right now.
So, for the sake of protecting how great sea lanes does Russia need to sacrifice its real interests and build an even larger navy, which in fact has nothing to defend?
This explains the historical experience of our country: mind you, a very interesting fact - with any significant changes (revolution, change of power, etc.), it was the fleet that was the first to fall under the knife. At the heart of this lies precisely its artificiality within the framework of the country's economic life - the state over and over again builds the Navy in order to satisfy political ambitions and prestige, but in fact the fleet has nothing to justify its existence with.
The above statistics of cargo transportation only once again confirms this long-known truth.
If there are no economic interests, then there is nothing to defend.
Thus, the Soviet Navy was actively built in the name of promoting Soviet interests by strengthening the military presence. As practice has shown, this approach turned out to be absolutely ineffective: despite the growth of the Union's naval power by the 80s, the Soviet zone of influence in the world was only rapidly narrowing, collapsing on the verge of extinction.
In spite of our main rival, the United States, actively developed primarily economic ties, thereby strengthening its position and importance. The United States sought to provide a military presence with a network of bases, which, in turn, also contributed to the expansion of economic interaction with satellites.
The fleet and powerful American aircraft carriers in this scheme played the role of a means increasing influence in dangerous directions, but by no means not a tool to promote it.
The principle of reasonable sufficiency
In this section, I propose to resort to the experience of a different, but strangely similar to our country.
To the experience of Israel.
Despite the likely outrage, I explain that Israel, like Russia, is surrounded by rather unfriendly neighbors and throughout its existence was forced to actively fight for its existence. The naval war did not stand aside either - the Jewish state was forced to confront its enemies on the water.
Among other things, Israel actively claims at least regional leadership (like our country) - and successfully copes with this, having extremely modest demographic, economic, military and natural resources.
Of course, this reasoning will be distorted by the territorial scale of our countries, but the principle is quite clear: Israel, despite its ambitions and successes, does not run to build a new "Invincible Armada". The country's economic life and the military threat to its existence lie precisely on land, and Israeli strategists competently prioritize: aviation and nuclear weapons, missile defense, ground forces, intelligence and analytical structures, logistic units, and only then, somewhere at the end of the list is fleet.
A fleet that is enough to defend its own coast - and for everything else, there is missile weapons and aircraft.
Squadrons of warships are always impressive, but their presence alone does not provide any effective leverage for political pressure. It is impossible to replace the entire system with only one of its components. Photo source: US Navy
At the same time, Israel cannot be called a small political figure - for example, it is noteworthy that the new head of the Pentagon made his first visit after accepting powers to Tel Aviv, and only then to London, Berlin, and so on.
Is the navy so important for a successful policy in the near and far abroad? Or is this just one factor that is not a prerequisite for success?
Fleet is not the main thing
As many have already understood, the existence of the fleet lies primarily in the plane of economic benefits.
Of course, it would be possible to actively invest in the construction of an analogue of the Soviet Navy, but at the current moment in time this does not bear absolutely any expediency.
First, as mentioned above, Russia does not have any significant sea communications, for the protection of which an aircraft carrier military fleet would be required.
Secondly, all the current challenges and problems of Russia lie near our land borders - with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the danger of "inflammation" of Central and Central Asia, which has already shown itself in the course of clashes on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border set on edge for Ukraine and the NATO bloc.
Thirdly, the arsenal of tools for promoting international influence in the era of "military-civil merger" has expanded significantly and requires a much more subtle approach, in which the presence of armada of destroyers of missile defense is not a prerequisite.
Fourth, paradoxically, the naval threat to Russia is practically absent: the United States and Great Britain are actively engaged in containing China and plan to keep the main detachment of forces in the Indo-Pacific region, Africa and the Middle East. For our country, there are already more than enough threats from land - both from the European and Chinese borders.
For the current tasks of ensuring defense capabilities, first of all, a developed naval aviation, a well-prepared military infrastructure and an extensive network of reconnaissance satellites are needed.
Accordingly, the investments of our country should lie primarily in the development of the aviation and missile industries (it is worth noting that the requirements to build aircraft carriers in the absence of modern civilian transport and passenger aircraft are sabotage), astronautics, independent analytical structures, military and civil infrastructure. It is necessary to invest in creating a full-scale government strategy both for working with your country and for developing reliable international relations with others.
Russia needs to keep up with the times and with the real, true needs of the country - and the rhetoric of rabid militarists who dream of turning the country into a giant North Korea with an aircraft carrier fleet is openly contrary to common sense.
Big politics does not require big fleet, friends.
Big politics requires a lot of intelligence.